Archive | September 2010

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Day 21-23

September 19-21, 2010

Mile 1815 – 2153

Stanton, ND to Watford City, ND

I’ve already noted that the Missouri River, with its trees and bluffs, provided a welcome break from the monotony of the Plains to the east.  Along that river I also began to notice landforms which I thought of as “buttes,” though they were not very high, and

Along the eastern bank of the Missouri, near Washburn ND

were surrounded by the same rolling, grassy hills as the rest of that valley.  The loose red and gray soil (a huge change from the deep black that had covered eastern ND’s prairie potholes) were finely eroded, and vegetation only seemed to grow on the flat, stable tops of those formations.  They indicated more complicated geological processes at work than simply the

Looking across the Missouri, rugged buttes can be seen on the western bank.

Missouri’s steady erosion.

In fact, the Missouri River marks the approximate boundary of the Pleistocene’s continental ice sheets, with everything to its west and south (in ND, SD, MT, and WY) considered the unglaciated Missouri Plateau.  Before the glaciers came along, the Missouri flowed much farther north – the advancing ice diverted it to its present course.  Long before that happened, however, the Rocky Mountains were being formed to the west.  As streams flowed out from that uplifted land, sediment was carried eastward to what is now the Great Plains.  Soon after, the climate got warmer and stimulated growth of dense, swampy vegetation, which is turn created rich layers of peat.  Later, the cataclysmic eruptions of volcanoes to the west deposited thick layers of ash over much of this landscape, burying not only the peat, but also the plants and animals that were present at the time.  Plants and animals were fossilized, and the peat eventually compressed into lignite coal.  However, the soft layers of rock from these various deposits were easily eroded by the streams that remained, and deep valleys were carved through them.  When the glaciers began to retreat, their meltwater coursed down the walls of those valleys, and the millions of swiftly-moving rivulets etched their own impressions on the landscape.  What remains is readily evident within Theodore Roosevelt National Park, sometimes referred to as North Dakota’s Badlands.

I spent a day in the South Unit of the park, driving the scenic loop road, checking out the fauna (bison and bighorn sheep have been re-introduced in the park, and wild horses, prairie dogs, deer, elk, and antelope persist), and hiking the Petrified Forest Trail.

Petrified logs above the canyon

Petrified stump behind some Rabbit-bush

You can even see the wood grain in these petrified stumps!

I then spent another day and a half in the North Unit, where the closer proximity to the edge of the glacier produced a more rugged landscape.  The Little Missouri River flows northward through both, before emptying into the Missouri itself, creating a wide and gentle valley.  Theodore Roosevelt fell in love with this land long before he became a politician, and briefly tried his hand at cattle ranching on it. Later in life, his experiences here inspired his work to conserve America’s natural landscape.  It’s definitely a landscape that would be fun to explore on horseback – unfortunately the town of Medora, and the park’s own horse guiding service, close down after Labor Day.  If you go, though, I would definitely try to arrange a trail ride up some of the long valleys or canyon trails.  I’m going to let the photos do most of the rest of the talking here:

Looking south into the Little Missouri Valley from the north end of the North Unit - near the point of the end of glaciation.

Looking north from the north end of TRNP - this is where the glaciers stopped.

After coming off the high plain, these verdant valleys to the north were a welcome sight! I can see why Roosevelt wanted to live here...

Interesting rock formations abound at TRNP

Little Missouri Valley

Was the bison in the left-hand side of this photo hunkered down just to watch the sunset?

Little Missouri River


Lewis and Clark on the Plains

Day 20, 24-35

September 18, 22-23, 2010

Miles 1711 -2541

Washburn, ND to Billings, MT

Capts. William Clark and Meriweather Lewis with one of their host chiefs (from right) at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, Washburn ND

Upon reaching the Missouri River in North Dakota, my journey joined up with that of the Corps of Discovery: Lewis and Clark spent their first winter at Fort Mandan, outside of what is now Washburn, ND.   There is a very good Interpretive Center in town, and a few miles down the road Ft. Mandan had been reconstructed (the original site is now underwater, due to the Missouri’s fickle course… and the dam upstream).  Since I’ve been re-listening to Lewis and Clark’s journals on CD (in Landon Jones’s The Essential Lewis and Clark), I did not learn many new facts here, but I was impressed by the reality of their situation.

Fort Mandan reconstruction - this is pretty much all of it!

Ft. Mandan itself (portrayed actual size) was very small for forty men, which I suppose was good considering the frigidity of that winter (40 and 60 below were not uncommon).  The captains bunked together, and there was a room for visitors (eventually occupied by Charbonneau, who was hired that winter as an interpreter, and his wife Sacagawea).  The other men all lived 6-10 in a room, cooking together over the central fireplace and sleeping on buffalo robes in the lofts.  The “fort” was never used for defense, as the Corps had friendly relations with the residents of the neighboring Hidatsa and Arikara villages at the mouth of the Knife River.  They often visited between the settlements, and

Reconstructed earth home at Knife River NHS

members of each culture sometimes spent several days in the other’s encampment.  They hunted jointly and, on a couple occasions, the Americans hurried to defend the Indians from perceived threats. In this way, Meriweather Lewis and William Clark, though employed by the U.S. Army, were less interested in “claiming” the land for their country than in learning more about it, and making peaceful contact with the natives they met.  However, as one of the panels at Washburn’s Interpretive Center pointed out, the white men did honestly believe themselves to be superior to the Indians they met.  They felt that establishing these peaceful relationships would be of long-term benefit not only to their country but to the native tribes themselves, as the Indian nations would be aided by the United States rather than engaged in warfare.  Although Lewis and Clark probably did not anticipate the speed, and certainly not the magnitude, in which these Indians would be displaced, there was never a doubt in their mind that the route they “discovered” would be used for the expansion of the United States of America.  That said, they honestly considered many whom they met to be “friends,” and the Corps enjoyed purely social dancing and other pursuits with Indians, as well as more ceremonial forms of the same interactions.

Depressions in the ground still mark the locations of lodges in the Mandan villages, here at Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site.

The “friends” there in present-day North Dakota lived a couple miles north-west of the Fort in a group of affiliated villages along the Knife River, where it emptied into the Missouri.  The Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara are considered to be the “affiliated tribes” of that region of the Plains, and their villages were situated “close enough to remain friends, but far enough apart so as not to become enemies.”  They lived most of the year in permanent settlements of earth huts, with one

The shifting river bank eroded part of the former Arikara village on this site, exposing historical "trash" buried below the homes.

family to a house.  In the winter, they moved to more temporary houses right along the banks of the river, where they could be better sheltered from wind and snow, and have easy access to wood for heat and cooking.  Those huts were rarely re-used from year to year, even if they were not washed away in spring flooding.  They practiced small-scale agriculture along with hunting and gathering.  As the Corps of Discovery often remarked, buffalo were plentiful in that region of the plains in those days, with tens of thousands sometimes covering the hills.  Of course I have seen artists’ renderings of the game-filled plains, and I tried pretty hard to imagine it myself, but I just couldn’t.  Even in the big National Parks out here, where spaces are vast and many of those species have been re-introduced, the herds are comparatively tiny, and the scale on which those early explorers experienced the Plains can never be experienced again. Most of that, as we know, is the result of the “white man,” and fur traders followed soon after the preliminary publishing of Lewis and Clark’s results.  By the early 1800’s, the huge beaver populations had already dwindled, and as the fur companies moved onto the Great Plains, their commerce turned to buffalo hides.  Fort Union was established as an outpost of John Jacob Astor’s

The Yellowstone (nearer) and Missouri (farther) Rivers come together west of Williston, ND

American Fur Company, near the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers.  It was not used for defense, but was simply a trading post for exchanging European goods for the furs brought by various Indian nations.  When Lewis and Clark first came to this spot shortly after leaving Fort Mandan in the spring of 1805, they called it the “long hoped-for sight,” and were ready to move into uncharted territory.  On their return journey in 1806, the two captains divided their group into two, with Clark leading one half down the Yellowstone.   He wrote of having to stop the canoes for fully half a day in southern Montana while a herd of bison crossed the river in front of them.  His half of the corps re-convened with Louis’s band on the Missouri in north-west North Dakota.  Twenty-two years later in 1828, Fort Union was

Fort Union National Historic Site - reconstructed on top of the original foundations.

established at that site, fifteen years after that (1837) Indians along the Missouri were nearly decimated by the first of several smallpox epidemics, and twenty-five years after that settlers began arriving in droves

Looking west on the Yellowstone River, just east of present-day Billings, MT. The Yellowstone is the longest un-dammed river in the U.S.

from the east, heightening tensions between the Sioux (including tribes referred to as Asinniboine by the Expedition) and white men.  By that time, buffalo were significantly more scarce than in 1805, the beaver nearly exterminated, and trade relations with natives seriously strained.  In 1867, as gold displaced furs as the treasure of the west, Fort Union was dismantled and its beams recycled to expand the military presence of nearby Fort Buford.   In one human lifetime, the Plains went from a blank spot on a map, teeming with nations, cultures, and the animals on which they depended, to the more barren and homogenous land we know today, fully charted and civilized.

Pompey's Pillar, on the Yellowstone River, was a landmark rock well-known to Indians, and given its present-day name by William Clark in honor of Sacagawea and Charbonneau's toddler son.

Capt. William Clark signed his name on the rock in 1806, alongside Indian carvings. It is the only tangible evidence remaining of the Corps of Discovery's long expedition.

I knew it would be interesting, but I didn't realize how excited I'd be to see this! Here I am, with Clark's signature (right, under glass).

Great, Plains!

Days 18-25

September 16-18; 21-23, 2010

Mile 1390 – 2641

Arvila, ND to Billings, MT

The plains of North Dakota are nothing to write home about… but I’m going to try to do just that!  It turns out that the ladies in Emerado’s bar were right, though: it’s pretty darn flat in eastern ND.  The “shelter belts” that they referred to are the groves of trees that have been planted along fields and property lines.  These tree-lines have grown into tall poplars or pines over the years, but never filled in with more brush on their own; the relentless wind of the plains seems to prevent anything from the hardiest, low-lying plants from growing.  I only saw natural trees growing around lakes and rivers, which inhabited natural depressions in the plains and provided the only “topography” around.

The agriculture of the region didn’t enhance the scenery much, either: soybeans and hay seemed to be the only crops, and this time of year it had already been harvested.  I yearned to see a corn field that would provide an additional eight feet of elevation and temporarily block my endless view.  In fact, it took me a while to get used to the distances out on those plains: rather than fields taking up “forties” or even quarter-sections, a lot of them seemed to be a full section.  I just happened to be able to see dozens of miles… even under the gloomy skies.

It’s true that the weather can color one’s experience of a place.   Not only did it rain for at least part of every day I was crossing it, but the wind rarely let up.  There were ostensibly thousands, if not millions, of birds to be seen, from the eastern prairie-potholes, through the Missouri River to the west.  However, with winds sometimes exceeding 20 mph, the only ones flying were a few intrepid hawks!  I did get a little better at identifying the ones that weren’t themselves flying at 20mph, though, and I got to see some white pelicans taking a breather next to a hay field!

In that western part of the state, the fields are often interrupted by “potholes” of wetland, which on my nondescript route were mostly filled with cattails, bent by the wind.  Some of the biggest potholes were the lakes near Devil’s Lake, ND: a huge lake system with no real inlet or outlet.  I found this out after driving through miles and miles of road construction, as the berms between the lakes were being rip-rapped and expanded,

Devil's Lake flood mitigation

and I could see the evidence of raised water levels in the dead trees throughout the lakes.  Turns out they’re working on stabilizing water flow by creating an outlet and fortifying some dikes.

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t spend more than a few hours in Devil’s Lake, in the cold and mist-spitting wind, but I can’t really understand how it is worth the millions of dollars in restructuring the lakes just for that community…  and most of the rest of North Dakota did not impress me any more.  Perhaps it was just the weather, but everyone I encountered seemed

Old and new grain elevators in Glen Ullin, ND: "The skyscrapers of the prairie," every town has an elevator as its central feature.

gloomy and hardened, as though the effort of simply surviving on those plains left little time for enjoyment of life.  I’m betting that if we hadn’t been going through an unseasonably cold snap, it would have been different.  As it was, coming through in early fall, the only breaks from the monotony of the landscape were the spots of bright color lent by the sunflower fields – perhaps they are useful for more than just oil!

Coming up on the Missouri River valley

As I approached the Missouri, the terrain became more rolling, as the river bluffs came to dominate the landscape.  The river valley is also, as one might imagine, more populous, and is filled with centuries (if not millennia) of history.  The river bottoms were mostly filled with cottonwood, with prairie remaining on the uplands in places.  Cross Ranch State Park, and The Nature Conservancy’s adjacent Cross Ranch Preserve attempt to give a good picture of what the land might have looked like as Lewis and Clark came through, complete with reintroduced bison.  The state park had a great little museum on the ecology and cultural history of the area, as well as a good-sized library on those subjects, with friendly staff completing the picture.

Fall colors in a wooded draw on the prairie of TNC's Cross Ranch Preserve

It’s not their fault that it snowed while I was there, and I would highly recommend its campsites on the Missouri’s bank to anyone!  As myriad interpretive displays at various sites informed me, however, the Garrison Dam on the Missouri forever changed the character of that river, though, as it virtually eliminated seasonal flooding and shifting in the river’s course.  The cottonwoods are gradually dying out, as they no longer have those annual changes to provide fresh ground for colonization.

The dam does provide quite a bit of electricity, however – it is one of the highest-producing dams in the world, capable of producing 515 MW of power.  The dam alone could probably make North Dakota energy-independent, but combined with one of the world’s largest deposits of lignite coal and significant oil fields in the western portion of the state, it’s a powerhouse!  Of course, even if all the fossil fuels get used up and the river runs dry, they could still harness the wind to supply enough

Looking down the Missouri River from atop Garrison Dam

power for their half-million residents!

Windmills on the Missouri bluffs

If after my great descriptions, you think that North Dakota is treeless, you should try eastern Montana!  Endless unbroken fields as far as the eye can see… but at least the

Eastern Montana

territory is more rolling.  It also seems to be true that Montanans are friendlier than their Dakota counterparts.  I received welcome receptions everywhere I stopped in those plains –  a big shout-out goes to the nice folks in Circle, ND, as represented by Stockman’s Lanes!  That said, forty miles between settlements is not uncommon, and going many, many miles without passing another vehicle was not uncommon.  The advantage to that desolate country, though, was that my journey was frequently accompanied by mule deer and antelope grazing among the cattle.  Somewhere in central Montana, though the terrain and vegetation begin to change a little.  Upon hitting the Musselshell River, I saw some pines lining those hills… among the first trees I’d seen in a day!  Traveling south, the rolling hills became more rocky, and the plains covered with sage were dotted with small pines.  Getting out of my car to stretch somewhere in that uninhabited area, I was surprised by the intense spicy and sweet smell that pervaded the air from those species: mmmm.

Pines on the bluffs near the Musselshell River

Sage and pines lining Montana's backroads in Yellowstone County

Rocky bluffs on the Yellowstone River near Pompey's Pillar, MT

The Yellowstone River’s high bluffs were a welcome sight to see, and the churning rapidity of its flow implied that I was getting into wilder country.  Indeed, it wasn’t long before I began to get into the foothills of the mountains.  I’m not sorry to be leaving the plains behind, but I came to enjoy them.  My days spent following the footsteps of Lewis and Clark and hiking around the badlands of Theodore Roosevelt National Park (posts to come!!) had refreshed me, and I’m glad I had a chance to “Discover the Spirit” of North Dakota… just wish it hadn’t been so cold!

Up Nort’

Days 15-16

September 13-14, 2010

Mile 845 – 1230

Grand Marais, MN to Fosston, MN


***photos to come***

My morning was spent hiking at Cascade River State Park, up to see the falling water for which the river is named.  Although there is ostensibly a higher waterfall farther upriver, I did not find it.  The lower cascades, themselves, were quite lovely, however, and well worth the short walk from the trailhead/campground.

Would that I had the hand of an artist to sketch the symmetrical beauty of this site, for truly it is as if created by an architect!  Alas, I have only words with which to express this great splendor, and these poor clattering keystrokes can never bring forth the mellifluous impressions of our great poets.  The “cascades” proper, as distinguished from mere pedestrian flows of water over bedrock, were three in number, and ran through a narrow gorge of this River.  It appeared that the water fell an equivalent distance down each subsequent step, and flowed smoothly along a plateau between cascades.  The first seemed to sweep to the left, the next to the right, and the final back to the left – they could have been so many ladies swirling their skirts alternately to the side as they paraded down the staircase of a grand ballroom.  Indeed, their audible impression was also one of grace: the various tinkling of each droplet across the smooth dolomite combined to form not the fearsome thunder of a larger waterfall, nor the disordered churning of a rapids, but the cacophony of a well-tuned orchestra, or the rustling of so many silk gowns amid murmurs of genteel greetings.  That such a powerful yet delicate river should be subsumed within such a short distance by the overpowering Lake Superior was a tragic reminder of Nature’s ephemeral volatility.


Shortly after leaving the park, I bid farewell to Superior and headed westward, first through the Superior National Forest around Finland.  New flash:  The colors are changing!   Select trees are just starting to turn red and orange; the aspen and maples are not yet doing their thing, but the “scenic route” out of Finland was looking an awful lot like fall [NOTE: I wrote that a week ago – I’d bet things are looking even prettier up there now.].  Finland really is Finnish – names like Lehtinen and Taomi filling the landscape through that county and into the next… right up to the Iron Range, in fact.

I did not spend much time in the Iron Range, after running a couple errands in Hibbing, but continued through Grand Rapids, MN (birthplace of Judy Garland), into the Chippewa National Forest outside of Deer Run.  There I encountered again the Great River Road, which I hadn’t seen since just north of LaCrosse.  Lake Winnibigoshish (or “Winnie” as the locals say) was created by an early dam on the Mississippi, intended to prevent flooding in St. Paul.  Those dams don’t do much today, since the Lock and Dam system was built in the 1930’s. However, seeing the little trickle of a river flowing out from that lake, and thinking back on the start of this trip along the Mississippi, I decided it was worth the detour to Lake Itasca to view the headwaters.

I crossed the river several more times on my way through Bemidji and down to Lake Itasca State Park, and each time it was little more than a creek.  There wasn’t much more than that flowing out of marshy Lake Itasca once I got there.  I also found the first example of human intervention in the river’s natural flow – the CCC had redesigned the headwaters to give it an appearance “more fitting for this great river.”  Whatever that means…  It is probably for the best, however, as a half million visitors apparently come through every year.  Even late on a dreary September day, there were several visitors, as well as an entire tour bus, stopped at the site.  Despite its artifice, I was impressed with seeing the humble beginnings of a river that means so much culturally and economically to our region, and it made a suitable end to my time in the Midwest.  Tomorrow I embark on the Great Plains!

Back on the Prairie

Day 17

September 15, 2010

Mile 1234 – 1390

Fosston, MN to Arvilla, ND

I woke up this morning in Fosston, MN.  At first glance, there’s not much to the place: there are a rusty tank and helicopter memorializing veterans on the east end of town, and three gas stations along the half-mile “main drag.”  There’s even a stoplight, along with a couple businesses named after it (Stoplight Video, Stoplight Corner Store).  This indicates that there may be more to the town than meets the eye.  Fosston (population 1575) is a Minnesota Star City.  It is also an All-America City (1996), a member of the White House Millennium Council (“Honor the Past – Imagine the Future”), a winner of the “First in MN Beautiful Award” and “First in MN Community Improvement.”  It is the recipient of some kind of recognition for Progressive Agricultural and Industrial Development (the seal portrays a horse, winged with poison ivy… no wait, maybe it’s a soybean plant superimposed on a cow).  I’m sure that at least some of this is due to the foresight they had in town planning when they decided to devote the grassy area around their town shop to a fee-based campground.

I can’t really complain about the kids in the yard down the block having a bonfire ‘til the wee hours, about the grain elevator’s fans running through the night, or about the train whistling its way through town at 7 am.  For a tent, it’s only five bucks a night.  The smell of diesel and Fast Orange in the bathroom even made me a feel a little bit at home.  There aren’t a whole lot of other options nearby, actually: somewhere around Lake Itasca I started noticing more pastures, fewer trees.  Placid cows made me forget to look for moose around every corner.  When I pulled up my tent stakes in the morning, they were black with dirt.  With soil.  A couple weeks of sand and stone thinly blanketing the bedrock beneath made me feel like I was in another world.  Now, I’m back on the prairie.  I crossed the tension zone again, and I think I’m finally on the Great Plains.

If I hadn’t picked up on any of those clues, and I hadn’t noticed that Fosston’s motto was “Where the prairie meets the pines,” I could hardly have helped being tipped off by the name of the next town I came to: Fertile.  The scenery between Fosston and Fertile was nearly solidly ag fields – and those almost completely soybean, many already harvested, tilled, and replanted with winter wheat.  Past Fertile, to the north and west, I found a lot of unplowed land, much of it owned or eased by the state, federal agencies, or the Nature Conservancy.  It’s all some mixture of prairie and wetland (miniscule changes in elevation and soil causing the variation).  I spent some time hiking around in the Glacial Ridge Preserve area, a cooperative program among the several agencies.

The Nature Conservancy owns and manages Agassiz Dunes, with help from the Minnesota DNR’s Scientific and Natural Areas.  I hoped to see the star of that region in my hike – the Greater Prairie Chicken, but no dice.  What I did see, after several days’ reprieve, was lots and lots of poison ivy.  Also the last of the summer’s dry prairie blooms: heath aster, bottle gentian, gray goldenrod.  I have to wonder if everything has gone dormant because I’ve been off in the boreal forest so long, or if its due to my northern latitude – I know it’s been consistently at least ten degrees warmer in Madison than up where I am.  At any rate, I didn’t realize it at the time, but the sand blows at Agassiz may have been my last exposure to topography for many, many miles.

After chatting with the TNC crew at the Glacial Ridge Office between Fertile and Crookston, I went off to check out some of the area’s other nice features, including calcareous fen, marsh, wet mesic prairie, and mesic prairie along a former railroad grade.  I had to get used to the directions they gave, though: “ridge” means “area in wetland where ground is a couple feet higher and brush can grow.”  I also found myself wishing that I were better at bird identification, because this is a very popular birding area.  I was able to identify a rough-legged hawk and white-throated sparrow today, although I’m sure a lot of way cooler species got away without me spying them.

After spending much of my day on the prairies, I headed west and north, through Crookston and East Grand Forks, across the Red River of the North, to… North Dakota!  Yes, folks, I made it.  What I have to report is: Grand Forks, ND is nothing to write home about.  And that is being charitable.  If you can’t say something nice…   So I headed west a few more miles and came to Emerado, where I stopped for supper and a beer.  There is an Air Force Base north of “town,” which I did not check out.  I put it in quotes like that, because it is nothing but a looped road of trailer homes, with a bar/café and Dairy Queen at one end.  I immediately impressed the bartender as being a “hard drinker,” when I sat down and ordered a Grain Belt.  I assured her that I was from Wisconsin and could handle it.  I won her favor even further when I downed an entire 10” frozen pizza all by myself.  On my way out an hour or so later, when she and her friends urged me to come in again, I told them I was headed west, across the state.  I explained my mission to check out North Dakota.

“Oh,” they assured me, “North Dakota’s really not that bad.  It’s flat here, but it’s not that bad.”

“You poor SOB, you came in through Grand Forks – you should have come from the other direction!”

“Out in the western part of the state it gets nicer, more like badlands.”

And my personal favorite: “I come from Minnesota, where at least we have trees!  We may not have rolling hills, either, but at least there were trees…”

This last led me to learn my first new term for this state: shelter belt.  Tune in next time to find out what exactly it means…

Isle Royale – Farewell

Day 14

September 12, 2010

Mile 795 – 845

Isle Royale National Park, MI to Grand Marais, MN

I finally got myself out of bed early this morning, in order to take one last short hike over to nearby Lake Mason, in hopes of seeing wildlife or at least getting a few more moments of solitude.  The hike was shorter than I’d thought, and there was no wildlife, but it did make a nice, peaceful place to sit and enjoy the morning.  Technically, I had seen the sun rise from my shelter (and a beautiful view it was), but I got to see it actually come up, sitting on a rock next to Lake Mason, blinded by the light glinting off of wet branches.  The dew and fog never quite got around to burning off back in that lake (probably because it was

On the dock at Chippewa Harbor, waiting for the boat

actually leftover rain, not really dew), before I had to head back down and get myself packed up.

My tent had mostly dried in the night, and I made myself some breakfast and a Nalgene of tea while loading my pack for the last time.  Waiting on the dock with the guys from Detroit, I reflected on how different my trip was from what theirs would be.  For all of my concerns of being ill-equipped for the trek, I was far better off than they were.  Moreover, my journey had been a solo one, with minimal human contact.  I can’t say that it would be better or worse to be hanging out with my buddies the whole time – just different.  A different interaction with myself, and with the world around me.

Before long, the Voyageur II came along to pick us up, and I got my last view of Chippewa Harbor as we pulled out into the Lake.  The sun had started heating up the day by that time, causing the

Voyageur II arriving in Chippewa Harbor

winds and waves to pick up a little, and by the time we got to Malone Bay, the calmer harbor waters were welcome.  The Detroit guys had been impressed by the distance we had traveled in about an hour – and a bit nervous about having to walk that whole distance back again!  I felt a little bit satisfied with myself for having already hiked that – and more, and was looking forward to impressing myself with the distance we had yet to travel to Windigo.

By the time we got to that next harbor, a little under two hours later, it felt as if two days had elapsed – the boat pitched and rolled with the high waves, water crashing against the decks and leaking in around the window frames.  The mate referred to the lake as a “roller coaster” that day – I might have called it a bucking bronco – but I guess it depended on whether we were headed directly into the waves or were hitting them on the side.  Neither way was particularly fun, though the former provided a little more predictability.  Focusing all of my mental and physical energies on not getting nauseous, listening to the clanging of deck doors and hearing the slapping and washing of water along the length of the boat, I found myself dredging up repressed memories of my journey across the Pacific.  Truly, I thought that I didn’t remember anything of that day and a half of seasickness, half asleep and half puking, but vivid mental pictures of the Navarino’s storm-tossed cabin and deck came back to me!  Perhaps if I had had the coves and ridges of Isle Royale to fix my gaze on then, I could have avoided it after all!  As it was, I was very relieved to make it to the calm waters of the bay around Windigo.  It was really beautiful, threading through the many smaller islands that surround that harbor, and I found myself thinking it would be fun to paddle on a calmer day (there are a few boat-access campsites out on those islands, too).  After loading up the rest of the boat with passengers and their cargo, we headed back another wave-tossed two hours to the mainland, and I was happier to reach Grand Portage than I ever thought I would be!  Kudos to the captain and crew for getting us there as quickly and smoothly as possible – I know they weren’t enjoying it any more than we were.

Lake Superior on a windy, windy day. If you look closely, you can see the island's coastline on the horizon (I hiked all you can see, and more)

After seeing nothing but water streaming down steamed-up windows for all of that time, it was a bit surreal to step out into a warm and sunny, if breezy, day.  It made for a nice drive back down 61 to Grand Marais.  I treated myself to a good dinner (and an overpriced, but delicious, beer), and realized for the first time that I was ravenous – and exhausted!  I hadn’t planned on being so tired after a day of doing nothing but sitting on a boat… but I also hadn’t planned on using all my strength to stay in my seat!  I headed out of town and decided to stay at the first campground I came to, at Cascade River State Park, a few miles south of Grand Marais.  I could still hear the waves of Lake Superior (along with cars passing on the highway, and folks laughing around campfires), but a couple cushy pillows in my tent made all the difference, and I fell quickly asleep…