Thursday, August 26, 2010

Grand Portage State Park: High Falls Trail

We awoke from our tent to a chilly morning. I made us a hot breakfast of museli before we packed up camp and hit the trail. The going was pretty easy today (other than Noelle's boot cutting into her heel) and the hiking went quickly.

When we got back to the car we decided to check out part of the reason for the Grand Portage's existence: the High Falls of the Pigeon River. The drive up to the northeastern-most section of Minnesota is very scenic, featuring some very rugged topography. The hike at Grand Portage State Park was a short mile round-trip hike along a gentle, paved trail. The falls themselves were impressive and it was easy to see why a portage would have been necessary.

From the falls we drove south to Grand Marais where we ate a late lunch at the wonderful Gunflint Tavern. We even stopped at World's Best Donuts for a doughnut for dessert before heading further south to Duluth.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Grand Portage National Monument

Last night after work, Noelle and I headed up the North Shore bound for Grand Portage. Seeing as it was a bit late and we were both tired, we made it as far as the parking lot for the trail that leads up Carlton Peak. We slept in the Subaru for the night.

This morning we woke up bright and early and hit the road. We made it to Grand Marais where we got coffee and muffin tops for breakfast and then drove up to Grand Portage. Our first stop was the Heritage Center where we checked out the exhibits and watched a short film about the monument. Then we headed over to the reconstructed fur post. It was interesting to see how life in the late 1700s and early 1800s in the frontier would have been. We attended a short program on how people throughout history have started fires and saw one of the interpreters playing bagpipes as well.

After touring the post we obtained a permit to camp at the Fort Charlotte site. It would be an 8.5 mile hike from the Heritage Center to our campsite.

The hiking was pleasant and the weather was gorgeous. We saw a few birds and chipmunks, but none of the moose or wolves we were really hoping to see. The most interesting part of the hike occurred when the portage trail passed near a beaver pond. While the resident beaver(s) were nowhere to be found, it was interesting to look around at the plants and birds.

Soon after leaving the beaver pond area, we arrived at the Fort Charlotte site where we set up camp and explored a little bit. Fort Charlotte was the site of the beginning of the portage around the waterfalls and rapids of the Pigeon River.
 Our dinner consisted of Thai rice noodles and couscous. We even enjoyed relaxing around a fire before retiring for the night.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Tettegouche State Park

I took it easy yesterday, since it rained hard pretty much all day. As a result, I was itching to get outside and do some exploring. I headed up the North Shore and past fair Gooseberry Falls to Beaver Bay where I walked down to the private beach that's open to the public to explore a bit and look for agates. The agate search was definitely successful. That beach contains more agates than any other beach I've gone agate hunting for along the North Shore.

After some agate hunting I headed up to Tettegouche State Park where I drove up Palisade Head for the first time. Wow!

There are some great views from the top of the road and some even better views from the summit of the rocky hill. I drove down the hill after about an hour exploring and walking up and down the trail-less summit. I then drove to rest area and visitor center for the start of an ambitious 9 mile hike.

My hike started out with a walk along the Baptism River. I stopped and ate lunch at Two Step Falls before heading upstream.
I bypassed the bottom of the High Falls, crossed the river on a foot bridge and then started a loop to Tettegouche Camp. Along the way I took several spur trails to overlooks, none of which were all that spectacular. When I arrived at Tettegouche Camp I explored the camp a bit. It was the first time I'd been there without snow on the ground. I went down to Mic Mac Lake and then hit the trail again.

I passed yet another lake, this one called Nipisiquit Lake. I stopped for a drink of water at a picnic table set up there before continuing on. I soon saw a couple of dead moles along the trail. There was no sign of how they might have died though. The most exciting part of the hike came when I saw a Pine Marten on the trail. As I approached it ran up a tree. I was able to get some good photographs of it before I continued on back to my car.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Interesting Late Summer Plants at Gooseberry Falls

False Sunflower (note the disc flowers)

Wild Hops, yes the same hops used in brewing beer!

Rose Hips

Just some background information on the above photographs. Hops are native to the United States, but the type used in brewing are usually a hybrid of European and American subspecies.

The gall shown in the last photo was made by an insect called a Goldenrod Gall Fly. It spends its entire life around (or inside of) goldenrod plants. The female goldenrod gall fly will make a small incision into the stem of the plant and lay her eggs inside. When the larvae hatch from the eggs they begin to eat the plant tissues. Their saliva contains a chemical that mimics goldenrod growth hormones and the gall forms as a result.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Namekagon River: Springbrook Landing to Trego

Another trip into Wisconsin today. This time I headed down to the Trego area to float a section of the Namekagon River. I originally had intended to float a 10 mile section from County K to Whispering Pines, but the canoe rental outfit/bar for that section of the river did not open until 11. Having arrived at about 9:30 I had some time to kill and so I headed over to the NPS visitor center in Trego. The Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway visitor center in Trego is small, but there were some interesting exhibits inside. I talked to the ranger at the information desk and she suggested a 12 mile trip on a different section of river: from Springbrook Landing to Trego.

I decided to take the ranger's advice and so headed to a different outfitter across the street called Jack's. I arranged for my trip and then was shuttled to the landing where I put in. It was very quiet on that first stretch of river with some riffles that I was not expecting while looking around. I almost went for an unplanned swim. Soon I would be seeing all sorts of wildlife. I saw a river otter, a muskrat, a belted kingfisher, some cedar waxwings, a great blue heron, and most surprisingly a bear! I think the bear was even more surprised about the encounter than I was. After it saw me it promptly took off into the woods. I also saw some interesting snails in certain sections of the river.

While the first half of my float trip was certainly peaceful with plenty of solitude, the second half was just the opposite. From Earl Park landing until the takeout the river was inundated with tubers. Most of the tubers were friendly and respectful, but a few groups were loud, drunk and obnoxious. I even spied a few drinking out of glass containers despite the fact that they are banned on the river. I pulled into the landing at Jack's at about 3:30.
After the kayaking I was still in the mood to do a little more exploring and so I refilled my water bottles at the V.C. and headed over to the Trego nature trail trail-head. The walk closely followed the river though there were not always views of it. it was pleasant and it allowed me to see the river from a different perspective than I had seen it earlier in the day.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Pattison State Park

Noelle and Big Manitou Falls
Today, being our three year anniversary Noelle and I decided to get out and spend some quality time together. It was my day off and luckily for Noelle, she only had to work a half day. We decided to stay relatively close to home and head over into Wisconsin and the pretty Pattison State Park. We first hiked to Big Manitou Falls before hiking the Beaver Slide Trail to Little Manitou Falls before heading back to the car following the opposite side of the river. We cooled our toes in the Interfalls Lake swimming area before getting in the car for our trip back to Duluth.

Green Frog
Noelle and White Pine
Eric at the Top of Little Manitou Falls

Thursday, August 5, 2010

St. Croix National Scenic Riverway: Interstate State Park to Osceola

From Franconia Sculpture Park I headed north into Minnesota's Interstate State Park to the canoe landing. There I rented a kayak for a trip on the beautiful St. Croix River. When I put in I first headed upstream and into part of the Dalles where tall granite cliffs tower over the river. Then I headed downstream, letting the slow current aid me in my paddling.
Kayaks on the St. Croix
At first the river was closely paralleled by highways. The sound of vehicle traffic was not all that calming. Soon, however, the road veered away and the only sounds were those of moving water, paddle strokes and the laughter and conversation of the other kayakers and canoeists. It was an awesome experience on the river, and I enjoyed a day that could only have been made better by Noelle's presence.

Franconia Sculpture Park

Yesterday, on my way to William O'Brien State Park, I passed by a completely unexpected sight. There were all these large, colorful, unusual sculptures in a grassy park-like setting near the intersection of two highways. I was intrigued and decided to give the place a closer inspection today. It's called Franconia Sculpture Park and if you ever find yourself in Taylors Falls, Minnesota definitely give the place a visit. I would describe it as a combination of Carhenge, Cadillac Ranch and the Louvre. A cool place to explore and I even think that I would have enjoyed it as a kid.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Folsom House and William O'Brien State Park

This morning I headed south out of the Northland and into warm Minnesota for a visit to the St. Croix Valley. My first stop was in Taylors Falls at the Folsom House, the home of lumber baron W.H.C. Folsom. The home was built in the 1850s and featured a lot of the original furniture.

From Taylors Falls I headed further south to Marine on St. Croix. In town I checked out the very unimpressive Marine Mill historic site. It is the first mill built in Minnesota but you can't even see it at the site. I don't know if things have gotten too overgrown or if it has crumbled to oblivion, but I was very disappointed. From the mill site I headed to William O'Brien State Park where I hiked the 6 mile long Hiking Club loop.

The trail traversed some beautiful prairies and the park reminded me of a bit of a combination of the two previous parks I've worked in McConnell Springs and Wind Cave National Park.

On my hike I went over the 75 mile mark in the Hiking Club and so obtained my new patch at the contact station when I registered for my campsite for the night.

Photos of the Day: Monarch Butterfly Caterpillars

These monarch caterpillars were at work at Gooseberry Falls State Park.

Delicious milkweed!

Monarch Caterpillar