Tuesday and Wednesday: August 7&8

We left Houston around 10:30 Tuesday morning and headed to our next destination which was about 2 hours south west. The drive along Rt 16 which follows the Root River was very scenic . We occasionally caught glimpses of the section of rail-trail we had cycled the previous day.

We had decided to camp out the next two nights at Lake Louise State Park. The Minnesota Parks Guide said there were 8 "cart-in" sites available and we wanted to give that a try. A cart-in site is where you are supplied with a large wooden garden cart and you then haul all your camping gear to a site which is off the campground loop and more secluded. Sounded great to us.

Along the way we thought about provisions and such, so Betsy started a list. We stopped in Spring Valley just about 30 minutes north of Lake Louise. There we found food and beverages. Betsy got a sampler 6-pack of Schell beer from New Ulm, MN and I got a 24 pack of Lost Lake Lite brewed by the Melanie Brewing Company in La Crosse, Wisconsin. We were eating very simply so needed little food for the next coupla days.

We arrived at Lake Louise at around 1:00 and stopped at the Check-in and Visitor station. I went in and talked to Sally, the ranger, and told her we wanted to look at the cart-in sites. She looked blankly back and I said, "You know - the site where you cart your stuff in". She then explained she knew what I meant but they had no cart-in sites and never had. Great. Guess the official State Parks guide was wrong.
I told her we had hoped for some quiet and private camping and she suggested the "horse loop". Sally said it was never used as they seldom got horse campers and since the sites had no electricity no one wanted to use them. OK. That sounded good to us and we drove down to the campground to choose a site.

As Sally had said, the horse loop was empty and so was most of the rest of the campground. Looked good! We chose site H4 and went over to the self registration kiosk to pay up. Almost immediately two folks who looked to be in their late 60s came over. They were "The Stockdales" our campground hosts. We did not get their first names. Anyway, she had a newspaper in her hand and presented it to me. I asked her if this was the toilet paper. She said "No" and did not crack a smile.
They then explained Sally had just called them and told them we were coming down, so they were there to help us get settled in. The newspaper was local and had other local info stuck inside and it made interesting reading.

The guy was quite the talker but he finally left us to finish our registration and get our stuff unpacked and set up.
It wasn't long before he was over to our site again and chatting away. At some point Betsy set up the camp chairs and he plopped himself in one. I was afraid he was going to move in with us! But he did have some interesting information for us. Earlier in the season our camp site had been rented out by a young woman who then proceded to set up a small business of the questionable kind. Someone happened to notice that she was driving in and out of the campground quite a bit and each time with a different gent in her vehicle. Hmmmm. They soon called the deputy and the young woman quickly moved on. After that interesting tidbit, our friendly campground host finally wandered off and we got about the business of setting up the tent and thinking about dinner.

After the tent was up and camp squared away, we decided to check out the swimming area the host had told us about. Following his directions, we went through the other camp loop, behind the outhouse, and took a wooded and meandering trail to the lake. There was a nice bridge which crossed the inlet of the Little Iowa River, one of two spring fed rivers which water the lake.
We continued on and the trail took us to a nice pic-nic pavillion and small, sandy beach. The lake is small and shallow so there is no worry of motor boats. We dipped in and the water was nice and warm, but not too much so. And, there were occasional cool currents to make things interesting.
Now cooled off and refreshed it was time to think about some dinner.

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Camp life.
After our Happy Hour of beer and munchies, I set up the camp stove for dinner and in the interim, Betsy caught up on her journal.
Behind Betsy is the old foot locker I brought back with me from San Francisco in 1972. That thing has been around! While I was cooking, Betsy fixed us a nice salad which we had first.

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Dinner. Sauted onions, brown rice and smoked sausage. Simple, filling and tasty.

After cleaning up from dinner we took a short walk on one of the trails which was just a 100 yards from our campsite and then it was back to the beach for another swim. With no one around Betsy threw off her clothes and went in for a refreshing and fun skinny-dip.

Then it was back to the site where we sat in our chairs sipping our beers and enjoying the quiet and empty campground which lay out before us. And, as a bonus - no mosquitos!! When it got close to bed time Betsy rearranged things in the van and then made her nest for the night. I slept in the tent on the far side of the site in hopes it would be out of snoring distance. It was.

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After a quiet night I got up and walked down the road a short ways to view the sunrise. I then went back to the site to snap a few pics.

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Here is our site with the shower house and bathrooms in the background. The showers were very nice and it was quite luxurious to have such amenities while camping.

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Looking across the empty camping loop. In the foreground are the sites and in the background the hitching area.

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A look at our site from the empty horse loop.
We then breakfasted on whole wheat banana bread, and cereal. I need more fuel than Betsy so I also wolfed down 4 strips of bacon.

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Then it was off down the trail which was 10 seconds from our site.

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We walked though a few hundred feet of woods and then it opened up to a view which was reminiscent of the trails I recently hiked in Canaan Valley.
But, we were now on the prairie of Minnesota, not a high mountain valley in West Virginia and there were many new things to see here.

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Here we have Cream Gentian ( Gentiana flavida). Also called Yellow Gentian it reminded me of the Bottle Gentian we have back home in West Virginia.

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A closer look at the Cream Gentian.

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Hmmmm... looks like someone's breakfast! The belly, gonads and tail of this racoon were nibbled on, but the rest looked untouched. Perhaps we had scared off the diner and they returned after we had passed on.

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The trail wandered in and out of prairie and woods and gave us a nice feel for the different vegetation types found in this area.

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There were quite a few trees which were clumped like this one. I assumed they were stump sprouts but closer inspection showed them to be individual trees. Perhaps the seeds sprout from squirrel or chipmunk caches.

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HA! Betsy had to doff her boots and socks for this crossing. I on the other hand, wearing the more practical Chaco sandals with Darn Tough socks, simply waded across without having to worry about soggy boots and socks. My feet were dry again within the hour.

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The Goldenrod (Solidago spp..) is just getting a good start here. It must be spectacular when it is all in bloom.

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Here we see a crossing of the Shooting Star State Trail. The current paved portion of the rail-trail goes from LeRoy to Adams and totals 14 miles. LeRoy is about 1.5 miles south of Lake Louise via the state road and 5 miles via the rail-trail.

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I am pretty sure this is Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea). It was very common here and formed large, dense clumps in the middle and edges of the fields.
It is a popular ornamental shrub that is often planted for the red coloring of its twigs in the dormant season and lovely white berries produced in late summer.

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Yippee - Ferns! This is a nice clump of the Interrupted Fern (Osmunda claytonia.

Range of Osmunda claytoniana, the Interrupted fern

We have the Interrupted fern back home and as this range maps shows it is quite widespread throughout the east.

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I think this is Blue Wild Indigo or Blue False Indigo (Baptisia australis). I am very rusty on these plant and memories do fade. The seed pods were fully mature so it must have been awhile since this plant bloomed.

It is well known in gardens due to its attractive pea-like, deep blue flowers that emerge on spikes in the late spring and early summer. It requires little maintenance and is quite hardy. The seed pods are popular in flower arrangements, which also contribute to its popularity in cultivation. Several American Indians tribes made use of the plant for a variety of purposes. The Cherokees used it as a source of blue dye, a practice later copied by European settlers. They also would use the roots in teas as a purgative or to treat tooth aches and nausea, while the Osage made an eyewash with the plant.

Source: WikiPedia

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Talk about weird looking!! (The tree cankers, that is...)

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This tree had some really wild looking growths on it.

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Cankers are localized dead areas, which may appear on the branches, twigs, or trunk of a tree. They can be caused by mechanical damage (especially weed whips and lawn mowers), environmental conditions (frost cracks, sunscald etc.), chemical injury, insects, or microorganisms (fungi and bacteria)

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Cankers may appear sunken on young and thin- barked trees or hidden on older thick-barked trees. On young or smooth-barked trees, the surface of the canker may appear discolored. Callus tissue formed around the canker may cause excessive enlargement of the stem, while some perennial cankers form a target-shaped lesion. The size of the canker can range from small inconspicuous lesions on branches to massive dead areas on the trunk.

Source: University of Minnesota Extension Service.

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I would have loved to have been able to add this to my "Unusual tree artifacts" I have at home.

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Lovely. At one time all of the central plains were a vast sea of prairie and oak savanna. Now it is mostly corn and soybeans.

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Another new plant for me and a milkweed at that!

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If you look closely, you can see a white dot on the tip of the stem. That is the sticky, milky white juice which contains latex and alkaloids. It is very bitter tasting and can be toxic.

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This species is Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata). The range of the plant includes most of the central and eastern states but I cannot remember ever having seen it before.

The Monarch Butterfly caterpillars feed on some species of milkweed. When we were kids ( and later adults) my brother and I would collect milkweed stems and the caterpillars. We would then keep them in home made "cages" my dad put together using the cut off tops and bottoms of 3lb coffee cans and cylinders of hardware cloth.
Eventually the caterpillars would pupate into a gorgeous, jewel like chrysalis where in it would go through the metamorphosis of caterpillar to Monarch Butterfly.
If you want to see photos of these various life stages visit Clay's Monarch Butterfly web page.

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Here we have Virgin's Bower ( Clematis virginiana). It is a woody vine which some think can be weedy - but not I.

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The flowers can be so thick and profuse some years it is nearly impossible to see the foliage.

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By now we had looped around to the backwaters of the lake and main area of the park and campground. There were lots of Joe-pye Weed and Primrose in bloom along the banks and wet areas.

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During the course of our hike we saw several mounds like this one. They were not "ant hills" and I am not sure what created them. If you have any ideas, let me know.

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I should know this plant, but I cannot be sure anymore. I think it is a species of Polygonum.

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This out of focus shot shows a plant of Swamp Milkweed completely covered with aphids.

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We have Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) growing in the ditch near our house back home. It "likes it's feet wet" as you might have figured out from the common name. The flowers are quite showy and long lasting.
That's a Milkweed Beetle feeding on the flower.

Tetraopes tetrophthalmus, commonly known as the red milkweed beetle, is a beetle in the family Cerambycidae. The binomial genus and species names are both derived from the Latin for "four eyes." As in many longhorn beetles, the antennae are situated very near the eye - in the red milkweed beetle, this adaptation has been carried to an extreme: the antennal base actually bisects the eye.

The milkweed beetle, a herbivore, is given this name because they are generally host specific to milkweed plants (genus Asclepias). It is thought the beetle and its early instars derive a measure of protection from predators by incorporating toxins from the plant into their bodies, thereby becoming distasteful, much as the Monarch butterfly and its larvae do. The red and black coloring are aposematic, advertising the beetles' inedibility. There are many milkweed-eating species of insect that use the toxins contained in the plant as a chemical defense.

Source: WikiPedia

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This nice big wasp was also feeding on the milkweed flowers. Neither insect payed any attention to me as I tried to get these close-ups.

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More tree weirdness!

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This oak was on the way to the swimming area which became one of our regularly used routes.

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This is the historic sign from the 60s. The now state park was purchased from the heirs of the original owner of Wildwood Park

Lake Louise State Park is the site of Minnesota's oldest, continuous recreation area. Shortly after the area was surveyed in 1853, the town of LeRoy was platted, and the Upper Iowa River dam was constructed to provide power for a grist mill. Soon after, the railroad came through, but it passed south of the original town site. Out of economic necessity, the town of LeRoy was moved south to its present location for access to the rails.

When the grist mill was abandoned, the Hambrecht family who owned the land along the mill pond gave several acres to the village as a recreation area. At that time the site was known as Wildwood Park. The mill pond was named after a member of the Hambrecht family and still bears her name, "Louise." In 1962, the city of LeRoy donated Wildwood Park -- about 70 acres -- to the state of Minnesota to form the nucleus of Lake Louise State Park. Today, the statutory boundary totals 1,168 acres.

Source: Minnesota DNR

We then went back for lunch at the campsite, reorganized and set out on another loop hike.

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This is probably Purple Pea ( Lathyrus venosus). Apparently it is widespread throughout Minnesota. There are so many wild flowers here is it mind boggling!

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A Knapweed perhaps? I have no clue...
Note the milkweed beetles.

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We were lucky to see these seed pods of the Cream Gentian (Gentiana alba). But, when must this plant have bloomed? We saw lots of it still in full flower.

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Her Betsy stands next to a specimen of Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa). It is also a milkweed and has gorgeous, bright orange flowers.
Here you can see the upright, elongate seed pods which are just about ready to pop.
This was the last shot on our second walk which totaled about 7-8 miles for the day.

After this it was time for Happy Hour and dinner.
The clouds had been thickening all day and now things were looking ominous. On and off we felt a sprinkle or two. Since we had no shelter at camp under which to cook, we decided to take our gear and provisions over to the picnic shelter and set up things there.

Since were now at the beach area again, Betsy took advantage of the situation to get in anther skinny-dip. That girl is such a water sprite!

Our first course - spring mix with cherry tomatoes and orange sweet peppers. While eating our salad we heard rumbles of thunder and saw lighting flashes.

Then the clouds opened up and the wind began to howl! We moved things closer and closer to the center of the picnic shelter to try to avoid getting drenched. I finished up cooking and we sat huddled together watching it pour - and pour and pour. This went on for about 2 hours.

Here is the result after 2.5 inches of rain!

We packed things up all the while wondering what the camp site would look like. When we got back to the horse loop, there was minor ponding and the tent area, which was slightly sloped, was fine. Only a small amount of water had gotten into the tent when the ground cloth shifted. So, all was well...

I crawled into the tent and Betsy the van and soon the sandman came to visit. What a wonderful day in the prairie it had been.

Tomorrow we continue on west to the Land of Blue mounds.
Stay tuned...