Saturday, August 20, 2011

Trying Out the Minneapolis Diagonal Trail

The Diagonal Trail connects the University area and downtown to St. Anthony and Roseville.

This is a great connection for people commuting (in either direction) between this suburban commercial/industrial area and downtown, but it is pretty uninteresting as a recreational bike route . . . except for the stretch by the cemetery at the top of the hill (as opposed to the cemetery at the base of the hill) which provides a great overview of the city.

Mill City Market

I have a date to visit the Mill City Farmer's Market in Minneapolis with a girlfriend this morning, which turns out to be a short bike ride from her house via the Stone Arch Bridge.

I love the Stone Arch Bridge because it provides both beautiful views of the city

and the river. (The Mississippi is still really high and is absolutely surging over the dam.)

On the other side, the market is just visible tucked between the Guthrie Theater and the Mill City Museum.

The market is small, but lively and artful (aesthetics clearly matter more here than at my downtown Saint Paul market) with a nice selection of delicious treats.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

At the End of the Gunflint Trail

We start our exploration of the Gunflint Trail with lunch on the patio at the Gunflint Lodge.

(We actually started at the Bearskin Lodge in hopes of having lunch in their lovely lake-view dining room. Unfortunately, right now they only serve dinner and only on Wednesdays – and only with reservations. This is a great disappointment both because the lodge would make a lovely lunch stop and because the restaurant apparently was to be run by the marvelous chef behind Chez Jude in Grand Marias.)

Our goal is the new Chik-Wauk museum and nature center and (by the time we finish lunch) the day is getting late, so we head straight up there, marveling at the landscape around us along the way. (None of us have been through here since the 2007 Ham Lake Fire and the landscape is dramatically different here, altered by the fire in unexpected ways.)

Chik-Wauk was a small resort before being purchased by the federal government as part of the Boundary Waters Canoe area. As too often happens, the beautiful main lodge was left empty and abandoned for 30 years – fortunately someone eventually saw the value in saving this piece of history. Today it houses a gift shop and small museum that tells the history of this place in particular and the Gunflint Trail in general.

I’m glad to see such a lovely historic structure reused. The idea that all formerly settled “wilderness” areas must be returned to pre-settlement conditions has always baffled me a bit – it seems like a denial of the complicated nature of the world. It seems we should find appropriate uses for historical structures and I hate the way so many historic structures in our forests, parks, and wilderness areas have been destroyed or simply left to rot.

(I am thinking of the Joyce Estate as I write this. Most of that northern Minnesota retreat could no longer be salvaged by the time the Department of the Interior realized it was worth saving. But, of course, the same phenomenon plagues the Upper Post at Fort Snelling, so it isn’t just an issue in wilderness areas. Pretending something never existed just because it doesn’t fit the storyline we want to emphasize today seems like historical amnesia.)

Despite the intervention of humans here, the real highlight at Chik-Wauk is (as it always has been) the gorgeous setting.

Now that we have accomplished our goal for the day, we take time to loop around the end of the road and start working our way back, making detours all along the way wherever we think there might be an interesting lake or overlook.

There are lots of really nice houses here, at the end of the trail before the real wilderness begins.

But mostly we find quiet, almost pristine lakes and the ancient rock the fire exposed.

Now all I need to find is a moose or two.

Just as dusk is ready to descend, J-man and I hike down to a moose viewing area. (The other sit in the car and read.) The occasional rain drops help distract us from noticing the mosquitoes as they land on us. (Mosquitoes another hiker described as being as being as big as a moose). We don’t see a moose, although we hear something large nearby in the woods move, cracking a branch before staying very still. We can’t see it, but I am sure it was a moose.

Time to call it a day.

The Back Route to the Gunflint Trail

The day’s plan includes a drive to the end of the Gunflint Trail.

From where we are, this is still quite a distance to cover in a day. None-the-less, we map out a round-about route along narrow back roads instead of simply shooting up the highway to Grand Marias and over. While a slower way to reach our destination, it has the advantage of providing us gorgeous views of Caribou Peak, Heartbreak Hill (where Lane and I visited during leaf season one fall), and the fields of flowers along the Caribou Trail.

About this point we realize we have made a little miscalculation in our route planning and that the road we were planning to take won’t actually connect to the Gunflint.

A new route is identified. It involves a fair amount of backtracking, but also takes us along the top of a ridge where the forest drops sharply away from us on both sides. I can’t figure out how to photograph it, but it makes for a marvelous drive.

Maybe We Should Just Sit on the Deck

Lake Superior is mesmerizing this morning, still and calm, slowly oozing into the sky.

Maybe we should just pull up a chair and sit on the deck all day until we are hypnotized by the shimmering water beyond.

Friday, August 5, 2011


This trip to the North Shore was scheduled months ago, timed to match the ripening of the wild blueberries, so we waste no time heading out in search of them.

There is some discussion of blindfolds, but we promise that – in the unlikely event we actually can keep track of where we are being taken – we won’t tell anyone. That way we get to enjoy the scenery along the way!

(We make a few photo stops along the way.)

We’ve picked berries here before, in these meadows where large clumps of berries grow on what seem to be three different types of plants. (Some practically creep along the ground with large glossy berries that are almost impossible to separate from the surrounding grass, others are about 4-6 inches high with clingy individual berries, while still others are taller yet with big clumps of berries that can be rolled off the plant with your thumb. I’m a wimp and, since I have the option, stick with the taller, easier to pick bushes.) The berries grow amid goldenrod, black-eyed Susans, and golden grasses. It is blazing hot under the sun, but beautiful.

Thunder rumbles in the distance the whole time we are picking, but the cooling rain never arrives – which gives us ample time to harvest.

It is a very good afternoon.