Things are Big Out Here

Day Three: Destination Scenic & Big Bog State Parks

Its interesting how we have preconceived ideas about people and places. I’ve lived in Minnesota for more than half my life and I guess I always assumed that the woods of the North Shore continued west across the northern part of the state all the way to the North Dakota border. This day would change that my perception while helping me better understand the geography of north central Minnesota. Because there is a different kind of forest here. Oh, sure, there are still lakes and rivers. But this part of the state is literally bogged down with water that provides opportunity for some of the most beautiful landscape to explore.

Scenic State Park

#26hike of my 52 Hike Challenge

The truth is wooden boardwalks always give me pause. About four years ago on a section of the Superior Hiking Trail, I stepped from muddy trail onto a boardwalk. There was a 400 foot drop to my right and steep hill to the left. My boots slipped out from under me and I fell. Thankfully onto the narrow wooden boardwalk. But it took two people to lift me and my pack up and back onto the boards. I laughed it off until later when the seriousness of the potential fall I could have taken sunk in. I carry that with me now.

The the start to my hike at Scenic State Park greeted me with boardwalk. On flat terrain, but that familiar feeling gave me pause and pushed past it. As always I was rewarded. Calla lilies blooming in the damp boggy ground. Then the mosquitos found me. I nearly considered stopping on the Tell Lake Trail, resorting to my headnet in addition to the 3M Ultrathon I’d slathered on underneath my Permethrin treated clothes.

I’d been told by the ranger that if I did only one trail at the park that the Chase Point trail was the one. The trail is on a glacial esker. It’s essentially a ridge line formed by sedimentary runoff from the melting glacier millions of years ago. Its now surrounded by Coon and Sandwick Lakes. I knew the trail would be a challenge based on my feelings about ridge lines (they also give me pause) and that the drop off was into water (I don’t swim). So there was plenty of mental challenge ahead.

Interestingly, I discovered quickly that I would enjoy the trail when I started seeing the wild roses and columbine bordering on either side. The roses made me think of my mom, the columbine my dad. Their presence was near on this section for sure. Seeing the exposed roots of the pine trees and walking on the soft fallen needles brought to mind J.R. Tolkien and the Hobbits and Faeries of Lord of the Rings. This felt good. Felt like I was supposed to be here.

The evidence of blowdowns was everywhere. These trees were massive, but no match for the winds that hit them. All the way along the mile of this trail I kept thinking how glad I was it wasn’t windy. At the end of the point there is a newly built stairway leading to a perfect spot to stop for anyone arriving from one of the lakes.

As I headed back to the trailhead and into the woods, I took the beauty and sense of accomplishment with me. This is a trail I would return to hike again. Perhaps in the late fall for fewer bugs and the change of leaves.

Give My Regards to Paul

Yup. I got distracted when I saw the sign that said Kelliher is the home of Paul Bunyan’s grave. I grew up on stories of Paul and his big blue ox Babe along with the men who worked along side the gigantic duo. You’d think that finding the grave marker would be easy. It should be really big, right? But alas, it eluded me today. I take comfort knowing that Paul has a final resting place in Kelliher though.

Big Bog State Recreation Area

#27hike of my 52 Hike Challenge

After about an hour and a half drive further northwest of Scenic State Park you find yourself driving past Waskish, MN and Upper Red Lake into increasingly wetter terrain. Just north of Waskish is the Big Bog State Recreation Area, which is comprised of a North and South Unit. In checking in with the ranger, I learned that the South Unit sits on the shore of Upper Red lake, which is extremely popular with fishermen and fisherwomen. The campground and camper cabins sit along the Tamarac River which feeds out of the lake. It’s an idillic setting to pitch a tent or hang a hammock. The latter of which I was happy to be able to do.

Once my hammock was set up, I hopped back into my car to drive the nine miles to the Northern Unit for my hiking adventure. I had been advised by the ranger that the area around Ludlow Pond at the entrance to the hiking trails would likely be buggy, but as I got to the Big Bog Boardwalk and headed out on the mile long boardwalk they should be fewer.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the bog itself. I thought I’d seen bogs, but this trail sits in the park boundary along with views as far as the eye can see of bog. As I meandered the boardwalk I took in the interpretive panels to better understand this mind boggling place. I had no idea that there would be 500 square miles of bog here. 500 square miles. To follow a path even a mile into this place was a bit surreal.

Questions swirled in my head, the primary one being “What do I do if I come upon a moose?” Yeah, there are trees here, but nothing to really hide behind without stepping into watery vegetation that is who knows how deep. So I just kept walking and learning.

Learning that there was an attempt to drain the bog in the 20s that failed and nearly bankrupted Beltrami County. Learning that the impact of that effort can be seen in the bog even now almost a hundred years later. Learning what a flowering pitcher plant looks like (really beautiful!) and that bogs are home to orchids, including the Lady Slipper. Learning about this special boardwalk that was installed to minimize impact on the bog.

By far, of the many experiences I’ve had in Minnesota, this might be one of my favorites. Nature continues to surprise me with the enormity of everything. Much like people talk about how hiking in the mountains makes you feel like a tiny spec on this planet, this experience had the same feel. To be a full mile into a bog is indescribable.

Having another park in the list of ones I’d return to is wonderful. I didn’t begin to scratch the surface and to see this place in different seasons would be facinating. I found myself considering the uniqueness of the place to my hiking in South Africa in February and Patagonia just days earlier.

After my hike, I stopped briefly to take in Upper Red Lake from the beach, take a drive past the camper cabins (these are winterized!) and the fire tower. Plus there is the river, which is open for boating with docks at several of the campsites.

GEAR: Columbia Women’s Arcadia II Rain Jacket, Vasque Talus Mid UltraDry Hiking Boots, Granite Gear Blaze 60 Backpack,  Marmot Kompressor Pack, ENO Double Nest Hammock/Guardian Bug Net/Profly Rainfly, Paria Thermodown 30 Down Quilt, MSR Pocket Rocket, MSR Dualist Cookware, Slumberjack Trial Tent, REI Co-op Flash Insulated Air Sleeping Pad, Dueter Dirtbag, Kula Cloth, Leki Lhasa Lite AS trekking poles. Want to know more about my gear selections? Head on over to Gear & Gadgets.

Next Post Preview: Let’s go wave to Canada.


*To find out more about Leave No Trace (LNT) principles,
check out the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.



Copyright Ruth Wikoff-Jones, ruthsbluemarble.com | No Use Permitted Without Prior Permission

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