While they are a bit late this year, the wet spring has insured a full strawberry crop this year.
In fact, it seems like for this week or so they are somewhat like children in that they are responsible for how we spend our time. They must be picked and then moved on – moved on to the freezer, the dehydrator, made into shortcake, passed on to others. I’m sure after the glut is over, they will once again become a welcome sight.
Martin spent the week at Dorian Music Camp at Luther College in Decorah this week.
He enjoyed the jazz ensemble, directed by an excitable Cuban bandleader. He also played in a full concert band.
He stretched a bit and even tried choir – you can only imagine the joyous sound from so many young voices. He also had some private lessons on trombone and did some keyboard work as well. A full week of music and fun.
We had a nice site on a small hill overlooking an arm of Bearskin Lake.
‘Twas a beautiful night, so beautiful in fact, it was one of the rare nights it was so beautiful that the fish were enjoying it with me and refused to bite. But as a consolation we first heard, then saw a moose getting into the lake and sloshing around for a bit.
Aah, the campfire at the end of the day. And look – bare legs so that means skeeters weren’t so bad.
One last stop on the big lake on the way home for lunch.
Flat rocks, water, and a kid. What else do you need?
Since Martin seemed captivated by the history of the quarry at Banning State Park, we decided to to some more history. First stop today was the St. Louis County Historical Society’s exhibits in the old train depot in Duluth. Among other exhibits was one room chronicling the immigrant experience. It was interesting to me since both sides of my family immigrated in the turn-of-the-century timeframe. Perhaps in biggest contrast to today’s immigrants, there were huge dormitories built for incoming immigrants to have a safe place to stay for a few months until they earned enough to get a place of their own.
But the main attraction here is the collection of vintage local trains. One of the most fascinating to me was this rail mail car. The attendant would reach out with a hook and grab a mail bag hung up at many locations along the route where the train did not stop. The mail was sorted en route, and the cool part was if the mail was for a stop further down the track, the attendent would throw out the mail bag, which could have included mail picked up just hours ago! Beat that Fed Ex! Of course, if the mail was on a stop behind the train’s route, it wouldn’t get delivered that day.
How awesome is this snowplow train!
Here’s a fancy dining car from back in the day.
And here is the mother of all locomotives. This coal-fired steam locomotive was 128 feet long! Over half the length was the compartment to carry coal. This monster burned one ton of coal every six minutes! It could carry 28 tons of coal in its own coal bin. It ran iron ore from the Iron Range down to Lake Superior and in its day was the most powerful locomotive in existence. There were many other trains, including cranes, a rotary snowplow, and the first locomotive to arrive in Minnesota, via boat, of course, not rail.
Then it was off to Split Rock Lighthouse.
When the lighthouse was built in 1910, there were no roads, so all the building supplies were lifted up the cliff via a steam-powered hoist and derrick, including all the bricks necessary to built the lighthouse, foghouse, three keeper houses and barns, along with of course all the supplies and people for a number of years (if the lake was calm). Five years after construction a tramway was built to make things a bit easier, but it was not until 1924 that a highway was built, allowing more reliable transport of goods.
Martin loved the new slogan of the Split Rock “Before GPS, there was a really big light.” The lighthouse ceased operation in 1969.
Part of the lamp, with the reflecting glass engineered to produce a beam visible from the furthest distance from the kerosene lamp.
So we are all led to believe that the Mississippi River begins at Lake Itasca.
How about this stream flowing INTO Lake Itasca? Shouldn’t somewhere up stream from here be the beginning? Or perhaps one of the other four streams that flow into the lake, perhaps the longest one? No, someone has determined that this one is not large enough to be considered a source. It has a bridge! Doesn’t that give it some geomorphological cred?
Here is the real start. The water was too high to step across in shoes. I wonder how many people have stepped over these stones the last 100 years?
You’ll notice an absence of others throughout most of these pictures. The week was mostly devoid of traffic and people. Some of the campsites were nearly empty, so throughout the week, we were able to marvel at the sites relatively undisturbed.
Those in the First Nations who lived here were very puzzled why the white man was so obsessed about finding the exact source of the river. They viewed every part of the river as special, not just the beginning.
One of the non-hiking/driving adventures was a 17-mile bike loop through the park. It went through deciduous forest, pine forests, swamps, and along lakes. There was a place to rent bikes in the park, which was a great convenience.
Just off the trail was this tree that I just quite couldn’t get to fit – it’s Minnesota’s largest White Pine. The largest Red Pine was also near, but had recently lost part of its top, so lost its crown. Martin noticed that this one is starting to get hollow and leaning, so it probably won’t be there when he brings his kids hear.
Finishing off the bike trail near the end of the loop.
The next day we headed over to Itasca State Park, Minnesota’s oldest and one of the biggest state parks. An interesting story is about the nation’s first female park superintendent, Mary Gibbs. She was superintendent shortly after the park was formed, but before the lumber barons. She had a showdown at gunpoint with the local logging boss regarding destruction of a dam at the headwaters, flooding the park, but making it easier to transport logs. At the end of her life, she was just as fiesty, going on a hunger strike at the nursing home to protest being charged 75 cents extra to take her meal in her room instead of the dining hall.
The north park entrance.
Our cabin near the lake within the park.
The cabin is one of the gems built by the WPA in the 30’s. It had logs walls, wood floors, a sink, small fridge, sink, stove, but no oven, and bathroom without a shower. But it was great timing to have the cabin over the 24 hours of rain on this segment of the trip.
One arm of Lake Itasca in the mist.
The light rain didn’t deter us from catching dinner.
A rainbow was one reward for the rain.
It was an all white/yellow meal. Fried fresh fish, rice side dish, applesauce, and with the leftover “Shore Lunch” fish brading, we breaded some onions for onion rings.
After dinner, we toured the interpretive center and looked around the park. This is the lodge for dining, with rooms on the 2nd floor, much like some of the classic park lodges in Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon.
Our second night was at Temperance River State Park. The river is so named because, unlike most other tributaries to Lake Superior, this river does not have the characteristic rock or sand “bar” at the mouth of the river, thus it’s name!
We snagged a good campsite, with nothing but trees and a short hill between us and Lake Superior. I do not like the Eureka Apex tent – as you can see the rain fly makes you guess from which direction the the driving rain might arrive as the fly only covers 60% of the tent area.
On up the river. At one point, the entire river seems to emerge from a dark cave.
Up above, the entire flow of the river is constricted to this narrow passageway, very deep and bubbly.
A bit further upstream, the gorge widens a bit, and provides a permanent rainbow (at least on sunny days).
Upstream even further from the narrow gorge.
Finally around the bend, the river is at its “normal” width.
Finally after dinner, we watched the evening ebb along the shore of Lake Superior.
This week is the 2nd annual Martin-Daddy explore the northwoods week in Northern Minnesota. We drag the canoe up for the girls to go on a BWCA trip and bum around waiting for them to come out. The first night we stayed at Banning State Park, which is about 60 miles south of Duluth on the Kettle River.
Martin along the Kettle River.
We stayed in a what they call a camping cabin – a cabin with a table and two bunk beds – no plumbing, no electricity. Good on rainy days or to keep bugs out and to have room to stretch around.
We made some foil dinners.
We took the trail that was not recommended for young children – although shortly after the beginning of the trail we saw a family retreating with a stroller! I guess the vertical climbs 20 feet up rock faces was a bit too much for the stroller. This is the friendly portion of the trail.
The trail led to a rapids and we sat and watched a bunch of kayakers shoot through the rapids, most stayed head side up.
Martin points to a kettle – a geologic formation formed by rocks swirling in a hole until they drill down in the sandstone, making a pretty good cooking kettle in reverse.
A look up through the bottom of the kettle Martin pointed at in the previous picture. Most of the work was done about 10,000 years ago with the draining of glacial Lake Duluth.
The park was home to a turn-of-the-century quarry. Martin took us through the interpretive hike.
This shot is looking inside the power house. It was a rather apocalyptic scene to view the ruins with trees growing inside the ruins of the building.
Before the power house, the holes were created by hand and blasted with black powder.