July 4, 2018
When we first decided to drive to Winnipeg to catch the plane (Calm Air, a name we hope is accurate) to Churchill, we thought it would be a great opportunity to spend time in the tallgrass aspen parkland, one of Minnesota’s four biomes, which only covers about 5% of the state. Hayes Lake State Park, where we hiked yesterday, edges on the tallgrass aspen parkland, but now we are in the heart of it, where trees and prairie fight it out.
On the drive to Lake Bronson State Park we pass many showy lady’s-slippers in the roadside ditches, two sandhill cranes (for which tallgrass aspen parkland is prime nesting habitat), and a sign that says “Old Mill State Park 11 miles.” On a whim we take the turn. Old Mill State Park showcases the history of area pioneers complete with an old mill and settler’s cabin, but it also has a wonderful path that winds along the edge between prairie, aspens, oak trees, and pines. In the prairie grasses we spot prairie sage, milkweed, wood lilies, harebells, yarrow, daisy fleabane, small blue lobelia, purple prairie clover, and bergamot, all in bloom. Under the shade of the trees we’re surrounded by the susurration of wind in aspen leaves. Out in the prairie once again, we see purple leadplant blooming not far from a line of aspen.
At Lake Bronson State Park we head for a prairie where wind ripples the grass and we see purple prairie clover, prairie rose, bergamot, the bright orange of wood lilies, leadplant, rough blazing star budding, milkweed, and puccoon, along with a startled coyote who disappears into the trees at the edge of the grasses. Farther down the road we hike a mile and a half into a Scientific and Natural Area (SNA). Along the way we pass white prairie clover, black-eyed Susan, harebells, Canada anemone, Canada milkvetch, camas just budding out, milkweed, wood lilies, purple prairie clover, and yellow paintbrush.
At last we come to the SNA where we decide that if tallgrass aspen parkland is a battle between prairie and trees, then here the trees are clearly winning out, with aspen and willow saplings filling in the grassy open spaces. We do see blue eyed grass, yellow star grass, marsh skullcap, swamp milkweed, goldenrod, and, behind the barbed wire of a nearby field, one western prairie fringed orchid shining in the sunlight.
So far on our trip we’ve been seeing at least an orchid a day, and today that one bright bloom, along with the showy lady’s-slippers, makes our quota. We drive on north to Winnipeg for our 7:30 a.m. flight to the place we’ve been heading toward all along.