STUMBLIN’ AROUND THE ST. CROIX

St. Croix sign

Travel brings about many revelations, many moments of clarity that come when you surrender yourself to the experience. Being in nature can heighten that effect, as your senses are on full-commit mode to the surrounding spectacle.

As my girlfriend and I sat alongside the banks of the Wisconsin side of the St. Croix river on this sunny and pleasant spring day, my mind, consumed mostly with the serenity of the moment, couldn’t help but wonder where the heck all the people were. Cabin fever had been sweeping the nation, especially the Midwest, as a torrent of snow engulfed the area during a historically long winter. Yes, this was a Monday, but it was the most beautiful day you could possibly imagine for an area that hadn’t had much of them this year.

Sign at the Sandrock Cliffs portion of the St. Croix Riverway

Sign at the Sandrock Cliffs portion of the St. Croix Riverway

Breeah and I made our way to a little picnic spot near the Sandrock Cliffs, about a 40-minute drive from the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway Visitor Center in Saint Croix Falls, Wisconsin. Outside of a random parked car or two, there was no one in these parts (and we ran into nobody in person). We had the river and the trail to ourselves, sans a couple Garter snakes and some squirrels. Breeah was armed with a scavenger hunt list full of nature finds, which kept us focused on every sight and sound as we hit the path!

Breeah preps the picnic table. This was a great spot for lunch as it was right on the river bank. No signs in the area, but you can find it by taking the trail on the right (once you park at the Sandrock Cliffs lot)

Breeah preps the picnic table. This was a great spot for lunch as it was right on the river bank. No signs in the area, but you can find it by taking the trail on the right (once you park at the Sandrock Cliffs lot)

As we sat down for a picnic lunch, I first felt disappointed. No, not in the fantastic food options assembled by my wonderful girlfriend, but in…well, people. I immediately saw that as unfair – people come out to nature and love it – but why does one find hundreds, heck thousands, of people at a local mall and we are the only ones out here? We put up with a pretty good deal of post-rush hour traffic getting out of Minneapolis in the late morning, and I guess not a single one of those cars was heading this way. At least the local Target stores were jam-packed. And thank goodness – if the banks of the river were packed with as many people flooding the aisles of your favorite box store, then this wouldn’t be nature at its finest. The placid landscape would be cluttered. The deafening quiet would be, well, muted.

We tagged these as beaver tracks...are we right?

We tagged these as beaver tracks…are we right?

And thank goodness for the National Park System. Without it, the the weight of commerce and industrialization would have swung many mighty (and perhaps fatal) blows at our land’s sacred treasures.

I realized I was too harsh in these fleeting, judgmental thoughts. Very few of us can spend a majority of our time in nature, let alone a few days of the year. Still, if you’ve found yourself spending too many weekends overloading on shopping, spending way too much on movie tickets or sporting events, or playing too many video games or wasting away in front of the television (heck, I’ve been guilty of all of these), step out and enjoy a national park, a state park or just a local park. Get on the road and see some nature! Whether you have a couple hours or a couple weeks – there’s no excuse to not fit in a little time with Mother Earth.

What's funny is the Sandrock Cliffs are easier viewed from the Minnesota side of the river (which is more difficult to access). Standing atop the Cliffs gives you a nice vantage point, though (not to mention this may be one of the higher points in western Wisconsin).

What’s funny is the Sandrock Cliffs are easier viewed from the Minnesota side of the river (which is more difficult to access). Standing atop the Cliffs gives you a nice vantage point, though (not to mention this may be one of the higher points in western Wisconsin).

Oh – and about the St. Croix? Well, I hope you followed along with the captions! There are more photos below for your enjoyment…

Location info:

(St. Croix Riverway Visitor Center – open year round, hours vary – 401 North Hamilton Street, Saint Croix Falls, WI 54024. (715)-483-3284)

(Sandrock Cliffs – Parking at the western terminus of Tennessee Road, Grantsburg, WI 54840.  Trail Brochure)

Some interesting designs and pictures carved into the rock. I imagine these were probably done not long ago, as there were names, vulgarities and phone numbers carved into another nearby rock.

Some interesting designs and pictures carved into the rock. I imagine these were probably done not long ago, as there were names, vulgarities and phone numbers carved into another nearby rock.

Maybe a bit hard to tell here, but it's kind of a long drop from the top of the cliff to the river.

Maybe a bit hard to tell here, but it’s kind of a long drop from the top of the cliff to the river. I also love how this tree’s roots branch out.

The Sandrock Cliffs trail is wonderfully piney - a stark contrast to the still naked trees hanging just outside the park boundaries.

The Sandrock Cliffs trail is wonderfully piney – a stark contrast to the still naked trees hanging just outside the park boundaries.

Too many times we hear about people falling off the edge - pay attention to these signs people! Yes, we got near the edge, but not dangerously close...don't push your luck!

Too many times we hear about people falling off the edge – pay attention to these signs people! Yes, we got near the edge, but not dangerously close…don’t push your luck!

There are a few islands in this part of the St. Croix river - all of which belong to Wisconsin (there are a few elsewhere along the river that belong to Minnesota)

There are a few islands in this part of the St. Croix river – all of which belong to Wisconsin (there are a few elsewhere along the river that belong to Minnesota)

It's amazing to think this area was all under water during the last Ice Age.

It’s amazing to think this area was all under water during the last Ice Age.

We think this is a common Garter snake - correct me if I'm wrong...

We think this is a common Garter snake – correct me if I’m wrong…

The St. Croix Riverway Visitor Center has a beautiful location in Saint Croix Falls, Wisconsin

The St. Croix Riverway Visitor Center has a beautiful location in Saint Croix Falls, Wisconsin

The St. Croix Falls Dam sits next to the easternmost point of Chisago County in Minnesota

The St. Croix Falls Dam sits next to the easternmost point of Chisago County in Minnesota

A memorial for James K. Polk at the St. Croix Falls lookout. Polk was President when Wisconsin was named the 30th state.

A memorial for James K. Polk at the St. Croix Falls lookout. Polk was President when Wisconsin was named the 30th state on May 29, 1848.

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