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searching for fall color part one: the echo trail

Updated: Dec 5, 2023

“because the greatest part of a road trip isn’t arriving at your destination. it’s all the wild stuff that happens along the way.”

― emma chase

the day was already off to a good start! i had just finished eating breakfast at the most luxurious of food establishments…taco john’s! ok…it is not a luxurious eating experience. but it is my favorite fast food joint. at one location, i’m enough of a regular that some even know my order. and just what might that be as i’m sure your inquiring mind is dying to know? it’s the potato olé scrambler upgraded to the steak.

now before your mind starts conjuring up this fancy wagyu beef steak extraordinaire with fabulous potatoes if you are not familiar with taco john’s, let me assure you it is not. even. close. 😂 perhaps some, if not most of you, that are familiar with taco john’s would ask the question, “why are you even eating there steve”? or as my cousin mark once commented, “ are you sure you should be eating this food as an adult” when i told him my go-to lunch place on the road when i worked for him was carl’s jr.

a little trivia tidbit for you as an aside…carl’s jr. and hardee’s, while initially two separate franchises, are now one and the same down to the menu. carl’s jr. bought out hardee’s to expand eastward as they were a mostly western usa franchise. hardee’s was a midwest and eastern usa franchise. both names are also kept as well for their respective regions even though carl’s jr. is now the sole owner of both.

back to that most wonderful of fast food providers, taco john’s potato olé scrambler just hits the spot for me as well as provides a quick breakfast to get me back on the road. just remember if you ever frequent a taco john’s and decide to try the potato olé scrambler, don’t expect a 16 oz steak amidst a steaming pile of seasoned potatoes and eggs. think blue collar; good blue collar food (in my opinion😉). but blue collar nonetheless.

back on the road after having satisfied my breakfast craving, i was headed to a road north of ely, minnesota; a drive a little over 4 hours without any stops. the road is called the echo trail and i was on the search for some cool fall color images. i’d never been there before. in fact, it had been five years since i’ve even made it up to ely. surprising as just outside of ely is one of my favorite state parks, bear head lake state park. in fact, the last time i was there was during the fall color season. here are a couple of images from that trip 5 years ago. click on any image in this blog to open into its own window for a better viewing experience if you would like!

i was looking forward to the drive and hunt for fall color images! rain was predicted for the forecast. while it can be a difficult chore to create images in the rain, it also usually meant that people out and about would be kept to a minimum. inclement weather seems to dampen the adventurous spirit of most people. as i’ve mentioned several times in previous blogs, i find inclement weather to be some of the best time to be out and about for photography. this particular day was no exception. gloomy days can help to bring out the fall colors more vividly when the sun is not shining bright. they can also provide great atmospheric moods for images.

i pulled into the small town of ely, roughly 50-60 miles south of the canadian border “as the crow flies”. it was surprisingly busy with cars lined up and down both sides of the street in this town that out-of-towners flock to during the summer and fall seasons. it appeared the weather was not keeping them away and i began to wonder if i was going to be encountering more people hiking than i preferred. i drove east through town, made a left, drove a little over 2 miles and turned onto the road i driven over four hours for, ely-buyks road, aka the echo trail. once on this road and for the duration of my trip, i was pleased to see that crowds were not going to be an issue at all! the rain and gloomy day kept me only person around, at least where i stopped and hiked.

i had no agenda as to where to stop. my plan was to drive and stop wherever it looked interesting. about 2 miles later, i pulled off onto a gravel road where a sign alerted me was the hobo lake hiking trail. just the name was all the allure i needed to check it out.

by now, it was raining pretty good. i came to a stop in a round cleared out gravel and dirt kind of area. i was thankful for remembering to bring my rain jacket. i got out, popped the trunk to my car and rummaged for my old postal worker rain pants. i was grateful for that as well. it was just a good old fashioned gentle rainfall. within a few minutes, without my rain gear, i would have been drenched. before pulling out my backpack, i unzipped it and removed the rain cover for it as well. i fitted it over my backpack, pulled and cinched the pull strings to make it a tight fit and loaded it onto my back. I strapped my belt and chest buckle to keep the pack properly situated on me. you’d be amazed how a poorly positioned backpack on the body can make for an uncomfortable hike and a sore back afterwards. this backpack was not cheap but it has been a lifesaver in terms of helping my back since i have back issues. even as heavy as it can be, properly adjusted and fitted, it keeps my posture correct and the weight balanced.

i began to walk on the trail and eventually took a left at a fork where a sign pointed the direction of hobo lake. i was rather perplexed to see a red fire address sign way out there. normally you only see those at the end of driveways of residences out in the rural. the rural aspect certainly qualified here. but i can tell you with 99 percent certainty that there is no residence out there to speak of. i can’t say 100 percent because of that sign. here is an iphone shot of said fire address sign...

i kept hiking further and further; i began to wonder how far away hobo lake was as the trail was getting less and less noticeable. i didn’t have any service so i wasn’t able to look on a map and see how far it was to the lake. i do have an app that allows offline map usage. however, it's not very helpful when i still haven’t downloaded them 🙄. i’m not a good judge of distance when hiking but i feel like i hiked close to a mile based on an average speed of about 3 miles per hour. i would think i would be coming to the lake as there appeared to be a clearing over a rise. but when i got to the top of the rise, it was just some open sky and more forest surrounding the small trail. by now, i was feeling a bit leery as i was deep in the woods; some of you that follow my blogs may know my penchant for my mind going a bit imaginative. i was thinking of bears and wolves and goodness knows what other creatures thinking i look pretty delectable for a snack, especially as fattening season for those that go into hibernation was in progress!

i finally decided to head back, not knowing how close i really was to the lake. a later look at the map when i had service showed that, if i had indeed already hiked about a mile, the lake was about another quarter of a mile ahead. it also must be a somewhat known lake for fishing. info about hobo lake when later researching it showed depth of the lake, types of fish, some boating info, etc. i’m guessing that the trail must also be a portage route. as far as i could see on the map, the trail i was hiking was the only trail. there is no public access to the lake for boat drops that i could see if one wanted to go further out onto the lake.

as i headed back the trail to the car, the skies opened and the rain poured! it was like standing under one of those shower heads that are huge in diameter. my rain jacket and pants were clinging to my body like static electricity. it was so wet and moisture-ladened in the air that my glasses were fogging up. i slid them halfway down my nose to be able to look over the top of them. condensation/sweat built up inside my jacket. for being breathable material, it wasn’t working very well. by the time i got back to my car and took off my jacket before getting into the car, the inside of my jacket seemed as wet as the outside. might be time to look into a newer and better rain jacket! i wish i had remembered to take a video of how hard it was raining. this video was at the beginning of the hike. you can see the rain. but it was a like a stream of water pouring out of a small watering can compared to that huge shower head mentioned above!

back on the road, i drove another 6 or 7 miles. at around that point, i passed this tiny pullout with what looked like a tiny trail. i drove past it a little bit but i was so intrigued by it that i turned around and went back to it. i pulled in, parked and once again donned my rain jacket and backpack with its rain cover. the rain had slowed down but was still coming down at a steady clip. i began to my way along a tiny trail toward the lake.

this hike was a gorgeous one that was not that long before it stopped at the shores of fenske lake. strangely enough, it was just shy of a mile before i arrived at the shoreline but it felt so much quicker than the mile or so i had hiked on the hobo lake hiking trail. maybe it was because it was pretty much a straight line as opposed to a zig zag sort approach on the previous trail. at any rate, this trail, while seeming to go much quicker, was tiny as trails go. it was basically the width of my body and not much more. but these are the trails that are fun to hike. easy to miss if you are not paying attention when driving, it offered up a wealth of fall colors and gorgeous landscape hiking toward the lake. to either side of me, oranges, yellows, and reds appeared all around at feet level with ground coverings and bushes; it rose up toward the sky through the ranks of various sizes and shapes of trees. with the skies gray and muted in light, the colors stood out even more! at one point, to my left as i walked toward the lake, a rocky outcrop appeared with trees flaunting their colors against the grayish tones of the rock.

soon i came to a stop in front of the lake. as i stood on the shore, i slowly turned 360 degrees, just taking in the bountiful scenery all around me. the rain was now joined up with a rather brisk wind that was going to make creating images a bit of a challenge. wind increases the chance of rain blowing sideways onto my lens even with a lens hood.

before I started my hike toward fenske lake, i attached my camera to my tripod under the cover of the trunk of my car. this prevented me from exposing the interior of my backpack to the rain if i had opened it later at the lake. i also pulled out a shower cap to cover the camera and lens. this a cheap but effective tip i learned a while back to keep the camera and lens protected from the elements. alas, as i would find out later, the wind is a sneaky culprit and blew the rain sideways onto the lens anyways when i would lift up the cap to create an image. i went through quite a few smeary looking images to get a few good ones overall. all one can do is keep using a lens cloth to wipe the lens dry. after a while, my lens cloth was too wet to be of much use; it was just smearing the lens instead of drying it. i ended up having to use a second one as well. it’s always a good idea to have more than one of an accessory when possible; in this case, having extra lens cloths! i even have extra shower caps in my backpack in case one rips or gets wet on the inside!

after that slow 360 degree viewing experience, i then looked to my right to follow the shoreline. while there were great pops of colors bursting from the thick canopy of trees here and there, closer to the ground along the shoreline was a somewhat steady trail of gorgeous color pops that made its way around the bend and continued for a bit. i loved the darker background of the conifers that was a great contrast to the lower trail of color. rain was splattering on the water leaving a consistent pockmarked look to the water. i set up my camera to create an image of what i was seeing. after some image issues with splotched and smeary water marks on the lens, i was finally able to pull one off that left me pleased. i love creating images in inclement weather! the work involved leaves me with a feeling of accomplishment when i create an image that i love! i had mentioned earlier that the lake water was pockmarked with rain drops. look especially at the left side of this image in the water. i personally find it to be a cool character added to the image!

i decided to go to my left and explore along the shoreline. by now the rain had finally stopped though the wind continued its journey through my surroundings. i climbed up a little rise and ended up on a rocky jut dotted with pines and overlooking the lake. as i looked to my right, i eventually was drawn to a “scene within a scene” as i like to call them. a little ways off to my right was a scene that, i kid you not, immediately brought to mind a famous painting in the sistine chapel. it is called “the creation of adam” where the finger of God and the finger of adam almost touch. zooming in as far as i could to create a shallower depth of field and give more blur to the background, i created this image…

i was really drawn to the contrast between the full bright yellow tones of the maple leaves and the barren dark tones of the conifer branch. with the atmosphere damp and gray from the recent rain, the yellow leaves take on an apparent glow that speaks to life. the lichen and drops of water add a touch of character to the branch; however, it still speaks of a fading life to me as lichen tends to grow on slow growing trees or trees in decline.

after making this image, i made my way back to the trail and headed back to the car once again. the day was fading quickly and i wanted to try to create a few more images as i knew i would not even make it all the way through my intended road trip on the echo trail. on the way back i found this red leaf (an aspen leaf?) on a plant of which I’m venturing a guess is in the fern family. if anyone knows what the brown fern-like plant is, let me know in the comments below. i’d love to know. the brilliance of this leaf just pops against the brown. the earlier rain really helped to bring out the details. this image was created with my iphone...

i loaded up the trunk with my gear when i got back to the car and drove on a little further, stopping periodically to create some images of the fall colors draping the sides of the gravel road. toward the end of my road trip on the echo trail, i came upon this gigantic boulder. it was one of the cooler boulders i’ve seen in my photo expeditions. it was lined on the top with a thick layer of moss. there were even tunnel and single mounds of it scattered on the boulder as well. just behind the rise of the boulder on a rocky plateau were two trees. small in stature, they loomed large with an impressive display of color! once again, in the gray atmosphere, the greens of the moss and lichen carpeting the boulder along with the yellows and reds of the two trees shone brightly!

my last image of the day was a little further down the road next to ed shave lake. there, i created this image of orange fall color set back into the forest. i love how it peeks out through the forest, offering a break in the various hues of green running throughout the forest. even with the gray day, the depth of field really stands out here due to the light and dark shading of the trees and grasses! such a wonderful way to end the day!

i turned around in my car to start heading back home with over 5 hours of driving to be had. all was well until i reached the outer skirts of the suburbs of the twin cities. then the skies opened up…again! only this time, i was dealing with driving under a torrential downpour in the dark. even with the headlights on, visibility was extremely limited. at times, i found myself driving between 30 to 40 miles an hour on a 70 mile an hour freeway. trying to see the lines marking the lanes was close to an exercise in futility. a gentle rain can cause difficulty at night seeing the lanes. in a torrential downpour…it was almost impossible. i pulled off the freeway at my exit and, whether one would believe by coincidence or divine intervention, the rain settled down to a gentle shower. pulling into the driveway in one piece was a very satisfying feeling indeed! i crawled into bed after unloading and soon was put to sleep and having sweet dreams by the magical sands of mr. sandman!

my hope is that you enjoyed reading and seeing the images about this road trip on the echo trail north of ely, mn. if so, let me know why you did. one of the things i really enjoy reading are your comments on how my blogs made you respond. perhaps i was able to bring a smile and/or chuckle to your lips regarding some aspect of my adventure. perhaps i was able to stoke a memory of a fall road trip or hike where you saw some fantastic color in the company of family or good friends. whatever it might be, share them in the comments below! and….just to let you know as evidenced in the title of this blog, this is part one of three parts. i’ll be sharing with you a couple more fall color ventures that i believe you will enjoy as much or more!

i’m a bit behind in getting my newer images posted to my website and online store. but know that if there are any images in this blog or my other blogs that you would like to purchase for yourself or for that someone special in your life, reach out to me in the comments below and i will get back to you to make this purchase happen. as the holiday shopping season is almost upon us, art is a great way to give something unique and special as well as support me as a local artist and business! take a look at what some ideas of artwork hanging in a home/business could look like using a few of these images….

"life and death" - 13"x20" print with matte and frame

"color around the shoreline" - 16"x24" print with matte and frame

"color on the rock" - 40"x60" metal print

i continue to be grateful for your support of my images and writings. i continue to work at expanding my support and readership base. the best way to do that is with your help! i'd love to have you share my blog(s) with others that you know would enjoy reading them. it's easy to do. just copy and paste the url in your social media of choice. another option is to click on the share button and post in your feed/timeline. share a sentence or two stating in so many words that you are sharing as you think others would enjoy reading my blog(s) as well. by writing a short sentence or two, it gives others a reason as to why it is worth their time to read my blog(s). your support is definitely a contributing factor to my continued pursuit of photography and sharing them through postings and blogs. thank you so much!!

keep an eye out for part two of the fall colors series and i’ll be seeing you soon with more “images from my quiet world”!


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