At the fire tower, we chat with John Devins, a Waconia resident and longtime Red Lake visitor with a cabin nearby. He tells us his extended family makes the long walk to see the bog several times a year. They like to catch the bog in every season. But fall is everyone’s favorite, when the tamarack turn a bright gold to contrast with the season’s sharp blue skies.
“It’s probably one of the best-kept secrets in northern Minnesota,” he says.
Exploring the bog
On the day we visit, a man has journeyed from Pittsburgh to seek a rare Connecticut warbler. He finds it, along with a LeConte’s sparrow and more. The birder wound up staying three nights in the park, Easthouse says.
More than 110 of Minnesota’s 304 bird species live in the peatland, including the great gray owl. Keen wildlife observers might also catch turtles, frogs and sandhill cranes.
When we arrive at the bog walk parking lot, horseflies swarm the minivan and hurry us past a pond where wild roses sweeten the breeze and clusters of white-striped admiral butterflies flit across the gravel path. Then we duck into a thick arch of foliage where the aluminum boardwalk begins.
It feels cool and dense, reminding us of mangrove walks in Florida. Then the landscape opens into thick stands of bog birch, dogwood and willow before thinning into a spare cover of spruce and tamarack. The drone of flies grows quieter the farther we walk.
Along the way, blueberry shrubs and cranberries intertwine with bog laurel. Fuzzy cotton grasses sway and cluster together like miniature versions of Dr. Seuss’s truffula trees. We finally reach the interpretive panels and the first signs of carnivorous plants, which adapted to eating insects to get the same nutrients other plants get from soil.
An unusual maroon flower nods above the pitcher plants, flagging their locations as we gaze across the bog. The pitcher plants have cupped leaves that discreetly emerge from mounds of moss with vivid greens and streaks of red and yellow. The cupped leaves shimmer with rainwater that lures flies and other bugs with its musty scent and then traps them with tiny hairs on the leaves.
We fail to find the wild orchids or carnivorous sundew plants on our own, but the pretty lavender rose pogonia orchids should be in bloom through International Bog Day on Saturday, when naturalists will help visitors spot the bog’s hidden treasures.
St. Cloud-based Lisa Meyers McClintick, www.10000Likes.com, writes travel features and guidebooks.