It seems that every inch of this part of Minnesota is filled with forest or lakes. So we were surprised to see several acres of cleared land beside the road. That's when we spotted the sand hill cranes.
These birds need some clear space for their big wings, and this pair looks like they have taken up summer residence on this acreage. We see these birds in the winter in south Texas. It looks like they have the same travel plans that we do.
Our first stop of the day is at Taconite Harbor, where the skies and water are a glimmering blue.
This stop displays more evidence of the iron ore industry in Minnesota. The parking area had shovels and wheels from the big equipment that moves that ore around.
We stopped at a bakery and museum in the little town of Schroeder. The museum concentrated on the Finnish families that settled in this area, and we went to the bakery strictly to sample the local cuisine at the Cross River Wayside. Because the north side of Lake Superior is ringed by mountains, it is also ringed with waterfalls as the river water is rushing down to the lake.
This river got its name from the wooden cross placed at the mouth by Father Baraga. This missionary priest was caught in a storm on Lake Superior, and it was a miracle that his life was spared when his boat made it to this inlet where the water of Cross River falls into the lake.
That wooden cross was replaced by a granite cross many years ago, and the river has remained known as Cross River.
We have many more stops planned for this section of highway, but we are heading on up Highway 61 to the town of Grand Marais for now. That's pronounced ma-RAY for those of us not from around here. Our plan to camp on Lake Superior's North Shore was complicated by the annual Fisherman's Picnic Festival that started yesterday in Grand Marais. Today we wanted to explore the town and some of the festival events. We promptly bought a fish burger at the Kiwanis booth and sat down to enjoy the live music. It's a small crowd for music in the morning during the week, but you can't beat the views.
The waterfront park is lovely, and we enjoyed a walk by the lake while we checked out the other food and vendor tents.
The festival includes an hourly schedule of local events, and we took in the bingo and entertainment. We'll miss the Minnesota loon-calling competition that is later in the week. They were filling the temporary pool for the log-rolling competition that starts tomorrow.
We decided to go on the tour of the local school to get a glimpse into the lives of the people that live here year-round. The assistant principal was great at answering our questions, and he was obviously very proud of his school and his faculty. This is the only public school in Cook County, which includes the entire northeast point of the state. It includes an Ojibwe Indian reservation, so most of the signs are also in their local language. We felt welcome or "Boozhoo" as we entered.
The harsh winters cause some interesting problems for the school children. Many of the students ride the bus 45 minutes to an hour each way, and that can get longer in the winter. Children that live on islands in the lake come by boat until the water freezes. Then the bus can drive over the ice to pick them up. Finding housing for teachers can be tricky because many of the houses in town are just summer homes for out-of-towners. The winter population of hardy full-time residents is much lower. But this school system also has some interesting fun options. In the elementary school, we saw rows of skis available for the children to go skiing during recess.
They also add water and freeze a section of the playground for an ice skating rink. A panel of ice skates is available to the children for another exercise option during recess.
We did some shopping in Grand Marais, then made our final purchase at "The World's Best Donuts Shop."
It seems that the vikings usually stop to eat donuts here as well.
We had a hard time finding parking during the less-busy week days of the festival, so we wouldn't want to be here when the crowds pick up on the weekend! We felt like we had a good taste of the town, so we headed back towards home. Now we are making stops along Highway 61 like Cascade River State Park.
It's a beautiful afternoon for a hike along the trail beside the Cascade River that makes its way through the narrow rocky channel. You can tell how deep that channel is when you see Mark standing on top of one of the walls.
Mark's always happy to have a reason to climb up on big rocks for pictures. We're also happy to wander into another of God's wonders.
If you look carefully, you can see him beside the very highest waterfall in the picture below. You might also notice the brown water and the foamy froth at the bottom of some of the waterfalls. One sign post read, "Why does the water look like root beer?" They explained that the brown water that drains out of the bogs contains humic acid from the decaying plant matter. Between the boggy water and iron deposits, the water in some of the rivers stays very brown. The foam comes when the humic acid water is shaken and stirred as it tumbles over the rocks. So even though it looks like root beer, it wouldn't taste nearly as good.
We made a slight detour off Highway 61 to check out the Lutsen Ski Resort. Even though we are in the Saw Tooth Mountains, they don't seem tall enough for snow skiing. But we found chair lifts and ski runs that looked interesting. This area shouldn't be lacking for snow to cover those trails.
For summer fun, tourists can pay to ride the enclosed gondola chair lift, or they can ride down the mountain on the alpine slide.
Our last stop of the day was Temperance River State Park. True to its name, the Temperance River is gentle and easy going. We hiked beside it as it formed gorgeous gorges.
But the river becomes more tempermental as it winds through the elevation changes that form the waterfalls we enjoy. We got to experience a whole series of falls as the river empties into Lake Superior.
By the time we hiked up and down and on both sides of the gorge, the sun was setting at Temperance River State Park. Denisa is waving good-night from the bridge that stretched over the gorge.
We finished our long day of sight-seeing with a shower at the state park. We bought a Minnesota State Park pass a month ago when we first entered the state. We had looked at all the state parks along the north shore, and knew we would get our money out of it while visiting here. What we didn't know is that all those stops are actually open to the public along highway 61--without having a pass. The only use we are getting from our state park pass is that it will allow us deeper into the parks so we can get to the campgrounds. In order to stretch our water and holding tanks at our second no-hookup site in a row, it's nice to be able to shower at the state parks. I guess that pass was a pretty good investment after all.
By the time we got home, Denisa's old Garmin is showing that we walked over ten miles. After a month, her ankle is feeling well enough to do some more serious hiking.
This feels like a long blog and a long day of fun activities. We're going to need a vacation to recover from all our fun!