The Minnesota Camping Experience

Camping in Minnesota can either be relaxing and quiet, or exciting, depending on what you are looking for. From the rushing rapids of the St. Croix State Park, to the beautiful Gooseberry Falls, and up to the Boundary Waters Canoe area. There is plenty to see and do, just grab your tent and a few supplies and a wonderful weekend is in the making, looking for agates, walleyes and beautiful birds, and perhaps some wild bear, timber wolves, coyotes, beaver, white tail deer. One campground known for its white tail deer population is Jay Cooke State Park. The deer find this rocky outcropping on the St. Louis River a good place to winter as do 45 other species of mammals.

Native Americans discovered that the St. Louis River could not be traveled by canoe so they blazed a 6.5 mile portage around it. Later the fur traders and voyageurs would use this same portage, and it, along with a few more portages became known as the Grand Portage. Once the train made its appearance it was quicker and safer using it and the portages became over grown and unused. In 1915 the Pennsylvania financier, Jay Cooke, who had developed the nearby St. Louis Power Company, and the Northern Pacific Railroad donated 2,350 acres of land to the state of Minnesota which turned it into a state park and as time went on the state added more acreage to the park until its present size of 8,818 acres.

Seismic activity is responsible for the steeply tilted slate, greywacke and exposed brownstone, making this a treasure trove of information for the geology students to study from the many universities in the state. The large dark rock formations jutting up from the ground give you a sense of the Rocky Mountains, which for those not living in a mountainous region conjures up great fun and adventure. With a little imagination you can be climbing up Mt. Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary.

In the 1930’s and 40’s two different CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps.) Camps were established on site and are responsible for building the inspiring swinging suspension bridge and other picnic facilities in the park, facings of these structures are made of the local basalt found here. The swinging bridge was partially destroyed in the flood of 2012, but has since been repaired and is back in service for those young at heart individuals being chased by Masai Warriors across a great gorge with only minutes from being overtaken. Of course, the warriors would cut the ropes supporting the bridge and it is only with the aid of Tarzan that you can make it across safely. Sheesh, that was close!

There are over 50 miles of hiking trails some tying into the Willard Munger State Trail again with some imagination you can be the fur trader Coureur des bois portaging through the rugged land with a 90 lb. pack of furs hanging from your portage strap on the newly renovated trails.

It was in the early 70’s that we as a family traveled to Jay Cooke for the weekend, of course Kobra, my dad’s Leader Dog, traveled with us and could usually be found tethered to the picnic table at the campsite. Also traveling with us was one of my mother’s coworkers, Florence. Florence was a big ol’ gal fond of the stylish muumuus of the day. She had neatly packed up her big old station wagon with all her camping gear and was leaning over the tailgate trying to unload. When suddenly Kobra’s ears perked up as he overheard a commotion at Florence’s car, he watched quietly as Florence swatted the air behind her telling Kobra to knock it off. What? He wasn’t doing anything, and he was quite a distance from her to boot. Again, Florence swatted the air and told Kobra to knock it off, a little more firmly this time. Kobra, shook his head, a little frustrated himself being blamed for something he had nothing to do with. The third time, Florence’s voice was becoming a tad shrill. As she turned she couldn’t help but notice that Kobra was across the campsite from her, so what had been bothering her? She looked down and let out a shriek, here scurrying across the road and down the ditch was the culprit, a handsome raccoon even more curious than Kobra.

Later that evening, at dusk, the campground was beginning to settle down, you could look across the clearing and see families roasting marshmallows, some quietly singing camp songs, some just visiting, it was a peaceful scene out of a Terry Redlin painting. Quietly behind us we heard a foot step and then a rumbling chuckle. We turned and much to our surprise the Ranger was right behind us. He said, “This is the time of night I love best, time for the fun to begin… watch.” Much to our amazement a family closest to the outer perimeter screamed and their entire group jumped on their picnic table, then the next family, then the next in a straight row across the campground west to east, one after another family was screaming and jumping on their picnic table. What was happening now? “That would be my Fred, he does stir up the campground a bit, don’t you think?” the Ranger quietly explained. But who was Fred? We watched in silence as the Ranger moseyed over to the furthest most camp to the east, then he squatted down and tapped the ground beside himself, out from under the furthest east picnic table waddled a beautiful black and white skunk. No wonder everyone was trying to get to high ground. The Park Ranger then introduced Fred to the campers and everyone had a good laugh. When the Ranger brought Fred over to meet us my dad was lucky enough to hold him, ever since then he wanted a skunk of his own, Mom did not agree.

Camping is a good family bonding experience, or a time to relax and enjoy nature and reconnect with your spouse or significant other. When I was particularly drained after a long hectic week I packed up my 4 man tent some goodies, grabbed my fishing rod and spent the weekend at the park all by myself. When I went home that Sunday I felt refreshed and renewed, and good about what I had done and was able to face Monday with a smile. There is something invigorating about the great outdoors which just is not found behind a TV screen or computer monitor. Remember when mom used to shoo us outside? My mom always said “… to blow the stink off.” Well when we came back in the house for supper we did feel better, finished our chores real quick like, and then headed back out again until bedtime. We slept better and school was not such a downer, it was fun. Get out in the great outdoors and become invigorated. Next time I think I’ll share some of Yellowstone with you