Category Archives: State Parks

Ice Formations of a Waterfall

While exploring Tettegouche State Park on New Year’s weekend we hiked up to High Falls and became amazed at the many different ice formations surrounding this water fall. Just looking at this amazing water fall almost completely frozen is beautiful especially set in the winter wonderland of Northern Minnesota however closer examination of the different pieces that make up this scene makes it even more incredible.

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There are different shapes, colors, and sizes of the many different icicles near the falls. It’s interesting to imagine how these were formed such as in the photo above. Water flowing over the falls has a darker color so how were these created clear at first and then coated in snow or frost? Guessing at the answer I would say these were formed during a recent rain event which was followed colder temperatures and then the spray from the water fall coated them.

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This next picture has multiple colors of ice with a chimney allowing light from the sky to illuminate this natural sculpture. The darker ice which is tinted must have been created from water flowing over the falls but it could also be from water seeping through rocks picking up tannins and minerals causing the water to be tinted and freezing with dripping water from the recent rainfall. What was really interesting to me was the chimney. How was this created? Was there ice there originally that fell creating a hole or was the natural opening wide enough that it never had water running through it?

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While exploring further there were these icicles made from water freezing making two different icicles that merged together leaving open space between them for a portion. Also I found the pieces of horizontal ice attached to the vertical icicles quite interesting.

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This next picture is showing a zoomed out version of the vertical and horizontal icicles highlighting the horizontal ice. How do icicles get created horizontally? My best guess is going back in time to imagine these being formed over hours, days, and weeks. Initially the clear icicles were made from rainfall freezing. Next mist from the running water fall was strongly blowing towards these frozen icicles freezing almost on contact. So these could be made as a result of heavy rains mixed with strong winds after the rainfall but before the falls froze creating unique ice formations.

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This is one of my favorite perspectives looking up at numerous icicles appearing as they are going to fall right on top of you. On the day of this photo these were very secure so no concerns which was confirmed as we broke off one and it did not separate from the rock above easily. In this last picture below I found several different ice formations appearing as a stairway up the falls. Even though it looks like stairs I would never climb it without proper equipment knowing this is a water fall and water is still running underneath this ice making it more unpredictable.

Ice Steps going up the waterfall

Spur of the Moment New Years Trip

As I was finishing my day of work on New Years Eve day I began to look to the rest of the holiday weekend and wondered how to best celebrate the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017. One of the thoughts that kept running through my mind was a desire to enjoy winter. For the last couple of years I’ve grabbed the camera on New Years Day and went hiking at nearby parks. Unfortunately there wasn’t much in the way of good snow this year so began to explore different options for a winter wonderland to start another year.

The last sunset of 2016

Quickly I arrived at the idea of going to the North Shore of Minnesota. That should be far enough to find a snow covered landscape. While driving home I called the rest of the family and ran the idea past them to see if there was any interest beyond my own. Since it was very spontaneous it took a few moments to explain my ideas. Taking some time to digest this they soon determined it could be fun and phone calls were quickly made to take care of responsibilities at home for the next 24 hours as well as secure a place to stay.  Once I returned home from my last day of work for the year we all packed and gathered winter gear, loaded the car and hit the road for a short 2 hour drive to Duluth taking in the last sunset of 2016 along the way.

Enjoying hundreds of Goldeneye ducks

Our arrival in Duluth was met with slightly icy roads as they had just received some fresh snow that morning and a nighttime view of Lake Superior which remained mostly ice free to spite some very cold temperatures the week before. We quickly dropped off our stuff and headed for a favorite place to eat while in Duluth – Old Chicago. After celebrating the change of years it was off to bed. The next morning I awoke ahead of everyone else so decided I should grab the camera and hope for a beautiful sunrise over Lake Superior. Unfortunately, as you can see from the top photo, there was very little sun but there still was a great view as light increased on the morning. There was about a half dozen people out near the canal trying to do the same thing I was, photograph the first sunrise of 2017!

The upper frozen falls of Gooseberry Falls State Park

While the sun failed to make a bright, fiery appearance, several hundred Common Goldeneye ducks swam in the open waters of the Duluth Canal for anyone willing to be up early to enjoy. I’ve never seen this type of duck before so it was a nice treat to watch them for awhile before heading back to the room to gather up the rest of the family and continue north to Gooseberry Falls State Park. A short time later we pulled into the winter wonderland I was hoping for to bring in the new year. Surprisingly most of the waterfalls and river at this park were frozen over making for some beautiful natural ice sculptures covered in fluffy white snow. Not very many people take the time to explore these frozen falls so it was a nice treat to see them in an an unusual way.

The river is frozen over while Lake Superior remains open in the distance

After a couple of hours playing around in the snow and ice of Gooseberry we wanted to continue further north towards Tettegouche State Park. Fortunately this is not a long drive from where we were giving most of the afternoon at one of my favorite parks on the North Shore. Arriving a little while later we got out of the car, put on our winter gear – boots, hats, gloves, snow pants and began our excursion to the high falls of Tettegouche. Along this 1.5 mile trail we became enthralled with this winter landscape enveloping us all around. So peaceful and very few people around giving most of this quiet winter scene exclusively to us. I kept waiting to hear a wolf howl in the distance confirming our picture book arrival to Northern Minnesota but no such thing happened.

The low sun in the horizon shining through the tall trees

Plowing through the snow we arrived at our destination to find that this river and waterfall were also mostly frozen over allowing very different viewing perspectives than I’ve every witnessed before. Now we could walk almost right up to the falls and feel just how large it actually is while listening to the water run under thick walls of ice making us less certain about standing on what would be water during much of the year. A very serene moment looking over this tall wall of ice surrounded by mostly undisturbed snow.

Exploring the High Falls of Tettegouche State Park

As we examined the great ice wall all of the different formations started to jump out. Different clusters of icicles joined together creating an ice filled curtain concealing fast flowing water behind which was only visible in small iceless windows. Closer examination of the frozen water surrounding these falls showed how unique each one is. There were different colors, some were opaque while others almost crystal clear only interrupted by air bubbles frozen inside combined with various shapes. Many were frost covered while others where topped with snow. In other areas the ice formations looked as though they were creating a stairway to the top of the water falls although I would never climb it without proper equipment for fear of slipping into surrounding stone ledges.

Looking at some of the cool ice formations created from the water falls

As daylight began to soften we decided to take in the last bit of sunlight to return to the parking lot to avoid being stranded on icy staircases in the darkness. As the sun dipped lower into the horizon we could feel the cold seeping into our heavy layers of winter protection. Fortunately we had enough hand warmers to accommodate until we made it back to the warmth of the visitors center and our car for the journey back home.

Only a tiny portion of the river is still running free in Northern Minnesota

Mystery Cave

A few years ago I searched for caves of Minnesota, after exploring Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, and found Mystery Cave. This is a state park which offers tours through the largest caverns of the cave located in the bluffs of Southeastern Minnesota. We’ve attempted to plan a visit when we first discovered it but plans fell through so we kept it on a list of “someday” things to do. Fortunately this “someday” event actually was achieved this summer. We hosted a French student for a few weeks and thought this would be an enjoyable place to show some of the many faces of Minnesota. He had never been in a cave before and was fascinated with it.

Walking through the caverns carved by water

Caves are very fascinating places and this one was no different. As is common, it is cool in Mystery Cave which felt nice on a hot summer afternoon. After descending a couple of flights of stairs we were transported into another world. Here is complete darkness surrounded by layers and layers of stone carved over thousands of years of water carrying away each piece it can grab until it can no longer flow through this area. These natural tunnels continue to transform yet today as water from the surface still drips through these rocks altering their environment.

Veins of Mystery Cave

As this water drips down the stone walls it carries with it minerals from above which separate from the water as it flows down these walls creating these veins throughout the caves giving them an appearance of life. The veins of Mystery Cave give it a beautiful and amazing ambiance adding to the wonder around each new cavern. What will this cave look like in a thousand years from now? What will be the same, if anything? What did the cave look like a thousand years ago?

An underground lake

This is the first cave I’ve toured that I saw an underground lake. While it was smaller than I was prepared for it was incredibly clear and had a very deceptive depth that could only be realized by shining light through the surface and moving it around. Even then the deception required a focused realization and understanding of what you are viewing.  We continued through some of the narrow passageways returning to the beginning and climbed out to natural daylight squinting while adjusting to it once again. It was cool enough inside and hot and humid enough outside that everyone’s glasses fogged immediately upon exiting the cave making those with corrective lenses laugh as this usually happens during the winter, not summer.

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Waterfalls at Tettegouche

High Falls on the Baptism River

While hosting a student from France this summer we took a couple of days to head to the North Shore of Minnesota to see Lake Superior. A great place to stop is Tettegouche State Park to see both Lake Superior and the highest waterfalls entirely in Minnesota (there’s one slightly taller but it borders Minnesota and Canada). This was in the middle of August so the waterfalls are not gushing with as much ferociousness as earlier in the year but still a beautiful sight. It was raining and nearing nightfall during our time here which actually allowed us to have these falls all to ourselves. A rare opportunity this time of year.

Jumping into the Baptism River at High Falls

The Baptism River is cold (yet warm when compared to Lake Superior) people like to swim near the falls and jump from a nearby cliff. A dry towel to wipe the water from your skin and warm clothing to put on shortly after was a good idea on this day as the temperature was not very warm and there was no sun to warm up in so hypothermia was certainly a possibility. If you’re ever in the area I highly recommend a stop at Tettegouche State Park to explore the high falls. There is a short hike of just under a mile to get there from the nearest parking lot which is worth it if you can make it. There are a couple of smaller waterfalls to see if you have the time to hike to them. Darkness was approaching so we were unable to check out the rest of the smaller waterfalls. That will have to wait for another time.

Up the River to The High Falls