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July 18, 2013: Two Harbors to Gooseberry Falls State Park to Split Rock Lighthouse State Park to Beaver Bay (Lemon Wolf Café) to Tettegouche State Park to Cross River to Temperance River State Park to Grand Portage
Northern Rail Traincar Inn is made up of repurposed freight cars, with rail yard graffiti included. You know the cars have been on this track for a while because birds’ nests are balanced on some of the hardware. The inn’s office and common area continue the theme, located at the head of the cars in a depot-style building. Northern Rail Traincar Inn ranks second to Marcia’s Bed & Breakfast in Ottawa, Illinois, for most unconventional place I’ve stayed.
We visited the Two Harbors Lighthouse, where our view was hindered by the fog that hadn’t dissipated from the night before. I liked taking photos framed tightly by the lighthouse ports. It puts the world in an interesting focus.
On a couple of the evening drives we’d hit large objects that had jolted the car. Once we got out in the rain to find we’d run over a large truck tire shedding and moved it to spare anyone behind us the trouble. Since Two Harbors seemed to be a good-sized town, I suggested that we get the car’s underbelly examined. At first we went to a teeny garage in town, but they didn’t have a lift, and they referred us to a bigger place on the highway, Sonju. This may have been the largest dealership I’ve ever seen (because I haven’t seen many). I waited in a comfortable sitting area with TV and WiFi and enjoyed the respite. Although we lost time, they were quick to take a look. I’m glad they did, because some clips had been snapped off, leaving some wires dangling. You don’t need that when you’re hundreds of miles from home with many unfamiliar, remote areas in between.
Heading north, we stopped for an hour and a half or so at one of the most picturesque waterfalls I’ve seen — Gooseberry Falls State Park. The middle falls are set among conifers and the kind of dwarfed, twisted, gnarled trees I’d expect to near Monterey, California. The middle falls are easy to get to — there’s even an accessible version of the trail — and gentle enough that families waded into the water nearby. We stayed much longer than we should have, and again I didn’t want to leave. I took photo after photo, some normal, some miniaturized, some with Hipstamatic filters.
|From Minnesota North Shore, July 18, 2013|
The next planned stop was Split Rock Lighthouse, built after a shipwreck on nearby rocks. Split Rock is like Two Harbors’ richer, more glamorous cousin, and there’s a formal tour of the light and its buildings. A guide told us the best spot for the perfect photo of the lighthouse, but I was reaching the limits of my endurance.
The proprietress at Northern Rail Traincar Inn had recommended a restaurant to J., Lemon Wolf Café in Beaver Bay. We stopped there for a delightful dinner, from Minnesota wild rice soup (what else?) to entrée to homemade pie. Lemon Wolf Café is a great find, worth a visit if you’re in that part of Minnesota.
After Beaver Bay, we stopped briefly at Tettegouche State Park, where there was an amazing view in the late afternoon light, with fog remnants obscuring land and water here and there in the sunlight. I envied the life of the cheeky chipmunk who posed for photos in the parking area.
At one point we crossed a bridge where we noticed water rushing toward us on its way to Lake Superior. We backtracked to nearby wayside, as did others, and found ourselves on the bridge facing the engorged waters of the impressive Cross River, which seems to hurl itself at you but descends under the bridge. Even in the dimming light, this was another photo and video moment.
Further on, we stopped at Temperance River State Park, where a short walk downward brings you to river rapids and within sight of one of its waterfalls. It was hard to see and even harder to photograph this late in the day, and the ubiquitous mosquitoes were starting to make themselves felt. We met a ranger and one or two others there, but mostly it felt like we were alone in the dusk.
Except for fog and a little evening drizzle, so far the weather had been perfect, but between Temperance River State Park and Grand Portage, a deluge came — rains heavy enough to make it hard to see and drive. It was still pouring when at last we pulled into the parking lot of the Grand Portage Lodge & Casino, owned and operated by the Grand Portage Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa — a welcome sight after a very long day.
July 17, 2013: Rainy Lake Grand Tour
After another satisfying breakfast, we said goodbye to Sandy Point Lodge and caught the Rainy Lake Grand Tour boat, which goes to the Rainy Lake Visitor Center, with an educational stop at Little American Island. Here, our National Park Service ranger explained the workings of a gold mine from the 1890s. The real focus, however, was the surprising number of bald eagles that peered at us from the trees, as well as the occasional loon. We even spotted a little loon family. The captain obliged us by slowing and/or stopping when he or anyone else spotted wildlife of interest.
We were past the halfway point in the trip, and I was tired of all the driving I wasn’t doing. As with the trip to Kabetogama, this night meant another long journey. First, we went to Crane Lake, where we dined at Voyagaire Lodge and Houseboats. This is a serene setting, partly because the road we’d taken ends at Voyagaire. I loved the sense of nothing beyond this point, which made it feel remote and magical, even if it is neither.
After that drive of more than two hours, we had at least four more to go to get to our next way station in Two Harbors. The closer we got to Two Harbors, the foggier the darkness became. We traveled almost blindly, and in places where there were houses I thought every mailbox emerging suddenly out of the mist was a deer. I don’t know how long the drive was with rest stops, but we arrived at Northern Rail Traincar Inn well after midnight. Having learned from previous experience, I had had J. call ahead to make arrangements for the very late arrival. Whew.
July 16, 2013: Kettle Falls Cruise
Arrowhead Lodge and Resort was a CCC project and has a rustic look like Starved Rock Lodge. Our proprietress served us breakfast on a porch overlooking Lake Kabetogama, where a flock of pelicans was going about its own breakfast business. This was another place I could have stayed for hours.
We left in plenty of time for the 10 a.m. cruise to the Kettle Falls Hotel — but a few moments after parking, J. realized he’d left his camera at Arrowhead. We sped back at a frightening speed over roads not designed for it, to find out that he’d left it on a stool. We hurried back and made the boat with a minute or two to spare — just enough for a biology break, which was necessary because the boat to Kettle Falls doesn’t have accommodations.
On this cruise we were provided with binoculars and a park ranger to talk about the area’s natural history. It seems I spent some of the cruise scowling at J. for his speed record attempts and trying to get photos of the loons and bald eagles pointed out to us.
At Kettle Falls, J. toured the hotel’s upstairs, then we ate and walked the trail and learned more about the area’s history until it was time to head back.
We stopped at the Pine Ridge Gift Shop for a few restful moments, then headed for the original destination, Sandy Point Lodge.
After settling in and dining on a fabulous dinner in a great room with huge windows overlooking Lake Kabetogama, I wanted to sit by the lake and relax for a while. By that time, however, the perfect weather had turned. Black clouds rolled in, the wind picked up and whipped the dock flags noisily, and the lake darkened and tossed. As long as it wasn’t raining, we stood on the dock taking photos and video, watching as boats came in ahead of the squall line across the way. It looked terrifying, but was “signifying nothing.” As quickly as the storm came it blew off, leaving behind a pastel sunset. While these would become some of my favorite trip photos, the wind seemed to have blown in greater swarms of mosquitoes, and they were taken at the cost of many painful bites.
As this would be the one time we wouldn’t have to drive hundreds of miles to the next destination, it seemed a good idea to go inside, shower, catch up online, and call it an early night.
July 15, 2013: Apostle Islands National Lakeshore to Madeline Island to Amnicon Falls State Park to Kabetogama
The Bayfield Inn offers whirlpool suites. Is it necessary to say that as soon as I woke up from the long drive and late night, I inserted myself into warm, soothing jets for as long as I could, which wasn’t long enough?
Today’s objective was a cruise around the mysteriously named Apostle Islands. Our genial captain told us quite a bit about the unpredictability of Lake Superior weather, and it was soon clear that current conditions were conducive for a thick pea soup fog. After we had learned a great deal about the islands we could barely see through a few breaks in the fog, we headed back to shore with the option to get a refund or choose another day. Fortunately our plan had us staying in Bayfield Saturday before heading home, so we signed up for that morning’s tour.
With the afternoon in front of us, we lined up for the ferry to Madeline Island. Maneuvering the car around the narrow space by the pilot house made J. nervous, but the man guiding him said, “Trust me.” All, including the car, made it unscathed. Even better, the morning’s fog had cleared, and the sun had emerged. I looked happy enough!
On Madeline Island we ate outdoors at The Pub at The Inn on Madeline Island, which has a wonderful view of the lake and mainland. The only fly in the ointment were the flies, which weren’t repelled by the natural repellent J. had bought when exchanging the cruise tickets. Even so, you can’t beat a good bar lunch on the lake.
Afterward, we drove around, eventually heading out of town and checking out the houses and properties. I imagine, but don’t know, that most people leave the island for the winter — which was hard to picture on a sunny summer day.
We found ourselves at Big Bay State Park, where we fought off mosquitoes while gazing across the lake. A kayaking class floated by. On one of the Pictured Rocks cruises, someone had told us that sea kayaks are recommended for navigating Lake Superior and its unpredictable weather, and that it’s a very bad idea to go out alone. We’d seen a few brave souls on their own.
Our last stop on Madeline was at Grampa Tony’s, where so many teenagers were working that I started to look for Richie Cunningham.
Our next goal was Kabetogama for two days, but we detoured to Amnicon Falls State Park until it was too dark to take photos.
The never-ending road took us through Duluth, which, in the growing twilight, appeared surreal. As at Porcupine Mountains, there was something unearthly about the muted light.
On this long drive as on others, we were terrified of hitting deer. On one of these night drives, someone ahead of us flashed their lights. We found a mini-herd parked in the center of the road. They didn’t budge even as the car passed slowly within a couple of feet of them. They know who rules the night. After that incident we jokingly hoped for “deer buddies” ahead of us in remote areas who could warn us of deer on or near the road.
The rest of the night reminded me of entering Shawnee National Forest. In the dark, it felt like we were surrounded by forest and fields, with signs of habitation and commerce seemingly scarce. When I needed a bathroom break, it took some time to find a rough, almost deserted bar that was still open.
After an interminable time in the darkness (unbroken, alas, by the aurora borealis), we found the Sandy Point Lodge area, but with spotty to no cell phone coverage it was difficult to navigate. Finally we arrived, exhausted — but it was closer to 1 a.m. than midnight, there was no light, the door was locked, and no one answered the phone. We learned a valuable lesson — call ahead to make arrangements. Although coverage was weak, I was able to check Yelp and make a few calls. At last a sleepy-sounding woman answered and said we could stay at her place, Arrowhead Lodge and Resort. Delirious with joy that I wasn’t going to have to sleep in the car, I told her we’d be right over. “No hurry,” she said. “I have to get dressed.” We found Arrowhead and brought in as little as we could, following her up a narrow staircase. By then it was after 3 a.m. That was a long day, and then some.
July 14, 2013: From Pictured Rocks to Lake of the Clouds to Bayfield
We took a few moments to admire the view from Sunset Motel on the Bay. Forget Southern California and Los Angeles — this is where a TV series should be taped — in spring, summer, or fall, of course.
Finally we tore ourselves away for the morning cruise on another lovely day. With the sun over the shore, the lighting wasn’t as dramatic or as good for photography, which allowed me to relax and focus more on what we’d seen and what we’d missed the night before.
Back in Munising, we went to Falling Rock Café and Bookstore, a comfortable place with the key ingredients — good coffee, edibles, and WiFi, plus the added bonus of used books for sale! I could have stayed there all day or even all week, but Munising’s waterfalls were calling. What a great thing it must be to live in a town with so many picturesque waterfalls. There’s also Johnny Dogs, where hot dogs are named for cities — not unlike the Chicago hot dog, which is probably what I had. Hyde Park could use a Johnny Dogs, complete with outdoor seating.
I’m not sure which of Munising’s waterfalls we saw, except for Alger Falls at the intersection of M-28 with M-94. Others include Wagner Falls and Munising Falls.
By now it was getting late in the day, and Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park was not getting any closer, so we had to say goodbye to Munising reluctantly after finding out the lighthouse wasn’t open.
The road to Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park runs in part along Lake Superior, where the muted light held mystery, and on the clean beach you can feel like the only person on earth.
By the time we got to the park, dusk was starting to descend, and the mosquitoes were out for my blood. J. said it was all he could to put the park admission money in the envelope, surrounded as he was by a cloud of vampirelets.
Despite the persistent nips and dimming light, we made it to Lake of the Clouds, where the forest was a rich green and the river and lake a deep blue under a pastel sky subtly tinged with pink. I wish we could have spent more time there, but Bayfield awaited.
July 12, 2013: From Chicago to Port Washington, Wisconsin
J. and I set out very late for the northern adventure, leaving a little before 11 p.m. The first port of call was Port Washington, north of Milwaukee, where the only place that seemed to be open was Holiday Inn Harborview — nothing like the Hamburg Thruway Holiday Inn circa 1970.
July 13, 2013: After a stop at Smith Brothers, breakfast at Tellos Grill and Café, and a thwarted attempt to get into the lighthouse, we were on the road again. We had to be in Munising, Michigan (Upper Peninsula), before the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore sunset cruise left harbor at 7 p.m. It’s a more daunting drive than it appears to be on a map, especially with only one sleep-deprived driver.
After passing through Green Bay, the next notable stop was Escanaba, Michigan, for old-style fast food at Hudson’s Classic Grill, where we squeezed onto a bench outside to save time.
By now I’d noticed the mix of trees along the way had been changing, and by the time we entered Hiawatha National Forest I’d figured out that this is what a boreal forest looks like — magical, because it’s not the beautiful but familiar deciduous mix of Western New York and northern Illinois. I couldn’t help but think of Hiawatha (the poem) and “From the land of sky-blue waters” (the Hamm’s beer jingle). I haven’t heard the Hamm’s commercial for years, but it’s part of the detritus the human brain collects.
While the drive from Port Washington to Green Bay seemed long, at least after Escanaba we knew we were closing in our target, although at a slower pace through the forest.
At last we arrived in Munising and headed straight for Sunset Motel on the Bay. We checked in, dropped off some stuff, drove the short distance to the dock, and found a place to park. By this time, a long line had formed, and a few minutes after we’d joined it at 6:40 it began to move as people boarded one of the two boats. At least we didn’t have to run to catch the boat, so the timing was as perfect as could be — considering the hundreds of miles we’d covered and the limitations that come with having the one overtired driver.
As for the cruise, the photos tell the story, I hope, of perfect weather and nearly ideal lighting from the setting sun glowing on Pictured Rocks. People jumped up and down or stood at the rail, holding up their phones to try to capture the wonder (and probably missing much of it as the boat sped along). When the captain reversed the boat into a tiny bay so that we were surrounded by ancient color, I knew the rush had been worth it. What a glorious end to a long day.
More photos on Picasa from the following week.
|Spring at Promontory Point, Chicago 5/10/14|
This was an Approver’s Choice at Weather Underground.
Here’s the original photo at the Chicago Botanic Garden:
And here’s the same photo with the Nikon color sketch tool applied to the hilt:
The detail that came out in the color sketch version is amazing (see the wispy dangling tree branches), although I do like the sky in the original.