#46 Minnesota

Minnesota and North Dakota

This trip was planned around my quest to visit all the states and Minnesota is my 46th state visited! As you would guess, North Dakota is next, number 47. (Many ask what states remain: Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Oregon.)

While visiting new areas, I also like to explore our great National Park system. During this trip, I visited two National Parks, two state parks, and two National Wildlife Refuges. Also stuck my feet into Lake Superior (my 5th and final of the Great Lakes.)

#47 North Dakota

Let's GO!

For starters - note to self - check for major music concerts playing in the city you're visiting PRIOR to going. My plane was over-sold, the airport was complete chaos, there were only a few rental cars remaining at the airport, traffic was very thick, and no parking at the hotel. I just assumed this was normal for Minneapolis. When I arrived at the hotel lobby to check in, there were several people standing around. The employee said, "I hope you have a reservation because we are sold out!" I assured her I did, and all the people let out a collective groan. I checked in and went up to my room. (Also note, if there's a sketchy hotel I can find it! - and book it!!) All was well, I tucked myself in and went sound to sleep.

Early the next morning, I heard singing coming from the room next to me. Someone singing a Taylor Swift song at the top of their lungs. Well, I was wanting to get on the road early anyway, so I got up. Turned on the news to hear there was a Taylor Swift concert in town. No freaking wonder!! Then it dawned on me, the people in the lobby were waiting - hoping - that a room would open up. Book early, folks! You just never know when a Swifty convention will take over a town!

The early start put all that madness behind me. The next set of pictures were from a small town on the North Shore of Lake Superior called Two Harbors (there were 2 harbors.) It was a shipping harbor on Lake Superior and I got to watch a freight liner heading out.

The Planning...

Thanks to input from my family members who share their love of nature and often visit National Parks (thank you UD & AB), they shared with me the Common Loon several years ago. Loons are not seen in the south, so I knew if I ever went to the northern part of the mid-west, I had to experience seeing/hearing the Loons. I researched where to see/hear Loons and the information was fairly vague. Now I know why, because the Common Loons are everywhere up there! Large waterways to small lakes. Fortunately for me, I booked my overnights near water in hopes of increasing my odds of seeing one. I didn't know I'd see dozens and dozens. Also, I didn't know I'd also experience Minnesota's other state bird, the mosquito.

Common Loon at Itasca State Park, Minnesota

Quick glimpse of a Common Loon drying out it's wings/feathers.

While the Common Loon was plentiful, it became a challenge to hear a Loon and see the Loon at the same time. I could either hear them, or see them without them making calls.

I was surprised one morning when a Mommy Loon Wood Duck came out of the weeds with 9 babies in tow. (Yes, I originally thought this was a Loon, but the Interwebs agreed, it's a Wood Duck.) Anyway, I came home with no exceptional Loon photographs, but I loved seeing them and hearing their calls. Fun fact: Loons mate for life.

If you ever have an opportunity to sit beside a lake at dusk in the Northern Minnesota area, DO IT!! Don't miss out, and remember to take bug spray with you.

You're welcome.

A sample of the Common Loon call is linked in the photo below.

International Wolf Center

If you follow my photography on FaceBook, then you may have seen me post about the International Wolf Center located in Ely, Minnesota. The information made available to the public through this organization is interesting and I've spent many hours reading and learning about these beautiful, often misunderstood, animals. Also, the show Yellowstone cast a dark shadow on wolf packs and livestock predation concerns. I found lots of conflicting information, and THIS PUBLICATION produced some hard facts that show wolves are not as likely a culprit as some would have us to believe. Anyway, I hope you will simply enjoy the photos and leave the debate to those who are affected.

There are 5 wolves at the center which were not release-able to the wild for various reasons. Now they are included in educational events and were definitely my reason for visiting the Wolf Center. I arrived just in time for an "enrichment" which was some kind of frozen animal scrap/bones/fat. (I didn't ask!) The wolves are in a 1.5 acre habitat and visitors are inside the wolf center. A thick glass separates the two areas. If you want to read more about the International Wolf Center, their website is here: wolf.org

I couldn't believe I made it all the way from my home to the wolf center, by myself! Sometimes life is amazing! Here are some of my favorite images I captured.

Reminder: these photos were taken from a secured/separated environment.

Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary

I stumbled upon this website while planning my trip to Minnesota and I knew I had to visit! Not only visit, but I wanted to do a photography session while I was there.

The backstory to the Wildlife Sanctuary states that a Minnesota logger chose to stop shooting bears that broke into his cabin and instead tried a more peaceful approach. “The bears aren’t mean, just hungry!” This began his long and celebrated life with black bears in a tiny corner of the north woods near Orr, Minnesota. Generations of black bears still visit his former homestead, now designated as The Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary. The American Bear Association, a non-profit organization, was formed to manage the sanctuary in order to promote a better understanding of the black bear through education, observation and experience. All of the bears are free-roaming and they come and go at-will through clover meadows, cool cedar swamps and pine forest. The only gate on the boundary is to keep humans out! I waited outside the gate at my designated time (wee hours of the morning) and my guide met me and escorted me down a long dirt road to a parking lot. We went through a Bear Safety briefing and I signed a waiver to enter. We walked from our car and I immediately saw a bear, then another, then soon realized there were more bears than I could count. I didn't even have my camera gear out of my bag yet! My heart was racing and we went into the "cook house" where other staff members were having coffee and breakfast. I'm not going to lie, it took some coaxing for me to step back outside by myself. The workers estimated 30+ bears showed up that morning! I was the only photographer. Aside from being nervous, I was in awe at seeing so many bears in one place. Western North Carolina provides bear sightings fairly frequently, but nothing I had ever seen compared to this.

The rule was to maintain a 10' distance from the bears and when I first heard that, I was like, "you don't have to worry about me getting closer than 30 yards", but it didn't take long before I was just 10' away. Only once did I have to scramble back inside, and even then, I was just in the path of an older bear chasing away a yearling. It wasn't coming "for" me, but the big boy did charge, and it was next to me within seconds. It came from behind, so I didn't see it coming. Yes, I freaked out. Yes, the situation made the workers scramble too. But after everyone (and the bears) calmed down, it went smoothly. (I'm laughing about it now, and I imagine some of your hearts are racing too. Or you're shaking your head thinking I'm 100% crazy!)

The Sanctuary welcomes visitors a few evenings per week. They have an elevated viewing platform that is gated and the bears cannot get up there. I found the elevated platform to be a great way to photograph the bears when they were in the trees. I ventured down into "the circle" several times, but admit the platform was my go to for relaxing with the bears. I am overjoyed with the quality and quantity of photographs from the day; I was there for 10-hours. Time flew by! And at one point in the afternoon, I lightly napped on the platform with a wild bear napping next to me in a tree (10 feet away of course!) There was never a point in those 10 hours that I couldn't see a bear.

For more information about the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary, click HERE.

For the second day in a row, I had the MOST amazing opportunities! I have SO MANY photos - here's a sampling!

Reminder: although some images make bears look cute and cuddly, they are a wild and dangerous animal. Safety is paramount! Do not approach wildlife and maintain safe distances at all times. A long, zoom lens was used to take these photos making them appear closer.

Voyageur National Park

Park tour by boat was a neat way to experience the area. We stopped at American Island and saw mines, caves, Loons, and 2 Bald Eagles.

Rainy Lake Visitor Center

The name was fitting as it rained the whole time I was at Voyageur National Park near International Falls, Minnesota. No moose sightings...bummer!

View from the boat

The rain gear came in handy this day. Not many people out due to the weather. Area was beautiful!

Itasca State Park near Bemidji, Minnesota

Met up with some friends in Bemidji and had dinner. Although brief, it was great to see their smiling faces and hear about life in Minnesota! As dusk was coming in, I made my way to Itasca State Park for the night. The park hosts the Headwaters of the Mississippi River. I spent the night in a single room in the Douglas Lodge (part of the old CCC camps.) I was pleasantly surprised at the accommodations and slept really well. The following morning I took a short hike (that's when I saw the Loon mommy and babies.) There was a 14-mile wildlife driving loop, and another short hike to the Headwaters of the Mississippi location. This seemed like a great location to spend a weekend, but unfortunately, I only had a few hours.

I departed Itasca State Park and made the long trek to the west side of North Dakota (about 7 hours with time change.)

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Rolled into the area just in time for a super-soaker thunderstorm! I was car camping at Cottonwood Campground in the South Unit. I had stopped at the grocery for provisions and ended up having to park in high ground and eat in my vehicle due to flooding. It took a couple hours for the storm to pass and the sky lit up with the most magnificent sunset I had seen in a long time! Here are some photos of the day/evening.

South Unit, Theodore Roosevelt National Park

The South Unit has a 20+ mile loop, however, the loop had closed due to construction. It was an out and back, but still encompassed nearly 20 miles of scenic views and plentiful with wildlife. I saw prairie dog villages, bison, wild horses, and wild turkeys. I'm pretty sure I saw at least 4 different herds of wild horses.

Just Horsing Around...

Wild horses playing on the ridge tops in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, South Unit, in Medora, South Dakota. This herd had a baby!

Prairie Dog Encounter

Check out the Prairie Dog village in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Midway through the video, I'm guessing the 2 dogs are married and the wife is letting the husband know he forgot to do something and then storms off to sulk.

More Wild Horses

There was a fire way off in the distance and I could hear a helicopter, maybe assessing the fire. The helicopter spooked the horses and some of the photos are taken with the herd running, and eventually crossing the road in front of me.

Wild horses spooked by helicopter

Wild horses cross between tourists

Detour, North Unit

I had planned to visit the North Unit, however, the road was closed. The detour wasn't feasible with my schedule so I had to skip it. I headed Northeast along the Canadian border to be met with armed artillery vehicles stationed along the road. I was not stopped or anything, but it altered my path. I had planned on visiting the International Peace Garden, but decided to just keep moving. I stopped at Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge at Bowbells, ND in hopes of seeing moose. It was pretty there, but no moose sightings! I also made a stop at Kelly's Slough, part of the National Wildlife Refuge near Grand Forks.

In the photos below there is a white pelican. I thought pelicans were a coastal bird, but was informed that North Dakota has the largest concentration of the white pelican. And most pelicans nest together centrally and fly up to 200 miles away for food each day. The lady at the Wildlife Refuge also told me the military was moving missiles and that's why all the armed forces. She also cautioned me to get out ahead of the convoy or I would be stuck for hours! And that's when I got the heck out of there.

Back to Minneapolis

One last thunderstorm, and the thick smoke re-emerged from Canada. Minneapolis' air quality rated nationally as 3rd worse in the world that day. I stayed inside and re-packed my bags reminiscing about the amazing wildlife experiences I'd had during vacation. Also, while most of the nation's travelers suffered with airport delays and cancellations, I squeaked through on my budget airline directly to Asheville. Not before I assaulted a TSA agent with my backpack though! Sheesh, lady! You gotta look out when you're swinging a 30lb pack. He took it like a champ though and didn't take out charges. Me and my red face made it home safely.

Total miles driven: 2,074.

Best Food

The food truck (Bob-a-Q) was parked on the north shore of Lake Superior in Knife River. Hands down, the best meal of the trip! Loaded baked potato with brisket, bacon, cheese, bbq sauce, and sour cream. Yum!

Favorite Photo

I was able to snap some awesome photographs, but this one made me smile. The bison are still some of my favorite animals and this guy wasn't happy at all for me stopping along side him to take photos. He came towards the car and I hit the gas pedal to avoid a conflict. That's when I looked back and he was staring me down! I apologized and went about my day.

Odd Street Names

In North Dakota, I was driving for hours in areas where all I saw were oil refineries, drillers, and tractor trailers hauling oil. Then I would reach an intersection and the road names would be numeric, like you would normally see in a city. I finally snapped a photo after seeing so many instances of these street names.

Rock Beaches

In case you didn't know, the beaches along Lake Superior consist of rocks. Not easy to walk on either as they sink and squish out. Also, the water is very cold! It's pretty scenery, but no one was swimming on this 90-degree day.

Interesting / Weird Fact

Vehicle tires are an attractant for bears. Something in the rubber makes them smell/taste good. To combat the bears eating tires, workers scoop bear poop into buckets and place a bucket of poop at each tire.

Live Wolf Web Cams

The International Wolf Center has live webcams in the wolf habitat. I've linked it in the photo above, so just click the image and it will take you to the IWC page with webcam display.

Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary

The American Bear Association has embraced the Vince Schute Wildlife Sanctuary. Click the photo above to go to their website to see what all they're about. Great group of folks running this place and they are always open to donations! The image shows the raised viewing platform where they welcome visitors several evenings per week, and it was also my safety net for photographing these magical creatures.

Thank You!

Thanks to all my family/friends who made it through my blog. This was another long one, but I can't help it. I enjoy sharing my travels with anyone who will listen. If anyone is interested in purchasing prints or puzzles, or bags, etc. please reach out. I have a few items on my Fine Art America site (CLICK HERE). My social media buttons are listed below. Like and follow for more! Much love and safe travels!

I'm blessed,