Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Minnesota's North Shore

I've just returned from a fabulous jaunt to Minnesota's North Shore. It was a quick get away for my wife and I, which is something we haven't done in years. The weather was fine and the hiking was invigorating. The scenery, my friends, is about as good as it gets here in the frozen north.

Stretching about 150 miles from the famous port city of Duluth to the Canadian border the north shore of Lake Superior has been a favorite destination for tens of thousands of tourists for many decades. We recommend a mid-week trip of no less than 3 days to avoid the crowds and to make sure you don't miss any of the highlights.

We started in Grand Portage near the Canadian border and went south on Highway 61. The first place we stopped was Grand Portage State Park to see the High Falls.

The Pigeon River separates the U.S. from Canada. It was the High Falls that gave birth to the "grand portage". It is a rugged nine mile portage first used by the Chippewa Indians before the first French fur traders ever laid eyes on these spectacular waterfalls. This is the highest waterfall in Minnesota - falling well over a 100 ft. Obviously photos can't relay the impact seeing it in person does.

Near Grand Portage in an undisclosed location is the infamous Witch Tree. It is not marked on any maps and it is featured in no brochures. There are no signs or historical markers pointing the way - one just has to know where it is. Finding it is half the fun.

It is said to be a spiritual site for the Native Americans of the area and therefore is treated with reverence by all visitors. The tree is reportedly in excess of 300 years old. Growing out of a rock it seems to defy the laws of nature... The best way to view it is from the lake itself. Seeing it from the viewing stand 30 yards away lessens the visual impact, but it is nonetheless spectacular.

The tree is situated deep in a ravine where the wind does not blow and the birds do not sing. It is utterly silent among the moss draped conifers. There are signs that say only "Quiet Area". The site is marked by this informational sign just as you enter the ravine.

We stayed in the town of Lutsen, famous for its ski resorts and lake shore villas. Lutsen offers the best skiing in Minnesota, a state with plenty of snow but no real mountains. Just south of Lutsen is Temperance River State Park. The Temperance River cuts a mighty swath through the bluffs as it winds its way down to the big lake.

The river cuts through the bedrock with violent torrents carving 30, 40, 50 foot gorges with its many waterfalls. But even with the raging river pounding away relentlessly just a few feet below a tiny, delicate and beautiful flower perseveres.

Continuing south on Highway 61 we come to one of our favorite North Shore parks, Tettegouche State Park. The Baptism River, like the Temperance is a wild ride through the bluffs and offers some of the best hiking in Minnesota. But it's Shovel Point that treats you to some unparalleled sights.

The color of the water in Lake Superior is like nothing I've seen before. It's very clear and very cold, even in mid-August. Not many sandy beaches or bathing beauties to behold, just an occasional kayaker floating by.

There are numerous historical markers, scenic overlooks and wayside rests all along Highway 61. Cutface Creek is beautiful little wayside. However, with this years lack of rainfall the creek itself was bone dry. Nevertheless, the beach (if you can call it that) is a favorite spot for rock and agate collectors. I snapped this rather artsy picture as colorful little leaf bobbed in the shallows.

From another wayside sightseers can get a view of the famous Split Rock Lighthouse. Decommissioned years ago and turned into a state park this lighthouse is easily one of the most recognizable of Lake Superior's many lighthouses.
Situated high above the lake on a 150 ft cliff face Split Rock Lighthouse is a favorite of photographers and painters, including yours truly!
"Autumn At Split Rock"
18X24 (acrylic)

Indeed the whole North Shore is favorite of photographers and artists! For instance, Gooseberry Falls is probably the most photographed feature in all of Minnesota's many state parks. This year with the lack of rain the falls are a fraction of what they normally are. Still, as you can see, tourists continue to enjoy Minnesota's most visited state park.

Twenty miles north of Duluth is a town called Two Harbors which still services large iron ore vessels. Here the Philip Clarke is being loaded as we view it from the breakwater pier out in the harbor.

Two Harbors is hopping town during tourist season and boasts many fine cafes, BWCA outfitters and gift shops. The Two Harbors Lighthouse is still a working facility that doubles as a bed and breakfast with a fine little gift shop.

We ended our tour trying to follow the famous Sky Line Parkway in Duluth. There are supposedly seven stone bridges built along the parkway during the depression by WPA workers. The city has since grown to engulf the old Sky Line Parkway and try as we might we continually lost our way. Eventually we found the south end of the parkway and stopped at a wayside where we snapped this picture of Duluth's most famous landmark, The Aerial Lift Bridge.

Just as we were giving up on finding any of the stone bridges we turned a corner a there it was!

Everyone should take a drive along Highway 61 at least once in your life. It one of America's great national highways. But a Highway 61 adventure wouldn't be complete without a tour of Minnesota's North Shore!