September’s Arrival Means Autumn Planning

Today, I’m excited even as I’m still dealing with the “year-in-limbo” as it’s been harder to make concrete plans in 2020. I’m currently mapping out that sweet one month window where autumn colors blossom in the Midwest. It’s a very ambitious plan. I think this year I’m feeling bit more pressure to get out because in December, my wife and I will welcome our first child and life will change in many ways. Below are the ideas and trips I am hoping to make happen. I’ll write future blog posts on the big ones and as many as I can to share this lovely season, even though I admit I am holding onto summer by swimming at the cabin every weekend.

Badlands National Park & Spearfish Canyon

I’ve been coordinating going next weekend with a buddy for three nights which means little sleep, that probably is happening midday. We are night sky focused hoping for some Milky Way. Sleep is overrated when you’re headed out for photography in a place you haven’t visited since childhood and had no camera in your hands. Tentatively, the plan is the Badlands one day and two nights and Spearfish Canyon one night and two days. This trip may be the most exciting due to its fresh landscapes since I usually shoot in Minnesota. Don’t even get me started on the waterfalls in the area. Wow. Let’s go!

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Instead of heading to the North Shore with three friends on our third annual autumn trip, we are heading to a new location. The south shore of Lake Superior in Michigan. My wife and I did a babymoon trip there in July and while I didn’t really photograph on that occasion, I did scout for this autumn trip. We will be hightailing it east to Tahquamenon Falls and slowly make our way back west exploring Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the Keenaw Peninsula and maybe the Porcupines before heading home. Our itinerary is 75% set with a boat tour and ten-mile hike included. It’s a fantastic tradition I hope continues for many more years to come.

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There is the North Shore frenzy in fall but what about other northern parts of Minnesota? I’ve photographed in both places before but it was secondary to a group event. This time, I want to do something different and have scouted some places to visit. Being 3-4 hours away, this could be as quick as an up and back or one night stay. I really want to go just to be a bit different than my photography circles.

Southeastern Minnesota

Along the Mississippi River on both Wisconsin and Minnesota are wonderful bluff views. There is a fantastic loop from Red Wing to Wabasha to Stockholm to Hager City and everything in between. It’d be great to have two nights to do this but I expect possibly two day trips, one on each side. It’d be wonderful to capture that transitional summer to fall fog that often appears.

Grand Portage & the Gunflint Trail

It’s possible I am heading north to commission a piece for a client. Since I’m up there, I will focus more on Grand Portage and going east on the Gunflint. I haven’t focused on the latter much at all and am intrigued by blue lakes surrounded by lots of color. I am not sure when this trip is happening but it might be a last minute “Oh, the leaves just changed! Let’s go!” thing.

Other Day Trips & Hopes

Jay Cooke State Park, Kinnickinnic State Park, Alexander Ramsay, Pipestone, and a seasonal series from William O’Brien State Park round out the dreams right now. Typing all of this out is very idealistic but also very promising and exciting! Stay tuned.

Scouting Whitewater State Park

Whitewater State Park might be in my top three favorite parks in Minnesota. A huge reason is that the conditions aren’t ideal for pesky mosquitoes due to cold-spring fed water that is constantly moving.

But it’s the bluffs that capture my heart.

Once more, I woke up at 4:30 a.m. and drove two hours to catch a state park sunrise. This morning treated me more colorfully than the visit to St. Croix State Park.

Coyote Point Sunrise

I had hoped that the color would expand into the clouds but it mostly stayed behind the ridge. And yet, it was a gorgeous scene.

After sunrise, I quickly transferred to the eastern Chimney Rock where I watched the sun burn the shadows away.

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Chimney Rock View

The five bluffs at Whitewater State Park are close enough to one another to climb all of them in one day. At Chimney Rock, you can view the widest part of the river offering a swimming hole for campers. I love the reflections here.

From here, I went south along the Chimney Rock Trail which bordered farmland and you can see where dried, small gullys zigzag down into the banks of Whitewater River. The sun burst through the trees and illuminated the yellow leaves all over.

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Then I discovered Inspiration Point and wonder if it’s my favorite part of the park. It reminded me of the North Shore without Lake Superior.

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Whitewater State Park

But of course, it is not the North Shore. It has its own beauty and another reason to love Minnesota and our state parks.

Have you visited?

Autumn Bursts in St. Croix State Park

While I made plans to capture autumn colors this year, I made note of fire towers in state parks and St Croix State Park made the list. It’s about two hours from the Twin Cities, including a slow drive on a dirt road. At the time, the roads were bursting with every fall color.

Autumn Roads in St. Croix

I arrived at the fire tower at 6:45 a.m. after leaving the house two hours earlier.

I climbed slowly.

After climbing a more rickety tower in Grand Portage, Minnesota, this one’s stability helped with my fear of heights. I ended up staying on the top platform for an hour watching and waiting for color. I’ll tell you three tips that really helped me become absolutely (well, mostly) comfortable with fire towers:

  1. Go slowly, and make several stops. Take in the all scenes, bend your knees, and pause, allowing your mind to grow comfortable with the heights.
  2. Stay awhile. This, too, seems counter intuitive, but the more time passes, the more I relaxed. I found my mind went overboard with every creak in the boards, every wind gust, and several movie scenes. I quickly realized how much of my physical responses were from my irrational mind. The more I relaxed and took in deep breaths, the more I felt fine. After an hour at top, I nearly felt as  secure as being on the solid ground.
  3. Climb several towers within a short time of each other. Climbing one in Grand Portage two weeks prior really helped me with the one in St. Croix.

While the clouds didn’t allow much of a sunrise, the trees beneath me were nicely represented in the low, even light.

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Fire tower view

After climbing down, I started driving back and in the immediate 200 feet or so, stopped my car, got out, and took pictures five times of the wrapping color around the road. Just stunning. I recommend St. Croix State Park for the scenic drives on these dirt roads if nothing else. I even got to see my first wild porcupine cross the road.

Porcupine Crossing

When I entered the park at 6:00am, I couldn’t see any colors but upon exiting, it was red everywhere and colors layered and filled in everywhere. Below is an example of the color burst.

Color burst

I was so enamored with color, I returned with my wife less than twenty-fours later. Shockingly, in that brief time, much color was lost and now lay on the roads and paths. I couldn’t believe how it changed so dramatically after one night. There remained enough color to enjoy the park, but it was a different experience for me and a bit of a letdown since I brought Sarah to enjoy it.

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But we did enjoy all of it.