Minnesota, Our Home

Duluth Northpier Lighthouse

Few years back, we had never imagined that in time to come, we would be living in one of the coldest places in USA. Then it seemed highly unlikely that coming from the tropical place like India, we would even survive the harsh and six-month long winters of Minnesota, which we proudly call our home now. As a matter of fact, Alaska and Minnesota often compete to be the coldest place in USA. In India, we were so used to live in the summer when maximum temperature used to hover around 40-45° Celsius (104-113° F). There we had never lived in a place where snowfall occurred. Even the winter temperature reached minimum of only 3-5° Celsius (37.4-41° F).

Things changed in 2014. We landed in Minnesota and that too, in winter month. Within few days, we had experienced the temperature going down to -30° Celsius (-22° F). Yes, you read it right! We hated our first winter, and waited for the winter to get over, which proved to be a distant dream for next 6 months. Now i seem to enjoy the winter, because  now i can appreciate how the entire landscape and scenery changes in winter with its white blanket of snow everywhere. This gives me plenty of photographic opportunities, and adds variety to my shots. I can never imagine similar shots in my hometown in India, unless i move to the Himalayan regions of India which host snow capped mountains. This year, winter ended last month, and we are enjoying the warm summer days now. To be very honest, spring here is very short, usually less than a month. So, i always mention that we Minnesotans almost directly traverse from winter to summer.

Now i am glad to mention that i love calling Minnesota our home. It is a beautiful state in the mid-west of USA. Especially, as a photographer and someone who loves travelling, i am very much pleased with the natural beauty of the state. From the wilderness of Boundary Waters to the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area – Lake Superior, Minnesota has much to offer in terms of natural beauty. It is the state to more than 10,000 lakes, and pristine locations in the North Shore. With more than a couple dozen Fortune 500 companies based out of the state, Minneapolis is the second biggest job market in mid-west after Chicago. State has one of the best living standards in USA and has lower than nation’s average unemployment rate. Taking the holistic picture of the state, i am proud to make it our home. Probably, the only thing i miss in Minnesota is the snow-capped mountains, but otherwise, there is no dearth of snow in the state during cold months.

Above photograph is of the Duluth North Pier Lighthouse, in the picturesque town of Duluth in the North Shore region of Minnesota.

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Sunset at Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Bloomington

Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge

It is almost end of April but we Minnesotans may have to still wait for spring. Yesterday (April 27, 2018), if you were in Duluth or North of Minnesota, you would have experienced the snow fall. Amazing, isn’t it? This is Minnesota for you dear, and I love this place. By the way, cheer up, for the spring is on its way.

Yesterday, it was bit cloudy, with sun playing hide and seek behind the clouds. It was windy as well with little drops falling off from the heavens, which made the weather chilly. I was pretty excited seeing the clouds and its game. Of course, this meant that if clouds persisted till evening, we might see a beautiful and gorgeous sunset. Keeping this in focus, i completed my regular activities at home (and procrastinated others), making myself ready for the evening photo shoot. Picked up my Google Maps, and I finally zeroed down to Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Bloomington, which i had visited several times. But this particular spot in the refuge, and on this particular trail, this would be my first time. Remind you that Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge stretches for several miles along the Minnesota River. There are several spots and trailheads in the city of Bloomington itself, apart from other cities.

I was racing against the time, and started on the hike. After having hiked down the hill for only 0.2 miles, I realized the trail was closed due to flooding. There was hardly any time to pick up another trail, and was slightly cursing myself for having not scouted my spot in advance or atleast looked up on the website for flooding alerts. Just to let you know that many rivers including Minnesota River is flooding currently due to melting snow. I was disappointed for few seconds and was frantically looking around the woods when i found this spot with little puddle of water. Sigh of relief, and an evening well spent with my Canon 7d Mark II and Sigma Art lens 18-35mm f1.8.

This is the HDR shot, with 5 bracketed exposures, blended in Photomatix Pro 5.1 software and little post-processing in Adobe Lightroom. Aperture Priority Mode, f/11, iso 100, EV -2, -1, 0, +1, +2, focal length 18mm, shutter speed 1/13, 1/6, 1/3, 0.6, 1.3 sec. On tripod

Thanks for your visit. Today’s post is the contribution for this week’s Photo Challenge: Lines. Visit my instagram page here.

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Watkins Glen State Park, New York State

Watkins Glen State Park

Till I had visited this state park in New York state, I had no clue how beautiful this part of the state is. In fact, other state parks located in the Finger Lakes region of the state, apart from Watkins Glen, is also very beautiful and awe-inspiring. But Watkins Glen State Park simply stands out, I must say. It is the most famous state parks in the state and is located near Watkins Glen village, south of Seneca Lake.

I had visited this park in the September of 2017, after seeing one of the splendid photos of my colleague. Most remarkable feature of this park is it’s 19 waterfalls which dot the map of this park within 2 miles distance. How exciting! Park features three trails but if you are out for waterfalls, take Gorge Trail, which is the most popular among all three. This trail winds along with stream, which runs the 400-foot deep, narrow gorge. Sometimes you walk under falls, and at times, you cross over stone bridges – and Rainbow Bridge too. All along the 2-mile trail, there are more than 800 stone steps, and for most part of the trail, you will be walking almost at the bottom of the gorge between its walls.

When to Visit: Park is open year round. However, Gorge Trail is open only in summer when weather is favorable. From mid-May to mid-October, this trail gets closed. Moreover, trail shuttle service also runs seasonal. You can use the shuttle service to get picked up at the other end of the Gorge Trail, which will bring you back to the parking lot from where you had started the hike on Gorge Trail.

Fees: There is a fee of $8 per vehicle in the park.

How to Reach: There are two entrances to the park. Most popular of the two is near the Watkins Glen village. Second entrance is in the upper part of the park in woodland on Station Road 409.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Cheeky

Leave in Snow

Weekly Photo Challenge: Cheeky

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Oberg Mountain Loop Trail in Tofte, MN

Oberg Mountain, North Shore MN

In the last week’s post, i had shared the panorama photo of Caribou Lake and about the White Sky Rock trail in Lutsen.  In today’s post, i will detail out yet another trail in Cook CountyOberg Mountain loop, which is part of Sawtooth Mountains in North Shore, Minnesota.

Oberg Mountain trail is a 2.2 mile loop trail with 9 scenic overlooks of spectacular views. Once at the top of the mountain, the trail provides beautiful views of Lake Superior, Oberg lake and Moose Mountain. Especially during fall colors, this is must-visit in Cook County to see the red maple. Initial trail has few moderate switchbacks but once at the top of the mountain, trail is relatively easy and in circular loop. This is a spur trail off the Superior Hiking Trail. The above pic is of the Oberg Lake taken from one of the overlooks of the Oberg Mountain, and captures the transformation of leaves and scenery during the fall season, when the leaves turn colorful.

One interesting recommendation i read in many sites and blog is that you should keep to your right at the fork on the top of mountain and walk the trail in anti-clockwise direction. Except during busy time when there can be more people on the narrow trail, i find no particular reason why we should be hiking in anti-clockwise direction. If your sole purpose is to photograph the Oberg Lake, by all means i would suggest you to go left at the fork in clockwise direction, as the distance is shorter this way. But if your idea is to capture the rising sun or the Lake Superior, you must traverse in anti-clockwise direction. Moreover, it also depends on the time of the day and the situation of the light on that particular day, which is to be considered for photography. Having said this, i did not know all this and hence, walked anti-clockwise direction. Given a chance to reverse the day’s decision, i would have walked clockwise direction that day, for simple reason that i wanted to capture this view first as it was little cloudy that day and light was playing its magic. So,  by no means, i wanted to miss this opportunity. Despite this, i was lucky enough to capture this beautiful scenery. So, choose your loop direction – clockwise or anti-clockwise – wisely.

There is a vault toilet at the parking lot and details about both trails – Oberg and Leveaux mountain trails. There are no facilities at the top of mountain. Except one overlook, none of the other overlooks have guard-rails and there are steep cliffs of the mountain. So, use extreme caution.

How to reach: Drive approximately 4.7 miles north of Tofte on Highway 61, North Shore. Turn left at Onion River Road (Forest Road 336), which is marked by a small sign and easy to be missed. Hence, look for the ‘Superior Hiking Trail’ sign on Highway 61 to signal your turn. Drive 2.1 miles on this unpaved road to find the parking lot on the left. Once here, you will find that there are two trails that originate from the parking lot. So, don’t get confused. LeVeaux Mountain Trail, 3.4 miles leading up to the LeVeaux Mountains, starts from the end of the parking lot, farthest from the Onion Road. Whereas Oberg Mountain Trail starts from the opposite side of Onion River Road from the parking lot. Visit here for the map and more information.

When to Visit: Fall is the best season. But views from the overlook will change every season and hence, you can visit it any time of the year. Make sure that if you are visiting it during the crowded fall season, you go early as the parking lot can be pretty full by 9 am. After hiking, when i returned to the parking lot around 10:30 am, cars were parked on both sides of the Onion River Road for about quarter mile, as parking lot was full.

Length of Trail: Loop of 2.2 miles

Have you hiked Oberg Mountain? What was your experience like?

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White Sky Rock Trail in Lutsen, MN

Caribou Lake, North Shore MN

North Shore, located along the beautiful Lake Superior in Minnesota, is a magical place in all seasons. It stretches more than 150 miles from Duluth at the south tip of lake Superior to the Canadian Border in the north. This scenic drive is along the lake on one side and the Sawtooth Mountains on the other side, with several hundred miles of hiking trail.

One such hiking trail is the White Sky Rock hike, overlooking the Caribou Lake and the surrounding maple forests. This trail is part of the Superior Hiking Trail. I hiked it this year in order to capture the fall colors, as this is one of the recommended trails to see the fall color change. Since there are lot of maple trees, view from the overlook is amazing.

While i was there in the last weekend of September, i got to know that maples were past peak. Hence, i was not able to capture lot of red. Despite this, it was worth the hike and the view. Once i was at the overlook, i wanted to capture the view of the lake in one shot, which did not seem possible with my 18-55 mm lens. This was the widest lens i had. An ultra-wide lens would have been more ideal.

Left with no option, I decided to experiment with panorama shot. I took two shots with both shots overlapping almost 30-40%. Since this was the first time i was shooting the panorama shot with my digital SLR camera, i was little short on the experience and instead took 2 shots. Now in the hindsight, i realize that i should have taken atleast 3 shots. Later in the post-processing, i merged both the shots in Adobe Photoshop Element, and did some minor adjustments in Adobe LightRoom. Above shot is the post-processed panorama of the Caribou Lake.

How to Reach: On Highway 61, drive approximately 92 miles North of Duluth. A mile past Lutsen on the Highway 61, drive into the Caribou Trail (County Road 4) for about 4 miles. You will find the Cathedral of the Pine son the right. Drive further to find an unpaved road on the right side which is White Sky Road. There is a small parking area for car and boat launches. You will also find the trailhead sign to the White Sky Rock trail. Follow the short little trail upto the Caribou Trail Road you just came from and cross it. You will find the trail leading uphill into the woods.

Length of Trail: This is a very short hike but with an elevation gain of 230 foot. Trail-head sign mentions 0.3 miles. This is a steep hike but manageable. Half way into the hike, you will reach the junction of White Sky Rock Trail and Lake Agnes Hike. Both are part of Superior hiking Trail. Take the right for White Sky Rock Trail. Overlook is very much exposed with no guardrails. Hence, take care if you have kids.

Best Time to Visit: Fall color is definitely the best time to see maple at its peak. However, you can hike this any time of the year to get the beautiful view. This is one of my recommended hikes and it does not require lot of planning and execution time.

Let me know what do you think of my first panorama shot.

Few of my other posts on fall colors are:

Think Local Travel Global

Great River Bluffs State Park, Minnesota

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Peek

Door County Wisconsin Countryside

This summer we went on a road trip to the Door County, which is a beautiful peninsula  bounded by Lake Michigan on its three sides. Door County is located in the state of Wisconsin and is approximately five and half hours drive away from Minneapolis. We drove mainly on the countryside roads of Door County, as these roads had beautiful imagery. The forecast for the sunset was clear skies but the sun was playing peek-a-boo amidst the clouds. I stopped at the Diamond Dairy Farm, shown in the photograph, since i could not resist the temptation to shoot the beautiful sunset sky with the farm building.

Door County in Wisconsin is a magical place at any time of the year. Driving on the county roads of Door County provides lot of photographic opportunity, and fun-filled activities. In the morning, we visited one of the dairy farms during our visit. Our two-year old daughter had an exciting time, feeding the goats, sheep, horses and cattle. She loves these cute animals. We snapped lot of her pictures with the farm animals. She also watched milking of the cows and we told her  milk she drinks everyday comes from one of such dairy farms, though i am not sure she remembers it now. Because of so many dairy farms, Wisconsin is considered to be the dairy-land of USA, and after California, produces most milk. This post is a contribution to this week’s photo challenge – Peek.

Have you been to Door County? What was your experience like?

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Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis Downtown

Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis Downtown

Minneapolis downtown has its famous Stone Arch Bridge, which was a former railroad bridge over the Mississippi River. Built in 1883, this bridge is made of stone and consists of 21 arches . Today this bridge is used as a pedestrian and bike bridge, and provides a panoramic view of Minneapolis skyline and Mississippi river.

This post is part of this week’s challenge: Pedestrian.

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Willow River State Park, Wisconsin

Willow River State Park

I often wonder how rivers and streams keep flowing relentlessly without stopping and taking a pause. They are always in the transient state, and travel far and wide. Couple of weeks back, we had visited Willow River State Park in Wisconsin. This state park is less than an hour drive from Minneapolis. Park has a beautiful waterfall, and you can check out its picture in my previous blog. (Check the shot of another waterfall – Gooseberry Falls in Minnesota – here.) There are good, well marked trails leading to the fall and pretty view of the river itself.

Being summer, there were many people and families with kids having fun in the water. Some were simply relaxing, enjoying the falling water, and there were few like me, who wanted to capture the beautiful scenery. I wanted to avoid people in my shot, which proved difficult for me. Hence, i decided to capture smaller streams of the fall, and i was not disappointed with the long exposure shot like this one. Hope you like this week’s photo from my adventures. Have a wonderful week.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Focus

Flowers in Focus

This photo is a contribution for this week’s challenge: Focus

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