Monday, November 29, 2010

Best North Shore holiday gift guide

How can you share your love of the North Shore with the friends and family on your gift list? Here are ideas for gifts that will make your loved ones' Christmas morning feel like finding the perfect agate or the biggest blueberry patch. This year, buy on the North Shore.

1. Wood engravings, lino cuts, and giclee prints, oh my!
One-of-a-kind notecards, groovy t-shirts, whimsical prints, and northwoods novelties come from our friends at Kenspeckle Letterpress. Rick and Marian produce their magical art in Duluth's Canal Park.

2. The sweet stuff
Who doesn't love real maple syrup on their pancakes? The North Shore forests that come ablaze with colors in the fall produce award-winning syrup in the spring. Find all things maple at Wild Country Maple of Lutsen.

3. Fill your senses
Take your sweetie up the North Shore for a day filled with outdoor adventures and culinary delights. My personal favorite, post-adventure, is the New Scenic Cafe, between Duluth and Two Harbors.

4. Savor a state park
Buy a friend the Minnesota State Parks Gift Card and they can camp under the stars at Crosby Manitou, hike the remote trails at Tettegouche, and shop the great bookstore at Gooseberry Falls.

5. Get crafty
Make a balsam bough wreath or weave a birchbark holiday ornament at the North House Folk School in Grand Marais, and give it away to someone special. If making handmade gifts isn't your cup of tea, gift certificates are available for dozens of workshops available year-round at this nifty northern crafts school.

6. Beautiful baubles
These lovely earrings and necklaces come courtesy of my wife's recommendation, who loves the handcrafted silver jewelry of Sally Cavallaro designs, made right here in Duluth. Hmm...a hint?

7. Cool tote bags
Like their name implies, Granite Gear of Two Harbors specializes in outdoors gear of all sorts. I really dig their ultralight and eco-friendly Air Grocery Bag. In fact, I'd buy two: one for myself, one for a gift.

8. Hit the slopes!
Gotta a skier or snowboarder in your life? Lutsen Mountains offers online gift certificates for use toward daily passes, rentals, lessons, or lodging packages.

9. Feed the dog in style
Duluth's Loll Designs offers more than fabulous furniture made from 100% recycled HDPE -- check out their colorful and hygienic dog bowls. Plus, they'll donate $5 of each dog bowl sale to Animal Allies.

10. Have a Low Christmas
Good holiday music is ageless. Released ten years ago by Duluth's indie band, this hip Christmas CD (their version of "Little Drummer Boy" was the soundtrack for a Gap holiday commercial) is the aural equivalent of coming in from the snow and sitting in front of a warm, intimate fire.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A John Beargrease Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving week, 1896. The North Shore. John Beargrease and his boss, the postmaster of Beaver Bay, take off up the North Shore, in their rowboat.

It's November, right? A storm blows in. So strong that the postmaster Wegner and Beargrease can't return to shore. To keep their boat afloat, and to keep themselves from hypothermia, all they can do is row. Against the wind and the waves.

It's a three-day blow, like usual. So they row, taking turns, for three days. One man rows, the other huddles under a blanket.

As the storm lets up on Thanksgiving day, finally they make it to shore. At the mouth of the Baptism River in today's Tettegouche State Park. 40 hours of rowing. Seven miles.

The reporter from the Duluth News-Tribune reflected, “It was an experience only the sturdiest of men could survive, and that they did not freeze is undoubtably due to their exertions at the oar.”

Think your Thanksgiving travels were rough?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The North Shore comes to the Mall of America

In the latest business news:

MOA adds Betty’s Pies to menu. Betty’s Pies, a popular tourist destination at Two Harbors along the north shore of Lake Superior, plans to open a 4,300-square-foot pie, pastry and restaurant shop at the Mall of America. The approximately $1 million restaurant is scheduled to open in February, said Marti Sieber, co-owner of Betty’s Pies with business partner Carl Ehlenz.

Okay, what's next? Will Lake Superior Trading Post open a moccasin-and-book store in Southdale? Will the Vanilla Bean start serving their omelets from a food cart on Nicollet Mall?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Lake Superior "Hereafter" tsunami

If you've seen the movie Hereafter, you have a great sense of a really big tsunami. I saw my own little tsunami this morning.

A big laker came in off Lake Superior and through the Duluth ship canal. These thousand-footers push a lot of water in front of them; it's not like they're designed all sleek for speed.

I was on the beach next to the piers. Even though the boat was on the other side, the push of water from its bow when it was still in open water was moving along the outside of the pier wall as the boat moved along the inside. The day was calm, few other waves, and here came this virtual wake. It was a single pulse of wave headed nearly straight for shore.

Sure enough, the water drew back from the beachline before the big wave hit. Mighty Lake Superior herself pulled back 10-15 feet from shore, exposing sand flats. In a disaster movie, that's when the unsuspecting, doomed tourists wander out on the sea floor. Fortunately, Hereafter didn't show that part. On the trailer below from YouTube, fast forward to 1:25 or so for the big wave. 

Then the big wave came, and it flooded up on top of the frozen beach, pushing a wall of water 10-15 feet inland. The big wave paused, then sluiced back. The frozen rim of the beach turned into a wide cascade as Lake Superior rushed back down to her place.

In Hereafter, the female star of the movie drowns in the tsunami, only to be brought back to life, a life now changed forever. She is seen in the movie, at peace in the flow of the water.

Seeing my little tsunami brought that eerie, sad, provocative movie back. In a good, little way.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Watch out for ski season

There's snow on the ground in the hills above Lake Superior, but we've got a long way to go before the ski trails look as great as they did last January. The ground needs to freeze up (it's tough skiing through puddles) and the lakes need to freeze over.

Don't know about you, but I'm eager to get out there on these nice trails. Here are some resources I'm using to feed my need: is the go-to website for updated trail information in Minnesota and Wisconsin. They have a ton of reports, maps, etc.

In Duluth, call (218) 730-4321 for conditions on city cross country ski trails.

And just so you're ready to go, get your Great Minnesota Ski Pass now. Some years I've waited too long and had to go way out of my way to get that annual pass. Now you can get it online.

Ski season is nearly here: it will come that much faster if you're all ready to go.

Monday, November 15, 2010

North Shore ski season outlook is good

Thanks to a big heavy winter storm, cross country skiers are already out on the trails. There are some fine pics from Duluth-area ski trails on here and here.

The word from the Duluth Cross Country Ski Club is that you should bring your loppers along with your ski poles. The snow was wet and heavy and it bent over a lot of smaller trees into the ski trail.

This early snow comes with a cold wave that's returning normal temperatures to the North Shore. That's all right in line with the long-term climate predictions from the National Weather Service.

The weather service is predicting average precipitation for December through February (that's the big swash of "EC", for "even chances" on the map). 

The weather service is also predicting below normal temperatures for northern Minnesota...that's the big B in the blue area across the northern tier of the Great Northwest.  

Average precipitation + lower temperatures = enough snow sticking around for awhile = happy North Shore cross country skiers.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Storm watch: a lover's promise

It's the time of year I start thinking greedily about snow.

The dog and I hiked on the Piedmont ski trails this morning. The trails around Duluth are brown and muddy. But that could change soon. When I read "8 inches or more," I swoon.

This notice from the National Weather Service reads to me like a love letter by telegram, promising all kinds of great things in short crisp phrases.



That means Duluth and the North Shore are in the right place for some of the white stuff.

But I've been burned by promises before. November rolls by, with one gray day turning into another. Warmer air by Lake Superior makes early snowfalls turn to cold rain here by the lakeshore. 

Am I ready to open my heart to weather forecasts again?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Canal Park: Gorgeous and free

Great news, Duluth residents and fans of the REAL North Shore. You can come back to Canal Park now. Parking is free and plentiful. Park at a meter and pay nothing; it's after October 15th. 

The gulls have left the Marine Museum and are hanging dolefully on the South Pier. Virtually no need to fear gull droppings in your hair. The gates on the South Pier have been closed, but the North Pier, on the busy Canal Park side of the Canal, is still open for all.

And the late fall light is gorgeous, turning everything blue and aglow, like the Swedish flag.  

Get down here while it's gorgeous, before November storms and January ice turn it gray and treacherous. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Deer season hike #2: Gitchi Gummi Trail

The deer season opens in two days across Minnesota. Good luck to all the hunters, and be safe!
If you're not hunting, you can still get out and enjoy the North Shore. The state parks all have safe no-hunt zones between Lake Superior and Highway 61. A few days ago, I wrote about a nice hike at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. Today, I'd like to encourage you to visit Gooseberry Falls State Park...away from the crowds AND the hunters.

The park's Hiking Club Trail is known as the Gitchi Gummi Trail. This is very easily confused with the Gitchi Gami Trail, which is the long-distance bike trail. 


The Gitchi Gummi Trail is a 2 mile loop that starts at the park visitor center and leads across the river to the seldom-visited southeast corner of the park. It leads to the park's best view of Lake Superior, and to some interesting historic artifacts. Who knew that the only known surviving CCC outhouse is in this park?? If you're not safe from deer hunters when you're sitting on the stool, where would you be safe?

If you don't have any blaze orange to wear, you should stop at a Holiday store or other convenience store on the way to Gooseberry and pick up a blaze orange hat or vest for cheap. I stocked up on blaze orange bric-brac one year at a hardware store in Red Lodge, Montana when we showed up for hiking in elk season.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Best North Shore is on the air

Larry Weber's Backyard Almanac...
Laura Erickson's For the Birds...

And now, Andrew Slade's Best North Shore. Coming to you LIVE from KUMD every other Tuesday morning at 8:15. 

Above, Northland Morning host Lisa Johnson donned the fashion must-have of the deer season, the same blaze orange cap and vest I had in yesterday's post. About which one observant reader commented, "It takes a bigger man then me to wear a outfit like that and post it to a blog." How about a smaller woman, Anonymous? Listen to the whole broadcast here.

Tune in every Tuesday morning at 8:00 or so. If it's not my week, it's Howard Mooers' week, and he'll be talking about astronomy stuff.

Thanks, Lisa!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Deer season hike #1: Corundum Point

For the next two weeks, it will be deer season on the North Shore and throughout Minnesota. 500,000 hunters will take to the woods and do their part to reduce the voracious deer herd. Thank you, deer hunters: every deer you shoot leaves hundreds of white pines and cedar trees free to grow.

For the other three million Minnesotans who are not out deer hunting this week, the great outdoors is still open. Grab your blaze orange cap and vest and head on out.

Here's a great fall hike that's in a hunt-free zone: Split Rock Lighthouse State Park between Lake Superior and Highway 61. It's the three and a half mile hike to Corundum Point and back.

Split Rock Lighthouse State Park guessed it...Split Rock Lighthouse. Since the lighthouse is so popular, many people forget about the expansive state park beyond. The park has the best, accessible lakeshore of any North Shore state park. There are miles of hiking trails. Split Rock's trails are particularly good for hiking in the fall, since the grass has been mowed back. Try to go on a cool morning, when the ground might still be frozen.
Turn off Highway 61 at mile marker 46, a few miles past Gooseberry Falls State Park. Pick up your state park vehicle permit at the park office. Then follow the signs to the park's trail center. Park the car here and head out.

You can follow the park's Hiking Club Trail signs all the way to Corundum Point. Basically, you're following whatever trail is closest to the lakeshore going west. You start going along Little Two Harbors Bay. Views of the lighthouse open up as you near the first point (first picture above). The trail enters the park's campground; you'll walk by most of the scenic lakeshore campsites.

The trail winds around the steep side of Day Hill, passes a rugged North Shore cobblestone beach, then reaches the spur trail up to Corundum Point.

Take the short spur trail to the top of Corundum Point. The trail gets rougher as you go; keep pushing on, since the view from the top is spectacular.

FYI, if you go to the park on November 10th, stay around for the annual lighting of the beacon, on the anniversary of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald.