#33 and #34 hikes of my 52 Hike Challenge
Trails/Parks: Big Stone Lake State Park and Lac qui Parle State Park
I want to acknowledge these hikes took place on the traditional territory of Yanktonai, Očeti Šakówiŋ, and Wahpekute.
Trash Collected: 0.2 pounds
Big Stone Lake State Park
#33hike of my 52 Hike Challenge
Sitting on the western border of Minnesota, Big Stone Lake State Park has three diverse areas that make up the park. The lake itself is the headwaters of the Minnesota River. The park is a birder’s paradise with more than 100 species making the sections of the park home. My hike would take me to the northernmost portion of the park at the Bonanza Area. The mostly flat, two mile trail loops over a small creek and south along the lake ending at the boat launch on the southern end.
I arrived late morning and had a snack before heading past the Education Center to the trail. The morning was already hot and humid so I was grateful that this trail is mostly wooded. I headed south first toward the boat launch enjoying the views of the lake. On the trail I discovered a mass of feathers that looked as though a bird had met its demise there. The evidence of natural forces at work is one of my favorite things to witness on my hikes.
Nearing the boat launch, I’d stepped more carefully for most of the trail than I’d expected would be necessary. The trail was busy with frogs that leapt to the side as I made my way through the damp grass. At the launch I turned back retracing my path. Doing so gave me a new perspective of the trail. On the return trip I discovered a turkey feather I’d missed when I’d walked past it. This got me thinking about the fact that traversing a path in the opposite direction can offer new insights. Yet another opportunity to reflect on how changing of direction can provide a different experience or view point. The unwritten theme of my trip was being reinforced in these moments. Something I would note to consider in my future interactions and meditations.
I rounded the top of the trail, connecting with the trail’s loop. The small loop provided a view of Benkowski Falls, a small muddy waterfall. Overall this small trail was a perfect opportunity to stretch my legs before the next leg of my drive. Looking back I wish I’d taken a bit of time to visit the Overlook and Meadowbrook Areas before leaving the park. Each section of multi-section parks like this often offer a wider variety of experience. For me it means that I have another reason to visit again.
Lac qui Parle State Park
#34hike of my 52 Hike Challenge
Lac qui Parle State Park also sits along the Minnesota River about an hour and a half south from Big Stone Lake. Its name is the French translation for the name the Dakota gave it, “lake that speaks.” This park was originally started to help control flooding along the river. Today waterfowl use it as a stopping point on their north/south journey’s through the region.
I had checked ahead of my arrival to confirm that the Hiking Club trail would be open as it is in the lower part of the park at river level. Last summer the trail and the campground had been closed for much of the summer due to historic flooding. The trail was open, but I was warned it would be extremely wet and possibly muddy. The campground and picnic areas were closed to allow park staff to continue repairs from last summer’s flooding.
Getting out of my car I had to immediately add another layer of bug repellant. The mosquitos were out in full force. The trail itself was wet, but beautiful. Wildflowers that thrive in these conditions were in full late summer bloom. Stopping for a view of the Lac qui Parle River flowing into the Minnesota River revealed spots of thick algae bloom. The trail reminded me of Fort Snelling State Park‘s Pike Island loop with its views of the rivers and the impacts that flooding has brought.
Not far into my hike I was the unlucky recipient of a bee sting. I’m not even sure where the bee had come from, only of the immediate and following pain the sting brought. In my first aid kit I carry antihistamine with me to control my reaction to mosquito bites. I immediately took some to help with what I knew would be some nasty swelling. Then I debated about continuing on with the two mile hike or coming back later. I decided I’d push forward, hoping the medication would help with the awful swelling to come. I slowed my pace to help keep my boots from rubbing close to the spot the little bugger had gotten me.
As I hiked I picked up some interesting trash finds. A ski pole snow basket, the requisite beer can and a few other odd pieces. Getting back to the car, I added them to my trash bag that I planned on emptying at the park’s campground. I’d not done my usual stop to set up camp earlier since I had seen that the campground was set on the upper portion of the park on a prairie in the sun.
On my way back to the campground following my hike, I decided to also stop at the Fort Renville overlook. The stop offers another beautiful view of the river and a panel that describes the location of the Fort just below the overlook. Again the narrative feeling one-sided, I headed back to my car disheartened. Across the road, I noticed the sign for the State Record Cottonwood Tree. Still being a few hours from sunset, I decided to carefully cross and check it out. At first I thought the large tree near the sign was what I sought out, but the narrow trail goes past that tree so I followed it. The record holding tree is a bit further in and is accessed via a very steep, narrow trail. It’s amazing to see. In doing a bit of research the stats on this Eastern Cottonwood are:
Circumference: 394″ or 32.833′
Crown spread: 110′
As I looked at the tree and climbed back up the steep trial to my car, I realized that Zach and I had stopped here back in 2017 on our way to the Badlands and the Black Hills. He’d encouraged me down the steep path for a look at that time and I’d obliged to a point, stopping higher up as my fear of height got in the way.
With a bit of hiker hunger hitting, I moved on to the campground. The Upper Campground is mostly flat as it gently slopes off toward the Minnesota River in the distance. Arriving in the late afternoon sun it was very hot. I’d selected a walk-in site (#3) that put me the furthest from any other campers. I loaded my backpack with my tent and what I needed for dinner. Walking across the mowed prairie trail, I could see that the sunset would be a highlight of this park experience.
I set up the tent and started experimenting with how I could use my tarp and trekking poles to provide a bit of shade from the heat. Let’s say that my efforts were only minimally successful so I took a break to make dinner. By the time I was done the sun was setting providing me the show I’d hoped. I settled into my tent as the breeze began to help cool things down. It was another good day of hiking and I was feeling more comfortable with my routine and my choice to be on this trip. Again I thought about these short few days feeling like I wasn’t holding my breath.
Day Two Footnote: Sunset Delight, Morning Fright
I’m not exactly sure what woke me up just after 6:00 AM the next morning, but there I was listening to the wind whipping around and starting to see the flashes of lightening off to the west. I had to pee so I peeked out of my tent to see how far off the rain might be. What I saw had me packing up my gear as fast as I could. A storm was rolling in and I wouldn’t have much time before the rain hit. I didn’t hear thunder, but I didn’t want to be so exposed when it did and the clouds were moving fast. I decided that pulling up the stakes for the tent, collapsing it and rolling it into a ball to carry to the car was the best and quickest way to not have a soaked tent as well as getting to safety.
I grabbed everything and hustled to my car, stuffing the tent and my pack into the back just as the first drops began to fall. I watched the woman and her kids at the site next to me head for their car too, leaving their tent and gear behind. As they got to their car, I waved and pulled out, deciding that as long as I was up and this looked like it would get nasty that I’d head toward Granite Falls which would be on the way to my next stop.
I was very glad I’d reacted so quickly. I sat out the storm in my car outside a gas station in Granite Falls where I learned from the local radio station that the storm would be packing 30mph winds and possibly even hail. Thankfully it was just the winds. About 45 minutes later I was heading off to my next park under clearing skies. My lesson for the day was that I need to follow my instincts and bail from the trail or camp when they tell me to do so.
Next Post Preview: Day Four digs deeper into my exploration of southwestern Minnesota and the history of the lands. Much of it being incomplete with unheard voices marshaling all around.
GEAR: Merrell Women’s Siren 3 Mid Waterproof, Columbia® Women’s Arcadia II Rain Jacket, Marmot Kompressor Pack, SPOT GEN3 Satellite GPS Messenger, Dueter Dirtbag, Kula Cloth, Leki Women’s Micro Vario Cor-Tec TA trekking poles, ENO DoubleNest Hammock with Atlas Straps, Guardian Bug Net and Pro Rainfly, Slumberjack 2-person tent with footprint, Paria Thermodown 30 down quilt, REI Flash 3-Season Sleeping Pad, Thermarest Z Seat™, Z Lite™ Sleeping Pad, Thermarest Z Seat™, MSR Pocket Rocket Stove, GSI Pinnacle Dualist Cookset, MSR® IsoPro™ Fuel. Want to know more about my gear selections? Head on over to Gear & Gadgets.
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