We stopped at the
Grand Portage which was about 10 miles into Minnesota at a beautiful cove off of Lake Superior. During the glory years of the fur trade, Grand Portage was the Rendezvous place for those going north into Canada to trade or trap for furs and those who carried them east to Montreal. All in canoes. This cove was the starting place where they packed two 90 pound packs and carried them on their backs eight miles to avoid the rapids and falls of the Pigeon River, which is now the boundary of the USA and Canada. When the British found out this cove was in the USA, they dismantled the fort and took everything north to Ft William. John Astor rebuilt the fort and picked up the trade to the west and south of Canada.
In 1958 the Grand Portage was designated an 8.5 mile national monument and trail.
This is also Wild Rice country. It is actually an annual aquatic grass found growing in the muddy parts of shallow lakes. It requires pollution free water, which is shrinking. It was a valuable part of the Ojibwe diet and therefore to the fur traders.
We found a municipal campground of 300 sites right on the bay at Grand Marais, a charming small city where every nook and cranny had personality and authenticity, unmatched natural beauty, unique and quaint shops and a body of water that demanded our attention. It’s unique originality is everywhere, charming signs, door panels on old garages, even the sides of buildings.
One of the stores was a Ben Franklin and it was certainly unique. It had all the usual stuff plus heavy winter clothing, heavy wool slacks, shirts and coats. The shoe department included expensive shoes like Morrell’s and name brand hiking boots. But when we asked for a blueberry rake scoop, they didn’t have it.
The view from our trailer included the little lighthouse at the end of their bay.
Tuesday, July 21, we took off to the 50 mile Gunflint trail and hopefully to pick wild blueberries. We had heard great stories of finding lots of big juicy ones near Seagull Lake. Unfortunately it was raining as we left Grand Marais and continued all the way up the mountain. So we visited the Chik-Wauk Museum & nature center. Others had the same idea to keep out of the rain. When we left there the rain was slowing so we stopped on several little roads and looked for blueberries. We found a few but we were not in the choice spots or they had already been picked. We are sure there were millions in this area, where there had been a forest fire, but well off the highway. By the time we gave up on berries the sun was out and Gunflint Lake was a beautiful blue. The other side of the lake was Canada.
Wednesday, July 21 we moved on down Lake Superior toward Duluth, stopping many times to look at waterfalls, beautiful views of the lake at Tettegouchee State Park and Split Rock Lighthouse. Too bad we couldn’t visit all the stops on this 150 miles along Lake Superior and we are so thankful Minnesota build this highway next to the water instead of leaving space for houses and businesses.
We had not really planned to spend time in Duluth, but Fred needed a prescription filled and the Suburban needed an oil change so we plowed into the city. The drive through started out at the very beginning of the north end of IH-35 with a view of the city. Then construction began, lanes narrowed, and exits closed. We were trying to find a campground on the south end of town and the exit was closed. Yuck! It is hard enough to find our way through a city without construction, but isn’t that what summer is all about?
By accident we found the city park on the top of Spirit Mountain in conjunction with their ski runs. The view of Duluth and the bays of the St Louis River from the ski lodge was tremendous. We would have liked to have stayed in one place for four days but when the office opened the next day we found we only had two nights in our spot, so we moved on. We could have moved to another spot, but if we move we MOVE.
We were really tired and need to get back to our 3-4 night stops.
Thursday, July 22 we took care of business and shopping in the big city, stopping at Walgreens, Best Buy, Chevy house, Wal-Mart, grocery store, the Wisconsin visitor center and a gas station. We were ready to move on.
We had planned to skip across the coast of upper Wisconsin without stopping, but Olivia read in one of the Wisconsin's brochures about a Big Top Chautauqua in the town of Bayfield on a little peninsula into Lake Superior. Reading further they have a performance every night during the summer, so we changed our plans and decided to stop. Along the way we saw wild blueberry signs so after buying our tickets in Washburn and finding a great city park in that town. In fact, they have two campground parks that can accommodate about 100 RV’s. This town is only about 2,000 population.
We stopped at the National Forest office and asked directions for finding wild blueberries. We were told to go to the Moquah Barrens and the Sands areas. After several false stops and getting on a very remote forest road, we gave up. The season just ended.
At the appropriate time we showed up in Bayfield at the Big Top. This is another good way to use a ski lift area in the summer. This Chautauqua has been going on for more than 25 years and that night they were performing their original show “Riding the Wind,” a musical and big-screen visual portrait of Bayfield featuring the founding fathers and mothers of the Apostle Islands area with stories of Red Cliff and Old La Pointe.
Prior to the show Fred visited with a local, It was just the situation he expected to find because there is such a large Scandinavian population in this area. He was about 80 and a retired commercial fisherman. We talked about fishing and his respect for the weather on Lake Superior. His grandfather came from Norway to the USA during the 1800s. He worked at many jobs to earn a living. He saved enough to return to Norway for a visit with friends and family. After just a few days, he said he was ready to go home, back to the USA. That was his last trip to Norway. Even though the man I visited with spoke with a slight accent, he said he was very much an American. He, like his grandfather, was able to visit Norway. He didn’t like it and couldn’t wait to come home.
Mary Rice, one of the three main backers of this show was celebrating her 70th birthday with four days of events. Thursday & Friday night 200 of her best friends were invited to come in time for dinner, a glass of wine, and attend the show. Each were also given t-shirts and buttons to wear. Saturday night they were having a formal, black-tie dinner, then breakfast Sunday morning.
Now for the show. They told the town’s story with stories, slides, and songs, starting with the fur trappers, Native Americans, Apostle Islands, logging, rail roads, farming, canning, shipping, light houses, original settlers, big businesses, flood, ladies league, hotels, summer cottages, and ended with sailing. During the intermission everyone enjoyed the fresh air and
Mary Rice thanked everyone for coming.
Saturday, July 24, Washburn was celebrating the town’s homecoming. It is celebrated every five years. There were events happening all over town all day and evening. There were vendors up and down main street where we enjoyed homemade blueberry pie and ice cream and their high school show choir, “Fire and Ice” performance on the street.
There was a flea market up a side street. At two o’clock after a brief shower they had an hour long parade. There were the usual fire trucks and at least 10 bands
of all sizes, a lady on stilts who walked the whole route and back.
One group had little lawn mowers blowing bubbles. Bodins Resort celebrated six generations in Washburn and a restaurant celebrated “Hangin’ Out” with laundry on the line. Another was fishing, with helium fish balloons floating out the back. Lots of candy was thrown as well as T-shirts, Frisbees, hot dogs, and marde gras beads. They had many other unique and clever floats and Olivia sent pictures for several groups at home.
That night they had fireworks from the dock and we could see them from our camp spot. That’s Lake Superior through the trees.
Sunday, July 25 We were fortunate to be camped next to a delightful family with four mostly grown children. They had a trailer and two tents and we were impressed with the fact that we heard no raised voices and everyone worked together knowing how to do their jobs to make it a nice vacation. They manage a wilderness fellowship camp near Frederic, WI. One of the girls will be leaving the next day for Denmark to be a Nanny, and she doesn’t know the language. We bet she learns fast!
We related to this town of Washburn as the old buildings were made of brownstone similar to our sandstone courthouse not only in stone, but in architecture as well. These are a few years older than our courthouse.
We worshiped at the Washburn United Methodist Church then drove north to see Bayfield. Their population is only 611, but it looked larger with many old buildings and mansions. The population really swells in the summer. North of town we drove into their city park campground and were glad we had found a spot in Washburn, it is a lot nicer. Then at Red Cliff we visited their park and we were even more glad we had lucked into a spot in Washburn. Those other two camps would have worked just fine, but Washburn’s was prettier and more centrally located for our activities.
We drove on their County Road J and came to this intersection and thought it was cute.
In our prowling we found a cherry orchard and bought four pounds of those sweet red things. Fred pitted and we froze them. It surely was easier than canning. We hope it works.
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Next letter: Final link of Lake Superior in the Western UP of Michigan.