A Walk to Canada

Since we had the extra time in International Falls, we decided to walk to Canada. It was only about 2 miles from our little campground and there was a Mr. Sub on the other side for lunch. We just walked across the bridge and through customs. They were all set up to handle pedestrians.  

See the little stake in the rock – that’s the border. 

There was a nice river walk on the Canadian side and we climbed a rickety old watch tower to check out the view. The stairs were steep, narrow and open so it was a little freaky! The view was nice, though. 

Supposedly, they only stopped moving logs down this river by tugboat in the 70’s. I suspect the view wasn’t great then and you definitely wouldn’t have any real fishing with a tournament.

We arrived at Itasca State Park yesterday. It is really nice – friendly people, clean campsites and a lot of kids just having a good time. We took a little walk on the bike path down to Peace Pipe Overlook.

It wasn’t even crazy buggy so we walked back part of the way on one of the trails along the lake.

Next up: Our journey that started in St. Louis and took us up The Great River Road from Missouri, through Illinois, Iowa, a little of Wisconsin (I think), and mostly Minnesota comes to an end at the Headwaters of the Missippi River.

Voyageurs National Park

You really need a boat to enjoy this Park! You also really need a camera with a big lense to get any good photos! 

We took the NPS boat tour to Kettle Falls and were rewarded with a lot of eagles and a few loons. It was a nice trip in a comfortable boat with a Park Ranger to help you understand what you were seeing. Unfortunately, my photos don’t do it justice at all. This was the first time in a long time that I wished I had brought our real camera (and I found out later that Alan did pack it and it was sitting in the truck. Bummer.)

Can you find the eagle?

How about the loon chick?

Our destination for lunch was the Kettle Falls Hotel.

It was in very bad shape when the Park Service took it over from the original owners. They fixed the foundations but reconstructed the bar with it’s very sloped floors for historic authenticity.

There was one very hardworking waitress working the whole place! We got served fine but by the time we left this porch was crammed with people waiting to eat. There isn’t any other place to go if you are tired of fishing. They will fry up your own fresh caught Walleye. I’m thinking I should of had fish instead of a club sandwich to get the best experience.

We did see a few of the other homes and resorts that were in the Park before it was a National Park. Here is an old ice house the owners built from lumber that had sunk in their bay. This whole area was heavily timbered in the past. There was so many logs coming through the area that they dammed Kettle Falls to allow for easier passage. The dam is still in place today. The Kettle Falls Hotel was originally constructed to house the workers who were building the dam.

On the way back to the Kabetogama Visitor Center, we saw one more eagle’s nest. This one was interesting because we had seen photos of a climber in the tree grabbing a baby eagle for banding! The Park Service estimates that there are about 50 active nests in Voyageurs National Park. This is an amazing recovery for an endangered species.

Next stop: We have no idea! We’ve already spent a lot of time in North and South Dakota so we are thinking that we will stay here a few more days to get through the weekend and then head South. First to Itasca State Park to see the headwaters of the Missippi River and then turn towards Badlands National Park. We drove through there already but it might be nice to stay and explore a little while.

We couldn’t leave International Falls, MN without a picture of the big Smokey Bear with his cubs.


Once we started planning our next stop, it worked out that we would stick around here through the weekend. We want to finish our tour of the Mississippi River with a visit to Itasca State Park and see the headwaters. They were booked through the weekend so despite the hassle of having to move campsites, we are going to stay in International Falls until Sunday. That meant we had another day to go hike around Voyageurs, check out the other two visitor centers and maybe find some blueberries.

The Kabetogama Lake Overlook Trail at the Ash River Visitor Center was excellent. Beautiful views of the lake and plenty of blueberries.

We also took the short hike out to Sullivan Bay. It was early evening and the boats were all heading in for the night. Beautiful view from a rock outcropping.

Last stop was Beaver Pond. We should have made this our first since it had the best blueberries (but no beavers.)

Our first hike had been at The Rainy Lake Visitor Center – the Oberholtzer Trail. There were a few raspberries but the views weren’t nearly as nice as our later excursions. We watched a pair of loons for a while hoping to hear them call to each other but they were too busy diving for dinner.

We went to dinner at Almost Lindy’s Swill and Grill for a second night. The pierogi pizza was excellent. We passed this guy on the way:

Next stop: Itasca State Park

Soudan Mine

We detoured on our way to Voyageurs National Park to see the Soudan Underground Mine. The campground at the adjacent Vermillion Lake State Park wasn’t open yet so we camped at the nearby Bear Head Lake State Park. We learned that it isn’t always a great idea to go without hookups – the sites are not necessarily designed to get a 25′ trailer backed in. No damage but it was a tight squeeze. 

This is a very deep iron mine that was considered the Cadillac of mines when it was operating. The area was mined as early as 1884 in an open pit. The operation was totally underground by 1892. It closed in 1962 and was donated to the state by US Steel.

I will admit that the ride down the shaft was a little freaky. You are going down at a slight angle for a half-mile, traveling at around 10 mph (which seemed very fast in a rickety car.) They are still using the original machinery to winch you up and down.

Once at the bottom, we rode close to a mile to get to the last area that was actively mined. We’ve toured a lot of mines but I think this was the first one where they break the iron loose from overhead (called the back) and then push it though a hole in the floor before shoveling it up and hauling it back to the same shaft we used.

The ore gets hauled to the Crusher House and then dumped into rail cars that takes it to the loading docks (like the ones we have seen in Duluth and Two Harbors) on Lake Superior and into a freight hauler like the William A. Irvin. 

There had been a physics lab operated by the University of Minnesota constructed at the bottom of the mine for research but it is no longer in use. There aren’t any stairs in an iron mine but we did find these in the Crusher House. 

Next stop: Voyageurs National Park

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.

Savannah Portage

As I write this, we are in Duluth, MN. We weren’t planning on coming this way but were having difficulties with the itinerary – mostly internet difficulties. As in, there was none.

We were camping at a lovely, remote campground in Savannah Portage State Park. I really hate to support any stereotype about Minnesota but this place was buggy – really buggy! Alan got swarmed in seconds as we stopped to put water in the trailer. I got totally bitten up just getting to the trailer door.

We weren’t going to let that stop us from enjoying some hiking in the woods and we had our mosquito nets, yes, real mosquito nets. Don’t leave your Airstream without them. We picked these up at Ax-Man Surplus Store. Alan wants to move to the Twin Cities just to be able to shop at this place!

The hike was quiet but very hot (and you guessed it, buggy!) It was pretty boggy and swampy so you really couldn’t expect much else. I at least came home without more bites due to a liberal coating of the strongest bug spray available and all exposed skin except my hands covered. You needed both since the mosquitos would bite through your clothes. The real bummer about the bugs is that we didn’t bother to venture out again and we missed the Continental Divide Trail and the Savannah Portage (an important route for Native Americans and early explorers to get from Lake Superior to The Mississippi River more than 200 years ago.)

There were several lakes in the Park that were gorgeous. Lake Shumway in the photo below was right behind the campground and turned out to be less buggy than expected. We took a drive across the Park to Loon Lake for a bit of swimming and that was fantastic – no bugs, clear water, fresh breeze, and a sandy bottom. You couldn’t ask for a better spot.

So, back to the story … this campground had no cell service except at Loon Lake. We were trying to plan our trip to Voyageurs National Park sitting in the truck but it was going slow. I was using an actual paper map and realized that we really weren’t far from Isle Royale National Park. The Park is technically in Michigan so we hadn’t been considering getting to see it but it is actually closer to Minnesota. New plan:  head to Duluth, drive up the coast of Lake Superior, visit Isle Royale then turn west towards Voyageurs National Park.

The new plan has worked out great so far! Duluth has been beautiful and we have our boat tours and most camping booked for both Isle Royale National Park and Voyageurs National Park. That is pretty much the only way to see both of the these Parks. Isle Royale is an island in the middle of Lake Superior and Voyageurs is mostly water. Not our typical kind of destination but they are supposedly both beautiful and I would hate to miss two of the 59 National Parks when we are this close.

Next up: Duluth

Minne Haa Haa Opolis AKA Minneapolis

Yes, that is one of the things we learned – Minneapolis is a made up name from Minne Haa Haa (waterfall) and Opolis (think metropolis). The waterfall in Minneapolis was the key to it’s existence – all the flour mills were powered by the water at the falls.

There isn’t much left of the falls to see and it turns out I didn’t take any actual pictures of it. This is the Stone Arch Bridge that is just below the falls.

We walked into town along the river, toured the Mill City Museum (which was fabulous except for the gaping hole in their covered of flour sacks as quilt fabric!), crossed the Stone Arch Bridge and walked back up the other side. It was a beautiful day with big blue skies.

This is a picture of a man lift that they used in the flour mills.  It brought back memories of riding these in the Power Plants at DWP.

Only after the abandoned mill burnt down did the historical society get it’s act in gear to preserve what was left of the structure.  

The entire walk along The Mississippi River was fabulous.

We also stopped at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.

Alan loved the big blue rooster (FYI – the beard is gone now!)

My favorite was the bell that didn’t have a ringer but moved on the hour. We were there right at 12 Noon and you could hear all the bells in town tolling but no sound from this one. I’ve got a long video but I’m not sure it would have the same effect if you weren’t there in person.

We both loved this sculpture. My photo does not do it any justice – the face was amazing and very expressive.

We also both enjoyed this exhibit – it looked like clay and wood but was actually bronze.  You were encouraged to sit in the chair and experience the art. You would be surprised at how comfortable a bronze chair can be.

I’m going to finish up with the very famous cherry on a spoon. I liked this angle for something different.

Our first day in Minneapolis was at the Mall of America (with it’s indoor amusement park, Lego Land, Crayola Experience and lucky for me a Merrell Store where I finally found a new pair of sandals.)

We also spent some time at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. I loved this large installation. It may just inspire a quilt someday.

Here are a couple more pictures from our walk through the city.

Next stop: Bug City AKA Savannah Portage State Park

Albert Lea

We spent three nights at Myre-Big Island State Park just outside of Austin, MN in the town of Albert Lea. It seems like on these touring trips that we always end up with one State Park annual pass. This year it is Minnesota. The Minnesota State Parks charge for campgrounds but also charge a $5 day fee for the car. (This was the same for Texas and Colorado.) If you are going to stay more than a couple of nights in the State Park, it makes sense to get an annual pass and then you get a cool sticker on your (dirty) windshield. We got ours just under the wire of a $10 price increase on July 1.

Minnesota State Parks get a big thumbs up! The bathrooms at Myer-Big Island were perfect – clean and new and the sites were not too small. We even had some wildlife pass through on a rainy morning:

One of the reason we picked Myre-Big Island was the nice paved trail to town – the Blazing Star Trail. We had a great day walking to lunch. Even though it was a weekday, there were still locals on the trail who were very friendly. We are usually Subway for lunch kind of people where we can get a healthy sandwich exactly the way you want it prepared but we recently tried Jimmy Johns in Dubuque (okay but you don’t get to easily specify the details.) In Albert Lea, we tried another new option and local favorite – Erbert and Gerbert’s. The bread was very good and the sandwich was fine but once again, no way to easily specify.

The real attraction in Austin was the Spam Museum. Yes, there is a whole museum dedicated to SPAM! They don’t charge and it was a nice, new museum very well done that included the history of Hormel and the important role Spam played in the war efforts.  We had some samples and bought a couple of cans of different spam flavors.

For lunch, we decided to try a local favorite – Loose Meat Sandwiches. I thought it was pretty good but Alan was only okay with it.  He apparently is the exception because the very small place with only counter seating was standing room only the whole time we were there. 

We always like to check out any larger-than-life things and we weren’t disappointed at this stop either:

That is it for our time in at Myre-Big Island State Park. Next stop: Minneapolis