Friday, November 27, 2020

Hitting the Backroads

Not wanting to travel too far from home during these crazy times, other than our quick trip to Minnesota before COVID numbers started flaring up again, I have entertained myself the past several months by expanding my photograph collection of plants and other nature related subjects. I started in early spring, as spring woodland wildflowers began to bloom. I already have hundreds of photos of the same plants, but there’s something soothing about hiking in the woods and connecting with nature, even when crouching on fallen leaves to get the best angle, then having to stand back up again. My daughter and pooches accompanied me on many of these spring hikes, which made for a fun family outing.

As spring turned into summer, I switched to photographing prairie plants. I have hundreds of pictures of many of these plants as well, but still, I kept snapping pictures. I have a backyard prairie, so photo subjects were very handy. I’d snap pictures, view them on my laptop, and retake, if necessary, to get better shots. Soon, I was taking pictures of bees, butterflies, and whatever flying wildlife would sit still for a few seconds to have their pictures taken.

As the season progressed, I’d carry my camera with me to take pictures on the way home from work in areas I’d spied particular plants blooming. Sometimes I’d spend a half hour or so on a weekend, driving to a local spot to capture pictures I hadn’t during the week. Soon my photo collection grew even more, and I could see an improvement. Even though I’ve been taking pictures since I was ten years old, there’s always room to learn and grow. 

Many may think taking so many pictures is a waste of time, but it’s good entertainment for me, and since I use them for work,  and to help promote the books I write about nature, the photos come in handy for promotional purposes, and maybe even a future book cover. Besides, when I get back to organizing my pictures, I’ll be deleting photos taken several years ago that don’t cut muster.

As the growing season came to an end, and the leaves had mostly dropped, I branched out and started paying more attention to some of my favorite backroad landmarks. I don’t have to go out of my way to photograph these spots, since they are on some of my favorite backroads I take to and from work many days. I’ve taken pictures of historic barns, bridges, and even concrete fence posts along my favorite backroad that runs along a portion of the Hennepin Canal.


My older daughter will be getting her senior pictures taken in three days, and my eyes have seen local spots through the lens, so now I have some areas in mind I think will make amazing backgrounds. We’ve postponed getting pictures taken until after her braces come off in two days, so we’ve missed some of the beautiful plant life that makes great outdoor backgrounds. The two areas I have in mind still have some color and texture that should work well. Hopefully the photographer (not me!) and subject (my stubborn daughter!) agree with my ideas, but even if they don’t, my eyes have been opened this past spring and summer to the beauty that surrounds us each and every day in our area. Even though I love to travel out of state and out of the country, there’s something to be said about appreciating our local backroad scenery.

A Superior Vacation

This is not the first time I’ve written about my obsession with the Great Lakes. My family traditionally travels to Lake Michigan over Columbus Day weekend most years, but this year was an exception. I wanted to travel to a spot that wasn’t crawling with tourists escaping Chicago or other metro areas, so I looked for somewhere that would hopefully be less crowded. Because I’d heard great things about Minnesota’s North Shore of Lake Superior, we chose that area for our trip. Though we’ve visited multiple areas along Lake Superior, we’d never travelled to that particular area.

Noting several state parks dotting the shoreline, I tried to prioritize which to visit during our short stay. While it was nice to take a fall vacation, we still had to work around our daughters’ school schedules, so we didn’t have enough time to visit all the places that looked interesting. I booked a room in Duluth, thinking that would be a good starting point for areas to the north or even if we wanted to visit the shoreline in Wisconsin. Duluth itself is an interesting and beautiful city, especially with the fall foliage dotting the hilly city, and nestled along Lake Superior, right into the Minnesota border. We visited the Great Lakes Zoo, my daughter’s choice, and also spent some time at Leif Erickson Park. We drove across the Aerial Lift Bridge. But, what I was itching to do was hit the shoreline for some spectacular scenery.

We were not disappointed. Between the beautiful fall foliage, shimmering blue water, and granite shorelines, the scenery was indescribable. The weather was perfect, and the light hitting the water, granite hills, and tree leaves made things even more gorgeous. We traveled on scenic Highway 61 northward to visit many parks—even as far as Grand Portage at the Canada border. Knowing they wouldn’t let us in, we didn’t bring our passports, but one of these days I hope to cross the border and travel all around the lake.

We started off at Gooseberry Falls State Park. As the name implies, there are waterfalls but also streams, wooded trails, and amazing views of Lake Superior along sheer granite cliffs. The view right outside the visitor’s center is a perfect photo opportunity, with birch and aspen trees framing the blue lake water in the distance—simply breathtaking!

From here, we continued north to the Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. We hiked along the shoreline but decided to visit the lighthouse until the next day. My daughter drove us back to Duluth, so I could sit back and enjoy the views along the way.

The next day was more of the same. We visited the Split Rock Historic Site for views of the pristine and interesting lighthouse and grounds, not to mention the lake, then hiked down to the shoreline for views from below. The scenery from the wooded trail on the way back up were just as amazing. Continuing our journey northward, we headed to the border and visited Grand Portage State Park, where we saw more beautiful waterfalls. But the views that were even more amazing were from two scenic pull offs along Highway 61. I could have spent all day gazing at all the shades of golden tree foliage, contrasting with the rocky hills on one side and the beautiful lake on the other side. We could see for miles, as far as Canada and Isle Royale National Park.

We broke up the drive southward to Duluth by making a quick stop at Tettegouche State Park. We hiked down to the tiny bay and knew we would like to spend more time at this park but were pretty worn out by this time.

In addition to taking more time to explore Duluth, there are dozens of other parks and natural areas I want to visit or revisit the next time we make this trip. And trust me—there will be a next time!