Colorful skies, singing birds, calm waters right in front of us, and mountains in the backdrop. That is the prettiest morning scene we had in months. And as soon as we get out of our tent, a neighborly voice wishes ‘good morning’. It is more than what we could ask for in 2020. I can speak about how beautiful the state park is, the waterfront campground, trains, and trails. But, during our visit to Merrick State Park, we met some beautiful people who made our visit more memorable.

Merrick State Park is situated in Fountain City near the Mississippi River where Wisconsin meets Minnesota. State Park sits comfortably on the shore, in the middle of the mountains making those campsites more picturesque. And even the roads leading to this state park. WI-35 or US-14 both right next to the Mississippi River are beautiful roads to drive, with a lot of pit stops to enjoy the views.

Before the pandemic, we used to travel often to these beautiful places with a large group of friends. There are always people, so happiness around us.

And then the pandemic hit.

Complete lockdown is the toughest phase. The two of us see the slow-moving world through our tiny mesh windows, from our box-like apartment. Although we speak to family and friends over Zoom and video calls, it is not easy for any of us to do it over and over, for months.

When things started to open, we went camping for the first time. We always stayed in cabins with friends, but the need to stay in a tent with just two of us never arose. And now there is no other choice. We are craving fresh air and a new scene – other than the world from our window. We loved camping so much that we kept doing it – almost biweekly.

The campsites so far, are mostly closed spaces – not with walls but trees. So we wouldn’t see people. Even if we meet, it is with a mask. And we would rather wait for them to pass instead of talking. After all this, we are in Merrick State Park where the sites are closer and people talk, maintaining close to 6 feet distance. We loved sharing stories and learning about each other’s life. A third person brought a smile to our faces after a long time. That made this trip more special.

Merrick State Park Trail Map
Viewpoints in Merrick State Park – Courtesy of DNR WI

Do you like to hear short stories from all these wonderful people? Come, let’s travel together to Merrick State Park.

The family that invited to their backyard

As soon as we were close to Merrick State Park, one thing we searched for was -firewood. Since it is past Labor Day weekend, gas stations around here don’t have it anymore. Luckily, the sweet girl at the counter mentioned that her uncle had firewood right in front of the State Park.

He certainly does, a lot of them for $5. When we were about to load them from the wagon to our car, he came by with more fresh firewood and suggested the best ones. I thanked him for selling firewood – when no one around here does at this hour. And then a surprise.

Sorry, I have to refer to him as He, as I don’t remember his name or any from the trip, things happened fast

He asked us if we liked nature and wanted to come back to the backyard for something that he had seen only once in his lifetime. I was hesitant but then yes why not? As we moved along, I saw a guy cutting firewood with an ax. I am more scared now. Suspenseful music in my head 😀 Then we saw his wife and kid staring at something and smiling at us, which relaxed me a bit. Then something I would never see.

Tiny Snapping Turtle (Turtle with tails) are jumping out from the ground and slowly moving in a row. He explained that Mother would have laid eggs in the soil somewhere down there and it might be time to move out. These are so small that would fit at least 10 of them in a palm including their tails, yet they know to push and jump out of the earth. He said not everyone gets a chance to see it and thought we would appreciate it too.

He continued, these turtles know their way toward the water. They are already going towards the lake which is on the other side of the road. That is a surprise. They truly are moving in a row in that direction. He then collects them in a bucket to leave them in the lake, as the traffic on the road may kill them. That is so nice of him to take care of those turtles and invite us to experience this once-in-a-lifetime happiness. It gave us immense joy to look at those tiny turtles jumping one by one from the ground. There are about 20 in the bucket, and they keep coming even after 10 minutes. We wouldn’t want to take too much of their time. So thanked them, loaded firewood, and headed to the park.

Lovely neighbors

We did not get a chance to speak to any neighbors so far in all earlier campings. The campsites are closer or must be sweet people actually, they spoke here, lovingly.

One neighbor offered help as soon as we set up the tent to let him know if anything was needed. He checked with us every time he passed and stopped a couple of times for longer conversations. We spoke about how beautiful this state park campground is, sitting right on the river. He then mentioned that his house is right on Lake Superior but he enjoys staying in various campsites. He has been living here for two weeks with family and friends and introduced his dad who is driving the truck at the young age of 75. Also nice enough to suggest a couple of other pretty campsites.

Then there are neighbors on the other side who wish every time we see each other with a beautiful smile. We talked about how he is driving his long vehicle. His truck with an RV behind it and their kayaks behind the RV. This is like an actual large truck. They are taking a rest for a couple of nights before heading to their granddaughter’s birthday in Minneapolis.

When we heard there was firewood in the park but only for certain hours, we went to pick it up immediately. We met the Campsite Host there. He is so nice and patient to help with wood when I mentioned the wood is not burning due to the cooler temperatures. He helped us with some kindling and gave us tips to start the fire. Of course, we had a good fire that night 🙂

And then neighbors who hated us

Fishing in Merrick State Park
Last boat for the day

Such a nice campsite on the River and I fly my drone. Also, the B4U FLY federal app does not have any restrictions. I flew it in front of the tent. There is wind and so the drone is not stable. I flew away from the tent for a picture with a view. Because of all the silence in the park, the drone is very loud. I can feel it. So I tried to bring it down but because of the wind, it was not easy and eventually, I had a crash landing. The drone flew for less than 10 minutes.

But that doesn’t stop one of the Campers who had just arrived to call Park Ranger and 911 on us. When I landed my drone, I saw a lady coming to us. Not sure why she turned back without speaking.

The next day, we had a Park Ranger saying that the drone caused a disturbance to some. Around noon, a local Cop came by, asking about our camping experience. He is nice to make small talk but I knew this was about the drone. Then he said they too received a call. I explained that the federal app is green in this location. But also, I flew for a very short time as I felt it very loud. He understands that and he said he is here to do his job. We then spoke about how sometimes people don’t understand and how beautiful this state park is. He wished us safe travels and left.

I felt it would have been nice if she spoke to me. I even wished her ‘Hi’ before she turned back. Don’t you think the world will be a better place if we talk to each other?

Young at heart lovers

We had to drive US-14/US-61 going back, to enjoy its picturesque road again. We stopped at Dresbach Welcome Center before the long journey on the I-90 highway, as this is more than a rest stop. It has great views of the dam over the Mississippi River, the mountain, and the bridge. It is one of the beautiful rest stops with bathrooms prettier than a regular rest stop.

We were finishing up our business – bathrooms and charging our devices. We then sat outside on the concrete bench for snacks and enjoyed the views. It is quite windy but the view is worth it.

Several others are enjoying the place. Campers stretching their legs, kids doing somersaults, couples walking hand-in-hand to the end of the trail for a picture. The place is a joy.

But there is one young couple that grabbed our attention.

We saw them going towards the River. The man carried both the camping chairs and set them on the edge of the bank to enjoy the uninterrupted river views. They spoke, laughed, sat hand-in-hand, kissed – they stole the show. We then minded our business – finished up some work, a short walk, and ate. The sun is setting behind the mountain and it is a perfect place to be.

As we were about to pack, we saw them walking towards us and we wished each other with a smile like usual. Then the lady said, “Isn’t it a beautiful place?” which started our conversation.

We talked about how cool this place is and asked if they are from around here. The lady then said that they live on the other side of the mountain and they are farmers and he grows all types of vegetables. She continued holding his hand that he also supplies beef and if we are eating in the area, that can be from them. She is very proud and I loved her look when speaking about him. The man is blushing and speaks less.

When asked about our work, we said from Chicago and working in IT, she replied: “Never been there but you guys should come to live here, this place is fantastic.” Can’t deny her. This is a great place. I asked if they come here often, and she replied that they do but today is special. It is his 65th birthday and they want to spend some time in their favorite place before going to the family’s party. I am all excited now and almost shouted “Happy Birthday Sir” 😀

He then thanked me and asked if we were going to be around here. I picked up my things and said we were about to leave too. We wished them to enjoy the party and said goodbye.

That is one of the sweetest conversations I have had in a very long time and will live in my memories.

Outside the Welcome Center, on the road connecting to I-90, I had to wiggle my car and stop suddenly almost in the middle of the lane. And then I signaled the U-haul truck coming behind us to pass. The driver is shocked but smiles looking on the road.

It is a Snapping Turtle sitting in the middle of the road. May be struggling to cross. Guess what? There is a small pond on the other side of the road in the direction it is crossing. I couldn’t help but smile looking at this tiny turtle and trying to pick it up with my hands. It immediately shrunk under its shell. I like to try again but I am scared as much as it is 🙂

Then my wife handed me tongs. I picked it up gently, as much as I could, and left it on the other side of the road. It rolled over but then stayed still. It did not come out of its shell to bite me so that’s good. I hope I helped and did not stress it much.

Thanks to that family who invited us to their backyard, I can help a turtle move in the right direction. Quite an ending to our trip. Isn’t it?

Honestly, on a regular day, none of this would have mattered so much. But after months of isolation, conversation with other people meant something to us.

People who usually smile when faced, no more does that. Now we move away from each other after COVID-19. Hope this phase ends soon and we will get back to where we were. Taking care of each other and helping others with smiles.

Are you planning to travel to Merrick State Park? No doubt, it is a beautiful state park, and hope this helps you.

Things to do in Merrick State Park

What do you think of our experience? Do you make conversations while visiting a new place or do you like solitude? Share your thoughts in the comments. Love to read them.

We are also lucky to have sweet neighbors at another state park who helped us start a fire right away. Well, that is a story for another day. Sometimes, camping can go wrong and this is all about it or otherworldly canyons in Illinois. Even better, learn about this biggest festival in India. Our most adventurous drive is on Dalton Highway and it is no joke.

Cheers, and stay safe!

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About Author

“Be a Roman when in Rome” is the first travel quote I heard. Soon I realize every place is unique. Wondering how it is? Well that's why the stories here are for. Enjoy reading them!

With so many lovely places on this earth, different cultures and variety of food, exploring one at a time while leading a crazy IT professional life. In short, call me Explorer, be it places, food or IT. See you around!

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