The rains ended during the night as I glanced out the window to see Venus and Jupiter shining brightly in the southeastern sky.   I got out around 5:30 hoping to find the classic Fargo Theater sign neon still aglow but was disappointed to find the were lights turned off—still a good shot.

I then tried to find a vantage point along the Red River for some water & sky images, but again was disappointed to find all the parks gated for the night.  I returned to the hotel for a late breakfast (7 AM on the weekends) before departing for a day touring Northern Minnesota.

I drove eastward on MN Rt-10 through expansive farmland, occasionally pausing to shoot some grain elevators silhouetted in the predawn glow.  I made it to Detroit Lakes as the sun broke the horizon just before 8 AM.

Passing through the village of Audubon, I noticed signs for Hamden Slough National Wildlife Refuge and decided to follow them northward through the fields.  This is glacial black soil country and the wet dirt roads were difficult to maneuver in my rental Camry.

I didn’t know what to expect from a wildlife refuge in farm country.  Signs indicated I had entered the refuge but it just looked like more of the same.  Finally I saw a small pond in low area with a few ducks near the rushes.  The sun was bit higher and the field grasses were aglow with red light.  I found an information booth which offered a history of the refuge and defined the environment as Prairie Pothole Wetlands.

Around the next left turn of the field grid system I was treated to an amazing spectacle —a larger pond filled with Trumpeter Swans (Cygnus buccinator) illuminated in the low-angled sunlight.  The windows went down and I grabbed the 5Ds with 100-300 tele and fired away—I appreciated having the extra 100 mm reach in this new zoom design.

I then risked getting out of the car for closer shots.  The swans went silent while they assessed the risk of my presence.  I stood still and they accepted I wasn’t a threat, returning to their happy social honking and I continued to shoot some of the best shots of the adventure.

I continued  northward on MN Rt-59 then eastward on MN Rt-113 through White Earth Indian Reservation grabbing window shots along the way.  I was heading to my primary target of the day—Itasca State Park in search of the headwaters of the Mississippi River.

Northern Minnesota was well past peak and 90% of the trees were winter bare.  However golden needles of Tamarack (Larix laricina) a deciduous conifer provided wonderful splashes of color.   The headwaters experience didn’t disappoint.  You can cross the Mississippi River in a variety of ways.  Although tradition calls for getting your feet wet, I chose to stay dry and use the walk bridge and log to cross.  The light was fantastic making some good images.

Feeling great about the morning I hurried back to the car with plans oo go on to Bemidji and possibly Voyageurs N.P.  When I started the car a “Maintenance Required” light appeared and changed everything.  I made the decision to not risk things by going farther north, but rather return to the airport along the main roads.

Arriving in Minneapolis a few hours earlier than planned, I enjoyed a late afternoon walk through Minnehaha Falls Park, part of the Mississippi River National River and Recreation Area.   Although I had to abandon my north country plans, I was rewarded with great peak foliage and shooting a 53-foot waterfall made famous in the Song of Hiawatha .(Interestingly Longfellow never saw the falls!)

Back to MSP and the end of the adventure.  Summary and slideshow to follow soon!