Archive for the ‘Outdoor Activities’ Category

What a Rush!

January 26, 2009

Beginning of the trip. I'm in the front with the dark glasses and H is right behind me.

The most exhilarating, fun experience I’ve ever had was whitewater rafting. A couple of years ago H and I entrusted our lives to a guide from Wild Water Adventures near Banff, Alberta, Canada. The trip took us 20 km down the Kicking Horse River in an hour and a half. We wore wetsuits, polar fleece jackets, raincoats, neoprene booties, and helmets. I learned firsthand that wetsuits don’t keep you dry (that’s what drysuits are for).

Our self-bailing raft (water escapes through holes on the floor) would disappear into huge swells and the water would come crashing over the top of us. At 4°C (39°F) the glacier-fed river was quite refreshing and took my breath away. With each wave I could feel the icy water rush down my back and I was totally soaked in no time. I wonder if the water temperature had anything to do with the level of excitement?

We did several Class IV rapids, which is the highest level that a commercial trip can attempt. Class IV rapids can be described as erratic waves or holes. Large obstructions need to be avoided. Risk of injury if swimming. Very difficult.

Dangerous? Yes. But what a rush!

I started the adventure in the front of the boat. Half-way through the trip we rotated positions. I can tell you that the front position is the most fun and exciting place to sit! However, you will bear the brunt of the waves.

I have a hard time understanding the desire to sky-dive, rock-climb, and bungee-jump. But I do understand the call of white water.

Grand Canyon Adventure

January 9, 2009

Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk is a new giant-screen film that takes you on a rafting trip down the Colorado River, showing off the beauty of the Grand Canyon and the excitement of the river, all with an environmentalist twist. The most thrilling moments of the movie reminded me of my own whitewater adventure, which I will blog about soon.

Grand Canyon Adventure shows daily at the Science Museum of Minnesota‘s Omnitheater now through June 11, 2009.

Counting Birds with the Pros

December 20, 2008

I spent this morning counting birds for Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count. This annual event occurs throughout the Americas and its purpose is to assess the status of bird populations.

This was a new experience for me, as I haven’t done much bird watching. Four men and I drove around a specified territory and we counted all the birds we saw. We went through cemeteries, trails, wooded areas, busy streets, and residential neighborhoods. We got out and walked at times. I appreciated the opportunity to learn from long-time birders.

What I discovered:

  • I can be much more observant than usual if I try.
  • I can now identify the dark-eyed junco.
  • There are several nearby trails that I didn’t know existed.
  • When birders drive a car they don’t keep their eyes on the road!

It was a very snowy day, so the birding supposedly wasn’t very good, but I was impressed with our numbers. We saw (or heard) 17 different species and a total of 369 birds.

Master Naturalist

December 14, 2008
Field trip to Interstate Park

Field trip to Interstate Park

I started the year looking for an opportunity to learn more about nature. Signing up for a college-level class was a possibility, but I couldn’t imagine enduring freshman biology. Then I stumbled across the Minnesota Master Naturalist website. Perfect!

For 11 weeks in the spring I learned about Minnesota’s natural history. The idea behind this program is that graduates will volunteer 40 hours per year toward environmental causes (education, stewardship, science, and/or administration). The official slogan is “Explore. Teach. Conserve.” Right up my alley and just the impetus I needed!

There is an article about my class in Mankato’s weekly for farmers, The Land.

Ten fun activities from the Minnesota Master Naturalist course:

  1. Searching for delicate spring ephemerals at Interstate Park.
  2. Searching for scat at Fort Snelling State Park and learning that rabbits eat their scat.
  3. Watching a classmate get dressed up like a beaver to discuss adaptation.
  4. Watching a fish dissection and learning that fish have a swim bladder to control buoyancy.
  5. Tasting sap straight out of the sugar maple, and then having homemade maple syrup on top of ice cream, thanks to a classmate.
  6. Learning to identify trees by their branches and bark before the leaves bud out.
  7. Learning about the oak savanna and prescribed burning at William O’Brien State Park.
  8. Discovering, by digging through the sludge in Snelling Lake, that lots of tiny creatures live in our wetlands.
  9. Collaborating with classmates to create a tree identification guide for a small park.
  10. Having that AHA! moment. Why wait until summer to visit our parks? Each season has something unique to offer.

The master naturalist course was a great experience which will evolve with my pledge of volunteer service.

Tekiela’s Field Guides

December 11, 2008

With the gift-giving season upon us, Stan Tekiela’s field guides are a good choice for budding naturalists. I personally own the Minnesota versions of Birds of Prey, Mammals, Trees, and Wildflowers. I also have the Birds field guide and its companion CD of bird songs. Matching the song to the plumage is a good time, and requisite if you want to get into birding.

These field guides are great because they have just the right amount of information without overwhelming you, and the photography is stunning! Some of the reviews on are negative, saying Tekiela’s guides are too basic. But if you’re a novice like myself, basic is what you want!

Cross-Country Skis

December 9, 2008
New gear made all the difference!

New gear made all the difference!

A few years ago three friends and I decided to rent a cabin and go cross-country skiing. So I dug out my never-been-used skis that I bought twenty years ago. It was March so the weather was warm and the snow sticky. I applied the appropriate wax and off we went.

I knew that I was the most inexperienced skier of the group, but this was ridiculous! My friends were always way ahead of me and I was slipping all over the place. After two hours of torture, one of my friends looked at the map and said, “We’re about half-way done.” I could not believe my ears; I didn’t think I could survive another two hours.

The next day I made a deal to trade skis with my friend for awhile. I happily zipped along on her skis and at the end of the trail she pulled in well after us and yelled, “Sue, your skis suck!” It was then and there that I decided to invest in a new pair of skis.

I went to Finn Sisu and purchased Atomic waxless skis, Salomon boots, and Rex poles. It’s been smooth gliding ever since.

Looking Forward to Spring

December 3, 2008
Hoping that the sage and rosemary make it through the winter indoors

Hoping that the sage and rosemary make it through the winter indoors

I am already looking forward to spring. I know, I know—winter is not even here yet. But next year I plan to convert areas of grass (weeds, really) to gardens with flowers, herbs, and berries. I’ll be spending time this winter strategizing with the book Landscaping with Native Plants of Minnesota. Gardening is a lot of work, so I’ll be taking it one step at a time, starting with the sunniest patch in the yard.

Simple Pleasures

November 23, 2008
  • Walking around the neighborhood with my dog
  • Lying in a hammock in the backyard looking up at the leaves
  • Seeing how the garden goes from nothing to something during the season
  • Enjoying a drink in the porch while watching the snow fall
  • Waking to birds singing in the springtime

Outdoor Adventure Expo

November 17, 2008

Here’s an event for my fellow outdoorsy-type wannabes. Midwest Mountaineering in Minneapolis is hosting its annual Outdoor Adventure Expo November 21-23, 2008.


  • Everything on sale
  • Lots of exhibitors, such as outdoor clubs
  • Free presentations and demonstrations about outdoor activities and travel
  • Interesting speakers
  • Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour (you need tickets)

Hope to see you there!

Tidbits of Minnesota State Parks

November 16, 2008

Some of the best things about each of the Minnesota State Parks that I have visited…


Get a workout hiking the rolling hills of this nearby state park.


Seeing remnants of the sandstone quarries makes hiking through this park especially interesting, as if the wild and crazy Kettle River wasn’t enough.

Beaver Creek Valley

This lush, green park in bluff country has fly fishing opportunities.

Picnic area at Cascade River State Park

Picnic area at Cascade River State Park

Cascade River

I love the isolated picnic area nestled among the cedar trees on the shores of Lake Superior. It’s a great place to relax for hours, gazing at this ocean-like lake.

Fort Snelling

The Mississippi and Minnesota rivers meet in this metro area nature retreat.

Bird blind at Glendalough State Park

Observation blind at Glendalough


Although I didn’t spot any wildlife, I think it’s cool that the park has observation blinds.

Gooseberry Falls

Walking amidst the waterfalls is great fun!


This is the place to see potholes galore and learn about glaciers. It’s worth a trip over to the Wisconsin side too.

Lake Itasca

Lake Itasca


I love canoeing with the loons on peaceful Lake Itasca. My favorite kind of lake is long and narrow, so Lake Itasca fits the bill with three separate “arms”. The giant red and white pines are the signature of this park.

The massive, rugged rocks of the St. Louis River in Jay Cooke State Park

Jay Cooke State Park

Jay Cooke

The massive, rugged rocks in the St. Louis River are a memorable site from the swinging bridge.


The double waterfall is the draw to this park, but I really enjoyed walking through the oak savanna littered with big boulders.

St. Croix

This is an all-around great park with 2 rivers and lots of trails.

Sakatah Singing Trail

Sakatah Singing Hills Trail

Sakatah Lake

Biking or walking the tunnel of trees of the Sakatah Singing Hills Trail is very pleasant. We also saw wild turkeys in the park.

Red pines at Scenic State Park

Red pines at Scenic State Park


This park has the beauty of Itasca without the crowds. Hiking the Chase Point Trail along the high narrow peninsula is awesome if you love red pine and cedar, like me.

Split Rock Lighthouse

The lighthouse in the distance with birch trees in the foreground is a picture-perfect scene.

Temperance River

If you’re visiting the North Shore it’s worth stopping to hike along the river gorge and enjoy the many waterfalls.

Tettagouche State Park

Tettegouche State Park


This park offers beautiful trails high on the rocky cliffs overlooking Lake Superior. I can’t imagine any better vistas of Lake Superior.


Believe it or not, there are no mosquitoes here in the middle of summer!

Wild River

Cross-country skiing is lots of fun here.

William O’Brien

On a hot summer day there’s nothing better than canoeing the St. Croix and stopping at a sandbar on or near Greenberg Island. My dog thought that running and jumping through the ankle-deep, warm water was pure joy, and I would have to agree!