Trying to plan a three-day, two-night vacation in a couple of state parks in a short amount of time is not recommended. We still are yet to "rough it" when it comes to camping, but it is sure nice to experience a rustic cabin or two. Well, at least one with electricity and a kitchenette.
The journey started Thursday morning as Ross and I headed up to Scenic State Park, near Bigfork. According to Google Maps, the trip was to take 5 hours and 39 minutes. That didn't account for stops. And we did make a couple of stops in the Brainerd area - Wendy's and Target. Two and a half hours after Brainerd, we reach our destination. It was hot and humid. We checked in, and the woman at the counter was saying to the man ahead of us about getting an autograph from him. He was carrying a reporter's notebook and looked vaguely familiar, so I asked the woman, and she said it was Sam Cook, longtime outdoors writer for the Duluth-News Tribune. I mentioned that I was the news editor for the paper in Marshall but told Sam that he wrote for a much bigger paper. And of course, we never saw him again. I wonder what he was going to explore in Scenic. One thing of note about Scenic State Park - the trees are very tall. After finding our cabin, which was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, and dumping off our stuff, we decided to go on a hike. Mind you, it was a bit warm, but Ross assured me that the lake would feel that much better afterward.
So we're tromping through the woods on one of the trails. The deerflies and other insects were numerous. It seemed that I was picking bugs out of my hair every 10 feetpick out the bug, flick it away, rinse and repeat. Or I was swatting at flies and mosquitoes. It did get unbearable at times, but I soldiered on. I just wanted to jump in the lake.
The weather for the area was calling for strong thunderstorms. I thought they would hit that afternoon, but they fortunately held off. The nice thing about the CCC cabin and having it on a Thursday night was that we basically had the area to ourselves. We just had a short walk down to the lake. Sure it was northern Minnesota, and the lake was a little cold at first, but we got used to it.
Ross got some firewood to build a fire in the firepit. But by then, the sky was rumbling, and it started to sprinkle. Pretty soon, the rains came. We'd peek at the fire from the window, and that fire survived, even in the torrential downpours. During one of the times the rain had let up, we trekked down to the lake to see the lightning reflect on the water. A few minutes after we did, the sky opened up again, and we took off for the cabin. I got turned around or something because I ended up by the lodge - in the dark, log buildings look the same to me. I made my way to the cabin, dodging the rain.
The next day was cool and sunny as we looked at geese and goslings on the lake and make preparations for our next state park - St. Croix. That was 3-1/2 hours away from Scenic. We made it there about 5 p.m. The cabin we were staying in is called a "housekeeping" cabin, which was attached to another one, kind of like a cabin duplex. And being a Friday night, the campground had plenty of people and kids. Yeah, we were pretty spoiled at Scenic, but the crowd was expected.
So once we were settled in, we decided to check out one of the trails. We had to drive to it as it was six miles away. We found it eventually and decided to start walking. We had failed to put on bug spray (c'mon, it can't be that bad), and Ross thought he had left it at the cabin anyway. We were a few minutes into the hike, and the trail was leading to some swampy conditions. We were pretty much being eaten alive by the droves of mosquitoes. When Ross actually turned around to head for the car, I was grateful. When we were in the car, I was counting the number of bites I had (I get white "bumps" when I get a mosquito bite) and had a dozen on one leg alone.
The next morning we decided to hit another trail closer to the campground. And this time we remembered the bug spray. We traipsed along the river, coming across a large fallen tree (I posed next to the roots as Ross took a photo). There's still noticeable storm damage from the July 1, 2011 storm in St. Croix State Park, which is pretty big at 34,000 acres. It also has two rivers. We packed up the cabin and decided to look at little more at the park as we were leaving. As we went along the winding roads, following the GPS, we came across a fire tower. I had a blister on one of my toes that was pretty painful, so I told Ross I didn't want to climb up the tower. He went on up and got a few photos before we followed the route the GPS was giving us to getting out the park. We were driving along this very primitive stretch when we stumbled upon a gate at the end of it. On the other side of the gate is a sign saying "no motorized vehicles permitted beyond this point." No wonder I was suspicious of the "road" we were on. So we turned around and somehow found our way out toward Hinckley. We took a photo by the Hinckley fire monument and then made a stop at Tobie's before visiting friends in Milaca. All in all, it was a good trip. And now I can check off a couple more state parks.