Walking through the wilderness

by David Minor, web and social media specialist/ AmeriCorps member with MN DNR Scientific and Natural Areas through Conservation Corps’ Individual Placement program

Overlooking Bde Caåotidaå at Gniess Outcrops SNA. It was a little bit of a difficult hike, but it was worth it.

Note to self, do a tick check when I get out of here.

This is what it feels like hiking through many of the Scientific and Natural Areas (SNAs). Sometimes you will find a parking lot, but sometimes you will just need to park on the side of the road. After you apply a healthy dose of bug spray, sunscreen, and tuck your pants into your socks (the highest of fashions) you set off walking through the wilderness. Usually there aren’t any developed trails, but you may find a footpath or deer trail. If that isn’t the case, it’s time to head through the thick of it. Just remember to walk lightly and avoid sensitive areas!

Don’t worry, it will be worth it when you get there.

What usually comes to mind at this point, while batting away branches, carefully wading through tall grass, or inadvertently getting wet feet, is the scene from Back to the Future where Doc Brown says, “Roads? Where we’re going you don’t need roads,” but slightly modified to “trails?” instead.

After carefully hiking like this for a time, and after you get away from the road, you find yourself in a different world. You might see something that you may not have expected. You might find yourself wondering about the cactus that you found, the huge pine trees, the abundance of wildflowers, some cool geology, the weird plant you saw, etc. Whatever it is, you can’t help but be amazed by it. It feels like a special place that only you know about.

This feeling has happened to me multiple times hiking through SNAs this year. I drive up, and from the road it looks like everything else. There is nothing surprising here. But as soon as I hike in, I am astounded by what I’ve found. I know this is getting dangerously close to the “get off the beaten path” cliché, but what can I say? Obviously, you need to be very careful to be as light on the land as possible and consider the impacts of hiking through an area like this before you go. Be mindful of the spread of invasive species and the impacts on rare or sensitive habitats. Perhaps that discussion can happen another time though (check out this blog post from the Nature Conservancy).

It is always nice to go to a popular park and hike on a good trail. But there is something to be said for getting away from other people to find something on your own. I usually stand there for a little while, in what feels like a different world, and I leave feeling a deeper connection and understanding of why we are working so hard to protect these places.

Looking up at the sun coming through the trees of Twin Lakes SNA. I needed to fight through some brush at the edge of a road, but I was rewarded for it.