#39 and #40 hikes of my 52 Hike Challenge
Trash Collected: 0.2 pounds
Kilen Woods State Park
#39hike of my 52 Hike Challenge
I had been looking forward to this day of my trip for several weeks. During a conversation with two of my favorite hiking buddies, Jen and Lynae, we had discussed my reservations about taking this trip. I was struggling to decide if I wanted to hike with anyone, let alone travel. As we talked further the discussion eventually led to the idea that the three of us could hike together safely. We could even camp together safely as we’d all bring our own gear, arrive in our own cars and be sure to have our masks to protect each other and anyone we came in contact with. I trust these ladies because we’ve hiked together so many times. So the plan was hatched for them to meet me in the morning at Kilen Woods State Park.
This park sits on the Des Moines River just over an hour from Lake Shetek State Park where I’d camped the night before. It is part of the river valley that is deep and wooded. We all arrived at almost the same time and parked near the Hiking Club trailhead. The hike includes the Sioux, Ox Cart and Des Moines River Overlook trails. As we were getting ready to head out, Jen noted that we had until mid-afternoon to complete our two hikes before severe weather was set to hit the area of our second hike. With the trail being just over two miles long, we were fairly certain to make quick work of the hike and then move on to the next park where we’d hike and camp that evening.
Had I more carefully checked a topo map I would have known we’d be working for those short miles. The trip was the first hiking I’d done in months and most of the trails so far had been relatively short and flat. Kilen Woods is not a flat trail. The park is hilly and my lack of hiking tested my stamina. We were greeted with many elevation gains as we moved through the parks verdant woods. We stopped to enjoy a view of the Des Moines River before continuing on. As we hiked I listened to Jen and Lynae discuss their successes at canning, Lynae’s pride at mastering bread making and Jen’s relating the contents of her beautiful vegetable garden. All of it helping me to keep my mind from the way I was feeling about how out of shape the trail was making me feel.
The wonderful thing about hiking with friends is that they uplift your spirits and buoy you along when you might not be feeling your best. Having them join me for this hike was just what I needed. As we moved from the oak savanna of the Ox Cart Trail that had taken us over steady elevation gains to the Sioux Trail that bordered the Prairie Bush Clover Scientific and Natural Area we found our shared hiking pace. By the time we hit the prairie the sun was coming on strong providing a hot section of hiking.
I was excited to finish this hike, but also to find that the park’s map had a great deal of detail on the geology, wildlife and history of the park. Making note that I’d read the history later, I tucked the map into my pouch with the rest of my park maps in the car. We were off to the next park, having enjoyed the time on trail and the beautiful park.
I’d find later, as I read the park map details that of all the history of the parks I’d found so far, this and Lake Shetek had the most detailed accounts of the Dakota-U.S. War. The information provide more insight into the impact the arrival of the settlers had on the Dakota. Even so, the accounts are lacking voices from the Dakota perspective. I again reflected we have much work to do in this regard.
Fort Ridgely State Park
#40hike of my 52 Hike Challenge
I’ve written in several posts about the importance of being flexible when hiking. Any number of things can change without warning and plans might need to be altered. As we arrived at Fort Ridgely State Park for our next hike and the evening’s camping, we entered the park near the historic fort. Pulling into the parking lot, we regrouped and determined that we would head to the campground, park near the walk-in site that we’d booked and pick up the Hiking Club Trail from the campground. We stopped off at the park office and were glad to find maps marked with several trail closures due to recent flooding.
It was hot and windy and we could tell that the afternoon’s weather was on it’s way. It was in the air. So we laced up our boots and headed toward the trailhead near the park office. The Riverview Trail starts in a wooded section that climbs quickly to where it meets the Upper Prairie Trail. We passed several areas where controlled burns had been done. The trail hugs the edge of oak savanna, bluffs and wooded sections. The winds picked up, offering a respite from the heat of the day as the trail continued to an overlook of the Minnesota River where we were attacked by the first mosquitos I’d encountered so far.
We keep moving, circling the prairie away from the historic fort and found ourselves on the Fairway Trail. We reached a section of trail that reminded me of the section at Camden State Park where I’d seen the army of dragonflies. I shared with excitement the experience I’d had a the day before as we took in the army here doing the same feverish darting around. We hoped they were eagerly eating mosquitos and hoped that perhaps a few would follow us.
A little while later we rounded yet another curve and were delighted to see the trail descending into a valley resplendent with yellow. It was like a scene from a movie. The towering flowers of various species were as tall as me. We discussed the fact that had we come at any other time of year, we wouldn’t have seen the burst of color. I reflected on the change in the timing of this trip from June to August which lead to my being here, sharing this experience with these ladies and my gratitude for all of it.
The trail eventually lead us back to the woods and our starting point. We headed back to our cars so I could grab a snack. While there the camp hosts confirmed the hike to the walk-in sites was about a quarter mile and the mosquitos were “really bad”. The three of us have all had experiences with varying definitions of bad so we decided a hike to the site to see for ourselves would be best. With the incoming weather we could judge if we’d feel safe at the site and what the mosquito situation was like. That decision was an excellent one.
On the walk to the site, we discovered the trail was mostly uphill, we’d be the only ones in the walk-in site area and the mosquitos were indeed “really bad”. Some of the worst I’d ever encountered quite frankly. So we headed back down and tracked down the park staff to see if we could move sites. We learned the park had flooded earlier in the week – likely from the same storm that I’d weathered early on in Granite Falls. The ranger accommodated our request to move, though not far. We gratefully accepted the offer and moved to the site. The moment we stepped from our cars the mosquitos again attacked. It was in that moment I suggested with the hour or so we had before the storm was to hit that we head back to the upper part of the park to visit the historic fort and possibly wait out the storm in the stone picnic shelter nearby.
We each drove our own cars and spent time at the fort. Knowing the history of the site in the Dakota-U.S. War, I was again frustrated by the footnote mention of what happened here to the Dakota. Families were split, Dakota men were shot and the women and children were moved to what is now Fort Snelling where they died that winter from starvation. I was reminded of the way I’d felt on a trip in 2019 about one of the parks. There was a deep feeling of sadness to the place. Of unfinished business and voices calling out through time to be heard.
After a short while we moved our cars to the picnic area. We checked out the shelter and retreated into it only when the rain clouds arrived. We ate our dinner in the cool shelter and spent nearly five hours talking about all kinds of things. It was the talk we’d hoped to have around a campfire but managed from a safe haven while we waited for the storm that really never came. As the storm passed we watched an owl fly from the woods nearby to land on a marker in the private cemetery in the park. We’d see it twice before we left, sharing yet another delight of the day. It would be later we’d learn the storm had tracked further north and had impacted our families in the Twin Cities with rain, winds and power outages. For us it provided a spectacular sunset and precious time together.
As the sun was setting we headed back to the campground. I’d taken a few minutes to move to a place where my phone had signal so I could let my family know I was safe before heading to the campsite. On my way I was able to take another look at the owl perched in a tree and see a doe with her twin fawns heading across the picnic area.
When I arrived at the campsite both Jen and Lynae were hurriedly setting up their tents while swatting at the air. Briefly opening my car door, I asked how bad the mosquitos were even though I already knew. I had decided if they were bad I wasn’t going to fight that battle and would sleep in my car. I closed the door and moved my gear around to sleep inside. I’d borrowed a window screen set-up my dad had for his van for ventilation which I set up quickly on the roof vent. It was cramped and got hot, but a price I was willing to pay for not battling the mosquitos.
Drifting off to sleep in my cramped, but cozy quarters I was grateful for the day with my two hiking friends, the incredible sites we’d seen and for the feeling again of being exactly where I was supposed to be.
Next Post Preview: My hiking friends and I part ways to each take in more parks and adventures. I head southeast toward two parks that offer more surprise and a bit of unexpected anxiety for me.
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