Sunday, May 31, 2009

North Shore violet days

I love violets. Dainty fragile-looking woodland flowers, they're not the first North Shore flowers to bloom, but they roll out the best rainbow of colors, popping up here and there on the forest floor to the surprise and delight of anyone with an eye for the smaller things. I may try to be a manly man, but these little bursts of color really tickle my fancy.

This Friday I hiked the Middle Falls Trail at Grand Portage State Park. This is a terrific hike, and I'll come back to it in later postings.

But the violets! Famous Duluth cartoonist Chris Monroe has her regular strip, Violet Days, and I think I know why she calls it that. Violets are cool, tough, and pretty, like the characters in her strip.

At first, you'd think that all violets should be colored, well, violet. Like this one:

This is the Common Blue Violet, and it was growing in a low wet area next to the trail. Yes, it is a reddish-blue. But the historically, the flower was first, and the name of the color came afterward. Like "orange" was a fruit before it was a color.

What makes violets so lovable is all the other cute colors they come in.

Here's a white violet. growing in dry pine woods right along the Middle Falls Trail. I think it's called Kidney-Leaved Violet, or Viola renifolia:

But wait, we're not done yet. In sunny places along the trail, there were large bunches of this guy:

It's Viola pubescens, or Downy Yellow Violet.

I know it sounds really sappy, but these little cuties really make my day.

And, in the Who Knew? category, thanks to St. Olaf College, here are some fun facts about violets:
  • The veining you see in the flower petals is actually an ultraviolet color, which attracts insects and guides them to the pollen.
  • The Downy Yellow Violet, seen above, puts its seeds into explosive seed pods, helping to disperse the seeds.
  • Other violets rely on ants to carry their seeds.
So get out there soon to catch this great little North Shore show.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Bears and bozos: On the noisy side at Tettegouche

As an author, I really enjoy hearing from readers and getting their feedback about North Shore experiences. Thanks to Linda Borrell, who wrote to me to share some concerns about her campsite at Tettegouche State Park. She stayed in the cart-in campsites in the Lake Superior Campground, which I highly recommend in my presentations. However, she had two problems: noise and bears.

She wrote:

"We just stayed at Cart-in B at Tettegouche, cleaning up after some campers who thought the site was for partying with their alcohol beverages in a secluded area...spent a couple of hours cleaning up after them.....disgusting how some people treat their state parks....Anyway, we found the site to be nice, except for the traffic. It never stopped and the noise was loud usually from 9am-10pm. Don't know if you are going to write an edited or expanded version to your book, but that would be great."

Tettegouche State Park is a wilderness giant, full of remote and beautiful places. The cart-in campground has some lovely campsites right on the Lake Superior shore, with secluded cobblestone beaches and no sound but the crash of waves or the cry of herring gulls. It's more wild and more "North Shore" than the traditional drive-in campground a mile or so inland on the park road. Here's Cart-in E, perched above the mouth of the Baptism River:

However, as Ms. Borrell experienced, some of those cart-in sites can be noisy. Sites A-D are quite near Highway 61. To make matters worse they are tucked into a hill that will reflect the sound of highway traffic back to you, like a natural amphitheater. The very pleasant campsites E-K are on the other side of the hill. I especially recommend site F, J, and K, as they have their own little beaches.

Ms. Borrell elaborated on her story in a second e-mail:

"One thing I forgot to mention....I camped in Cart-in B on Friday by myself, waiting for my two companions to arrive Sat am.... I woke up on Sat at 7am and got out of my tent. Since I was by myself, I stretched and gave a big, loud yawn- only to meet the eyes of a bear, not 15 yards from me.

"I froze, the bear froze and then I ran back to my tent, put my jeans on and headed into Silver Bay for breakfast. (I wasn't about to make bacon and pancakes at the campsite!). At the cafe in Silver Bay, I talked with the police chief, who was also having his breakfast...he told me never to stare at a bear and to make as much noise as possible. He told me to go next door to the hardware store and buy a whistle or bell.

"So I did. It makes for a fun story, but I am dismayed at my reaction when I saw the bear; I did all the wrong things. My clue should have been to pay attention to the bear droppings at the beginning of the cart-in trail!"

Thanks for the feedback, Ms. Borrell. And special extra thanks for cleaning up after the boozy bozos. The grungy campsite actually attracts bears, so you helped to solve a bunch of problems all at once.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Straight across the Heart of Darkness

In Joseph Conrad's great novel, Heart of Darkness, the character Marlow recounts his voyage deep into a dark continent trying to advance French colonial aspirations. The native people help in the carrying of trade goods. And deep in the continent at a colonial station is Kurtz (i.e. Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now), the demigod and the man most deeply transformed by the experience of being in deep.

Yesterday, I drove across the heart of Wisconsin, listening to Conrad's novel on disk. Wisconsin is a deep and strange wilderness to me. I normally stick to my side of the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers. But my family had given me "trade goods," and told me of the "colonial station" to which I was to bring them.

According to Rand McNally, it was quicker to drive straight across Wisconsin from Winona to Duluth than to go through the more familiar Twin Cities I-35 route. I snuck across the mighty Mississippi river at Winona, and drove up through the very scenic Driftless Area on Highway 93. Green Bay Packers logos were scattered here and there. Eau Claire, with its shopping malls and chain stores, was a refuge of civilization, but just north of Eau Claire the land turned truly alien. A highway sign pointed to Green Bay itself. Three times the straight lanes of Highway 53 passed under "County Road Q".

In the Holiday gas station, on a Sunday, they were selling wine. And cheese curds. Bizarre.

Then finally in Rice Lake, a mile off the expressway, I reached the trading station:

Natives in their simple dress of elastic-waist khakis and polo shirts greeted me. Since I carried an empty 11-inch pie tin for trading, they assumed I meant no harm. If they had known that my true loyalties were with the Minnesota Vikings, I might have been buried in lefse or, worse, whipped topping.

I didn't enter Norske Nook far enough to know if Kurtz was there, in a booth in the darkest corner. Or, if not Kurtz, what demigod would Wisconsinites worship? Maybe good old #4?

Minnesota has colonial aspirations on Wisconsin's own demigod, Brett Favre. That makes me murmur, as Kurtz did on his deathbed, "The horror, the horror."

I traded for a Blueberry Crunch pie. It's a huge pie and we're still eating it. And someday I can dig out the empty tin and send it off with someone else on their own journey across the Heart of Darkness.

I'm going to get it big time from my wife and mother-in-law, who have real Wisconsin and Scandinavian cred and might find the above post, well, insulting. But I couldn't pass this next bit up. After my journey across Wisconsin with a pie tin for trade goods, I'm waxing philosophic.

Marlow, in Heart of Darkness, on the meaning of life:

"Droll thing, life is, that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself that comes too late. A crop of inextinguishable regrets."

Wisconsin, on the meaning of life:

I hate to admit it, but I really prefer Wisconsin's.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Twin Lakes Trail: The Gag Reel

Coming very soon to a browser near you: a captivating blog posting about a wonderful hike to Bean and Bear lakes out of Silver Bay.

For today, however, enjoy the gag reel. See, poodles just do not get the self timer photograph thing.

What do you get when Chloe (the poodle) makes a blooper? A Chlooper.

Chlooper 1, atop "Elam's Knob" overlooking Silver Bay and Lake Superior:

Inner dialogue for Chloe: "He wants me to look that way, so I'll look the other way."

Chlooper 2, overlooking Bear Lake:

"Oh, I get it now. You go in front of the camera and stand stock still. I like standing stock still."

Chlooper 3, still at Bear Lake: The camera was mounted on an alder branch and weighed it down as I walked away.

"Now's my chance to push him over. Serves him right for putting me on the leash when that squeeky-voiced young lady hiked by."

Chlooper 4, overlooking Bean Lake

"Oops! Too soon, huh? My bad."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The CCC had to PPP

There's a hiking trail at Gooseberry Falls State Park that you probably have not hiked before. To walk the park's "Gitchi Gummi" trail is to follow in the footsteps of gallant men...right into their private ablutions.

The Gitchi Gummi Trail makes a two-mile loop hike on the east side of the Goosberry River, tucked between Highway 61 and dramatic 100-foot cliffs on Lake Superior. You leave from the main visitor center, following the crowds toward the river and the falls. But you leave the crowds behind as soon as you cross the river, on a footbridge suspended under the highway bridge.

The work of the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC, is everywhere on this trail. You'll pass a statue of a CCC worker, a handsome strapping young man in bronze. On the Gitchi Gummi Trail, you'll find stone walls that make up the hiking trail's switchbacks. I'd never seen trail work as substantial as this:

Imagine those CCC workers building their way through this trail. First these stone U-turns. Then the shelter overlooking the mouth of the Gooseberry River. But before those young men built any of those, they built this one:

The only CCC-built outhouse still in existence, right off the Gitchi Gummi Trail. Now that just made my day.

The sign inside the door says, in a poor attempt to rhyme:

"If you have the urge to pee
Don't do it here, this is part of history."

It's a nice hike, just under a mile, with great views of the Gooseberry River, big broad Lake Superior, and the gurgling waters of Nelson's Creek. Just thinking of those gurgling waters makes me have to go.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The fatal draw of waterfalls

Gooseberry Falls State Park was crawling with people today. For a Monday in May that was not Memorial Day, that's unusual. The weather was fine: sunny and warm, with a persistent strong wind.

After hiking the park's Hiking Club Trail, I wanted to check out the Middle Falls and a memorial I'd read about.

Richard Paul Luetmers had died here over 30 years ago. He would have been 46 today, just about my age. Here's the memorial:

This plaque is about ten yards away from the upper edge of Middle Falls. Park staff hoped this somber message would discourage others from jumping or swimming here. It didn't work. Five years later, almost to the day, Robert Maxwell of Illinois jumped off the falls, hit a rock ledge in shallow water, and died. The day after that, park staff kicked 20 more swimmers out of the falls. In July 1999, Allan Johnson, a 20-year-old from Baxter, MN, joined the fatality list in this same place.

I continued past the memorial to the falls, sat on the exposed bedrock, and took another picture:

Beautiful day.

And then more people came to the falls. From my left, a teenage boy in bare feet, his pants rolled up, was walking tenderly down the rocky stream above the falls, toward the crest. A father came in with his two young children. Both the teenager and the dad had friends across the gorge, with cameras. For a brief moment, both teenager and toddlers were posing on the lip of the falls.

Father, son and daughter got out fine. The kids did not somersault over the edge to their doom. The teenager tenderfooted back up the rapids to dry land, his whole escapade videotaped (of course) by a friend.

Not everyone dies when they do this. 99.99% of them survive. But why do people risk it? Teenage boys I understand, but the kids were just being camera fodder, like having honey smeared on their cheeks for a bear to lick off.

Get out there, experience the wild. There are better, safer ways to feel that risk of death without actually risking your death.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

It's tough up on the North Shore

This is part of the sign that marks the start of a new Pincushion mountain bike trail above Grand Marais.

It got me thinking about two things.

First, isn't it cool that the North Shore of Lake Superior rates its own difficulty scale? This isn't Apostle Islands Intermediate or Bloomington Intermediate. This is friggin' North Shore Intermediate, and you'd better be careful. We live in an awesome place.

Second, I love how they use the trail itself to screen its riders. "If you cannot comfortably ride the first two trail features do not ride this trail!" If only we could have that for other life experiences.

New parent? "If you cannot comfortably sleep the first two nights do not keep this baby!"

Driving a manual transmission? "If you cannot comfortably get past the first two stop signs do not drive this car!"

Running for office? "If you cannot comfortably knock on the first two doors, do not file for this office!"

This is North Shore intermediate, bud. If you can't stand the fog, get out of the cooler.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Chicago loves us

This is a really good article about Duluth and the North Shore, full of journalist poetry. The Shore as seen through the bottom of Bob Dylan's whiskey glass, or in his chapbooks. Great line, for example: "The highway narrows to two lanes at Two Harbors, just past the taconite port, and then slices through shoreline cliffs that crumble into pebbly beach."

There is also a HILARIOUS typo. Read down to the end of the seventh paragraph about the 13,000 "footers" that ply our waters.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Clowns on the Cascade

Who's the biggest clown on the Cascade River?

Me, with the dog who just does not know how to smile for the camera? The worlds' biggest cedar tree meets the worlds's most stubborn poodle. Note my iron grasp of her collar. The poodle wins. It's not like I was going to toss her into the torrent.

Or is the biggest clown me, all alone and crossing this nearly flooded and frozen bit of Superior Hiking Trail? I took the picture thinking, in part, "If I fall through and die, and if they find the camera, at least they'll know where the accident occurred."

No, the biggest clown on the Cascade River is this dude, painted on the County Road 45 bridge. Cook County really does have artists! This clown captures the lassitude of youth along with the vibrance of hydrology. Its lack of humor, combined with classic clown colors, is a statement about the clash of expectations and reality in rural communities.

Or something like that.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

More fun, middle-age style

Having just posted to this blog yesterday morning whining about how kids today are having all the fun, I got a calm but needy call from Erik Simula. This is the gentleman paddling his 13-foot birch bark canoe around Minnesota's Arrowhead. The canoe has about an inch of freeboard, so just a little wave will roll over the gunnels. He'd completed the entire Minnesota North Shore, with ten days windbound.

As detailed in today's Duluth News Tribune, Erik got swamped by the wild waves coming through the Duluth Ship Canal. No small craft should be in that canal, ever. A crew from the Duluth Fire Department came out and rescued him, his dog Kitigan, and his boat, sort of in that order.

Erik needed a place to dry off and to regain his senses. He remembered that I'd offered him a stopping place and, through a mutual friend, called me up.

We got his clothes in the dryer, got some coffee and turkey sandwiches in him, swapped some tales, then sent him on his way.

His canoe was at the Coast Guard station, which is just two blocks from our house. Here he is, with Kitigan, getting ready to take off again after some canoe repair:

Erik is MY AGE. He's 44. He's not some young punk. He's not putting his trip in YouTube. He needs that extra time to apply more pitch to the seams of his canoe.

Fair winds, Erik...enjoy it, old man!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

They're having more fun

You know you're middle aged when you think other people are having more fun than you are, just because they're younger.

After my mighty-fine hike up and around the Cascade River the other day, I found this cute little busy car in the parking lot. The license plate said North Carolina, the big plastic containers in the back said "Road Trip," and the kayak on top said "Fun fun fun." Sure my Honda CRV was tricked out with, mmm, a Holiday Store refillable coffee mug. But in a battle for the coolest, I lost before I even began.

Was it a couple of whitewater dudes here to check out our extreme "creek boating" in the spring run-off? Was it a young couple on an adventure road trip/date? Maybe it was just one guy in a lonely pursuit of the perfect wave.

I love hiking and camping and skiing the North Shore. But I'm guessing whoever was driving this car was having a lot more "yee-hahs!" than I was. They were probably taking videos for YouTube too, like this one below. Punks. Kids today.

Someday they'll be middle-aged, too.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Pincushion Mountain: Through the woods darkly

The poodle and I made it to the top of Pincushion Mountain the other day. The dramatic clarity of the views and the bare rock on top were quite a contrast with the abstract experience of the river below.

We hiked up the Devil Track River on the Superior Hiking Trail. The gorge of the Devil Track river is supposedly the deepest in Minnesota. The trail climbs faster than the river bed, so the gorge gets deeper and deeper as we went. It is so deep, in fact, that as the SHT runs along the edge of the gorge, you seldom can even see the river or its waterfalls. The river was loud with spring run-off, so I knew it was there. But even at the official Barrier Falls Overlook, here's the best picture I could get of the falls:

Maybe it's a Cubist hike. You have to experience the gorge and the river from many angles before you really get the full picture of it. To hike along and finally descend into the gorge, to feel the air freshen and chill, and cross the raging river, to smell its full spring redolence, to hear the roar come and go as the terrain changes and soundlines change...all that comes together for an complete, and wondrous, experience of the river and gorge.

It made me think of the blind men and the elephant: each person has an incomplete and imperfect sense, but put them all together and you can understand.

So when we approached the summit of Pincushion, it was like taking off the blinders or stepping out of the cave. Here's Chloe on the ascent:

I enjoy a bit of Cubism. I really enjoyed hiking up the Devil Track gorge, experiencing through different angles, though I was frustrated with the lack of a great view of the falls.

My heart soared though when we got up on top and in the open, with the broad Lake Superior views.

According to Wikipedia, Through A Glass Darkly is "an abbreviated form of a much-quoted phrase from the Christian New Testament in 1 Corinthians 13. The phrase is interpreted to mean that humans have an imperfect perception of reality."

Yeah, my perception was imperfect down below. But up on top of Pincushion, with the poodle, under the bright blue sky and looking out over bright blue Lake Superior, reality was perfectly perceived.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Flowers? How sweet!

After the 700 foot climb from the Lake Superior shore up the Cascade River, hot and sweaty, suddenly I felt like a blushing bride. Who knew I would be getting flowers!?

I hiked the big loop around the Cascade River yesterday, up the west side and down the east side for a total of about 7.5 miles. I was expecting a rugged river-side hike, and I got that. I was totally geeked out with a GPS unit swinging from my neck, two digital cameras, and my notebook and pen in hand. I'm hiking a ton of North Shore trails this month getting ready for our next book, Hiking the North Shore.

In addition to the rugged hike, I also had a wonderful surprise: for about a mile on the west side, the trail runs through great North Shore maple forest.

At first I was just captivated by the light. After slogging past mossy cliffs, through dark and dank cedar groves, and over the roots of spruce and pine, I was delighted to step into open sunny deciduous forest.

Then I happened to look down, maybe looking for the next root that would trip me up.

And there was one single flower. A spring beauty.

Wow. It's not winter anymore. Not even late winter, though I would be hiking on snow and ice later in the day, back down in the river gorge. It is Spring up here on the ridgetop.

I looked up. It wasn't just one flower. It was dozens...hundreds...thousands of spring beauties. I'd been hiking past them for ten minutes.

Flowers on the forest floor as far as I could see:

And scattered here and there, Dutchman's breeches:

After six months of hoping for snow, looking for snow, skiing on snow, my brain hadn't switched. Biologists would say, I didn't have the "search image" of wildflowers.

It was a real surprise and a real joy. The best part of a really good day hiking on the North Shore.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Who's honking now?

I was really heartened to hear all the concern about the Honking Tree. This was a landmark white pine near the Two Harbors end of the expressway. To a lot of people, passing the Honking Tree was like passing a gateway, either to the wild North Shore or to their home town. Some person did a stupid, stupid thing.

For some insight into the mind of this sort of tree killer, read The Golden Spruce, by John Vaillant, about a very troubled guy who cut down a revered and unique spruce tree on, I think, Queen Charlotte Island.

Go another sixty miles up Highway 61, and the roadside trees are falling like dominos:

There's a four or five mile stretch of Highway 61, between Tofte and Lutsen, that's getting The Treatment this summer. The road will be widened, so there are two lanes of travel and wide shoulders on both sides. The Gitchi Gami bike trail will be built alongside. Actually, the road is moving "to the left", and the bike trail will be where the eastbound traffic lane is now.

So it will be safer, especially for bike riders. And a bit less wild. Roads, especially National Scenic Byways like this one, have to balance scenic quality and safety

If one tree falls, we may notice.

If a forest falls, we may not.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

"You've got to have a table"

When camping on the North Shore of Lake Superior, a table keeps your fresh spinach separate from your poison ivy, your root beer separate from the foamy rivers, and your toddler away from the snakes that are EVERYWHERE!

I do sort of like the "cocktail" table though...

Smelters in the night...

...exchanging waders, huddled by the light.

The beach was lit up by little pods of smelters the other night. This crew was right in back of our house, very quiet and respectful, though I did hear them encouraging the young boy with them to bite the head off his first smelt. "Come on, I did it," said a likely uncle.

I could see these bright lanterns all the way down the beach and even as far as Wisconsin Point. I've lived here for almost ten years, and never took the time to see what was going on these spring evenings.

The seiners, by the way, pull their nets toward shore, not down the shore. According to the Duluth paper today, the most successful of them are getting a few gallons of smelt. No one is filling the back of their pickup trucks anymore, as they used to do at the Lester River.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Save this trail!

It reads like a sad tale from Dickens. A younger offspring treated like a single child. One that never fit into the rest of the family. Falling into ill health now, just a trace of its former self. Now that the others have grown up and moved along, it will be abandoned.

Except it isn't a child. It's a trail.

I have Great Expectations: Save the Knife River trail!

Back in 1992 or 1993, a few local volunteers built a stretch of hiking trail from the town of Knife River up along the River itself. This might have been the start of the mighty Superior Hiking Trail, right there next to the Depot Campground. The trail was popular with Duluth folks, since it was the first and easiest part of the SHT to reach, just a ten mile drive out of town up the Expressway.

It's a lovely little stretch of trail, especially the first 2.5 miles up to Second Falls. The trail scoots up the left bank of the Knife River past First Falls, a scenic and wide waterfall that roars with spring melt. Then it crosses under the expressway and over the Knife River on the expressway's westbound lane. After that, it's near or on the Knife River most of the way.

Here's Second Falls:

Now the Superior Hiking Trail Association has other plans. In order to connect Duluth and Two Harbors, the route had to go way inland, up near the corridor for the North Shore Trail, the snowmobile corridor. This little stretch of scenic, accessible trail has been left all alone. For the first time in its history, the Superior Hiking Trail Association will abandon part of its trail.

When the SHTA abandons a trail, the trail loses its stewards. Who will clear downfalls in the spring? Who will repair and replace bridges? Who will make sure the route is clear?

I hiked the trail yesterday with Chloe. It is in rough shape. Footbridges are 15 years old and breaking apart. Trail markers are gone and the trail is crossed here and there by ATV traffic, confusing the route.

Despite the obstacles, it was great hike. The Knife River was nearly overflowing its banks with spring melt. The pine forests in the middle area were alive with bird song. There's a lovely little campsite at a bend in the river, perfect for lunch break before returning to the trailhead.

This gem of a trail deserves use and it deserves a new steward. How about it, Knife River Community Club? Lake Superior steelheaders? Izaak Walton League?

Saturday, May 2, 2009


Come on now, does anything really say "North Shore" more than smelting?

Thanks to Happy Hooker Charters for these great photos of smelters ceremoniously biting off the heads of their first smelt.

Ecologically speaking, the smelt run is a fascinating story. Whoever dumped some smelt into the Great Lakes back in the 1910s didn't know they'd create a whole culture, or fill such a hole in the ecosystem. As the lamprey and commercial fishermen killed off the lake trout, smelt had few predators and their population soared. Lake Superior is a huge, cold, sterile place, and even at the peak of the smelt population, the little buggers spent most of their year scattered all across the lake straining the water for zooplankton like little humpback whales.

Dip a net in a North Shore stream in July and you'll get nothing. For a few evenings in spring, though, the lake seems ripe and abundant and teeming with life.

As the smelt jammed the rivers and beaches, so did the people. The mouth of the Lester River was a crazy party scene. At least five men died there smelting in the 1960s-1970s, carried out by raging frigid water into even more frigid water in the dark.

I'm old enough to remember the good old days of smelting, though as a 12 year old on the Cross River or Caribou River, I did not partake to the level of serious adults. Like our Governor Ventura, who remembers coming to Duluth to smelt at the Lester River, but not much after that. A sure sign of spring was when the Holiday stores would put those smelting nets out in front for sale, the round nets on the 8-foot poles.

Smelting was the most sensory experience I had on the North Shore as a child. It was dark, I could smell the cold water rushing by and smell the fish as they piled up in the bucket. I could feel the cold from the water and the warmth of spring air. And the excitement was palpable. It was amazing to dip a net into these rivers and pull up, in one swipe, dozens of squirmy fish.

Now I live right at another smelting hotbed, Park Point. The Sivertsons have had their smelt net out in the bay for a week or so now, just two blocks from our house:

According to the Minnesota DNR, they are catching almost a ton of smelt each day.

Last night, the real action moved to the beach, in our backyard. The seiners are out. Yesterday evening, as dusk set in, they arrived on our street and came through to the beach. They light a driftwood fire, pull on their waders, and working in pairs drag a large net through the water. There are so many fewer smelt nowadays that this is the only way to get decent numbers.

They are still a little slobby. Someone left a shoe and a fire that was still smoldering this morning:

It used to be a lot worse. Guys would bring worn-out car tires to the beach and set those on fire. Aachk!

For a few days in spring, the waters of the North Shore come alive.

Friday, May 1, 2009

There must be a hike here somewhere!

I wrote earlier today about guidebooks, about letting someone else make the mistakes for you.

I have been making mistakes here in Duluth for the last ten months, looking for a hike at Chester Creek.

I'm picky. Here are my picky rules:

Picky rule #1: A hike should be at least two miles long. That's enough to get your hiking mojo. Less than two miles, you feel like you're just getting going and you're done.

Picky rule #2: A hike should be well-marked. You shouldn't have trail junction anxiety, at least not very often. Once you get in the spirit of moving along, you don't want to stop everytime there is a choice of trails.

Picky rule #3: A hiking trail should be uncrowded. We tried "hiking" in Phoenix last year, but every trail was a stream of people. Not peaceful. One person or group every five minutes would be okay.

Chester Creek is a lovely stream running through a dramatic gorge right smack dab in the eastern hillside of Duluth. If you start at Fourth Street and head uphill to Skyline Drive, you can loop up one side of the creek and back down the other side. Two footbridges cross the creek and let you shorten your experience.

This loop is only about 1.8 miles. Not 2. Nearly long enough for a real hike.That violates picky rule #1.

But there must be a hike here somewhere. I've been poking around here since last June trying to figure this out. I know, after a lot of poking around, there are nice trails on the other side of Skyline. The Chester Bowl XC ski trails loop all around and climb to a very nice view of Minnesota Point and the wide expanse of Lake Superior. But the Chester Creek Trail and the ski trails are not connected.

At least not officially.

Desperate, I plunge one of the four or five rabbit trails that cut up from Skyline Drive. It's a renegade trail, never built, just used. Roots are showing where the trail erodes, which is almost everywhere.

Finally, as I knew it would, the rabbit trail links up with the ski trail. Only about 100 yards of near-bushwhacking. But that violates my picky rule #2, that trails should be well-marked.

The ski trail reaches the summit, I enjoy the view for a micro-second, then I decide to let my picky rules get me back down. What is the most obvious way down from here?

Picky, picky, picky. This may not be a hike after all.

Great North Shore book stores

I believe in books. For exploring new country, there's nothing better than a good guidebook. Let someone else experience the unmaintained trails. Let someone else find the remote trailheads for you. Let someone else put all that discovery into print.

The price I pay for a good guidebook is just a tiny fraction of the value of the experience it facilitates. Talk about payback time! I pay $12.95 for a guidebook and I get a $100 experience.

That's our slogan: "Read. Go. Discover."

Want to hike North Shore streams? There's a book for that.
Want to identify North Shore wildflowers? There's a book for that, too.

But where do you find these books? The publishers can be tiny or even out of business. They print like 500 of these and then disappear. You need a motivated local book seller.

There are a few stores in the area that do a particularly good job finding and stocking a wide range of North Shore guidebooks.

Lake Superior Trading Post, Grand Marais. Eric Humphreys goes out of his way to keep a full stock of interesting North Shore titles. He works closely with authors and publishers to keep books in stock.

Northern Lights Books and Gifts, Duluth. Anita Zager and her crew have a real passion for the North Shore and Lake Superior. While they specialize in shipping titles, they also have a great selection of natural history and trail guidebooks. They support local authors with events and product placement.

I enjoy working with all stores in the area. Our books are carried by retailers from the Twin Cities to Grand Portage. If you're a book seller and you're looking to improve your North Shore book stock (not just There and Back Books), let me know and I'll give you some ideas of things to stock. The more the merrier!