We absolutely lucked out and got a great campsite at Split Rock State Park. We happened to walk in just after a cancellation came in for one of the sites that you use a cart to haul all your stuff in, far away from other sites.
The dining room was ok.
But the view from the living room was spectacular, overlooking the lake and the lighthouse.
We headed down the hill to explore the lakeshore.
I’ve got the whole lighthouse in my hand…
This is a rather unfortunate composition of me against the lighthouse – Minnesota’s most photographed place, perhaps has never quite had this vantage point.
It was a wonderful night with the moonrise. Can’t decide if the close-up, middle, or wide angle views are my favorite, so all follow.
Heading North for a rare weekend with all three kids. Might be the last time in a long time they are all together, except for a day before Claire leaves for Iceland.
Since we had some extra time, we stopped at one of those places we always drive by on the way up north, Moose Lake State Park Agate and and Geologic Center. After ogling the agates in the display, it was time for some impromptu swimming. Martin decided it was time to try the experimental sand hair exfoliate.
Next it was off to Jay Cooke State Park, just south of Duluth – another one of those drive-by parks that often gets missed on the way up the North Shore. It is one of Minnesota’s truly under-appreciated parks.
The St Louis River battles through strongly tilted slate beds as it runs into Lake Superior.
A broader view of the valley, downstream from the park.
A closer look at the tilted slate beds.
We lucked onto a primo camp site – not too close to other sites, with a nice rock backdrop.
The swinging bridge is replaced after the floods of 2012.
Martin gazes into what we called the “cauldron of doom” where the river drops into a maelstrom of water and foam.
The forest along the river near the highway bridge.
Day three is only a few hours in the morning before the long drive back home.
However, the Beaver River called as we drove over the bridge on highway 61, so we stepped out for a closer look.
I love the minty green of the trees sneaking out of the fog.
Yet another perspective.
Finally one more look at Gooseberry middle falls after a night of rain.
Gooseberry lower falls.
Finally, Mark and Linda selfie.
I was struck with the stark contrast between a story on my phone with my location and experience this morning. While enjoying the clear waters and parks of Minnesota, I read that the governor of Iowa had cut $9 million dollars from the state parks and outdoors budget and $11 million dollars from the clean water budget, despite being passed by both parties in the state house. Of course, there is enough money to give $110 million to a private company to build a fertilizer plant.
With the threat of rain for the day, we made a quick trip to Gooseberry Falls early in the morning and found the wildly popular park, usually covered with people like ants, to be nearly empty.
The middle falls.
And one part of the lower falls, with an example of one of the most iconic and under-appreciated trees, the Cedar, its gnarly roots, holding of for dear life on the rock.
The drizzle and fog soon set in as we made the annual pilgrimage to Palisade Head.
Hiking to the north of the cliffs reveals a tundra-like landscape of rock, mosses and lichens, and small trees.
Did I say it was wet?
It was wet down at the beach as well, but as a bonus, made the rocks look their best.
We finally relented and went to Duluth in the evening and sampled some of the fare at Fitger’s Brewery – both dinner and beverage locally sourced. I was surprised to learn they had their own herd of Scottish Highland cattle for meat for the restaurant – lots of spent grain to feed hearty northern cattle.
Linda and I don’t have many chances to sneak away, but we did for a while this weekend.
Of course, we headed to the big lake and explored some locations we hadn’t previously visited. While we had visited the lighthouse portion of Split Rock State Park/Historical area, we had not explored the river portion and more remote part of the park. The water is wonderful as it transitions from clear to turquoise to deep blue as it gets deeper.
Here’s an obligatory view of the lighthouse.
A vista from a hill close to shore, looking south towards Duluth.
A special shout out to my mother for remembrances of those who fetched these from the ash swamp many years ago.
The trail soon turned into “animal kingdom” first with this Bald Eagle.
Then this rather skinny doe, no doubt much appreciative of the spring foliage.
Look, Look, Squirrel!! I believe this is a Franklins Ground Squirrel.
A hike up the river leads to a series of waterfalls.
And more cascades further up the Split Rock River.
We spent the good part of the afternoon hiking on a segment of the Superior Hiking Trail from the Temperance River to the Cross River and back again. Of course the part we covered was less than 1% of the entire trail (unless you count going there and back – then more than 1.7%!) of the total trail length of 296 miles – Duluth to the Canadian border.
I promised you more self-photos – this along the stretch where the trail goes along the Temperance River.
OK, one more.
Although hard to see in this photo, this is one of my favorite vantage of any north shore stream. Right here, the river take a sharp 90 degree turn and you can stand on a rock seemingly in the middle of the river and look upstream at eye level with the onrushing waters and look downstream to a waterfall.
Finally away from the river, we snapped a photo of a trail marker.
Some parts of the trail are wet and have a boardwalk.
Some portions are wet and have mud.
Other portions are wet and have rock guides.
Part of the trail passes through a maple forest.
Other parts an aspen forest.
Yet other parts, a pine forest.
Then there are open areas covered with ferns.
Even some openings adorned with fireweed.
Every once and a while, you get a vista of Lake Superior.
There is a beautiful campsite at the Cross River.
Another rolling and tumbling stream – the Cross River.
Cascades, pools, and waterfalls upstream – a great playground.
The longest time off Linda will have all summer is this three-day weekend in the middle of July. So we escaped north to Lake Superior. First stop is the always spectacular Palisade Head.
We thought we’d join the self-indulgent trend of self-photos – this is one of many on the trip!
We took a hike along the cliff to the north until we reached the signs alerting us to go no further as not to bother the nesting peregrine falcons – but this is a great view back to the south towards Palisade Head.
Some nifty flowers along the trail.
Fortunately, I was able to hold on and pull myself up from the brink. But I was a bit perturbed that Linda was snapping photos instead of offering a hand 😉
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.
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.