I have certain expectations and rites that I associate with the season of summer.  My bucket list includes:  (1) a baseball game with cold beer and popcorn, (2) putting the canoe in the water, (3) sharing a late-night bottle of wine on the deck, (4) eating cherry tomatoes fresh-picked from the vine, (5) watching a sunset, (6) a bicycle ride on an early Saturday morning that includes a stop for breakfast, (7) fishing (hopefully successfully!), (8) a chocolate malt from the dairy barn at the Minnesota State Fair, (9) swimming or wading or dangling my feet in a cool lake when the temperature is scorching, and (10) sleeping in a tent.  Up until last week I’d checked off all my items except the last one, so my mission was to go camping.  We ventured off to the southeast corner of Minnesota.  Passing through acres and acres of corn and soybeans in the center of the state, we eventually came into the rolling hills and bluff country that’s to the west of the Mississippi River.  The landscape is beautiful, with two-lane highways and county roads that curve and twist and go up to the tops of the bluffs and then sky-rocket down into the valleys.  We found our way to a Minnesota State Park that’s nestled in one of those valleys – Beaver Creek Valley State Park.  The park is situated so the creek flows right through it.  Even to get to our tent site the road crossed the creek four different times.  We weren’t driving on bridges, we were actually fording the creek and driving through it.  We set up our tent at the base of a hillside nestled among the trees.  Our days were spent hiking and exploring the park and the valley, along with this far southeastern corner of Minnesota.  With all our outdoor activities, hot temps, and warm sunshine we slept well in our tent under the canopy of trees in the valley with the full moon high above in the sky.  And just across the road from our campsite we could hear Beaver Creek, babbling its way throughout the campground and the valley.

This past January, in the middle of freezing temperatures and feet of snow, we were planning a spring trip to a Minnesota state park.  We decided that mid-April would be a perfect time to go to the prairie lands of western Minnesota and enjoy a warm sunny weekend with the opportunity to photograph early wildflowers.  Of course, this past winter has been harder and longer than usual, and the snow has only recently melted.  So it wasn’t altogether a major surprise when we drove to Lac qui Parle State Park on Friday night and arrived in the middle of a snow squall.  The snow continued throughout the night and into the morning, with the winds howling around our little camper cabin.  As “frightful” as it was outside, we were warm and snug on the bluff overlooking Lac qui Parle Lake, which is a broadening of the Minnesota River.  The winds continued throughout the day Saturday, blowing the clouds across the prairie sky.  Eventually the front passed us by early Sunday morning and we awoke to blue skies and warmer temperatures.  Lac qui Parle was named by French explorers who lived with the Dakota Indians and means the “lake that speaks.”  This weekend the area was “speaking” with a plethora of pelicans, geese, ducks, and cormorants.  We were even treated to the sighting of a coyote and the olfactory “sighting” of a skunk.  With the recent spring snowmelt the lake has flooded the lowlands and even closed some of the roads in the area.  However, we were still able to explore this part of the state that borders South Dakota, meet some fascinating people who shared their knowledge and history of the prairie and the area, and brush up on the history of the fur-traders and missionaries that settled here with the Dakotas in the early 1800’s.  We will certainly return to this wonderful state park and prairie land again, perhaps in the fall when over 150,000 Canada geese migrate through the area.  Although our original plans and expectations did not come to fruition, we had a truly wonderful and enjoyable weekend.