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!