Just Four: Adventures in Four State Parks
I have over thirty goals for this year. One of my goals was to visit four new state parks. Honestly, this is a fairly simple goal because there are many area state parks which I have never visited. This has been a great goal that injected some fun and learning into my summer. So, here is my review of four regional state parks:
- Moose Lake State Park: I went on a Moose Lake adventure. The adventure began with a trip to the Fire and Depot Museum. The depot did not interest me as much, but the information about the 1918 fire was certainly gruesome, sad, and compelling. The fire was the worst natural disaster in Minnesota history, destroying communities, hundreds of people, and injuring tens of thousands. The more interesting thing in the museum was the personal accounts from survivors of the fire. These were tales of people burning alive in cars or suffocating in root cellars. I visited the museum during Agate Days.
Agate Days is a celebration of agates. I have never attended before because it seems to occur on the same date as Wrong Days in Wright (which I attended as a child). I was shocked to see that every side street was clogged with cars. People are much more enthusiastic about agates than I had imagined. The highlight was watching two dump trucks unload loads of gravel onto a main street. Hundreds of people waited for a gunshot to signal that they could descend upon these piles of rocks on the street. Hidden in the rocks were agates and quarters. Adults and children carried water, buckets, and shovels for sorting through the rocks. I am not very aggressive so I stayed out of the fray. I ventured in briefly and nabbed a single agate.
The dump truck:
The crowd goes wild!
After Agate Days, I headed to the Moose Lake State Park. This was pretty appropriate for the theme of the day because there is a small geological museum at the park. At the center, I learned how agates are actually formed. Basically, a billion years ago North America was being split apart (just as Africa is today along the East African rift). A bell curve shaped mid-continental rift formed were Lake Superior now exists, extending southward through Iowa and westward towards Nebraska. This splitting allowed for magma to seep upwards to the surface of the earth. Air bubbles formed within the lava, creating space for agates to later form. The agates are basically iron stained silica deposits that formed in these gas bubbles over time. When glaciers later scoured the landscape, the agates were dislodged from the surrounding rock, broken up, and moved about. This is why there are agates in this region (and other regions along the mid-continental rift or where glaciers moved these agates). So the best thing about the Moose Lake State Park is the small geology museum. I love to learn and though I am not versed in geology, I felt that I learned a lot that day!
- Tettegouche State Park:
I review this in my blog post about ferns. I went to this park for the purpose of learning about ferns. Since then, I have purchased a fern guide and borrowed a guide from the library. Even with the guides, I have a very difficult time distinguishing ferns from one another. However, I believe I can identify about five common ferns and a few “friends of ferns”. I will continue to work on this skill as it is on my list of goals for the year.
3: Crosby Recreation Area:
I reviewed this in another blog post as well. It isn’t exactly a state park, but because it is a recreation area I thought I could count it.
- Tower Soudan State Park:
This park was super! I visited the park in early July with Adam and Lucas. It is unique because it is a state park that offers mine tours. So, of course, we shelled out the $12 to go on the mine tour. The Tower Soudan Mine is the oldest and deepest mine in Minnesota. The tour begins with a rather bland video which discusses the “Cadillac of Mines.” As a socialist, I was a little skeptical about the shimmering safety of the mine. However, apparently it was a fairly safe mine compared to others as it was dry (unlike the Crosby mines which flooded, leaked, and were muddy), cool, and solid (the Ely greenstone is strong enough that mine did not require lumber supports in shafts). After the video, we put on hard hats and squeezed into an elevator, where we made an exciting two minute decent into the mine. Actually, the guide for the tour was Bill Lah, who was a student at UWS with me. So, it was interesting to see someone I knew. Bill was a great guide. After loading us onto an underground train, he told us that the iron from the mine was of particularly high quality as it was derived from specular hematite. Some of the specular hematite was still visible on the walls of the cavern in blotches of glittery gray. It was used as an additive in making iron, though this became obsolete with the invention of oxygen tanks (which could add oxygen to the iron). The new technology resulted in the end of the mine, as extraction from the vertical underground mine was no longer cost effective. Bill discussed the working conditions of the mine and was clear to note that although the mine was safer than other mines, it was never easy or safe work. He also sang a song in Slovenian, as his grandparents came to the U.S. from Slovenia and his grandfather was a miner. After the mine tour, we milled around the park, where there is an assortment of mining structures and equipment. Generally speaking, the tour helped me to learn a bit more about the process of iron mining. On the nature side of things, the mine is home to a healthy population of bats (which have not had white nose syndrome).
Aside from mining tours, the Soudan Mine is a research center for physics experiments. There are science themed tours wherein visitors can learn more about the neutrino research at the park. We only had time and money for one tour, so I was not able to learn about the neutrino research. Oh well, I could always return sometime!
Visting the state parks has been great. It has made for an educational summer. Aside from the four listed, I have been a frequent visitor to Jay Cooke State Park this summer. There are many free lectures and hikes on topics related to identifying trees, wild flowers, geology, etc. As a result, I believe that I have increased my knowledge of nature quite a bit this summer…but that can be the topic of another blog post. For now, I have enjoyed these little adventures.
Tower Soudan Mine Park Images: