Thursday, October 18, 2012

Whitewater State Park and the Root River Valley

Rocky and I took a short trip to southeastern Minnesota. Kathy had gone to Utah to play in a volleyball tournament so I decided to go camping. The area is known for its beautiful topography. It is part of the so-called Driftless Area, which stretches from Minnesota through Wisconsin into Illinois. Having somehow escaped the last ice age, the area boasts limestone outcroppings, steep valleys and bluffs. Unusual for Minnesota, there are no lakes. The porous limestone karst geology doesn't hold water. There are caves and numerous spring fed streams.While the weather forecast was good, the reality didn't measure up. Instead of 60's and sun, we got 50's and rain. But the sun did put in an appearance at dinner time both days, making the end of the day chores easier to accomplish.

Our first stop was Whitewater State Park. The park was sparsely populated at this time of year. Rocky and I had the non-electric portion of the campground all to ourselves. There were several RVs in the other campground served with electricity but that section is on top of the bank- not really visible from where we camped. Our campsite was right along side the Whitewater River after which the park is named. A huge old oak stood watch. The river is a cold water stream known for trout, and we could see the ripples of spooked fish as we walked along the bank. The trout season is closed in the park from fall until January so we were not a threat.

After setting up camp and cooking dinner, we went for a brief walk. Rocky was enthusiastic. I could tell we would have a good hike the next day.

We settled in for a good campfire and enjoyed the sound of the river accompanying the crackling flames. Rocky pushed in close to dry off from his enthusiastic fording of the river on our walk. I'm sure the chill air was making itself felt through the wet fur. Soon enough we retired to the camper for a good night's sleep.

The morning light was dim and the sky heavy overcast but it was not raining. I cooked a good breakfast of bacon and eggs with cold orange juice to drink. The fridge is sure nice to have. Rocky had his standard share of dog food, which as usual was gone the moment the bowl hit the ground. Since the day was looking dreary, I cooked up a thermos of Tazo chai tea with milk, steaming hot to take along on the hike. I loaded up the backpack with raingear, binoculars, water, the chai and off we went. I planned to hike to Coyote Point, maybe mile away, but climbing up from the river bed to the ridge top, and along the ridge to an overlook.


 It started to rain as soon as we took off, but it was a light rain and came intermittently. We were heading steeply up. Within a short time I was sweating in the rain gear. I decided to take off the jacket and walk in my t-shirt.

I was wearing an Icebreaker brand wool t-shirt, a gift from my son. I love that shirt. Pure merino wool- not scratchy. Soaking wet, it still kept me warm in the 50 degree air. It would dry quickly when the rain stopped. Can't beat wool. I also have an Icebreaker jacket, also a gift from my son, that is warm, comfortable and equally perfect for outdoor activity.


The weather was not great for pictures, and as it turned out, I forgot my camera in the truck. But I had the cell phone along so the pictures are taken with that. Not ideal but still captured the feeling of the day.

As usual, you can click on the pictures to see a larger version.

Rocky rarely stopped moving. I tried to get some pictures but usually had to ask him to chill out and strike a pose.

One of the joys of a walk in the woods for me is noticing the small details as well as the long views.


We got back to camp about 2 pm and it was still raining off and on so I decided to test out an idea for hanging a tarp off the camper to create a dry spot to hang out. I had installed mounting points into the Yakima rack to fasten the tarp on top of the camper and used old tent poles to hold up the other corners. It worked suitably well but the system needs some tweaks. The tarp I have is too big- 10x12. An 8x10 will work better. I had to lower the camper top to attach the tarp, which is a bit of a pain, and the tarp is a bit too high when the camper is up. But it did provide shelter from the rain. It is very cheap, light weight and simple- all pluses.

I also decided to try out the new shelf I had made for the interior of the camper. The idea is that we can have a work counter inside if we want to cook or do other work that requires a work surface when the weather is bad. With the shelf installed, the bench becomes another shelf underneath. When we don't need the counter, it stores under the bench cushion. It worked out pretty well. It adds a lot of functionality to the interior and still allows seating on the other bench. The original idea was to make one for each side. The two of them could be placed level and between the seats to make another bed to sleep on with the top down. I'm not sure I will pursue that. We both think that is an unlikely scenario.


The fridge is right at home front and center. This keeps the weight forward which is good. It also means jumping in and out of the camper to get cold items. Planning ahead for what we need before we start cooking will solve that problem.

The weather cleared late in the day, allowing another pleasant dinner and campfire. Pleasantly tired from the day's walk, I went to bed early. The next morning arrived cloudy and threatening rain again. I decided to eat a cold breakfast and break camp. There was more exploring of this part of the state to do. It was looking like a good day to spend in the truck.

I wanted to find an old farm that Kathy and I had looked at buying many years ago, probably in the 1980's. It was 120 acres bounded on the south by the Root River, and on the east by another trout stream called Torkelson Creek. The land sloped up from the river to the north. It was bordered by state land on the north and west, part of the Richard J Dorer Memorial Hardwood Forest. It had an old farm house and a few sheds. In other words, it was perfect. We couldn't afford it then but I have always wondered what became of it. I marked the spot as a waypoint on the USGS in my computer and off we went to find it.

Lo and behold, it is still there, largely unchanged. It appears the southern 20 acres bordering the Root River had been sold off. There was a small, newer house there, but the old farmstead across the road was still standing. Torkelson Creek is still flowing and I'm sure is still full of trout.

We continued on into Lanesboro, a picturesque small river town known for its community theatre, its bed and breakfast houses, and the Root River bike trail which passes through town.

 I spotted a new addition to the downtown and had to stop.

Spud Boy Diner- what a great name. The owner/cook had bought the diner in Towanda, Pennsylvania. He fell in love with a woman from Decorah Iowa. They restored the diner and moved it to Lanesboro and there it sits. 12 seats at the counter and 2 booths. He is retired and runs the diner for breakfast and lunch in the summer. He closes at the end of October, so I just made it. I had a good hot breakfast for lunch and some good conversation, closed out with a great piece of diner-made apple pie.

Rocky got a good run in Sylvan Park in Lanesboro, and we hit the road again. I decided to take the back roads, more or less following the Root River valley to the Mississippi. I enjoyed the drive. My destination was the Great River Bluffs State Park overlooking the Mississippi River valley.

I arrived at the park only to face setting up camp and cooking in the rain. The forecast was for falling temperatures and more rain throughout the next day. Normally, I would say you can't let the weather spoil a good day and any day spent outdoors is a good day. But with a wet dog and no prospect for an evening campfire to pass the time, I decided to head for home. I did a little sightseeing around the park before getting back on the road.

There were still a couple of hours of light to enjoy the drive home along the Mississippi.

Once I left the river valley, the drive home went quickly. I know this is an area I will head back to in the future with Kathy.


  1. Love the added shelf mod. I know you are still working out the kinks, but what I would like to see (as a future ATC buyer) is what it looks like with everything packed and ready to travel. 2 action packers, table, etc. Do you have room for sleeping bags upstairs when you pop down the roof?

    When I go to ATC, I am taking pictures of yours and saying "I want one just like this" Anything you wish you had done differently? Most people build it up to be like a mini RV. I just want dry sleeping and cargo space. It's called camping for a reason.

    Thank you so much for your inspiration.

  2. Thanks for your comments. The folks at ATC are very easy to work with. Good idea on the packed-for-travel pics. I'll try to remember to do that next time. We have two large action packers and two small. We mix and match as the need arises. Everything but our soft clothing duffels fits on the floor with the chairs and table alongside the action packers. The soft duffels and our pillows ride on the benches. We leave the bed extended when we travel and there is room to leave the bedding on with the roof down, except for the pillows.

    I would do a few things differently. I would mount the porch light on the passenger side rather than the back so it would light our cooking area. Or maybe add another light there. I would mount one of the interior lights so it would light the camper with the top down. Currently both interior lights are covered by the vinyl sides when the top is lowered. I would have the solar hookup on the side wall rather than the roof so a portable collector could be easily plugged in. Otherwise, the camper is just what we wanted and is working out well.