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. See above.
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.