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I don’t roll out the term “carpeted” lightly.

But it’s hard to argue with the amount of wildflowers I just saw–now appearing for a limited time only!–at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park.

From late April through early May, the Hidden Falls trail is in fact carpeted with False Rue Anemone, dime-sized blooms that look like what you’d draw if someone said make a “flower.” Both Yellow and Blue Violets plus White Trout Lilies representing. I see you, hyper-hyphenate Jack-in-the-Pulpit, popping through brown leaves.

Now I can’t be sure if I saw the rare and endangered Minnesota Dwarf Trout Lily, more on that later. But I thought the name “Dutchman’s Breeches” was a real kick in the pants and I decided THAT wildflower would be my holy grail. I fixed the image of a pants-like flower in my mind and headed out.

But first–only part of Nerstrand is open right now. At the time of my visit (5/15/19) ALL of the trails on the south side of Hwy 29 were closed until further notice. They are too wet and need maintenance. This portion of Nerstrand Big Woods contains the “Big Woods” trail. When it’s open, you’ll find part of Minnesota’s past here: one of the last remnants of the large forested area that covered Minnesota before Europeans arrived.

Back to the north side, and back to the Hidden Falls Trail. This easy one-mile loop leads to the most pleasant, play-ready waterfall. This trail is prime for spring wildflower peeping. A boardwalk leads you through the forest with rope barriers on the side to protect the wildflowers. In particular, the Minnesota Dwarf Trout Lily.

Here’s the thing about this lily. It only grows here. I mean RIGHT here, in Minnesota’s Rice, Steele and Goodhue Counties and nowhere else on earth. The wee flower has been considered federally endangered since 1986. It’s so important for visitors to mind the barriers because foot traffic compacts the soil and damages the plant’s delicate underground “runners.”

I’m guessing the droopy-headed bloom I saw was a White Trout Lily, NOT the rare dwarf trout lily. The dwarf lily was probably blooming somewhere behind the barrier. It’s hard to say. They both have spotted leaves and are nearly indistinguishable except for size, so this can be an easy case of mistaken identity.

You can add a bit of challenge to your hike by tacking on the 1.7- mile Fawn Trail and I’m glad I did. I stopped to grab a slurp of water, let my eyes wander and then I saw it: a Jack-in-the-Pulpit which is truly one of the greatest names ever.

Unless you’re counting “Dutchman’s Breeches.” Now there’s a name. Catchy and descriptive. On the park’s info board, the blooms do look like bloomers, little pantaloons on a stem. Not particularly rare, but if we’re playing wildflower bingo, I got particular delight in checking off the Dutchman’s Breeches box.

Driving just 20 minutes northwest from Nerstrand, you hit charming Northfield. This is such a college town, at Hogan Brothers hoagie shop, there are three tip pitchers. Each has its own label and loyalties: St. Olaf, Carleton and Townies. It may be small—the population is about 20,000–but Northfield packs a lot in.

I would have loved a post-hike beer on the patio at Imminent Brewing, but it was my misfortune to be there on a Wednesday. (It’s open Thursday through Sunday.) The Norstralian Sparkling Ale sounds like a real continent-bending thirst quencher. Next time!

It’s hard to miss the centrally located Archer House River Inn, a grand little red brick hotel. Built in 1877, it must have been quite the swanky joint at the time. No two of the 36 guest rooms are the same. It overlooks the Cannon River and all the other bars and restaurants lining the quaint riverwalk.

With wildflower hunting behind me, the antique hunt was on. And there are dozens of antique, vintage and thrift shops in the area. For the sheer “wowza” of it, stop into Antiques of Northfield right on Division St. Carole Christensen is a vendor, but also a collector and curator. She started collecting 1950s ceramic TV lamps as a kid–you know how this story goes–and now displays more than a thousand of them in her TV lamp museum. The history of these lamps is quite interesting, if misdirected. In the 1950s, when televisions started appearing in homes across America, the conventional wisdom was that watching in low light damaged your eyes. So thousands of TV lamps were designed–Matadors! Poodles! Panthers! A dachshund Carole won’t sell me! I bought a lime ceramic log planter from Gilner California Pottery and left before I could do more damage.

The Big Woods and a ceramic log all in one day! Heading home, feeling fully woodsy, the foliage along the highway seemed greener than when I passed it 24 hours earlier. I thought about the wildflowers I’d seen at Nerstrand; spring ephemerals, many of them. That means all the parts of the plant that are above ground will disappear by the time the forest canopy fully develops in June. Such a great reminder of the fleeting nature of spring in Minnesota and the wildflowers you feel so lucky to see.

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