So we head across the street from the Ugly Baby Bait Shop and into the Trail Center Lodge, one of my favorite places squared (meaning, it’s a favorite place within a favorite place). The screen door slams behind us. On our left is a little grocery area, and before we get inside the bar proper, there’s a bit of retail space. Filled with Dorkwear, coffee mugs and other items emblazoned with trail-related emblems and pithy sayings, there’s always something to look at.
Usually, one or more of the very large resident Lodge canines are lounging near the cash register.
The Trail Center dogs are very good dogs, and I always have to fuss over them.
Dogs are a big part of life in the Northwoods. You’d expect bird dogs and water retrievers to be everywhere, and you wouldn’t be disappointed. But the Trail is home to other kinds of working dogs – sled dogs who are raised to compete as far away as Alaska and as close as the John Beargrease Classic.
For those who are adventurous and hardy, sled dog excursions abound along the Trail. There are several kennels in the Grand Marais area with day and overnight packages available. You can be a passenger or mush your own team. All of this sounds romantic, doesn’t it?
Well, if ditching your cares behind and moving up to the Gunflint area sounds exciting, you’re going to need a job. How about this one at Black Magic Kennels? We are looking for hard-working, winter and dog-loving handlers who are wanting a winter of adventure. Pay is room and board and percentage of ride income. Our kennel is located six miles from the end of the plowed road and ten miles from the power grid and phone line. Our cabins don’t have indoor plumbing so if a trip to the outhouse in the middle of the night at 20 below is something that doesn’t sound exciting…this job isn’t for you. If you’re yearning for an adventure and experiencing a team of dogs pulling you silently down a trail on a full moon night…this job is for you.
Dog-sledding not your thing? If you’re a cross-country skiier, you’d love yurt skiing through the wilderness along the Banadad (Ojibwe for “Lost”) Ski Trail. The Banadad is the longest groomed trail in the Boundary Waters. Hikers, birders, cyclists, ecologists, canoeists, horseback riders, and anglers can all find plenty to do along the Gunflint.
I happened upon an interesting excursion I wish I’d been able to take, a once in a lifetime opportunity. Remember in our last post we told you about the Ham Lake fire in 2007? You know, the one whose smoke could be seen from space? Well, that big burn not only exposed the white veins of bedrock we told you about, but evidence of something even bigger: a layer of rock formed during the Sudbury meteorite event over 1.85 billion years ago.
Nearly 500 miles west of the Ontario impact site, a sedimentary layer was exposed by the fire close to Gunflint Lake. A billion years after the Sudbury impact (850 million years ago or so), a continental rift occurred with magma intruding into the layer. “Additional iron formation fragments suggest the material was reworked by a tsunami.” A University of Minnesota geologist led an interpretive walk to the site of two exposed formations in September. How cool would it be to see geologic evidence of a meteorite’s impact, magma from a volcano-like earthquake resulting from a gigantic shift, and a tsunami all in one place? As the ecosystem forms again, these formations will be covered over again with vegetation.
Whoa. This would be a lot to think about while you’re sitting on one of the barstools at the Trail Center Lodge, no? Meteors, yurts, mukluks, long underwear, earthquakes! Before you knew it you’d need another cocktail to calm your palpitations!
Not to mention all the stuff there is to look at on the log walls – taxidermy, old photographs, logging implements, camp utensils, old license plates, and funny bumperstickers all vie for attention. As you look or even wander about the room, it’s easy to imagine yourself in your new Gunflint Trail life: slinging hash, cutting bait, or making FedEx deliveries along a 60 mile stretch as your day job encountering all sorts of four- and two-legged characters.
When we finish our sandwiches this day and order another round, Pete decides the best angle from which to photograph the bear’s head on the wall in front of us is going to necessitate standing on the bar itself. “Hey, can I climb up here so I can get a better shot of that bear’s face?” he asks. “I don’t see why not!” comes the answer from behind the bar. “Wait a sec and I’ll help ya up there.” Whatever, just don’t step on my glasses.
All too soon, it’s time to head further up the Trail. We frequently like to turn off at about Mile 32, where there remain about 5 miles of the original Gunflint Trail before the newer highway-like road re-routed through traffic a bit to the east. Along this stretch there’s plenty of blueberry picking along the roadside, as well as young aspen forest coming along nicely after the July 4, 1999 blowdown. If you stay on the main, newer Trail, you can pull off at about Mile 33, where there is an overlook at the Laurentian Divide.
All along the next ten miles of Trail there are swampy and boggy areas perfect, we’re told, for viewing moose. We’ve never seen one along this stretch. There’s continuing evidence from the Ham Lake fire and the 1999 blowdown – induced and natural reforestation, and regenerating species such as Jack Pine, aspen, larch and Black Spruce trees. Many trailheads branch off on either side of the main Gunflint, perfect for birding, hiking and picnicking. A couple of dramatic palisade-like overlooks reveal vistas of Magnetic and Gunflint Lakes as we descend in elevation.
Late in the fall a couple of years ago, we based our stay at Gunflint Pines. Arriving as dusk began, we were shown into our rustic A-frame cabin looking across the waterscape of Gunflint Lake toward Canada. Our hosts, Bob and Shari Baker, have been livin’ the dream since the 1980’s when they first met while working at summer jobs on Gunflint Lake. Both pursued their education in hospitality management, and returned to the area full time in 1991. They and their two boys revere their world: Where cell phones don’t ring to call you to work. Where evenings are spent gathering with friends, watching the Northern lights, playing games or chatting the evening away around a fire. Where “Neighbor” still means someone you can count on in a pinch and “Community” means more than just the place you live.
Pete and I settled in for the evening after a simple supper he cooked in our cabin’s well-equipped kitchen. As the moon rose over the lake, we stood out on the deck and he snapped the photo at left. All was calm, all was bright.
We went inside and I tuned the cabin’s lone radio to the Grand Marais station. It was just in time for “Small Change,” the weekly call-in trivia game. Pete stoked up the fire in the corner woodstove. I sat with my knitting while callers phoned in from all over Cook County. Susan from Lutsen. Mary from Devil Track Lake. Harlan from off the Arrowhead. Gary on his way up Highway 61 to Hovland. Jim from Grand Marais. It was a Saturday night just before winter, and it could have been any year within the last 50 on the Gunflint Trail.
I think of that quiet night often, the firewood snapping, the stove’s warmth heating up the cabin to ward off the night’s chill. Voices over the airwaves with the lilting cadence of the North Shore – a musical way of talk that’s mostly Norsk inflection with a little Finlander thrown in for good measure. Tomorrow there would be more things to see and more places to explore, but for now it was the end of a good day in a place where it’s hard to imagine a bad one.
We were all in on the Gunflint Trail.
Photo Credits: Apture
Gunflint Lake at Night – Peter Wuebker