The North Shore Gift

We made the reservation weeks ago. A mid-winter weekend at Naniboujou Lodge is a treat in itself, but Mother Nature threw us a curve ball that made it picture perfect. As cross-country ski enthusiasts and lovers of winter, we cringed when we saw the forecast for continuous days in the 40s. But as visitors to the North Shore, we reveled in constant blue skies and sunshine with real warmth.

We put skiing at the top of our agenda, knowing the snow conditions were likely to suffer through the weekend. A morning ski at Oberg Mountain gave us beautiful soft snow before it got too soft and sticky.Rich and Molly XC skiThe harbor in Grand Marais sparkled in the sunshine, and the sun melted enough of the ice and snow for me to make it most of the way out to the lighthouse. It was so warm at the Java Moose that customers took their coffee drinks outside to bask in the Adirondack chairs. Could this really be mid-February?Grand Marais lighthouseNaniboujou Lodge was a lovely oasis. The rock beach was exposed and waves crashed onto the shore. Its deliberate lack of wifi and cell service was a fine excuse to read and relax in the quiet sunroom. And because they offer only package deals in the winter, we feasted morning and evening on fine meals in the colorful dining room. What’s not to like about that?

Naniboujou LodgeA trip to the Pigeon River, right on the Canadian Border, necessitated a walk up to High Falls. The warm weather had released sections of ice over the waterfall, giving us a view of the rushing water. It was easy to stop and look around amid the din of the falls in the mild temperatures.High FallsThe Witch Tree was nearby, and Rich knew how to find it. So we made a trek through soft, wet snow to its sacred location. There were signs informing us of its significance to the Ojibwe people, and asking us to remain silent and refrain from smoking. But there was a good platform from which to view the tree from a respectful distance. I’d seen many photos of the tree before, but never actually laid eyes on it in person.Witch TreeThe afternoon sunshine lured me outside once more. Judge Magney State Park was just across the road, and I followed the hiking trail up the Brule River. It was pretty easy going for the most part, with well packed snow. But inclines were slick and the 175 steps down to the middle falls required careful balancing on the narrow exposed wood on the edge of each step. The water shot forcefully out from under the ice at the falls and disappeared again, leaving a fine mist in the air. Devil’s Kettle proved to still be ice covered. If only I’d known, I would have spared myself the hairy climb and slipping down the treacherous slope that led to it. But it was so nice out, I was happy to prolong the hike.Middle FallsRich preferred seeking photo spots for the beautiful sunrises over the lake and starlit nights.  He obviously does it well.Sunrise over Susie Islands
This weekend was a gift from our son Carl and his bride Chelsea.  We loved their selection of Naniboujou Lodge, and the unending blue skies that accompanied our visit made it even more memorable.  Thank you!

The Many Moods of Crisp Point Lighthouse

Gallery

This gallery contains 20 photos.

The lighthouse easily dominates our existence, well beyond our duties as light-keepers. We have the luxury of time to observe it under constantly changing conditions. Its personality varies as much from minute to minute as it does between days. Camping … Continue reading

A Crisp Morning

Perched at the top of Crisp Point Lighthouse, I stand out on the catwalk before dawn. A golden glow stretches across the sky between the narrow bands of clouds that cling to the horizon. My hopes for a spectacular sunrise fade as the promise of glowing reds fails to materialize. I am unaware that the rising sun has yet to work its magic.

Descending the tower, I set out down the beach. The wind of the past two days has calmed and only residual waves lap the shore. It is only when I turn around away from the sunrise, that I see the first colors of the morning.

Crisp Point morning 1

By the time the pinks and blues fade in the distance, the sun begins to spin gold in the clouds directly overhead. A totally different light show is in progress. This sends me scurrying to the opposite side of the lighthouse. Such a brilliant contrast leaves me marveling at the wonders of a single sunrise.

Crisp morning 2

Next I wait for the sun to climb high enough to illuminate the lighthouse itself. Gradually it paints the tower, starting with its red top and slowly migrating downward. In the process it also throws shadows from the towering pines against the white structure. Mother Nature is such an artist!

Crisp morning 3

The morning is still young, and already I have witnessed so many reflections of the rising sun. As full daylight develops, I capture the classic blue sky photo. Compared to the earlier drama, it feels quite ordinary.

Crisp morning 4

At last the sun begins its other duty, warming the brisk 36-degree air. It's time to start the campstove and make my morning coffee. I'm ready to thaw my hands and inner self. This has been a crisp morning indeed.

 

Finding Crisp Fall Colors

Fall leaves have been a tease this year. Throughout September and the early part of October we cycled through upper and lower Michigan amid scattered fall colors. Leaves were just beginning to turn, surrounded by their green neighbors. Isolated pockets of color delighted us. But it was only a hint of what was yet to come.

That was actually a blessing for us. We deliberately planned to miss peak leaf season due to the tourists it attracts. We had no desire to cycle crowded roads or fight for motel rooms populated by leaf peepers. So we took pleasure in seeing the mild nascent display.

Returning home to the Northland, it was no surprise that the leaves were past peak. Color remained, but many trees were already bare. So we expected nothing more when we drove through the UP to Crisp Point Lighthouse. Nature had a gift for us this time, and we traveled a shoreline of brilliance. Trees at their finest blanketed the countryside and adorned the lakefront. Stopping at the overlook in Munising provided a fine view in the late afternoon sunlight.

Molly and Rich fall leaves
View at Munising 1
View at Munising 2
Leaves in Munising

The road into Crisp Point Lighthouse is notorious for being rough. Its 18 miles of dirt road is susceptible to potholes, washouts and bumps. You have to really want to see the lighthouse to make the trip. This fall the area saw unending rainfall, resulting in flooding on the road. We encountered numerous puddles that stretched the full width of the road, daring us to cross. Navigating them tentatively at first, we gained confidence with each one and ultimately plowed right through.

For everything that road delivered in adventure it compensated with beauty. By the time I went for a run in the afternoon, the pools had become reflecting ponds and the colors popped against a deep blue sky.

Fall leaves Crisp Point road
Leaf reflection Crisp Point 1
Lead reflection Crisp Point 2

Catching the colors against the lighthouse required patience and the right angle. But the chase was half the fun.

Crisp Point colors 1
Crisp Point colors 2

My autumn is now complete. I found fall colors after all. Where I least expected them.

 

Happiness is… A Cloudy Day

Progress to date: 14 days, 611 miles

The sky is dark and overcast. At least it's not raining yet. But we know for sure we are going to get wet. So we don our rain jackets even before setting off. We are leaving Sault Ste Marie and heading to Paradise 60 miles away. But we also have a contingency plan. Google Maps shows lodging in Brimley, just 17 miles away. Should it really pour, we can bag it for the day there.

Minutes after leaving the motel it starts. First drizzle then moderate rainfall. Yup, we're getting wet. But it's all part of cycle touring, so we forge on and don't let it get us down. Instead, we focus on navigating our way out of the city.

By the time we are on country roads, the unthinkable happens. The rain stops. Rich even sheds his rain jacket. Not me, I still need mine for warmth. We're almost afraid to say it out loud, but surely the sky is brightening. Instead of checking into a motel in Brimley we stop at a local breakfast café. We emerge well fed and in high spirits. Sure it's a gloomy day. But it looks wonderful to us!

Buoyed by our weather luck, we rejoice in our surroundings. If it was raining, we would be pedaling through without seeing a thing. That would be a shame, as we have been looking forward to this particular stretch of Lake Superior shoreline on Whitefish Bay.

Enjoying Whitefish Scenic Byway

Now confident in dry conditions, we are emboldened enough to stop and sightsee along the way. This “purple cow” calls out to us from the roadside.

A model of Point Iroquois Lighthouse

Little do we know that the real thing is just down the road. I'm delighted to find that the Point Iroquois Lighthouse is right on our route. No detour means no argument with Rich about going to see it. From the top, I can see Whitefish Point, where we are ultimately headed.

The real Point Iroquois Lighthouse
View from Point Iroquois Lighthouse

Just as I reserve the right to visit lighthouses, Rich is allowed to call out a stop for birds. He spots a heron in a pond and stealthily stalks it for a photo. The heron gets away, but we enjoy the reflection in the pond.

The bird Hunter
Pretty pond

The Scenc Byway provides a number of wayside rests that are far nicer than most. A sandy beach provides a great spot for a break. And oh, by the way, check out that bit of blue sky! This rainy, cloudy day just keeps getting better.

Rest stop on Whitefish Bay

Our bodies are tiring and the miles begin to drag by the time we make the turn north to reach Paradise. But at least the cycling is easy. And we are dry!

It's abundantly clear that the town is not quite as much of a paradise as it once was. Abandoned businesses and shuttered buildings abound, and finding a place for dinner is reduced to a single option. I'm rather enamoured with the idea of trying Brown Fisheries, but not being a fish lover Rich is less thrilled. Especially when a gander at the menu reveals that fish is all they serve. Still, we venture inside the venerable establishment. The waitress regales us with her description of the fresh whitefish caught and fileted onsite daily, and even Rich relents and orders it. Sixty miles of hunger can overcome many taste preferences.

Dinner at Brown Fisheries

It's all a matter of perspective. Normally a cloudy day might have dampened our spirits, especially after all the bright sunshine we've had. Instead, every moment that it wasn't raining felt like a gift. This cloudy day made us very happy indeed.

 

A Child’s view of the Harbor

Molly and Ben and Vista StarWe all have too many things.  Kids especially do.  So for our grandson’s 6th birthday we chose to give him an experience instead.  Leaving his siblings behind, we took just Ben on the Vista Star tour of the lake and harbor.  For days, he looked forward to it.  And I have to admit, so did I.  There is something special about one-on-one time with a grandchild.

I’d done the tour before.  I’d heard most of the facts, figures and stories from the narrator before as well.  But I saw and heard it all through fresh eyes that day.  Everything becomes new when seen from a child’s point of view.

As always, the tour started with a jaunt out into Lake Superior.  Before we could sail under the bridge we had to wait for a 1000-footer to enter the harbor.  It felt like forever between the time we first saw the bow emerge until its stern finally passed by.  That was one long ore boat.

Molly and Ben on Vista StarBen loves the Aerial Bridge.  So we were mystified that he was anxious about going under it.  The hands firmly planted over his ears and the fear in his eyes soon told us why.  He knew exactly what was coming.  The boat’s loud horn and answering blast from the bridge were indeed ear numbing.  But once we cleared the bridge, Ben could relax and enjoy the ride.

There was plenty of shipping activity that morning, from a ship offloading wind turbine parts to tug boats awaiting a call for help and a classic ore boat taking on its cargo below the ore dock.  All of it of great interest.Tug boatsOre Boat LoadingThe Vista Star itself proved to be fascinating to Ben.  There were so many places to explore, from the top deck to the bow and the “restaurant” inside.  And the best part about grandparents is that they succumb to requests for treats.

Photo Jun 20, 10 49 28 AMBlatnik and Interstate BridgesOne never knows just what a little mind is taking in.  Some of it we gleaned from Ben’s parents later.  Apparently he regaled them with tales of his boat ride all the way home, proving that he did indeed listen to the narration and our explanations!  One highlight was going under the Blatnik Bridge because “it was so cool to look up at it underneath.”  I didn’t even think to look up.  But I may have yet another chance.  I hear that his little sister wants a turn next.

Northland Mud Season

Few would claim that the Northland is at its best in the spring.  While temperatures are nearing the comfort zone in the Twin Cities, we are still hovering around freezing.  Although spring flowers may be poking up in warmer climes, here the vegetation is still brown.  The ground is muddy and still icy in spots.  In short, it’s pretty bleak.

And yet, when the sun comes out it is hard to resist heading outdoors.  Never mind that cold wind off the lake, spring calls.  That’s exactly how I found myself in Gooseberry Falls State Park this morning.

Muddy path at Gooseberry FallsThe woman in the Visitor Center warned that the trails were wet and slippery.  But the draw was irresistible.  I hadn’t come to the park to walk on the road.  From the abundance of muddy footprints I followed, I wasn’t the only one who felt that way.  Others too were enjoying the squish and slide of mud season.  There is something innately satisfying about setting foot squarely in the midst of that soft wet earth and the squidgy suctiony noise that accompanies its exit from the quagmire.  Big kids that we are.

If the lack of vegetation deprives us of color, it also grants vistas.  En route to the lake shore, I was able to take in the falls from a distance, and enjoy the twisty, windy path of the river.  It’s fascinating how it transitions from roaring falls to lazy stream in just a short distance.  The dogwoods added a welcome touch of red to the scene.Long distance view of Gooseberry Falls Gooseberry RiverNot all scenic views were a product of nature.  I particularly enjoyed the symmetry and design of the steps that took me high above the river to the cliffs above.  Workers more recent than the original CCC crews that created the park’s magnificent log and stone buildings back in the 1930s were responsible for this ascending sculpture.Modern steps in the parkHiking between the shoreline and the falls, I decided it was a dual sound track park.  Next to Lake Superior, the rush of the wind and the pounding of the waves filled my ears.  It was a familiar noise I could feel as well as hear.  Both sensations retreated as I moved away from the lake, soon to be replaced by the roar of the falls.  The thunderous din grew as I drew closer to the source, and witnessed the power of the water as it crashed over the rocks.  Still swollen by the spring run-off.Gooseberry Falls in springMy circuit complete, I tracked globs of mud back to the car on my boots, fresh air tingling on my face, and fingers feeling a slight chill despite my warm gloves.  All so very satisfying.  Spring in the Northland, mud season at its very best.