2015 Trip 3, Isle Royale June 21
This trip is to visit Isle Royale National Park, an island located in Lake Superior. Technically the park is in the state of Michigan although it is closer to Minnesota and to Ontario. We have never been to this park; it is remote and not heavily visited. One can take a day’s ferry ride over from Michigan or from Minnesota and spend a few hours on the island. We chose a second, longer option of taking the ferry over and spending three nights on the island. If you have read this blog previously, you can probably guess that we are not camping. There is a lodge at Isle Royale and we will be staying at one of their cabins.
The ferry leaves from Grand Portage MN, just a few miles south of the U.S.-Canada border. It departs at 7:30 A.M. (and arrives at our lodge around 3 PM) so we have driven up to the North Shore region of Minnesota on Sunday. These remote areas of the North Shore and Isle Royale itself have little or no Internet and cell coverage (or the cell coverage might be in Canada and extremely expensive) so this post may not see the light of day until Thursday when we return from Isle Royale and are lodging in Grand Marais MN, a little farther south of the border.
We left St. Paul at 8 AM. The first half of the distance brings us to Duluth MN at the SW tip of Lake Superior. The road is all Interstate and other than abundant wildflowers along the edge of the Interstate, nothing too dramatic to report. Duluth is a pleasant town of about 85,000 people and we have visited here often and do not plan to discuss much about it here. Except, this was the weekend for Grandma’s Marathon.
Grandma’s Marathon has been running for 39 years and was originally sponsored by a local Duluth restaurant (Grandma’s) which is still in existence. The marathon has grown dramatically and now large, corporate sponsors provide the primary funding for the marathon. It runs along the shore of Lake Superior and has spectacular scenery. Lucky for us it ran Saturday since our route and the marathon’s route overlap for a number of miles. The only evidence we saw were the hordes of teenagers picking up trash along the route and the list of finishers in the local Duluth newspaper.
The second half of the distance is on MN Highway 61 along the North Shore. This road is a scenic route with great vistas of the lake and of the “mountains” along the shoreline. Due to the mountains, there are over 20 waterfalls between Duluth and the Canadian border. As we drive farther past Duluth, the smell of pine trees is noticeable. Chris spotted a bald eagle just sitting in one of the trees. The drive here is slower but more enjoyable.
We stopped at an overlook north of Duluth and met a marathoner from Toronto. He has been trying to run marathons that are located around the Great Lakes. He has run 13 so far. He was taking pictures of the area and we took one for him with Lake Superior in the background. Another couple at the overlook were from Nebraska and we discussed with them the snow geese and sandhill cranes that throng the Kearney-Grand Island NE area in late March. We are contemplating visiting there next spring if we can figure out how to do that and make it to South Beach.
Our return journey starts Thursday and we will spend four more nights along the North Shore. This extended time will allow us to visit several of the waterfalls at that time. Today, we did visit one state park and its waterfall. Judge C.R. Magney state park is located along the Brule River (there also is a Brule River in Wisconsin.) We hiked the trail to Devil’s Kettle. (Atlas Obscura has an interesting video about Devil’s Kettle also. http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/devils-kettle)
The Devil’s Kettle is a waterfall/rapids that is somewhat unique. As the river heads to Lake Superior, it passes a rapids where the north side of the river creates a water fall but the south half of the river falls into a pothole and the water disappears. Geologists have done various studies to figure out exactly where the water goes but no one has yet definitively answered the question.
Our lodging for the evening is at Naniboujou Lodge, located across the street from the state park. The lodge was formed in 1929 by a group of wealthy men to create an exclusive hunting lodge. Original founders included Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey. As you can imagine, the 1929 October stock market crash put the kibosh on the funding for the club. It changed hands over the years but the current owners have had it since the 1980s.
The dining room has the largest, free-standing native stone fireplace in the U.S. The dining room is painted in the Cree Indian style and the paint is as fresh and vibrant today as it was when it was originally painted in 1929-over 85 years ago. The food was excellent also; Lake Superior whitefish for me and spinach lasagna for Chris.
This far north the nights are longer and sunrise comes early. That won’t be a problem tomorrow since we have to be up early to make it to Grand Portage for the early departure of the ferry. There is a good potential for wind and rain-hopefully that won’t stop the ferry ride or make the journey too unpleasant.
Ed and Chris Thursday June 25