Friday, July 31, 2015

Room at the Inn -- Cascade River

If we build eight more parks on the North Shore this morning, the campgrounds would be full by tonight, said the cheerful ranger at the Tettegouche Visitor Center.

Let's see what we can find for you.

Patty was aprehensive. Her internet search for campsites along the North Shore had yielded nothing for the upcoming weekend. The weather was perfect, the family vacations were in full swing and the little village of Grand Marias was setting up for a festival.

Cascade River has 6 non-reservable sites right now, first come, first served. They will fill up later 'cause it's 65 miles away.

We were Off, tailwind pushing us and looking over our shoulders hoping we weren't missing something.

Yet another cheerful and capable Minnesota Ranger assigned our site -- an electric one! -- and we were off to see the Cascades.

WOW! This little river is only seventeen miles long, but it finishes with a fury of rock-carving energy.





...and it just keeps going until It meets the Lake Superior "surf".


Circling back in the next days (to see if we missed anything), we found much to see a few miles inshore from Hwy 61 -- The gravel road along the gentle Baptism River covered with Lilies and looking very "Moosey" to us, walk-in campgrounds by stream and lake in the Manitou SP and a perfect little State Forest campground just a few miles inland, VIRTUALLY EMPTY. We think there are lots of other places ignored by the travelers on Hwy 61.



Tuesday, July 28, 2015


...or how the Polka Dot Jersey still evades these Rail-trail riders.

Here on the North Shore of Lake Superior just a daytripper's hop from Duluth are two of the most visited sites in the North Country. Gooseberry Falls State Park has the most trampled set of waterfalls we have ever seen and, despite some hefty entrance fees, the beautiful Split Rock Lighthouse on a sunny weekend compares with any overcrowed NP visitor center for sheer volume of flip-flopped humanity.


Lacing these two attractions together is one completed section of the stunning PAVED Gitchi-Gami trail. The trail sometimes follows along hwy 61 (climbing over the hills that the roadway cuts through) but often swings to the brink of the bluffs with views of the lake and cool updrafts.

Yes, we ride up here; the Winnebagos ride through the cut...

WAIT! There are HILLS? Was I consulted on this?


After laying about for two days during a Minnesota heat wave, we saddled up this morning and rode through a gap in the rain shield that was passing over. The grades did not LOOK bad, but we were toast even on the gradual ones. Pressing doggedly onward and stopping frequently to pant, we couldn't help dreading the downhills that would become climbs on the return. It didn't get better as we decended the col d' Split Rock which actually has a switchback!) and rested at the Trail Center in Split Rock State Park. We dragged ourselves out on the lava flow with snacks and drank in the views.

Split Rock Light, the most visited in the US

We don't need your stinking $9 tour badges. We can see just fine from here.













Cool mist coming.















The climb up the col was testy until we got the Granny Gear adjusted, but then, on the second leg of the switchback, a MIRACLE. That fierce headwind that plagued us all the way out paid back. We flew, our spirits soared and victory was ours.

We braked for features we missed going out...


A couple of long climbs in the sun and we were back across the Gooseberry River cooling in the breezes at the top of the "Castle". We knew it was all downhill to our campsite from here. We celebrated with calls to Grandgirls and the last snacks.

Soo, a lot of drama for a couple septuagenarian flatlanders. We probably won't be getting any Polka Dot Jerseys for our modest hill climbing, but we are less afraid to stray off the flat and level; We feel a bit better prepared for our annual assault on the Acadia Carriage Trails. We think this deserves a little pie.










Saturday, July 25, 2015


Engaging as those Wisconsin bike trails were, our newly hatched plan to travel the North Shore of Lake Superior demanded that we make some progress Northward. We stayed with the River Road as long as possible, winding below the bluffs on the Minnesota side. Rounding the Twin Cities, we took up with Interstate (Ugg!) I-35. It was the direct route and rewarding in its own way. The changes were dramatic. Gone were fields of corn, and picturesque farms, even barns and silos. Green boggy looking spaces bounded by conifers and Aspen with an occasional Paper Birch exclamation point captured us. Signs offering Wild Rice appeared near crossroads and we were on the lookout for harvesters in canoes, but admitted we had no idea what Wild Rice looked like "in the wild". In late afternoon we slipped through the pleasant hamlet of Carlton and on to Jay Cooke State Park for the most dramatic change of all.


The St Louis River at minimum flow

The quiet Trempealeau and the glossy backwaters of the Mississippi had been replaced by this chaos of fractured, twisted stone and the St Louis River thrashing its way through it. This was the Grand Portage of the St Louis, the way West for English fur traders, seven hellish miles to test any voyageur.

The Willard Munger State Bike Trail (150 paved miles, thank you Minnesota) passes nearby and links with the shorter St Louis River and Alex Laveau trails. We were in heaven with a Park spur that led us to the junction in Carlton.

No mountain tunnels here, but half mile rock cuts and...






...quiet tarns reflecting conifers and Aspen.


The views from the bridge over the St Louis Gorge are so dramatic that the trailbuilders have provided multiple viewing platforms.

But the best view and the focal point of the Park is the Swinging Bridge built by the CCC and rebuilt four more times as catastrophic floods reduced it to rubble.
The 2012 flood overtopped them all but the DNR responded with a taller design utilizing the same stonework as the original and the cedar log approch railings. It is truly beautiful and the view is as well.

What is Patty doing besides riding trails every day? Oh, just a little light walking therapy --over the roughest ground I've ever seen (in her knee thingy though...).


Thursday, July 23, 2015


It had been a HOT afternoon ride and I was straggling over to the shower house still wearing my bright orange Tee with the Superman logo ($9 at WallyWorld, $18 if you want it in Navy with a Nike Swoosh; the Navy is considered formalwear back home).

Nice shirt, he said.

Thanks. They give one to the guy who rides both ways on the Sparta-Elroy Trail pulling a biketrailer with two Yorkshire Terriers.

Wow, says he, a little less glib.

Yeah. I took it off his desiccated corpse...gave the Yorkies a drink. I think they're gonna be fine.


We have been lucky enough to sample some great biking lately; both Wisconsin and Minnesota are blessed with scads of trails, enough to plan a summer around.

The Root River trail system centered near Lanesboro MN is exquisite. Wonderful paved surface tracing along the river and reaching up to welcoming little towns.














We rode through Wildlife refuges on the Great River Trail (more Prairie flowers, an avenue of them).










When it's not crossing marshes, passing through corn and little towns with fresh vegetable stands, the LaCrosse River Trail rolls along like this.




You can bag three tunnels on the oldest Rail-Trail in the country, the Elroy-Sparta. One was over 3000 feet and DARK -- the longest we have ever walked through.

NOT one of the 10,000 pictures of this tunnel on the Internets

The other Wisconsin tunnel is on the Omaha Trail. (the worst maintained trail we ever paid two bucks to ride!). ( A bitter rant has been excised since this is a family blog.)


In Lanesboro we camped right in the center of town (Sylvan Park) and rode right from the trailer. Very convenient , even if they did want a buck for five minutes of hot water. Other private RV parks abound.

Our ride to the trail town of Fountain is notable for the best pie EVER. The little Village Square restaurant is worth any long ride, even the long uphill pull past the dairy farm. Put Peach Cream Pie on your bucket list. And even though they are a long way from Dixie, their Pecan Pie was exceptional.



You can eat another piece, with ice cream, 'cause it's nearly four miles downhill after Fountain.



We note that the Aroma Pie place in Whalan proudly proclaiming the "World Famous Pies" is up for sale.???




Pride goeth before...


Perhaps the most pleasurable parts of this interlude were the drives through lush farmland on tiny back roads (sometimes on purpose). What? Another picture postcard farmstead? Another set of hills stripped with corn and beans and that hay crop I can't spell? Whatever happened to corn "knee high by Fourth of July"? It's seven feet tall if it's an inch! And the wildflowers? Not beside the corn, but everywhere else, even the Interstates. It was glorious... and peaceful ...and boy I'm glad we aren't biking over This set of hills.


Signing off. Heading for the great woods...












Thursday, July 9, 2015

A Nation Rich in Rivers

Along the Upper Mississippi every hour brings something new. There are crowds of odd islands, bluffs, prairies. hills, woods, and villages -- everything one could desire to amuse children.
Mark Twain
Chicago Tribune, July 9, 1886

Here at Pike's Peak State Park in Iowa exactly 129 years later these children are having a great time.


This is our first Iowa State Park and we are IMPRESSED. CCC stonemasons finished the native Dolomite in a close fit, urban style, but each block whispers clues of the eons of compression and upheaval that formed it.


The CCC work must have included an Overlook structure, but when it was re-done in modern times, the park honored the past with the same stonework in a graceful steel sculpted wing shape.


Wings are a theme here. From this 500' bluff, we watched Eagles coasting among the islands far below and, just then, another riding the ridgeline thermal barely 30' overhead.

The small campground is thoughtfully laid out without being over-engineered. The shower house is spectacular, the grounds are returning to pristine after the thrashing winds of last week. More importantly, the personnel are friendly, outgoing and knowledgable.

We hiked short trails to waterfalls down elaborate staircases and along ridgeline trails to some of the effigy mounds found in the park.


Effigy mounds are burial or ceremonial mounds shaped into recognizable forms by Native Americans in the late Woodland period. The Effigy Mounds National Monument preserves mounds from earlier periods as well as striking examples of Effigy Mounds. The hiking trails are excellent, but frankly, the visitor would be underwhelmed by low grassy humps amid second growth timber if it were not for the superb interpretive work of the resident rangers.

We nearly struck out on our own, but joined a small group on a scheduled hike.

We were joined by a father and two young daughters out for a summer adventure that already touched more National Parks than we have visited. Their thoughtful questions and obvious curiosity kept the hike lively; Ranger Michael's wide range of thoughtful commentary enriched us all.

The Monument encompasses those "bluffs, prairies, hills and woods" that Mr Twain mentions , a rich variety of trails and environments to explore. As to the "Villages", there are a trio of river towns to explore and seek refreshment. McGregor and Marquette Iowa and Prairie du Chien Wisconsin offer small town historic areas and a variety of dining opportunities. We plan our days to take advantage.


There are, of course, activities to "amuse children", like bike riding with "Our Sister Beth" who joined us while still rehabbing Pat's knee.



Our totally theraputic and heartily recommended ride through the Upper Mississippi River Refuge south of Savanna IL was a mixture of wide riverscapes of marsh and islands with green-shaded tunnels along dikes. Excellent facilities for bird watching, shore fishing and biking make this a showplace. Knee rehabilitation is serious business; there might have been some giggles along the way.



Our River Road adventure has been fun, and who knows, there may be more, but we were struck by this quote displayed prominently at the Dubuque Aquarium and offer it for your consideration.

Rivers run through our history and folklore, and link us as a people. They nourish and refresh us and provide a home for dazzling varieties of fish and wildlife and trees and plants of every sort.
We are a nation rich in rivers.
Charles Karault