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Putting names to petals

A little rain sure can get us a long way as we progress into summer. When out on the trail these days, I am again surrounded by the multiple shades of green in the forest similar to the environment I experienced when I first moved up here last September. The deciduous trees are in full bloom, the conifers are especially aromatic, and the mosses and lichens are lush.

Vibrant patches of color are also scattered among the forest floor as the wildflowers are now starting to pop up. Eager to use my field guides that I got for Christmas, I grabbed my wildflower book and started identifying them on my most recent hikes. The book is titled “Wildflowers of Wisconsin” by Stan Tekiela who is a naturalist, wildlife photographer, and originator of many other popular field guides. Although the book was based on Wisconsin wildflowers, it is still a legitimate resource because Minnesota and Wisconsin share similar ecosystems.

Following are pictures of the most common wildflowers out there right now. Now if you come upon them, you will know what they are!

Bunchberry

Bunchberry, named for its tight bunches of red berries

Bluebead lily

Bluebead Lily, berries are not edible!

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Nodding Trillium, naturally facing downward

 

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Marsh Marigold, easy to identify because they reign in the marshes

Spring Beauty

Spring Beauty, as it truly is!

Harebell

Harebell, look as if they should ring in the wind

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Downy Yellow Violet, one of the many colors of violets

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Wood Anemone

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Wild Strawberry, sweet snack while on a hike

Baneberry

Baneberry, could be white or red

Lilac

Lilac, lovely smell 

Star Flower

Star Flower, you can see where they got that name

Columbine, tips taste sweet

Columbine, have a taste of the nectar filled spurs

I would highly recommend this field guide if you are ever interested in I.D.ing plants; clear, colored pictures as well as all of the information you need condensed on one small page. Very easy to navigate through as well for the flowers are categorized by color. He has many state-specific guides, so if you live elsewhere, you can more than likely find a book for that location.

Learning to interpret the environment is an interesting and exciting activity to do while hiking. Especially in the spring when all of the new plants pop up. A little advice to make for a better learning experience: when identifying plants, try for only two or three at a time so you are not over loaded with information. That way, you can really get each plant down individually.

Not only is I.D.ing plants something fun to do while hiking, but also allows you to see your environment with a different perspective. Instead of seeing a tree as a tree or flower as a flower, you know them by name and perhaps a few special characteristics about them, such as edibility, growth patterns, and their various uses. It’s kind of like getting to know people, instead of just another face in the crowd, you know them by name and who they are as a person, tying more sentimental value to them.

The more people you know, the better; the more plants you know, the better. Take advantage of our short summers when everything is in bloom and make and effort to get to know the plants that you walk by every day. You never know when your environmental knowledge could come in handy!

Runnin’ and Rollin’ into May

Me, at about mile 2

Me, at about mile 2

We have had splendid spring weather this past week on the North Shore. The vast natural environment  we have in Cook County allows us to host outdoor events such as running and biking races. Yesterday, the 2015 Ham Run Half Marathon took place up the Gunflint Trail. There were roughly 60 participants who prevailed through the hilly course in the whopping 72 degree weather.

On the drive up, we knew it was going to be a scorcher, but the breathtaking scenery along the course made every bound of the way enjoyable.

 

 

The course meandered through various bodies of water such as lakes, swamps, ponds, rivers, and creeks, which all looked very temping to jump in to. The lack of wind made the lakes and ponds look like sheets of glass reflecting the surrounding trees and homes on the shoreline. The sound of the flowing creeks and rivers alongside the road felt very refreshing to hear as we pushed ourselves mile by mile.

Rolling hills in the distance

Rolling hills in the distance

Creek alongside road

Creek alongside road

The finish line was right next to a big lake that many of us took advantage of. Immersing into the shocking 50 degree water actually felt amazing after the 13.1 hilly miles in the heat.It was definitely a challenging course, but the surrounding views, feeling of accomplishment and sense of camaraderie made the feat worthwhile.

Lake at end of course

Lake at end of course

Coming up next, we have the Superior Spring Trail Races  taking place on May 16 right here in Lutsen. The races take place on the Superior Hiking Trail starting at Caribou Highlands on the ski hill and traversing down and back along the Sawtooth Mountain Range. Racers have the option of either a 25k or 50k run through the rough yet spectacularly scenic terrain of the North Shore.

Switching gears, it’s also that time of year to lube up the chains and get the wheels rolling on our bicycles that have been oh so eagerly awaiting riding season all winter long. After all, May is National Bike Month, established by the League of American Bicyclists in 1956 to celebrate the benefits of riding your bicycle.

Whether it be recreational trail and road riding or for commuting, Cook County caters to all. The Sugarbush and Pincushion mountain bike trail systems should be opening up pretty soon and the Gitchi Gammi paved bike trail is always a great option for a nice paved cruise.

To celebrate National Bike Month, Superior North Outdoor bike shop, located in Grand Marais, will be hosting bicycle related events in Cook County to promote bicycle safety, commuting, etc. throughout the month. But no matter where you reside, you can participate in National Bike to Work Week May 18-22.

Biking, running, walking and hiking are all sustainable activities that give you a reason to get in some great exercise outside. Take advantage of this wonderful spring weather we are having with the endless opportunities of recreation up here in Minnesota’s North land and join us for a relaxing visit before the summer bustle begins.

Fisherman in front of resort

Fisherman enjoying the calm morning in front of resort

 

 

 

 

 

 

An evening excursion around Temperance River

I took a group of guests out on an evening excursion along Temperance River on a recent clear and crisp Friday night. This spot along the Superior Hiking Trail is ideal right now because the snow has melted off the frozen falls revealing the intricate ice formations.

Bird's eye view of the hidden falls

Bird’s eye view of the hidden falls

I did not make it to Temperance at all this winter, so it feels good to be back leading tours there because it is such a beautiful area. I enjoy looking at the variety of lichen, moss, and fungus that grow on the rocks. The combination of the green, orange, and brown hues with the bit of white snow left over juxtaposed with the dark rock creates a natural masterpiece of art.

Frozen cascade

Frozen cascade

The running water underneath the frozen cascades is visible as well, producing a flitting effect. Hearing the river flow again is very refreshing after the winter; sure sign of spring. The sun light shining through the trees as it goes down for the evening illuminates all of the different colors of the forest and produces a glistening effect on the ice, snow and water.

Upstream

Upstream

I shared this experience with seven other guests of Lutsen Resort. One couple had been to Temperance before, last winter, but said this time was a “totally different experience.” I have noticed that myself; no matter how many times I have walked the same path, each hike renders a unique perspective or observation. The way the sun is shining, the time of day, the company, whatever it may be makes every tour memorable in a different way.

My enthusiastic group of hikers

Our enthusiastic group of hikers

One of my favorite aspects of the Temperance River hike is that the trail goes on both the inland side and the lake side, so guests get to see a little bit of both worlds. The sunset colors over the lake offer a mesmerizing sight, and one can only look forward to the stargazing that is guaranteed with the nightfall of these clear skies.

Sunset over the lake

Sunset over the lake

Throughout my time here, I have lead morning, afternoon, evening, and night tours and I tell you, every hour of the day offers unforgettable views that you just won’t find anywhere else. A breath of fresh air and a picture of new scenery feeds and rejuvenates the soul- always worth your while.

Enjoying the remnants of snow

Believe it or not, we still have snow along certain sections of the Superior Hiking Trail. I took our guests on a guided hike to Lake Agnes, a pristine lake located about five miles inland up the Caribou Trail. The photo (below to the left) is of the surrounding maple forest, which is fitting because this time of year the trees are tapped to make syrup.

When the temperature drops below freezing during the night then rises to well above freezing during the day, the sap flows through the tree and therefore can be best extracted by placing a “tap” into the tree allowing the sap to drip out. Caribou Cream and Wild Country, our two local maple syrup facilities, are busy at work this time of year tapping and boiling the sap into delicious maple syrup concentrate.

Maple forest, Superior Hiking Trail

Maple forest along the Superior Hiking Trail

There is still about a foot of snow up over the ridge line, so we brought snowshoes along for the hike. Once we made our way closer to the lake, the trail along the shoreline was pretty bare due to its direct exposure to the sunlight.

Beaver tracings

Beaver tracings

Lake Agnes houses a large population of beavers. Along the trail by the lake, we found many trees that beavers had cut down for their food and homes. Beavers are the only mammals besides humans that restructure the environment around them to build their homes, by honing the ability to build both dams and lodges.

My adventurous snowshoe clan

Our group of snowshoers

Our hiking group made it all the way to our destination of Hunter’s Rock overlooking the entirety of the lake. From this spot, you can see the rolling hills in the distance, the looming white pine over the lake (right side of this shot) and a beaver lodge, which I could not get a close picture of. You will just have to go see for yourself!

Wild juniper

Wild juniper

One of my favorite parts of the Lake Agnes hike is the wild juniper plant at the top, a rarity, as far as I’ve noticed, along the trail. I discovered this time that the snow has melted off (for now) and we can enjoy its distinct and awakening smell again.

The smells, sights and sounds of spring are in the air, the season is young but one heavy snowfall can bring us right back into winter again. We can only wait and see what the weather will do, and from there find joy in whatever we get.