The Great MS River Road – Afton State Park – Day 2

As I started day two of my Great River Road trip, I woke to a mist and the sun peaking over the horizon.  I put on my coffee and started the repacking of the car.  The new Kelty TN3 tent was easy to pack and fold even though it had a bit of dew on it. Once packed and after listening to the couple who had a heated discussion the night before about politics, now it turned to why the hell he wasn’t out of the tent and she was taking care of the two small boys who wanted breakfast.  I still don’t understand people who think they will solve issues in a marriage in the great outdoors.  From my observations of this couple (and not knowing the full story) I think they should have just stayed at home that weekend and not bothered the other campers with their personal issues.

I drove off and stopped for another cup of hot coffee at the small bakery in Marine on St Croix, The Marine Cafe.  The owner is one of those down to earth types that makes some awesome goodies and I am always happy to spend my money at his shop.

Stairs to bluff in Stillwater Minnesota

Stairs to bluff in Stillwater Minnesota

The next stop was Stillwater, Minnesota.  Yes, I was taking my time and enjoying things I haven’t done on previous trips.  In Stillwater I wanted to climb the stairs that the hubby had found earlier in the year while escorting his Dutch co-workers around the area. He had showed me the pictures of the overlook to the St Croix River and I was ashamed that I didn’t know about this activity in Stillwater.  I was warned (by the hubby) that the climb was a work out.  I knew that getting the blood flowing was a good way to really start my travels, plus keeping in shape while on the road is a challenge. Especially when my car stops at all the local bakeries or coffee houses!

The stairs were chalked about half way up with inspirational words and phrases.  I am guessing that the writer was like me, half way was when they ran out of inspiration.  I pushed through my lack of midway motivation and made it to the top and was rewarded by a wonderful morning view of Stillwater and the St Croix River.  Small boats dotted the waterway along with migrating birds.  Geese and pelicans were resting before continuing to travel South along the river towards the Mississippi River.

The view of the St Croix River looking North from the stairs Bluff in Stillwater

The view of the St Croix River looking North from the stairs Bluff in Stillwater, Minnesota

The trip down the stairs worked an entirely different muscle group and I could see why this is a popular destination for locals to get a good leg workout.  My legs felt like jelly as I walked to the car and my heart rate was elevated. I quickly returned to my road trip of sitting in my car.

Highway 21 South of Stillwater hugs the westside of the St Croix River. With the fall colors just starting to show through the ride in the warm fall air was enjoyable. I rolled down my car window and headed to my next stop, Afton State Park.  I have enjoyed the views and hikes of this Minnesota State Park many times in the recent years. ( you can read more here and here).  On this day, I wanted to explore a trail along the bluffs.

The Prairie Trail is located close to the Interpretive Center parking area.  On the Sunday morning it was busy but still plenty of space to enjoy and feel like the park was empty.

The grassland hike follows a mowed pathway through a native grass and plant area.  Signs along the trail explain the flora and fauna that depend on the native species of grasses.  These signs also explain the conservation efforts of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in keeping the native species thriving by conducting grassland burns.

As I walked, I noticed this area was alive with nature.  Birds quickly appeared and disappeared into the grass and short shrubs along the trail. Insects were everywhere, spiders, grasshoppers, wooly bear caterpillars all busy with their routines. I saw butterflies everywhere in the tall grasses. Small yellow ones and my favorite Monarchs.

Monarch in the Afton State Park grassland

Monarch in the Afton State Park grassland

The Monarchs were feeding on the blooming golden rod bulking up for their journey to Mexico.  I tried and tried to get a good picture and have now even more respect for one of the bloggers I follow Butterflies to Dragsters . Finally I got a couple of shots that I hope I can be proud to share.

Finally! The shot I wanted!

Finally! The shot I wanted!

It was now mid morning and time for me to head to my next stop.

Next stop…unexpected gps glitch lands me in Prescott, Wisconsin!


Have you climbed the stairs in Stillwater, MN? Visited Afton State Park, MN? Captured a cool butterfly recently?  Travelled any part the Great Mississippi River Road? Had camping neighbors that should have stayed at home?

Please share your experiences with us and our readers below.

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