Glacial Lakes State Park with My Brother
One of my goals is to visit every state park in Minnesota. To this end, I try to visit a few new state parks each year. The most recent park that I visited (this time with my brother) was Glacial Lakes State Park, which is located about an hour and a half west of St. Cloud, Minnesota, five miles south of the small town of Starbuck. The drive from St. Cloud is a pleasant journey across farmland, bypassing Sauk Center, and passing Glenwood and Lake Minnewaska. Sauk Center is the birthplace of Sinclair Lewis, and features an interpretive center, plaque, campground, and park in his honor. I recently read, “It Can’t Happen Here,” a fictional account of fascism arising in the United States under the leadership of a Trumpish president named Buzz Windrip. We didn’t stop in Sauk Center, but if I visited the state park again, it might be worth a brief visit. In fact, one of his books might be the perfect reading material for a camping trip to the park!
Glacial Lakes State Park appears as a bit of an anomaly in the landscape. Until arriving at the park, the landscape was mostly flat farmland. But, as we turned off HWY 29 to HWY 41, we were suddenly met with a landscape of rolling hills. These conical hills are called kames and were formed when sediments accumulated in depressions located within the ice of a retreating glacier. Other glacial features of the park include eskers and kettles, which can be read about on interpretative signs. According to “Roadside Geology of Minnesota,” the glacial features of the park were formed by the Des Moines Lobe. The Des Moines Lobe was the largest lobe (blobby, jutting feature) of the Laurentide Ice Sheet. The Laurentide Ice Sheet was a large sheet of ice which covered most of Canada and the Northern Midwest United States. This itself was a part of the Wisconsin Glaciation, the most recent glacial period which lasted until 11,000 years ago. I have not studied geology or climate history, but suffice to say the park features interesting glacial formations and history. Because the park is a transition between hardwood forests and prairies, it is also a unique ecosystem which blends flora and fauna of both ecosystems. To a science novice like myself, it feels like a special place, with wooded and prairie hills, lakes, and diverse plants and birds. My immediate impression when I was greeted with a view of rolling hills from the visitor’s was that the park indeed deserved to be a landscape set aside as a nature reserve. My brother and I were both glad that someone had the foresight to create the state park.
While visiting the park, my brother and I explored two trails. The first was an interpretive trail/boardwalk which hemmed the east side of Signalness Lake. The boardwalk was partially submerged, so watch out for water! This shorter trail leads to the Oakridge Campground and then to the High Peak Trail. The High Peak Trail offers two loop options and we opted to take the slightly longer loop, which nears an unnamed lake on the map. The unnamed lake featured ducks, great egrets, and other birds. There were also many butterflies fluttering amongst the prairie grasses and flowers. A highlight of the hike was the discovery of a patch of Showy Lady’s Slippers near the lake. According to the DNR, these orchids are uncommon in the state,but can be found in bogs, wet prairies, damp woods, and wet meadows. It was my first time discovering Minnesota’s state flower in the wild. They can live 100 years and takes 15-20 years from germination to flower. Because they need particular soil and fungus to grow, have lost habitat over time, and were once over harvested, the flower is uncommon, but not rare or endangered. It is illegal to uproot or pick them in Minnesota.
The High Peak Trail continued along to an overlook at the top of a hill. At 1,352 feet, it is the highest point in the park. The overlook offers a bench for resting and a view of Kettle and Baby Lake, as well as the hilly landscape. From this high point, we took a .5 mile loop back to the main High Peak Trail, this time taking the shorter route back to our parking spot. This brought us back through the campground and across the soggy boardwalk once more. Along the way back, my brother raised the question on why the last ice age happened in the first place. I didn’t know at the time. According to the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey, over the past 2.5 million years, the Northern Hemisphere has fluctuated between warm and cool periods. Over the last 700,000 years there have been 100,000 year climate cycles of warming and cooling. This is related to shifts in the axial tilt of the earth and the shape of earth’s orbit around the sun. The most recent ice age began about 100,000 years ago and ice sheets didn’t retreat fully from Minnesota until about 11,000 years ago. So, there you go. The earth’s axial shift and orbit is believed to be the cause of these ice ages over the last few million years.
After returning to the parking lot, we decided to explore Mardy’s Trail. Mardy’s Trail flanks the west side of Signalness Lake. This trail was less interesting, but brought us past a boat landing and by a number of thirteen lined ground squirrels. We did not do the complete loop, as this would have circled us back to the High Peak Trail. We hiked as far as a second overlook, which was less impressive than the first, but offered an overview of the other side of the park. The only downside of this was that my brother decided to trail blaze his own path down the hill, as a shortcut back to my car. He boldly proclaimed that it wa “Lonnie’s Trail.” Unfortunately, “Lonnie’s Trail” was a guantlet overgrown poison ivy. I was wearing long pants, but he was wearing shorts. Thankfully, he was able to avoid a rash by immediately applying rubbing alcohol to his legs. He dabbed his legs with hand sanitizer, which may have broken up the urushiol. So, as a note to other hikers, pack rubbing alcohol or a preventative cream to avoid a rash. We weren’t really prepared, but both narrowly avoided a rash (I washed my clothes after). From now on, we will take poison ivy more seriously!
After a fun day of hiking at Glacial Lakes State Park, we headed off to Morris, Mn, where my brother went to college. I never visited him in Morris, so we took the opportunity to venture there as it was 30 minutes from the park. Although the campus was closed, we wandered the grounds and past the buildings where he embarked on his life journey. There is something melancholy about touring the places of long ago, where new, young, hopeful students will gather in the fall. It is sad to think of all that was or wasn’t and how time moves us forward, relentlessly towards death, change, and loss. But, on a happier note, we also enjoyed some delicious Mexican food at Mi Mexico. Mi Mexico was a Chinese buffet when my brother was in college. Although I never visited him while he was at Morris, at least we revisited it years later after a pleasant day of hiking. I was happy for the opportunity to visit a new state park and spend the day with my brother. I hope that we have many years of hikes together!