September 1 Scenic Highway 61 Lake Superior

The rest of the photos for this day of travels are linked here.

Bemidji_to_Carlton (24) As we scouted about for “things not to miss” in this part of the country, the North Shore Scenic Route kept appearing in brochures and on maps.  Highway 61 follows Lake Superior from Duluth all the way to Thunder Bay, but we decided that going as far as Silver Bay would be sufficient for this late afternoon trip. The traffic through Duluth wasn’t unbearable, even in late afternoon, and we negotiated the narrow lanes in the midst of construction without much of a delay. On the east side of Duluth, however, the scenic route becomes the 61 Expressway, and for much of the distance north we had a perfect view of scrubby trees with only momentary glimpses of the water.  The construction zone was a bit confusing as well, and we missed a turnoff to the “real” scenic route, but didn’t figure that out until our return trip in the late evening.

After passing the very tiny hamlet of Silver Bay, we drove north on Highway 1 to find the community of Finland, where something Mo read in a brochure led us to believe there was a Finnish town with shops and Finnish culture to view.  We did find Finland, and the culture consisted of a small wooden carved statue at the “Heritage Site” in a grassy patch along the highway.  That was certainly a bust!

Bemidji_to_Carlton (26) We headed back to the highway to try to find Lake Superior. Earlier in the day we had attempted to get a campsite at Tettagouche State Park, but when we finally arrived there, both of us were relieved that we had been unsuccessful.  Tettagouche was a bit of a scrubby, barren place, with campsites tucked into the stunted trees of this harsh shoreline.  Our state park pass for the day did gain us free parking, though, so we found a trail down to the beach and took Abby for a walk and a swim in Lake Superior.  The trail was well built, and the views were good, but the beach was quite tiny.  It certainly didn’t meet my original expectations of this huge expansive Lake Superior, the largest fresh water body in the world!

Bemidji_to_Carlton (50) After a bit of a hike, a swim for Abby, and some photo opportunities, we drove back south on Highway 61 in hopes of seeing some more of the lake, and possibly some beaches and waterfalls.  We found the Split Rock Light Station where there is a fee to simply hike around and photograph the lighthouse.  In the adjacent state park, however, our trusty pass gave us the opportunity to hike the trails to an excellent viewpoint of the lighthouse.  Gooseberry Falls state park turned out to be the best of the three, with many miles of trails, a lovely campground on the shoreline, and several waterfalls along the Gooseberry River.  The day was getting a bit late for photographs but the hike was great and the falls were dramatic; cascading over shelves of dark metamorphic slate.  Even at that late hour there were quite a few people hiking around the falls trails.

Bemidji_to_Carlton (57) We continued on our way back to Duluth and stopped again at Two Harbors, where another lighthouse stood watch over the bays.  Here we saw the huge iron ore loading docks for the big ships moved ore over Lake Superior. The sun was setting, it was after 8, and I was getting hungry.  Look out when I get hungry and my blood sugar drops!  We tried to find “food” using Garmin Girl, since on this little jaunt we were in the Tracker with the MoHo safely parked many miles away in Jay Cooke.  We also found the turn for the real scenic highway 61 and saw great views of the lake and distant shores of Wisconsin in spite of the dimming light.  Garmin Girl tried to take us to some brewery in downtown Duluth, but it was a bit much for our tired bodies in grungy shorts so we passed on that suggestion and continued until we found a Perkins cafe not far west of Duluth. 

Bemidji_to_Carlton (66) The food was marginal at best, but it was food, and the waitress was entertaining.  There were some rather strange looking people in that restaurant, and I am sure we fit in just fine.  By the time we got back to the MoHo, Jeremy was waiting with plaintive meows, wondering why all the windows were open and the fans on full blast when it was freezing cold.  I wondered the same thing as we battened down the hatches, donned sweaters and jammies and fell thankfully into a warm bed.  Sometimes the feeling of being horizontal after a day like this one is just too wonderful to describe.

September 1 Bemidji to Carlton/Duluth

Bemidji_to_Carlton (6) This may be close to the most perfect day possible in Northern Minnesota.  The skies are so blue and the sun so white brilliant that I have to squint even through my sunglasses.  The temperature this morning was in the high 50’s and now as it is getting close to noon we are approaching 72.  Humidity seems non-existent today. We are continuing our travels east on Highway 2 and just passed Grand Rapids.  I know there is also a much larger Grand Rapids in Michigan, but this one is a pleasant small town of under 10,000.

Our campsite last night had electricity but no water, but the park showers were less than 100 yards from the site, so we both took advantage of the unlimited, free hot water.  Our site, one of the few pull through’s with electricity, seemed to be right in the middle of the path to the showers, but once we were parked, no one seemed to use the path through our campsite.  Of course, the campground was close to empty, so that may have helped. The long, long, very long, trailer was parked in the site adjacent to ours, and the owners had several small children, but with all the thick forest we never heard them at all.  Night was perfectly cool for sleeping and quiet this morning except for the songbirds.

This morning I took advantage again of the nearly instantaneous wireless connection to search for our next port and we decided on the Jay Cooke State Park just a few miles south of Duluth.  Often the state parks are a bit spendy with the extra fees tacked on, but the campsites are usually spaced well, and much more private than many public RV parks.  Our plan today is to park the MoHo and then use this magnificent day to explore Highway 31 north of Duluth to Silver Bay.

Bemidji_to_Carlton (5) Lawns. I must talk about lawns in Minnesota. Lawns here must have a great deal of importance in Minnesota culture.  At the visitor center yesterday there was a very large glossy brochure, placed right next to the large “Travel Minnesota” brochure, titled:”How to Manage your Minnesota Lawn”. This morning as we drove back to the highway through the local neighborhoods, we saw many small tidy houses surrounded by acres and acres of huge lawns, all brilliant green and manicured to perfection.  Often as not, on this Wednesday morning, there was someone out in a very large lawn machine mowing.  Although one time we did see a lawn that had to be five acres with two people busy operating regular walk behind gas lawn mowers.  Of course, irrigation is non-existent, as this place gets enough summer rain to support all this verdant landscape.

Our drive east of Bemidji passed the southern portion of the Chippewa Forest, more verdant green hardwoods, interspersed by spruce bogs, firs, and red and jack pines.  Lakes are becoming so common that we roll our eyes and say, oh gee, another lake.  It’s much like that feeling in Europe when you think, “oh, gee, another beautiful cathedral”.  Reading the AAA Road Guide made us want to stop and drive some of the side roads, but Mo reminded us that the goal of this trip is actually Toronto and Niagara Falls, so we need to somehow stay focused and refrain from wandering off in every tantalizing direction. As Laurie said recently, this is the big difference between touring the country in six weeks and crossing it without a deadline. 

Bemidji_to_Carlton (14) Early in the afternoon we passed through the town of Cloquet, on the St Louis River.  In addition to many well cared for Craftsman homes and neighborhoods, there was a small unassuming gas station perched on the corner where we planned to turn east.  A closer look at the AAA guide book revealed this gas station was one of 13 structures built by Frank Lloyd Wright.  What a little treasure!  Continuing along the river to the smaller town of Carlton, we were impressed with the entire area.  The homes were tidy, the yards immaculate, everything seemed so fresh and inviting.

Earlier in the day I managed to get a reservation for an electric site in the state park for tomorrow, but they wouldn’t allow me to book anything for today.  We decided to take our chances and when we checked in to the park, were able to take site number 1, first-come-first serve site number 1.  Bemidji_to_Carlton (22) Although on the main road, it was better than taking another site closer to our reservation for tomorrow because we didn’t have to move.  We do know better than to travel on Labor Day weekend without reservations, and out west it would be impossible.  (I am remembering a Labor Day at the California coast in a marina parking lot!).  But we are doing it anyway and are hoping for a small city park or out of the way RV park to take us in over the weekend as we continue traveling east.  The reservation at Killarney Provincial Park awaits us for Sunday night, and one way or the other we will get there!

Jay Cooke State Park is bisected by the St Louis River, and includes a swinging bridge that has been restored, several CCC stone buildings, and 4 large loops in the campground. It was perfect for us, and we set up quickly so that we could get to the Scenic North Shore route before too late in the day.

August 31 Devils Lake ND to Bemidji MN

The rest of the photos for this day of travels are linked here.

DevilsLake (14) When I woke this morning, I knew I loved North Dakota even more than yesterday.  The skies had partially cleared and the sun was illuminating the park in a sea of iridescent green like a vision from a long forgotten fairy tale.  The park was still very nearly empty, with only four campers stretched out over the more than 100 sites on the east side campground.  After morning tea we unhooked the bikes for a very windy but exhilarating ride through the park, along the whitecapped lake, and around the west campground.

Have I mentioned the battery problems with the Tracker?  Sometimes, completely unexpectedly, the battery will be dead.  Totally silent kind of dead.  Since that first time back in Spokane, it has only happened when it is still hooked up, but is more of an annoyance than a really serious problem.  This morning it DevilsLake (1)was dead again, and Mo decided that maybe she wasn’t doing something wrong and she just needed a new battery.  We were in luck.  Checking the Road Atlas for a Wal-Mart showed one right in Devils Lake, just a block away from our already planned stop at the Exxon for propane.  Details.  However those details did slow down our travels a bit and after buying propane and a battery, we didn’t get out of Devils Lake until after 11am. 

It was to be an easy day, though, with only 200 miles to Bemidji, our planned destination.  The roads were clear and straight, with huge wide medians filled with green.  Have I mentioned green? And blue?  There is so much sky in this part of the world, and even when it is half covered by clouds there is so much blue.  In fact, seeing sky that goes brilliant blue all the way to the horizon in all directions is a treat that I was looking forward to and could only imagine.  I know the west is beautiful.  Westerners always have to make comments about this part of the country, “but it’s so FLAT”.  “I couldn’t live without the mountains.”  Well, I do love the mountains, and I love the west, but with mountains in the west come fires and haze and murky skies during much of the summer when it should be blue. Today was blue.  And green.  And white. It was an amazing day of brilliant color and sky. Yesterday I fell in love with North Dakota, and today I fell in love with Minnesota.

DevilsLake_to_Bemidji (6) Now my daughter will accuse me of being a soil nerd, but I also had a blast using the iPhone SoilWeb application developed by Toby O’Geen at UCDavis.  You just hit the screen, and in a minute your gps location finds the soil that is mapped there and a screen pops up with the soil profile, the description, and the classification.  The application is essentially using web soil survey, but it’s great fun to get it on the fly.  So when the phone tells me I am crossing a fine smectitic frigid Aquertic Argiudoll, I know by this name that the climate is fairly cold but not in summer, that the soil has wetness issues, that is has cracks in it from the fine clays, that the surface is deep and dark, and that it gets summer rain.  I am not sure if any other scientific classifications explain so much about the thing they are classifying. 

 DevilsLake_to_Bemidji (11) We stopped in at a visitor center just inside the state of Minnesota and while I continued to drive, Mo reviewed some of the possibilities for the next few days.  She started reading about the Itasca State Park, where you can walk across the Mississippi, and we couldn’t figure out just where it was, but she thought we needed to go there.  A conversation ensued about timing, and how we were going to make it to Niagara Falls if we kept wandering off to do other things than what was originally planned.  About that moment, a sign appeared, Itasca State Park, 21 miles south, and within a moment we made the decision to go there.  For me this is the best part of a road trip, that spontaneous moment when you just take the turn down the road, unplanned.

DevilsLake_to_Bemidji (26)Itasca State Park is where the headwaters of the Mississippi River emerge from the lake on their journey to the Gulf of Mexico.  The river is the third largest in the world, and it drains more than a third of the entire United States.  Here in the park, the river is just a riffle without a thought of what she will become.  The interpretive center had excellent maps and posters describing the area, the river, the history, and so much more.  There were campgrounds there, and initially we thought we might camp, but then decided that we could still get to the park in Bemidji by six or so and it would be a bit further down the road so we headed back north.

Garmin Girl has been silenced, but she still is giving directions that are usually very good.  Yesterday she tried to take us across some very wet dirt roads on the way to Devils Lake, but today she navigated the way to Bemidji State Park without a hitch.  This park is much more closed and shaded than Devils  Lake, but still isn’t crowded at all at the moment.   We were offered a pull through electric site and took it happily.  After a simple setup and pizza for supper in the convection oven we took off walking the Homestead Trail to the Rocky Point Overlook on Bemidji Lake.  The trails are extremely well maintained, wide and well planned, surrounded by deep, moist hardwood forest.  I do love the hardwood forests, and I am sure that before this trip is over I will have many more photos of sunlight backlighting the leaves through the shadows. 

DevilsLake_to_Bemidji (41) Once back at camp, I discovered to my amazement that here, in the middle of the forest, in Bemidji Minnesota, I have free internet access compliments of the Minnesota State Park System.  So while Mo built an evening campfire, I uploaded the last couple of days photos, and finished writing blog entries as well. 

Who knows when I will have access again, but for now, this is great.  The humidity is high, but not unbearable because it is cool.  The mosquitoes aren’t as big or prolific as I thought they might be, although we did put on some DEET for the first time since we left on this trip.  The night is quiet and still, with no rain in sight, no thunder to wake us.  Maybe a really good night of sleep awaits!