Tuesday, September 2, 2014

State Park #8: Whitewater SP

I needed to get into nature--nay, I craved some nature. After visiting Colorado in August, I yearned to go hiking and climbing and do whatever else you do among trees. Not just walking around a lake; I wanted elevation! I almost gave up that I'd find that in Minnesota. Not that the parks aren't green and vibrant here. They just lack that mountain-y feel.

I got a tip from some coworkers to check out Whitewater State Park near Rochester (Southeast MN) since it has bluffs with views. I had a day off from working at the County Fair so off I went on an Friday adventure. I wanted a park semi-close so I could still sleep in a bit. I had a full jumbo mug of coffee and an audiobook loaded.

I pulled into the Whitewater parking lot not knowing what to expect. I popped into the park shop, had a quick, non-informative conversation with a teenage worker and grabbed a map.

It was an absolutely beautiful day. Humidity was low, sunny but not hot, and a cool breeze. I did the Coyote Point Trail. It started with a steep climb--literally, wooden stairs straight up--that hugged the some dolomite rock walls. I squealed with glee that I was actually climbing albeit stairs. The climb led to a trail covered with oak and maple trees. Although I would have loved hiking with John or other friends, I enjoyed taking my time and going at my own pace. I could star at pretty flowers and listen to the birds. And I hardly saw anyone else around. I had "The Only Living Boy in New York" by Simon and Garfunkel strumming in my head (Thanks to The Current) which made for quite a nice one-song soundtrack to my day.

I sighed with relief and contentment at the first bluff I perched on. This is exactly what I needed. I needed to look down on the world to feel at home *insert joke about me being judgmental*. Whitewater has plenty of overlooks, but it also has surprising meadows that pop out of nowhere, too, full of wildflowers and bird boxes.

After finishing the Coyote Trail, I didn't want to stop hiking so I kept chuggin' to the Chimney Rock outlook. Then I saw I was close to a lookout called Inspiration Point. How can you not go to a place called Inspiration Point? Worth it! My faith in Minnesota has been restored.

I'm very satisfied to add Whitewater State Park to my state park countdown.

The first flight of forest stairs
Rock beats paper? 

Chimney Rock

Whitewater River

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Kayaking in Wisconsin

Back in one of those cold months like February or March, I saw a Groupon for kayaking with River Kayak Guides. What do you do in winter but dream of the things you'll do when it's not winter? And a 2 for 1 kayak trip sounded just right! I immediately purchased one for me and John then convinced my co-worker/conspirator to buy one for him and his wife.

Then months went by....

Then I realized we only had like 3 weeks to use these suckers! It was summer!

Perfect beer holder
John, Steve, Cerina, and I played hookie on a perfectly warm June Friday and headed towards Wisconsin. Our half day water excursion started in River Falls, WI, which from what I hear is quite the party area. As Cerina said, "[Kayaking] is the most grown up thing I've done in River Falls!" Our kayak company met us and four others to unload boats and push off down the Kinnickinnic River. It's mostly protected along the riverbanks so you don't see cars or roads or any other civilization. As the Kayak Guides website informs us:
"The lower canyon of the Kinnickinnic River is a natural spring-fed class I trout stream that runs approximately eight miles from River Falls to the St. Croix River. The river has little to no development and is actively protected by the Kinnickinnic River Land Trust."
Our 8 mile adventure couldn't have been better....well for everyone but John. The water was moving steadily, our kayaks had beer holders, and the weather was a perfect 80 degrees. I can't image the river being any shallower, which apparently, it gets. Our boats hit the bottom multiple times. John hadn't been kayaking in a looong time (maybe never, but he won't admit it), so he was a little rusty. He did alright for the most part except for a tree that wanted to take him out. Luckily, Steve was near by to help him out. Damn trees.

I had a fantastic time! I recommend River Kayak and the Kinnickinnic River. It took about 3 hours to float down. We topped off our adventure with a Diary Queen Blizzard. Best Blizzard of my life! Don't ask how we felt the next day. It wasn't pretty.

Summer To-do #20-- Done!!

This is an inside joke for Alicia.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Rockin' the Garden

The high mark of summer in Minneapolis is checking out the line-up at Rock the Garden, a festival sponsored by The Currect radio station and the Walker "Arts" Center. This year they stretched the one day fest into a two-dayer, June 21-22. Sadly, even with two days chalked full of diverse music, none of the bands really appealed to me. I would've chosen Sunday for Spoon and Guided by Voices, but John and I wanted to spend the annual event with our co-Garden groupies, Rachel, Jenna, and Sarah. Saturday was when they wanted to go, so be it!

Rock the Garden is nestled on the hilly green next the arts center. In case it's not obvious, the fest is all about spending hours lounging on a picnic blanket, drinking beer and listening to music. We had a perfect spot on the lawn that was graced by the shade first.

John and I used our earned adulthood to have not just one but TWO Talenti ice creams as our main meal. Sarah B. devoured an extra-long corn dog. I also enjoyed Nitch's Kitchen's New Zealand meat pie. Yum! We were in luck this year since a friend of a friend was in the VIP tent where the Summit beer flows free.

The only band I though I might like to see was Best Coast, a surfer rock band that reminds me a bit of The Breeders. Sadly, I wasn't really impressed. They played fine but it was nothing to get excited about. Jeremy Messersmith put on a good performance but it's not my thing. Lizzo and De La Soul were respectable acts that I probably would have never seen if it hadn't been for Rock the Garden. The band that did rock my socks off was Matt and Kim. Holy Mother. They were amazing! They owned that audience. Kim stood on her drums to play them. They gave out balloons to the audience to heighten the visual stimulation. They had people crowd surf backwards. Cats and dogs were living together. Mass hysteria. 

I, of course, was impressed with the recycling and composting managed by Eureka Recycling with a zero-waste goal. They work with the vendors before hand to make sure the only things served are recyclable or compostable. There were a few surprises like the Talenti ice cream wrappers and balloons that Matt&Kim threw out to the crowd.

Things to Do #10 done! 

Sarah B and her 'dog
Can't beat the view

Girls with Post-It mustaches

Matt and Kim rocking out
Free water from City of Mpls

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Movie + Park + Friends

This is the best representation of Movies in the Park from the always-right-on The Onion:

Nation's Boyfriends Dreading 'Free Event in the Park' Season

I wonder if John feels the same. I'll err on the safe side and just not ask. I'll assume he enjoys it as much as I do.

Movies/Music in the Park is a full fledged must-do in the Twin Cities. I guess when you have the best park system in the U.S., you have to do something with them. Here are all the organization/businesses offering free movies in metro parks:
Lucky for us, ThrillList put together all the above movie schedules into a neat little package. Suburban cities have even gotten on this cinema bandwagon. Some items to not forget with movie-watching in the park:
  • Blanket
  • Tarp to put under blanket
  • Bug spray!!!
  • Drinks (water and other...)
  • Snacks or cash to buy food from food trucks
  • Sense of humor--don't come to a park movie if you can't tolerate some talking, audience participation, or airplane flyovers

We just completed the grand month of June and John and I have already been to two movies in the park. That's pretty remarkable considering it's been raining almost every day and most parks are underwater.

Our first flick was in celebration of Jess (John's sis) and Dustin's 20th anniversary. We all met at Van Cleve Park in Northeast for "front row" seats to The Goonies. Although you're not supposed to bring alcohol, you can generally sneak in canned beer or disguise it in some way. It was a perfect evening of family and an 80s movie. Heeey Youuuu Guuuuuys!

The second movie we check out was Rent at Lake Harriet Bandshell to kick off Pride weekend. We should have ridden bikes to this one because parking is always a cluster fuck. It wasn't too bad this time since we arrive way early. We staged some delicious ice cream from Bread & Pickle (a Hennepin County Environmental Partner) and cozied up with friends on our patchwork of blankets. I've got to say I wasn't too impressed with Rent although the singing was phenomenal; lyrics not so much. But I loved being there!

What else should we see this summer?

Grease, Back to the Future, Top Gun, Beetlejuice, League of Their Own? Too many to choose from!

Number 3 on the Summer To-Dos knocked off!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Peanuts and Cracker Jacks

A warm September evening, John took me to my very first baseball game. It was our third date and the night I realized this was more than a new-city fling. That might be why I have fond feelings for baseball or at least the Twins.

In less than two years, I've been been to around 10 games, all at Target Field. I love going! It helps that the stadium has great recycling, diverts all its food waste behind the scenes, and reuses water for the field.

Seeing the Twins play will be on my summer to-dos for the foreseeable future. This year I made a specific task of eating some peanuts and Cracker Jacks (#15 on the list) at the game. This June 5 game was my third of the season and I was enjoyed the evening with John, my friends/co-workers and company. John and most of the group got their early to get a free Puckett jersey which is a big deal apparently.

Towards the third inning of a very looong game against the Brewers, I busted open my bag of Cracker Jacks. Sad news: no more box and an insufficient amount of nuts. Semi-good news: there's still a prize. I got myself a sparkling Orioles sticker. Oh yeah.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The 2014 Summer To Do List

I don't want to get lazy in my second summer in Minnesota. Germaine and I agreed to make a list to live this summer as if it's our last. She might be moving in the fall and wants to enjoy every minute. I just like making lists and checking things off. Last year, I accomplished 18 of the 25. 

Let the fun begin...

Check out the list of 25 here

Monday, May 26, 2014

State Park #7: Lake Maria

John and I wanted a weekend away since I've been travelling quite a bit or busy with work/volunteering. We spontaneously decided to get away for the weekend. We looked at B&Bs and historic hotels within a few hours of the Cities. The only one in our price range that was available was the Palmer House in Sauk Centre, home to Sinclair Lewis and his Main Street. The hotel left much to be desired although it did have quite the Jacuzzi (yay!) and the attached pub was delicious.

On our way back home, we found the nearest state park to explore: Lake Maria State Park a little south of St. Cloud (about an hour from Minneapolis).

The park was just starting to emerge from winter with birds celebrating and flowers scattered about. Lake Maria is a big woods forest which means it has old-growth trees of maple, basswood, white and red elm, red oak, tamarack, and red cedar on the banks of numerous lakes. This section of Big Woods used to connect all the way to Nerstrand Big Woods in southern Minnesota. John and I visited that park last fall.

An unexpected characteristic of Lake Maria is the endangered Blanding's turtle that lives in park. I chuckled when we passed the "Rare Turtle Crossing" sign posted on the road. Then a mere 10 seconds later we saw a turtle crossing the road! (No wonder you're almost extinct turtle--get out the way, yo!) We found out later that guy was probably just a painted turtle. Blanding's turtles have yellow spots and are extremely shy (self conscious?).

I didn't bring adequate shoes with me so we ended up walking on a few of the "interpretive" trails. I use quotes because they weren't really interpretive. One trail had numbers that you followed but didn't really match to any info in the given brochure. Still, it was a beautiful day for a hike (walk).

First state park of the year! I'm still working towards my State Park Countdown.

Signs of Spring