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Winnipeg With My Mother

Road Trip to Winnipeg (With My Mother)

Winnipeg Road Trip (With My Mother)


H. Bradford

8/18/19


In June, I visited Winnipeg with my mother.  I thought I would write up a summary of what we did, so other travelers to Winnipeg might have an idea of fun things to do, especially if they are traveling with a family member.  Winnipeg is about seven hours away from Duluth, MN and I wanted to visit during the centennial commemoration of the 1919 Winnipeg general strike.   You can read more about tourist attractions related to the general strike here: Winnipeg General Strike Travel Ideas.  My mother traveled to Winnipeg as a child with her own parents, so she was interested in traveling there for the sake of nostalgia.   Despite our different interests, there were several things that we enjoyed in common.  Here are some of the top attractions that we saw:


Oseredok, Ukrainian Museum:


This is a free attraction and the first place we stopped while waiting for check in time for our hotel.   Oseredok means “center” in Ukrainian.  It isn’t a place to spend hours, but it did have a floor that featured WWI era photos from Ukraine, which is the current exhibit.  I was tired from working night shifts and recovering from a stomach bug, so I will admit that my brain did not digest a lot of World War I Ukrainian history.  It doesn’t help that Ukraine really didn’t exist as a nation during World War I, as it was divided between the Russian Empire and Austro Hungarian Empire.   Thus, Ukrainians fought each other during World War I on behalf of the respective empires they were a part of.  The photo exhibit constituted a floor of the building and was the only public area open at the time of my visit.   There is also a nice gift shop in the museum with Ukrainian crafts and imports.  Winnipeg had Canada’s largest urban population of Ukrainians until the 1970s, as Ukrainian immigrants came to the area in the early 1900s to work in such areas as mining, railroads, factories, lumber, and so on.   Oseredok is located near the Manitoba Museum.


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Osoredok Website:

https://oseredok.ca/

184 Alexander Ave, Winnipeg, MB R3B 0L6, Canada

More Info on Ukrainians in Winnipeg:

http://www.encyclopediaofukraine.com/display.asp?linkpath=pages%5CW%5CI%5CWinnipeg.htm

 


 

  Manitoba Museum:


Near Oserodok is the expansive Manitoba Museum.  The museum is a lot to take in, and as I mentioned, my brain and stomach were not really up to the task of taking much in.  I wrote a blog post about the museum’s exhibit on the Winnipeg General Strike, but there was so much more!  A person could devote a whole day to exploring the museum.   The many things in the museum include dinosaurs, geology, natural history of Manitoba, indigenous history, Hudson Bay Company history,  and an exhibit on The Franklin Expedition.  The museum also features Animals Inside Out, an exhibition of plasticized animal bodies and organs.  Animals Inside Out is bizarre and beautiful, as there is something elegant about the skinless forms of familiar animals.  At the same time, I found it a little disturbing.  I guess I am a bit sensitive, as I felt anxious around the naked, dead, plastic, dissected animals.  That unusual state of display draws attention to their lifelessness and literally disembodies the whole of their being.   Kids seemed just fine running around and gawking at the sinewy nakedness of a plasticized giraffe, so I guess I am probably one of the few sensitive ones.  The museum is a bit spendy, but there is a lot to see.  I visited the Museum Galleries and Animals Inside Out, which is the most basic admission at $19.50.  There is also a Science Gallery and Planetarium which can be visited at additional cost.   The museum is located at: 190 Rupert Ave, Winnipeg, MB R3B 0N2, Canada


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Mantiboa Museum:

https://manitobamuseum.ca/main/visit/


 

  Assiniboine Park Zoo:

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Seeing dead, plastic coated animals at the Manitoba Museum made me feel a bit uneasy.  I prefer to see living animals, even if they are in captivity.  On our second day in Winnipeg, we visited the Assiniboine Park Zoo.  The zoo was established in 1904, and was one of the attractions that my mother had visited as a child in the 1970s.   Zoos are controversial, in that they do important work in conservation and education, but also normalize the use of animals for entertainment and the imprisonment of animals.   Despite the debates around them, I do enjoy going to zoos, as I like learning about animals and seeing them.   There are several things that stand out about the zoo.  One, there is a nice bird exhibit called Toucan Ridge, in which birds such as spoonbills and ibises roam semi-freely in a tropical plant filled dome.  There was a butterfly garden, but it was devoid of butterflies because it was a cool day and perhaps they were inactive.  There were also pretty neat Boreal Forest and Great Plains exhibits.  But, by far the best attraction at the zoo as the large polar bear exhibit which is part of the zoo’s Journey to Churchill area.  The polar bear exhibit features a cafe wherein patrons can eat their lunches while watching polar bears outside of the large windows.  There are also a few viewing areas of the grassy slopes where the polar bears are kept.  An educational center features interactive displays and acts as a small museum to the biology and conservation of polar bears.   The grand finale of it all is a glass tube, where visitors can watch polar bears swimming and playing above their heads.  Other Arctic animals are also featured in this exhibit, which really makes a person wish they could travel to Churchill.  Unfortunately, those trips are often over $7000 and zoo admission is $20.50 for an adult.  I suggest visiting Journey to Churchill last, as we did, since it really is a fabulous exhibit and worth saving until the end.


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Assiniboine Park Zoo: https://assiniboinepark.ca/zoo


Assiniboine Gardens and Leo Mol Sculpture Garden:


Once we had finished visiting the zoo, we went to the nearby Assiniboine Gardens and Leon Mol Sculpture Garden.  Both are free to visit.  Although there are several gardens in the park, we primarily visited the English Garden.  The entrance of the garden is marked by a statue called The Boy With a Boot, which dates back to 1897 when it was part of a fountain commemorating the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria.  Apparently the statue was unpopular, as a boy with a leaky boot didn’t seem like an appropriate statue to honor the 60th anniversary of the queen’s ascension to the throne.  This is why the statue found its way from City Hall to the park.  An impoverished child seems like a good way to celebrate the senseless excess of monarchy to me!  The surrounding garden was full of roses, peonies, lilacs, mock orange bushes, and poppies during our visit.  There is a small cottage within the garden, which I have seen referred to as Grandma’s Cottage, though I am not sure what the story is regarding the building.  It mostly served as a quaint prop for photographs.

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Adjacent to the English Garden is the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden.  Leo Mol, or Leonid Molodoshanin, was a Ukrainian sculptor who emigrated to Canada in 1948, eventually settling in Winnipeg.   The sculpture garden features 300 pieces of art donated by Leo Mol, which can be found in the art gallery, studio, or gardens.  The sculpture garden was established in 1992.  Many of the sculptures depict wildlife, such as deer, bear, and a boar, while there is also a large assembly of lithe, nude women.  Taras Shevchenko, the Ukrainian poet, artist, writer, and independence/national identity figure also makes several appearances.  My favorite sculpture was The Blind Bandurist, since I had already seen a version of it Oseredok and the bandura is associated with Ukrainian identity, which was one of the themes of the city’s history.  My mother’s favorite sculpture was Moses, who is located by a pergola and iris enveloped pond.

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Living Prairie Museum:


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This is another free attraction, which is located within 10 minutes drive from the zoo.  Prairies are an endangered ecosystem that have almost all but disappeared.  In Manitoba, less than 1% remains of the original tall grass prairie that pre-dated European colonization.  The Living Prairie Museum is a patch of restored prairie, where visitors can walk along an interpretive trail to learn more about prairie plants and animals.  To be fair, it is not an expansive attraction or even one what will wow visitors with its pristine natural beauty.   It appears as a large field located by a school and apartment building.  But, if a person takes their time to enjoy the trail, one can appreciate the effort to restore this pocket of prairie with native grasses and wildflowers.   The preserve, located in a residential area, was set aside in 1968 after it was discovered to be a vestige of an original prairie and now features over 160 species of grasses and wildflowers (some of which are prairie plants from Illinois as prairie plant seeds were not widely available at the time).  Some highlights of the trail included yellow lady slippers, wild prairie roses,  prairie sage, prairie smoke, wild licorice, and countless wildflowers which I couldn’t identify.   The visitor center regularly hosts educational events, but was closed during our visit.  It may not seem like much, but our visit was relaxing and educational.  It is probably the best urban prairie that a person can visit!


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Grand Beach Provincial Park:


Grand Beach is located about an hour and a half north of Winnipeg on Lake Winnipeg.  It was once a bustling tourist attraction which drew tourists from Winnipeg on the multiple train connections a day.  But, over the years, the beach declined in popularity, its dance pavilion burned, and the train service was discontinued with the advent of car travel.  It has been a provincial park since 1961 and is a breeding area for the endangered piping plover.  While the beach is not as popular as it was in its heydey, it is worth the drive to visit the white sand beaches and to see Lake Winnipeg, the third largest lake within Canada’s borders.  I mostly spent the afternoon stalking the nearby forests and trails for birds, as the area is great for birdwatching- even if June isn’t peak bird watching season.   The lagoon near the beach is a hotspot for birds, though I didn’t see anything unique during my visit.  My mother spent some time on the shore and in the water, which she found to be full of algae (so better for looking at than swimming).  There is a boardwalk and a few shops.   Despite the jackpine forests around it, it is easy to imagine that the beach is located on the ocean or some tropical location.  A beach makes for a good family destination, as those who like to play in the water can enjoy that, others can hike, or a person can choose to read or relax on the sand.

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Birds Hill Provincial Park:


Part of our trip involved camping at Birds Hill Provincial Park.  The park is located about a half an hour north from downtown Winnipeg and is a sprawling forest full of trails and campgrounds.  The park hosts an annual folk festival.  While visiting, we camped and hiked.  One of the trails that we hiked along was the Pine Ridge trail, which visitors can walk along while reading the interpretive brochure.   The trail travels along what was once Pine Ridge, a community of mostly Polish and Ukrainian farmers.  Most of the structures are gone, but the brochure offers the history of the store, school, farmsteads that were one there.  One farm along the mile and a half trail remains in tact for viewing.   I also wandered along the Lake View Trail, which takes visitors to a beach.  A highlight of the camping experience was the dozens of Franklin’s ground squirrels that darted around the campground.  Although these grey squirrel sized ground squirrels are found in Minnesota, they prefer prairie habitats so they are not often found in my area.   The park features a variety of ecosystems, such as prairie, burr oak and aspen forests, and spruce and tamarack dominated wetlands.  Yellow salsify, yellow ladyslipper, coralroot orchids, and oval leaf milkweed were among the wildflowers that I spotted on the trails.   Among the bird species seen in the park, there were a variety of sparrows, including clay colored and lark sparrows, as well as ravens, catbirds, red eyed vireos, common yellow throats, etc.  A day pass to visit the park is only $5 CAN and also works at other provincial parks, such as Grand Beach.


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Lower Fort Garry:


When we visited, it was free to visit the grounds of Lower Fort Gary, which is located about 15-20 minutes away from Birds Hill Provincial Park.   Visitors can also opt to take a guided tour, which costs about $7 and allows access to the interior of buildings.  We ambled around the complex on our own, as a map and signage helped us interpret the fort and buildings.  The fort was built in 1830 and served the Hudson’s Bay Company for fur trading and as a supply depot.  The fort is known for its historic stone buildings and limestone walls, but I found the psychiatric hospital to be the most interesting.  It was offhandedly mentioned on a plaque that one of the buildings served as a mental health hospital (the first in what became Manitoba)which seemed like a pretty brief and sanitized version of history.  A warehouse at the fort was converted into a penitentiary and mental health hospital in 1871, under the administration of Dr. David Young.  Prisoners and those with mental illness were housed together.  A few years later, a separate facility was built for mental health patients in Selkirk.   While the signs say very little about this history, it can be inferred that that part of Canada was in the early stages of institutionalizing psychology and that mental health was lumped together with criminality (as it still is today in varying ways).  Aside from the early mental health facility (which seems more likely a prison), another point of interest was the York boat display.  York boats were used by the Hudson’s Bay Company to transport goods and were known for their sturdy construction and ability to transport tons of cargo.   Otherwise, the fort was a nice place to stroll around and enjoy the flocks of American pelicans flying along the Red River.


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For more information: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/lhn-nhs/mb/fortgarry/visit


This isn’t an exhaustive list of everything we did during our visit to Winnipeg.  We also visited The Forks and stopped by the Hudson’s Bay Company Department Store, which my mother visited when she was a child.  As a child, she remembered it as a robust fantasy land of retail goods.  Today, it was a ghost town of vacant shelves, like most remaining department stores.  Our journey was met with a few mishaps, such as getting a little lost while looking for a Chinese Garden and learning the hard way that the U.S. border station near Tolstoi, MB closes before 8 pm.  We also learned the important lesson that gas stations are few and far between while traveling to one border station to another and along the Manitoba and North Dakota border.  Despite this hiccup in our border crossing, we had a good time and packed a lot of adventure into the four days that we visited.  Hopefully this gives readers some ideas of fun things to visit in Winnipeg and the region around it or things that could be enjoyed between an adult child and their parent (yes, I am an adult child…since I certainly acted like a child when the border was closed!).

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Visiting Three Minnesota State Parks

Three MInnesota State PArks

Visiting Three Minnesota State Parks

H. Bradford

08/12/19


One of my goals is to visit all of the state parks in Minnesota.  There are 67 of them and my New Year’s Resolution was to see three new ones in 2019.  My total since I started this challenge is about 24.  Suffice to stay, with a minimum of three a year, it will take me some time to see all of them.  This goal has helped me to appreciate the diversity of Minnesota’s landscapes, but also how large the state feels once I’ve hit the nearby parks.  This summer, I visited Forestville Mystery Cave State Park, Father Hennepin State Park, and Schoolcraft State Park.  Here is a review of each:


Forestville Mystery Cave State Park:

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I was most excited to see the Forestville Mystery Cave State Park.   The park is located about four hours drive south of Duluth near the Iowa border, so going there is a commitment in itself.  But, the park promised the longest cave in Minnesota, as well as a restored town from the 1800s.   The idea of exploring the longest cave in the state lured me to the driftless area of Minnesota, which is a bluff region which only experienced two of the last four glaciations on the last million years.  I had really built up the cave in my head and this park has spent a long time on my bucket list.  But, as the journey wore on, further and further into sparsely populated and agricultural area…I began to wonder if it was worth the visit (Dan accompanied me and I also worried that he might not have fun).  The cave itself is located a few miles away from the main park office at a separate location.  The cave has its own park office, so visitors can go directly to the cave rather than stopping at the park (as we did).  Once there, visitors can enjoy the artifacts and informational displays at the visitor center and sign up for one of several types of tours offered by the park.  The tours include a basic scenic tour, lantern tour, geology tour, photography tour, and wild caving tour.  I went on the basic scenic tour (and had thought about going on a second tour such as the lantern tour, but never did).

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The basic scenic tour attracted a crowd of several families.  It lasts about an hour and costs $15.  The tour provides a basic overview of the geological formations and history of the cave.  The finale is the Turquoise Lake, which was smaller than I imagined, but still pretty.   Another point of interest in the cave were fossils, one of which was a nautiloid affixed to the ceiling.   Other fossils found in the cave or cave environs include trilobites, tube worms, sponges, bryozoa (a phylum of small filter feeders that I am not really familiar with), snails, etc.  The fossils attest the cave’s early history as a sea bed 450 million years ago.   Ocean debris and mud slowly built up and compressed to form the sandstone and limestone of the cave (which itself was carved/dissolved by water over time).  Another unique feature of the cave are iron oxide cored speleothems (a fancy word for cave formations), which are very rare.  I probably should have taken notes, or perhaps gone on the more in depth geology theme tour.  Instead, I scurried along at the end of the group taking photos.  As a whole, the tour seemed short, and after four hours in a car, my attention was disrupted by road weariness.  I would recommend a more in depth or adventurous tour than the basic scenic tour, which I found a little too easy.  I would also recommend time to unwind if traveling across the state.  I honestly felt a little disappointed by the tour, as in my head I had built the cave up to be something more fantastic.  It was not the most interesting cave I had ever visited, but perhaps an additional tour would have added some more depth to the experience.

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Forestville Mystery Cave State Park also features a recreated 1800s village of Forestville, complete with costumed reenactors.  By the time the cave tour was over, the day was already getting late.   The town was closing for the day by the time we arrived.   The town of Forestville floundered after it was bypassed by railways in 1868.  Today it is restored and operated as a living museum by the Minnesota Historical Society.   After wandering around the buildings and peeking inside a few, the remainder of the evening was spent hiking in the park.  It was June and the gnats were terrible.  I ended up with many welts on my shoulder and neck from gnat bites.  This put a damper on enjoyable hiking, but under better conditions it seems like there is diverse nature to explore as the park is situated between prairie and deciduous biomes.  As for camping, we stayed at the nearby Maple Springs campground.   The campground is conveniently located outside of the park’s main entrance (so even though the state park campground was full, it was a nearby alternative.).  A campsite without water and electricity is $25 per night, so comparable to the state park’s prices.

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Overall, I think I built up the park a bit too much in my imagination.  It was certainly interesting and offered a variety of activities (cave tours, historical town, hiking, etc.) but the gnats soured my mood and ability to experience the park.  Later that week, I learned that the gnats were at their worst over that particular weekend, as many had just hatched and there was a larger population this year due to heavier rains (they like moving water).  Thus, the menacing gnat clouds that seemed intent on getting stuck in my hair may have been worse than other times.  The park is definitely worth the visit, but the cave, while unique to Minnesota and full of unique characteristics in its own right, it not the biggest or most interesting that I’ve been to.  So, perhaps with more modest or realistic expectations it would not disappoint.  To be fair, I did not really explore the cave or the park to the fullest.

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Father Hennepin State Park:

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Father Hennepin State Park is a small state park located by Isle, MN on Mille Lacs Lake.  I visited this park on a solo day trip.  Even though I didn’t spend the night, I felt that my day trip was an adequate amount of time to explore the park.   The park entrance was near an osprey nest, which I briefly observed before heading to the main parking lot.  The lot is located near a beach, which was active with families enjoying the summery weather.  My interest was exploring the trails, so I set off exploring.  Unfortunately, the park does not have an extensive trail network.  In all, it has under five miles of trails, which form a loop around the park (with two long ends).  The trails are easy to stroll along and feature a view of Mille Lacs Lake and an observation point for watching Common terns.  Common terns nest on two small islands on Mille Lacs Lake, which are one of only four breeding colonies in Minnesota.  I didn’t see any common terns as the islands were beyond the reach of my binoculars, so bringing a spotting scope would be a good idea for a visitor who has one.  The observation point is only about .5 miles from the parking lot.

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In addition to missing out on the terns, I didn’t see any of the park’s albino deer.   However, I did see a woodchuck climb a tree and saw/heard several species of flycatchers.  There is also a nice collection of interpretive signs along the trails and at the beach.  The park is named after Father Hennepin, who was a French priest and explorer who visited the region in 1680.   At the time, the area was home to Mdewakanton Dakota.  His exploratory accounts are believed to be exaggerated (for instance, one account spoke of being captured by Native Americans and traversing thousands of miles by canoe in just a month) and did not portray Native Americans favorably.   It would be great if the park’s name was changed to something else, perhaps something that recognizes Native American history instead.  I am not aware of any effort to change the park’s name, but did learn that the Ojibwe word for Mille Lacs Lake is Misi-zaaga’igan.  It is a small, but pleasant and pretty park that is easy to explore.  It is only 20 minutes away from Mille Lacs Kathio State Park, which is a much larger park with more trails.  The two could easily be combined if a person wanted to camp by the lake (at Father Hennepin) then spend some more time hiking (at Mille Lacs Kathio).

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Schoolcraft State Park:

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The third park that I visited this summer was Schoolcraft State Park, which is located about two hours west of Duluth near Grand Rapids, MN at the confluence of the Mississippi and Vermilion rivers.  Like Father Hennepin State Park, the visit was a solo day trip rather than an overnight camping excursion.   Of all the state parks that I have visited thus far, this one was the smallest and emptiest!  The park did not have visible staff or a park office.  Instead, there was a self-serve kiosk for purchasing firewood, camping fees, or a park pass.  The park did not even have a large sign, like most parks often have.  On the plus side, I had the park almost entirely to myself.  So, in that sense, it felt pretty remote!  The main objective of the visit was to see a 300 year old white pine and to do some hiking.  The hiking was not an extensive adventure because the park only has two miles of trails!  The park is probably a better destination for people who wish to canoe or fish.  I followed the Hiking Club Trail, which looped around the park.  I even backtracked and detoured a bit to hit various segments of trail that cut across the loop.  I didn’t see many birds, but I did see quite a few butterflies during the hike.  In all, it is very easy to explore the whole park within a few hours.

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The main attraction of the park is the 300 year old white pine.  The pine was spared by loggers because it was too crooked.  Thus, it stands along the Mississippi river; its arboreal cohort is long gone.   The tree doesn’t have a sign or, to my knowledge, a name.  But, it is distinctive enough to identify as the old one, since it is large, forked into three, and located right in front of the main parking lot along the river.  I took photos of the tree, then set off walking.   Along the short loop of a trail are some interpretive signs- which in the absence of a larger park or extensive trail network, offer a visitor something to do or find.  The signs discuss the nature and history of the park.  Like Father Hennepin state park, Schoolcraft State Park is named after a white explorer.  In this case, Henry Schoolcraft was part of an 1832 US expedition to the headwaters of the Mississippi River and later became a Superintendent of Indian Affairs (through which he obtained millions of acres of land for the U.S. government through treaties and sought to acculturate Native Americans into a farming).  He married an Ojibwe and Scottish writer named Jane Johnston, who taught him about Ojibwe language and culture.  She is believed to be the first female Native American writer and poet, though I don’t recall information about her on the interpretive signs.  Perhaps the park should be named after her.  After she passed away, Schoolcraft married a pro-slavery writer named Mary Howard.  It would be great to rename this park as well.  PFather Hennepin State Park, Schoolcraft State Park, and especially Sibley State Park (Sibley fought against the Dakota Uprising in 1862, which culminated in the largest mass hanging in US history when 38 Dakota prisoners were executed) could all use a name change.  Changing the name does not undo U.S. history of genocide or even promise better treatment of Native Americans today, but at least it doesn’t celebrate or honor colonization.

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I enjoy visiting state parks and would certainly recommend all three.  Schoolcraft State Park is small enough that I probably wouldn’t suggest spending a long time there (multiple days) or a recommend long distance travel that only entails that park (perhaps it could be visited along with another state park in the area).  Father Hennepin State Park is another small park, but the location is pretty enough that staying longer might be worthwhile for the opportunity to relax and enjoy the lake.  Finally, Forestville Mystery Cave State Park is large enough that it could be visited over multiple days as it has many things to do and see.  It is a bit more remote than the other two, but also much more popular.  In the case of the two smaller parks that I visited, it prompted me to think a bit more about the ways in which state parks commemorate colonial history.  This is a topic that I should spend some time looking into a bit more.  It is great to enjoy fossils and 300 year old trees, but these spaces are largely white and middle class and some of the names signal who belongs and matters and who does not.


Birds of Copan

Birds of Copan 1

 Birds of Copan

H. Bradford

5/22/19


This past winter, I was able to travel to Central America.  One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to the Copan ruins in Honduras.  Before I continue, it is important to note that Honduras has been experiencing political violence and repression since the 2009 coup that overthrew democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya.  The United States has supported the coup in a number of ways, such as normalizing relationships with and recognizing the subsequent government. The United States has continued to provide military aid to the Honduran government, despite state violence of activists fighting for environmental, indigenous, and human rights.  The following is about birds, which seems pretty trivial and privileged. For more information about the political situation, I found that “The Long Honduran Night Resistance, Terror, and the United States in the Aftermath of the Coup,” by Dana Frank was useful in providing an overview of the U.S. role in destabilizing the country.  I feel that I can’t talk about the fun topic of birds without at least acknowledging the more serious social context, which I was sheltered from as a leisure seeking tourist.  The only indication that anything was amiss was a power outage that locals at Copan blamed on the government as a way to thwart New Year’s eve celebrations and the large number of armed police/military/guards.


While I could have traveled to Honduras for more noble reasons, such as with a Witness for Peace delegation, I was there as a tourist.  As a tourist, I visited the Copan Ruins. The Copan Ruins are located near the border with Guatemala and it represents the southernmost city of the Mayan civilization.  Mayan “civilization” itself sounds rather racist, as Mayans are still alive, have (what wasn’t destroyed or repressed) cultural continuity with pre-Columbian Mayans, and certainly accomplishing important things.  I suppose when this word is used is it to describe Mayans before the arrival of Spanish and before the abandonment of cities and monument construction at the end of the Classical period. Copan was a powerful Mayan city state located in the Copan River valley of Honduras.  People in area had been constructing stone structures since 9th century BC, but the dynastic history of Copan begins in 426 AD and ended between 800 and 850 AD. At its peak, over 20,000 people lived in the city. It is a World Heritage Site and an impressive complex of what seems like an endless array of ruins and stelae.  The site includes a ball court, Acropolis, stairways, residences, stelae, temples, tombs, altars, and other ruins. There is a lot of history to absorb and it is a lot to explore the entire complex. As fascinating as the ruins are, they are surrounded by forests which burgeon with birds! My attention was divided between history and ecology.  In the end, my love of birds probably won and that was what I absorbed most from the experience. Yet, these things aren’t entirely at odds, since many of the birds had a place in Mayan culture. Birds are history as much as the monuments! Here is an overview of some of the birds that I saw and how they might relate to Mayan or regional culture.


 

1. Scarlet Macaw (Ara Macao):

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A Macaw at Copan, H. Bradford 2019


A large number of Scarlet Macaws can be found at the Copan ruins.  I spotted over twenty while meandering around the ruins. They seemed most plentiful on the main trail from the visitor’s center.  The red parrots are hard to miss, as they are large, loud, and bright. The large number of Scarlet Macaws has to do with the nearby Macaw Mountain, which rehabilitates, breeds, and releases Macaws.  Other birds are also kept at Macaw Mountain, often as permanent residents because of injuries or health conditions the birds sustained while kept as pets. There are feeding stations along the trail to the ruins (Whitely, 2015).  They are the national bird of Honduras. Scarlet Macaws were culturally important to the Mayans, who, like the Aztecs, believed they symbolized the sun. Mesoamericans also traded the birds, which have been found in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.  The bird remains found in Chaco Canyon date back from 900 AD from captive stock of parrots (Greshko, 2018). Macaws may have had ancient population decline due to this trade. Scarlet macaws are native to tropical lowlands where Mayan civilization was most concentrated and they require pristine conditions to survive, as they nest in tree trunks.  Macaws are sensitive to deforestation, poaching, pet trade and are rare in the Yucatan peninsula. Today, they are more commonly found further south in Central America such as in Costa Rica (Stuart, 2015). Thus, the trade in parrots is why the macaws are found at Copan today, as the modern pet trade resulted in the need to rehabilitate the birds and eventually reintroduce them to the area.


Beyond trading them, they appear in Mayan stories.  Popol Vul, the ancient Mayan creation story, features a deity called Seven Macaw, which is a bird creature with some characteristics of macaws, but also characteristics of a snake eating hawk (Hellmuth, 2015).  In Popol Vuh, the Hero Twins, the central characters of the story, use a blow gun against Seven Macaw, which is perched atop a nance tree, which is a a type of tropical fruit (Iconography, characteristics of painted macaws on Early Classic, Tzakol, basal flange bowls, 2014).  In the Popol Vul, Seven Macaw describes himself as such:


    “I am great. I dwell above the heads of the people […] I am their sun. I

am also their light […] My eyes sparkle with glittering blue/green

jewels. My teeth as well are jade stones, as brilliant as the face of the

sky. This, my beak, shines brightly […] My throne is gold and silver.

When I go forth from my throne, I brighten the face of the earth.

Thus Seven Macaw puffed himself up in the days and months before

the faces of the sun, moon, and stars could truly be seen. He desired

only greatness and transcendence before the light of the sun and

moon were revealed in their clarity.”

(Helmke and Jesper, 2015: 28)


Copan ruins are the only place to see a specific depiction of a macaw (as the deity itself is not necessary a macaw) as this deity.  There is a depiction of a scene wherein one of the twin’s arms in the beak of Seven Macaw (Iconography, characteristics of painted macaws on Early Classic, Tzakol, basal flange bowls, 2014).  This depiction is located as an architectural decoration near the ballcourt. However, I did not know to look for this scene. Here is a replica of that artwork: Image result for A replica of a ballcourt decoration at Copan representing Seven Macaw, (Museum of Mayan Sculpture, Copan, Honduras).  Photo by Mark Cartwright, 2014 A replica of a ballcourt decoration at Copan representing Seven Macaw, (Museum of Mayan Sculpture, Copan, Honduras).  Photo by Mark Cartwright, 2014


Seven Macaw is one of four Mayan “Great Bird” deities, which represent the moon, sun, stars, and darkness.  Popul Vuh discusses the death and defeat of the bird, which was a prerequisite for pacifying the world to allow for the creation of humanity.  To defeat the bird, the Twins tricked it after hitting it with the blowgun. They told the bird that they were bringing a healer, but instead removed its teeth and eyes, which served as the source of its power (Helmke and Jesper, 2015).  Aside from the depiction of Seven Macaw, Copan ruins feature a macaw head ball court marker. Elsewhere, macaws, or at least stylized macaw like birds, are depicted on bowls, other ball game hachas. From the 2nd century onward, Mayans regularly featured Macaws in their art (Hellmuth, 2015).  In the Late Classic Mayan period, macaws are the most commonly depicted land bird (Stuart, 2015).

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Photo from the ball court, H. Bradford 2019

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H. Bradford, 2019

2.) Montezuma Oropendola (Psarocolius montezuma):

 

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Montezuma Oropendola, H. Bradford 2019


This large bird with an unwieldy name ranges from southern Mexico to Panama, occurring mostly along the Carribean side of Central America.  It is an Icterid, or member of the Icteridae family, which consists of new world blackbirds, new world orioles, bobolinks, meadowlarks, cowbirds, and grackles.  Although it is in the blackbird family, it really doesn’t look like a blackbird, as it is larger, with a large red and black bill, chestnut, black, and yellow plumage, and bare skin by its eye.  Montezuma Oropendola is considered common, is omnivorous, and can be found in evergreen lowlands, forest edges, plantations, and disturbed forests (Sample and Kannan, 2016). I spotted at least two of them near the park entrance at Copan ruins.  The name of the bird translates from Spanish to “Golden pendulum” perhaps because of its yellow tail and and the tree limb swinging mating dance of males (Fendt, 2016). Males weave drooping nests that hang low from trees. The only reference I could find regarding this bird and the Mayans is that Mayan art at Peten depicts the nests of Montezuma Oropendola (Oropendola, Montezuma, 2017).


3. Altamira Oriole (Icterus gularis):

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H. Bradford, 2019

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H. Bradford, 2019


There are several species of orioles which can be found around the Copan ruins.  According to e-bird, these species include Altamira, Streak-backed, Yellow backed, Bar winged oriole, Spot-breasted, Baltimore, and Orchard orioles.  The pictured orioles are Altamira Orioles (I believe) since they don’t have streaked backs, spots on their breasts, don’t have a black head like a Baltimore oriole, nor are they as dark as Orchard orioles.  Alamira Orioles are found in Central America and range as far north as southern Texas. Like the Montezuma Oropendola, it constructs a long woven nest, which in its case, can reach almost 26 inches in length.  The Altamira Oriole was once called the Lichtenstein’s Oriole and Black throated Oriole. It is also the largest New World Oriole (Altamira Oriole Identification, 2017).  Yuyum is the lowland Mayan word for oriole and the Bonampak mural depicts a royal figure whose name translates to “Yellow Oriole” or Aj K’an Yuyum,  Yellow backed orioles are depicted in the Murals of San Bartolo (Stuart, 2014)


Seeing as there are seven species of orioles in the area and that each are some combination of orange and black, I would advise any newer or intermediate birder like myself to study orioles before visiting.  I struggled a bit and probably saw other species, but was too slow to identify or photograph them.


 

4. Motmots (Momotidae):

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Out of Focus Turquoise-browed Motmot, H. Bradford, 2019


One of the most exciting birds that I saw was the Turquoise-browed Motmot.  It was a book that I saw in my bird book, so it had captured my imagination before the trip.  To suddenly see one and immediately recognize it was amazing! Turquoise-browed Motmots range from southern Mexico to Costa Rica.  They can adapt to a number of habitats, but prefer tropical evergreen and tropical deciduous forests. Since it perches on fence posts and wires, it is not too hard to find, and during my trip I saw them several times.  Interestingly, the tail feathers are not genetically slender, but get worn down exposing the feather shaft. Turquoise-browed Motmots nest in underground burrows (Streiter, n.d.). Both male and females have long tails, but they use them differently.  Both sexes wag their tails to indicate to predators that they have spotted the threat, but males use their tails for sexual displays as well. It is also the national bird of El Salvador and Nicaragua (Turquoise-browed Motmot (Eumomota superciliosa).n.d.)

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Hidden and shady view of Lesson’s Motmot


To make matters more confusing, there is actually another species of Motmot that can be found at Copan.  Lesson’s Motmot is also found in the area. I spotted one through some dense foliage, so I was unable to get a decent photo.  However, the two species are very similar in their plumage as both have bright turquoise brows, green coloration on their bodies, black masks, and racket tails.  Despite the poor photo of Lesson’s Motmot, the main difference that I could see between the two is that Lesson’s Motmot does not have the long, featherless shaft that the Turquoise-browed Motmot possess.  The featherless area is much shorter. Lesson’s Motmot is also chunkier and longer than the Turquoise-browed Motmot. Both birds were spotted on a trail that cut to the left before the main complex of ruins.  One source said that motmots can be found by cenotes, or underground pools. According to Mayan stories, the Motmot was the most beautiful bird, but lost its feathers after a hurricane and went to the cenotes to hide (Robinson, 2013).


5. Toucans (Ramphastidae):

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Keel-billed Toucan, H. Bradford 2019


I didn’t actually see these birds at Copan, but nearby at Maccaw Mountain.  There are feeding stations for wild birds near the entrance of the rehabilitation center and various wild birds around the parking lot, even though the sanctuary itself features aviaries of mostly rescued animals.  The two species of toucans that I saw in this area were a Keel-Billed Toucan and Collared Aracari. E-bird lists these as the only two species of toucans found in the area. The Keel-billed Toucan is identifiable by its colorful green, red, yellow, and turquoise beak, which is why it is sometimes called the Rainbow billed Toucan.  They have no known affinity for colorful cereal and instead prefer a diet of fruit and nuts. They are considered common and their populations are listed as Least Concern, though climate change is pushing their range to higher elevations They range from southern Mexico to Northern Colombia, in humid lowland forest canopies (Jones and Griffiths, 2011). Image may contain: tree, sky, plant, bird, outdoor and nature

Collared Aracari, H. Bradford 2019


The Collared Aracari is smaller than other toucans in its range and is the northernmost Aracari species.  It is black, with yellow underparts, and a reddish color collar. It looks similar to other species of Aracari, but none fall within most of its range.  It does overlap with the Fiery Billed Aracari in Panama and Costa Rica. It is primarily a frugavore, but does eat insects, eggs, nestlings, and small vertebrates.  It is considered a species of Least Concern, but as a cavity nester it is sensitive to deforestation (Green and Cannan, 2017).


Northern Lacandon Mayan men would give yellow breast feathers from toucans to their wives as a gift.  Women tied the feathers into their hair to symbolize marriage. Toucan breast feathers are also featured in the garb of warriors on the Bonampak mural in Chiapas (Nations, 2006).  Otherwise, I could not find other references to the importance of toucans to the Mayans. While I don’t have any other Mayan stories, I do have a modern tale of greed. MIA, a California based non-profit concerned with Mayan archaeology and education, was asked to change their logo from a toucan because Kellogg’s believed it was too close to Toucan Sam (Hsu, 2011).  Kellogg’s also took issue with the use of Mayan imagery due to similar settings that Toucan Sam appeared in. The non-profit found that the only thing Kellogg’s had connected to Mayan culture was an online game where in Toucan Sam encounters a racialized villain character representing a Mayan (Cushing, 2011). A negative publicity campaign against Kellogg’s resulted in the company paying $100,000 to MAI, removing the online game, and featuring MAI’s website on cereal boxes (Patterson, 2011).   The offending logo can be found below:

Image result for MIA toucan logo kellogg's Clearly this logo is too similar to Toucan Sam…


6. White-throated Magpie-jay (Calocitta formosa)

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White-throated Magpie-jays, H. Bradford 2019


I spotted several White-throated Magpie-jays along a trail that leads to the Copan Ruins.  They can be found at the forest edges, ranches, and outskirts of towns among the dry tropical forests of the Central Mexico to Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, which is exactly the sort of environment I spotted them in (outside of town, by a pasture for cows).  Due to deforestation, their range is expanding southward in Costa Rica, thus they are a bird that actually benefits from human activity and are considered a species of Least Concern. White-throated Magpie-jays feed on both insects (but also eggs and small vertebrates) and fruits, switching their diet depending on if it is the dry or wet season.  They are social birds and unique because they form groups organized with a dominant female, her mate, and several female offspring. The adult female offspring assist with feeding the dominant female and her younger offspring. Male birds move between groups, unless the dominant female is nesting. Male magpie jays produce up to sixty vocalizations, which are used to communicate predator threats or the presence of low threat birds.  These alarm calls may be used by males to attract the attention of females, which otherwise might not have much use for them (White-throated Magpie-Jay (Calocitta formosa, n.d.) Image may contain: tree, sky, bird, plant, outdoor and nature In general, Magpie-Jays are a genus called Calocitta, which include White Throated Magpie Jays and Black-throated Magpie-jays.  The two birds can hybridize and both are known for their long tail length. Jays, or for that matter magpies which they are named after, are corvids or members of the crow family.  Members of the crow family are among the smartest birds in the world and some species are known to use tools, play tricks, hold funerals, and teach each other information. Experiments with Eurasian scrub jays conducted by Dr. Nicky Clayton of Cambridge University, using worms and beetles suggest that the birds may be able to consider the preferences of their mate when choosing whether to eat worm or beetle.  Her experiments with Western scrub jays demonstrated that the birds were able to remember where and when they had cached food. If a perishable food item such as wax worms had been cached several days prior (and was no longer palatable), the birds went for previously cached peanuts instead. This is despite the fact that the birds prefer waxworms. The jays were also found to be able to plan ahead by caching pine nuts in a room where they regularly found breakfast, so that they would find more food each morning (Balter, 2016).  While many corvids cache food, White-throated magpie jays are unusual in that they do not engage in notable caching activity. Corvids are believed to have descended from a moderate caching ancestor. New world jays themselves evolved from a caching corvid. Loss of the ability to cache occurred at least twice independently in corvid evolution as maintaining this ability has a high metabolic cost and requires an enlarged hippocampus (de Kort and Clayton, 2006). Because White-throated magpie-jays do not cache, I will assume they do not have quite the memory capabilities of other jays.  Still, they are pretty unique birds in that they have female dominated social groups AND they are unique non-caching jays.


I could not find any references to the significance of jays to the Mayans, but other Native American cultures have presented Blue jays as trickster, thief, or bully characters.  Cree people envisioned gray jays as benign trickers and its nickname Whisky Jack, may have come from the Algonquin word “Wisakedjak.” In Algonquin stories, Wisakedjak actually describes a trickster crane that let loose a terrible flood (Chadd and Taylor, 2016).


 

7. Clay Colored Thrush (Turdus grayi):


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I saw quite a few of these drab, unassuming birds hidden amongst the forests that shroud the Copan ruins.  Yet, oddly enough it is the national bird of Costa Rica. This seems odd considering there are so many colorful, charismatic birds in Central America.  It was designated the National Bird of Costa Rica in 1977 because of its song and association with the greening of the season (so perhaps end of dry season?).  It is known as Yigüirro in Costa Rica. It eats snails, worms, and insects. It was once named Gray Thrush after a British ornithologist and was also known as the Clay Colored Robin.  It is not shy around humans and can live in urban settings. Perhaps because it is common, has a pretty song, and often around humans, in Costa Rican culture it appears in poems, stories, and songs (Javi, 2014).  I am not sure what the Mayans thought of this bird, but it is neat that such an ordinary bird has national importance.


 

8. Turkey (Meleagris):


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I saw a turkey at the Copan ruins and wondered what it was doing there.  I know that turkeys were domesticated by Native Americans, so I wondered if it was a wild turkey or a domesticated turkey.  In this case, it was a domesticated turkey. Turkey bones have been found at Mayan archaeological site in Guatemala dating from between 300 BC and 100 AD.  The species of turkey found at the site actually originated in Mexico, where all domestic turkeys are from. So, it means that Mayans imported turkeys from outside of their homelands to be kept or raised (University of Florida, 2012).  Originally, turkeys were domesticated for their feathers, which were used in ceremonies, robes, and blankets. In Mexico, they were domesticated in 800 BC and in Southwest United States this occurred in 200 BC. (Viegas, 2010) Both Anasazi and Aztecs domesticated turkeys.  Anasazi domesticated turkeys from Rio Grand and Eastern subspecies and the Aztecs from a vanished southern Mexican subspecies. The Anasazi domestic turkey has disappeared from history (Smith, 2017). All modern domesticated turkeys are from Aztec domesticated turkeys (Viegas, 2010) While a person can’t include domesticated turkeys on their birding list, they are still beautiful birds with a lot of Mesoamerican history.


Conclusion:


There were many other birds that I saw at Copan as well, including summer tanagers, golden fronted woodpeckers, rufous naped wren, black vultures, and more! So, this overview is not comprehensive of the birds that I saw.  It also doesn’t include many other birds that were important to the Mayans. For instance, water birds were actually surprisingly prominent in Mayan art. Over 52% of natural bird species depicted in Mayan art are water birds such as herons, egrets, and cormorants.  Of these depictions, 83% are from the Late Classic period, which was associated with drought (Stuart, 2015). The Copan ruins are near the Copan River, so it is possible that a person could see some water birds if they were near the river. Another bird that was important to the Mayans are Resplendent Quetzals.   Resplendent Quetzals can be found at elevations between 1000 to 3300 m and prefer evergreen cloud forests with plentiful fruit trees, where they forage from the canopy. They are considered Near Threatened, since they are sensitive to deforestation and climate change. Copan situated in a valley at 700 m above sea level, so, the elevation is not suitable for Quetzals.  According to E-bird, there have been some Resplendent Quetzal sightings at Finca El Cisne and the aptly named Montana El Quetzal, which are not far from Copan, but even these sightings are infrequent. Both Mayans and Aztecs revered the bird as a figure representing goodness and light, and as a deity of air. Its name comes from Nahuatl and the Mayan word for the bird is Kuk.  Quetzal feathers were reserved for royalty and priests and more valuable than gold or jade. The birds were captured, their feathers plucked, and then released, as it was believed that the birds would die in captivity. Aztecs associated the bird with Quetzalcoatl. Today, the bird is featured on Guatemala’s coat of arms, flag, and currency (which is called quetzal). Although they are not at Copan, I figured it was worth a mention due to their cultural importance.  With that said, the Copan ruins are a great place to enjoy nature. Since nature is as much a part of the history of the Mayans as the Copan ruins, a person shouldn’t feel guilty if they find themselves admiring the plants, birds, or butterflies instead of the city of stone. These things are all connected.

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Sources:

Altamira Oriole Identification, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Altamira_Oriole/id

Balter, M. (2016, July 22). Meet the Bird Brainiacs: Eurasian Jay. Retrieved from https://www.audubon.org/magazine/march-april-2016/meet-bird-brainiacs-eurasian-jay

Chadd, R. W., & Taylor, M. (2016). Birds: Myth, lore & legend. London, UK: Bloomsbury Natural History, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

Cushing, T. (2011, September 8). Kellogg’s Stakes Claim To Toucans, Mayan Imagery; Issues Cease-and-Desist To Guatemalan Non-Profit. Retrieved from https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20110907/15550615845/kelloggs-stakes-claim-to-toucans-mayan-imagery-issues-cease-and-desist-to-guatemalan-non-profit.shtml

de Kort, S. R., & Clayton, N. S. (2006). An evolutionary perspective on caching by corvids. Proceedings. Biological sciences, 273(1585), 417–423. doi:10.1098/rspb.2005.3350

Fendt, L. (2016, March 01). 6 Costa Rican animal names decoded. Retrieved from https://www.caminotravel.com/6-costa-rican-animal-names-decoded/

Green, C. and R. Kannan (2017). Collared Aracari (Pteroglossus torquatus), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/nb.colara1.01

Greshko, M. (2018, August 13). Early Native Americans Imported Exotic Parrots, DNA Reveals. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2018/08/news-ancient-dna-chaco-canyon-pueblo-macaws-archaeology/

Hellmuth, N. (2015, September 06). Macaws and Parrots in 3rd-9th Century Mayan Art. Retrieved from http://www.revuemag.com/2011/04/macaws-and-parrots-in-3rd-9th-century-mayan-art/

Helmke, C., & Nielsen, J. (2015). The Defeat of the Great Bird in Myth and Royal Pageantry: A Mesoamerican Myth in a Comparative Perspective. Comparative Mythology, 1, 23-60.

Hsu, T. (2011). Mayan group’s logo too much like Toucan Sam, Kellogg’s squawks. Retrieved from https://latimesblogs.latimes.com/money_co/2011/08/kellogg-asks-mayan-group-to-remove-toucan-from-logo.html

Iconography, characteristics of painted macaws on Early Classic, Tzakol, basal flange bowls. (2014, October). Retrieved from http://www.maya-archaeology.org/neotropical-Mayan-ethnozoology-sacred-utilitarian-animals-reptiles-fish-birds-insects-iconography-epigraphy-faunal-remains/Mayan-iconography-scarlet-macaws-Tzakol-Early-Classic-bird-images.php

Javi. (2014, January 23). History of the national bird: Clay-colored thrush (Yigüirro). Retrieved from https://www.govisitcostarica.com/blog/post/history-of-the-national-bird-clay-colored-thrush.aspx

Jones, R. and C. S. Griffiths (2011). Keel-billed Toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/nb.kebtou1.01

Nations, J. D. (2006). “Maya Tropical Forest: People, Parks, and Ancient Cities”.

Oropendula, Montezuma. (2017, February). Retrieved from https://www.maya-ethnozoology.org/images-birds-species-bird-watchers-guatemala-mexico-belize-honduras/montezuma-oropendola-psarocolius-wagleri-bird-nests-peten-izabal-guatemala.php

Patterson, R. (2011, November 18). Kellogg Reaches Settlement in ‘Toucan’ Trademark Dispute – Few Feathers Ruffled. Retrieved from http://www.ipbrief.net/2011/11/17/kellogg-reaches-settlement-in-toucan-trademark-dispute-–-few-feathers-ruffled/

Robinson, J. K. (2013, July 23). Land of the Maya the way it was then. Retrieved from https://www.sfgate.com/travel/article/Land-of-the-Maya-the-way-it-was-then-4003689.php

Sample, R. and R. Kannan (2016). Montezuma Oropendola (Psarocolius montezuma), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/nb.monoro1.01

Smith, J. (2017, November 17). Tracing the Wild Origins of the Domestic Turkey. Retrieved from https://blog.nature.org/science/2017/11/20/tracing-the-wild-origins-of-the-domestic-turkey/

Streiter, A. (n.d.). Turquoise-browed Motmot, Costa Rica. Retrieved from https://www.anywhere.com/flora-fauna/bird/turquoise-browed-motmot

Stuart, P. (2015). Birds and environmental change in the Maya area (Unpublished master’s thesis). A Division III examination in the School of Natural Science, Hampshire College, May 2015. Chairpersons, Alan Goodman and Brian Schultz.

Stuart, D. (2014, April 20). A Glyph for Yuyum, “Oriole,” in a Name at Bonampak. Retrieved from https://decipherment.wordpress.com/2014/04/17/a-glyph-for-yuyum-oriole-in-a-name-at-bonampak/

Turquoise-browed Motmot (Eumomota superciliosa). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/2168-Eumomota-superciliosa

University of Florida. “Earliest use of Mexican turkeys by ancient Maya.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 August 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120809090706.htm>.

Viegas, J. (2010, February 01). Native Americans tamed turkeys in 800 B.C. Retrieved from http://www.nbcnews.com/id/35186605/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/native-americans-tamed-turkeys-bc/#.XOPizqR7mUk

White-throated Magpie-Jay (Calocitta formosa), In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: https://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/Species-Account/nb/species/wtmjay1

Whitely, D. (2015, March 07). How the scarlet macaw returned to Copán, Honduras. Retrieved from http://www.grumpytraveller.com/2015/03/07/how-the-scarlet-macaw-returned-to-copan-honduras/

 

Celebrating Minnesota Chickadees

Celebrating Minnesota Chickadees

Celebrating Minnesota Chickadees

H. Bradford

2/23/19

There are many Minnesota birds that I have never seen.  Until early February, a Boreal chickadee was one of them.   In previous winters, I made some efforts to find a Boreal chickadee at the Sax Zim bog.  I would check e-bird and scope out the place where they were often seen (Admiral Road Feeder).  No matter how long I waited, I never seemed to catch one.  I listened to my bird call CD, trying to memorize their more nasal song so that if one was in the area, I would know.   Finally, this year, at least according to e-bird, Boreal chickadees were recorded in larger numbers than the last two winters.  So, in honor of FINALLY seeing a few of them, here are some chickadee facts to inspire others to celebrate and cherish Minnesota chickadees!


Chickadees are part of the Paridae family, which contains 55 species of birds that are found primarily in Eurasia, Africa, and North America and include birds such as titmice, tits, and chickadees (Otter, 2007).  In Minnesota, there are three species of Paridae, which include Black-capped chickadees, Boreal chickadees, and Tufted titmice.  Boreal chickadees and Black-capped chickadees are both members of the genus Poecille, whereas Tufted titmice are in the genus Baeolophus (Explore the habits of the breeding birds of Minnesota. n.d.).  The members of the Paridae family arrived in North America from Asia 4 million years ago.  The tufted titmouse traces its lineage to this earliest wave.  A second wave of Paridae arrived in North America 3.5 million years ago and led to chickadees (Otter, 2007).   Speciation was the result of isolation from glaciers and expanding desert grassland (Gelbart, 2016).  Tufted titmice are found in southeastern Minnesota.  Black capped chickadees are the most common Parid in Minnesota, ranging throughout the state with larger concentrations around Lake Superior.  Finally, Boreal chickadees are uncommon in Minnesota according to the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas and can be found in the arrowhead region of Minnesota as well as the far north of the state.  There are estimated to be 1.1 million breeding adult Black-capped chickadees in Minnesota, but the number of Boreal chickadees is unknown for lack of observations.  Tufted titmice are also uncommon, with a breeding population of under 100 birds.  However, due to climate change, winter bird feeding, and the maturation of deciduous forests, Tufted titmice populations in the state are increasing at an average of 1.08% per year.   (Explore the habits of the breeding birds of Minnesota. n.d.).  Because Tufted titmice are not found in my region and because they are not “chickadees” or part of the genus Poecille, they will not be given further attention in this piece.

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Two maps to compare the ranges of Black capped and Boreal chickadees


Black capped chickadees are extremely common in the winter months in Minnesota.   They are iconic, as their image is often used on holiday cards and ornaments.   Of the seven species of chickadees in North America, the Black capped has the largest range, spanning all the way from Alaska to California and from the Pacific and Atlantic coasts (Smith, 1997).   The bird is easily identified by its black cap and bib, white cheeks, and gray back.  To me, these active, curious, even aggressive little birds remind me of tiny Orca Whales or oreo cookies.  Orcas and oreos aside, Black capped chickadees look very similar to the Carolina chickadee, which is found in the south eastern half of the United States.  The two can hybridize and learn each other’s songs, which can make identification harder where the ranges overlap (Galbart, 2016).  So, birds in Kansas, Illinois, Missouri, or Ohio for example might be harder to distinguish, though Carolina chickadees have less white on their wing coverts and have a sharper division between their bib and pale underparts (Smith, 1997).  Northern Minnesota is far from the range of Carolina chickadees, so this is not something that I typically have had to worry about.  Black capped chickadees bear a resemblance to Boreal chickadees as well, but Boreal chickadees have a brown cap, smaller white cheeks, brown and gray back, and rusty brown flanks (Boreal Chickadee Similar Species Comparison, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology. (n.d.).  Despite their similar appearance and northerly ranges, research suggests that Black capped chickadees are more closely related to Carolina chickadees and Mountain chickadees than they are to Boreal chickadees.  Boreal chickadees are more closely related to Mexican chickadees and Chestnut backed chickadees.  These species may have existed for two million years (Gill, Mostrom, Mack, 1993).

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There are a few characteristics that make Black capped chickadees interesting birds.  The first is that they are known for their memory (this is true of chickadees in general).   In studies of Black capped chickadees, it has been found that they are capable of finding their food caches using memory.  Their ability to remember is based upon overall location, position in relationship to other objects, and finally, color.  Chickadees can store hundreds of food items a day and all North American chickadees and tits are food storers.  Black capped chickadees can remember where they stored items for at least four weeks (Otter, 2007).  In an experiment conducted in a large indoor aviary which tested of what, when, where memory, Black capped chickadees were found to have all three types of memory.  The chickadees could remember what (if a stored item was sunflower seeds or meal worms), where (where these items were stores), and when (if the mealworms should be avoided because the passage of time would have degraded the flavor).  However, a similar experiment conducted in a less natural cage did not demonstrate a memory for how long meal worms were palatable, which means more studies should be conducted.  Chickadees are the only food storing birds outside of corvids (crows, jays, ravens) that have demonstrated what, where, when memory (Feeney, Roberts, Sherry, 2009).


Another interesting characteristic of Black capped chickadees is their vocalizations.   For instance, during the winter, spring, and earlier summer, male chickadees studied in Wisconsin were found to make two note Fee-Bee calls while alone and moving through their territories.  A faint Fee Bee vocalization was used by both male and female Black capped chickadees to communicate while the female is incubating eggs.  Black capped chickadees make a gargling vocalization to warn others before they attack.  Probably the most recognizable is the chick-a-dee call, which is used as a warning and to coordinate movements.  There are also broken dee and begging dee vocalizations.  Black capped chickadees also twitter, hiss, tseet, and snarl.  Researchers have identified at least eleven different chickadee calls (Ficken, Ficken, and Witken, 1978).   Chickadees are social birds, forming flocks of six to eight birds in non-breeding seasons.  To communicate with each other, they have developed elaborate vocalizations.  For instance, they have two alarm calls: the chickadee call and the seet.  The chick-a-dee call is a mobbing vocalization, which recruits other chickadees to harass a predator.  But, it also communicates information about food and types of predators.  The alarm for smaller predators vocalized with more “dees” at the end.  When the small predator alarm call was played back, Black capped chickadees exhibited more mobbing behavior.  Smaller predators may be a bigger threat to chickadees because they are more maneuverable.  Predators on the move are vocalized by a seet call whereas those that are stationary are met with the chickadee call (Templeton, Greene, and Davis, 2005).  In sum, quite a bit of information is conveyed in chickadee vocalizations.

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A final interesting quality about Black capped chickadees is that they are great survivors.  Black capped chickadees survive in regions with harsh winters through adaptations such as caching food, cavity roosting, and entering a state of controlled hypothermia at night.  By reducing their body temperature at night, Black capped chickadees may reduce their energy expenditure by 32%.  To survive during the day while foraging in cold temperatures, Black capped chickadees have the ability to increase their metabolism to stay warm.  Their ability to increase their metabolism exceeds other passerine birds that have been studied and approaches some mammals (Cooper and Swanson, 1994).   Black capped chickadees are also survivors inasmuch as they are generalists that make use of a variety of environments.  They prefer mixed deciduous and conifer forests and as cavity nesters, depend upon decaying trees or snags, but can survive in disturbed environments (Adams, Lazerte, Otter, and Burg, 2016).  In Minnesota, Black capped chickadees are most commonly found in pine forests, followed by developed areas, upland conifer forests, pine-oak barrens, and oak forests.  Cropland, marshes, and upland grasslands are the habitats wherein Black capped chickadees are the least common, owing the lack of trees (Explore the habits of the breeding birds of Minnesota. n.d.).   Black capped chickadees have a diverse diet of berries, seeds, and insects throughout the year, except the breeding season wherein they are insectivores.  Although Black capped chickadees are generally widespread, they are impacted by habitat disruption that limits tree cover.  This limits genetic variation as populations are fragmented and indicates that climate change could negatively impact the species as tree species shift and narrow in distribution (Adam, Lazerte, Otter, and Burg, 2016).  In other words, Black capped chickadees could become less common or at least less genetically diverse with the northern expansion of grasslands due to climate change.


Moving on to Boreal chickadees, because they are less common and located in less populated areas, they have not been researched as thoroughly as Black capped chickadees.   But one immediately clear characteristic of these birds is that they are not the generalists that Black capped chickadees are.  Boreal chickadees, as the name suggests, are a boreal species.  Boreal forests are primarily found between 50 and 60 degrees N latitude, have long cold winters and short cool summers, and are sandwiched between tundra to the north and temperate deciduous forest to the south.  Boreal forest climate is wet in the summer and dry in the winter and the forest itself consists of conifer trees and poor soils.  The southern part of Boreal forests tend to consist of spruce and hemlock, while pine and tamarack dominate the forests further north where fewer trees can be supported due to nutrient poor soils (Nelson, 2013).  The North American boreal forest is largest of the five major forests of the world that are considered largely intact.  The others are the Amazon, Russian Boreal forest, Congo basin, and forests of New Guinea and Borneo.  The North American boreal forest is 1.2 billion acres and an important nesting ground to billions of breeding birds.  Boreal forests are also important in moderating the Earth’s climate, as they sequester 208 billion tons of carbon.  Boreal chickadees are permanent residents of Boreal forests and prefer a habitat of balsam fir and spruce.  The northern limit of their range coincides with the northern limit of white spruce trees.  The southern range limit is the northern United States, where boreal forests meet deciduous forests.  As a whole, it is estimated that 88% of Boreal chickadees breed in boreal forests.  Like Black capped chickadees, they eat insects, berries, and seeds and they also cache their food as a winter survival tactic.  Because of its northerly range and preference for the interior of spruce forests, it is observed less often than Black capped chickadees (Boreal Chickadee “Poecile hudsonica”, 2015).

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A study of Boreal chickadees at Forêt Montmorency in Quebec, Canada, found that the birds had a mean flock size of four individuals and a range of three to eight individuals, which is smaller than Black capped chickadee flock size, which often consisted of six to eight individuals.  Sixteen of 85 flocks contained at least one Black capped chickadee and 24 flocks contained at least one red-breasted nuthatch.  The red-breasted nuthatches were more loosely associated as they foraged together, whereas the Black capped chickadees remained in close contact with the Boreal flock  (Hadley and Desrochers, 2008).   In areas of Michigan where both Boreal and Black capped chickadees were found, Boreal chickadees foraged in three conifer species, with 76% being black spruce.  Black capped chickadees foraged in six conifer and three deciduous tree species.  Both species often forage together in mixed flocks.  Boreal chickadees generally prefer dense conifer forest and Black capped prefer open mixed forests.  Boreal chickadees were found to spend more time foraging higher on the trees.  Both spent similar amounts of time in middle zones of the tree and little time at the bottoms of trees.  Trees used by Boreal chickadees were tamarack, Black spruce, and white spruce, which minimized competition with black capped chickadees.  Both forage for pupae, dormant caterpillars, and insect eggs, but their strategies helped to avoid competition (Gayk and Lindsay, 2012).  Minnesota is unique in that it is one of just a few states in the United States where the ranges of the two birds overlap.

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Although Boreal chickadees are less vocal than Black capped chickadees (Otter, 2007), they do have many vocalizations with which they communicate.  Like Black capped chickadees, they produce a “chickadee” call, which has many variations and is used for such things as communication between males and females during nest excavation and to scold other birds or predators ((McLaren, 1976). ).  Compared to the Black capped chickadee, the Boreal chickadee’s “chickadee” call is often described as more nasal.  Boreal chickadees also make a “seep” call which is similar to the contact call between Black capped chickadees.  A sharp seep call is used to warn against predators.  Boreal chickadees also hiss, trill, and make begging sounds.  Like Black capped chickadees, they make a chit sound, which Black capped chickadees use to warn of ground predators and Boreal chickadees use for unknown purposes (McLaren, 1976).  Unlike Black capped chickadees, Boreal chickadees do not produce a whistled song (Boreal Chickadee “Poecile hudsonica”, 2015).   In a study of Black capped chickadees at Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, a total of eighteen calls were observed (McLaren, 1976).

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Because Boreal chickadees are only adapted to boreal forests, climate change is likely to  have dire consequences for the species.  Models predict that moose, caribou, spruce grouse, and Boreal chickadees will have entirely separate east and west populations as habitat is fragmented and pole-ward shifts in ranges.  The east west divide may occur due to a vulnerable swath of boreal forest on the border between Quebec and Ontario.  The slim section of forest is the narrowest swatch of boreal forest in North America and a place where boreal meets deciduous forest.   By 2080, Boreal chickadees could be extirpated from this region (Murray, Peers, Majchrzak, Wehtje, Ferreira, Pickles, and Thornton, 2017).  Minnesota is particularly vulnerable to climate change because the state is at the crossroads of three biomes: conifer forest, decidious forest, and prairie.  At the same time, the temperature of Minnesota has gone up 3-5 degrees since the start of the last century.  Duluth could have a climate more similar to Minneapolis in 50 years and the state as a whole could eventually become more like Nebraska, with the expansion of grasslands and oak savanna.  Boreal forests will disappear from the state, and with them, perhaps 36 species of birds, including Boreal chickadees (Weflen, 2013).

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Minnesota has two great species of chickadees (not including the tufted titmouse), but both could shift northward out of the state with climate change.  Boreal chickadees are particularly vulnerable, as they are less common and an obligate boreal species.  The loss of boreal forests is further troubling because the role these forests play in sequestering carbon.  Black capped chickadees require trees to survive the winter and roost at night, so the expansion of grasslands or loss of trees does not bode well for the otherwise plentiful and adaptable bird.  Although chickadees are sometimes taken for granted as common bird feeder birds, it turns out that they are intelligent and well adjusted to the harsh winters of Minnesota.  Their vocalizations are complex and convey a plethora of important information about everything from predators to territory.  Chickadees have made their home in the Americas for millions of years, so it would be tragic to undue millions of years of evolutionary history through the wanton warming of our climate through human activity and dependency on fossil fuels.   The best way to celebrate Minnesota chickadees is to mobilize against climate change!


Sources:

Adams, R. V., Lazerte, S. E., Otter, K. A., & Burg, T. M. (2016). Influence of landscape features on the microgeographic genetic structure of a resident songbird. Heredity, 117(2), 63-72.

Boreal Chickadee “Poecile hudsonica”. (2015, November 30). Retrieved from https://www.borealbirds.org/bird/boreal-chickadee

Boreal Chickadee Similar Species Comparison, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Boreal_Chickadee/species-compare/60411301

Cooper, S. J., & Swanson, D. L. (1994). Seasonal acclimatization of thermoregulation in the black-capped chickadee. The Condor, 96(3), 638-646.

Explore the habits of the breeding birds of Minnesota. (n.d.). Retrieved February 14, 2019, from https://mnbirdatlas.org/

Feeney, M. C., Roberts, W. A., & Sherry, D. F. (2009). Memory for what, where, and when in the black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus). Animal cognition, 12(6), 767.

Ficken, M. S., Ficken, R. W., & Witkin, S. R. (1978). Vocal repertoire of the black-capped chickadee. The Auk, 34-48.

 

Gayk, Z. G., & Lindsay, A. R. (2012). Winter microhabitat foraging preferences of sympatric Boreal and Black-capped chickadees in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 124(4), 820-824.
Gelbart, M. (2016, March). Pleistocene Chickadees. Retrieved from https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2016/03/27/pleistocene-chickadees/

Gill, F. B., Mostrom, A. M., & Mack, A. L. (1993). Speciation in North American chickadees: I. Patterns of mtDNA genetic divergence. Evolution, 47(1), 195-212.

Hadley, A., & Desrochers, A. (2008). Winter habitat use by Boreal Chickadee flocks in a managed forest. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 120(1), 139-146.

Murray, D. L., Peers, M. J., Majchrzak, Y. N., Wehtje, M., Ferreira, C., Pickles, R. S., … & Thornton, D. H. (2017). Continental divide: Predicting climate-mediated fragmentation and biodiversity loss in the boreal forest. PloS one, 12(5), e0176706.

Otter, K. A. (Ed.). (2007). Ecology and behavior of chickadees and titmice: an integrated approach. Oxford University Press on Demand.

Nelson, R. (2013, October). Boreal Forest Biome. Retrieved from https://www.untamedscience.com/biology/biomes/taiga/

McLaren, M. A. (1976). Vocalizations of the boreal chickadee. The Auk, 93(3), 451-463.

Mossman, M. J., Epstein, E., & Hoffman, R. M. (1990). Birds of Wisconsin boreal forests. The Passenger Pigeon, 52(2), 153-168.

Smith, S. M. (1997). Black-capped chickadee. Stackpole Books.

Templeton, C. N., Greene, E., & Davis, K. (2005). Allometry of alarm calls: black-capped chickadees encode information about predator size. Science, 308(5730), 1934-1937.

Weflen, K. (2013, April). The Crossroads of Climate Change. Minnesota Conservation Volunteer. Retrieved from https://www.leg.state.mn.us/docs/2015/other/150681/PFEISref_2/MDNR 2009.pdf

 

 

Anxious Adventuring: Hiking Santa Anna Volcano

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Anxious Adventuring: Hiking Santa Ana Volcano

H. Bradford

2/10/19

Each time that I travel, I try to reflect upon something that made me feel uneasy or anxious.  I want to push back against the notion that travelers must be brave, adventurous, independent, or fearless.  It is okay to be wary or worried.   In this story, I will discuss my concern that I might not be fit enough to hike up a volcano.


Living in the not-so-geologically active Midwest of the United States, I find volcanoes to be novel.  Perhaps if I lived near them and experienced their destruction first hand, they would not be quite as quaint.  Because of this fascination, the Santa Ana Volcano or Ilamapetec Volcano in El Salvador was a must see destination.  Firstly, the summit of the volcano features a bright turquoise crater lake.  Secondly, it is the highest volcano in El Salvador.  Thirdly, it had a major eruption in 2005, wherein thousands of people had to be evacuated and chunks of rock the size of cars were launched into the air.  In short, it is a tall, active, attractive volcano.  I knew I wanted to go, but I also worried that maybe the hike would be too strenuous.  Here is how it went…


I had some anxiety before leaving on my trip that maybe I would struggle with the two volcano hikes I had signed myself up for.  After hiking up Pacaya volcano in Guatemala on almost no sleep, I felt more confident that Santa Ana volcano would be a much easier ordeal.  After all, at the very least I would have sleep!  When the time finally came, I figured it would be a struggle, but not impossible.  Despite my earlier volcano hike, I was concerned because I knew that the Santa Ana hike was longer.  It seemed that one to two hours up was the average time quoted by some blogs or tours (though one blogger said it took her 45 minutes).  Two hours of slogging up a rocky hill didn’t exactly seem easy.

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While a person can probably arrange to hike up the volcano for under $20 by taking public transportation and paying the park fee on their own, I went on a day tour for around $100 (if I remember rightly).  I didn’t feel inclined to take public transportation for lack of time and confidence.  This worked out fine, as we had an opportunity to stop at the Peace and Reconciliation Plaza along the way.  The plaza features a giant sculpture of a blue haired woman, who represents the people of El Salvador.  In front of this figure is a female guerilla and a male soldier, both of whom are releasing a flock of doves.  I thought it was a unique assortment of statues since the FMLN was represented by a woman.   Women made up about 30% of the FMLN in the 1980s, though often in supportive roles such as nursing, radio operating, and cooking (Luciak, 2001).   The monument itself was created to commemorate the 1992 Peace Accords between the government and the FMLN.  Those who signed the accords are featured on a plaque.  The plaza also features a mural which highlights Salvadorean history.  The Chapultepec Peace Accord resulted in the disarmament of the FMLN, the legalization of the FLMN, dismantling national security forces and intelligence forces, police reforms, intelligence, a cease fire, a UN Truth Commission to uncover atrocities of the war, amnesty for those who committed the atrocities, credit to ex-guerillas for land purchases, etc. (Negroponte, 2012).  As I visited the monument, I was struck by the thought that it would be difficult live with the knowledge of all of the horrors that had happened in the war, but also know that the perpetrators enjoyed impunity.

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We also made a stop at Coatepeque lake, which means hill of snakes.  The lake is popular among the wealthy, so it appears that it still attracts snakes (no offense to snakes).  The lake was formed between 72,000 and 50,000 years ago, when group of stratovolcanoes east of Santa Ana collapsed after erupting, causing the lake to form in the caldera over time (Coatepeque Caldera, 2013).  After a short stop at the lake, we continued on a bit further to Santa Ana volcano.  Santa Ana volcano is one of three volcanoes located in Volcanoes National Park.  Idalco and Cerro Verde are the other two volcanoes located in the park.  Among them, Santa Ana is the tallest at 7,812 feet (2,381 meters) above sea level (Santa Ana Volcano, El Salvador, 2005) and most recently active.  Cerro Verde has not erupted for 25,000 years (I have seen it referred to as a volcano and as a satelitic cone, or cone like structure of volcanic material) and Idalco was once continually active for 196 years, earning it the name, Lighthouse of the Pacific.  Idalco last erupted in 1966 and is iconic enough that it was featured on the 10 colon bill, though this currency was replaced in 2001 by the U.S. dollar.   All three of the volcanoes can be hiked, though I have read that Idalco is more challenging than Santa Ana.  These volcanoes are part of the Central American volcanic chain that is formed by the collision of the Cocos and Caribbean plates (Hernandez et. al, 2007).

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The hike itself began with a walk along a trail from the parking area to the ranger station.  This initial walk took approximately fifteen minutes through a wooded area along a trail with a very gradual incline.   The walk ended at the ranger station, where there is a final opportunity to use an outhouse or buy water or snacks.  Dozens of hikers in colorful hiking apparel waited for the tour to begin by the station.  The hikers leave in groups which are escorted by a police officer.  I am uncertain how many groups leave a day, but the officer who escorted our group had already made at least one trip and it was only 9:30 am.  The crowd was mostly young and eager, though there were people of all ages, shapes, and sizes.  Seeing the diversity in ages and sizes made me less concerned about how strenuous the hike would be, as it seemed like something that a wide array of people partake in.  The majority of hikers were Spanish speaking, so I wondered if they were local or at least regional travelers.  Once the hike began, some young, energetic hikers bolted ahead, walking quickly or jogging to stay ahead of the crowd.  I was determined to go slowly and conserve energy, even if I was at the back of the crowd.

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The first part of the hike was not so bad.  The incline is not terribly steep and at times, there are flat areas.  The first portion of the hike was shaded by trees and bushes.   After a while, the crowd thins out as people hike at different paces.  I plodded along, slowly and steadily.  The initial part of the hike was definitely much easier than the Pacaya hike, which seemed relentlessly steep.  Though, both hikes benefited from shady vegetation coverings which offered protection from the sun and heat.

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While the first half to 3/4 of the hike is mild to moderate in intensity, the last portion is a challenge.  In the final section of the hike, the vegetation gives way to a rocky, sun baked, sulfur scented landscape.  The only redeeming quality of this portion of the hike was that due to the elevation and desolation, there was a cooling breeze.  The rocks can be loose and crumbly and the ascent feels steep.  I had to count in my head to keep going, telling myself I would take 50 more steps then pause for a break or 25 more steps then pause for water.  The summit seemed impossibly far, even if it wasn’t really that far at all.  But slowly and surely, I made it to the top, which felt pretty great!  Since mine was only the second group to leave, it wasn’t too crowded.  Once at the top, I took some photos of the turquoise crater lake.   The crater lake’s average surface temperature in 2005 was 18-20 C or 64-68 F, though because of the steam and bubbling gas it appears to be much hotter when viewed from above.  The maximum temperature measured by scientists prior to the eruption in 2005 was 136 degrees F, which indicates that there is a great amount of variation in temperature depending upon where volcanic gas enters the lake (Hernandez et al).   More recent measurements from 2017 show that the heat of the crater lake has increased to 120-140 degrees F (Graniya, 2018), but this is still below the boiling point of water (210 F) at sea level.  I only mention this because I had the impression that the lake was boiling, though, certainly a person wouldn’t want to fall into it (for the rocky, steep fall and potential for pockets of very hot water).  Aside from being hot, the lake is acidic, with a Ph range of .7 to 2.0 of acid-sulfate-chloride (Colvin et. al, 2013).  For context, stomach acid has a Ph of about 1.  I am uncertain what process creates the bright turquoise color in the Santa Ana crater lake.  In Indonesia, the turquoise color of a crater lake was attributed to dissolved iron and floating sulfur colloids, but since I know nothing about chemistry I can only guess that this is the same for Santa Ana.  I didn’t spend that much time at the top, but that was a matter of personal choice.  I spent long enough to enjoy the view of the nearby volcanoes, crater lake, and Flower Route.  I also marveled at the fact that someone managed to cart pop-sickles to the summit to sell to tourists.  I wanted to make sure I beat the crowd down the volcano, so that I wouldn’t be rushed or crowded.   As I was heading down, I encountered another group climbing up.  So, I think there were about three groups of hikers that morning.

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The hike down the volcano was physically much easier, but required more balance as there were many loose rocks.  I almost lost my balance a few times as I slid on rocks.  It was also made more challenging by the number of tourists trying to navigate either up or down the sometimes narrow, rocky path.  I was happy when I reached the ranger station.  Back near the parking area, I saw a few interesting species of birds.  One was a Bushy crested jay.  In Spanish, it was commonly called a Chara, which I think generically means jay (my bird guidebook did not have local names for birds, which would have been a useful feature).  I also saw some coffee plants.  These little things were a pleasant reward for making it up and down the volcano.

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In conclusion, I managed the hike well enough.  I was sore and worn out at the end.  The hike up took under two hours and perhaps about an hour and a half down.  I paused for more photos on the way down.  Overall, the Pacaya hike was probably a little bit easier, but only because it was shorter.  So, endurance wise Santa Ana was harder, but cardio wise, Pacaya was harder.  It is hard to compare the two because they were both pretty different.  Santa Ana was a better hike because I actually was able to hike to the top.  However, Pacaya does offer the opportunity to roast marshmallows on a fumerole.  Both were good in their own ways.  And I think anyone with reasonable health can probably complete both (they are challenging, but popular enough that people of all sizes and abilities hike them).  For instance, if a person can spend an entire day hiking without problem (no elevation or hills), they can probably hike up the volcanoes, albeit with effort and mild exhaustion.

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Coatepeque Caldera. (2013). Retrieved from https://volcano.si.edu/volcano.cfm?vn=343041

Hernández, P. A., Pérez, N. M., Varekamp, J. C., Henriquez, B., Hernández, A., Barrancos, J., … & Melián, G. (2007). Crater lake temperature changes of the 2005 eruption of Santa Ana volcano, El Salvador, Central America. Pure and Applied Geophysics, 164(12), 2507-2522.

Luciak, I. A. (2001). After the Revolution: Gender and democracy in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Negroponte D.V. (2012) Implementation of the Chapultepec Peace Accords: The Achievements. In: Seeking Peace in El Salvador. Palgrave Macmillan, New York

Santa Ana Volcano, El Salvador. (2005). Retrieved February 9, 2019 from https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/5907/santa-ana-volcano-el-salvador

 

 

Anxious Adventuring: Hiking Pacaya Volcano

hiking pacaya volcano

Anxious Adventuring: Hiking Pacaya Volcano

H. Bradford

1.17.19

I recently went on a short trip to Central America.  With only a short visit to Antigua, Guatemala, I wanted to try to make the most of my time in the country.  I figured that one way to do this would be to hike up a volcano.  After all, the country has at least 37 volcanoes, of which, three are considered active (others are extinct or dormant).  Pacaya is one of the three active volcanoes and one that tourists can easily access for hiking.  Another active volcano in Guatemala is Fuego Volcano, which made headlines when it erupted this past summer, killing 190 people (with over 200 people still considered missing as of October 2018) and displacing almost 3000 people.  The eruption was the largest in Guatemala for about 40 years and was followed by another eruption in November that resulted in the evacuation of 4000 people.  The nearby Pacaya volcano has been continuously active since the 1961 (Wnuk and Wauthier, 2016) and in a state of mostly mostly low grade eruptions since the 1990s, with a major eruption in 2010 that resulted in the evacuation of several thousand people, several deaths, and the destruction of land used for coffee growing.  Pacaya’s volcano tourism took off after this eruption as tourists were curious to see active volcanism (i.e. lava, tephra (volcanic ash, rocks, particles) (Steel, 2016).  Despite the destruction and human suffering wrought by active volcanoes in Guatemala, I wanted to visit a volcano and experience the dynamic geology of our planet first hand.  My main worry is that I was going to physically struggle with the hike.  And, I did!  But not for the reasons that I thought!  This is a story of a journey up a volcano, but also a voyage through sleeplessness.

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Before leaving for the U.S., I booked a hike through Grayline one of many “day trip” companies based in Antigua or Guatemala City.  My plan was that I would do the hike the morning after arriving in the country.   The particular tour that I purchased included a visit to a hot springs and lunch and was a little less than $100.  There are cheaper tours and more independent methods of travel, but I felt satisfied with the price and convenience.   In any event, I departed for my trip with the idea that I would be hiking up a volcano on the morning after my arrival.  This would not have been a problem but for a few complicating circumstances.  For one, I worked a night shift on Wednesday night, then left for my trip on Thursday (directly after the night shift).  I was able to get some fitful napping on my flights but did not fully sleep Wednesday or Thursday.  Furthermore, my flight from Houston was delayed for several hours due to weather elsewhere in the U.S. which had stalled the arrival of my plane and disrupted the flight schedules of the airport.  This meant that I actually arrived at my hotel in Antigua at 4:00 am Friday due to delays.  It also meant that I was awake for about 36 hours.  It also meant that I was committed to hiking up a volcano on a tour scheduled to pick up at my hotel at 6:30 am.  It was not going to be a fun hike.  I attempted to take a two hour nap before leaving for the hike, but failed to fall asleep.


I wearily watched the landscape pass from the window of the van that took me…and less than a dozen other tourists…to the volcano.   There were several large hills and we approached a very steep looking volcano.  I thought that perhaps this was the Pacaya volcano and dreaded the impossible hike ahead.  Thankfully, it was probably the Fuego volcano, which is about 4,000 feet taller than the Pacaya volcano.  The van veered away from the larger volcano to a park entrance, where we were descended upon by locals trying to sell/rent us walking sticks.  A walking stick would have been a great idea, but I felt a little overwhelmed and pressed through the crowd to the visitor’s center.  In retrospect, I should have supported the locals trying to make a little money from a volcano that might otherwise play a potentially dangerous or destructive roll in their lives.  After all, Pacaya has erupted 48 times since the Spanish conquest of Guatemala (Steele, 2016).   I felt vaguely nauseated from fatigue and not sure how I would tackle the hike ahead.  Our group assembled near the start of the trail, where we were offered horseback rides up the volcano.  Taking a horse cost about $15, which was a tempting idea but I went there to hike up a volcano and I was going to hike up a volcano!   Hiking was rough.  I felt dizzy with tiredness.  I felt like a zombie, pushing my brainless body forward and upward with immense effort.  I was slow.  The hike was a relentlessly steep hill that never ended.  There were no flat areas.  Just…up, up, up, up.  The only redeeming quality of the hike was that it was shaded by a forest.  I wanted to cry I was so exhausted.  By the time I was hiking, I had been awake for 40 hours (with some cat naps in chairs).  The 40 hours had consisted of a nine hour shift at the shelter, a van ride to Minneapolis, two flights, a flight delay, a late arrival to my hotel, pitiful tossing and turning in my hotel bed for two hours, around two hours drive from Antigua, then THIS, the hellish hike.  I took two caffeine pills that only seemed to make my head swirl.  With each step I contemplated how far I would go before I gave up.  All the way, my sluggish, slow self was hounded by horse escorts hoping that I would give in and take a horse the rest of the way.  No, no.  I’m okay.  I don’t need a horse.  I really don’t need a horse.  No, I’ll make it.  I’ve got this.  I’ve got this.  I checked my watch along the way.  I had read that the hike up only takes one to two hours.   At around the one hour mark we were told that we were close.  I heard two thunderous booms.  The explosive sound was exciting enough to re-energize me and I was able to complete the last 15 minutes or so through the treeless, drier viewing area.  It was hard all of the way.  I panted from exhaustion as I plodded along and cursed myself for signing up for the excursion.  But, I made it!  I made it!

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The viewing area is not at the summit of Pacaya volcano, but it does offer a view of the summit as well as a view of nearby volcanoes.  The summit crater exudes smoke and gas, which can be seen from the viewing area below.  Another tourist I spoke with went on an evening hike and said that sparks can be seen flying from the summit crater.  This would be an impressive sight, but for her meant precariously hiking down the volcano in the dark.  The viewing area itself is located at about 7,500 ft above sea level and the summit is 8,373 ft above sea level.  It may feel a little disappointing that the tour does not take one to the very top, but I was happy to avoid hiking up the steep, hot looking slope.  According to blogger, Melinda Crow (2017), the actual hike to the viewing area is about two miles and covers an elevation change of about 1,300 feet or 650 feet per mile.  It felt challenging, but not absolutely impossible, as obviously I did the hike with minimal sleep.  In any event, I milled about the viewing area with the belief that the hike was done….but nope….the group then descended down some slippery dark rocks to a lava field.  This was discouraging as I had little interest in climbing back up or climbing up anything more.  I was quite content with the fact that we didn’t actually climb to the summit of the volcano as I was exhausted and it was hot and dusty out in the treeless black field of lava.  I could see a plume of smoke at the top of the volcano and was glad to be where I was.  The blackened valley featured a lava store and fumeroles wherein tourists could roast marshmallows.  This was a big attraction for me.  I had fantasized about roasting a marshmallow on the volcano, but with little sleep, mild nausea, and a strenuous hike behind me, I didn’t feel up to the task of digesting a puff of gelatin and sugar.   There was also a shop nestled in the valley, which sold souvenirs and I believe some snacks.  I really didn’t pay attention to the shop, as I was eager to begin the hike back while I had enough energy to keep myself from collapsing. The hike down was better.  The lava area was quite dry and the air was thick with dust.  My lungs were unhappy with me and I was glad to move away from the lava field and smoking crater.   The rocks on the way down were slippery, as they were often small and easily tumbled under my boots like the wheels of roller skates. Image may contain: one or more people, child, outdoor and nature Image may contain: Heather Bradford, standing, mountain, sky, outdoor and nature Image may contain: cloud, sky, tree, plant, outdoor and nature Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, sky, outdoor and nature


Following the volcano hike, the group was rewarded with lunch and some time at some hot springs.  At that point, I had been awake far too long to have an appetite.  Oddly, being sleepy tends to make me more hungry, but at a certain point of sleep deprivation, even digestion seemed like too much effort.   I watched the others eat their meals while I sipped a diet coke.  After lunch, or my non-lunch, we all set off for the series of pools.  There were two levels of pools of varying degrees of heat.  The hot springs were actually a spa resort called Santa Teresita.  I had imagined that the hot spring would be an actual bubbling puddle of geothermal heated water.  This was far nicer.  The complex featured 11 pools and a thermal circuit of several pools that switch between warm and cool pools.  I probably didn’t do the correct cycle of the circuit, but it felt nice to just relax in warm water.  It was no substitute for sleep, but it was restful.  While I didn’t sleep, I did take some time to lounge on a beach chair and vegetate in the sun.   The hot springs were a fun addition to the trip, but also complimented the volcano hike well.  For one, it was soothing for my weary body and two, the hot springs found in Guatemala are near volcanoes, where water may be warmed by magma.  Pacaya volcano is located about 10 km southeast from Lake Amatitlan where the hot springs were located, so it is possible that the hot water that I found so relaxing was heated by Pacaya’s magma. (Warring, 1983).  I am not knowledgeable enough about geology to know this for sure, but it was neat to think about the hidden connections within the earth.

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When I returned to Antigua, I had been awake for 48 hours.  My day continued with a walk around my hotel to explore the city a little.  I also ate dinner with members of a travel group that I would be traveling with for about eight days.  This kept me up until 10 pm, in what was probably one of the longest spans of time that I had been awake in my life.  While it would seem that after hiking a volcano, working my shift, spending a day traveling, and then…walking and exploring, I might have fallen into a dead sleep.  NOPE, I could not fall asleep when I finally had an opportunity for REAL sleep!  I had pushed myself to stay awake for so long that awakeness had a terrible momentum of its own.  At that point, I didn’t feel like a human being.  Just some hollowed out husk flopped on a bed, with an empty, buzzing head and tired limbs.  I finally dozed off at midnight, but was up again at 4:30 am ish for a day tour to Lake Atitlan the next morning!


Based upon this experience, I would offer the following advice to other travelers.  One important lesson is to NOT book strenuous activities on the day after arrival…as arrival can be postponed by weather.  I didn’t have much choice since my time was limited and I felt compelled to maximize it.  Another obvious piece of advice would be to avoid working a night shift…then staying awake to travel.  I also could not avoid this because I wanted to squeeze the most out of my accrued vacation time.  Taking the night off would have meant exhausting nine more hours of accrued vacation time.  Vacation time is precious.  The loss of a day is one less day I get to spend somewhere else.   My need to work and desire to maximize my time set me up for a very unpleasant hike.  As another general piece of advice, wear sunscreen, a hat, and bring a bandana.  The sun is pretty intense, especially on the lava field.  So….I scorched myself.  Also, the air is heavy with particulates.  So much so that my lungs felt heavy.  Wearing a bandana over my face helped my to endure the worst areas.  Thirdly, while I had attempted to be in OKAY shape before the trip (by jogging several miles a few times a week, using a higher incline on the treadmill, and generally increasing the amount of exercise I was doing before the trip), I was still sadly out of shape and struggled up the hill.  I don’t think the hike is something that needs to be taken THAT seriously, as with patience and slow effort, almost anyone without complicating health conditions can probably complete the hike.  One lesson I have learned is that there really is no substitute for hiking hills (as treadmill incline really doesn’t seem to replicate the real impact of gravity).  A better idea might have been visiting a place with many stairs and just forcing myself to go up, up, up.   My biggest anxiety was over if I would be physically up for the task (as I would have felt embarrassed to be TOO out of shape) but I think this was unfounded.  It wasn’t THAT hard, but it was challenging.  A final piece of advice was carrying small binoculars.  I brought them along so I could watch for birds (I only saw some hummingbirds during the hike).  Aside from birding, I thought they were useful in getting a closer view of the summit (even if there was not much to see but smoke).   In the end, it was worthwhile.  It was arduous, but I can always look back and think…”remember the time you were awake for …like 40 hours…and climbed a volcano.  I think you can handle this.”


Sources:

Crow, M. (2017, September 24). The #TravelTruth About Hiking the Pacaya Volcano in 2017. Retrieved January 17, 2019, from http://firstread.me/pacaya-volcano-2017/

Guatemala’s Fuego volcano erupts again (2018, October 12) retrieved 16 January 2019
from https://phys.org/news/2018-10-guatemala-fuego-volcano-erupts.html

Steel, M. (2016, September 20). Travels in Geology: Guatemala’s Volcan Pacaya: A feast for the senses. Retrieved January 17, 2019, from https://www.earthmagazine.org/article/travels-geology-guatemalas-volcan-pacaya-feast-senses

Warring, G. (1983). Thermal Springs of the United States and Other Countries, a Summary (Geological Survey Professional Paper, pp. 1-400, Rep. No. 492). Washington: United States Government Printing Office.

Wnuk, K., & Wauthier, C. (2016). Temporal Evolution of Magma Sources and Surface Deformation at Pacaya Volcano, Guatemala Revealed by InSAR (Doctoral dissertation, Pennsylvania State University).

other useful source:

https://www.science.gov/topicpages/p/pacaya+volcano+guatemala

 

Anxious Adventuring: Silfra Snorkel

Anxious Adventuring_ Silfra Snorkel

Anxious Adventuring: Silfra Snorkel

H. Bradford

10/4/18

I am not a very adventurous person by nature, but I am curious.  This is why I wanted to snorkel at Silfra, Iceland.  Silfra is a fissure located in Thingvellir National Park, where it formed in 1789 during the earthquakes associated with the Laki volcanic eruption.  On one side of the chasm is the North American plate and on the other, is the Eurasian plate.  These plates are pulling apart from one another, creating the Mid-Atlantic Ridge that bisects Iceland (and extends 65,000 km under the Atlantic Ocean).  The volcanoes which created and continue to shape Iceland are located along the ridge.   Iceland is unique because you can see the rift above ground (as opposed to at the bottom of the ocean).  The idea of snorkeling between two continents, where you can literally touch Europe and North America, sounded great!  The only problem is that I am not overly fond of or comfortable in water.   I debated if I should try this activity out at all.  But, in the end, I figured I would at least try it- despite my many worries.  This is an overview of this experience so that other anxious adventurers can find the confidence to dip into the water and explore this tectonic wonder!

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I had a number of misgivings about snorkeling at Silfra, but my main concern was that it would be cold.   The water temperature is usually under 40 degrees F and was about 36 degrees F when I visited.  It didn’t help that our tour driver/guide kept warning our small group that we were going to be cold throughout the day as we toured the Golden Circle.  Silfra was one of our last stops.  I tried not to think too much about the just-above-freezing-glacial water, but this was the main concern that weighed on me throughout the day leading up to the snorkel.  Aside from this, I was also mildly worried that I was not a good enough swimmer or that I would become anxious swimming in the deep water (I think the deepest part is about 100 feet, though I am not sure of the depth of the water I swam over).   Thankfully, none of these things turned out to be worth worrying over!

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When we arrived at Silfra, we were handed off to a snorkeling/diving guide.  The guide gave us a barrage of instructions regarding how to put on our dry suit.  I was too mentally preoccupied to pay close attention.  Gearing up to go snorkeling involved wearing a base layer (for me, the leggings and t-shirt I was wearing) and slipping into a flannel jumpsuit over this layer.  Once this was on, we put a dry suit over the flannel layer.  The dry suit was moist from earlier snorkeling trips in the day and required some assistance to zip in the back.  The worst part and an unexpected aspect of the dry suit was that we had to wear rubber bands around our neck and wrists!  The bands were meant to keep the suit water tight.  Without them, our suit might fill up with cold water!  The guide warned that one or two people out of every trip got water in their suit.  Yikes!  I felt immediate anxiety when the band was put around my neck.  I felt that I could not swallow or breathe, but I also felt that if I complained or loosened it, my suit would fill with water.  The thought of water entering my suit replaced the general fear of the cold.  The guide assured us that if we got water in the suit, we wouldn’t get hypothermia.  We would simply have to suck it up and continue uncomfortably to the end.   This was not at all encouraging nor anything I had even thought to worry about.

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This photo was taken AFTER snorkeling, but my expression is still a little anxious or strained.


We were fitted with masks, gloves, and flippers.  A cold, wet, rubbery hood was squeezed over our heads, which only added to my sense of choking.  I tried to relax and not show any signs of anxiety.  We were given more instructions, such as the fact that the snorkeling was a one way trip.  Once we commited to it, there was no turning back half way.  Anyone with misgivings was told they had to quit right away or commit, even if they were wet, cold, uncomfortable, or afraid.  However, the snorkeling itself would only last about a half hour, as that was the amount of time it would take to pass through the fissure to a lagoon.   A current would carry us along, but at one point, we would have to swim a little harder  to avoid being pushed out to a lake and separated from the group.  After these instructions, we were marched along to the entry point, where the guide helped put masks on our face and eased us into the water.  I continued to feel anxious, especially with the mask on my face, which forced me to breathe through my mouth.  I felt that I wasn’t getting enough air.  I told the guide that I felt anxious and he asked me what I was afraid of.  I told him that I was mostly afraid that my suit would fill up with cold water (which was one of several concerns at that moment).  He said that once I was in the water, it would either fill up or not fill up, then I could be afraid or not afraid.  With that, the group of six of us slowly entered the water.  I entered last.


The suit did not fill up with water.  It squeezed more tightly, but remained dry.  We were taught how to roll onto our backs if we needed a break or to adjust something.  The suit itself was very buoyant, making swimming very easy.  Sinking would have been nearly impossible, so the depth of the water was of little concern to me.  The guide became less gruff and stayed close to me to make certain that I was was comfortable.  The extra attention made me feel self-conscious and also socially anxious.  I assured him that I would be able to do this.  I probably wasn’t that convincing, since he stayed close.  Eventually, I became more comfortable.  The suit was warm, though my face and hands became very cold.  However, the cold was actually far less terrible than taking a cold shower or doing dishes in cold water.  The cold is really nothing to worry about at all.  Breathing through my mouth became more natural, rather than the forced struggle at the beginning.  I also stopped noticing the tight band around my neck.  I started to feel more comfortable and the whole ordeal felt mildly enjoyable as I passed over the algae carpeted rocks.  The guide did intervene to direct me away from the current towards the lake (and towards the lagoon), but probably because he either didn’t trust my sense of direction or didn’t want me to go through the experience of getting separated from the group.  Shortly after that, the whole thing was over!  My left hand was pretty numb at that point, so I didn’t waste time swimming around the lagoon.  I got out of the water, as did everyone else in the group.  Easy peasey…despite any concern I might have caused the guide.

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When it was all over, I felt an enormous sense of self-efficacy.  I felt that I could easily snorkel in most situations and that I was one step closer to trying diving someday.  I even felt that if given the opportunity, I would do it again.  My anxiety stemmed from the unknown of all of it and from the unfamiliar bodily sensations of breathing through my mouth while feeling that I was choking.  The water was cold, but I would much rather have a cold hand/face than feel cold from a frigid shower or cold rain.  Physically, it was not that challenging, as the suit floated easily and the current pushed us along.  Therefore, anyone should reasonably be able to do the activity if they know what to expect and can swim.  We were treated to hot cocoa and cookies after removing our gear.  I was surprised that I wasn’t wet at all under the suit and that even my hair was only a little damp.  As far as I could tell, no one in the group was significantly wet.

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A small reward for facing my anxiety…


I think  if I could do it, almost anyone can do this!  It takes a little time to get used to all of the new sensations, but the reward is swimming between two continents!  The particular tour that I did was through Arctic Adventures and included a tour of the Golden Circle.  There were less than a dozen people on the tour, most of whom had never snorkeled before.  Aside from Silfra, the trip visits Gullfoss waterfall and Geyser, as well as Thingvellir National Park.   It is advisable to bring a towel and change of clothes.  Also be mindful that there isn’t much time for taking photos.  No one in our snorkeling group brought cameras along for the snorkeling part.  Hence, none of the photos were taken during the actual snorkeling part of the trip.   Despite this, here is the evidence that I survived the ordeal with a smile (and nothing worse than a cold hand).

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A Tale of Two Interstate Parks

Copy of Copy of Thre

A Tale of Two Interstate Parks

H. Bradford

8/25/18


Summer is quickly coming to an end in the Northland, so I wanted to squeeze a final camping adventure in before the season shifts to fall.  To this end, I headed out towards Interstate State Park, which is actually two state parks.  There is a Minnesota Interstate Park and a Wisconsin Interstate Park.  They are located within 10 minutes drive of each other, straddling the banks of the St. Croix River.  Both are located around two hours south of Duluth/Superior near the towns of Taylor Falls, MN and St. Croix Falls, WI.  Both can be reached by taking either Interstate 35 in Minnesota or HWY 35 in Wisconsin.  I opted for HWY 35 in WI, which is a pleasant, leisurely drive through many small, Wisconsin communities.   Here is a review of the parks! Image may contain: sky, plant, tree, outdoor, nature and water


 

Interstate State Park, Minnesota

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Interstate State Park in Minnesota is the second oldest state park in the state, after Itasca State Park.  While my other state park adventures were filled with solitude and insects, this park was swarming with people!  It is a popular tourist destination and more tourist oriented than the other state parks that I have visited this summer.  Despite the buzzing throngs of humans, very few opted to go on the free glacial pothole tour that was offered at noon.  Every weekend and Monday at noon, park staff provide a free tour of the park’s glacial potholes.  I went on the tour and learned about the formation of the large potholes in the park, while meandering around some of the large potholes near the park’s entrance.   Basically, when the glaciers around Lake Superior began to melt 10,000 years ago it created a powerful torrent of water which created the modern St. Croix river.  The cliffs through which this water flowed were formed 1.1 billion years ago from the lava released from a mid-continental rift that spreads from Minnesota to Kansas.   The powerful river once rushed over these cliffs, creating potholes in the landscape as smaller rocks got caught and scoured holes into the surface.  Interstate State Park boasts the largest “explored” pothole in the world.  This means that there are larger potholes in the world, but they have not been dug out to determine their actual depth.  Visitors to the park can actually stand inside one of the larger potholes.  These potholes were manually shoveled out earlier in the last century and the visitor center features some modern artifacts that have been retrieved from the potholes over the years.  Each year, the potholes are pumped out, as they fill with water, leaves, and other debris.  Aside from the potholes, the naturalist also told us about the billion year old basalt left behind from the mid-continental rift.  The surface of the basalt is pock marked with air bubbles from when the lava cooled.  It was neat to learn about this history and to think about walking on top of such ancient rocks.

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After partaking in the tour, I set up my tent at my campsite.  At this point, I may have gone hiking, but instead, I wanted to explore Taylor Falls.  About 10 minutes drive away from Interstate Park is the Franconia Sculpture Park.  On Sundays, the park offers a free tour at 2 pm with one of the sculptors.  So, after the glacial pothole tour, I went on a sculpture park tour not far from the park.  Prior to the weekend, I had never heard of the sculpture park.  I expected to find a quaint community project with a few quirky sculptures.  Instead, I found a massive field of impressive sculptures, some created by famous artists from all over the world.  Artists even stay at the park as residents and interns.  There is also a workshop wherein artists can created their works.  It was an impressive artistic institution pretty much located in the middle of nowhere (Taylor Falls only has a population of about 900 people).  Once again, the guided tour was not well attended.  It was myself and two local senior citizens.  However, it was great to learn more about the artists, their methods, and the meaning of some of the sculptures.  I hadn’t put much thought into sculptures before- or at least not the process of making them.  An artist was busy making a metal sculpture from a mold she made over a plastered comforter spread over a friend’s body.   The artist was not an engineer, so she had to figure out for herself how to work with metal and create something structurally sound.  I could better appreciate the technical challenges of erecting giant sculptures of metal, cement, or stone after the tour. Image may contain: plant, outdoor and nature


Since Interstate Park is located within Taylor Falls, Mn, the local tourist attractions warrant mention- as these are connected to the park through the Railroad Trail.  After visiting the Franconia Sculpture park, I returned to the state park and followed the River Trail from the campground to the town.  Within Taylor Falls, I grabbed some dinner at the Drive In Restaurant.  The Drive In Restaurant is an old fashioned drive in, where you can eat in your car.  I chose to eat at a table.  The servers wear Poodle Skirts and serve classic American foods like malts, sundaes, burgers, fries, etc.  They actually had a veggie burger on their menu.   This is easily within walking distance from the park, as are several other restaurants.

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On the way back to the park, I followed the Railroad trail, which follows along an old railroad bed.  It is less stunning than the River Trail (which follows the St. Croix river) but worth hiking simply to mix things up.  Together, the trails make for about a three mile loop.  Thus, Minnesota Interstate Park does not have many trails (as these are the main two trails in the park).  It is not a state park to visit if you expect to do a lot of hiking, but worth visiting if you want to enjoy the St. Croix river and some local tourist attractions.   The Railroad trail leads hikers past the Folsom House (which is up the hill from the trail), which is a house built in 1854 by lumber baron, W.H. Folsom.  The house was closed when I visited, but it is generally open on the weekends during the summer and fall.  The trail also brings visitors past the historic rail station.  Another attraction, back in town and not on the trail, is a small, yellow library dating back to the late 1800s (it was built in 1854 as a taylor shop but later became a library).  The diminutive library continues to lend books to this day.  Finally, for those looking for something else to do after hiking to two short trails, the state park is unique in that it offers steamboat tours.  Tickets for the steamboat tours can be purchased near the park’s visitors office.  Tickets cost about $20, which I was content to forgo as I had already explored the river on foot and didn’t feel like spending more money.   The St. Croix river can also be explored by canoe or kayak and there are several rentals in the area.

Tiny Library from the 1800s


 

  Park Overview:

Pros: Beautiful cliffs over the water, many local tourist attractions, guided pothole tours, largest explored pothole in the world, riverboat tours, kayak/canoe opportunities, easy hiking trails, and well-staffed park and campground.


Cons: Very busy with tourists, loud traffic, not many hiking trails, relatively small park Image may contain: tree, sky, plant, outdoor, nature and water


Interstate State Park, Wisconsin

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On the other side of the St. Croix River is Wisconsin’s Interstate Park.  As mentioned, this was Wisconsin’s first state park.  I visited here early Monday morning after camping at Minnesota’s park.  At 7am, the park was devoid of tourists and hikers.  This gave me the opportunity to explore the park’s trails alone.  Unlike the Minnesota state park, there are many trails to explore.  Most of these are small loop trails which connect to each other in a series of lopsided figure eights.  Each loop is usually about a half a mile to under a mile long.   I hiked several of these small loop trails.  One of the highlights was the Pothole Trail.  Like the Minnesota park, the Wisconsin Interstate State Park also features potholes.  These potholes are smaller in width and depth, so they are not as impressive as the Minnesota potholes.  But, if you want to take in  more glacial potholes, the trail is still worthwhile and the trail itself features a nice overlook of the St. Croix river.  I also followed the Meadow Valley Trail, which was a bit swampy and buggy.   It is mostly just a connector between a parking lot and the Pothole Trail.  Another trail is the Summit Rock Trail, which brings visitors to the highest point on the bluffs.  This trail features the best observation point of all of the trails, since it is the highest.  I also followed part of the Echo Canyon Trail, though this was done to get to the Lake o’ the Dalles Trail.  The Lake o’ the Dalles Trail is a one mile loop around a small lake.  This is the only place between the two state parks where visitors can go swimming.  Otherwise, the currents of the St. Croix river are either too strong or the cliffs/bluffs are too steep.   This area features a beach house and the trail is described as a wildlife viewing trail.   I didn’t see much for wildlife, but I did encounter poison ivy.

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I didn’t mention that the Minnesota Interstate Park was buzzing with both people, but also a new colony of honeybees.  I have never seen a swarm of bees colonize a tree before.  The naturalist pointed them out and put up a sign so that everyone would avoid that area.  After a few hours, the bees were settled down in their new home.  Despite nearly walking by the swarm, the bees were content to focus on their new home.  Other than this brief and interesting encounter with these bees, I had no major insect incidents over the course of my park visit.  However….I did notice how there was NO poison ivy in the parks.  This was a first, as the other parks I have visited this summer had abundant ivy.  I guess I was lulled into complacency, since during my hike around Lake o’the Dalles, I noticed a lush gauntlet of poison ivy right by the trail (which I had already been following).  When I looked down at my legs, I saw they had small red bumps near the ankles and lower calves.   I couldn’t do much about it at the time.   This was a good lesson in paying attention and wearing taller socks/shoes/long pants.  Several days later, my legs are still bumpy, red, and itchy.   This was my first brush against poison ivy and the reaction was not that severe, just annoying and ugly.  I have used Vicks Vapor Rub and Cortisone cream on it.

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Despite the poison ivy, I saw a Giant Swallowtail butterfly, which are rare…


There were a few other trails which I did not have time to explore.   Otherwise, the park also features a small museum and gift shop.  The museum features information about glaciers.  It also has a display of various clams found in the St. Croix River.  Traveling HWY 35, one passes by Clam Dam and Clam Falls, which alludes to the mussels found in the river.  Personally, I haven’t paid much attention to mussels, so the display was neat because it showcased the variety of local clams.  The mussels have unique names, such as Fawnsfoot, Higgin’s Eye, Monkey Face, Snuffbox, and Winged Maple leaf.   Some of these mussels are endangered and I know that I certainly have never paid attention to the differences between species of clams.  The St. Croix River has over 40 species of mussels, making it one of the most significant mussel habitats in the country. No automatic alt text available.


I did not explore the local tourist attractions outside of Wisconsin’s Interstate Park.  St. Croix Falls, the community near the park, is larger than Taylor Falls and also more spread out.  While I did not stop here, I did stop in Balsam Lake (which was slightly out of the way but roughly 15 miles away from the park).  The small community features a museum, a city park with camping, a few eateries, and some historic buildings.  I ate lunch at KJ’s New North.  The deli/coffee shop does not have any vegetarian items on the menu, but they made me a veggie sandwich with all of their veggies (peppers, pickles, lettuce, tomato, avocado+cheese).   The food was tasty and the service was good.  Since the town has its own municipal self-serve camping in the park, this might be a camping option when the state parks are full.   Pine Park features disc golf and the basic camping sites have a shared restroom and shower.  I visited the park briefly and found that it was great habitat for woodpeckers.  I saw four species of woodpeckers in my first fifteen minutes in the park, including a red headed woodpecker.  This was my only birding on the trip.

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Park overview:

Pros: Various hiking trails, glacial potholes, swimming opportunities, camping,  quieter than MN Interstate Park, close to St. Croix falls and other nearby communities, gift shop/mini museum, first Wisconsin State Park, and cheaper camping fees than MN.


Cons: Poison ivy and tourists (but less busy than MN Interstate Park…though it was a Monday)

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Conclusion:

Both parks compliment each other well.  Minnesota’s Interstate Park is great for its potholes, boat tours, and proximity to tourist attractions.  Wisconsin’s Interstate Park is great for hiking, swimming, and its interpretive center.  Together, the parks give visitors an appreciation for geology, knowledge about glaciers, and great views off the bluffs divided by the St. Croix river.   The proximity of the parks to the Minneapolis area and the dramatic natural beauty ensures that both are a popular destination.  They aren’t the most tranquil state parks, but if you don’t mind the sound of cicadas, traffic, and people they are a great place to visit.

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A Review of Three Minnesota National Wildlife Refuges

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A Review of Three Minnesota National Wildlife Refuges

H. Bradford

7/29/18


This past weekend (+Monday and Tuesday), I visited three state parks as part of my goal to see all of the state parks in Minnesota.  As it happens, all three state parks were not terribly far from National Wildlife Refuges.  Thus, I also visited three National Wildlife Refuges during my mini-vacation.   National Wildlife Refuges (NWR) are administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service for the purpose of conserving…well, wildlife!  I will admit that I am not as familiar with NWRs as I am with state or national parks.  From my limited experience, it seems that NWRs that I have been to differ from state parks in that they typically do not charge a fee or requite a sticker.  At the same time, camping is not typically allowed and there are fewer amenities, programs, and regular staffing.  They also seem less busy or tourist oriented than state or national parks.  On the other hand, some allow hunting and trapping, which is not always allowed at state parks.  My general impression is that NWRs are less family and tourist friendly, but great for bird/wildlife watching and a variety of independent outdoor activities.  There are 13 NWRs in Minnesota, which are among the 550 spread across the United States.  This is a review of three of them.

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Sherburne NWR:


Sherburne NWR is located near Zimmerman, MN and about a half an hour south-east of St. Cloud, MN.  I visited the refuge with my brother as a Saturday excursion during my weekend visit.  The park contains oak savanna, wetlands, and prairie ecosystems and offers hiking, but also a wildlife drive and opportunities for fishing and hunting.   My brother and I mostly partook in the wildlife drive, which provides a few opportunities to stop for short hikes.  The primary purpose of the visit was birding.

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The wildlife drive took us through a variety of landscapes, including the three mentioned on the website: prairie, wetland, and oak savanna.  We took a short hike in the prairie area, which unlike the state parks I had visited over the weekend, was devoid of bothersome insects.   While it seems that woodland wildflowers peak in the early spring, the prairie wildflowers were in full bloom, creating colorful fields of orange and yellow.   As for birding, the park has several species of sparrows which are not regularly seen in Northern Minnesota, where I live.   For instance, during our short hike, I heard a Field sparrow.  The song is very distinct, even though I have never seen or heard one before.  I imagine that it is the sound of a Frisbee being thrown or a UFO taking off.   There were also many grasshopper sparrows, another sparrow that I hadn’t seen before.  They have an insect like song that sounds like a cross between a buzz and a hiss.  Over twenty species of sparrows can be found in the wildlife refuge, so it seems like a great place to visit to see sparrows (even if I only saw a few species).

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The wildlife drive follows along some lakes, where trumpeter swans, double-crested cormorants, great blue herons, and various ducks can be seen.  For me, a highlight of these area was seeing black terns, which are another new bird for me.  I was unable to photograph them, as they zip along pretty quickly.   They don’t range near Duluth, but are found in other parts of Minnesota in prairie or prairie transition areas.  Another highlight was hearing a Least bittern in a ditch by the lake, though I did not see the bird hidden in the thick vegetation.   I am not a great birder, so I would suggest that less skilled birders (like myself) review bird song/calls before heading to the park.  It definitely helps with sparrow identification (as they all look pretty plain and brown) and for hard to spot birds.  I listened to a bird CD in my car on the way to Lake Maria State Park from Duluth (a three hour drive) so a few vocalizations were fresh in my head.

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The only buggy area was on the north-west end of the lake, where there was a small oak forests and trail.  We were too mosquito bitten to venture far, but we did see a red bellied woodpecker.  This was a new woodpecker species for me and one that I later saw more of at Charles Lindbergh State Park and Crane Meadows NWR.  As a whole, I would say that the park offered great birding opportunities.  I would definitely return to see more sparrows and to view the Sandhill cranes which migrate through the refuge in large numbers each fall.    I like that the park offered a wide variety of ecosystems and a wildlife drive.  While we didn’t do much hiking, I would like to return to try out the trails.  The park was surprisingly busy, with several vehicles slowly moving along the wildlife drive, also trying to spy on birds.  There isn’t much room for passing, so, be prepared to take it slow and follow the caravan of wildlife enthusiasts!   The refuge is about 30 minutes drive away from Lake Maria State Park, so both could be visited in the same day (though I visited them over the course of two days).

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Crane Meadows NWR:


Crane Meadows NWR is only fifteen minutes away from Charles Lindbergh State Park and only about ten minutes away from Little Falls.  This makes it very accessible and very easy to take in along with Charles Lindbergh State Park.  The NWR was a welcome reprieve from the mosquito swarms that characterized Charles Lindbergh State Park.  Crane Meadows NWR was bright and sunny, and although the trails followed along the Platte River, the wildlife area lacked the deer flies and mosquitoes that plagued my other outdoor adventures over the weekend.  Crane Meadows is only 2000 acres (compared to over 30,000 for Sherburne NWR) and does not have a wildlife drive.  Instead, it offers a few looped trails along the Platte River to Rice Lake.  The longest loop is just under four miles.  I hiked this loop, which was the best hike of the weekend because 1.) it wasn’t buggy.  2.) There was an abundance of birds.  3.) The trail passes a variety of ecosystems, such as oak savanna, tall grass prairie, sedge meadow wetland, and more!  The trail can only be used for hiking, so horses and bicycles are not allowed.  Perhaps owing to the length and limited use, I did not see any other people on the trail.

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As I already mentioned, the hike was very enjoyable, with easy terrain and a variety of habitats in one relatively small area.  I did not see as many birds as I did at Sherburne, but I also covered a smaller area.  There were some noteworthy birds on the hike, including a great crested flycatcher, another new bird for my list.  The yellow, gray, and rusty orange bird is easy to identify (which is not true of most flycatchers, which look pretty similar in their variations of pale yellow, olive, and gray plumage.)  Another highlight was a few red headed woodpeckers, which I have not seen in Minnesota before.  I also saw red breasted woodpeckers and a swamp sparrow.  Other sparrows included song sparrows and chipping sparrows, both of which are pretty common in Duluth.  The martin house was busy and there were also many barn swallows.

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Like Sherburne NWR, I would definitely visit Crane Meadows again.  The leisurely hike and variety of birds made for a great way to spend an afternoon.  I would say that the main downside of the NWR is a lack of amenities.  There are no toilets on the trails, but there is a port-a-potty at the parking area.  On the other hand, there was hardly anyone at the NWR, so that was a plus.  As a whole, it is a nice, compact wildlife area with easy access to Little Falls.

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Rice Lake NWR:

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The final NWR that I visited was Rice Lake NWR, near McGregor, MN.  I have visited this area many times, but couldn’t resist making a pit stop on my way home to Duluth.   Of the three, this NWR has the widest variety of things to do.  There is a wildlife drive, which I have done many times.  There is an observation deck and several hiking trails.  The NWR also features Native American and Civilian Conservation Corps history.  Native Americans continue to use the wildlife area for harvesting wild rice and maple syrup.  In fact, Native Americans have used the park since at least 1000 BC and there are burial mounds within the refuge.  Each time I visit, there are usually at least a few people fishing, which seems to be the most popular activity.  Rice Lake NWR is rich in waterfowl and each spring and fall during migrations.  In fact, the area holds the state record for the most waterfowl seen in one place at one time, when a million ring necked ducks were observed in 1994.   Like the other two parks, there is a wide variety of sparrows that can also be seen, including the rare LaConte’s Sparrow (which I have not seen).

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Where the wild rice grows…


In addition to the hiking trails, wildlife drive, fishing, birding, and Native American history/use, this NWR generally has pretty good amenities (at least compared to the other two refuges).  There are several toilets or port-a-poties spread throughout the refuge as well as two picnic areas.  There is no running water, however.  The refuge itself features mixed forests, lakes, and bogs.  Because it is a very wet environment, there are always lots of insects!  Of the three refuges, this was the worst, with swarms of deer flies AND mosquitoes.    I have never successfully hiked in this refuge since these attempts are almost always thwarted by voracious insects.  Even an open window during the wildlife drive attracted unwanted deer flies into my vehicle.

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National Wildlife Refuges are a different experience than state and national parks.  While they may not be as full of tourists, activities, and amenities, they are great places to spend a day taking in nature.  All three of these locations are relaxing, tranquil, and great for birding.  All three are places that I would visit again.   There are only 13 of these gems in Minnesota, and only 12 can be visited!  I will definitely be visiting other NWRs in the future and hopefully you will be inspired to visit them as well!

 

A Review of Three Minnesota State Parks

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A Review of Three Minnesota State Parks

H. Bradford

7/27/18

This past week I visited three Minnesota State Parks.  My goal is to one day visit all 66 state parks.  Usually, I try to visit a few new ones each year, so it is a long term goal.  The three parks that I visited are each located in central Minnesota and are each within one hour driving distance from St. Cloud.  I chose the parks since I visited my brother this past weekend (who lives in the St. Cloud area) and it was a way to kill two birds with one stone.  Well, really, I don’t want to kill birds at all.  Typically, I prefer to watch them.  Violent idioms aside, here is my review of the three state parks that I visited.


Lake Maria State Park:

Lake Maria State Park is located near Monticello, Minnesota, about three hours south-west of Duluth.  There was some road construction along the way and when I stopped at a gas station about 10 miles away from the park, the staff and a customer had no idea where Lake Maria State Park was.  The customer reckoned that he had heard of it before.  This did not bode well for the state park.  When I arrived not long after the stop, I found that the park office was closed.  It was a Friday, which I assumed might be a busier day of the week for a state park.  With the park office closed, I decided to do some hiking, then check back later (since I like to collect state park patches).   My first hike was to Little Mary Lake.

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(Sorry to disappoint anyone but Lake Maria’s sign is not this sparkly in real life.  I just had a sparkle setting on my camera by accident.)


Almost immediately, I was attacked by deer flies.  I did not think to wear my hat, so during the course of my hike, I picked dead deer flies from my hair in a demoralizing journey to the lake.  Had I counted the number of dead deer flies, I would not be surprised if at least 50 found their death in my hair.  The hike itself was hard to enjoy, as my constant battle with the flies made it impossible to stop for photos or bird watching.  The trail was dotted with many swampy pools, which seemed like the perfect environment for breeding insects.  The forest itself was unique, as it is a remnant of the “Big Woods” that once covered that part of the state.  The surrounding area near the park is either farm fields with corn or big box stores along I-94, so the park is a piece of what once was.   The forest also seemed unique to me because of the large number of basswood trees.  I might have appreciated the park more had my hike not been marked by the incessant attack of deer flies.

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One of Lake Maria’s swampy pools.


Little Mary Lake features a wildlife lookout, wherein visitors can take a moment to enjoy the swans and other waterfowl on the lake.   Further ahead, there is a boat landing and interpretive trail.  I enjoy interpretive trails, though the Zumbrunnen Interpretive Trail was overgrown with sedges and other vegetation.   Upon finishing this trail, I headed back to my car to eat a snack, put on a hat (to guard against flies), and wait for the visitor center to open.

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The wildlife lookout area


My second hike of the day was to Lake Maria.  I took a meandering path instead of a direct route, which took me to a bluebird restoration area, then back to the lake.  The lake itself was actually much smaller than Little Lake Mary, despite the fact the larger lake is called “Little.”  Once again, I was pestered by flies. Despite wearing hat (which I retrieved after the first hike), they flew at my face and under the brim.  This made for an exhausting day, as my hike seemed like an endless battle with flies.   However, I think that the park would be more enjoyable in the autumn or spring when the flies are not as thick.  Since the park is almost entirely forests and lakes, I am sure that it would be particularly nice in the fall.

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Pros:

The park was almost entirely empty.  I hiked from 11:30 am to about 3:30 pm and only encountered one other hiker.  There were several other people in the park, but I can count on one hand the number that I saw at various points during the day.  The park also features backpacking campsites.  It seems that it is a great park to visit if someone wants solitude.  I assumed that since the park is only 22 miles from St. Cloud and 45 miles from Minneapolis that it would be much busier.  This was not the case at all.  Lake Maria features lakes, forests, and plenty of birds.


Cons:

The flies were insufferable.  The natural ponds and lakes and surrounding farmland seem to be the ingredients for a lot of flies.  I would definitely have arrived more prepared for flies had I been thinking about it.  They bite any exposed skin, making taking photos difficult as they would land on my hands.   Another con was that the park office did not open until 2pm.  I wanted to purchase a year long park sticker and an embroidered patch, but had to wait until the park office opened.  Stickers can be ordered online, but I wanted the sticker right away as I had planned on visiting two other state parks that weekend.


Charles Lindbergh State Park:

Do you like aviation history and relentless swarms of mosquitoes?  I sure don’t.  This made Charles Lindbergh State Park a bit of a disappointment for me (heavy emphasis on the mosquito swarms).   Charles Lindbergh State Park is located about an hour north west of Lake Maria State Park, or about 30 minutes south of St. Cloud Minnesota.  The park was established with donated land from Charles Lindbergh Sr., the father of the famous aviator and a state congressperson.  Upon arriving at the park at about 9am on Monday, I found that the office was closed.  Bugs and closed park offices were a theme over the weekend.  I had intended to camp there, so I dropped off some money for firewood and set off to explore some of the historic buildings around the park.

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Because the park was created through a land donation of Charles Lindbergh Sr., visitors can walk around the family farm house.  The farm house was not open during my visit, but the grounds were open.  Visitors can also view a dilapidated house which was used by tenant farmers on the Lindbergh property.  There are some signs which tell the story of the farm, which seems oddly situated in a wooded strip of land between the Mississippi River and Pike Creek.  Near the farm, there is a museum dedicated to Charles Lindbergh Jr., the famous aviator.  The museum, like the farm house, was not open.  In the opposite direction, there is Weyerhauser Museum, but once again, this museum was not open.   Although the museums were closed, there are a few interpretive signs and a pleasant trail along the Mississippi River, which connects these sites.

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Tenant farmer house

 


After viewing these historical sites, I decided to do some hiking within the woods.  This was where I was bombarded by mosquitoes.  It is little wonder, since the trail followed Pine Creek, a wonderful breeding place for the blood thirsty plague.  I sprayed myself with DEET, but this would not defeat the relentless mosquitoes, which prodded my skin and clothes for any DEET free areas.  On the bright side, it caused me to hike very quickly as the mosquitoes pushed me forward.  I hiked a 1.5 mile loop which took me through the forest, along the creek, and to the landing site of Lindbergh’s “Jenny” airplane.  I am not really interested in aviation history, but the clearing was the only mosquito free area of the hike.

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I would have hiked longer, but the mosquitoes were making me miserable.  Instead, I headed to the park office, which was again closed.  I decided that I would leave the park, head to Little Falls, find some lunch, then go hiking elsewhere (at Crane Meadows National Wildlife Reserve).  This 3.5 mile hike proved to be bug free and greatly improved my bug bitten morale.

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A mosquito breeding area


When I returned to the park in the early evening, the park office was still closed.  I set up my tent at the campsite, took a short jaunt into the mosquito infested woods, then settled down at my campsite with a fire and some reading.  A wasp flew into my tent and I could not find it.  This caused me some concern.  Another source of concern was the nearby campers, who seemed to be very rowdy and loud.  Because of the loud neighbor campers and the mysterious disappearance of the wasp in my tent, I decided to sleep in my car.


Sometime after midnight, a police officer woke me up.  He questioned me about the behaviors of the nearby campers and if I had witnessed anything unusual or anyone in distress.  There were several squad cars parked near my campsite.  I only said that they had been loud earlier, but I didn’t hear any fighting or anything more concerning than the ruckus of loud conversation.  The officer left, but sometime later I was roused again, this time by a sergeant who wanted me to make an official witness statement.  I really hadn’t been paying attention to the other campers, their conversations, or what they were up to.  I have no idea what sort of crime happened on the other campsite.  I never heard anyone in need of help or anything that sounded like an argument or fight.  So…I don’t know.  But, it made me feel uneasy for the rest of the night.  The officers also seemed surprised that I was camping alone and in my car, rather than my tent.  I explained that a wasp had entered my tent and I could not locate it.   The rest of the night was a fitful sleep of wondering if someone had been hurt or if I failed to help someone.  I had a dream that a woman came knocking on my car door asking for help.  In the morning, the park office was still closed as I left…

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My shirt says…camping is in-tents.   Owing to a wayward wasp and concerning crime, it was a little too intense, even if it was not in-tent.


Pros:

Charles Lindbergh State Park features museums and historical buildings, melding history and nature into a unique state park.  The park is located along the Mississippi River, so it is also a good place to visit if a person wants to take in a section of the second longest U.S. river.   However, most of the trails are not along the Mississippi.   The park is conveniently located near Little Falls, MN which has a historic downtown and several local attractions, including the Minnesota Fishing Museum (inconveniently closed on Mondays as well).  The town has a variety of restaurants and stores, making it easy to restock or recharge while camping.  The park is also less than 10 miles from Crane Meadows National Wildlife Preserve.  Location and history seem to be the best features of the park.  Like Lake Maria, the park was fairly empty.  While the campground was active, I didn’t see any other hikers on the trails.


Cons:

The park was not staffed between 9 am Monday and 9am Tuesday when I left.  I checked the office numerous times, but I saw no one there.  This meant that I could not collect an embroidered patch from the park.  It also meant that no one was around to attend to the campground, which in the case of my stay, was the site of some kind of crime.  Obviously, visiting the park on a Monday was not a perfect idea, since the museums were closed.  There were also a lot of hungry mosquitoes.

Crow Wing State Park:


The final park that I visited was Crow Wing State Park, which is less than 30 minutes north of Little Falls near Brainerd, Minnesota.   Of the three, I spent the least amount of time here, since I was simply stopping by on my way home.   Crow Wing State Park is the park that I would most likely revisit and was my favorite of the three.   I spent under three hours at the park, hiking around on Tuesday morning after leaving Lindbergh State Park.  Once again, the park office was closed.  It was closed throughout my visit (though I saw staff poking around the park- just not attending to the office).  Thus, I was unable to obtain a collectable embroidered patch once again…since….once again, the park office was closed.

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Much like Charles Lindbergh State Park, Crow Wing State Park was a breeding ground for aggressive swarms of mosquitoes.  The mosquitoes were actually far worse in some areas of this park.  Once again, DEET didn’t do much to deter the menacing cloud that followed me around the park.  My 100% DEET spray, which is potent enough to remove my nail polish and destroyed the fabric of my leggings, didn’t bother them that much.  The mosquitoes mostly bounced off my skin, looking for a clear spot to feast.  I can only be thankful that the mosquitoes here do not carry tropical diseases as we would all be doomed.  At some points, I actually jogged down the trail, hoping to out run them.  I didn’t.  There were just too many.   Oh well.

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More mosquitoes…

 


Insects aside, there was a lot to like about the park.  For one, the trails were accessible and could easily be visited by families.  The trail that I visited passed through the remnants of the former town of Crow Wing, which was established at the confluence of the Mississippi and Crow Wing rivers.  There is nothing left of the town but sign posts where businesses and town amenities once stood.  However, this was interesting and there were a few interpretive signs which told the story of the long lost 1800s trading town.  Another bonus of this area was that it was situated in a sunny clearing that was devoid of mosquitoes.  Because of this, I took my time, taking in the signs and the history.  Highlights of the remnants of Crow Wing include a reconstructed wooden boardwalk and the restored home of Clement Beaulieu the head of the American Fur Company trading post in Crow Wing.  It is one of the oldest wooden houses in Minnesota.  The town of Crow Wing had a population of 600 people at its peak, most of whom were of Native American descent.  The interpretive signs did not mention (at least the ones that I read) that the town collapsed because of the relocation of local Native Americans to White Earth Reservation in 1868 and the subsequent railroad construction in Brainerd.

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Aside from the town of Crow Wing, visitors can hike along the Red River Oxcart Trail to where oxcarts forded across the Mississippi River.   The Red River Trail was established as a trade route to Winnipeg, Manitoba.  The section near Crow Wing was constructed through Ojibwe territory, as it was viewed safer at the time than passing through Dakota territory.   In addition to this trail (which was very buggy) visitors can also view a battle site where Ojibwe and Dakota people fought in 1768.  There is also a reconstructed chapel of Father Pierz, who built a mission near Crow Wing and promoted white settlement and the acculturation of Native Americans (through conversion to Catholicism and adopting European farming practices).  I did not visit the chapel as I was not as interested in Catholic history and the mosquitoes were too intense.

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Pros:

This state park was my favorite of the three.  There is a lot to like!  Native American history, a ghost town, ox cart trail, and battle site (though there was not a lot of information about the 1768 battle).   It also seemed to be the most accessible of the three parks, as the trails were flatter and the distance to the ghost town was not far.  With that said, those with walkers or wheelchairs would still find it difficult to navigate.  However, families or those with less restrictive mobility issues might be able to enjoy the ghost town.  The reconstructed boardwalk is rustic looking, but this also makes it uneven.  That could be a challenge.  As a whole, state park hiking trails do not seem that accessible, but this one might be slightly less daunting.  The history is the main attraction of this park.  The nature is also nice as well.  Although it is only 30 minutes north of Little Falls, the landscape features conifers, wetlands, and wet prairie.  It is also a location to enjoy the Mississippi River (as it meets the Crow Wing river).


Cons:

There really weren’t any cons to this park, other than the mosquitoes.  I suppose that a con could be that the ghost town of Crow Wing seems to be excellent habitat for snakes- as I saw at least three by the boardwalk.  I am not bothered by snakes, but this might frighten some people.  Interestingly, I also saw a small lizard.  There are only three lizards that are found in Minnesota.  I have never seen one.  I believe that the one that I saw was a prairie skink, as that is the most common and is found in that part of the state.  Again, this should go in the pros, as who isn’t pro skink?  So scratch that, there is nothing wrong with this park except for the millions of mosquitoes and fact that the office was closed AGAIN!  I missed out on another collectable patch.


Conclusion:

If there are two lessons to draw from these state park visits it is 1.) be prepared for bugs.  2.) state parks need more funding and staffing.  To address the first issue, yes, I have complained a LOT about insects.  I could certainly dress differently or prepare myself in other ways for the massive amount of insects.  Another idea is to visit these parks in times of the year where the insects are less active.  Daily weather variations can also make a difference.  Had there been heavy wind or rain, the insects would not have been as active.  I think that next year, if I visit any state parks in the month of July I will choose places that are not as wet, as each of these parks is either located on rivers or lakes.  Southern or Western Minnesota might be better options for July.  To address the staffing issue, I was shocked that the parks seemed like ghost towns…(aside from the actual ghost town of Crow Wing).  The parks seemed very understaffed.  What has happened?  We really need to do more to staff the parks!  Of course, there were few visitors at the parks as well.  These parks may not be as well-visited as other parks in Minnesota.  Nevertheless, it is summer, so I expect that there would be SOME tourism to these parks.  I guess we really need to promote state park visits and funding for staff.   Otherwise, hopefully this inspires someone to visit a state park this summer and now you know what to expect!

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