Summertime means it’s time for a road trip!
by Paula O’Kray
I had so much fun on the North Shore last summer, I decided to do it again.
One fine summer morning on a Thursday in June, my friend Amy and I took off to enjoy four days enjoying the beaches and forests surrounding Grand Marais, Minnesota.
We both had been planning and comparing our lists of places to visit for weeks. We took the “quick” way there so we could maximize our time stopping at points of interest as we got closer to our destination.
Amy surprised me with a “mystery” stop. Alluding to it in the weeks leading up to the trip, when I asked her which route she needed to take for this stop, she just smiled and said, “It doesn’t matter!”
Which of course drove my puzzle-solving mind absolutely nuts ,and she knew it.
As we were nearing Superior, she told me to take a right. I started paying attention to the brown signs directing us to a point of interest, and sure enough, that’s where we were headed.
As the road went on, it became narrower and wilder, piquing my interest even further. It was great fun to be headed somewhere I hadn’t planned on going!
When we literally reached the “end of the road,” we were on a beach near a rocky outcrop, and at the end of that was a classic lighthouse.
Amy told me this place was Wisconsin Point. We spent the next two hours walking the breakwater and the beach, picking up treasures of glass, stone, and driftwood.
Oh, and I rescued about a half-dozen monarch butterflies and didn’t seem to realize they were no match for the wind and the surf.
We had a discussion about whether or not a particular spread of plants was poison ivy (it was) and then headed in opposite directions. It was then I spotted a ship sailing out to Lake Superior on the other side of the breakwater.
I called out to Amy, but she was in her happy place, and my shouting fell on deaf ears. So, I ran to the rocks (yes, you read that correctly) and scampered up to the cement above, hoping to snap a photo or two. I did get some nice ones.
On the way out, the road went past a Chippewa Burial Ground Site, so we stopped, paid our respects, and took note of the wide variety of items left by other visitors. Everything from fruits and vegetables to feathers, flowers, and toys.
It was getting late, and we still had miles to go. We made a beeline to Grand Marais, only stopping to enjoy some wonderful food and dessert at the famous Betty’s Pies in Two Harbors.
Friday morning, Amy dropped me off at North House Folk School for my “Discover the Language of Birds” class. Now, before you go making fun of me for taking a birding class, there’s something you should know.
The skills taught at North House Folk School are like regular classes on steroids. Last summer, I took a rock identification course and got way more than I bargained for, and this class was no different.
It was less of a bird identification course and more learning about what birds are trying to communicate with the sounds they make. The instructor explained this in an apologetic tone, but I was absolutely delighted. It was like learning in 3-D!
I spent the next seven hours learning about the five categories of bird calls and songs, and understanding the effect of my presence on these wonderful creatures as I “plow” through their habitat. Yes, we did learn to identify many birds, but we also learned that there are “sentinel” birds that keep watch and alarm other birds about anything that looks suspicious.
Needless to say, walking through nature will never be the same again for me. Now I am constantly listening for calls and trying to interpret what’s being said.
That evening, Amy and I relaxed, perusing and picking rocks on Kadunce River Beach.
Saturday morning, we grabbed coffee and a snack and headed up the coast to Grand Portage State Park. On the way, we stopped at the Susie Islands Overlook to enjoy some breathtaking scenery.
I knew we were in bear country by the unusual trash bins. They have special handles on them that bears can’t get their paws in to open. From this overlook, we could also see Isle Royale in the distance. Every time we stopped, without fail, one of us would mention the amazing beauty of the big lake.
Enjoying the scenery immensely on the last leg of the drive, we pulled into Grand Portage State Park just shy of the Canadian border. The park is on tribal land, so there is no charge to visit. The welcome and informational signs are all in Ojibwa as well as English, which was great fun for me as I’ve taken on the hobby of learning a little bit of the Ojibwa language.
A short hike up the trail behind the Welcome Center is High Falls, the highest waterfall in Minnesota. Pigeon River is also the border between Canada and the United States. Needless to say, we lingered a while to enjoy the majesty of the falls and took a lot of pictures.
Before we left, Amy and I enjoyed a picnic lunch on a bench near the parking lot. Amy is amazing at this sort of thing, and before I knew it, she had put out a pretty tablecloth and laid out a lovely spread of cheese, meats, pretzels, garlic dip, nuts, olives, and apples for us to enjoy. It made me happy to see that our wholesome outdoor lunch inspired a few others visiting to do the same.
Back in downtown Grand Marais, Amy and I did the tourist thing and checked out the shops. Unfortunately, the seagulls left several gifts on my car while we were gone.
Sunday we decided to head south. We made a stop at Iona’s Beach, and Amy disappeared into the woods so fast I lost her. I eventually found her sitting on a craggy rock cliff overlooking Lake Superior. She looked so zen that I decided to leave her be and headed off further down the beach to listen to the birds.
Iona’s Beach is known for the sound the rocks make as the waves recede back into the lake. They make a rhythmical tinkling sound that is very musical and comforting.
After a quick lunch at a local gas stop, we decided to explore the beach at Beaver Falls. There is no sign; you just have to know where it is and look for parked cars along the road.
The rough path to the beach was very steep, and we chose our steps carefully. To my surprise, there were a lot of people picking rocks here, but Amy camped out at the top of the beach to check out the driftwood instead. I headed to the end of the beach where the water was flowing out from falls to the big lake.
After gleaning treasures from that area, we headed back up the steep trail to the car. As we put our finds in the car, Amy announced that she had lost her phone on the beach.
I was not excited about another trip down the hill, but we had no choice. Luckily we found the phone fairly quickly, and all was well. I did notice that the trip back up the hill without my bag of rocks was thankfully quite a bit easier!
Back at the room at the end of the day, we reminisced about the great weekend we’d had and shared our precious collections with each other. After pre-packing the car, we hit the hay early, since all that climbing had really worn us out.
In the morning, we said goodbye to cabin #8 for another year and enjoyed our final views of the great lake as we wound our way south to Duluth, thankful for good friends and summer road trips!
If you’re into birds and looking for a great app that can help you identify birds by color, photo, or song, you can’t beat the Merlin app. Best of all, it’s free! Happy birding!
Superior Entry Lighthouse on Wisconsin Point. That’s the lake freighter Saginaw in the background, heading out on the big lake!
Besides entertaining ourselves in the car with Extremely Loud Kazoos and maracas in construction zones, Amy and I often entertain ourselves on a trip by taking really silly pictures of ourselves!
The amazing view from the Susie Islands Overlook. The Susie Islands are a cluster of 13 islands off Pigeon Point. That’s Isle Royale in the far distance, 22 miles away.
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