Friday, September 30, 2011

North Shore colors: Remember the Superior National Forest

Oberg Lake and the Superior National Forest from the Oberg Mountain Trail, September 2009
This weekend will be one of the busiest and most beautiful of the year on the North Shore, as the autumn color show is at its peak and the weather forecast is fine. While thousands will head for the state parks, those in the know will head for the Superior National Forest...whether they know it or not.

Most of the Superior Hiking Trail east of Tofte is in the Superior National Forest. Favorite fall color hikes like Oberg and Leveaux mountains are in the National Forest, and so is most of the Lutsen gondola hike. 

The Superior National Forest promotes great automobile tours for fall colors, including this guide for the North Shore. They have four different drives to recommend, including the Moose Drive up toward the Cramer Road and the Maple Leaf Drive that loops behind Carlton Peak through the heartbreakingly beautiful maples of Heartbreak Ridge. 

The forest also maintains a whimsical fall color conditions report . In the latest edition, they let Winnie the Pooh suggest:

Don't underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, 
listening to all the things you can't hear, and not bothering.

If you can't make it up the shore and are stuck at your computer, tap into the National Forest's  Flickr photostream of current fall colors.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Get ready for fall colors

Fall color tapestry below Sawmill Dome, September 2010
The best time for hiking the North Shore is here. Clear your calendars for some adventurous treks through lovely forests with the best Lake Superior views of the year.

Bean Lake in a bowl of fall colors/
Be sure to head for one of the great ridgeline overlooks. On one side, Lake Superior glimmers in a deep dark blue. On the other side, a tapestry of color spreads out beneath you. Some of my favorite fall color overlooks are on Oberg Mountain, Leveaux Mountain, and Sawmill Dome.  

The birch trees are already changing at North Shore state parks. Head seven miles in from Finland on Lake County Road 7 to explore George H. Crosby-Manitou State Park and the Yellow Birch Trail, which should be lovely this next week. Smoke from the Pagami Creek fire may be blowing that way, so be ready to shift plans east or west depending on the wind conditions.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources predicts an excellent fall color season. Drought in the Ely area has triggered early colors in the region’s birch trees. Check on the latest fall colors with a report from the DNR.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Big lake, bigger bird: Park Point Pelican

I was pretty excited last night when I heard my son say, "There's a HUGE bird on the beach." First, that's about five more words than I typically get out of him. And second because he was noticing something natural and not something digital. And to my amazement, he kept talking. "It's a swan or something."

Of course I had to see for myself, so I headed out for the door with my camera. I didn't even have to leave the kitchen before I saw it for myself, this mass of white floating as if it were styrofoam over the lake. I've only seen this big bird in Duluth 2 or 3 times before, but I knew right away it was a pelican. The White Pelican, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos.  

But I continued down to the beach. Pelicans are here in Duluth only as a "casual straggler." Funny that out in the lake behind it was another straggler, the Dutch-flagged saltie Kwintebank.

This morning I caught another glimpse of the pelican, still out the kitchen window. I headed out again, this time with the dog, and managed to get closer to the bird as it swam along the beach. Zooming in, I managed not so shoddy a picture.

We kept on walking down the beach, dog and I. When I turned around, the big bird was nowhere to be seen on the lake. Within a minute or two, I realized why: it was up on the beach. So dog and I carefully made our way high up on the beach near the dunes and walked respectfully past the bird. The pelican was quiet and moved just slowly, keeping one eye on me and the poodle at all times.

The pelican, up close, is more beautiful and more big than I ever imagined. Every twist and turn of the neck is gorgeous to watch, and the long beak. When I got back home, I read in my bird guide that pelican's wing span can be up to 9 1/2 feet...WOW. Back in our living room, I showed my son how that wing span would reach from one side of the room to the other. 

Thanks, pelican, for visiting Lake Superior and giving us all a little thrill.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Sig's shack

I had the rare opportunity last week to visit Sigurd Olson's writing shack. Much to my surprise, it was not at the famed Listening Point, but right in town in Ely. My brother George and his partner had met Listening Point Foundation's executive director, Alanne Dore, and she invited them to see the shack. I tagged along, and was really glad I did.

The shack looks like Sig had just left. I was stunned to see that the last thing he ever typed was still in the typewriter: 

A New Adventure is coming up
and I'm sure it will be
a good one.

Perhaps subconsciously aware of his own passing, Sig typed those words, then went out in the woods on his snowshoes and died. The snowshoes rest in the corner of the shack.

Sigurd Olson is best known for his work in the Boundary Waters and for wilderness preservation worldwide. He would come to the North Shore area primarily to fish the headwaters of the streams for brook trout.  He did write a lovely poem about Lake Superior; when I find a copy I'll link to it here. There is talk now and then about naming Minnesota Highway One, the winding wild road connecting Ely and the North Shore, to Sigurd Olson Highway.
An entire desktop in the shack was covered with rocks, some of which could have been from a North Shore beach but others coming from much further away. Probably a lifetime of memories right there, captured like a Zen garden.

As a writer, naturalist, educator and fan of wilderness myself, I was deeply moved by the experience. The writing shack is so resonant with the spirit of the man. The future of it is unclear, as it sits on private property. If you're inspired by the work and words of Sigurd Olson, consider supporting the Listening Point Foundation.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Best Duluth hikes by bus

Getting to a great North Shore hike can mean as much driving as hiking. It's a pretty good haul up the Onion River Road or all the way to Grand Portage for your outdoor experience. 

Not so for hikers in Duluth. Just walk to the corner, hop on the Duluth Transit Authority bus, then ring the dinger for your trailhead bus stop.

From downtown Duluth, you can catch the #3 bus going west toward Proctor. 30 minutes and a few quarters for the bus fare later, and you're at the corner of Highland Street and Skyline Drive. It's a rugged nine mile hike on the Superior Hiking Trail along scenic Peace Ridge and past Enger Tower back to downtown.

Or hop on the #13 bus headed up Woodland and ride all the way to Hartley Nature Center, about a 25 minute trip. Then hike back to downtown via Hartley, UMD's Bagley Nature Area, Chester Creek and the Lakewalk, 4.5 miles all on the Superior Hiking Trail.

One more trip from downtown Duluth: you can take the #15 bus from downtown all the way to the Park Point Recreation Area. From there, you can either hike past the airport into the pine forest and the Superior Entry, or you can walk the gorgeous sand beach all the way back to Canal Park.

For more information on any of these hikes, check out my book:
Hiking the North Shore: 50 Fabulous Day Hikes in Minnesota's Spectacular Lake Superior Region (There & Back Guides)