Wednesday, February 14, 2024

A Wabasha overnight

It's Friday afternoon. My work is done and the bike is loaded up for a short overnight camping trip. As 4:30 quickly becomes 5:30, the rain goes from bad to worse. It would pass eventually but waiting would mean getting into camp after dark. It was time to suit up and go. I do love the challenge of riding in the rain and the reward of chasing the remnants of those big July thunderheads. There was never a question about going and I'm glad I did.

Lake Pepin

My destination was a state forest campground just west of Wabasha. Getting there Friday night would give me all day Saturday to putt around the western Wisconsin countryside, and I had a new tent that needed a test drive. I've been working on my camping kit since having so much fun out west this past spring and in northern Wisconsin last year. 

The campground has pit toilets and a shallow well with a hand pump, not much else. The sites are reasonably spread out and were about 10% occupied. First come, first served. A handful of trails along the wooded bluff would provide some entertainment on a cool fall day but the steamy summer night brought out the bugs. I opted to hang out at the canoe landing for a bit and then retreat to my tent for a book and a scotch. 

Storms move out as the sun sets behind me. 

a campsite on the bluff

After breaking camp in the morning, I crossed back over the river bottoms and found some fun roads to explore just east of the Chippewa River valley. I loved being out there in the morning with all the roads to myself. Linstrom Valley road was particularly beautiful, hugging the western valley wall with the sun up high in the eastern sky.

Arkansaw, WI

It was a productive 24 hours spent out and about in the world with just myself to talk to. These small county roads are heaven on the  little Guzzi. Both Zen and art were nearby at times. 

- Ride North

Friday July 28th - 29th | afternoon storms followed by sunshine 

Thursday, August 3, 2023

Blue Mound State Park and Pipestone National Monument

 I've never been to the south west corner of the state and was eager to find signs of "the west" here in Minnesota, at the top of my list was cacti. It's always fun to travel to where the plants, animals, and landscapes start to change. In many ways, this was a test trip, the start of my own westward exploration. 

I planned a fun route from Mankato which took us away from the most efficient route. Rather than taking 60, I linked some roads together that would take us over to the Jeffers Petroglyphs. We didn't visit the glyphs but instead stopped at red Rock Falls county park about a mile north.

Red Rock Falls. 
Not the limestone of home but granite.

Hiking at the county park, a granitic ridge.
We were getting west.

Another highlight of the route was Valley Road 
between Chandler and Edgerton. Very western.

We settled into our campsite late in the afternoon as the temps were falling. Nighthawks boomed overhead as we ate our dinners. Later, at Pipestone national Monument, we'd read about the legend of the nighthawk. 

Behind our campsite, just upstream of the dam.
Prairie wetland and more granite.

We both made the critical mistake of bringing summer sleeping bags. The night temps dipped into the 40s and even the blankets we purchased at the camp store couldn't help us. I spent the night shivering under my bag, blanket, and motorcycle jacket. No amount of layers, and I was wearing them all, would save us from this mistake.

Blue winged teal in the morning.

A tepee (tipi) on the bison range ready to receive guests.

We were up early the next morning for some hot breakfast and a hike that quickly warmed us. The bison were on the move, likely warming up as well. Although that's probably less of a problem under their fur coats. 

Fire and bison.


More bikes, more bison.

Cacti at last! Found high up on the granite ridge.

Stone from this quarry was used in buildings throughout 
Minnesota and the Dakotas.

Turkey vultures keep watch now.

Views from the southern parking lot are grand.

After picking up camp we rode up to Pipestone National Monument. I wasn't sure what to expect and was surprised by the quality of the exhibits and the hiking. Native American artifacts were respectfully on display and well documented. Tribal members were on hand working the stone and talking up visitors. Pipestone national Monument is an active site and limited to tribal use but, there are well marked hiking paths for all visitors. 

Hiking in Pipestone.

More hiking. 

From Pipestone our plans got a little off. I had wanted to spend a night at Upper Sioux Agency State Park just outside of Granite Falls, still well into western Minnesota but we changed our plans. Dad wanted to ride home to eastern Wisconsin on Sunday so we aimed for New Ulm instead. 

A highlight of the western roads is 23 from Pipestone to Marshall. It takes you through the ridges and valleys of the prairie coteau, an area of western range land with large, shallow gullies that descend from a massive plateau area. (the change in elevation is due to the weight of the glaciers.)

Unfortunately, due to my lack of sleep and desire to see the worlds oldest rock in Granite Falls, we continued north east to GF rather than heading west at Marshall. I had it in my head to ride the Minnesota River valley from GF to New Ulm but I was far too tired to keep track of the route. (we did find some fun roads around New Ulm) By the time we got to New Ulm I was too tired to eat so we got a hotel and called it for the day. 

Warm beds and a shower worked wonders. The next day we walked over to the restaurant for breakfast and then down the road to Shell's Brewery. Being Sunday morning, it was just us and the peacocks.

From Mankato, we said our goodbyes and parted ways. I was heading back up 169, Dad took off east on 14.

The route to New Ulm got a little too ambitious.
Road closures along the Minnesota River didn't do us any favors either. 

So, what did I learn about riding out west? Well, bring the correct sleeping bag and don't be afraid to book a hotel when needed. Exploring the park will push your departure time well into lunch, best to plan a half day to explore and ride in the afternoon. And find some county parks along the route to stop and stretch. 

- Ride North

May 19th – 20th | 50s and cloudy, 40s at night, then 60’s and sunny | 158 mi. and 177 mi.

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Minneopa State Park

 Spring 2023. 

It was a frantic exodus from the cities but the bike was packed and ready to go. I set out westward on  highway 13, down 169 to Mankato. Leaving the Thursday afternoon rush is always a hassle and I didn't really feel underway until I got to Henderson. From here the road starts to follow the river a little more closely and the views are less familiar.  

A quick stop at the closed 7 Mile Creek park, 
high water and land slides had hit the area.

Wildfire smoke from the north was thick in the sky.

That night I camped at Minneopa State Park, a first for me. It's a gem of a park with trails along the Minnesota River's bluff, a bison range, and even an old stone windmill. I hear there's a waterfall there too but that would have to wait for Friday morning.

The State Park signs get an upgrade over the State Forest campgrounds.

Bison range, just behind my campsite.

The bison wander freely across the access road,
only a perimeter fence and cattle grate contain them.

Ride in at your own risk.

the windmill

Keeping my distance.

The campsites are fantastic with enough space between sites.

I was up early Friday morning and fit in a hike before breakfast. The evening before I walked the fence line trail between the range and the bluff. This morning did some birding on the trail that leads down to the river. 

The bluff trail ended abruptly at the flooded floodplain forest.


I tried some instant coffee with my breakfast, it hasn't gotten any better. I much prefer cowboy coffee from my Walmart cook kit. After picking up camp, I motored over to the waterfalls area for more exploring.

Minneopa Falls.

lots of green

My dad was rode over from Wabasha to meet me for lunch before starting our trek over to Blue Mounds State Park that afternoon. I had a little time to kill which I wasted exploring the roads around the Mount Kato ski area. 

The Blue Earth and Le Sueur Rivers cut down through the landscape
before meeting the Minnesota River.

More or less the route we took over the three day trip.
Sunday's ride was from New Ulm to Mankato and back up 169.

 - Ride North

May 18th – 19th | 60s and hazy, 40s at night | 100 mi.

Friday, July 28, 2023

Great Sand Dunes National Park

The park is a day trip that will take you south of the Springs and through the Spanish Peaks. It's about 3 hours each way but well worth the drive, especially if you are easily entertained by the sight of mountains and arid landscapes.

Just before the park entrance there is a private campground that rents sand boards and sleds. It's not a mot-do but it's not not fun. The sand sled is the way to go, the boards require perfectly dry conditions and don't really  carve. It is a little annoying to lug then through the dunes if you'd rather be hiking out past the first volley. 

Between the parking area and the dunes is a little dry creek bead. It would be amazing to be here while it's flowing through this landscape.

- Ride North

April 5th | cool & sunny