Are you looking for a fun new place to hike and you’re interested in Nerstrand Big Woods State Park? Maybe you’re looking for a waterfall to check out, or maybe you want to have a challenging hike for a good workout. Read on to find all about it!
Last year, we had a lot of fun doing a 5 Week Workout Challenge. For 5 weeks we visited a bunch of parks for hiking and also did a couple indoor workouts. It was a lot of fun!
Although I’d love to try another challenge this year, I’m not sure what yet. I have a few fun ideas already! This year though, we have already started visiting new parks! Our first new park was Nerstrand Big Woods State Park.
We’ve seen some amazing images of the waterfall at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. We also noticed on the website that they had a campground. Since we love camping, we decided to check it out.
The drive out to Nerstrand was about 45 minutes. We weren’t disappointed by the scenery, There were lovely rolling hills of farmland broken up sporadically by patches of woods and walls of rock cut through the hills.
I found it amusing that a place called Big Woods could be found in the middle of so much farmland. So many times, I could see nothing but fields as far as the eye could see, and I couldn’t imagine how a huge forest could be hiding somewhere.
As the fields turned to denser and denser trees, we all became excited at the newest adventure before us. Driving up to the park, we noticed a huge solar panel, awesome! Thankfully our state parking permit was up to date. If you don’t have a state permit, you can find current prices here.
We drove through the campground to check out the sites to see if it seemed like a place we could stay at. The campgrounds are a thinly wooded area and are moderately spaced apart. Some of the spots did not look like they could fit our large tent. Many did have adequate room, given it is an RV friendly park. So if you’re tenting, make sure to check the tent ffot print.
We parked at the entrance to the walking trails and checked out the map. The park was huge. Hidden in the dense trees, I could almost forget we were surrounded by farmland and miles upon miles of fields. On the map, the park looks like a little green dot in the middle of nowhere. In the park, you find yourself in a precious oasis of trees and trails.
We chose a shorter hike since it was our first of the season. We decided to head to the waterfalls one way and back another. Both were listed as extremely difficult.
I found out that the difficulty was most likely related to the incline. Down was easy, up, was not. Unrelated to the map, we also had to navigate the mud and puddles left behind by the winter melt. I think this was probably the hardest for our family. Trying to keep the kids from playing in the mud! Ha!
The day we came was incredibly busy. Everyone else must have been equally excited to get out of the house. Everywhere we turned on the way down were people and dogs. People in front and behind us. Given that most Minnesotans are cheerful folk, we had a lot of small chit chat and friendly greetings.
The falls were beautiful. There was still snow and ice all around. I can only imagine how they must look frozen over. The falls themselves aren’t very large. I wasn’t worried about the kids drowning in the creek, should they fall in, just that they would get wet and make a mess. I did have to constantly reign them in due to the pent-up excitement of being outside.
Our way back was pretty not so crowded. Although we could hear the gleeful sounds of children echoing throughout the park intermittently. I had to have Nate drag me up one steep hill, but other than that, the rest was a relaxing stroll.
We really enjoyed our visit. We might have to come back another time to check out some of the other trails and to see what the park looks like when it turns green! Or maybe even come back in the fall! It looks like they get a lot of beautiful color!
Have you been to Newstrand Big Woods State Park? What is your favorite hiking trail in Minnesota? Let us know, we’d love to check it out!
Although spring has had a late start this year, these last few weeks have really warmed up! It’s almost hard to believe that a few weeks ago, we had a huge blizzard! If you are anything like us, you are probably itching to get outside and enjoy the warm, fresh air!
Last year we had so much fun doing a 5-week workout challenge! Every week we made it a goal to move our bodies. I don’t know about you, but I am not a big fan of a traditional work out session. I have a hard time getting motivated to stare at a TV and watch other people work out. Or worse, go somewhere public to work out with strangers.
Hiking is my favorite way to get exercise. Being outside, in nature, makes me happy. Getting a change of scenery, enjoying a new adventure, exploring a new location, what’s not to love?!
When doing research for local parks online, I found so many! I felt like the ones I had seen were just a drop in the bucket. I wanted to see them all! Is it crazy and over-ambitious that I’m not exaggerating?!
We had only scratched the surface last year. I knew, without a doubt, that our adventures would continue. Should I do another workout challenge?! I don’t know. It did motivate me last year. Honestly, many days I felt like sitting on the couch and being lazy in the air conditioning. Knowing I had made a commitment kept me going.
Maybe this year is time for a new challenge. There are so many options! I might have to try one or all of these.
7 Summer Challenge Ideas
Get Outside Every Day Challenge-For 3 months… for a year?!
How many parks can we hit in the summer? 30? 40? 60?!
Around Minnesota in 80 Days
Exercise Every Day for a Month
30/60/90 Day Planking Challenge
100 Days of Gardening
Get Outside Every Day Challenge/ 100 Days of Sun
People Are spending more time inside than ever before in history. With the air inside polluted and stale, getting outside is vitally important to our health. AT LEAST an hour outside every day is the recommended amount for every age.
Visiting Parks is one of the most fun things to do in the summer. Parks are full of activities for every age. The whole family can go for a hike. The kids can play at the playground while the adults relax and chat. Biking, swimming, sightseeing, bird watching, there are so many options!
Although the title is just an idea, you can set your goal for as many or as little parks as you think you will visit. Obviously, you will change Minnesota to your own local area.
Around Minnesota in 80 Days
This title leaves the window open for future fun expeditions. If you don’t have an exact plan of what you want to do, but you know you want to start a challenge, this might be a good starting point.
I might make a fun list soon about traveling ideas within a region. To get you started with a few ideas, you could visit local parks, check out small historic towns, visit a museum, check out a historic site, go to a zoo, smell the flowers at a conservatory, and so much more!
Exercise Every Day for a Month!
I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time getting motivated to exercise. Making it a goal is a great way to keep on track and get your body moving. Last year we did a 5 Week Workout Challenge. It was a lot of fun!
Working out doesn’t have to be just exercise videos or hitting up the Y. Exercise can be so many different things! You could go hiking, ride a bike, go kayaking, go swimming or even try rock climbing!
There are so many options with this one! Art is near and dear to my heart. My Grandfather was an artist. He inspired me to be a creative person. I’m working hard to instill a love of being creative in my children. This would be the perfect project for us all to enjoy together.
If you didn’t have an artsy Grandpa, here are a couple of ideas to get you going! I’ll make a more extensive list in the future too. Paint on canvas, visit an art museum, draw with chalk, paint rocks, make a birdhouse, do a photography project, color with crayons and so much more!
30/60/90 Day Planking Challenge
Last year, during our 5 Week Workout Challenge, we tried planking for two of the days. Planking is HARD! It was so much harder than I thought it would be. It’s such a great way to build muscle FAST though! I’d love to try a 30-day plank challenge to see how long I would last at the end of the 30 days.
I think it would be fun to plank in different places every day for different visual content. The kids would probably love that too!
100 Days of Gardening
I started my first vegetable garden last year. This year we have been expanding, growing new things and learning more and more about gardening. Doing a 100 days of gardening challenge would be a perfect way to learn about gardening faster and get a lot of fresh food!
I would love to know how you are going to challenge yourself this summer! Let me know in the comments!
What I’ve Learned From A Year of Dedicated Blogging
I started my blog as a fun hobby. In the first few years, I only made a couple of posts. I knew I wanted to do more, especially since I was making the investment in paying for hosting. Letting my blog sit there seemed like a waste of money.
It wasn’t until my circumstances changed that I decided to dedicate time specifically to blogging. My health had taken a turn for the worse, I had to quit working. I was struggling with accepting my new life and the depression that came with significant change. I knew I needed to fill the void of work with a new hobby.
Blogging seemed like the perfect way to occupy my mind and fill my time with something positive. Since I stopped taking professional portraits for other people, I reminded myself that I could still be a photographer, only, I would be taking images for myself. I decided to challenge myself with something I have always wanted to do, a 52 project. It was a lot of fun and I love the way my images turned out. From there, it became easier to blog about things.
With the end of school nearing, I decided to add another challenge to my blogging, vlogging. This took my blogs to a new level, as I had videos to go along with my writing. I initially started vlogging for fun and as a challenge to warm me up to what I really wanted to do. I wanted to do a video series on the challenges of severe, life-threatening allergies. Along with this, I will have accompanying blogs that detail in writing the facts that go along with my videos.
Over the past 5 years of health struggles, I have done an extremely large amount of research. Some of the things I researched had little to no information and I had to really dig in order to learn. It was so hard to gain footing in the world of severe allergies. Not many people are allergic to nearly the entire world, and there isn’t a handbook that goes along with it.
I knew that I wanted to help people and make their journey a little easier, by sharing my story and experiences. I wanted to help someone avoid some of the mistakes I’d made in the beginning, or maybe find a new way to help them cope now.
I realized that I had found the purpose of my blog. I guess you could say I found my niche. This information isn’t only helpful for those with severe allergies. It is beneficial for everyone. I tell people that I am the canary in the coal mine. If my health takes a dive because of my sensitivity to chemicals, then It can’t be very safe for other people either. Even if they’re not having a life-threatening reaction to it. Toxic chemicals are not beneficial to anyone.
Holistic health and nutrition can benefit everyone live a healthier, more meaningful life. Living life without toxic chemicals reduces the risk of having cancer, heart disease, eczema, diabetes, and more.
I love sharing what I’ve learned with others. Blogging gives me a platform so I don’t have to drive my friends and family crazy by constantly talking about the latest medical article I’ve been reading. It allows me to share my photography. It allows me to be creative and give me an outlet for my lack of ability to work. Hopefully, someone out there will appreciate and enjoy my ramblings and my photography.
After a year of dedicated creating every month, I can definitely say that blogging is something I enjoy and will continue to do. Thank you for those of you who have commented, shared, liked and followed me over this last year. I have loved hearing that you enjoyed something I shared. Hopefully, I’ll have more fun things for you in this coming year!
When finding patterns for a photography project, it can be difficult to find a satisfactory subject. At least, it was for me! I couldn’t find anything that really spoke to me. I have already incorporated leaves into past projects and I didn’t want to be redundant, but that would have been my first choice.
Searching in the world, there are a lot of patterns, brick walls, playground equipment, windows. Honestly, they all seemed so overdone and boring to me. I really wanted to try something different.
I have seen a photograph similar to this before and I thought it would be fun to try it myself. Let me tell you, this was no easy task! It took A LOT of matches and I ended up with a few burnt fingers.
I tried so hard to get a perfect gradient. Did you know that matches bend when they are burning? Or that they shoot flames out the end of the match when you get too close to the end? Also, not much holds the head on once it’s been torched.
For the really charred ones, well, everything past the fourth match, I had to deal with warping and bending of the wood. My remedy for this was to burn a short section, cool and then burn another section.
For the last 6 matches, I had to be really careful not to burn my fingers. I decided to burn the butt end first, then burn the remaining sections. This is where the flames shooting out of the end of the match became a problem.
After numerous attempts at perfection, I said “Forget about it!” and became satisfied with imperfection. I theorized that I could fix it in photoshop in a jiffy, but I earned that imperfection with a badge of honor… or burnt fingertips anyway.
When I was researching the area for things to do, I saw Norberg Trail as one of the highlights. It looked breathtakingly beautiful. With the rain and our busy schedule, we didn’t get the chance to check it out. On our last night there, I decided that I would wake up early the next morning and head out alone.
I woke up and hit snooze once or twice. Half of me wanted to say forget it and sleep in. The other half knew I’d be mad at myself later for being lazy. So I rolled out of bed, packed up and drove to the bathrooms for a shower. Then I set out for my hike!
I felt a bit excited about going alone, as though this was a secret adventure. Part of me felt guilty for leaving everyone behind, but they all wanted to sleep in any way. I felt nervous anticipation as I pulled into the parking spot. Would it be as beautiful as I had hoped? I do have a tendency to romanticize destinations.
Thankfully, it was as peaceful and lovely as I had imagined. Walking the short trail to the lake was relatively easy. There were rocks embedded in the ground to navigate, but it wasn’t as bad as Kawishiwi Falls. The view of the lake through the pines was delightful. The fresh air invigorated my senses. I was ready for a good hike around the lake.
Before I left, I checked out the map on the sign and I knew there was a loop around the lake. Down near the water, I could see a trail going off to the right. I knew there was another trail further up near the parking lot, but I thought it was the one that led to the other lakes. I set off to the right since it seemed to be a clear beaten path.
Everywhere around me was the wonder of creation. It was hard to resist stopping frequently and photographing the lovely ferns, trees, moss, mushrooms, and plants. I noticed that there were a lot of mosquitos, so I tried to keep moving.
Every so often, there was a fallen tree across the path. At a few spots, the path was impassable and had to be trekked around. It seemed that many had done so before. I wondered if some of the damage was from recent storms, but on further inspection, it appeared that they were all felled by beaver.
As I got further along the trail, it became more difficult to find the path on some of the roundabout excursions. I didn’t want to disturb any plants or animals, so I tried to be careful where I stepped. I had once been attacked by a swarm of bees as a child when a friend stepped on a ground hive. The emergency room doctor told me that I would most likely be allergic to bees after that since I had around 40 stings all over my body. Stepping on a hive alone in the middle of the woods was not an appealing idea of a way to start my day.
There came several times where I couldn’t find the trail. I didn’t know if I had gone off completely or if it was so wild that it was simply difficult to see the path. Perhaps others had given up and returned the way they had come? I found it hard to believe that everyone had given up and not continued along. Periodically I found a trail again, much to my relief, but the majority of it was off-road.
I was swarmed by mosquitoes and I didn’t want to stop for long anywhere. I kept my hood up on my sweatshirt to protect my head and neck despite the rising temperature. I kept forging forward, stopping only at completely impassable spots. I backtracked often, climbed deeper into the woods many times and went up and down steep hills. I often contemplated giving up and going back, but I’m not a quitter. I think I also held hope that at some point it would get easier.
I did eventually get on the trail again near the very end. It was wide and looked extremely easy to hike on. Later, while reviewing the map, I found that the trail I went on was not mapped. The trail I thought led to the other lakes was the main trail. It made a very wide loop around the lake, far from the water, which is why I didn’t stumble on it till the very end.
The lake wasn’t very large, but the path I took was not easy, so it took a considerable amount of time. My entire journey was a little over an hour and a half but it felt much longer. I thought I had been out there for at least three hours. I estimate the other trail might take someone 30-45 minutes. By the time I got back to the van, I was relieved. I was proud of myself for waking up early to exercise and for continuing around the whole lake. I went on an adventure and survived. The quote “Get Lost In the Woods” has a whole new meaning.
Even though I got lost and eaten alive by mosquitos, I don’t regret my journey. Staying on the trail might have been easier, faster and with a lot fewer mosquitos, but the images I got while going off trail are some of my favorite from the trip. I got to see nature in its wild state. I found beauty that I probably would not have seen, had I gone the other way.
After arriving back at the campsite, we packed up to head home. Poor Cat was having anxiety attacks because she was afraid everything wouldn’t fit. I had her walk away, but she hid just around the corner and came running back when we tried to put stuff in. Cat is an excellent organizer. When I go shopping, she makes everything nice, neat and perfect in the cart. It drives her crazy when everything is out of order.
I had OCD as a child, so I understand the anxiety that having something out of place causes. I remember having to wash and rinse my glass a certain amount of times. It used to drive my Dad crazy, maybe because I was wasting water. As an adult, I get that. As someone with OCD, I HAD to do it or I felt anxiety creeping up on me, making me feel like the world would end.
Years later, my Dad told me- You know, the glass washing thing you used to do is not a bad idea, it helps cool the glass down so the water is nice and cold when you drink it. I don’t know if he was just being nice, but it meant the world to me that he was trying to understand and connect.
Once I developed allergies to the entire world, OCD began to creep back in my life. I remember a day when my Mom asked me for a box of tissues and I almost didn’t let her have it because then I would have an uneven number of tissue boxes.
Later that night, as I replayed the event over and over in my head (Yaaay anxiety), I was trying to figure out why I was acting so crazy. I mean, it was tissues. Not sharing was selfish. I didn’t really care about the tissues. I love my Mom and I enjoy giving her things. I couldn’t have an uneven number of tissue boxes though. Yes, I admit I was a bit slow to come to the realization that the OCD might be back.
Now that I know what my food allergies are, the OCD isn’t as bad. I would say it’s almost non-existent most days. Although a messy house always makes me feel freaked out. I’m not saying my house is spotless, it’s usually a mess. There is a tipping scale that makes me freak out though. If the kitchen is messy, I can’t breathe. The kitchen must be clean.
When I have a large amount of exposure to allergens close together, also known as a full bucket, the OCD comes creeping or slamming back. Bad exposure makes the volume of OCD turn up high. I clean and clean and clean. Although it’s nice to get some cleaning done, the panic that happens in my head is never fun. I’m always thankful to get back to normal after an allergy flush or detox.
Anyway, back to camping! We got everything into the van and Cat managed the rest of the time packing with her outward OCD volume turned down. I’m sure inside it was still high, but I’m proud of her for gaining control.
On the way home, we stopped at a thrift store in Cloquet. Cat got some anime(manga? Or anime? I can never get those two straight.) and Cupcake got another book. The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful. Nate drove the first half and I drove the remainder. We unpacked and enjoyed the rest of our day in the comfort that only home can bring.
We Went 2,341 Feet Underground!
Camping, Day 5
The Soudan Mine
Since it was another rainy day, we decided to head out to see The Soudan Mine. I didn’t know what to expect, but it sounded interesting. I had never been in a real mine before.
When I was little, my parent’s would take me to an amusement park in Burnsville. One ride that I’ll always remember is the Mystery Mine Tour. It was a fake mine shaft that shook and showed passing rocks. The doors opened and showed a mine scene while a voice over the speaker gave the guided tour.
For some reason, I loved it. I would beg to go and my Dad would take me. Every time, I would get afraid when the mine started to shake and I would climb up my Dad like a monkey. He would hold me in his arms and I would watch the rocks fly by the small window. Since I was so young, I thought it was real, even though my Dad insisted it wasn’t.
Driving up to the mine I was rewarded with a beautiful view that stretched for miles. I love a good view and this one did not disappoint. The buildings were older and made from brick, but they were well maintained.
We purchased our tickets, but since there were so many people there, our tour didn’t start for another hour. This gave us plenty of time to check out some of the other exhibits. In the main building, there were a lot of fun souvenirs. I purchased two books, one on mushrooms in our region and one about berries in our region. There were also a lot of historical photographs. I really enjoyed the rock exhibits. The kids liked the scale models of the mine.
We went to see the first visible building on the site, the hoist house. There they had giant machinery. One of the biggest things was an enormous spool winding up giant steel rope. This was attached to the cages which lower and raise people from the mines.
Since it was getting close to our tour time, we went back to the main building to use the bathroom and wait for our tour to be called back. We had more fun in the gift shop while we waited.
We started our tour in a theater room. While we waited we watched a short video with different facts on the screen. After that, our tour guide talked to us about what to expect and highlighted safety rules. Then he led us to get our safety hats on and filed us toward the mine shaft.
The shaft itself was outside. It was open to the air and quite small. Just like in mining days, we were packed into the small cage like sardines in a can. Unlike in the mining days, we were not each loaded with mining equipment. Our cage descended into the ground. I was close to the front, so I could see the rocks flying past the window. I had flashbacks to the fake mine tour as a child. Periodically I could see different levels of old mine shafts. We were going down so fast that I could only see them fly by for a brief second. Our guide chatted calmly, cracking jokes about past tours with geologists being packed in at an even larger number because they all wanted to go down at once. It made me feel at ease and not so afraid and aware of the fact that we were sinking deep into the earth.
Arriving at the bottom, the door opened to a cold, semi-dark room. It was about 15 feet deep before us. To the right, the tunnel was full of a bunch of utility equipment, to the left, a long tunnel spanned into the distance. Behind us was an opening to a laboratory that was bright big and modern. The ceiling was maybe three stories high on the modern side.
In the middle of the room was a train ride. Our tour guide led us away from the doors and off to the side to begin our tour. He talked about how the temperature was a comfortably cool 51 degrees year round and gave us some interesting facts about how deep into the ground we were. Then we all climbed about the train. We were cautioned to keep all extremities inside the car at all times, lest we wanted to lose a hand or an arm. Although we were able to enjoy a fun, windy ride to the next tour site, I was amazed at the fact that the men who used to work there walked so far in complete darkness.
Arriving at the end, we were led upstairs to a giant cavernous room. I was amazed at how beautiful it was. It was basically just a giant room full of rocks, but there were lights highlighting the walls in different areas with mannequins as pretend workers. Although our path was smooth and well lit, the original workers would have had to climb over and around rocks in the dark. They would have had to avoid the holes in the ground to keep from falling into the lower tunnel. Thankfully for us, there were wooden barriers built around each one, but these did not exist in mining days.
I loved hearing facts about mining life and the stories of the men who had worked there. I found out that women were not allowed anywhere near or in mines. There were tales of deaths and superstitions so strong that when the owner of the mine, unaware of the superstitions, brought his wife to work, all the men quit and walked out!
Returning on the trains and the elevator cage going up was just as fun. I think it might have been more fun because I was less afraid. The temperature outside was considerably warmer once the doors opened. A whoosh seemed to envelop us. The children were giddy after the excitement of being 2,341 feet under4ground and 689 feet below sea level.
We walked the grounds and checked out the other buildings and sights. After having been underground, I enjoyed seeing where all of that iron ore was going. We followed it all the way down to where it was put into train carts.
Our whole family agrees that this was their favorite part of the camping trip. I really recommend checking out the Soudan Mine if you’re in the area. If we’re ever in the area again, we’ll probably go back!
We stopped at a grocery store on the way back to the campsite. There, I was able to find a safe cream for my tea! That, mixed with the maple syrup I found at the farmers market, made for an awesome dandelion root latte.
Nate cooked up the remainder of the meat for dinner. He and the big kids enjoyed a feast. Princess and I happily ate the fruits and veggies I found at the store.
After dinner, Cat and I played with my glass globe. I’m pleased with the way the images turned out. I think I’ll use it more in the future. Mr. Awesome found a toad! All of the kids were thrilled with their new friend. I had to convince them that he would be happier staying there, in the wild, rather than at home, cooped up inside.
We finished off our last night of camping relaxing by the fire. We all enjoyed smores, Princess and I had corn free ones of course. It was a great end to a fun day.
Have you been to the Soudan Mine? What was your favorite part?
Our 4 Year Old Caught The Most Fish!
Camping Day 4
The morning started out with a panic attack. Looking back, I can’t remember what caused it. Maybe it was sleeping on a small, uncomfortable air mattress for half the week. Maybe it was having to walk a long way to the bathroom with a child who had to go to the bathroom, again. Maybe it was camping food. Maybe it was lack of creature comforts… and tea. Maybe the kids were being crazy. Maybe the Mister was being impatient. Maybe I was just homesick.
Whatever it was that caused it, I could feel anxiety climbing up me like a bomb about to go off. I was becoming irritable and panicky. Rather than freak out and start screaming like a mad woman, I told my family I was taking a timeout. I went into the tent and laid on the bed facing the window so I could watch the clouds roll by. I breathed deeply and tried to calm my racing mind and the panic that was squeezing me tightly.
When I stop a panic attack before it gets out of hand, it’s easier to calm down. I focus on my breathing. I focus on telling myself it’s ok. I try to minimize things that add to my panic, like noise and activity, and go somewhere quiet to regroup. As I begin to calm, I can start to feel not so trapped and afraid. I was at that point of mellowing out when my family began to peek in at me from the window. They made me smile, and then a laugh chased away the rest of my storm clouds. I was ready to get back to our day.
Nate had rented the boat bright and early that morning before anyone else had gotten up. I packed up a few necessities like simple snacks, water, and wet wipes. Nate prepared everything necessary for fishing. We made sure everyone had one last potty break and drove to the boat area.
When we were packing up the boat, Nate realized he forgot the life jackets and had to go back to the rangers office to pick them up. The kids and I opted to wait by the boat. I thought they could burn off some energy playing before having to sit for a long period of time in the boat.
Once he was back, we put on our vests and set off. The view out on the water was beautiful. I wanted to explore the whole lake, but our motor was slow and battery operated. We didn’t want to get stranded in a far corner and have to row back. The forecast predicted rain, but it was partly sunny and beautiful. The kids wanted to go swimming after fishing was over. With how warm the water was, it sounded like a great idea.
Princess had been wanting to go fishing for many months. While shopping for camping supplies she was always on the lookout for fishing lures. We ended up using worms rather than lures. I was the designated worm attacher, much to my dismay. I felt guilty and sick spearing the little guys with each hook.
Princess caught the first fish. She was thrilled. She fell in love with her fish and insisted we be careful with it. Nate attached it to a rope to save for dinner as I re-wormed her hook. Shortly after, she caught her 2nd fish! Then her third!
We noticed storm clouds heading our way in the distance, so we moved our boat closer to our campsite. In our new spot, Princess caught more fish! After she caught her seventh, Mr. Awesome caught one. Then he got his second and Princess caught her 8th! Nate caught a fish and Mr. Awesome caught his third. We were constantly catching and releasing them! Out of all of those fish, only 2 were big enough to eat. We decided that Princess and I would eat those and the family would eat sandwiches.
While we were fishing, I told the kids a story about my childhood. When I was very little, maybe 3 or 4, we went on a family vacation to Howard Lake. My Grandparents were camping in a cabin nearby. My Grandpa Ray wanted to go fishing and I begged to go with. He relented but I think he was worried I would complain or perhaps scare away the fish if I were naughty.
I was so excited. Grandpa gave me my own fishing pole to use. We each had our own side of the boat. I began to catch fish! Grandpa was laughing and exclaiming his surprise. After catching maybe 5 large fish he teased that perhaps I had the better side of the boat and switched with me. I caught several more fish! He said that maybe I had the better fishing pole and let me continue to fish. If memory serves, I caught 11 large fish that day. I was so happy I made Grandpa smile and be proud of me.
It started to sprinkle so we decided to head back. We decided that we might try fishing more later in the day since the rental was for the entire day. Nate dropped me off at the boat docks so I could drive the van back to the campsite, then he and the kids set out across the lake.
I met them at the docks and we all drove back to our campsite. Since we had relied on fish being our dinner, we decided to get dinner in town for the non-allergy part of the family. Our fish would be a nice corn free dinner for Princess and me.
As we drove to town, we saw a small black bear on a hill on the side of the road. We pulled over to stop and watch for a little bit. I was thrilled, but the rest of the family grew bored quickly. Their growling tummies might have had something to do with it though.
In our haste to leave, I forgot to make sure everyone went to the bathroom. After getting food at Zupp’s Market, Princess insisted she was going to pee her pants so we stopped at a gas station. There, she found a baby loon stuffed animal. Princess is a stuffed animal addict. She must rescue every adorable stuffed animal she finds. Some of the ones we say no to, she sobs for hours after because the poor things are sad and alone and no one will take care of them. I find that letting her carry one or two of her babies everywhere seems to deter her from picking up anymore, but as this was an emergency bathroom break, at a gas station, I was unprepared. So baby loon became the newest member of our family.
We made a trip to Dairy Queen since we felt bad that the kids weren’t able to go swimming. Thankfully they were happy with the trade-off. Princess and I could enjoy our homemade snack bars and gluten-free grilled cheese once we got back to the campsite.
While waiting for Nate to bring out the goodies, I admired the many flower gardens in the parking lot. Someone had taken a lot of time and love to create such a delightful and colorful array of flowers.
Once we were back, we set to making dinner. However, someone stole our fish! They also connected and drained the battery on our boat. The kids tried to catch us some while Nate prepared dinner, but they were only able to get little ones that we released. After dinner, Nate went to get a new battery from the office. Once he got back, he set off in the boat to the main dock. I sat at the edge of the water under an umbrella with the kids for a little bit before heading back to the campsite. I was going to drive around to pick him up and then we would drop off the vests and the battery together.
However, once I got to the van, it was locked, and I realized that Nate had the keys with him. It was getting dark fast. I ran down to get the children from the edge of the lake. I brought them back to the campsite and got them settled in the tent. I told them to stay together at all times and not to leave unless they had to go to the bathroom. I grabbed my lantern and my umbrella and set off on the long walk around the lake. Walking in the dark, in the woods alone, I was a little scared. I had encountered a bear as a child up close and I didn’t want that to happen again. I sang out loud as I walked along to alert any wildlife of my presence. Once I arrived at a dock that was across the lake from the boat launch, I started calling out Nate’s name. I didn’t see him or hear him.
It was pouring heavily. I had three options:
Walk around the lake toward the boat dock in hopes of finding Nate.
Walk up towards the office in hopes that I might find him along the way.
Head back to the children.
I felt like walking around the lake was a waste of time. He didn’t hear me calling, so chances are, he had started to walk back to the office himself. I could go back to the children, but at least I knew they were safe, dry and together in the tent with the other lantern. Nate was out there, alone, in the dark and the cold, heavy rain. I decided to head toward the office. I walked up the trail, stopping at intersections to call out for Nate.
After walking up the long road to the ranger’s office for a way, I saw a man walking toward me. I hoped that it was Nate, but his size was smaller and thinner than Nate’s tall, muscular shape. I paused as he approached me.
“Excuse me, sir, Have you seen another man walking on this road recently?”
“No, I’m sorry. I haven’t seen anyone.”
I thanked him and continued the walk to the office. I could see it’s lights glowing in the distance. Inside was a bright, warm, dry relief. The ranger on duty had seen Nate about 20-30 minutes prior. My heart sank. Nate had probably taken the far road back to the campsite after walking up there with the motor. It was the opposite side of the park that I had been on. I thanked him and took a deep breath before heading back out into the dark. I walked swiftly along the road, the temperature had dropped and the rain that was blown sideways by the wind had gotten my lower half wet. I was tired and chilly, too cold to loudly sing away the bears. I did so anyway, intermittently, in a voice quavering with shivers.
After a while, I noticed headlights approaching in the distance. As they got closer, hope sprang to my lips in a smile. It was our van. Nate had come to rescue me. I happily climbed into the warmth where the heat and seat warmers were already on.
It turns out that after Nate had been waiting a couple minutes, he got bored and put his hands in his pockets, realizing he still had the keys. He groaned and started the long walk with the heavy boat motor. Thankfully, he is strong from his manual labor at his job. He had the same thoughts running through his head that I had, what if I should happen upon a bear? He thought he might kick it in the face. I laughed because Nate taking on a bear with a boat motor and kicking a bear seemed like a not so safe idea. He is tall like Paul Bunyan though, so perhaps it would be enough to scare one away. He had walked the far way home and found the kids. After making sure they were ok, he set out looking for me in the van. He stopped along the lake and intersections as I had for him, calling out my name. We were always on opposite sides of the park. So although I was trying to be the hero, I ended up needing a hero myself. It was a silly situation all around.
Do you go fishing as a family? Who usually catches the most fish?
I woke up to the sun making glowing shadows on the roof of our tent as it passed through the leaves on the trees. Already I could feel the sun warming the chilly air.
Since it was so lovely, we thought it would be a perfect day to explore Grand Marais. We had a fun day checking out all of the little shops. I would have loved to have stopped at every shop, but there just wasn’t enough time!
I got an amethyst bracelet at a rock store, Loony’s Northwoods Emporium. Each child got to pick out a rock of their choice. We also visited Ely’s Old Fashioned Candy where we got a bunch of rare (for us) treats. I was thrilled to be able to visit Jim Brandenberg’s Art gallery. At the local Goodwill, Cupcake and I got a few books, Princess got a few sweaters and a cute pair of sandals. Nate found 4 packs of kinetic sand for 99 cents. Mr. Awesome found a toy airplane.
In between two cute shops (Mealey’s Gift & Sauna Shops), there was a well-maintained flower garden with a waterfall and fish pond hiding in the corner. It reminded me of the fish pond my Grandpa used to have in his backyard.
On the recommendation of the receptionist at the Brandenburg gallery, we decided to visit Kawishiwi Falls. Since we still had some 5 Week Workout Challenge days left, I thought it was a great idea! Plus, getting to explore another waterfall sounded like a lot of fun.
The hike was quite beautiful. It was a short 1.5-mile hike. There were large boulders everywhere. Birch trees grew on and around the large rocks, their roots hugging them like cozy pillows. Planks made paths through the low ground where it probably gets muddy when it rains.
Climbing the last hill before the falls, we could hear the roar of the water as it tumbled down the rocks. Once at the top, the view was breathtaking. If we didn’t have the little ones, getting closer to the water might have been a neat area to explore.
After our hike, we went back into town to see the local farmer’s market. It was in the town’s park and slightly larger than our farmer’s market. There was a lot of stands set up selling a large variety of goods. For people who didn’t have cash, they had a stand set up selling wooden chips to pay vendors. We saw candles, kombucha, fermented foods, jams, fruits, veggies, live music, maple syrup, carved wooden spoons, handmade bath and beauty products, a stand advertising the U of M dental school, and more! It was almost like a small fair!
The kids found a painted rock and hid it for someone else to find. We’re always excited to find rocks. This one had a fish on one side and said Ely Rocks FB on the back.
After the Farmer’s Market, we picked up some tent sealer to make sure our tent was leakproof. The forecast predicted rain on Wednesday and we wanted to be sure we were dry. While there I found a cute mug that has a moose on it and the words Ely, MN. I like useful souvenirs. It was another fun day of vacation!
Have you been to Ely, Minnesota? What’s your favorite thing to do there?
After a night of heavy rain drumming our tent, I woke to the sound of birds. Thankfully, we were nice and dry inside! I got out of bed before everyone else to capture some nature photography before breaking down the campsite. Cat joined me and we had fun capturing the world, damp and dew drop covered from the night before.
After Nate got up, we decided to see if our next campsite was available. We weren’t able to get all of the days at the same spot since everything was so booked. Usually, the whole north is mostly booked by the time spring rolls around. If we want to pick a good spot for an entire week next year, we might have to reserve our spot within the next few months.
Cat watched the little ones while we walked across the campgrounds to take a look. As we walked past, we noticed the people there were already packing up! Check out isn’t until 4, so we had time to pack up our stuff and get over there. However, we wanted to get settled in early so we could relax the rest of our day.
We packed up all of our stuff, putting all of the wet things in the back. I was going to walk over there with the kids since it was such a beautiful day, and the van was packed in almost every seat. Just as we were about to walk off, Nate shut the door, with the keys in the ignition and the van running. We locked our keys in the van.
Unfortunately, my purse was in the van. As were my keys. There was no way to get back in. Nate set off to find the campsite hosts to see if they could assist us. While we waited, I took the kids down to the lake to explore. I decided to take them over to our campsite to occupy them and give them a new place to explore. Then I walked all the way back to see how the van situation was going.
The campground hosts were there with Nate. They recommended calling the local police to come out and open it for free. Nate was worried we would run out of gas if we had to wait, so he called a local tow truck to do it instead. We ended up chatting while we waited. Our hosts were actually from a neighboring town to our hometown! I didn’t want to leave the kids unattended for too long, so I set off to our new site again. It turns out, it was $90.00 to unlock our door. Ouch. I think waiting for the police and buying a gas can might have been cheaper. Ah well, hindsight.
Once we got everything set up, we decided to check out the local town and also pick up some water. Ely wasn’t what I expected. I think I romantasized it, as I had the other towns on the drive up. It was a pretty typical small town. There was the main strip that went right through the center. The shops were all mostly Mom and Pop stores, but there were a few regulars near the outskirts, like Dairy Queen and Family Dollar. It was quite scenic from the top of the hill.
We didn’t stay too long, as we wanted to get back. The day had escaped us. We decided it would be good to start dinner early so we could get to bed at a decent time. The big girls and I played card games while Nate cooked chicken over the fire. Princess and I had gluten free grilled cheese. For dessert, we had the camping classic, smores. Our second day of camping was a lot of fun!
Around 1 pm on Sunday, we drove up to Bear Head Lake State Park in our RV. The van was packed to the brim, and we were set for a fun week of camping partly because we managed to get the best glamping tents for less. Never having been to this part of Minnesota, I looked forward to a fun new adventure of exploring. The RV was in its best shape since it had just come from the mechanics and was just installed with the new rearview camera we found on this buying guide.
The final week before camping, I was dreading camping. Going somewhere new is always scary for me. Adding in anxiety, severe food allergy prep, packing for a family of six for a week and prepping a home for our absence is a recipe for panic attacks. At one point, I said that I never wanted to go camping again. I visited www.campingconsole.com to make sure I had everything for enjoying a perfect outdoors.
Also, I was worried about my Grandpa. I didn’t want to leave him. My parents insisted I go. I so rarely get a break and camping is something our family looks forward to every year. Grandpa’s health has really improved and I’m hoping he might be well enough to take him off of hospice care!
Once on the road, a large weight was lifted. All of the hard work was done. This was our third time camping, so I had a bit of experience for what to expect in the setup department. At this point, I was only mildly apprehensive about exploring someplace new.
The forecast predicted a 40% chance of rain for part of the day on Wednesday. It started raining as we left our driveway and continued to do so on and off for most of the way up north. Thankfully, it stopped shortly after we passed Cloquet.
I had this image in my mind of what I expected the area to look like. Deep woods, occasional small towns filled with romantic charm, stretches of roads with nothing but thick trees. I was right about the woods and thick trees and long stretches of nothing but wilderness, but I did not expect the size of the towns or the amount of normalcy.
The city of Virginia was about as large as my town. Along the tops of their hills were many large wind mills for power. They had all of the same amenities that we have. If I had been dropped there and not been told where I was prior, I would have guessed I was in a town close to the cities.
As we neared Bear Head State Park, we encountered a large amount of road construction going on. I’m assuming they are in the process of making a single two-lane, one each way road into two roads with two lanes. We almost missed our turn because of this.
The stretch of road into the park was beautiful and peaceful. Tall pines bordered the road with glimpses of lakes along each side. The cabins and homes along the way had personal name signs and cute mailboxes. The sign for Bear Head Lake was impressive, with gold lettering and an image of a bear head.
Our campsite was in a grove of tall white pine tree. It had a nice big space for our tent. Getting unpacked and setup was quick and efficient. We were located right across from the bathrooms, which was nice for our little ones.
Nate and I took a short walk to the lake to check it out while Cat watched the kids. Once we got back, we made our dinner of hamburgers for the three big kids and Nate and gluten-free grilled cheese for Princess and me.
One of my favorite things is to sit around a campfire with my family. We enjoyed the silence of the woods and relaxing next to a toasty campfire in the cool night air. I let one of the kids have the camera so they could take a picture of me. After giving them a smile, they joked about making a silly angry face. I tried my best, but it looks like I’m blinking. 🙂
That night, it stormed and rained heavily. Thankfully we stayed dry and warm in our beds. It was a great first day of camping.
Have you been to Bear Head State Park? How well do you handle the stress of packing for camping?