2015 Trip 3, Isle Royale, June 25
Fog in June on Lake Superior seems to be a constant. It comes, it goes, it re-forms and moves around. The cold water evidently interacts with the warmer air temperatures and, voila, fog. We have watched it from our cabin, from various hikes, from the shores of Rock Harbor, and from the deck of Voyageur II.
Today was no exception. All night long the fog was heavy outside our cabin. The Voyageur II left at 9 AM EDT and the harbor was socked in. As we traveled around the island, picking up stray backpackers from small, isolated docks, the fog eventually dissipated; the views of the rocks and forests of Isle Royale are much more spectacular with blue skies and bluer water. Then, as we arrive in Grand Marais this evening, the fog is present again as a light mist covering the ground.
Several of the people returning with us are like old friends; the couple from Minocqua, the Montana couple that ran in Grandma’s Marathon, the Iowa party getting on at Malone Bay after backpacking. We joke about the boat ride and hope today’s return trip will be smoother. It is. But the length of the journey has only increased. The pick up of backpackers from remote locations requires slower speeds in narrow channels and extra time to go in and out of pick-up points. All in all, we enjoy the smoother trip and better scenery. We congratulate ourselves for tackling another adventure.
Captain Ben spends some time with us chatting. We discover the boat was built in 1972, originally planned for commercial fishing. The back section, the noisier one that we have avoided, was to hold fish. The original owner died and the ferry people bought it and converted it. Both Ben and Kirk have been doing this for four years and sleep on board. We have smelled their lunches on each trip as Kirk makes something in the galley for them. Evidently, sometimes they use a Crockpot and the smell drives the travelers nuts.
On our way out of Windigo, going through Washington Harbor, Voyageur II stops at the site of the wreck of the steamship America which went down in 1928. The America was the mail, freight, and passenger delivery service to Isle Royale and much of the North Shore. In 1928, the 2nd in charge ran the boat aground, all passengers got off safely. The new Highway 61 in Minnesota was making the ship less profitable and the ship was left in the water to break up further rather than salvage it. We were able to see portions of the wreckage still under the water.
More than 25 ships have sunk around Isle Royale over the years. There are still four lighthouses around the island. We saw all of them and heard lots of foghorns. Isle Royale National Park does extend out into Lake Superior so park rangers have to patrol the waterways also.
You probably know that Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area and the third largest in the world by volume. We also wrote about Lake Superior in two previous trips: 2013 Trip 7, Sept. 7-12 (the Upper Peninsula of Michigan) and 2014 Trip 6,Sept. 8-11 (Ontario from Thunder Bay to Sault Ste Marie).
We arrive at Grand Portage and are able to leave (after getting our luggage and paying the parking fee) around 3:45 PM CDT. The skies in front of us are getting ominously dark. Our plan is to drive the short distance to the High Falls of the Pigeon River at Grand Portage State Park. Doing this hike now will save us 1.5 hours tomorrow of driving time by having to back track from Grand Marais.
The High Falls are notable for several reasons. First, they are the tallest falls in Minnesota at 120 feet and with recent rains, should be impressive. Second, the falls and Pigeon River are on the boundary of the U.S. and Canada. One can view the falls from either country.
Third, the falls created an impediment for Indians and fur traders who traveled by canoe during the days of the fur trade. This required a nine mile portage around the falls. This “Grand Portage” lead to the creation of a trading post for decades; now it is memorialized in the Grand Portage National Monument. We have been here before and will not go into its history and significance in this post.
Fourth, the park land is owned by the Grand Portage Band of Chippewa and is leased by them to the state for use as a state park.
We reach the visitor center and hike at double-time speed to reach the falls before any rains come-and before the park closes. Success is ours; the falls are running fast and we manage to avoid rain.
Lodging is in Grand Marais MN, an upscale town along the North Shore. We are at the Best Western with great Lake Superior views. But first we have dinner at The Pie Place Cafe in downtown Grand Marais. The meatloaf dinner and the Black Bear Blueberry Salad are fantastic; almost as great as the Blueberry/Sour Cherry pie and the Raspberry/Rhubarb pie.
Ed and Chris June 26