Monday, January 30, 2017

Voyageurs National Park: Black Bay Ski Trails

After a few weeks of warm weather, and even a bit of rain, I finally got out for a ski in lightly falling snow. I headed out on the ice road to the Black Bay Ski Trail system. Two weeks ago I had skied the easy Birch Trail Loop under beautiful blue sky. The best thing about the Birch Loop are the open areas that the trail travels through, offering some nice views.
Black Bay Ski Trail
ski trail through wetland
Today, however, I would set out on the more difficult Pine Trail, a figure-8 trail.

The Pine Trail leaves the Birch Loop after a short distance and quickly makes its way to a large beaver pond. This is the same beaver pond that the Black Bay Beaver Pond Trail ends at. I saw two beaver lodges on the pond and skied off trail to have a look. The one at the further end of the pond is quite large.
snow covered beaver lodge
There is also a large white pine that has been recently felled by the resident beavers.
chewed white pine
I continued on back into the woods
skiing Eric
and stopped for a water break at a nice trail shelter.
resting in shelter
Then I headed out on the back part of the figure-8.
pine loop
This section of trail had a few difficult sections. The recent warmth exposed a few rocks and underneath the day's thin layer of new snow was an icy surface.

There were more beaver ponds on the back section,
sun trying to peek out
and again I skied off trail to have a look around. Besides at least 6 beaver lodges,
two beaver lodges
there was a large nest
eagle nest
(I'm guessing an eagle nest) and a woodpecker home at one of the ponds.
woodpecker snag
I skied past one final beaver pond
another beaver pond
before reconnecting with the Birch Trail for the short ski back to the parking area.


Update of January 31, 2017: 

Today I headed back to the Black Bay Trails. This time I would ski the Ridge Loop, which is rated as difficult. I started off on the easy Birch Loop
trail through the woods
in some really pretty, snow-covered scenery. Pretty quickly I made my way to the intersection with the Ridge Trail.
Ridge Trail
Like the trail's name suggests, it largely follows a ridge. There were plenty of hills
the trail down
(the trail actually seemed to be constantly either ascending or descending). Most of the hills were well marked with warning signs. Not all of them were though. This warning sign marked a couple of deep holes right off to the side of the trail.

One of the most interesting parts of the Ridge Trail was a large beaver pond that it traversed.
beaver pond 2
There were lots of beaver lodges like the ponds I had skied through yesterday. Then the trail climbed up a ridge above the pond and headed into a cathedral-like copse of pine trees.
in the pines
After a while in the forest the Ridge Trail intersected with the Pine Trail,
snow covered boulder
which I had skied yesterday. I enjoyed the views from the Pine Trail again, especially the beaver ponds the trail circumvented. 
another pond

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Voyageurs National Park: Ski to Bushyhead Mine

Today was a beautiful winter day. I took advantage by getting out for a ski. Instead of hitting one of the groomed ski trails, I opted to do a little bit of exploring by skiing the frozen Rainy Lake surface over to Bushyhead Island. I drove east and parked the car outside of Sha Sha resort and then headed out onto the ice. There were lots of snowmobile tracks on the snow. The packed down snowmobile tracks made the skiing much easier.
following snowmobile tracks
Since it is Wednesday, I didn't hear too much snowmobile traffic though. It helped that the Purple Trail from Black Bay to Kettle Falls wasn't opened yet.

I followed snowmobile tracks east, over areas of frozen slush and past several islands before reaching Bushyhead Island and my destination for the day: the mine adit that leads into the rock.
Bushyhead Adit
I went inside the adit to have a look around.
The floor was a sheet of ice. Even though I had brought my headlamp, I opted to not go into the adit very far, since I knew my ski boots would be especially slippery on the icy floor. Instead I turned around
looking out
and had a snack while sitting on a rock near the entrance.
resting outside mine
As I ate I caught a strong whiff of fox musk. I'm guessing a fox uses the adit for shelter.

The ski to the mine took much less time than I had figured it would, and so I set off further east to see what I could find. There was lots of variation to the snow surfaces I skied on. Sometimes the snow was granular and perfect for making shallow tracks. Other times it was a wind blown, bumpy affair with a crust on top that was not thick enough to hold my weight.
drifted snow
Whenever possible I followed snowmobile tracks. I soon found myself at a park-owned cabin
that the maintenance crew had worked on this past summer. I had another quick snack outside and then continued on.
ski tracks

My turn around point for the ski was a day use site called Little Cedar Island.
I used the bathroom there and relaxed and snacked at a picnic table.
resting a picnic table
There were great views from the site looking south
another Little Cedar view
and east.
view from Little Cedar Island
After a nice break it was time to move on. I skied past some interesting looking islands
little island
tracks to lone tree
as I made my way back west. I should have worn sunglasses though, since the sun glare off the snow was starting to bother my eyes by this time.
skier shadow
As I approached Harrison Bay, I was feeling pretty good and so I took a detour to the day use site there: Harrison Bay East.
Harrison Bay East
By now the sun was quite warm. After a snack, I basked in the sun on a picnic table.
resting on picnic table
Finally, I was ready to head back to the car. I skied past day marker 19
day marker 19
and headed back towards Sha Sha.

It had been a great adventure. It was nice to get out and explore parts of the park I either hadn't been to before, or had only seen from the Voyageur tour boat. As I drove back home I saw an eagle perch in a white pine tree.
Bald Eagle in Tree
It's the first eagle I've seen in a while.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Sierra's First Time on Skis: Return to Tilson Connector Trail

Today I returned to the Tilson Connector Trail. However, this time I brought Noelle and Sierra with me. We borrowed a pair of skis from the Rainy Lake Visitor Center and hit the trail. It was Sierra's first time on skis and she really enjoyed it!
Sierra on skis
ski bunny

She did a great job.
Sierra skis with Mommy
girls on skis
girls on skis 2
While she did fall a few times, she was a good sport about it and didn't spend too much time wallowing in the snow like she did when we snowshoed the Oberholtzer Trail a few weeks ago. We traveled the entire section of the Tilson Connecotr that runs concurrent with the Rainy Lake Recreation Trail. We turned around at the crossing of the county road. On the way back to the car Sierra got tired and so she took a few breaks. Once on a bench
and a few times in the snow.
laying in snow
She held mine and Noelle's hand for a little extra help on a few of the uphill sections.
holding hands

After we had returned to the trailhead, I said goodbye to my girls and set off on the trail again. This time I would look for the Hike to Health rubbing plate that I had missed last week. Sure enough I found it.
Hike to Health
It was attached to a tree off to the side of the trail near the "No Hunting" sign I had seen on my last ski. I made the rubbing in my book and then headed back the way I had come. On the return ski I noticed wolf tracks in the snow. 
wolf track

Monday, January 9, 2017

Ice Castles in Stillwater, Minnesota (A Winter Evening in Stillwater)

This evening Noelle, Sierra and I braved the snow covered roads and heavy traffic to visit the Ice Castles at Lowell Park in Downtown Stillwater, Minnesota. I had some slight reservations about visiting such a touristy place, but Sierra's enjoyment of the place (along with mine and Noelle's) made our visit very worthwhile. It didn't hurt that the visitation was light, given that we were visiting on a Monday evening.

Our entrance was valid for the 4:00 to 4:30 entrance. I had timed it that way on purpose so that we would be able to see the ice in daylight, as well as lit up at night. We checked in and headed into a hallway made of ice.
near entrance
It really reminded me of Noelle's and my days working at Carlsbad Caverns, but instead of stalactites, the place was decorated with ice. Noelle visited with Olaf,
noelle and Olaf
and then Sierra and I checked out a cool little dome.
Sierra and Daddy 2
From the dome we headed into the maze. There were crawling passages,
crawling Sierra
as well as tight walking ones.
squeezing through
There was even a cool view of the Stillwater Lift Bridge!
Lift bridge
Next we headed over to the small ice slide. Sierra really enjoyed the small ice slide.
Sierra on little slide
She must have gone down it at least 30 times. Noelle and I also went down the small ice slide.
Sierra slides backwards
We even got a few family photos of everyone on the slide at the same time.
ice slide family

We all took turns going down the large slide also. This slide was enclosed in ice with lights that turned the ice different colors. Sierra desperately wanted to slide down the ice slide while the lights were green, but I don't think there were green lights at the slide. She still went down about 6 times, a few by herself. We spent the rest of the time making our way through the Ice Castles again, this time in the dark.
near ice fountain
It was really cool to see the formations lit up in different colors.
nICE view
Mommy and Sierra
in blue tunne;
Sierra and mommy in dome
Sierra and mommy in green
Sierra and Mommy again
ice castles view 2
Among the attractions was an ice well that had lights inside that changed colors.
at well
looking in well
Eventually we decided it was time to leave.
Sierra and Mommy at ice castles
Daddy and Sierra
Sierra and ice 2
We hadn't eaten dinner yet and were starting to get hungry. I would say we all had a great visit to the Ice Castles.
Have an Ice Day
From reviews that I've read, it seems like going during the week, as opposed to the weekends, is the way to go. It's not as crowded and smaller crowds offered more opportunities for using the slides and exploring.