Southern Minnesota has beautiful river bluffs. A wonderful place to experience them is at Whitewater State Park near Elba and Altura, Minnesota. Not familiar? Perhaps you have heard of Rochester or Winona? This park is close to the midpoint between those two Minnesota cities. The Whitewater River winds through a landscape that offers a variety of trail types. It also contains a valley that no cell service has been able to penetrate yet. If you are able to get cell service at this park, please comment with details! For me, it was a blessing to have an excuse to unplug from the internet and all messages for a few days. I was here in November, just before Thanksgiving, 2022. Due to the chilly weather, I decided to rent one of the park’s camper cabins.
I arrived on a Sunday night, at the end of a deer hunting weekend. Hiking was not allowed during the deer hunt so I took my time getting there and just hung out in the cabin the first night. Those first photos were taken the next morning and are all very close to the visitor center. The stepping stones are spaced further apart than I expected. I paused and considered turning back. I was still very close to my car and the water was not deep so I kept going. If I had fallen in, I figured I could have walked back to my car and returned to the cabin to change clothes. That was not necessary. I made it across just fine and continued up the hill feeling victorious.
I put cleats on my boots but soon took them off because some icy rocks caused me to almost loose my footing. For this trail I think thick rubber soles are best. There were so many ups, downs, steps, and edges. One set of steps was so steep it was labeled a ladder. It was a good level of challenge for me. The packed snow and ice required a slower pace and I was ok with that.
There are many trails in this park, some are loops and others are out-and-back. Total miles of trails is over 15. It is a good idea to check the park website before your visit. I was glad I found out about the deer hunt before I got there!
The next three photos are from Eagle Point. From the Meadow trail there are over 250 steps up to this overlook. So beautiful, and yet I found I was more interested in the plants and trees than the view.
On this trip, I was most impressed by the ruggedness of the landscape. The hiking was enjoyable and challenging. The physical challenge I welcomed. The emotional challenge was more difficult. Cliffs bring back memories of my daughter’s accident. Occasionally I saw deer blood in the snow. That did not help. (Don’t blame the deerhunters, they did not do anything wrong. It is just a fact I noticed and my memories are my memories.) I was glad to be hiking alone because it gave me a chance to really feel the feelings. I know from experience that avoiding is not the answer. So I hiked those cliff edges and remembered how much she enjoyed climbing and how much I used to enjoy this type of landscape too. Being physically tired felt good. It was like I was metabolizing the emotion. When I sat down to paint, I didn’t want to paint a rugged landscape, I wanted to paint something peaceful. I chose a spot in the valley near a bridge. Back in the early 2000’s, I painted a series of about 40 bridges. I thought a lot about the metaphor of the bridge in those days. This trip also felt like a bridge to something new for me. It has been over a month since the day I sat by that bridge and that painting was never finished. Maybe that is as it should be. I already got what I needed from that painting experience. Instead of recording what I see, I seem more interested in simple imaginary landscapes lately. I’m going to roll with it.
One of the reasons I love to hike is that the repetition of my steps helps me to think. It is good to let the mind wander sometimes. Pay attention to what pops up. It could be important.
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