Highway 61

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).20141007_162854The 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.20141008_12194820141008_12574520141008_120607 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.20141008_121335At 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.20141008_145729 20141008_145639But, 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.20141008_145939 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.

This shot is odd, because I had to shoot it through the screen in the Lighthouse window.20141008_15003020141008_150211

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….20141009_11480720141009_10501620141009_10572020141009_10463920141009_10410920141009_10362020141009_10290620141009_10534620141009_10371820141009_10290620141009_10055320141009_100743The 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.20141008_16270620141009_11245620141009_11324520141009_112153In case you’re wondering, yes, we DID find a brewery to visit.  Castle Danger Brewery in Two Harbors.wpid-20141009_160200.jpg 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. wpid-20141009_154511.jpg 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.)

Random Musings

After six weeks of being on the road, a few things keep coming to my mind.  Here they are, in no particular order.

  • Coolest town name ever:  Castle Danger, MN.  Nothing else even comes close.
  • Camping in cold rain is not as much fun as camping in warm sun.
  • Many nights by the campfire have been ruined by swirling smoke.  It’s annoying to have to move every couple of minutes.  The solution?  The Campfire Lazy Judy.  I envision this as a large collapsible ring of some type that has a center hole large enough to fit over a 4′ fire ring.  The edges will be wide enough to accommodate a camp chair.  When the smoke swirls your way, simply rotate the Lazy Judy (your foot against the edge of the fire pit) until your chair is no longer in the line of smoke.  No more disruptive getting up and running around!  I need some engineering work, and then a Kickstarter campaign.  Sounds good, right?
  • We have some friends in Arizona who are from Minnesota.  They’ve used the phrase “Minnesota Nice” in conversation.  Now, I know what they’re talking about.  Should be “Minnesota Super Nice”.  People here are amazing.
  • Ashland, Wisconsin has the worst laundromat I’ve ever been in.  Best is the Loads of Fun in Marquette, MI.  There’s one in Beaver Falls, MN called The Mother Load.  That makes me smile.
  • Hope I never get tired of riding my bike.  They are essential for us.  But, I am concerned that we’ve done so much casual riding that I may never be able to hop on my road bike and really roll.  What if my top speed now is 12mph?
  • On the other hand, I see able-bodied folks in campgrounds who DRIVE to the bathrooms.  Seriously?
  • For six weeks, we’ve seen Lake Superior every day.  It has so many faces and shorelines.  Here are a few.  I’m really going to miss this.
    Porcupine Mountain SP, MI

    Porcupine Mountain SP, MI

    Near Bay View Campground

    Near Bay View Campground, MI

    Gooseberry Falls SP, MN

    Gooseberry Falls SP, MN

    Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, MI

    Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, MI

  • Favorite town (so far):  Duluth, MN.  Hands down winner, for me.
  • Favorite campsite:  Bay View Campground in Hiawatha State Forest, MI
  • Worst campsite:  Lakehead Marina, Duluth.  But…location, location…..
  • When you’re traveling, seek out local food purveyors.  Sixth Street Market in Ashland has the best brats I’ve ever had.  Heard their ad on the radio….
  • Don’t think I would mind if I never had TV again.  But, I get really cranky when we’re in a location with no radio stations, and no cell service.
  • The bed in the Fireball is 70″ x 50″ (slightly smaller than a standard double bed).  John is shoehorned into one half.  Jezzy gets about 28% of my half.  My next dog will sleep on the floor!
  • This town has 181 residents, and one is a cop?  A bit of overkill, perhaps?wpid-20141008_130754-1.jpg
  • I get a kick out of sending postcards to John’s folks.
  • John is the Dutch Oven King.

As we sat around the campfire last night, John looked over at me and said, “This really is the life, isn’t it?”  Agreed.

Mistake On the Lake

The phrase “mistake on the lake” has been rolling through my mind for the past couple of days.  It doesn’t apply to Duluth, which seems to be a wonderful place to live (or visit), but to our current campsite.  Yep, we’re camped out on the tarmac, and it’s not a pretty sight.  Here’s a photo of John grilling dinner….20141006_165824The sailboat behind us was moved into position early this morning, blocking our view of the graceful Blatnit Bridge, which connects Duluth to Superior, WI.  (This is not my photo – copied it from a random Google photo file)bridge When it became apparent that this boat was going to stay put, we knew that we had to visit whatever sights we were going to see in Duluth all in one day – we’re going to check out a day early.  I say this with a smile on my face, as we actually laughed out loud when we realized that we had a new sailing neighbor, which will not be sailing away anytime soon.  Mistake On the Lake is our campsite.

So, what to do with just one day?  It’s cool and windy as hell in the morning, so we hang out until 10:30 or so before heading out on bikes.  Minnesota Point was our first destination. This is the very southeastern tip of the little spit of land that lies between Duluth and Superior, WI.  There’s a narrow channel of water between the MN/WI ends.  The total length of 10 miles makes this the longest freshwater sand spit in the world. 20141006_11212320141006_112303 The road to the tip runs through a residential neighborhood, rather plain houses on one side, and spectacular beach homes on the other.

We had a good tailwind heading into town, so we decided to continue cycling along the Lakewalk, a paved path which runs north along the lakeshore from Duluth into the northern communities.  Part of the path runs through town, and past an interesting retaining wall, decorated with photo mosaics.20141006_122027A beautiful Vietnam memorial is also perched along this walkway.  This photo was shot through one of the ‘windows’ in the sculpture.20141006_122547Next up?  A beautiful Lakeside park, with several seating areas.  Brilliant sunshine had many folks out enjoying the day.  We were falling in love with Duluth.20141006_13380020141006_134216We 20141006_133954We traveled out of the City, and into a wooded area, where the paved path ran into several small towns to the north.  After a few more miles, we decided to head back to town.  Hey!  A brewery!  We’ve worked up a real thirst, so into Fitger’s Brewhouse for a quick refreshment.  We loved this place – the bartender had an entertaining crew of regulars gathered ’round, and they took us in as one of their own.  Excellent beer, and pretty good nachos, which we shared.  20141006_142019We liked this so much more than Canal Park Brewery, where we had dinner last night.  Beer there was pretty good, but it was superbusy, and just didn’t have the fun pub feel that we enjoyed so much at Fisger’s.

Now it’s time to visit the Train Museum. On the way there, we see this fabulous pillar beneath the Duluth Library. 20141006_162102 We’re sorry that we didn’t have more time to spend in this fascinating spot.  The first locomotive to be put into service in Duluth in 1862 is here (left).  Isn’t it the perfect Monopoly token?20141006_152938Good photos were at a premium at the Museum, as there was a very strong natural overhead light. 20141006_155617 We examined some of the huge coal-fired locomotives, which required 350 pounds of coal a minute to operate.  Passenger cars from the heyday of rail travel are there, as well as assorted coal cars, mail cars, a caboose (where you can sit up in the high seat and look out the window!).  Many old tools and artifacts from the boom years, as well as the years of decline are there to examine.  One exhibit we both loved was a video of a train equipped with a huge V-snowplow on the front.  It burst through huge drifts along the track.  Guess they need these up here in northern Minnesota, but it was an eye-opener to see.  The Museum is fabulous.

Time to head back to our parking lot campsite.  It’s nearly 5pm, and Jezzy has been patiently waiting for us to come back and entertain her.  We decide that we’ll leave tomorrow, although we had paid for an additional night.  Our original travel plan was to go to International Falls, MN (just because it’s there).  But, now we think that we really want to continue our journey along the Lake Superior shore, stretching northeast of Duluth, up to the Canada border.  Each spot we stopped along this magnificent Lake has its own character.  Some of the borders are white-sand beaches, some high rocky cliffs, some stony beaches.20141006_112523  We can’t wait to see what else is out there.  So, we say goodbye to our porthole view of the Aerial Lift Bridgewpid-20141006_212550-1.jpgand also to our view from the side of the Fireball, which doesn’t look out onto our sailboat neighbor.20141005_204805And hey – just to top things off?  Our refrigerator crapped out again!  Eh, so what?