Saturday morning, we woke to RAIN -- not thunderstorms or a downpour, but steady, drippy rain. We decided to gear up anyway and head out on Itasca's 10-mile wilderness drive, which had many opportunities to stop and take short hikes, see some sights, and explore a little bit.
BLOWDOWN INTERPRETIVE TRAIL
Our first stop along the 10-mile drive, and by the end of this overgrown, sloppy hike, I was soaked to the waist. (It took my shoes two days to dry out!) It was worth it, though -- here are a few photos:
I have a weird thing for birch trees:
A pile of debris from the storm in 2001:
(Yes, I bought a field guide to MN wildflowers. Expect many more in the next few posts!)
More beaver evidence:
LANDMARK INTERPRETIVE TRAIL:
After soaking ourselves while enjoying the Blowdown Interpretive Trail, we literally walked across the road and took the Landmark loop. We were surprised by how much old growth forest Itasca contains -- but the park is well over 100 years old, so I guess it shouldn't be that surprising!?
The rain finally let up and the sun tried to peek out:
Great big trees:
We saw tons of evidence of past forest fires:
AND, our first of many Yellow Lady's Slipper:
Quite a "burn scar:"
Creepy forest fire leftovers:
We thought this one looked like a witch in the middle of the woods:
BOHALL WILDERNESS TRAIL:
Next along the drive was the Bohall Wilderness Trail, which ran through a large section of Itasca dedicated to wilderness research. (The University of Minnesota has a sattelite program there, and does quite a bit of research.)
More gigantic pines:
Old trees naturally fall down or are blown down during storms -- what a way to go!
Another downed tree:
(I love it when trees get "caught" in strange positions on their way down, and just sort of rot away where they are stuck!)
More old-growth forest:
And a goofy little island:
More burn evidence:
Budding American Lotus:
ITASCA'S LARGEST WHITE PINE
Next was a quick walk down a path to view Itasca's largest white pine.
On the way, we noticed this large remains:
I think this photo gives great perspective on how LARGE these old-growth trees are!
And here's the big white pine, at 112 feet tall and over 300 years old:
The pine gets a little frame, since it's so special:
(For perspective, you can barely make out Dan in this shot. He's wearing an olive-colored t-shirt, so unfortunately, he kind of blends in. Accidental camo!)
MINNESOTA'S RECORD RED PINE:
Next down the road was Minnesota's Record Red Pine, competing with a pine in Michigan for the tallest in the states, I think. At 126 feet tall and over 300 years old, it didn't look to us like it was doing so well:
Maybe it's the wrong tree? We couldn't find another one that looked like the picture in the sign. Oh well -- everything has its time, right?
Called the "Infant Mississippi" by some, since it flows into Lake Itasca, I believe it's not actually a part of the river since it dries up occasionally.
Otherwise known as "the picnic that wasn't." As we continued along the 10-mile drive, we selected a bench on this lake for our picnic lunch. We grabbed some sandwiches, fruit, and sodas, sat down, I snapped a couple of photos, and then it began to POUR! Rats. We ate in the car. Here are the photos, at least!
We had passed "Preacher's Grove" on our way into the park the day before, and were excited to return and explore this small area overlooking Lake Itasca that was covered with old-growth pines. There was something somewhat mystical about this location -- I can't quite explain it, except that I felt drawn to it. A few pictures:
PEACE PIPE VISTA:
Our last stop along the 10-mile wilderness drive, we descended many steps for a gorgeous view of Lake Itasca:
By the time we returned to our campsite, the rain had quit for good (thank goodness!) and we were both due for dry clothes and a rest. However, we don't sit still for long, and headed out again later in the afternoon.
HIKING THE AITON HEIGHTS TRAIL TO THE FIRE TOWER:
a startled muskrat, swimming away:
a large, white bird -- maybe a pelican? maybe a swan? we couldn't tell.
The fire tower:
The view from 3/4 the way to the top (I chickened out. The tower was swaying a LOT.)
Dan made it all the way to the top:
And on our hike back, we found a TON of Yellow Lady's Slippers:
And more big, white birds:
PICNIC DINNER AND HIKE TO THE HEADWATERS:
We hopped back in the car and drove over to the headwaters for a picnic dinner and photo op with the river. It was strange to see lilacs in bloom in June!
We had this gorgeous view while we were eating our dinner:
And FINALLY, the Headwaters of the Mississippi River!
Dan tried to walk across, but the rocks were kind of slippery, so he turned back.
What a day! We crammed in just about everything we could, and still felt we had barely scratched Itasca's surface. This is one huge state park with TONS to do -- we could have easily stayed there a week, but had plans to move on first thing the next morning. A good night's sleep was deserved!