Thursday, December 6, 2012

Reading Rainbow on the power of books

Our kids grew up watching a lot of PBS shows. One of our favorites as parents was Reading Rainbow. If you ever watched the show, check out this autotune version of Levar Burton "singing" the praises of books.

While Levar wasn't talking (or, um, singing) specifically about trail guides, this video captures so much of what There and Back Books is all about. As much fun as our blogs and my Twitter feed are, the core of our business is still books, actual physical books, like Skiing the North Shore. As Levar sings in this video, "A book lets you zoom through time and space. Whether you head north, south, east, or west, a book can be your passport." 

Levar also has a big nod to maps, saying, "I love maps. Each one tells me something different about the world." I've really enjoyed working on the maps of our books, reliving my adventures in the wild with a few curvy lines on the page. Our maps really set our books apart from most other trail guides. 

Don't take my word for it
At some point in almost every show, Levar would start a new section by saying, "You don't have to take my word for it." Check out our books for yourselves. They're in a lot of libraries, but I'm hoping you'd like a copy to keep in your backpack or car.

We'd love to help out your Christmas giving with one or more of our books. Here are some of the independent retailers that sell a lot of our books:

Midwest Mountaineering, Minneapolis

The Bookstore at Fitgers, Duluth
TrailFitters, Duluth
Duluth Pack Store, Canal Park, Duluth
Lake Superior Trading Post, Grand Marais

"One of the best inventions ever," Levar says, "is the book." One of the best Christmas presents too.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Short Shore winter? Or are we just getting started?

Duluth and the North Shore are thickened with fog, the sort of cold damp fog that feels like the snowpack just exhaled all its moisture. Just two days ago skiers were pumped about the decent early-season conditions. Me, I actually skied 6 kilometers on my son's November birthday, and that felt pretty good.

Now the snow is simply disappearing into the air and we are left hanging. Will it be another awful snowless winter after all?

Time to cling to the weather forecast, to watch the skies and to feel the wind shifts. Forty percent chance of snow for Sunday? Wax up your skis, it's gonna be a blizzard.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Are you addicted to skiing? Take this easy test!

Are you addicted to skiing? Take this easy test and find out!

So we're starting to get some halfway decent early season snow on the North Shore ski trails. In some places, the groomers are even out fixing up ski tracks. Just how committed are you to cross country skiing?

How many pairs of skis do you own?

A) Zero
B) 1-2
C) Not enough

How far have your friends ever driven for a ski outing?
A) 1 mile
B) 2-10 miles
C) Idaho, Alaska

Do you apply storage wax to your skis in the spring?

A) What’s storage wax?
B) No I just leave on whatever goop I last used.
C) Duh, you think I just let my skis dry up over the summer?

What’s the bare minimum amount of snow you’re happy to ski on?
A) Two feet and soft enough to be poofy when I fall.
B) Two inches, but it has to be a thick two inches
C) As long as the ground is at least half white.

What sort of goal do you have for skiing this winter?

A) Get out on my skis at least once.
B) Ski at least once a week, as long as there’s snow.
C) Not sure yet, but it’s measured in the hundreds.

Every A answer equals 1 point
Every B answer equals 2 points
Every C answer equals 3 points

5-8 points: You can take it or leave it. You can still maintain normal social relations, even when it’s snowing.
9-12 points: You might be losing friends who aren’t skiers and gaining friends who are.
13-15 points: You are totally addicted. Either get treatment or move to Greenland.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Black Friday, Grand Marais-style

Grand Marais Christmas Parade. Photo Stephen Hoglund, Cook County Visitor Bureau
Thanks to the blogger Mikel from Caribou Highlands known online as "Voice of the Mountains" for the top five list of reasons to "Shore it up" for Thanksgiving. My favorite is reason #3, "No Black Friday". As the writer puts it, "There’s plenty of other chances to get trampled at a shopping mall."

I covered last year's Grand Marais Black Friday in a post here. Basically, it's another busy day in Grand Marais. No doorbusters. No five a.m. openings. The narrow aisles in Joynes are as crowded as ever, with stacks of Carhart pants threatening to fall on the stacks of Woolrich shirts as they compete for your holiday dollars. Yes there are sales, 10% off here, 20% off there. But no one will get trampled looking for a deal on Ragg wool socks.

The real fun of Black Friday kicks in at dark, with the Grand Marais Christmas Parade. Where else would you find a Christmas event themed "O Ole Night"? In what Twin Cities mall would you be encouraged to wear your best goofy Christmas sweater and join in the Uff Da parade? Only on the North Shore.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Jay Cooke: Enjoying park in pieces

Jay Cooke State Park is a sprawling North Woods landscape etched in intricate detail by the St. Louis River. This last summer, the river rose out of its banks in Duluth's 500-year flash flood and gouged the park into pieces. The park will never be quite the same. But with a few detours in mind, park visitors can still have a great Minnesota State Park experience.

Long story short, the flood cut the park up like a Thanksgiving pie, into four big pieces. It was cut north from south, and west from east.
From Minnesota DNR
The flood closed off the park entirely for about three months. Now,  the entrance from the west (from I-35 through Cloquet or Esko) is open again. If you think of the cut-up pie, you can easily reach and explore the upper left (or northwest) quarter of the pie.

The park has a great map available showing what's open and closed.

Open and easy to access now:
  • Park visitor center
  • Park campground (featured in our book Camping the North Shore), including the great camper cabins
  • Hiking trails around the visitor center, including the CCC, Forbay, White Pine and Thomson trails
Other trails are open but more difficult to access. 

In our book Hiking the North Shore, we feature two hikes in Jay Cooke State Park. Hike #1 is Silver Creek Trail and Hike #2 is St. Louis River Loop. Those trails themselves are still in good shape, except both hikes require crossing the Swinging Bridge. With the bridge closed, you can still hike down the south side of the St. Louis River from Thompson starting on the Munger Trail, then do the Silver Creek Trail loop and return the way you came.

Looking ahead
Plans for the 2012-13 winter cross country ski season are still being worked out. There will definitely be ski trails groomed in the area around the Visitor Center. Our book Skiing the North Shore describes the following trails that will be open: CCC, White Pine and Thompson. The Oak and Triangle trails reached off the East Palkie Road should also be open and groomed. Then there is hope to open some of the trails on the south side of the St. Louis River using local access points; more details to follow.

The park plans to have the Swinging Bridge open again in late 2013. That will allow hikers and skiers full access again to the trails. The massive blowout on Highway 210 will have a new bridge by 2014. Two years from now, Jay Cooke will be all put back together again. Until then, enjoy the park all that you can!

Banff Mountain Film Duluth

Take 200 skiers, hikers and climbers out of their funky North Woods cabins. Dress them up in wool and recycled nylon. Send them for a night out at the movies. Pack them all into a high school auditorium and show them films of beautiful wild places and crazy outdoor adventures. That's the annual Banff Mountain Film Festival event in Duluth, and it's happening again this Sunday and Monday, November 18 and 19. 

This is a seriously special event for Duluth:

Like November snow, it's totally fresh
These films are the winners from a festival in Banff Alberta that just wrapped up a few weeks ago. Duluth is about the third stop on a world tour that will reach 40 states and nearly 40 countries. There's even a showing scheduled for Antarctica.  

The great films are for a great cause
The Banff Festival is also the season kick off for the Duluth XC Ski Club, an amazing group of volunteer ski enthusiasts that are making great progress improving Duluth trails and grooming.
You can experience the thrill of the unknown
The films that are screened Sunday night will be completely different from the films screened on Monday night. When you show up, you don't really know what you're going to see until it's announced from the stage. 

If you go
First, buy your tickets ahead of time. The festival will sell out. Tickets are available at the following Duluth shops:Vertical Endeavors, Trailfitters, Ski Hut, Duluth Pack and Continental. 

The event opens at 5:30 and the films start at 7:00. It's not just films, but also displays and socializing and a great raffle. 

Be there. And be there again.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Best North Shore at the Outdoor Adventure Expo

What do you get when you cross a canoe and a snowshoe? The "X" in Expo, that's what. As in the twice-a-year Outdoor Adventure Expo.It's this weekend, November 16-18, on the West Bank near downtown Minneapolis. This is the winter version (hence the snowshoe). There's a summer version every spring (hence the canoe).

Every spring and every fall Midwest Mountaineering in Minneapolis puts on the biggest outdoor show of the season. It's coming up this weekend, and if you're at all interested in exploring the outdoors this winter, you should get there.

It's shoulder-to-shoulder fun. Midwest turns all their parking lots into tents and all their spare rooms into classrooms. 80 free programs, a whole circus tent full of exhibitors, and merchandise galore. 

Great programs
For you fans of the North Shore, there are some great, unique programs you should plan your visit around. If you go on Saturday, which is the biggest, busiest day, you can :
Get an Introduction to Snowkiting
Learn about Great Places to Snowshoe in Minnesota, Wisconsin and the U.P.
Check out The North Shore: Winter Photo Essay
Brush up on Winter Camping: The Basics

If you can only get there on Sunday, you can make the coolest program of the weekend, The North Shore: Skiing the River Canyons. If you go, say hi to Rudi for me.

Great exhibits
While the programs are fun and informative, my favorite thing to do is to go through the exhibitor area and talk with folks. I learn something new every time, whether it's a cool new piece of gear or an important new environmental concern. 

Great food all around
If the grilling and brewing inside the tent isn't enough for you, just step outside the Expo and you're on the West Bank, with restaurants of every nationality from Ethiopian to Mongolian. 

I do hope you can make the trek to the Expo. It's the best North Shore day you can have if you can't actually be on the North Shore.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Jay Cooke re-opens after June flood

After the flood
Jay Cooke State Park is one of the great recreational assets of the North Shore area. I feature it in every book I've written. It's got great ski trails, a terrific campground, and miles of diverse hiking.

But since the June flood, the park has been completely closed. All of the major roads leading into the park were severely damaged. Even the iconic Swinging Bridge over the St. Louis River was half-destroyed. As the salty old Mainer would say, "You can't get they-uh from hee-uh."

Today, the park reopened to the public, but just in part. Of the three main roads that led to the park, just one is open. And the Swinging Bridge won't be open again for at least another year. 

Getting there
To reach the main park facility, including the campground and visitor center, you have to come through the little town of Thompson. Take Exit 242 off Interstate 35 and turn south on Carlton County Highway 1. This leads you about three miles through Thompson and to State Highway 210. Turn left on 210, and it's about two miles into the park. 

From the visitor center area, you can hike on the wide, mowed ski trails of the campground area or just stroll along the river bank. Say hi to the park staff, who have been working really hard to get the place reopened.

Secret inside information coming
Watch this space as ski season approaches. I know two "secret" back ways onto the park's excellent network of ski trails, including the long stretches of trail across the closed Swinging Bridge.

Friday, October 5, 2012

It's dry on the shore!

North Shore fall colors this year have be been amazing, "best ever". Might be due to the drought. While the fall show has been impressive, there are other impacts of the drought a little less appetizing. Like high fire danger. And low waterfalls, like the trickle that is Gooseberry's Middle Falls.

Hiking trails are dry, so few problems now with mud or insects. Personally,I'd rather have the rain.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Great fall walking on West Skyline Parkway

Some of the best fall colors in the North Shore area right now are along Duluth's western Skyline Parkway. Thanks to June's floods, a whole long stretch of that scenic byway is closed to automobiles, making it PERFECT for a stroll through a colorful northern hardwood forest.

If you drive Interstate 35 to Exit 249 (Boundary Avenue and Spirit Mountain), follow the signs for Skyline Drive toward Spirit Mountain and continue past Spirit for a total of 2.2 miles from Interstate 35. At that point, the road simply stops at a barricade. Here you can park your car and start walking. 

Skyline Parkway bridge out
In just a few yards, you can see exactly why the road is closed. Right before the landmark dragon bridge you'll find a maze of gullies and channels where the floodwaters crossed the boulevard and wiped out the roadway. 

Press on through this eroded area and you'll be back on a wide, very walkable gravel road you can follow all the way to the scenic overlook at Bardons Peak. The road is closed at the far end too, so there should be no cars on this stretch.

skyline maple duluth
The sugar maple trees are red and orange, the birch trees are all yellow. Other trees like ironwood and sumac have amazing deep red colors. 

SHT blaze Duluth
If you'd like a little variety in your outing, you can try a short and dramatic stretch of the Superior Hiking Trail. About 200 yards on the left past the dragon bridge, there's a big trailhead parking lot for the Superior Hiking Trail. It's empty now because no cars can get here. If you get on the Superior Hiking Trail at the trailhead, you can take it west for just about a half mile, through lovely woods where glowing maples mix with tall white pine. There's a cool crossing of Snively Creek and a great overlook of western Duluth neighborhoods. The Superior Hiking Trail returns to Skyline Parkway, and you can get back on the wide and easy road again.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Love on the Superior Hiking Trail

poplar river superior hiking trail lutsen 
"This is one of my favorite sections." Only for a old hiking couple like us could that have been words of love. 

When Sally said just that to me this week as we hiked from the Caribou Trail to Lutsen on the Superior Hiking Trail, I felt as warm and gooey as if she'd reached across a fancy restaurant's white linen to hold my hand. She likes it. She really really likes it! I'd wrapped up a virtual present for her and she was delighted with it.

We'd already enshrined this hike as one of the "50 fabulous day hikes" in our book Hiking the North Shore. But it was Sally's first time on this particular section of the Superior Hiking Trail, and...she likes it! We'd sent our kids off to school in the morning, zipped up the shore, and now we were back in our element.

We weren't the only couple appreciating the trail. It seemed like everyone else on the trail was a couple, mostly a man and a woman, once a woman and her dog. It was like that old tourism ad for the Commonwealth of Virginia, "Virginia is for Lovers." New marketing slogan: "The Superior Hiking Trail is for lovers." Who else would be out on a longer hike during the school week at the peak of fall colors?

Andrew poodle lutsen overlook
Of course this was a work trip as well as a date, so I took careful notes of the book's description and where we could improve it. Sally wasn't the only girl who liked the day's adventure; the poodle Daphne was pretty into it too. Except when the wolf scat on the trail was fresh, and then she'd tuck her tail in and carefully follow right in my footsteps. 

Hike summary
This is a 6.4 mile one-way hike from the Caribou Trail west on the Superior Hiking Trail to Lutsen Mountain. It's Hike 36 in our book. The best way to do this is by arranging a shuttle, so you can hike back to Lutsen for your car or your hotel room. (Or see below for reserving a spot on the Superior Shuttle.)

Finding the trailhead 
From Highway 61 mile marker 92.0, take County Road 4 (the Caribou Trail) 4.1 miles to the Superior Hiking Trail parking lot just off the road on the right, at the Caribou Lake boat launch.

The hike starts with an short optional spur to White Sky Rock, a lovely overlook of Caribou Lake. From there, it's a walk through cedar forest and rock formations to Lake Agnes, Caribou Lake's wild and undeveloped sister.
Lake Agnes SHT hunters rock
The whole 6.4 miles is fairly level overall, with stretches on top of maple-rich ridges alternating with  stretches in conifer-dense lowlands. After passing Lake Agnes, the trail reaches a series of three dramatic overlooks of the Poplar River valley, including a lovely view of curves in the river. In this week's fall colors, the entire scene was just breathtaking.

After the three big overlooks, the trail descends to the river valley and a long stretch of thick woods. Soon enough though you're hiking alongside the Poplar River as it turns from a sedate curvy quiet stream into a classic North Shore rushing river. Then it's another climb to Glove Overlook, where you can look back at the land you've crossed, and more beautiful maple woods. Finally it's a rocky descent back to the river and the busy world of Lutsen Mountain ski area. 

As we finished that last downhill, we passed an older couple, even older than us. They asked us to take their pictures. We guessed later that they were newlyweds, exploring the North Shore and getting to know each other in a new and beautiful place. Sort of like us, I guess. Yes, the Superior Hiking Trail is for lovers. 

Use the Superior Shuttle if you're hiking solo
This hike is great for a one-way hike from east to west. You can use the Superior Shuttle service. The shuttle will pick you up at 10:54 AM by the Lutsen gondola and drive you to the Caribou Trail trailhead (weekends only). Reservations are strongly recommended in the busy fall colors season. 

If you're staying at one of the local resorts at Lutsen Mountain, check at the front desk to see if they'll drive you and your partner (human or dog) to the Caribou Trail trailhead.

Climbing Mount Baldy: Through Tettegouche's back door

Mount Baldy view tettegouche
Here are three good reasons to hike to Mount Baldy in the heart of the Tettegouche backcountry this weekend:
  1. Chances are, you've never hiked to Mount Baldy.
  2. The fall colors will be at their peak and the views will be gorgeous.
  3. While hundreds of folks circle the top of popular spots like Oberg Mountain, you can have an equally beautiful view and hike all to yourself. 
The hike
It's a 1.4 mile hike to Mount Baldy from the parking lot on Lax Lake Road, making for a 2.8 mile round trip experience. Before you go, download a map of the park here.

tettegouche hiking road

The first half of the hike in is along a wide gravel road, now closed to vehicles. This is a steep climb through rugged terrain. As you climb, watch as the forest changes from birch and fir to sugar maple and red oak.

tettegouche red oak leaf
Look out for the main trail junction at the top of the hill, labelled "J". Turn left here onto a narrow hiking trail. This trail rambles for about a half mile through a forest of maple and oak, bending around massive glacial boulders. At junction "G" you'll turn left again, and after just about 30 yards you'll reach junction "F", where you'll turn right at the sign for Mount Baldy (actually, with a few letters carefully rubbed off, the sign now reads "Mt. Bad").

tettegouche mount baldy trail

The trail scampers up the rock crest of Mount Baldy and the view begins to really open up. You can see three of the state park's inland lakes, including Mic Mac Lake and a sliver of Tettegouche Lake.

The trail ends at an open overlook with a 240-degree view of inland lakes and glimmering Lake Superior in the distance. In fact, when the light is right you can pick out individual islands in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. At the peak of fall colors, this is a riot of color and light. 

Special secret bonus
Nicado Lake Tettegouche mount baldy
About 30 yards before the end of the Mount Baldy spur trail, an unmarked and unmaintained trail turns off to the left. Just 20 yards down this trail is rocky outcrop with an AMAZING view of  little Nicado Lake. 

Options from the top
From the top of Mount Baldy, return on the spur trail back to junction "G". From there, you can either retrace your steps directly back to the trailhead, or you can make a big loop down to Mic Mac Lake and the historic log cabins of Tettegouche Camp.

How to get there
The "front door" of Tettegouche State Park is in transition. Construction of the new visitor center means a strange new entrance to the park about half a mile west of the regular one. 

For this hike, skip the main entrance on Highway 61 and head to the park's "back door". 

If you're coming up the North Shore from Two Harbors, turn left at Beaver Bay on Lake County Road 4, a.k.a. Lax Lake Road. You'll follow Lax Lake Road the whole way, but it will take some sharp turns. At. 3.2 miles in, you'll reach a stop sign and T-junction. Turn left. After 2.0 miles, watch for a sharp right turn onto Lake County Road 31 (still Lax Lake Road). This will take you past Lax Lake itself. After 3.6 miles, look for a parking lot with a state park kiosk on the right. Note that a state park vehicle permit is required to use this parking lot. 

If you're coming from the traditional park entrance in the area of Illgen City, turn up Minnesota Highway 1 from Highway 61, and drive 4.3 miles to Lake County 31 (Lax Lake Road). Turn left and drive 3.1 miles to the parking lot on the left.


Monday, September 17, 2012

North Shore fall colors on Twitter: Let's have a hashtag!

Twitter is this huge and powerful online media tool. For a company that has a bird for its logo and a bird song for its main product (tweets), you'd think there might be a lot of nature stuff on the site. There isn't. The most popular topics, the "trending" topics, are celebrities, sports and political gaffes, not bird migration or wildflower blooms. 

Let's use Twitter to follow the amazing show of North Shore fall colors. To do that, we need a "hashtag". I'm suggesting this one: #fallcolors.

I do a lot of tweeting. Here's my Twitter page. Sign up to follow me on Twitter and I'll keep you up to date with what's happening on the North Shore.

Here's, briefly, how Twitter works:

1) Individuals like you or me create an account and a username. 
2) You can pick anyone you want to "follow", and their tweets show up on your timeline as they write them. It's sort of like the old ticker tapes that reported stock prices, bits of information coming in one after another.
3) As people write tweets, they can include a word or short phrase with the character "#" before it. That character used to be known as the number sign, and now it's a "hash tag". 
 4) Then, other people interested in the same word or phrase can search for or click on that word or phrase and find every other tweet with that word or phrase in it.

North Shore folks following the fall colors: Let's share what we're learning about fall colors by using "#fallcolors". Everytime you see something happening with those maples or tamaracks, send out a tweet or a link, and add "#fallcolors" to the tweet.

See what's up with the #fallcolors hashtag right now by clicking on this link.  

Together, we can do this!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Duluth's Amity Creek after the flood

When the great floods of June washed over Duluth, we all thought it was the end of our hiking trails as we knew them. I'm happy to report that many if not most of Duluth's hiking trails are back. 

Compare the photo above with this video from the storm:

 It sure helps that, after the flood we've had two months of below normal rainfall. Duluth creeks are all but dried up.

I took the poodle out for a walk around Amity Creek last week. There's a great short walk from the playground area of Lester Park up one bank of Amity Creek, across the footbridge above the falls, then back down the other side. Download the map from the City of Duluth and follow the green trails to "The Deeps".

As you walk along the banks of Amity, you can definitely pick out signs of the storm. Debris is still wrapped around branches easily eight feet higher than the current water level. Freshly compacted dirt shows in a few places where the trail washed away and eager crews have put it back in place. 

But the tall white pines still stand, and the city's improvements from a few years back are looking great still.

Flood recovery still has a long way to go. Volunteers are still needed for important projects including trail repair. But if you've just gotta get out for a hike, Duluth's trails are ready for you. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Hiking Ely's Secret-Blackstone trail

I had four days of just me and the poodle and the wild woods of Ely, Minnesota. I don't think she'd like a solo canoe ride. The steam bath was not going to work. We had to go to the Secret-Blackstone trail.

Daphne is the second standard poodle hiking partner I've had, and at 20 months old she's still learning the joys and triumphs of good trail hiking. Secret-Blackstone is a small trail system east of Ely. Since it's a Superior National Forest trail, dogs can run off leash. Hiking with any dog on a leash is a hassle, but with a strong, agile poodle with psychotic tendencies on the leash, it's nearly impossible.

The Secret-Blackstone trail winds around three lakes strung in the hilly country between Moose Lake and Snowbank Lake, two popular BWCA entry points off the Fernberg Road. The trail is well-maintained and well-marked. If you're out for an easy hike, just stick to the two-mile loop around Blackstone Lake. But the dog had shown she could stick to the trail and not attract bears or wolves. We were ready for more hiking, so we headed past Blackstone Lake to the cliffs of Ennis Lake. 

Here I am at a highpoint over a pond near Ennis Lake. Longtime Superior Hiking Trail supporters might just notice that my t-shirt reads, "I'd rather be hiking the Superior Hiking Trail." But on this day, that would be a lie. This is a great little set of loop trails and I was delighted to be there. 

After sniffing up a LOT of bushes and waiting patiently behind me on the narrow trail, Daphne was pretty happy to be on this trail, too. 

If you go
Download the map and driving directions from the Superior National Forest. There really isn't a better map out there. The trailhead is very near the canoe launch for Moose Lake, and you'll find restrooms at the canoe launch. 

The hike just around Blackstone Lake is very scenic and is pretty easy going, through some lovely red pines and past two backcountry campsites where you can sit by the lake. It's just under two miles and most hikers can complete it in about an hour. 

Past Blackstone Lake, the trail gets much rougher and narrower. It's just over a three mile hike on the long loop to Ennis Lake and back, but it will take at least two hours to complete the hike, plus you'll want to hang out on top of the Ennis Lake cliffs.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Food truck trend hits Duluth beach neighborhood

Chow Haul food truck serves the Park Point neighborhood
 Now we know we've made it. Our sleepy little neighborhood on the Lake Superior beach now has a food truck. Every Wednesday night this summer Chow Haul has parked across the street from us, serving a clientele of locals and tourists alike. They picked this location for Wednesday nights because that's race night for the Duluth Keel Club and around 9:00 there is a regular slug of hungry sailors coming up from the two marinas nearby. 
The Aerial Lift Bridge down Lake Avenue.

Sally was out of town last night, our schedule at home was funky, so for dinner we crossed the street. I had a tasty noodle bowl, and the boys had wontons and a chipotle chicken taco.

I can't help but try a little joke here: 

Q: Why is eating on Park Point so great? 
A: Because of all the sand which is there.

Chow Haul makes regular stops around Duluth, including up by the Natural Resources Research Institute, West Duluth K-Mart, and Carmody's Pub. Best place to track them is on their Facebook page.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Three things you have to do before summer is over.

Fall is on its way. North of us in Ontario the aspen trees are already turning.

Here are three things you could do on the North Shore, but if you can’t get down to Lake Superior, do these things anyway. They’re like in the frozen lake after a experience you need in order to set your clock to the season.

S'Mores stand at the State Fair

One: Go to a festival. 
You just have to get somewhere where you can get shoved around in the crowd and buy some greasy food. Most of the big North Shore events are over. But there’s still the Lake County Fair this weekend (and the Silver Creek Ukelele Carnival nearby!). In the Twin Ports, check out the Dragon Boat Festival over on Barkers Island. If none of those meet your schedule, you’ll have to make the drive to the Minnesota State Fair.
"Homegrown" tomatoes in our backyard this evening

Two: Eat a homegrown tomato.
Even more than the perfect ear of sweet corn, the perfect fresh tomato sings in a perfect pitch of summer. Like the old song goes, “Only two things that money can’t buy, that’s true love and homegrown tomatoes.” There are farmers’ markets in Duluth and Two Harbors. Yes, you’re buying them. So maybe the song is wrong. 

On a rock off the Duluth shoreline

Three: Swim in a lake. 
Cold nights are already starting to cool off the smaller lakes, but Lake Superior is still as warm as it gets. Here’s where you really need the North Shore and Lake Superior. Smaller inland lakes can get rather green and dank this time of year. Down on Park Point or at Brighton Beach, the water has cleared up since the big June flood and it’s crystalline now.

Friday, August 10, 2012

North Shore funky blues

Organic blueberries ready to be picked, Shari's Berries, August 7, 2012
We went to Shari's Berries this week to pick blueberries. While it was raining heavily in Duluth and all the way up the expressway toward Two Harbors, as soon as we turned up Homestead Road and away from Lake Superior, we drove out of the rain. Typical Lake Superior "funk" (and I don't mean the musical style, just the cool, gray moist lake-effect so-called weather)

The gray funky feeling stayed with us for berry picking. Shari herself met us at the gate and immediately started apologizing for the picking conditions. Maybe you want to come back Saturday, she suggested. Maybe the berries will have ripened up some more. Maybe it won't be raining then. "Production's down about 40%," she had warned on her phone message before we even got there. Finally, "Are you okay with the horses?"

But we persisted through the funk, just like we'd driven through the rain; after all, we'd already committed half a workday to this, and we NEED a few gallons of blueberries in the freezer to get us through a winter of muffins and pancakes. So we headed out with our gallon ice-cream pails (thanks to our teenage sons for emptying those out for us).

Compared to scavenging for wild blueberries, the picking was fantastic. No poison ivy, handsome horses snorting, and the berries were 2-3 feet off the straw-covered ground.

Compared to a normal season at Shari's or other pick-yer-own farms, it was, well, about 40 percent down. Very few places you could plop your rear on a bucket and pick a few quarts just within arm's reach. It's nearly impossible to fill a gallon bucket picking just one berry at a time, so we were almost strolling through the bushes to find clumps of berries together. 

An hour and a half later, we'd each filled our buckets. These lovely organic berries were only $2.50 per pound and will fill out a lot of Sunday breakfasts and school lunch muffins. 

We left with our treasure, feeling pretty good about ourselves, drove back down Homestead Road, and sure enough it was still raining by the Lake. Funky.

Go on, pick your own berries
There is still picking coming up at Duluth-area berry farms. Call Shari about possible picking this weekend, (218) 834-5221. Blackbirds and Blueberries, near Cloquet, will have some weekday picking dates coming early next week. 

Music to pick by
How about the track "Funky Blues" from Charly Parker?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Watch out Betty! A new North Shore bakery.

If there is one baked good most associated with the North Shore, it's pie. That might be changing with this year's newest emporium of edibles, the Honey Bee bakery in Beaver Bay. Watch out, Betty's Pies! Here comes the massive yumminess of caramel rolls, cookies and scones.

The Honey Bee is located on the west side of Beaver Bay, in the same building as Lemon Wolf Cafe. You can find them on Facebook. Inside you'll find a little bit of everything, including pies. There's also a few small tables you can claim to enjoy your fresh baked goods with some coffee.

A word to the wise: this is a small bakery and the prices are a dime or two higher than you might expect. The quality is worth it. If you're feeling tight, check out the day-old rack for some bargains.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Swim the North Shore

Folks are swimming in the lake off the North Shore like never before. The water is crystal clear and freakishly warm. The map above is from this weekend, showing water temperatures across Lake Superior. The reds are about 70 degrees, and the purple around Duluth and the Apostle Islands shows water in the mid-70s. 

This warm water will go away any day now. All it will take will be a good northwest breeze like the one blowing today. That breeze will blow the warm water away from the North Shore. Up from the depths of the 800-foot deep North Shore trench will come bone-numbing 50-degree water. 

If you can swim
While the warm water lasts, get yourself to one of the North Shore's primo swimming beaches for a refreshing dip. Bring your snorkel gear and explore underwater worlds. 

My favorite North Shore beach for swimming is the Little Two Harbors beach at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. You need a park permit for this one. From the park entrance off Highway 61 21 miles northeast of Two Harbors,  follow the park signs for a quick right turn on to the park road. Turn left into the parking area for the Trail Center. From the  Trail Center, find your way past some scenic picnic areas down to the beach.

It's a lovely cobblestone beach protected by a rocky island. The cobblestones drop off quickly. If you swim out a ways from the beach you can see Split Rock Lighthouse looming above the lake a quarter-mile away. 

If you can't 
If you can't get to the North Shore for a swim, check out this wacky series of videos from Duluth's resident undersea exporer, Jim Richardson:

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Fireweed: The End is Near

Fireweed is blooming along the North Shore. I love the bright colors and proud stance of this native flower, but I know that its appearance means we're at the peak of summer. Fireweed says, "Get going, this summer ain't gonna last."

Here are a few fun facts about Fireweed:
  • Although it's best known for pioneering new territory after a fire, it is also very common along newly-built roads. The pictures in this blog post are from the new scenic pull-out off Highway 61 by Split Rock. In my experience, fireweed shows up in abundance on new roadsides in the second and third years after road construction.
  •  Fireweed is most common in maritime areas with short hot summers...sounds like the North Shore to me. 
  • In Great Britain, it is known as the Rosebay Willowherb. Olympics fans may like to learn that it is the County flower of London.


Monday, July 23, 2012

It’s berry time!

Big blueberries at a pick-your-own farm near Duluth
What a strange year it’s been for nature's timing. Everything was happening a month early this spring. Wildflowers are still blooming 3-4 weeks ahead of time. When it comes to summer berries, we’re still ahead of schedule, but only by a week or two.

Now it's blueberry season. Glowing reports are coming in from the Gunflint Trail and from Tettegouche State Park.

There are a few standbys that have been well-publicized for their berry picking. The top of Palisade Head can have amazing fields of berries. Anyplace named “Blueberry Hill” is  probably a good bet.
If you don’t feel like tracking down that patch of wild berries, there’s another option: pick-your-own berry farms. There are two commercial blueberry farms in the Duluth area.

Blackbirds and Blueberries is out near Cloquet and will have their first open picking this Saturday. Expect hundreds of people. For more information, track them down on Facebook or at

Shary’s Berries is a smaller operation in the woods off the North Shore between Duluth and Two Harbors. Shary’s Berries is open by reservation only. The berries are certified organic. Call in advance to reserve your spot at 218-834-5221.

Duluth's Lakewalk: Bike to Brighton Beach

From the heart of Duluth's Canal Park tourist area, a paved bicycle path leads seven miles along the North Shore and through Duluth's historic eastern neighborhoods to a lovely bit of North Shore coastline, Brighton Beach

Most folks know this path as the Lakewalk. But that's a misnomer. Let's call it the Beach Bike...and let's go for a ride! On hot summer days, Brighton Beach is often the coolest place in Duluth as light breezes slide over the lake.

Here's where the "Beach Bike" will take you, with just over six miles of scenic riding from Canal Park:

Brighton Beach is a longtime favorite day trip for Duluthians and a perfect stop on your way up the North Shore. A quiet, walker-friendly road winds past about half a mile of ledgerock and cobblestone beaches.

Riding the Lakewalk
The so-called Lakewalk starts in Canal Park and leads right along the rocky shoreline for almost three miles. If you want to come from out of town just for this ride, you can park at any of the Canal Park lots and pick up the Lakewalk. 

About two miles from Canal Park, there's a brief interruption where the path runs along Water Street past Beacon Pointe Resort. If you continue on the Lakewalk past 23rd Ave. E., you'll ride up a steep hill and pass below an elaborate bike path ramp. Then watch out for the unmarked junction in thick woods below London Road. If you go straight, you'll pop out on the sidewalk of busy London Road. If you take the sharp left turn, you're onto the second half of the Lakewalk and on your way to the beach. It's the Beach Bike now.

This eastern half of the Lakewalk is neither by the lake nor is it best for walking. So let's call this section the Beach Bike. The path basically follows the railroad tracks through the neighborhoods of Congdon, Lakeside and Lester Park. About five times the path crosses quiet avenues. The path leads all the way to 60th Avenue East where it abruptly stops. Still planned for construction this year is the last bit of connecting trail down to Brighton Beach, but for now you can head down 60th to London Road, cross that busy road at the crosswalk, then safely ride the sidewalk the remaining quarter-mile to the entrance to Brighton Beach.

At the Beach
Once you reach Brighton Beach, you can ride along the road and find your own perfect place: a shady picnic table, a comfortable bench, even a wave-splashed rock where you can watch the ships go by. There are outhouses, firegrates, and a toddler-friendly playground.

LakeWalk or Beach Bike, it's up to you to make it whatever you want.

For a map of the entire Lakewalk, click here.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

North Shore Fourth of July

It's hard to believe that it's already the Fourth of July. Since Independence Day falls on a Wednesday this year, the North Shore won't be quite as frantic with travelers making a long weekend out of the holiday. That means a great opportunity for North Shore fans to enjoy some great Fourth of July traditions.

It's going to be a lovely day, with breezes off Lake Superior keeping temps in the 70s despite the statewide heat advisory. 

Tofte Wilderness Trek 

Start your day off right with a 10 kilometer run (or walk) through the woods and ridges near Tofte. Just show up in Tofte at 7:45 AM for same-day registration. Here's more info.

Too hot to run along the North Shore? Sit and watch a parade instead. Festival at the Tofte Town Hall from 11-5, and parade at 2:00. Watch to make sure no float goes by twice.

Band Concerts
Come to Two Harbors and the bandshell in Thomas Owens park at 7:30 PM for a patriotic concert of American favorites. 

What's a Fourth of July without the pyrotechnics? Here's a quick run-down of where to catch a small-town show on the Shore. All shows start at dusk, about 10:00 PM in these northern latitudes.

Grand Portage on the lakeshore by the Lodge and Casino, at dusk 

Grand Marais, in the harbor from Recreational Park to Artist Point

Tofte, in the Town Park

Two Harbors, by the Depot

See you on the shore tomorrow!