Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Big news for biffies

When you gotta go, you gotta go, right? So I was thrown off by this sign at the Crescent Lake Campground, off the North Shore up the Sawbill Trail, a few weeks back.

How exactly do you close an outhouse? The door was literally screwed shut. Someone meant business; I wasn't doing my business there.

A few days later, a friend told me he saw a huge outhouse doing 60 mph on Highway 61, headed up the shore. Smelling a story, I wrote to the Superior National Forest and received a courteous, detailed response.

It turns out that the RFA had identified the needs, and the LWCF funded the forest through the REA.

In regular language, they had to go. Bad.

The good folks at the Superior National Forest realized that their old outhouses were both falling apart and not ADA accessible. 25 new outhouses (excuse me, "toilets") are being installed in the western part of the Forest, including Crescent Lake and Sawbill Lake campgrounds.

We're getting the single-seater Gunnison...

And the two-holer Tioga...

Plus, you'll be pleased to know that these models have "Sweet Smelling Technology."

According to the manufacturer, CXT Concete Buildings,

The building is designed with sweet smelling technology in mind. A black plastic vent pipe, located on the back side of the building, always faces south. When heated by the sun, the pipe creates a continual air flow through louvered vents located in the building near the floor. The air flows down the riser, through the vault, and finally, up and out of the vent pipe. The positive continual air flow carries the vault air out through the vent pipe, not through the building.

These puppies can survive a category E earthquake, a 150-mph wind or a 350-pound per square foot snow load.

Check out the inside:

25 new outhouses (oops, "toilets"), installed and inspected, total cost about $750,000. That's 30K per pooper. It's money well spent. The toilets were manufactured in Texas, I think, but local contractors did the dirty work (imagine all the crap they had to deal with). The old outhouses were dark, full of flies, and you couldn't turn around without brushing elbows with some questionable mold-like substance on the walls. And I'm sure they had no sweet smelling technology.

So the deed is done. Wash your hands of the old, in with the new.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

So pretty you'll want to hike it twice

Oberg Mountain is a great North Shore hike, especially in fall colors. Sure, it's full of people, but the views are so spectacular and so accessible, you just gotta do it. And maybe you should do it two times in a row.

The trail starts from the Onion River Road, from the big trailhead parking lot 2.1 miles up from Highway 61. It's well-marked and easy to follow the whole way. The entire hike is about 2 miles long.

The heart of the trail is the 1.3 mile loop around the summit of Oberg. There are seven different overlooks, each one quite different from the last. Most people take the loop counter-clockwise, and if you do so too, you won't run into nearly as many people.

Chloe and a friend and I hiked the trail a few days ago. Fall colors were just coming out, so the trail was relatively quiet. When we got to the overlook facing up the shore toward Grand Marais, we ran into a gal from Hibbing who had been ahead of us on the trail. She'd hiked the whole loop once. Of all seven overlooks, this was the one she chose to revisit to eat her lunch.

Which made me think: after driving an hour or two to get here, after climbing up 200 feet from the parking lot to get to the loop, why not keep the peak experience going? You're bound to see something you missed on the way around. Maybe this time there will be a raven riding the thermals, or an ore boat out on Lake Superior.

You could be a gourmet gawker, knowing just where you want to sit and take in the views. Or you could do public service, offering to use their cameras and take pictures of all the hikers trying to do that awkward long arm self-portrait. Reinvent yourself as a local tour guide, who knows all the best spots.

Get out there. Fall colors are headed for their peak. It's North Shore hiking season big time. Double time. Twice the fun. You see what I mean?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Oh, LeVeaux

If the North Shore does in fact have "mountains," LeVeaux Mountain is a classic. It rises almost 1000 feet above Lake Superior in the rugged terrain near Lutsen. The Superior Hiking Trail has a great three-mile loop that scampers to the top and takes in great views both inland and out on the vast blue of Lake Superior.

LeVeaux is a classic North Shore "sawtooth" mountain. It rises gradually from the shore, but drops off steeply on the back. Put six or eight of these mountains in a row and you get a pattern like the teeth along the edge of a saw.

I hiked the trail yesterday with a friend, doing research for next year's book, Hiking the North Shore. Here I am, all geeked out at the Onion River bridge, taking notes:

The hike to LeVeaux gets all sorts of great North Shore natural history examples. The trail starts with almost a mile of spruce, birch and fir forest. Then the trail starts to climb and the forest changes to sugar maple. The view from the top yesterday shows this same pattern. The dark green band in the middle is the spruces, while the light green with the oranges and reds are maples, etc. on the ridges.

The trail climbs right up the steep edge of the sawtooth and runs along the ridgeline. This hike is best described as a double lollipop trail, with a one-mile stick and a loop connected to a shorter stick and a shorter loop. The second, shorter lollipop leads to a great view of Lake Superior and Carlton Peak. You do have to figure out what to do at this unmarked intersection:

Either way works fine because it's a quarter-mile loop back onto itself, but it would be nice to have a sign here explaining the options.

I love the view from this last loop:

You can see forever down the shore toward Silver Bay. Taconite Harbor is obvious on the lakeshore, and Carlton Peak is the big dark lump on the right.

LeVeaux is right next to Oberg Mountain, and the same parking lot serves the trails to both landmarks. There are always far fewer people on LeVeaux than on Oberg. The trail is a bit longer and definitely more challenging physically. If you're up the North Shore this fall color season, do yourself a favor and hike LeVeaux.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Approaching Eagle Mountain

This is heresy. The hike to Eagle Mountain is not all that great.

The hike up Eagle Mountain, Minnesota's high point, is terrific.

To climb Mt. Everest, you must first schlep for a week to basecamp, then start climbing. To climb Denali, most parties nowadays get flown in to Kahiltna Glacier and avoid days of criss-crossing glacial streams by foot.

To reach Eagle Mountain, you must persevere through two, TWO miles of hard hiking through flat and rocky terrain. You cross three boardwalks, and in those few instances the woods open up just a bit and you can see around. Otherwise, it's a long and monotonous hike over a lot of rocks.

Then you get to Whale Lake, and you get a burst of energy. There's blue skies and blue water and across the lake an imposing "mountain," not actually Eagle Mountain but its little sister.

The trail loops around Whale Lake for a third of a mile until you find this fork in the trail:

The long approach is over. The climb begins. It's 400 vertical feet to the summit, spread out over 0.7 miles of trail. Views start to open up off to the south. Finally you get the big view, out over the BWCA:

Now it's all worth it. The two miles of rocky trail on the approach. The grunt up the mountain. The water in your bottle never tasted sweeter, nor the PB&J more delicious.

Enjoy the hike. The whole thing, if you can, not just the last climb. It's all good.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Minnesota's top dog

Sure, we all think our pets are the cutest or the most loving of all. But our shaggy poodle, Chloe, was the top dog in Minnesota yesterday. I have proof.

We summited Eagle Mountain, at 2301 feet the highest point in Minnesota. And there were no other dogs in sight. For a brief shining moment, Chloe stood on that landmark and...panted.

While I'm bragging, let me just point out that Minnesota's high point is higher than Wisconsin's. And Iowa's. And Michigan's. So Chloe was the top dog in the whole Midwest.

Woo hoo! Take a victory lap, poodle!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The North Shore's newest lakeshore trail

It's not very long. And it's not well-marked. But the new stretch of Duluth's Lakewalk brings you to lovely lakeshore scenery and one of the best ledgerock shorelines in the whole city.

The new trail provides easy access to "The Ledges," a long-time secret hideout, with great ledgerock and a few hidden cobblestone beaches. In the summer, you'll find harebells blooming and teenagers cliff jumping. Now it's fall and the goldenrods are blooming in the crevices.

Hundreds of volunteers turned out this summer to construct about 300 yards of new trail along the shore, between the cobblestone beaches and new townhomes. Unlike the rest of the Lakewalk, the trail is not paved...yet. The long-term plan calls for running a lakeside trail all the way west through the Beacon Pointe development. This will close a long-term gap in the Lakewalk.

This project has required real collaboration with the townhome residents. The trail goes right alongside their mowed and landscaped yards. Some compromises are still being worked out, like whether bikes should be allowed on the gravel trail.

Getting There

The easiest way to access this trail is to park in the lot below Perkins on London Road. Cross I-35 on the pedestrian bridge, the one with the ramps dropping down to the Lakewalk. The new trail starts right at the base of the pedestrian bridge. To get to the Ledges, watch for informal trails breaking off toward the lake.

Right now, the popular parking area by Beacon Pointe is totally torn up for construction of a stormwater overflow tank. It's an amazing hole in the ground and will be great for Lake Superior water quality. And it's a big hassle for parking and access.

Monday, September 14, 2009

I'd like to buy a consonant

I'm looking for a slight change in my career path. After twenty years of environmental education, I'm thinking about something new.

Maybe...maybe I could just add a letter, or take one away.

Instead of being a naturalist...

I could be a naturist. The pay would be about the same, and I wouldn't have those nerdy hiking sock tan lines.

Instead of doing phenology, the study of the timing of seasonal phenomena..

I could do phrenology! Might be a bit bumpy, however.

Not sure where I am now on this one, but I could either go all the way into my love of language and be an etymologist...

Or I could indulge my interest in blackfly pollination of blueberries and be an entomologist.

Maybe I'll just stick with EE.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The cormorant who thought it was a gull

The Duluth Ship Canal is a magnet for tourists. We live just a few blocks from the Canal and the Lift Bridge, so we're often on the piers walking our dog or our boys.

Typically the wall of the piers are lined with gulls, mostly Ring-billed Gulls with the occasional Herring Gull in the mix. Each of the lightposts also has a gull perched atop. For the last week or two, someone else has been hanging out on top of the lightposts of the south pier: a cormorant with identity issues.

Here it is up close, moments before it shat it my general direction. Cormorants, FYI, have projectile feces.

I can't help but put some thoughts in this bird's head:

"Yup, just me and my buds, hanging on the lightposts..."

"Am I the only one out here actually diving under that cold water for my food??"

"Hey, who wants to play 'Duck-Duck-Goose' again?"

Thursday, September 10, 2009

North Shore swimming season underway

Sure, it's mid-September. But Lake Superior water temperatures off the North Shore are at their highest this summer. I was in the lake with my boys for about 20 minutes just yesterday. The Federal Hudson, a big red salty, was at anchor off of Park Point. Waves were rolling in and the body surfing was fine.

A friend of mine measured the surface water off Little Marais at 62 degrees this morning. The sun is warming up the surface water, and light easterly breezes are bringing that warmer water toward the shore.

Not that water temps in the 60s are considered balmy. In fact any water temperature under 70 degrees is a threat for hypothermia within hours. But for us hardy Minnesotans, temps in the 60s are pretty decent.

The Great Lakes Surface Environmental Analysis bears this out, showing current surface temperatures for the lake as read by a satellite. Check out all the reds and yellows (temps in the 60s) on this map:

The reds by Ashland and the Sault are for temps in the upper 60s.

If you have a good broad band connection, go to the GLSEA home page and check out the maps and especially the movies there.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The North Shore Billboard War

It's getting ugly out there in billboard land. Are people sick of summer already? My theory is that hospitality workers are taking out their stress on these billboard as they return for one or two more weeks of crazy time.

I-35 is the artery that feeds the North Shore. Every day hundreds or thousands of Twin Citians, starved for blueberry pie, a wild hike, or a view of a distant horizon, head up the Interstate to Lake Superior. A slew of billboards between Forest Lake and Hinckley have been set up to drive those tourists to select destinations.

Those oh-so-clever people in Grand Marais nailed a fake herring gull to their billboard. And "someone" stole the bird. Now they're offering a "reward," with the rather tacky phrase "We just want someone to give us the bird." Do they really want someone to make an obscene gesture in the general direction of the Lake Superior Trading Post?

My theory is that it was one of the hard-working guest workers from Eastern Europe who could just not stand another guest demanding hotel Wi-Fi that reaches to Artists Point.

So what's next?

Will a stressed-out dishwasher from Lutsen steal the caribou statue from Great Lakes Aquarium and jam it splashing into the picture of Caribou Highlands' outdoor pool?

Maybe a Glensheen Mansion summer tour guide will get sick of the Congdon murder questions. I can think of, but would rather not share here, felonious objects that might be added to or stolen from the Glensheen billboard.

Perhaps some lifeguard tired of cleaning bubblegum from the waterslide strainers would appreciate a (removable) moustache on that pony-tail girl at the Edge.

Hang in there, North Shore workers! Kids are back in school and the best few weeks of summer are ahead. Destroying billboards was fun for Edward Abbey, but will not look good on your resume.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Minnesotans! Get yer island back!

True or false? Isle Royale was mined by ancient Indians for copper, but ever since has been an uninhabited wilderness. True or false? Isle Royale belongs to Michigan because of its deep historic and prehistoric connections.

Both are false. And that should be good for Minnesotans’ cultural pride.

I read Timothy Cochrane’s new book this summer, and really enjoyed his revisitation of Lake Superior and North Shore history. Cochrane systematically dismantles much of the “common knowledge” about Isle Royale. Minong—The Good Place documents the deep spiritual, economic and cultural connections between the North Shore Ojibwe and Isle Royale.

Until nearly the end of the nineteenth century, Ojibwe from Grand Portage and Fort William not only lived on the Island, they fished, hunted and died there too. Traditional Ojibwe stories are rife with mentions of the Island. Yet the island, we learn, was bought from the Lake Superior Ojibwe with $500 of gunpowder and beef.

This book provides the historical basis for restoring North Shore Ojibwe relations to Isle Royale. In fact, Cochrane ends the book with a few specific proposals that would strengthen connections between the Grand Portage community and the National Park. Perhaps, Cochrane suggests, Grand Portage Ojibwe could restore their historic connection with Isle Royale, and generate much-needed income, by building and running a hotel at the western tip of Isle Royale.

This book is an important contribution to Minnesota history as well. Although Minnesotans just celebrated the state’s sesquicentennial, the earliest European settlements in the state go much further back than 150 years, including the vibrant community of Grand Portage. Cochrane shows how Grand Portage can lay claim to Isle Royale. By extension, Minnesotans can claim Isle Royale too, to the extent that they embrace Grand Portage.

If you’re looking for a light read to put in your Isle Royale backpack, this is not the book for you. It’s academic in tone, with almost a third of the book comprised of footnotes and bibliography. Despite the title, it’s as much about Grand Portage as it is about Isle Royale. Relying on primary sources to tell such an important story makes reading feel a bit like bushwacking through thick underbrush instead of following the easy trail. But if you’re interested in the history of Lake Superior, this is an essential book to read and understand.

Minong—The Good Place: Ojibwe and Isle Royale, Timothy Cochrane, 2009, Michigan State University Presss, East Lansing, 300 pages