Hiking at Long Meadow Lake (Minnesota Valley NWR) 14-Mar-2023

A photon is a terrible thing to waste. With that heady thought in mind, we were determined to take advantage of today’s sunshine before yet more gloom descended upon us – which will be soon. Perhaps too soon. But we’re going for the 7th snowiest winter on record, so no slacking off! 🤨

We got a late start and thus needed a hike that didn’t involve much driving. Which took us to a return visit to the nearby Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). Our only other visit here was on an overcast day last November. On that day we crossed the Old Cedar Avenue Bridge and did a loop on the Minnesota Valley State and Bluff Trails.

Although today was 20℉ (-6.6℃) colder than it was last November, it was brilliantly sunny. 😎 And that more than made up for the colder temperature. So we crossed the Old Cedar bridge, then turned northeast for an out-and-back hike on the Long Meadow Lake Trail. Mountain bikers had beaten a narrow trail in the otherwise deep snow, so we were fine without microspikes or snowshoes.

Across the most recent incarnation of the Old Cedar Avenue Bridge
Looking southwest over the larger portion of Long Meadow Lake
On the paved trail with Highway 77 on the left
The Minnesota River bears a thin scrim of ice under the Highway 77 bridge

The ice breaking up on the Minnesota River had The LovedOne almost mesmerized. This was not an Alaska-level break-up with loud booms and the heaving of thick slabs of ice. No, today’s ice was more like thin sheets of glass or plastic (or sugar on a dessert – think the crust on a crème brûlée). It made an enrapturing crunchy, crinkling sound as it was broken into small sheets by contact with the shore line or with snags. We kept stopping so The LovedOne could gaze at it.

Thin ice crumpling along the shore
Thin ice on the waters
Thin ice in sheets
Sunlight and flood depth markers on the Highway 77 bridge
Going northeast on the Long Meadow Lake Trail
Looking upriver toward the Highway 77 bridge
We reveled in the sunshine
Sunlight over the waters
Past an open meadow
This is what “partly cloudy” meant today

Our walk along Long Meadow Lake wasn’t exactly a wilderness experience. Once we got beyond the noise from Highway 77, we came under the airport’s (MSP) flight paths. Flights seemed to depart every minute. This didn’t seem to bother the wildlife any and, after a while, it didn’t bother us either.

Plane (arrow) departing from MSP
Through a stand of riverine forest
A large eagle or osprey nest – which will be completely invisible from the trail once the forest leafs-out

Out West, cottonwoods (P. fremonti), being water lovers, tend to line water courses. They grow large, but not that large, and rarely live more than 100 years. Conversely, some of the cottonwoods we’ve found out here (the eastern species – P. deltoides) are massive and can, under ideal circumstances, live to 200 years plus. It seems that growing in the well-watered soils along a river is a pretty ideal place.

The LovedOne gives an appreciative hug to a huge Eastern Cottonwood

Unfortunately, this section of the Long Meadow Lake Trail can’t easily be made into a loop – it just stops at the Bloomington Education and Visitor Center and there’s no parallel Bluff Trail. So, just short of 3 miles (4.8 km) in, we turned around and headed back.

Our turn-around point
More sunshine 😎
And back we go – as a departing Southwest Airlines flight roars overhead 🙄
A little more gazing at the flowing ice
And then the Highway 77 bridge was back in view
And then we were going back across the Old Cedar Avenue Bridge

Today’s walk in the sun came to an essentially level 5.4 miles (8.6 km). Although this refuge is a stopover for migratory waterfowl, there wasn’t much action in that regard today. We saw two bald eagles, several Whitetail deer, woodpeckers, chickadees, three swans, lots of Canada geese, and a very melodious cardinal. Plus several large nests and a host of small animal tracks criss-crossing the snow.

But we were, frankly, here today simply to revel in the sunshine and soak up some photons to see us through the gloomy days ahead. 😎😁 Wind, snow, cold will be on us tomorrow and it’s hard to see how we won’t be moving up to 7th place in the snowiest year contest. 😒

If yet more snow wasn’t enough, the National Weather Service just upgraded their outlook for spring flooding in the upper Mississippi, Minnesota, and Chippewa River basins to well above normal, particularly on the Mississippi from St. Paul downstream. If this holds true, it’s possible that parts of the trail we were on today will be underwater in the weeks ahead. 🥺

Our short hike at Long Meadow Lake

4 thoughts on “Hiking at Long Meadow Lake (Minnesota Valley NWR) 14-Mar-2023

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  1. When you are working on the pack ice and you hear one those cracks it is beyond mesmerizing especially if you are far from the helicopter. I never saw a crack open very wide though, so it was more spooky than dangerous.


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