Saturday, June 20, 2009

Day 2: Lake Itasca State Park

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:
example

A pile of debris from the storm in 2001:
example

Large-Flowered Trillium:
example
(Yes, I bought a field guide to MN wildflowers. Expect many more in the next few posts!)

Columbine:
example

Busy beavers:
example

Canada Anemone:
example

More beaver evidence:
example

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:
example

Great big trees:
example

We saw tons of evidence of past forest fires:
example

AND, our first of many Yellow Lady's Slipper:
example

Quite a "burn scar:"
example

Creepy forest fire leftovers:
example

We thought this one looked like a witch in the middle of the woods:
example

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:
example

Old trees naturally fall down or are blown down during storms -- what a way to go!
example

Another downed tree:
example
(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:
example

Wetland:
example

And a goofy little island:
example

More burn evidence:
example

Budding American Lotus:
example

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:
example
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:
example

The pine gets a little frame, since it's so special:
example
(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:
example
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?

NICOLLET CREEK:
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.
example

ELK LAKE:

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!
example
example

PREACHER'S GROVE:

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:
example
example
example
example

PEACE PIPE VISTA:
Our last stop along the 10-mile wilderness drive, we descended many steps for a gorgeous view of Lake Itasca:
example
example

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:

Sunshine!
example

Frogs!
example

Kasey Lake:
example

Allen Lake:
a startled muskrat, swimming away:
example

a large, white bird -- maybe a pelican? maybe a swan? we couldn't tell.
example

The fire tower:
example

The view from 3/4 the way to the top (I chickened out. The tower was swaying a LOT.)
example

Dan made it all the way to the top:
example

And on our hike back, we found a TON of Yellow Lady's Slippers:
example

And more big, white birds:
example

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!
example

We had this gorgeous view while we were eating our dinner:
example

And FINALLY, the Headwaters of the Mississippi River!
example

Dan tried to walk across, but the rocks were kind of slippery, so he turned back.
example

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!

2 comments:

Cafe Cyan said...

Lovely trip so far! I'm very jealous - Ryan and I need to do that once the CPA exam is out of the way. (Ryan agrees!)

I love that you have a flower guidebook.

I'd chicken out on the tower too if it was swaying. No way man!

Lauren said...

I, too, have a thing for birches -- fell in love with them on a summer backpacking trip in the Superior National Forest up north when I was 13 or 14. They're so pretty!

Unrelated P.S. I saw Dan riding in a little cart thing at the Stone Arch Bridge festival yesterday. Only had enough time to yell, "Hey, I know that guy!" to his back.