On Saturday, Luke and I decided to go for an afternoon hike at Hoffman Hills located on the outskirts of Menomonie. The weather was perfect, not too hot, not too cold, and there was nothing but sunshine as far as the eye could see. When we arrived at the trailhead, we checked the map to see what the quickest route would be to the Observation Tower. Once we had a route in mind, we set out on the Plantation Trail which started with a steep incline up a hill. The trail was surrounded on both sides by lush vegetation and lots of interesting wild flowers and plants. The bumblebees were eagerly attending to the flowers as I stopped to snap a few photos. The trees were mostly still green in their leaves but every so often, one or two would be showing their brilliant fall colors.
Not too long into the hike, we came across a small garter snake making its way across the trail and stopped to marvel at the chance encounter and admire the snake for all of its cute snake-ness. I snapped some quick photos which he/she seemed happy to pose for and before long, it was time to part ways, and we each carried on with our respective journeys. Shortly thereafter, we also came across some mushrooms and berries which begged to be photographed. After some time we made our way onto the Lower Pines Trail which brought us to a fork in the trail system in which we had several options for proceeding. We opted to break the “one-way” rules and hike up the most difficult trail in the park, appropriately named the Roller Coaster Trail, to fast-track our arrival at the tower.
Not before long, after turning onto the Hawk Ridge Trail, we found ourselves at the 60-foot tall Observation Tower. As someone terrified of heights, I foolishly continue to push myself to confront my fears hoping that someday it will all get easier. After catching my breath, we slowly made our way up the tower. At first it wasn’t too scary but the closer to the top we got, the more my legs shook and the fear took over my body. By the time we reached the top, not only was I short of breath, but I was experiencing that all too familiar vertigo that keeps me as far away from the edge as possible and moving very slowly, as if that is the convincing my mind needs to prove that I am less likely to fall to my death. I managed to snap a few photos and enjoy the beautiful view from above as best as possible before we made our way back down. Walking on solid ground never feels quite as good as those first few steps after an experience like that.
Knowing that the sun would be setting soon, we decided to make our way back to the car via the Sunset Trail, aptly named as we soon discovered, for the pretty view of the sunset which accentuated the beautiful colors of the changing leaves. About halfway down the trail we were delighted to hear the sounds of a hooting owl. Even more delightful was the second owl that seemed to be answering them from some distance away in the forest. Not too far from the end of the trail we came across a gorgeous prairie that was aglow with the golden hue of the slowly setting sun. Soon we found ourselves back at the car and made our way out of the park to start heading home. On the way out, we ran across several herds of deer, making their way somewhere unknown for the night. All in all it was a lovely hike at a beautiful park and I’m excited to go back in the future to check out other trails throughout various times of the year ahead.