Lake Superior is so alluring that we find ourselves unable to resist her call. Instead of heading northwest toward International Falls (for no other reason than to say we’ve been there), we decide to creep up into the Arrowhead, the northeast portion of Minnesota. We’re congratulating ourselves on what appears to be a brilliant decision.
Although very cold and windy at night, the last couple of days have warmed up to be perfect for outdoor activities. So, off we go from our base at Gooseberry State Park, where we snagged an incredible campsite (easy to do, because the campground is only about 10% populated).The Gitchi-Gami State Trail runs about 15 miles alongside Highway 61 from Gooseberry Falls SP to Beaver Bay, past Split Rock State Park, where the lighthouse of the same name is located. We decide to cycle north to the end of the Trail before doubling back to check out the lighthouse. Although we’re freezing at the onset of the ride, we quickly get in the groove. The Trail is perfect. We’re either climbing or barreling downhill – there are few flat sections. Rarely are we more than 200 yards from the Lake, and scenic stops abound. The combination of a great bike route, perfect riding conditions, and the most unbelievable scenery have us cruising leisurely along in a most happy way.At the tiny town of Beaver Bay, the Trail seems to peter out. We stop for coffee, and peek into a rock shop. In my next life, I’ll be a geologist. We double back toward Split Rock, anxious to see the lighthouse which has been recommended to us as a great stop. The smallish lighthouse was built in response to a string of years marked by significant numbers of shipwrecks on the rocky shores. Twenty ships were damaged or destroyed in a single disasterous storm in November 1905, resulting in nearly three dozen deaths that day alone. Shipping company owners petitioned Congress for funds to construct the lighthouse, and $75,000 was appropriated. (Once the lighthouse became operational in 1910, there were no more shipwrecks along that stretch of Lake Superior coast.
The Lighthouse is neither tall nor elaborate. The location is magnificent. But, its construction story is remarkable. Because of the general inaccessibility of the site by land, all materials had to be brought in by ship, then hoisted to the cliff. The French-built Fresnel lens and its supporting assembly weigh nearly 6.5 tons alone. Interested in the lens? I’d suggest that you read this blog post from an Oregon lighthouse volunteer , which gives an excellent description and history of the Fresnel lens. The lens rotated every 20 seconds, powered by a weight-driven mechanism, similar to a grandfather clock. The 200 pound weight had to be wound every two hours, by a team of three keepers. The grounds are immaculately kept.
We rolled back to camp into the teeth of a howling wind. As soon as the sun gets low, the temperature drops rapidly. We could hardly get showered and positioned in front of our smoky campfire quickly enough. Our campground is very quiet – there is just us, and one other campsite occupied – a blessing when you’re using the campground showers. Dry, hot, and no waiting. Doesn’t get any better than this!
The main attraction at Gooseberry Falls are, of course, the waterfalls. We explored these a bit when we first arrived, but decided to take a long, slow tour of all the falls, and the unusual shoreline. Again, we were treated to perfect conditions for our hike – bright blue skies and clear, bright air. The photos haven’t been color corrected at all – we actually were treated to this wonderful fall display. Most of the trees here are birch, so the predominant foliage is bright yellow, combined with the varying green fir trees. There’s an occasional bright splash of red or orange, but it’s not the same barrage of color that we’re so used to seeing in Michigan.
I’ll shut up and just show the photos….The beach and picnic areas at Gooseberry Falls SP are spectacular. Bare lava rock rolls right into the water, adorned with patched of hardy grass. Stone picnic tables, built by the CCC back in the 1930s lend their sturdy presence to the shoreline. The Lake was calm, and the bright sunshine made for a spectacular morning.In case you’re wondering, yes, we DID find a brewery to visit. Castle Danger Brewery in Two Harbors. Wonderful ales. Curiously offered in 11oz or 18oz servings. Why not try two different beers each? While hanging around the town, (doing laundry), we noticed a freighter pulling in at the ore dock. Now we’ve seen everything! It took him far less time to land that gigantic freighter than it took me to back the Fireball into a campsite!
Tomorrow (Friday), we’re going to reluctantly point the Firetruck south on Highway 61, and begin our slow descent southward to home. I’m reluctant to leave, feeling that we are leaving too much unexplored. Will we ever get back? We’ve visited Highway 61, and like Dylan, hope to revisit. (okay, okay….I just couldn’t resist.)