August 7, 2014: From Clearwater Lodge to Grand Marais and north to Grand Portage
On which I observe how full one can pack a canoe, find an out-of-the-way general store, photograph wildflowers, find a moose, eat at Naniboujou, and revisit Minnesota’s highest waterfall
After breakfast I watched a couple pack a canoe and marveled at how much they managed to get into it. Clearly they were going a lot farther than the palisades. Finally they set out, with the female person in the back, although they didn’t get far. They must have decided to head back and switch places, but before they did that, the canoe started to spin. And spin. And spin. Just like an amusement park ride. Kevlar must be great for portages and for nausea. I wondered how experienced they were.
Reluctantly we left Clearwater Lodge with the idea of seeing a wildflower sanctuary J. had found on a list of attractions. Naturally, we had difficulty finding it, and were almost in Grand Marais before discovering we needed to backtrack, not to mention find facilities. A few miles off the Gunflint Trail, we discovered Devil Track General Store, with essentials scattered on half-bare shelves. I felt like I had stepped many years and many miles back in time, to a place like Mayberry after the interstate had bypassed it and it had been forgotten by the strange inhabitants of the stranger steel and glass towers that have creeped over more of the landscape of the modern world. Cue the Twilight Zone music.
We did find the Devil Track Wildflower Sanctuary, which is along the relatively short Devil Track River. The trail is grown over and close, and for some reason I opted not to go very far down it. Instead, I spent a good hour or so photographing flowers around the gravel parking area, where they grew abundantly. During this trip, I think I spent as much time photographing flowers as I did waterfalls, rivers, and lakes.
Next we set out for Grand Marais, where the marvelous Java Moose café awaited with good coffee, ice cream, WiFi, and a lovely view of Lake Superior. This is yet another place where I could have stayed forever, people and shore watching. Alas, after an hour or so, it was time to move on to our luncheon destination — Naniboujou Lodge and Restaurant, built in the 1920s as a club with a giant rock fireplace. There had been no room at the inn, so the plan was to have lunch there. At this time of day the dining room was sparsely populated, although a group did appear. Afterward, while J. perused the gift shop, I went behind the lodge and took photos of a particularly serene Lake Superior.
There had been room at Grand Portage Lodge and Casino, so that was our next destination. Last year, we’d driven there late at night in driving, blinding rain. Now it was a sunny late afternoon, perfect weather for a relaxing drive along a road that had seemed more terrifying a year earlier in the darkness and rain.
After checking in, we went to Grand Portage State Park, home to Minnesota’s highest waterfall (imaginatively named High Falls). The park belongs to the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, and they lease it back for a nominal fee so all of us can enjoy this marvel. Last year High Falls had been such a torrent that even on the steps to the platform we were soaked by the spray and deafened by the roar. In comparison this evening’s High Falls was a mere trickle, with no spray and more of the underlying rock exposed. I noticed the lack of spray, but didn’t think much of it until I compared my 2013 and 2014 photos. Then I realized Cross River had also been running much more lightly this year than last, when it had been almost terrifyingly high as it rushed toward Highway 61.
After a couple of stops to admire Lake Superior, we returned to the Lodge and finally made it into the pool that we’d missed out on last year. Ahhh. Tomorrow was going to be an early morning.