Because there was a drought here last year, our arrival coincided with a long run of warm, sunny, dry days. This year looks to be a little different. The drought, while not totally gone despite last Winter’s snows, has eased considerably. Instead of dry, we now face a delightful potpourri of showers and thunderstorms and clouds and sun. Delightful. 🙄 But no bugs (yet). 🦟🙂
Today was forecast as partly cloudy, with any thunderstorms holding off until evening. So we decided on a return to the Lone Rock Trail in the Vermillion Highlands research, recreation, and wildlife management area. We first learned of this trail while doing a hike at Whitetail Woods Regional Park last summer.
The Lone Rock Trail consists of 4 interconnected loop trails: Farm, Wetland, Lone Rock, and Pine. Last summer had faded into Fall and then into this Winter before we managed a hike on the Farm and Lone Rock Loops. We promised then to hike here again when things were, ah, warmer.
The Lone Rock Trails are wide, grassy (but mowed) dirt affairs that are easy walking and (today at least) dry and mud-free. The terrain is gently rolling through different habitats, which keeps the walking interesting without being particularly strenuous.
Note that the maps posted at each major trail intersection, which show intersection numbers and mileages, can be obtained from Dakota County here.
We parked at the Wetland Loop Trailhead and went counter-clockwise around the Wetland, Pine, and Lone Rock Loops. Clouds at the start gave way to sunshine and artistic clouds mid-hike, then returned as we were finishing up. There had been fog in the morning, and enough moisture lingered to give us a taste of humid hiking. 😅
Only a few wildflowers and trees were in bloom but there were a LOT of birds about. I’m usually the one holding up the parade by taking photos. Today it was TheLoved One with her binoculars and bird watching. Some birds are colorful and easy to see and identify. 🐦Others are little brown dots which defy easy identification – if you see them at all. We agreed that it would be better if birds came with bar (or QR) codes for easier identification. 🤔
Our loop today came to 8.7 miles (14.0 km) with a cumulative gain of 500 feet (152 m). We passed just 2 other hikers and 4 horse riders and so (again) had a trail largely to ourselves.
The rolling terrain, the various habitats we passed through, and the cooperative weather all made for a very mellow and pleasant hike. It had been very scenic here last Winter but being able to hike without gloves and several layers of clothing is wondrous. 😁
The maps posted along the trail show a feature called “Lone Rock” – hence the Lone Rock Trail. It was noted, in 1805, by Zebulon Pike, during his exploration of the Mississippi River. French explorer Joseph N. Nicollet described it, in the late 1830s, as a large sandstone pillar. In those days it was used as a guide by travelers, since it could be seen from quite a distance – it has since eroded significantly.
Today it sits (44°41’3″N, 93°3’33″W) in a forested area near the east side of the Lone Rock Loop, just west of Intersection 6. No trail to it appears on the map but it’s hard to imagine there isn’t a use trail out there somewhere. Going to the Rock has all the makings of a future tick-infested “adventure” hike. 🥺😃
We have an app for our phone which we use in the field (if we have service). Otherwise I take a photo and then use the Minnesota Wildflowers website and Google Image Search to figure out what it is. This works most of the time. There are some wildflowers that are hard to distinguish at the species level unless you want to get into detail about flower parts, leaves, etc. In these cases we just use the common name of the genus.
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May I ask, how do you know the names of so many wild plants? Do you have some training? We use an app called iSeek to try to verify plant names, but we don’t always trust it’s accuracy, as it’s been wrong a few times.
Thanks! Between the photos and the birds, our parade slows considerably at this time of year. Fortunately, the days are longer now. Of course, once the bugs come out in force, our parade will speed-up again! 🦟
“I’m usually the one holding up the parade by taking photos.” That would be me.
Today, especially loving the water droplet images and the gravel roads.