Saturday, November 27, 2010

Beaver Creek

I have had the most wonderful opportunity to be chosen as an Artist in Residence for a week at Beaver Creek Valley State Park in the very southeastern corner of Minnesota that is know as the Blufflands and Driftless areas.  This is an area where no glaciers ever scoured the area and the valleys are just runoffs from melting glaciers many thousands of years ago.  
I had applied about 8-10 months prior to this on a road trip to explore all the Minnesota State Parks.  There was a brochure to apply for an artist residency, I did, but never expecting to be able to make it happen as I spend  7 to 8 months a year in Antarctica.  I was "On-Ice" when an email came from Anne Selness, Park Manager of BCVSP.
Even though the request for residency was a month before I was due to leave Palmer Station, I had already booked a full summer.  But this was an opportunity I did not want to let fly bye.  Anne helped me find a niche in her scheduled Artists and I ended up being at BCVSP the early part of May, just a week from coming off the "Ice".  
The park has a picnic shelter that is large enough for all campers to have a lovely time in during inclement weather.  It boasts a huge fireplace.
The Shelter is not too far from the Creek so you can visit the creek, fish, picnic, sit along the shoreline and contemplate the water as it flourishes past, shallow, inviting, but still a bit too fast for wading unless in a leeway.
The artist's studio was just off the main shelter room.  Complete with great lighting, electricity and a heater if needed.  
Within hours, it was transformed ...
I took hikes every day, spent time in the studio, gave a workshop in oil-tinting photographs.  I even gave a lecture on time in Antarctica and had a ball.  
The staff at Beaver Creek were very nice, helpful and would listen to stories even if they were busy.  I enjoyed great customer service from all.  
I also visited the nearby Caledonia where I did my grocery shopping and an occasional Dairy Queen stop! It was a great little town and I hope to go back to visit again.
Read on for more details of the things I encountered for just a week...

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Even though BCVSP is a small state park  it boasts 8 miles of hiking trails. I was able to visit some great trails.  

This is the official Website to the park map

Switch Back Trail would be my first destination.  

From my campsite located by the restrooms, I walked to the picnic area, crossed the swinging bridge over the East Beaver Creek to the picnic shelter, then headed west about 50 yards to the trail that would cross another spring fed brook.  There were boards crossing the creek that danced and swayed with my movements.  The trickling of the brook tinkled under my feet, sometime the weight of myself caused the boards to dip ever so slightly in the cool water.  The forest was coming alive with new leaves being unfurled with every droplet of water that passed below my feet.  The mustiness of the forest and the coolness of the rain that just started to fall livened my pace.  My heart raced in excitement for this new adventure.  The trail was a little difficult as I was taking the northern route that would take me up the steep side of the trail.  I'm glad I took that route as the southern route was much more gradual and easier on my knees coming down.  

At the top of the Trail was a wonderful overlook of the valley below.  
There's a bench to sit, rest, phone home (good coverage up there) and to draw, paint and take pictures.  I did all of the above.  The mist petered out and it was a nice hike back down the trail.  At the bottom of the southern part of the Switchback was what looked like a dried creek bed.  As I walked along I started to notice water, water that was coming from springs.  The water increased in flow as I walked and eventually turned into the stream that originally had crossed, this was just yet another source that fed Beaver Creek.

Big Spring would be my next destination...
I woke early to morning birdsong and a trickle of light through the folds of the tent.  My tent site was right off of the trail that runs along Beaver Creek, hugging the gentle turns of the emerging spring.  Big Spring is the main source of East Beaver Creek where subsurface waters bubble up and exit through cracks in the earth.  (More on this later in the Geology section)

As I walked up the trail, I was wearing a red polar fleece pullover and out of nowhere was buzzed by a hummingbird when I stopped to take pictures of the creek.  I'm always amazed at the little creatures that look so delicate and yet are so vibrantly active.
The nicely mowed trail made for a very easy hike to Big Spring.  I clamored on the rocks and discovered that they weren't as dry as they looked.  They were quite slippery and I realized I could drop into the drink or slip on the rocks and quite possibly hurt myself, so I didn't take all my camera equipment around as I explored the area, just in case I might have a bad fall.  Rocks and cameras don't bounce well off of each other.  
Big Spring bubbles mainly out at this location, if you look directly in the center of this picture, you'll see a shadow and this is just where the rock layers let the underground stream escape.

This is a closer view of the spring coming out of the layers of rock.

While taking pictures I noticed Water Skimmers skirting across the waters' surface.  They aren't much bigger than a half an inch long, but the shadows make them look like monster sized bugs. 
I wandered around Big Spring taking pictures, drawing while sitting on the bench nearby the sunlight was spotlighting through the trees keeping me warm although it wasn't cold, I felt the healing energy and that was what I needed after a long stint in Antarctica.

Plateau Rock Trail and Beaver Creek Valley Trail would be my next jaunts...

I had met two young men who were here camping for the week.  They had come here to fish and get away for some quiet hanging out time.  I asked if I could tag along and take pictures.  I was invited and met them down the road and we headed off north downstream of Big Spring.  We were purposeful and headed across the suspension bridge and took the Beaver Creek Valley hiking club trail till we met up with and crossed the creek.  We would cross it once more after a 20 minute hike.  
The trail was level, mowed and the areas we crossed were wooden foot bridges big enough off a small vehicle if needed to cross the creek.
The pair were fishing buddies and knew the creek pretty well.  We halted and I noticed how the conversation went from friendly chatter to complete silence with the focus in their mannerisms I knew we were at the "hole" they liked to fish at.  Within minutes of their lines hitting the water, the fish were biting and they were pulling Brown Trout of about a nice nine inch size with salmon colored spots that popped to life making them extremely beautiful.  

I left them then to explore the Plateau Rock Trail.  

The sun was no longer overhead, but the day was still warm and I would expect the temps to drop once the sun left the valley and I was motivated to hike the Plateau Rock Trail.  It looked easy enough via the map, but was a bit deceiving.  The trail started steep though the tree laden hillside and moss covered huge rocks, fallen trees and anything that had enough time on the ground was carpeted with a nice layer of greeness
Prairie Shooting Stars met me inches off the trail invited me to study them, take their portrait and rest.  I was then caught by another gathering a few feet from here...
Red Columbine joined the party and I was stopped to enjoy the lichen covered rocks, the green, red, yellow and lilac colors giving the more monotone layer of the trail color.

Hiking down was great, the gravity in my favor, it took me half the time to get back down just as the sun was starting to slide behind the valley walls and the coolness of the valley would soon start to take over.  I followed the Quarry trail for a bit and then cut back across to take the smaller foot path back to my camp exhaust and exhilarated crashing into my tent as the creek sang me to sleep.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Geology of Beaver Creek Valley

The geology at Beaver Creek Valley State Park is what sets this apart from other state parks of this size.  
Houston County lies on the later Paleozoic plateau of Southeastern Minnesota that extends into Wisconsin and Iowa.  Cambrian and Ordovician sedimentary rocks are exposed and creates a stunning landscape.  The Mississippi river valley attests to these formations.  

This area is also known as the "Driftless area".  It is an area composed of Karst terrain.  

What is the "Driftless area"? 
Basically, it's the area that glaciers missed as they expanded and retreated during the last ice age. So this area was not scoured down to the bedrock and the original geology has continued to stay natural without any glacial scouring as you might find around the rest of Minnesota and on the north shore of Lake Superior and northern areas of Wisconsin.  In those areas you find more lakes, kettles, moraines and more level terrain. The driftless area, it's natural bluffs, valleys, caves make it worth investigating to see.

What is Karst? 
It is a land formation formed by different types of soluble rocks.  Dolomite & limestone  were layered together.  Rainwater mixed with carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and the ground becomes acidic and dissolves the minerals as it seeps down into the rock.  In turn that causes sinkholes, caves, lots of underwater drainage systems.  This causes an underground plumbing system.  

At Beaver Creek Valley State Park, the water pushes toward the surface as the water filters through crevices.  

The headwaters of East Beaver Creek happen at Big Spring, which is east of the camping cabins.  There is a big plaque on a boulder close to the trail leading to the spring.  It gives you good information about the spring.  
Here is the mouth of the Big Spring where water percolates up through the layers of rock. 

 The spring feeds into a small pond before it leaves the confines and continues down to form Beaver Creek.

Steep Rock Trail dolomite foundation
Switch Back Trail

Overlook at Switch Back Trail
The hike up to the overlook is about a mile from the parking lot by the picnic area and picnic shelter.  You'll see wildflowers and migrating birds and the view is stunning.  

Sunday, October 3, 2010


The Gooseberry brings back memories of our backyard in a rural area of 
Charles City Iowa. These served as our hedges and protected our land from 
the fierce winds that came across farmers fields that surrounded our home.  
My mom "Fleetta" mastered the art of pie making with these berries and we always looked forward to them in the fall.  
I found this specific gooseberry plant halfway up "Steep Rock Trail" overlooking the valley. 

May Apple
May Apple - a.k.a. American Mandrake
It blooms in late April to early May.  The fully ripened fruit is edible and can be used in jellies, pies and other sweetness delights.  The rest of the plant is mostly poisonous in large doses although the root has been known for medicinal uses by Native Americans from what I've read.
Folklore:  The English version of the plant "Mandrake" talks of the plant having human feelings and when you go to uproot the plant, it screams causing the puller to go insane.  Don't try pulling this in the park as the plants and animals are all protected here.  

Warning:  The Animal Poison Control Center warns that this plant is toxic to cats, dogs and horses.  So keep the cats and dogs on a lease and don't let your horses wander loose in the park.

Showy Orchis

Showy Orchis - a.k.a. Preacher in the Pulpit. 
The plant is part of the lily family but very small and doesn't look much like a lilly at all save for the leaves.  It's about 6" tall from what I observed in the park.  It blooms from mid May to June and grows in either small clusters to individual plants.  
These plants were found off a trail leading from one of the southern most campsites to "Hole in the Rock" trail.

Watercress underwater
Watercress is native to the park, loving the cool waters that are spring fed here.  
It is part of the mustard family and is edible, has lots of vitamins and minerals and does have a mild hot mustard flavor.  It is used in salads and makes a great replacement for lettuce in sandwiches.  
Do not pick watercress in the park as you shouldn't pick, dig or molest plants as there are here for all to enjoy.    

Watercress under water and tree stump
Folklore:  The Persian king, "Xerxes" ordered his solders to eat watercress to keep them healthy in battles and the Greeks believed that eating watercress would make them witty.  It is also been known to be used as a hair growth tonic.