Grand Portage National Monument

We had an extra day in Grand Portage, MN. I planned on sewing for most of the day but before that we made the short drive to Grand Portage National Monument. This is a reproduction of one of the largest and busiest Forts during the fur trade. We saw a lot of similar Forts when we were in Canada but still enjoyed this visit. The “living history” was excellent and the movie was by far one of the best we’ve experienced at a National Park or National Monument.

The birch bark canoe was key to the fur trade – sturdy but lightweight so you could carry it where there was no navigable water. 

One of the obstacles included the Pigeon River Falls. One of the interpreters suggested we visit the falls and we did the next morning (despite that it meant driving in the wrong direction for six miles but it really shouldn’t matter considering we’ve already driven more than 3,000 miles and not gotten very far across the country!)

The volunteers and rangers at the National Monument were all very enthusiastic and knowledgeable.

This National Monument is jointly operated with the local tribe, the Ojibwa, and is on the Reservation. It all works well since the Fort and fur trade were very important to the Ojibwa people for a long time until the Fort operations were moved north after the border between the US and Britain was set at the Pigeon River.

We continued South along the Lake Superior shoreline and made a brief stop at Grand Marais. It was a lovely little village where we planned on lunch at the Subway but it turns out that it was closed on Sunday! Yes, closed! We had to eat lunch in the trailer of the Subway parking lot. 

Next stop: Soudan Mine

Isle Royale National Park

I had pretty much given up on the possibility that we would get to Isle Royale National Park. It is one of the 59 National Parks that just didn’t seem accessible for us.  It is a long boat ride from Michigan and we couldn’t get the trailer out there to stay overnight! Well, it turns out it is very doable from Minnesota. We had less than a 2 hour boat ride each way and got to spend about 4 hours on the Island. 

You can’t see much of the Island in that amount of time but we did opt to take a 6-1/2 mile round trip hike on Minong Ridge that left us on the trail all alone. (There are a few other shorter hikes and most of the day visitors chose those.) We got to a beautiful vista where you could see Pie Island and Canada in the distance. 

Our wildlife viewing was limited to a lot of moose prints and the work of some very ambitious beavers.

On the boat ride out to the Island we stopped at a very old cedar tree that the Ojibwa consider sacred – The Witch Tree.

The coolest part of the boat ride was definitely the SS Americana – a steamship that sunk in the early part of the century.  We were just floating on the water and the next thing you know it appears out of nowhere!

On the way back to Minnesota, we went by the Rock of Ages Lighthouse. It is still in operation today.

It has been brought up to date with modern equipment and no longer uses the original Fresnel Lense so that is now at the Windigo Visitor Center. The Lighthouse had been manned year round but now it runs on solar doesn’t need a Keeper. 

We had remarkably good weather for the day but this was how it looked on the back of the boat going home.

No stairs to wrap up with today – instead a highly stylized and edited photo of the Lighthouse and a cool bridge. It would have been nice to have a few more wooden “bridges” with all the mud we sloshed through on Isle Royale but I’m not complaining. 


Next up: Grand Portage National Monument

Gooseberry Falls and Split Rock Lighthouse

These are both iconic stops along the Northshore Scenic Byway and the number of tourists out in the rain and wind to see them told you this even if you hadn’t read it in a travel brochure.

Before we hit the road to cover the remaining 120 miles to Grand Portage, we made a stop at the Railroad Museum in Two Harbors. It was a nice stop with a lot of historic items about the community. We didn’t stick around to watch the two hours of movies, though!

First stop on the Scenic Byway was a Scenic Overlook just behind where they built a tunnel in the 90’s because the road was a little too treacherous and difficult to maintain. The view was magnificent even in the wind and rain.

The weather wasn’t getting any better but we stopped at Gooseberry Falls anyway. It was just a short walk to see the first three falls and the interesting bridge that spans the river. We headed to Upper Falls first.

You could walk up the path a little further and cross over the water on the bridge or under it. This just meant that I had photos of the falls from different vantage points and couldn’t decide which I liked better so you get to experience both.

From below you could turn around and see the bridge. 

The next two falls were also beautiful.

We got to enjoy them with a hundred of our closest friends. It is actually amazing that I got any pictures without other people in them.


Next stop was the Split Rock Lighthouse (INSERT WIKILINK). We took a short guided tour and it was excellent. (Shout out to Brandi!) 


They let you climb the tower to see the Fresnel Lense in action.


All the machinery from 1914 was still functioning and beautifully crafted. 


This stop was also crowded despite the brutal weather but we were rewarded for walking down to the beach where very few others ventured to go. This is supposedly the most photographed lighthouse in the world and you can see why. (I took a lot of pictures and couldn’t decide which I liked best.) The Lighthouse Keepers have been encouraging visitors to stop since the 1930’s when the Scenic Byway was completed.


We also got to see a little wildlife along the way back to the top.

If the weather had been nicer, we probably would have stopped at the other State Parks and done some hiking but instead we only made one more stop at a picnic area for a quick break. By now, it was really storming and the Lake had ocean waves.

 

Since I’ve disclosed my stair obsession, I might as well just keep sharing the photos. (The stairs down were actually better made out of rock but it was too cold to go back for a photo. )

We kept driving (with one quilt shop stop) figuring we would spend our extra day in Grand Portage going to Thunder Bay, Canada but after we got here it turns out we probably didn’t need an extra day because Grand Portage ONLY has the casino. We will make a quick stop at Grand Portage National Monument but it looks like I may have gotten an unscheduled sew day.

Next Up: Isle Royale National Park

Driving the North Shore of Lake Superior

We got on the road for the 157 miles between Duluth and Grand Portage and managed to drive 39 miles on Tuesday!

First, we stopped at Enger Tower before we even left Duluth. It was one of the few attractions we hadn’t already visited. There was a beautiful 360 degree view from the top.

I have a strange obsession with stairs.

We made a few more stops along the shoreline to enjoy the scenery.

Alan couldn’t resist stopping for the big chicken. I found out later he had taken this picture while I was in the gift shop. The owner says they got the chicken off a flatbed truck traveling through town 25+ years ago. Apparently, the truck was delivering a dinosaur and a bear up the road and just had this chicken to sell. Really.

There was a Subway in Two Harbors and we already had a “long” day so we stopped for lunch and decided to stay and camp at Burlington Bay. We didn’t want to overdo it or anything and we had spent an hour in the truck!

Once we got in camp, we headed out for a walk to the lighthouse on Agate Bay. Iron ore has been the foundation of this town since 1884 and there was a humongous ore loading dock. You can just see a large white pickup truck sitting on the top of the middle dock. 

The lighthouse on Agate Bay was still operating but we were able to walk up (and down) the stairs. Do you want to stay here? They turned the lighthouse keepers house into a Bread and Breakfast.

We also visited the 3M (Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company) museum which was founded here in Two Harbors. It was a small place but learning all about the 3M innovations was really interesting. We still have the rail depot to visit tomorrow before we hit the road.

Next up: More driving up the North Coast of Lake Superior

More Duluth

As I write this on Tuesday morning, we are just preparing to leave Duluth and that is great news because it means I have finally caught up with blog posts! I have plenty of time this morning because we have a grand total of 157 miles to drive over the next three days. We have reservations at the Grand Portage Resort and Casino Campground on Thursday and our boat ride to Isle Royale on Friday. We will be taking the North Shore Scenic Byway aka Hwy 61 and it looks like there will be a lot of places to stop/view/hike along the route. Not sure where we will be camping along the way but we will find something!

Our second day in Duluth was calling for rain, so we headed for the Glensheen Historic Estate tour. We were smart to buy our tickets in advance on line because a lot of other people had the same idea. The only down-side was that we didn’t get to check out the grounds – maybe next time. Duluth is definitely one of those places that we would stop at again.

The house had beautiful detailing and a lot of Arts & Crafts/Prairie styling. 

It was built around 1908 and had electricity and it’s own coal boiler.

Off to a very tasty lunch at Toasty’s for soup, grilled cheese sandwiches and a blueberry fritter for desert.

Not sure where but in the past few weeks I had read that Frank Lloyd Wright designed a gas station. I had to get a pedicure now that I have my new sandals (see Mall of America post for more details on these) and was driving through nearby Cloquet and went past this. It turned out to be THE gas station. We headed back on Sunday to check it out and Alan graciously went back again (while doing the laundry and I was sewing – isn’t he the greatest?) to take this picture since I had only taken up close photos.

 It is an interesting contrast to Falling Water – here what may be his humblest/most utilitarian work and Fallingwater, his grandest. 

It had his signature font in the repair bays.


The weather cleared so we drove partially out Skyline Parkway. The views were pretty dramatic.

Enger Tower is just showing on the left. It is one of the few attractions in Duluth we didn’t see (at least yet.)

You eventually get to a dirt road in the woods but we kept going. 

This was kind of unexpected. It must be a natural spring but it was unclear why someone built the pond.

We’ve been staying at the Buffalo House “complex”. It is probably one of the most unusual campgrounds we’ve ever seen. It is a big sports complex (three baseball fields, three sand volleyball courts, a rink and a tennis court) with a bar/restaurant/banquet facility. There was a softball tournament going on over the weekend. I could write a long review about this place – the management/staff are very friendly and helpful but the camping leaves a bit to be desired. They do have a big buffalo out front, though so how could we pass it up!

Next stop: Somewhere along the North Shore of Lake Superior.

Duluth

We weren’t really planning on coming to Duluth but it has turned out to be a great city to visit. We got in early and headed out for dinner – a Wild Rice Burger and a Poutine Burger at Fitger’s. Both were terrific! I started eating the Wild Rice Burger before remembering to take a picture but it really just looked like a regular beef burger (and tasted like one.) We couldn’t decide whether the regular fries or the sweet potatoe fries were better.

 

The next day was beautiful and we headed out for a walk on the Lakewalk. This may just yet be our favorite waterside walk of all time – clean and scenic with plenty of restrooms and interesting places to stop.  


Some of the walk was right along I35 but they did a great job keeping you from realizing it.


We toured the US Steel Company flagship from the 60’s and 70’s – the S.S. William A. Irvin. We’ve been on other ships but this was our first bulk freight carrier and it was fitted with beautiful rooms for dignitaries.  


We got stopped for a while by the Minnesota Slip Bridge. You could walk around the little harbor (or slip) but it was more fun to watch the bridge go up and down so the boats could pass.


We also walked over the Aerial Lift Bridge which was very cool to watch, too.


We walked out to the lighthouse on the other side, just because but were disappointed to find NO interpretive signs.


The view from the other side of the Aerial Lift Bridge:

It was a hot, long day but I’m not sure we even burned off half of the calories from our dinner the night before!

Next up:  More Duluth