When I was a kid, my favorite secret spot in nature was a limestone cliff discovered by my friend Kyle—a wild child with buck teeth and spiky punk–rock hair who, as far as I could tell, never went indoors. Kyle's adventurous spirit and, shall we say, Scandinavian views on land access made him our town's leading secret spot expert. Hang with this modern Huck Finn for a summer and you'd find yourself swimming at hidden river beaches and tiptoeing through an overgrown Civil War–era graveyard. Stick around through winter, and you were apt to risk your life on backcountry sledding hills.
But Kyle's best find was the cliff, reached by parking our bikes in the ditch off a quiet county road, then duck–walking up a steep, wooded hill to a clearing. Above the clearing was a wall of pockmarked limestone roughly 20 feet tall and 10 feet wide, with a natural terrace in the middle. Kyle and I would free–climb to the halfway point and look out at a breathtaking expanse of ash, maple, and the occasional white pine.
Had smartphones been around during these childhood walkabouts, I would have inevitably wrestled with whether or not to share that valley vista with the world. Henry Whitehead, a naturalist and writer, faces a similar conundrum with each visit to the Cabbage Rocks, a string of unique geological formations located deep within a forest in southeastern Minnesota. In his story about the rocks on page 44, Whitehead describes them as
a local secret I delight in showing off.
Whitehead is struck by the formations' near–lack of a digital footprint.
The inability to Google hundreds of images of the place is essential to its allure, he writes. I know what he means. In the post–it–or–it–didn't–happen era of outdoor recreation, it's rare, and deeply special, to find a setting that's avoided the gaping maw of the internet. Ultimately, Whitehead decided to share the Cabbage Rocks with the world the old–fashioned way: on paper. His story takes pains to avoid specifics, making it less a roadmap to the rocks than an appreciation of their secret magic. Most of us will never see these formations in person, and that's OK.
But now I feel like a tease for all this talk about hard–to–reach places, so here's a tip about an underappreciated gem that's hiding in plain sight: The next time you're on the North Shore, stop at Iona's Beach Scientific and Natural Area near Two Harbors. The 300–yard–long Lake Superior beach is made up entirely of salmon–colored stones that get their particular hue from a nearby cliff of pink rhyolite and felsite bedrock. As if being a crazy pink beach wasn't enough, this sacred place also
sings thanks to the way the waves knock the stones together, creating a kind of chorus of chimes. I'd love to hear about your favorite natural hideaways, inaccessible or otherwise. Send your stories to the email below. Happy exploring!
Chris Clayton, editor in chief