Itasca, more beautiful than ever

Minnesota’s First State Park is still a blue-ribbon winner in our adventures-close-to-home book. Greg and I camped there as kids, and it was one of our first biking trips, then camping trips together.

We returned there last week with another great camping family and again soaked it all in! Bonus: Sue is an a.m.a.z.i.n.g. photographer, and she’s letting me share some of her shots here. Thanks, Sue. We’d camp anywhere with you guys. And thanks to you and your lens, Itasca is more beautiful than ever!

Here’s their clan:

Don't they look like Happy Campers?!
Don’t they look like Happy Campers?!

There’s so much more than the Mississippi Headwaters, but since that’s the origin of this gorgeous park, it’s a good place to start, too.

The Mississippi Headwaters

Photo cred: Matt!
Photo cred: Matt!

 

Our family, plus nephew Adam who joined us for part of our time there!
Our family, plus nephew Adam who joined us for part of our time there!
Just days before, the rocks were covered due to all the rain. We made it just fine!
Just days before, the rocks were covered due to all the rain. We made it just fine!
He does alright on melted ice, too.
He does alright on melted ice, too.
Way to go, Adam!
Way to go, Adam!
And she didn't even need her mobile to cross. No app for that, lovey!
And she didn’t even need her mobile to cross. No app for that, lovey!

 

rock on, babe (Loving his new collection of Life is Good Tshirts for camping)
rock on, babe
(Loving his new collection of Life is Good Tshirts for camping)
Our water bug.
Our water bug.
We all crossed the rocks. Cara, of course, went right in. We told her again this year we'd pick her up in New Orleans in a few weeks.
We all crossed the rocks. Cara, of course, went right in and started down the river. We told her again this year we’d pick her up in New Orleans in a few weeks.
And so it begins...
And so it begins…

Perfect harmony

Itasca has somehow managed to keep a balance of its natural beauty (incredible white and red pines, rare flowers, charming loons), with ways for us to enjoy it (pontoons, kayaks and other water toys, bike trails).

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A little less nature, please?

Our hike to the Fire Tower could have been without fewer mosquitos, but the views and experience was worth the itches!

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New faces at The Old Barn

The Old Barn is one of our family’s Top Three favorite campgrounds. (I’ve blogged about it before.) Our annual Kind Family Reunion is one of our fave times of year.

We combined the two! We had 15 people at The Old Barn, ages 19 months to 69 1/2. Most of our clan had not been there before.

It’s a great spot because everyone gets to do what they want — and there are things everyone can do together.

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The golfers golfed.
The golfers golfed.
Great golf specials on Wednesdays and Mondays. So our boys golfed LOTS.
Great golf specials on Wednesdays and Mondays. So our boys golfed LOTS.
The girls can use the golf cart to get to the river.
The girls used the golf cart to get to the river.
The tubers can tube.
The tubers tubed.

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The crazy people can jump off cliffs. This was not Elizabeth-approved but man did it look fun.
The crazy people jumped off cliffs. This was not Elizabeth-approved but man did it look fun.
Crazy people can also jump off rope swing. Also not approved. Also looked like amazing fun.
Crazy people also jumped off a rope swing. Also not approved. Also looked like amazing fun.
And we all biked! Destination: Pie shop in Whalan.
And we all biked! Start: Lanesboro. Destination: Pie shop in Whalan.
Me, sis Kris, bro Dave and his wife Amy. Just a little bridge break on our bike ride.
Me, sis Kris, bro Dave and his wife Amy. Just a little bridge break on our bike ride.
Caroline and cousin Allie shared the pedaling.
Caroline and cousin Allie shared the pedaling.
Matt and Cousin Justin, road warriors on a not tuned up ride.
Matt and Cousin Justin, road warriors on a not tuned up ride.
The Reward. Sour cream raisin pie with a mountain of meringue.
The Reward. Sour cream raisin pie with a mountain of meringue.
Justin, Allie, Grandma and Matt, mmmmm.
Justin, Allie, Grandma and Mmmmmmatt.
Cara, Eric, Howie, Kristina, Grandpa, double mmmmm.
Cara, Eric, Howie, Kristina, Grandpa, double mmmmm.

Wait. We have to bike BACK to Lanesboro?

There’s a (root)beer waiting when you roll in.

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Back at the campground, lots of time to swim, picnic together and play football.

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What a Vikings fan and a Packers fan can do...
What a Vikings fan and a Packers fan can do…

Most of all, we just loved being together.

All my parents' grandkids.
All my parents’ grandkids.

Four of those kidlets above have birthdays within one month of each other. So we celebrated!

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We had a Talent Show.

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The eventual champions for a beautiful acapella performance.
The eventual champions, who won hardware and bragging rights for their beautiful acapella performance.

And as we packed up on Sunday, images of happy campers…

old barn kind fam

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A Minnesota State of Mind: Camping at Itasca

Two years ago, we had the +perfect+ Itasca camping trip planned. Then, the State of MN shut down. Including the state parks.

I was heartbroken. See, Itasca has always been a special place for me and Greg. When we lived in North Dakota, it was an easy day trip to bike, hike, canoe, eat at Douglas Lodge and enjoy this amazing gem of red and white pines, gorgeous lake, wildlife, Pink Lady Slippers and of course the very start of the Mighty Mississippi. We’d camped there when our eldest two kids were younger.

Just before this year’s Independence Day, we returned!

Itasca is even more magical than I remembered, and in true MN style, offers something for everyone’s state of mind, from water to history, wildlife to wild flowers. Most of all, this is a place to experience our great state as God created it. High-five, Lord, you made yet another corner of unmatched beauty! Thank you.

Pines, flowers, wild friends

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Our state flower, the showy pink lady slipper.
Our state flower, the showy pink lady slipper.

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Loon family. As spotted by our loony family.
Loon family. As spotted by our loony family.
Julia finds a friend.
Julia finds a friend.
Our home. One of the most gorgeous camping sites we've had (and we've had lots!).
Our home. One of the most gorgeous camping sites we’ve had (and we’ve had lots!).
Pretty nice kitchen/dining room, huh? Love the lighting.
Pretty nice kitchen/dining room, huh? Love the lighting.

Water bugs

We spent much of each day in and on Lake Itasca, diving in for a swim in the middle of the lake (love the smell of wet dogs!), fishing, watching loons, reading, making sandwiches and…did I mention fishing?! Cara was her typical Mermaid. See a whole post on that here.

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Ah, Mollie.
Ah, Mollie.

double catch

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Take a hike

Amidst genetically modified mosquitoes (seriously, I’m STILL itching), hidden lakes and beautiful MN trees, we had the trail to Aiken Fire Tower completely to ourselves one evening. It was a great hike, and I was so proud of the kids for climbing the tower. That takes nerve. I made it further than before, but the top perch still awaits my shaky tennies. It’s so wonderful to see our kids conquer their hesitations. Hiking is a great way to do that.

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Cheers! to conquering fears.
Cheers! to conquering fears.
The hidden lake Greg and I visited long ago, which inspired the name of our beloved first "baby," yellow lab Kasey.
The hidden lake Greg and I visited long ago, which inspired the name of our beloved first “baby,” yellow lab Kasey.

And of course we crossed the Mighty Mississippi and ate wild rice pancakes with fresh blueberries at Douglas Lodge!

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Best part of a Minnesota state of mind? It sticks with you.

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Ah, Lanesboro: Camping at The Old Barn

We spent a long weekend at The Old Barn Resort, and my talented mom was good enough to join us, plus take and share photos:

Lanesboro is full of adorable stores.
Gram and Matty relax outside the ice cream shoppe.

Best buy: Greg’s hat!

(…warning, there is a certain je ne sais quoi that comes with this chapeau.)

The Amish market area in the park was full of homemade goodies.

Best buy: Black Raspberry pie!

Fresh air, clean water

We spent plenty of time biking the Root River Trail and tubing the river (lost a few items in the river, however… ask Jules about her brand new sunglasses and Greg about his one sandal.)

Caroline and Julia climbed a hill above the bike path.
Tandem biking! (For once, I’m steering this thing Greg and I have goin’…)

A first with our third: Girl Scout Day Camp

Little Caroline, our third child, blazes her own path. She’s tried many things the other kids did not: cutting her own hair, cutting the dog’s hair, collecting gum wrappers, playing softball–and Girl Scouts. This week, she is spending three days at Girl Scout Camp. So of course mom chaperoned day one. Highlights:

Camp songs haven’t changed (much)

There are a few new verses to Princess Pat, but all the words come right back when the bus singing begins!

Caroline & neighbor/fellow Girl Scout Ella
Flag raising
No breeze, notice. Not a whisper. No air at all.
Learning a new “Do as I Do” ditty

Record-heat in a day away from a/c

This may be the time to share that this was not an ordinary day at Girl Scout Day Camp. The temperature hit 96 degrees F, the heat index 115 and we were not near a lake or any air conditioning. In fact, the temps, heat index and humidity levels hit record levels all over the state.

Of course we were outside all day. I can honestly say I have never been that hot in my life. And I’m an outdoorsy girl. I lived and worked at a camp for 4 summers. I grew up without air conditioning. But this was debilitating. The staff members did a great job improvising to keep the girls safe and (relatively) cool.

Our #1 activity

We drank water, we re-filled our water bottles, we turned on the hose to play in water and every activity included the instructions every few minutes: “Take a drink of water.”

... "old" friends ...
... New friends! ...

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Orienteering: Find Antarctica and let's go THERE, girls!
Building a shelterTrying not to giggle while playing Sleeping Lions.

On this day, the girls learned they can handle heat. Won’t that serve them well as students, professionals, spouses, friends and moms themselves someday?! Just don’t show your sweat, ladies.

I’ll always remember a very cool day with our neat little girl. Thanks for the experience, Caroline honey.

What never washes away

Is there anything better than the first at-home shower after a few days of camping?

As I washed away the layers of campfire soot, Root River water, sunscreen, biking sweat and pool chlorine (I think there’s still a bit of marshmallow on my ear), I thought back to what even my trusty bar of Ivory can’t ever erase:

5 kids = 5x more fun

Sidetracked from a state park because of the government shutdown, we trekked back to The Old Barn Resort with my bro-in-law Curt, his wife Janelle and their little Adam, age 8 (going on 15). Julia also had a friend, sweet Taylor, accompany us.


Tent zippers are a joyful noise

All the kids slept in the tent one night. The raccoons stayed out. And the only ghost stories they told were in the morning under the warm, bright safety of morning light.

Missed exits are good

We tubed on the gorgeous Root River, right from our campground. We missed our intended exit. Had we not, we also would have missed a little fawn playing in the river and the most beautiful summer river scenery. And the boys wouldn’t have perfected their deep, dark Coppertone tans, er, sunburns.

Wild tastes great

Raspberries, growing alongside a hiking trail, were a delicious afternoon treat. We left some for the deer.

1 part fresh air, 2 parts water

The best thing you can “feed” your kids and yourself is long, heavy doses of fresh air. The second-best is water — to drink and to swim in. We all got healthy helpings of both. Which makes for happy campers.

photo credit: Lanesboro Chamber

Simple is usually better

We again visited the Amish stand at the Lanesboro Park. I envy their simplicity and calm yet bright demeanor. Plus, it got the kids chatting about life without TXTing, which horrified them … as I wistfully recalled life before TXTing …

 

Home is the best

Even after our great river, bike trail, Lanesboro and other adventures, the sweetest sight of all is home. And a shower.

 

Venting about Closed MN State Parks

We made the reservations in February. Site 66E at Itasca State Park over Independence Day. Greg and I have treasured memories of the gorgeous bike trails and special moment of carefully escorting our kids over the rocks in the Headwaters of the Mighty Mississippi. The kids don’t remember their first visits there, so we were all thrilled to return.

Not to happen. The MN State Parks were all shuttered June 30 when the Gov and State Legislature could not agree on a new budget.

I got to vent on ABC Nightly News.

Watch it here: http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/video/july-fourth-bummer-national-parks-closed-13981067

This came about though my friend Mary: her cousin’s husband is a freelance photojournalist and asked on Facebook about an unhappy MN camper. She connected us and there you have it.

What you don’t see in the clip is that I’ve always been a very proud Minnesotan. I haven’t always lived here,  but I’ve always extoled the beauty of my home state, especially the forests, streams, vibrant big cities and of course the lakes. Right now, I’m a sad Minnesotan, hoping our leaders can sort this out soon. For far larger reasons than empty campsite 66E at Itasca.