Thursday, February 26, 2009

Glacial Lakes State Park

Last night I had a tornado dream -usually the kind I have when I am deeply bothered by something. The tornado bears down on me, I hold on. This one shook and rattled the concrete building I dreamt myself to be in. I woke up.

Magically, this made me think of last summer's trip to Glacial Lakes State Park in Minnesota's prairie country. I chose this park as my destination because the name of a nearby lake, Minneswaska, was the same name as a lake and state park in the Shawangunks of the New York's Hudson Valley. And the closest town was named Starbuck.

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Minnesota is divided between three distinct regions: northern coniferous forest, prairie, and the western most extent of the eastern deciduous forest (called Big Woods in Minnesota). My trip took me on one of several roads that follow an arc of glacial lakes, or kettles, that remain as reminder of the Wisconsin glacial period (so-so Wiki article). I left the Big Woods and entered the prairie. According to the Minnesota DNR, 98% of Big Woods has been converted to farm land, housing and commercial development and 99.9% of Minnesota prairie has been turned for farm land.

When I neared the park, the land turned from farm to grassland. The road turned from asphalt to gravel.

This landscape was rolling, elevated, scattered stones and boulders about, and grass -lots of grass.

After entering the park, the roadway descends toward a kettle lake. The parking area is surrounded by a glade of trees.

I began walking on the trail that circumnavigates the main kettle lake, called Signalness Lake.
I'm impressed with the oak forest and the feeling like this forest is a hidden pocket in the prairie come farmland. It also strikes me how similar this landscape is to my own Long Island experience with its kettles and oaks.

As you walk down the slope toward the lake, you cross this simple footbridge. It crosses a wetland adjacent to the lake. Among the many plants, milkweed -Asclepias syriaca and what looks like yarrow, Achillea millefolium (native or not???).

I couldn't ID so many of the plants I discovered on this trip, like this one below. It was just above the wetland.

Lakeside, half-way around and looking at my starting location.

Leaving the lakeside I move back uphill toward the drier forest. To the east rolling hills and prairie grassland. Notice how the woodlands are in the depressions in the land, where there is more moisture and protection.

The drier uplands are primarily prairie land. But native sumacs can aggressively fill the slopes without fire as a control agent. Prairie loves fire because it keeps woody plants from taking hold.

Scanning the prairie you see a fabric of grass and other plants.

Closer looking finds brilliant flowers. What is it?

Of course the native coneflower, Echinacea angustifolia.

Hoary Vervain, Verbena stricta

Name this grass.

I know this one because of my time in New Mexico -its Leadplant, Amorpha canescens.

I always enjoy the interpretive signs, especially old disintegrating ones like this explaining how this landscape was formed.



  1. That's great - I feel like I've been on a prairie vacation now.I've never been out there. I never knew that Big Woods was a recognized term - it makes sense out of some of Faulkner's stories, though his Big Woods were so much farther south.

    Have you experienced a real tornado? My anxiety dreams are infrequently about huge waves washing over a road and pulling the car I'm driving in, into the sea.

  2. Most people don't think to go there -Minnesota. Even I didn't, but now that I go every year I explore, its a whole new, subtle landscape that, like all landscapes, has so much to discover.

    Well, I was awake to discover the 2007 brooklyn tornado, I watched out the window as I was aware it was bearing down on our neighborhood, although that was not reported so much. I've been swamped by super sized dust devils in New Mexico. But this past summer in Minnesota, we went under for the tornado siren in a bad storm,the sky was so green, trees whipping, you feel like a sitting duck. This happens every summer we go to Minnesota at least once. Summer is their tornado season. The tornado hit to the south. I think of the tornado that hit the boy scout camp last summer. They were caught off guard and it was a tragedy. To me its anxiety producing.

    Funny you mention the waves, thats the kind I used to have before I started going to Minnesota. Tidal waves would always come in and I would run or hide behind a wall and somehow I would survive. But anxiety like the tornado, you didn't see it coming and had to react fast.

    But being trapped in the car in the water, even worse!


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