Day 11: On which the rain continues, but lets up enough for a quick walk to Gooseberry Falls, and we see the sun set from Big Manitou Falls
August 11, 2014
Now the trip really was winding down under more gray skies with occasional rain. After taking some photos of the low but wild-looking Baptism River, we left Baptism River Inn and took a brief detour to Palisade Head, hoping for a slightly better view. Lemon Wolf Café isn’t open on Mondays, so we settled for Northern Lights Roadhouse and Pub, where we were seated on an enclosed porch overlooking the lake and the downpour for a relaxed, homely lunch.
Because of the rain, we thought about skipping Gooseberry Falls State Park, but I knew I’d have have regrets if we drove on by. We, along with many others, waited under the shelter of the visitor center porch as the rain came down, watching drenched visitor after drenched visitor return on the trail.
After a time the rain slowed and stopped, so we took off as fast as we could toward the falls. With the overcast sky, the lighting was poor and the colors washed out, but I continued to work on improving my waterfall photography techniques. We had been there for a while — maybe a half hour? — when we sensed the weather shifting again, so hightailed it back to the visitor center just as the clouds opened up again.
South of Gooseberry Falls State Park we came to the Silver Creek Cliff Tunnel, which was bored through the volcanic rock between 1991 and 1994. We stopped at the wayside to walk along the trail between the tunnel and the lakefront, but after a few feet the rain, which had slowed somewhat, picked up again, and I hurried back to the shelter of the car while J. opted to hang in and get drenched.
Further south, we passed through Two Harbors in search of a coffee shop, but if I remember right the one wanted to go to was closed. Further along we stopped at SuperOne to pick up containers for all our leftovers. At this point, it truly felt like the wilder parts of the Gunflint Trail and North Shore were well behind us — we were back in town.
Too, too soon we were in the city, Duluth, passing what appeared to be ritzy historic mansions, one of them a museum. We said goodbye to Highway 61, which merges into I-35 at 26th Avenue East. It was like a farewell to a beloved friend you may never see again.
It had become sunnier, and Duluth in full daylight is not nearly as eerie as it had been the first time I passed through in July 2013, at twilight on a misty night that made the city and hills appear as ephemeral as Brigadoon.
We pushed on to Superior, Wisconsin, and Red Mug Espresso, a half-underground coffee shop steeped in colorful art for sale and housed in a historic building. Their website cites one of Mike Royko’s favorite ideas:
Sociologist Ray Oldenburg talked about the importance of the “third place” — a community anchor, separate from home and work, where people feel welcome, socialize, and meet friends new and old.
(For Royko, his third place was a bar.)
“It’s a place to live your life,” the site adds. I would if only it were closer. As with so many places I’ve found on journeys both short and long, it was hard to leave this experience behind, but we still had plans for the remaining daylight.
One of these plans, a visit to Superior Entry Lighthouse, was thwarted by a combination of diminishing daylight time and the bumpy nature of Moccasin Mike Road, which isn’t that long. We couldn’t guess at what Wisconsin Point Road would be like on the narrow strip leading to the light, so we agreed to turn back on Moccasin Mike (I just wanted to say that name again) and head for our next out-of-the-way stop, Pattison State Park.
After driving down what seemed like endless country roads, we arrived at Pattison State Park, which is home to Wisconsin’s highest waterfall, Big Manitou Falls. You’d think it’d be easy to find a 165-foot-high waterfall, but it was surprisingly difficult — maybe because we were tired and easily confused by the directions some people we ran into gave us. The first spot we found seemed to be above the falls and didn’t offer a view. J. went one way while I went another. My way led to a platform on a cliff side overlooking the falls. To my left below, the falls roared. To my right, the sun was headed toward the horizon in a show of bright clouds and dark hills. The view on both sides helped make up for missing Superior Entry. Alas, we missed Little Manitou Falls, which are a few miles upstream.
With the sun setting, it was time to move on and get as far south in Wisconsin as we could. We made it — with effort — to Chippewa Falls, where we stopped at a chain hotel with no rooms. The very helpful desk attendant called two other chains — also no vacancies. She told me that’s not unusual for Chippewa Falls, which is a hotbed of business. The last place she called is, like the Bates Motel, somewhat off the major road. For that reason perhaps, they had available rooms. Avalon Hotel and Conference Center is a hybrid hotel-motel; many rooms have both inside rooms like a hotel and outside doors like a motel. Nervous guests can get a room with an inside door only. After a long day and the experience of last year, all that mattered to me was being able to crawl into a comfortable bed before the wee hours arrived and getting rested for the long day ahead.