Midwest National Parks – Part 2

Keweenaw National Historical Park

Keweenaw National Historical Park

The next day we drove to Keweenaw National Historical Park.  A park site that we really knew nothing about, besides a cursory glance at the website when we planned the trip, as always we were pleasantly surprised by how informative and interesting this site was.  We began our trip at the Quincy Unit where we visited the Quincy Mine and Hoist.  There were tours through the mine itself, but we wanted to get to the Calumet Unit, and unfortunately did not have time for both.  We did have time to wander around the grounds of the Quincy Mine.  At the Calumet Unit Visitors Center, there was a great museum that we spent over an hour wandering through.  The rangers have done a wonderful job restoring the building that houses the museum, as well as setting up the exhibits.  There were so many informative pieces of literature to read about the mines, which mainly worked with copper, and the history of the people of the town.  The story of the Italian Hall Disaster was especially striking.  Many of the miners were striking in 1913, and in a room full of protesters, someone falsely yelled “fire”.  In the ensuing melee, 73 people were trampled.  Woody Gutherie even wrote a song about it; “1913 Massacre”.  When the Italian Hall was demolished in 1984, the people of Calumet and the surrounding area, especially those who had a history in mining, decided to band together to preserve the unique history of the area, which led to the creation of the National Historical Park.  It’s always great when a group of citizens are the impetus for the creation of an NPS site.

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

That afternoon we drove to Bayfield, Wisconsin and camped in a town campground right on the shore of Lake Superior.  Bayfield was an adorable small town, set on a hill, with a marina at the base.  The Victorian homes were charming and the downtown area was compact and eclectic.  I’m sure that it doesn’t look so charming in the winter under several feet of snow, but during the warm summer evening, it appeared idyllic.  In the morning, we woke up to go to Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.  Apostle Islands was all over the news this past winter because the lake froze deeply enough to allow access to the ice caves for the first time in years.  As amazing as those would have been to see, I was glad it was much warmer for our visit.  Because almost all of the park is on the islands, and we don’t have kayaks, we were unable to see most of it.  Another for our list to go back to.  We were able to visit both visitors centers and hike a short trail from Meyers Beach to see the sea caves.  Though very cool, I am sure they look so much better from the water, and we will definitely have to go back to explore the islands.  Almost all of them have camping, and trails to trace along the beaches and through inland.

That night we spent in Duluth, Minnesota.  Duluth recently beat out Asheville in Outside Magazine’s Best Places to Live in America Poll.  We couldn’t believe it.  Though we only spent one night in Duluth, we didn’t get the same amazing vibe we get from Asheville.  Granted we didn’t spend enough time there to be fair judges, but we weren’t feeling it.  We did eat out at Pizza Luce, which caters to vegans with vegan cheeses and meats, and was delicious.  The next morning, I went for a quick run on the Duluth Lakewalk.  It was all along the lakeshore and absolutely beautiful.  Early in the morning, there were scores of people out, riding bikes to work, walking and running the paved path, or exercising in groups on the grass.  For the most part, we noticed that this section of the midwest had tons of running/riding trails.  Many of them double as snowmobiling trails in the winter, but there were miles of trails wherever we went.

Grand Portage National Monument

Grand Portage National Monument

Next, we drove even farther north to go to Grand Portage National Monument.  Tucked away in northern Minnesota, almost on the Canadian border, this was another park site that we really enjoyed and really knew nothing about before visiting.  This is where we learned the most about beavers.  The Grand Portage, and the Voyageurs who traveled it, were all based on the fur trade of the late 1700’s.  Apparently, beaver fur hats were all the rage in Europe and the North West Company, owned by Scottish citizens, capitalized on this.  They built the largest trading post in the center of the continent, and traded with the Ojibwe Indians.  The Voyageurs were the men who carried these furs along the trail from the traders to the waterfront post.  Now, there is a recreation of the trading post and interpreter volunteers acting the traditional roles of the trading post – including the Ojibwe Indians.  This site was one of the first that I have been to, that tells a peaceful story of relations between Indians and new Americans.  They traded together and lived in harmony in the area together.  The relationship was mutually successful for both peoples.  Unfortunately, the post was relocated 1803 because the property lines between Canada forced them to go further north onto Canadian soil.  We wandered through the exhibits in the visitor center and walked down to the recreated post – observing interpreters build canoes, manipulate baskets, and make food in the kitchen before watching some brave local children jump into icy Lake Superior.

Voyageurs National Park

Voyageurs National Park

That night we camped out in the Superior National Forest, and weathered an extremely nasty thunder and lightning storm during the night.  The next morning we decided to drive into Ely, Minnesota to wander around.  The town is based on the Boundary Waters nearby, and boasts several outfitters and outdoor stores.  We happily browsed the shops and had a Thai lunch before starting our drive to Voyageurs National Park.  Another park best seen by boat, we did the best we could on foot.  We checked in first at the Kabetogama Lake Visitor Center, disappointed to find out that the canoe trip tour for the following day was already full.  We definitely should have made reservations ahead of time.  After checking out the Ash River area, and getting our stamps at the visitor center, we set up our tent at the Woodenfrog State Forest Campground.  We also took a brief walk to overlook a beaver pond.

The next day we checked out the Rainy Lake area.  We tried to take a hike, but the trail was flooded – as is a lot of the park.  Much of the water is above its usual level.  After lunch in International Falls, we started driving south again.  Our stop for the night was in Iron Mountain, where we eschewed a normal dinner and instead ate popcorn at the movie theater while watching Planes.  Since Anthony is a wildland firefighter, this movie was especially poignant for us.  We both enjoyed it very much.

The following morning I went for a run on the Mesabi Trail, a fantastic paved path which was unfortunately full of biting flies.  They only served to make me run faster, so that we could get on with our packed day.  After driving for some time, our next stop was St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.  Again, if we had boats, we would have been able to enjoy this park site even more.  We visited the visitor center and were able to see the Dalles from the riverbank.  The Dalles were created by water blasting through the rock during the formation of the river, and they rise above the waterline creating a gorge.  While driving through the town of St. Croix Falls, we happened to spot a sign advertising vegan food.  We hadn’t even looked online beforehand because we didn’t expect there to be anything in such a small town.  We were very mistaken.  The Vegetarian, an Indian restaurant, offered up perhaps one of the best meals of our entire trip.  We left completely full and happy.

To be continued…

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