Thursday, June 26, 2008

Bug factory

While the HC crew rode alleys and others rode epic border crossings, me darlin' Mrs and I went North and West for to hike and 'splore areas of our great state. This past weekend we found us on the border of the prairie and forests where the last of the glacial lakes lie: Glendalough, Maplewood, Buffalo River and Big Stone Lake.

We took a half day from work and headed up towards Glendalough, which is about 25 miles east of Fergus Falls. This is another surprisingly gorgeous park with forest and prairie and utterly clear, sand bottom lakes. There are no drive in camping sites so there isn't the accompanying noise and commotion that comes with huge trailers and lots of car traffic. We set up camp in a grove of oak trees. A pleasant breeze ran through the park and everyone there was enjoying themselves -- kids racing around on bikes (but no screaming!), couples walked past hand in hand, and families coming back from an afternoon of fishing, smiling and showing off their catch. It was idyllic except for a hidden menace that lie lurking just below the surface of this peaceful scene.

Apparently, this is where the hidden tick factory for Western Minnesota creates its creepy spawn.


These transition areas are where deer like to live -- not too far into the woods to hide and not too far into the prairies to eat. With the deer here, deer ticks can't be too far behind. Or ahead, or to the left or the right. I have never seen so many ticks in my entire life. We must have pulled 50 ticks off of each other over the course of the weekend and Mrs. Yam is still a bit jumpy at the slightest tickle be it a breeze from vent or a pant leg barely grazing exposed skin.

Glendalough is a former retreat for the big Minnesota newspaper families and has been preserved quite nicely. It is on a couple of small, very clean lakes and the DNR has started bringing back some of the native prairie to the areas that aren't forested. The hike was around Annie Battle lake that was really quite striking with the beautiful evening, light breeze and clear skies.

Saturday found us on our way to Maplewood State Park. It wasn't far from Glendalough, you just had to wander your way through all of the lakes that dot that area of the state. It was nice to see lakes with the old style cabins, you know, little ones with a maybe three rooms and that great screen door held shut with the long spring that went "goyng goyng goyng" as you walked through and then would slam shut with a satisfying crash. Not like the 48 room "cabins" you see on lakes around Brainerd. Fishing boats and resorts from the 50s still abound -- it all looks like an ad for Schmidt's Beer...

This was the longest hike of the weekend with a length of 10 kilometers over surprisingly hilly terrain. This is also the last of the great Eastern Hardwood forest before the prairie takes over and where the glaciers stopped, with the moraines and the lakes evidence of their passing. Sheila, our dog is about 10 years old and is beginning to slow down and the hills and heat were just a bit more than she was able to do. We stopped a couple of times to look at the maps and the poor thing would climb in the tall grass and collapse, panting. So, for her sake, we cut short our walk and headed back to the car. Since Maplewood is a large park, we didn't really shorten our walk all that much, we just hiked on the road, but that seemed to make all the difference for her and she seemed to improve. When we arrived at the parking lot, she crawled under the car and went right to sleep.

The next stop was Buffalo River which is east of Moorhead on highway 10. This is a small park, but it is magnificent in that you get to see the prairie. We saw a thunderstorm roll past us to the north and caught a few drops during our hike. The route first takes you past the pool and into the woods that run along the river and this was the most mosquito infested place I'd ever been in. They were so plentiful, that at times it felt that you were covered in them. Glance down at your leg and you would see 10 at a time. We basically started to run to leave the riverside and get to the prairie where we would rather take our chances with the ticks. Hell, even the visitor's guide to the park says that the place is best viewed in the Spring or Fall since it's so buggy.

We completed the short walk and headed back to the camp. On the way, we stopped in town and had dinner since we were really hungry and didn't want to wait for a fire and food prep. Bought some beers (Brau Brothers Pale Ale) and the Mrs. was delighted to find that the liquor store carried Shakers Rose -- a vodka that is flavored with the flower and is a lovely pink. I believe Shakers stopped making it, so she was happy to score a bottle. Back to the tent, built a fire and stared at it until, one by one, we were the last campfire burning. Then, we too extinguished ours and hit the bags.

I awoke early on Sunday and began breaking camp as the Mrs and Sheila slept. I was about halfway done when she arose and we proceeded to pack the car and leave for the last park -- Big Stone Lake. This park lies on the border between Minnesota and South Dakota in that bulge on the western edge of the state. It wasn't necessarily close to us, but it is the last park in the southern half that we haven't visited yet and this was as good an opportunity as any. We drove through the flat farmlands and then became amazed as the terrain changed from billiard table farmland to rolling pastures. The lake seems like it's really like Lake Pepin in that it's a wide part of a river more than a standalone body of water.

After descending the bluff to the park, we found we were the only ones there. A beautiful sunny Sunday, hot and bright and no one at the park or on the lake in a boat seemed a bit odd, but we were happy to have the solitude. This walk is in an oak forest along the lake and is a short there and back. Quite lovely, I was afraid it would be like hikes some of the other southern parks where a small river is dammed up and a park is set around the lake. These are usually dull, short and crowded with campers, if you can really call dragging 40 feet of hotel room behind a pickup and setting your TV on a stand by the fire "camping." No campgrounds, a couple of boat landings and that's about it.

Four parks in 2 and a half days, 12 miles of walking and 50 ticks later, we headed east on highway 7 back to home. We pulled ticks out of our toes, our sandals, the dog and even when we were 100 miles from the last park, ticks were still crawling around the car. Ew. Smoky, sunburnt, tired (we don't sleep well in a tent) and content. Another good weekend.

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