Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Some Favorite Places, Far and Near

Hard as it is to believe, it’s MEA break time coming up.

I actually don’t remember MEA as a kid in the 80s, but maybe it existed back then.

I also was surprised when I became a priest with a school how many people seemed to travel over the MEA break. By that point, the leaves are gone and we’ve kind of entered what I refer to as the lousy time of year in Minnesota, as much as I love it (sorry winter lovers, you’ll never find this guy saying anything positive about snow. Though I guess one positive with winter is owls show up in northern Minnesota to take pictures of, but I digress). The point is I figured not too many people would be traveling. We certainly never did; our vacation was going “up north” a time or two in the summer. And they were great vacations. But “up north” was a little chilly post fall foliage.

Now knowing that a lot of folks travel, the question is where should one travel to? Why should one travel?

Admittedly I write this article while traveling and doing so early for our wonderful bulletin editor Bobbi Neuens who will be – wait for it – traveling soon too. And I love to travel – sort of. I love road trips and being in my car. Airline travel? Well not so much.

As far as why I travel, believe it or not, it’s often a spiritual experience for me. I often travel alone (it’s great – eat when you want, go where you want, make better time, etc). But as I do so, I often find myself having a great appreciation for the amazing things that are around me. Some are the accomplishments that people can do when they use their gifts to glorify God; walk through Chartes Cathedral for instance, my favorite church that I’ve ever been in (well, excluding Saint Joe’s of course). Or look at the ceiling in the Sistine chapel. These were done by people using the gifts God gave them to glorify Him. And then there are places like Ellis Island, which make you think of the struggles immigrants went and still go through to find a better life; or the Statue of Liberty, the first thing people would see as a testament to the freedom we enjoy as Americans and cherish.

Where you should go is of course up to you. But what I’ve found in my travels so far is that there are many places that I’ve fallen in love with, both far away and closer to home. So in no particular order, here’s some places you might consider visiting.

Places a Little Father Away…

  1. Our national parks. When I really got into photography, national parks became a place that I really wanted to see. The first one I went to was Badlands National Park, taking a trip out there with my family shortly after I was ordained. It was amazing to see the rock formations and the color. Since then, I went to the Grand Canyon, Glacier National Park, Yosemite National Park, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park, and Everglades National Park. They are all wonderful, though if I had to pick just one on the list, Yellowstone. The beauty is you can visit there and drive – it’s about 20 hours and you can stop in Rapid City. Think of it as you can stand 20 hours in TSA line and fly, or just drive. I think the choice is clear.

    South Dakota. Badlands made the list above, but so much is in the Rapid City area. You’ve got Spearfish Canyon as well, along with Custer State Park which is great for it’s wildlife.

    3. New York City. Yes, that’s the place where they make the salsa that is not Pace, which is made in El Paso (if you remember that commercial you’ll get the reference.) On the one hand, New York is not my kind of town. I’m an introvert, I don’t much like crowds, and New York is a zoo. People are out everywhere at all times of day, and riding the subway is much like those Garfield cats you’d put on your car window. But nonetheless, it’s a city with such great history and so much to see that is a 2 1/2 hour flight. The photo ops are endless, and from sports to Broadway to just spending your time walking around and visiting museums or taking it all in, it’s a great destination.

    4. Rome, London and Paris. Admittedly I have no current plans to ever go back to Europe – too long of a flight, and again the crowds above. But having visited these cities, they are all full of history. Each has beautiful churches; going to King’s College in Cambridge for an evening prayer service was very moving. These are great destinations to take in not only Christian history but also to see so much of world history as you walk through the Louvre, or gaze upon Parliament and Big Ben in London. (Just always keep your hand on your billfold while riding subways!).

Places a Little Closer to Home…

  1. The North Shore. Were the distance not too far to visit family, I’d probably be a priest of the diocese of Duluth. Yes, winter is harsh, even harsher there. But it’s also beautiful, and close enough to where I grew up. Rosemount is 2 1/2 hours from Duluth and from there you can see so much; any one of the state parks, great wildlife areas, and of course the big lake. Such a great place to just get away.

 

  1. Red Wing to Winona. I love driving down here in winter on my day off, because this is a great place to watch eagles. Eagles are great to photograph, and the great spots, which are Colvill Park and Read’s Landing, are free to stop and enjoy them. You’ll also find other waterfowl in the open water. Southeastern Minnesota is also underrated for fall color – everyone seems to go north, but don’t forget go south too. Lanesboro is a great town to visit.

 

  1. Any state park. We have a great state park system. So too does our neighbor to the east, Wisconsin. So check them out. Nearby is Frontenac State Park, just south of Red Wing with great views of Lake Pepin and trails. Favorites in the state for me include Banning, north of Hinckley, which has beautiful trails and vibrant colors; Gooseberry Falls which is actually free; Split Rock Lighthouse Park with great views of the Minnesota Icon; Judge C.R. Magney which is across from the lovely Naniboujou Lodge which is a great place for a meal or just to check out the amazing architecture and walls and ceilings; Frontenac State Park near Red Wing and Grand Portage State Park on our border with Canada where you can view the high falls. Next door, great parks in Wisconsin include Wyalusing in the southwest part of the state, Amnicon Falls (due east of Cloquet), Copper Falls (just east of Amnicon) and Willow River (near Hudson).

 

  1. Como Zoo and Conservatory. Both are free and close to home. The conservatory is a great place to visit in winter to remind you yes you will see life again outside once the snow melts, and are great family options.

 

  1. The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum located in Chanhassen. A three mile loop trail and ever-changing gardens make it always worth a visit.

 

  1. The Sax-Zim Bog. This area in northeast MInnesota, northwest of Cloquet, is known for it’s amazing birds. Warblers in summer; owls in winter. It’s probably my single favorite “go-to” spot in state as a photographer, but even if you aren’t into photography, consider driving the rural roads here to find some birds.

Lastly, don’t forget to choose your own adventure. You don’t have to go far or spend all that much. We are blessed with great local spots to go for a walk, from county parks to places that are just a short drive. As the saying goes, “stop and smell the roses.” It’s a big, beautiful world out there. And I think we sometimes spend so much time over-scheduling ourselves or our kids, or think we have to spend a lot of money to go far away, that we forget so much great stuff is right here. One of the things I appreciated with my parents is how we got to see so much in-state. I loved our trips to Duluth and “up north” but also the trips I took with my mom to the local park or just a day trip.

Oh, and one last thing (yes I know the previous paragraph says “lastly). Encourage the kids (and yourselves too) to put down the tablets and phones on road trips and to take in the beauty around you.

Have a great MEA break if you are taking some time away. But whether you are staying locally or going to MSP, never forget that all around is so much to see – so take it in and enjoy God’s beauty in Creation.

Happy Trails,

Fr. Paul