Rosie and I wanted to get out for a walk in some woods on Sunday afternoon, but we didn’t have the time to drive very far to get it or to go for a very long walk. The morning before I had gone to a meeting at the visitor center at the Minnesota Valley Wildlife Refuge; I had never been there before and was surprised to find such a beautiful natural area only 10 minutes from our middle-of-the-city apartment. I didn’t find out anything about trails, but I figured there had to be some.
We went back on Sunday afternoon and a friendly volunteer pointed us in the direction of a trail that took us down the bluff and into the vast bottomland of the Minnesota River, less than a mile upstream of where it joins the Mississippi River. I’ve seen broad marshes and backwaters before, but this really blew me away. It is a sprawling land of oak savanna, marshes and a little bit of everything else.
I’m a sucker for juxtaposition. The wildlife refuge is probably less than two miles from the Mall of America, the largest indoor shopping mall in the country. It is also probably less than a mile from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. The city of Bloomington is a first-ring suburb full of airport hotels and chain restaurants and lots and lots of pavement. I-494 running through the area (and on a long bridge over the bottomland maybe a half mile away) can be clogged with traffic at all hours of the day. The photo above is looking down the trail. The photo below is of the hotels looming over the area just behind. I wondered how many people who fly in to town for business, stay at the hotel, shuttle around in taxis for a day or two, eat room service and watch HBO in their rooms have any idea of the wildness below.
Also very near the spot where those photos were taken was a cool dead tree that looked like a bony hand reaching toward the sky and a little creek rushing through the marshland. The creek tumbled down a little drop behind where I took the photo and we both agreed it was nice to hear the sound of running water.
We walked further on and came to the main channel of the river, which seemed very small in contrast to the sprawling valley it flows through. As we stood looking at the icy river, a man came along paddling a solo canoe. While we agreed that it took some serious guts to brave those frigid, funny waters where a small mistake could leave you very cold and in big trouble, it got our minds us looking to the open-water season ahead and the adventures of summer.
A ways further and we stopped and sat on the bank and had a piece of chocolate and talked about life. Across the relatively narrow river channel the other bank rose up and then beyond that was easily a mile of solid reeds before the other bluff rose up. The broad valley of this area, with historic Fort Snelling (one of the first permanent outposts in the region, constructed in the 1820s) positioned at the junction of the rivers, has always made me wonder. I wonder what it must have been like for that small outpost of soldiers, for the Indians that surely must have depended on the fertile valley. It must have been so big and quiet. Now there’s the jets overhead and the distant hum of the highway. It is still a remarkable and beautiful place.
On our way back we saw what the body of what we thought was a dead red fox alongside the trail, right by where I took the pictures above. I don’t know how we didn’t see it the first time, except that it was on the other side of the trail from the view out across the expanse of the river which had captured our gaze.
The walk was very flat, which isn’t what we usually go for, but it did have a good climb back up the bluff at the end. It got the heart pumping and I was sweating when we got to the top.