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A 15 Hour Vacation

Tettegouche © Andor (34)

Twenty days ago, My brother, his wife and I, headed up to Lake Superior. Making a day of wandering along the northern coast. I had never been up there in the winter months and was quite curious about what much of it would look like. We started by chasing waterfalls. Figuring we would go to the most northerly destination first and make our way south from there. We arrived at stop number one and proceeded to be very underwhelmed, the falls were a mass of ice without any detail, or interesting ice formations at all. Ok, that’s fine, let’s hit My favorite waterfall next! A ten minute drive and a short hike later, we arrived! But, it was also a bit of a let down… The ice was not very photogenic. Realizing that the best Ice shots were probably to be had early in the winter, as opposed to our venture near winter’s end, we wandered back towards the car. Instead of taking the trail, we walked on the river. Which turned out to be very memorable! All was well for the first half of the stroll, but then we started encountering some pretty thin sounding ice. My sister in law being pregnant and carrying five thousand dollars in camera gear myself, we departed from the river walk and scrambled back up the hill to the trail. It was pretty rad walking on water though, even if it led to much anxiousness and a bit of fear..

After that, we made our way back towards the south. Pausing for a quick view of this rock beach that I had visited with a friend last year. It is actually private property, but I was a bit suprised to see that there was no sign of humans there. Clearly, this place was actually owned by deer. Who had left plenty of tracks in the snow… There were some pretty cool frozen rock walls, held together by ice. Some spots had a four or five foot overhang. It was pretty neat, especially because of the icey build up on the southern point in this miniature bay.

Then, we stopped at Tettegouche State Park. The crown jewel of the state parks system here in Minnesota. Opting not to bother with the hike inland to the falls, we stayed along the coast and were dazzled by the ice built up around the shore line. Many pictures were taken, much time passed by and just like My previous visits to this park, I did not want to leave…

We did leave this wintery wonderland though. The pregnant one among us was getting pretty tired. So we stopped at Palisade Head, where I took a lonely walk up to the the high ground. Pausing to take a shot of the communication tower piercing through the bold sun dog above, I made it to the overlook. What a view! You can see the southern quarter of the rolling hills to the north and the endless glitter of Lake Superior to the south. It was by far the easiest hike of the day and yielded one of the most spectacular perspectives on the north shore…

Continuing south towards Duluth, we made one more stop. So I could take some pictures of the light house at Split Rock. Unlike anywhere to the north, the bay was mostly iced over. Having walked down a river of ice a few hours earlier, I started My way out to the edge of the bay, walking on the lake… There is an island a couple hundred yards out. I noticed some people were on the island and also made note of the many lines of foot prints in the thin snow all around the bay. The ice was pretty thick, so I was quite confident as I wandered towards the spot where one can take a picture with the island and light house together. About a third of the way there however, there was a cracking sound and the ice shifted under My feet. Not by much, maybe an inch and a half, but I watched a crack form, a foot or so to the side of Me that stretched all the way out to open water. Heartbeat increasing to a rapid pace, I hopped over the crack. Which was inbetween Me and solid ground and hurried off the ice.. I then snapped a couple shots of the light house and neglected to make it out to the planned location of shooting. Adrenaline flowing, I walked the path back to where My brother and his wife were waiting and we departed.

We made a pit stop in Duluth to fill our bellies. Then decided there was still time for another stop. My brother and I were both curious to see Jay Cooke state park. We had camped there a few years ago, but wanted to see what it looked like now. The reason for this curiousity is that two years ago, a damm just up stream from the park broke. Sending a gnarly torrent of flooding southward in to the park. It washed away the bridge that is the only real access to the camp sites and many miles of hiking trails. The water was super low compared to our previous visit and there was a spiffy new bridge over the river. If there were any other real differences, they were hiding under ice and snow..

With the sun sinking in the sky and home being over two hundred miles away, we hopped back in the car and made our way south toward the Twin Cities. Quite the successful day trip! We even got to enjoy a pretty lovely sunset as we cruised down the interstate, on our way home…


Camping in the Snow

Camping in the Snow © Andor (1)

My friend Asha called Me early in the week and asked if I wanted to go camping. She was in need of being surrounded by nature, as opposed to this city-born existence we live. Sharing Her sentiment, I said “hell yeah!” It was a one night excursion in the snow. After sitting in My alley for nearly an hour, calling state parks, browsing the Minnesota DNR website and scrolling through maps, the destination was decided. Wild River State Park, on the Saint Croix River, an hour or so north of the Twin Cities. I had never been there before and google maps gave us useless directions. For some reason, they said the park’s entrance was at the boat launching point, down a non-maintained dirt road, ten miles from the actual entrance to the park. Eventually, we found where we needed to be and effectively had the park to ourselves. One mile of hiking through sloppy snow down the untouched trail, camp was made. It wasn’t actually very cold out. 40’s on Saturday and 50’s sunday, I would guess the temperature at night was around 30 degrees. The snow certainly made it feel like winter, as did the massive slabs of ice floating down the river.

During the day Saturday, there were no clouds in the sky, so I was quite excited to get some pictures of stars, then as the sun set, clouds rolled in. They relented for about 45 minutes and revealed the sparkling sky I wanted to see. Some good practicing time doing something I have long been a fan of seeing others do. Capturing the night’s sky. Here is what I came up with.

First thing Sunday morning, I woke up, snapped the picture at the top of this post and proceeded to go back to sleep for 2 more hours. After that, we shared a can of pinapple chunks and Asha sat down to read in the sun. I decided to go for a walk, hoping to snag some closer pictures of some birds of prey. Half a mile or so down the trail from camp, I spotted a massive bird landing on a tree a few hundred yards away. I did My best to quietly work towards it, but such a thing isn’t possible when You’re walking through snow ranging from four inches to two feet deep. It kept ahead of Me, following the river for at least an hour, flying from one tree to the next. Every time I got within 150 yards, the bird would skip ahead another 300-400 yards. I use a 70-200mm lens on a cropped image sensor and just couldn’t get close enough for the shots that I desired. Which was quite saddening to Me, given this huge bird was actually an owl. I didn’t know they were so active during the day. It may only be this particular type of owl, which I believe was a Barred Owl. The wing span looked to be five, or more, feet. After looking at the two pictures I got of it, I was suprised that I wasn’t looking at a Great Grey owl. This owl’s eyes were not the right color and the greyish brown, with white stripes on the feathers didn’t match either. Included below is this barred owl sitting in a tree and flying directly over head at about 400 feet.

This was an especially awesome weekend for Me. Seeing for the first time, that big owl, golden eagles and turkey vultures. Not to mention the bald eagles, herrons, swans and various varieties of ducks that were fluttering about in large numbers. Just after the sun set, a pair of golden eagles came to our camp site. One landed in a tree about 40 feet from where we were, while the other circled 40-60 feet above us. I was a bit nervous, as well as awe struck. Not as large as the ones I’ve heard and read about, but the wing span was at least 6 feet. It was to dark for Me to get any sort of picture, so I am making due with these long range shots I aquired during the day light hours.