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The prairie has a unique beauty and history that I am still learning more about. I’m also realizing the importance of knowing our history, in order to learn from it and avoid repeating it. So, if you are like me, and history was not your favorite subject; I encourage you to do dig in, listen and educate yourself. The ‘This American Life-Little War on the Prairie’ podcast series was a starting point for me, along with this resource from the Minnesota Historical Society. Please share any books or resources you may have, I appreciate it!
Temps were in the high 80s again today but much less humid, thankfully. We got back to camp and since our site was pretty exposed to the sun… we decided to hop in our cars and squeeze in one more adventure!
Pipestone National Monument is 20 miles away from Blue Mounds State Park, and the idea of getting an ice cream cone at the Mc Donald’s drive-thru, on the way, really closed the deal.
LENGTH 3/4 mile Circle Trail
DIFFICULTY Easy and accessible
DATE August 15, 2020
MAIN FEATURES Established by Congress in 1937 to protect approximately 300 Acres dedicated to the protection of natural prairie resources, including the historic Pipestone Quarries, the site is considered sacred by many American Indians. In less than a mile of walking, visitors will see active quarry pits used by Native Americans for centuries, a waterfall, tall grass prairie, striking geological features, wildlife, and more. –nps.gov
The Circle Loop is a paved, accessible walking trail that leads around the main features of the park, including the monument, sacred quarry, prairie, and Winnewissa waterfall. While exploring this short and scenic trail, we also learned about the uses for the sacred red stone in native cultures throughout history and continuing today.
The buildings were closed due to Covid during our visit, and the trail can get busy, so we wore masks when we were around people during our hike and didn’t hang around very long. Its totally worth the stop if you are traveling in the area. Don’t forget to stamp your National Park Passport book at the entrance if you are collecting those park stamps!
We returned from our side trip to a full campground. But, campers are distancing, wearing masks in buildings and enjoying the park in their own little pods. I took a stroll through the campground loop, while I checked in with my husband on the phone, dreaming of having a camper of our own one day.
Hiker midnight struck at 8:30 (again) and I crawled in my trusty Tarptent, satisfied and exhausted from the day. Another two parks tomorrow, and then home sweet home.
LENGTH 2.6 mile Hiking Club Trail
DIFFICULTY Flat and easy
DATE August 16, 2020
MAIN FEATURES Hike from the beach, through the campground, along the wooded shores of Split Rock Lake and then cross the Split Rock Creek Dam before looping back. Don’t miss the 1930’s WPA water tower and the view of the lake from the top of the hill.
Our last morning started out cool at Blue Mound State Park. We packed up and made the short 20 minute drive to Split Rock Creek State Park, arriving by 9 am. We were the first ones on the trail and met another couple that was on their own Hiking Club Trail tour. We stopped to make a little video at the trail head and didn’t notice the bald eagle sitting in the branches overhead. It felt like it SWOOPED ME as it flew down and out over the lake. I shrieked with glee and instinctively ran after it to watch it fly away. Our hearts were pumping and it was a perfect start to our hike. Im glad it didn’t steal my hat! I’ll post the video on the Wandering Pine YouTube one of these days, be sure to hit subscribe if you want to be notified when new content is posted.
The Hiking Club trail loops along the shore of Split Rock Lake and goes over a dam and the Split Rock Creek. We entered the trail, walking through the campground and again were greeted with happy campers and everything from small tents to large rvs. We talked and dreamed a life adventuring on the road and imagining what camping in a big camper could be like. Before we knew it, we we’re back at the beach and couldn’t believe we already hiked the whole trail!
My favorite part of the hike was crossing the dam. I always find dams kind of fascinating…to the left, a view of high lake water. To the right, a cascading wall of bricks, with mossy green streams of water trickling all the way down between the cracks…leading to a view of the historic bridge built out of quartzite by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930’s. Unfortunately, I was too busy marveling at it to take a picture, but I think its in the video. You’ll just have to go see it for yourself!
Our final leg of the trip was finally here. Next up, Lake Shetek!
LENGTH 1 mile Hiking Club Trail
DIFFICULTY Easy, flat, wide gravel
DATE August 16, 2020
MAIN FEATURES The park’s name, “Shetek” is Ojibwe for pelican (which we saw a few of on this trip) and features the largest lake in Southwestern Minnesota, which forms the headwaters of the Des Moines River. This is a great park for families, but also has its own dark history and memorial for settlers killed during the US Dakota War of 1862
Lake Shetek is about an hour drive from Split Rock Creek State Park and winds through more beautiful farmland, making a very pretty drive.
First impressions of the park: I thought this park was going to be a small state park because of the 1 mile hiking club trail and was immediately surprised to see that there are at least five campgrounds! It offers remote camping, boat camping, group camping, RV camping…all on a 3500 acre lake! This park also has a swimming beach, picnic areas and many amenities that would make it a great spot for car camping with families.
The Loon Island trail is one of the shorter Hiking Club trails, but has plenty to enjoy in the one little mile! The trail is an accessible lollipop-loop that goes out to the island. After hiking in the hot prairie sun several times on this trip, it was a welcome, cool walk in the woods…along the shore of a HUGE lake! The trails are flat and wide, and although this park is full of campers right now it was nice to have a wide trail to make for easy social distancing. The loop goes around the island and so you always have a pretty view of the blue water through the Shady Oak trees.
Lynae and I said our goodbyes at the parking lot and I decided to continue on to the monument that I saw just outside of the park. There, I would discover that Shetek is another Southern Minnesota park with historical ties to the US Dakota War of 1862 , memorializing a horrific massacre that occurred between Aug 20-22, close to 160 years ago. This ended my trip on a somber note, but gave me a different feeling of appreciation for the lands I am able to recreate on and left me wanting to know more about them.
This is the part of the trip where I’m looking forward to going home for a hot shower but also a little bit sad that the adventure is over… Thanks Lynae & Ruth! Five State Parks and one National Monument over 2 1/2 days! I left this trip feeling totally recharged and thankful to be able to see this beautiful part of the state and explore something new with friends!
I just started dedicating a little spot about gear after each trip report, let me know what you think. Here’s where I’ll highlight the little things that make life easier, may or may not have performed as expected or just dang good gear that has held up to abuse. I’d love to hear about your faves too!
Astral Rosa flip flops– these are my new favorite sandals… I love them in the garden, on the water and back at camp. They were great recovery shoes and I wore them a lot just to air out my feet in the heat. I love the style, upper arch support, removable heel strap and the grippy bottoms.
Enlightened Equipment Revelation Quilt– Yes, I bring a 10 degree quilt, even in the summer. I appreciated it when the damp fog rolled in at Fort Ridgely.
Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor liner– this keeps my pad and quilt clean and is what I like to use on warm nights as a sheet. Super easy to wash when you get home and also adds 25 degrees warmth to your bag or quilt.
Big Agnes Insulated Air Core Ultra Sleeping Pad– This is my 4th trip with this pad. Big Agnes provided this pad as part of my Groundskeepers gear this year, and I splurged by requesting a wide/long, so I don’t roll off of it. It comes with its own pump and is pretty darn comfy!
Snow Peak Gigapower Stove– this little champ has a self igniter and always starts on the first try! I have used other stoves and this is my favorite.
Snow Peak Titanium 600 mug with hot lips – shout out to the hotlips! Keeps you from burning your kisser while drinking from the pot you cook in…now if they only made ‘hot fingers’ for the cup handles. I’ve kind of got my eye on the Toaks 750 ml cup now that its back in stock at Garage Grown Gear, because its larger and has a lid…and I want to drink a big cup of coffee WITH oatmeal in the morning.
Altra Timps – still rockin’ the Timps. No blisters in hundreds of miles, but the fabric inside the heels are starting to wear out (I have really bony heels). They don’t last forever, but the comfort is worth it.
Altra Trail Gaiters– keeps the rocks, sand and stickers out of your shoes.
Wrightsocks– switched from wool to these cool mesh double layer socks on the SHT last year. They dry quick, prevent blisters, and the short socks make it easy to get at your feet quick if you need to attend to them. I also like darn tough wool socks, but these are my go to hiking socks, especially in hot weather.
How was your 2020 summer? Have you explored Southwest Minnesota’s State Parks or are you hiking the Minnesota Hiking Club Trails? Good resources or recommendations about learning more about Minnesota History? Shoot me a note in the comments, I’d love to hear from you! And stay tuned for an upcoming post about this week’s family trip to Lake Bemidji State Park, and YouTube Video featuring the parks mentioned in this post. Hit subscribe if you want to be notified when new content arrives.
And if you liked this post or found it helpful, feel free to like and share. I always appreciate knowing that people actually read this stuff and and inspires me to keep writing.
Happy end of summer!