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MINNESOTA

A SHORT WINTER GATEAWAY TO LAKE SUPERIOR (FEBRUARY 2019)                                          March, 2019

February was a bitter cold month, and ended with a polar vortex.  The air temperature had gone down to -26F (-32C), and the wind chill to -50s.   What better thing to do than drive up north? We wanted to see the frozen Lake Superior and take some pictures.  When it gets really cold, the landscape becomes interesting.  Couple of years ago, we had driven up to just north of Duluth (see pictures here).  But this time, we wanted to keep going all the way to Grand Marais and do some snow shoeing as well.  

Measured by the surface area, Lake Superior is the largest fresh water lake in the world.  And its deepest spot is 1,279 feet (400 meters).  Not surprisingly, it doesn’t freeze over easily. The last time it had done so was in 1997; and in 2013 to 90%.  This time, and in spite of the polar vortex, the lake was not completely frozen.

On our way up, we stopped at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park.  It is a favorite resting spot of ours when travelling north for hiking - usually in the fall.  We arrived in the afternoon of a cold, crystal clear, windless, sunny day.  It was winter at its best.  We took a long, solitary walk on the frozen lake, along its bank, and waited for the beautiful sunset.  Then we moved on to Grand Marais.  (here is the lighthouse from a previous trip in 2012).

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Sunset at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

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The Fisherman's Secret has a secret

Grand Marais is right on Lake Superior.  It is not much of a town, with one main street.  Even then, we prefer to go there in the fall, after most tourists have left. You know, this is just me, seeking solitude.  (see fall pictures from previous years).  But now in winter, it was almost deserted.  

 

On the first day, we did Pincushion Mountain located just a stone’s throw from the town.  To get there, exit Grand Marais on HWY 61, heading north towards the Canadian border.  But take an immediate left on Gunflint Trail.  And Pincushion Trail will be on your right just after 2.5 miles.  There I was reminded how crazy some Minnesotans are.  The snow shoe trail is now shared with “fat tire bikers”.  It is quite a craze.   We encountered one young biker right at the trail head.  But he was gone in a whiff, not to be seen again.  And we were left alone for rest of the day!

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Snowshoeing on Pincushion Mountain Trail 

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Fat tire biking on snowshoe trail

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All good things must come to an end, and so did our trip.  But not before we had a wonderful evening and a nice dinner at the rustic Cascade Lodge Restaurant, right on the outskirt of Grand Marais.  As luck would have it, a live band was playing that evening.  The lead singer sang the story of his 20 years of traveling life.  I was in the mood, and somehow he kept on reminding me of Bob Dylan.  The next morning we drove back to Maplewood.

John Sonofmel performing at Cascade Lodge Restaurant

MINNESOTA STATE PARKS
 
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AFTON STATE PARK                         

 
 
NEBRASKA

SOLAR ECLIPSE (at Tierra Briarhurst Park, NE, August 21, 2017)                                                  November, 2018

The sun had long made its appearance.  It was the moon that we were waiting for.  Then up in the heavens, they were going to have their celestial rendezvous.  And down here, at the Tierra Briarhurst Park, a handful of earthlings had gathered to bear witness.

 

Just a day earlier we had driven from Minnesota to Lincoln, NE to meet up with our friends Judy and Merle from Wisconsin.  Lincoln was the closest town in the path of the total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017.

 

Earlier in the morning, in the dining hall of Hampton Inn, I had seen groups huddled together deciding where to go.  Most of them were going to a big event just outside of Lincoln, with several NASA astronauts and other experts, complete with all the hoopla of a mass event.  They seemed somewhat stressed out about traffic jam and parking.  Why would I want that kind of headache?

 

Then there was the thing with clouds – some potentially coming our way.  I learned that some hardcores had already left for Missouri long before dawn to guarantee a cloud free sky.  We decided to stick it out.  So here we were, at Tierra Briarhurst Park, a nondescript neighborhood park in Lincoln, making ourselves comfortable, together with a handful of others

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I did not have my camera with me, even though photography is my hobby. In the runup to the event I had noticed many hobby photographers gearing up with expensive lenses and fancy gadgets. But I had remained cool, and cheap – spending just $10 to get some ISO 12312-2 certified solar eclipse glasses. 

 

As we waited, I was bemused to see the hustle and bustle of the amateur photographers trying out their gadgets.  I had no such worries.  And later, during the 1:35 minute long eclipse, while they fiddled to get the best shot of a lifetime, all I had to do was just let myself go – and be entertained by the most mind-bending experience I ever had.

 

Finally, the moon arrived.  I donned the high-tech glasses and settled down in my chair, gazing straight up at the sun.  The sun looked like a dim yellow circle, and the moon creeped upon it.  Slowly, very slowly, the sun first became a concave half circle, and soon a sickle.  But the moon was relentless, and suddenly nothing was to be seen.  I took my glasses off.

 

I had expected a dark sky with stars twinkling, the birds chirping, and all that.  Instead, I found myself in a twilight world of neither day nor night.  And up in the sky, instead of the sun, there was a strange circle of corona, flickering with a subdued psychedelic flame – mostly blue, purple and pink.  I kept looking at the faint ring of the cosmic flame, taking in every flicker and every subtle change in hue with all my senses.  I have no recollection of all the exclamations around me because I was not there – I was one with the cosmos.  It lasted for an eternity, and it lasted for a brief moment - and both would be true because time had lost its meaning.  The end came with a sudden burst of a dazzling "diamond ring".  I had to look away instinctively to protect my vision.... and I woke up!  

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The next total eclipse on mainland USA is on April 8, 2024.  The path runs along Buffalo/Rochester, NY, Cleveland, OH, Indianapolis, IN and between Dallas/San Antonio, TX.  Don’t miss it if you can help it.  If you watch, don’t settle for anything less than a total eclipse view – the difference is stunning.  And by the way, when you go, just leave your camera at home!

Now off to Rocky Mountain National Park......