A Lake Superior Sailing Experience, Part One: Chocolate Milk and Biting Flies

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I recently meandered out onto Lake Superior on my first extended sailboat trip across it with some friends. We left Duluth, Minnesota, and headed to Wisconsin’s Apostle Island National Lakeshore, and then traversed the western arm of the lake to Grand Marais Harbor in Minnesota.

Since I am writing this, you know I survived the three-day trip. If fact, I would like to think I thrived, despite turning green with seasickness once (I avoided hurling, though!) and having to wear all my winter gear, plus hand warmers, on the 4th of July.

I learned a lot about sailing, but still have more to know. And I got a firsthand look at conditions on the lake, which is useful for my job, since we fund research projects on Lake Superior.

Two things struck me and my sailing companions. The first was the color of the water. Almost all the way to the Apostles it was the hue of chocolate milk. The large extent and persistence of the coloring was unusual. There were also floating logs to watch out for.

According to a news story I read upon returning home, the condition is due to a series of recent heavy rains that have sent thousands of tons of silt into the lake. Chequamegon Bay, on the other side of the Apostles, is also experiencing heavy sedimentation.

Usually, the chocolate milk dissipates within a few days, but this round of it is lasting longer than usual because we kept having downpours every few days. Most of the sediment comes from the Nemadji River and its red clay banks, along with the St. Louis River.

We also had more than double the amount of usual rainfall for the month of June. Anglers and charter captains are having to travel farther than usual out into the lake to find clear water for fishing.

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Stable flies covering jeans during a beach walk. Good thing they can’t bite through denim!

The second notable thing were the flies. Known locally by the name of “ankle-biters” or sand flies, stable flies look like a common housefly but they are meaner because they bite – usually a person’s ankles. I can attest that there are roughly a gazillion of them out on the lake and its shores this summer.

The only thing that saved us from certain insanity on a shore trip to Outer Island was the fact that we were wearing jeans, which they couldn’t bite through.

The flies congregated in seething clusters from our knees down, rarely venturing farther up our legs. Thank goodness they had no interest in our bare arms or we would have had to run screaming back to our dinghy!

According to a story on National Public Radio, researchers have figured out how and why the flies and other biting insects like mosquitos do this. They think these biting bugs target feet and ankles because we are less likely to notice (and therefore kill) them. They hone in on their target by smell, and apparently, the sweat and skin on our ankles smells different from that of the rest of our body.

Besides wearing jeans, we found it helpful to elevate our feet off the ground while we were on the boat. They didn’t seem to be able to find our ankles if they were level with the rest of our legs. Conditions on the boat never got bad enough that we needed to apply repellant, but we were glad we had some along, just in case.

Although the water wasn’t its typical crystal-clear blue, and we had many insect stowaways aboard our sailboat, Lake Superior was still magical. I greatly enjoyed spending time on it, and hope to do so again someday.

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A bear got to this beach before we did.

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Lake Superior, Outer Island, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Communing with Vultures on Ely’s Peak

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One of the views from Ely’s Peak.

Last weekend, a friend and I meandered up 200-300 feet in elevation to the top of Ely’s Peak near Gary-New Duluth. I don’t have a more specific elevation to give you because the different trail guides that I consulted are inconsistent on that point. But I can say that for my 50-something-year-old legs, it felt more like 300 feet. Also, some of the guides say it’s a 1.5-mile round-trip hike. Others that it’s 1.8 miles. I vote for the latter.

20180428_181031We chose the trail to see a new place and because the crisp and sunny spring air seemed to demand it. We didn’t go seeking a vision quest like Native Americans are said to have done on the peak, nor to seek our spirit animals, but we just might have had a dose of both of those things along the way, too.

The trailhead is off of Becks Road. On this particular day, the trailhead parking area was easy to find from the many other cars gathered there.

I followed the directions given on this website, although I would argue that the “beginner” level trail classification is not accurate. I would rate it as “moderately hard” because near the peak, I found myself thinking it would have been helpful to be part mountain goat. And a young mountain goat at that.

(I would say that this trail is not for 80-year-old mountain goats, but for all others it should work as long as you are reasonably fit and coordinated.)

At the start, a boardwalk invites you into a spindly birch forest. The boardwalk gives way to a muddy climb up an incline to an old railroad bed for the Duluth, Winnipeg and Pacific Railway.

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Inside the railroad tunnel.

Follow the railroad bed to the right until you come to a rocky tunnel. The tunnel was built for the railway in 1911. There are trails on the other side of it, but we did not attempt to go through the tunnel because of the sheet of ice layering the way. You may run into some rock climbers, who practice on the craggy basalt in the tunnel.

Although it may seem counter-intuitive, from the tunnel, you should follow the main trail, which goes down the hill to the right. Don’t take the spur that goes up along the side of the tunnel, unless you really are a mountain goat and want to test your mettle.

Don’t be impatient, you will come to an incline soon enough. You are now on the Superior Hiking Trail, which is marked by blue blazes on the trees and rocks. Keep to the left and follow the blazes up the blazing &!*()%$ hill.

Soon enough, wide vistas will offer views of the St. Louis River and the Gary-New Duluth neighborhood.

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Dogs like the Ely’s Peak Trail, too.

No leaves were out on the trees yet – everything looked stark and clean.

The peak offers breath-taking 360-degree views. It was named after Edmund Ely, a Presbyterian missionary from Massachusetts who began teaching the Fond Du Lac Native American community in 1834. Local lore says that this was one of his favorite spots.

As we sat, resting, we noticed several turkey vultures lazily circling the thermals below us. The more we watched, the more vultures seemed to appear from nowhere. Eerily quiet and patient, they circled and circled. We joked that they were probably looking for hapless hikers who fell down the trail.

There’s a school of thought that says if you sit out in nature long enough, an animal will appear that has a lesson to impart. Were the vultures trying to tell us something?

Once back home (and safely out of a vulture’s gullet), I looked up what vultures symbolize. Here’s what I found: the vulture is considered a symbol of cleansing, renewal, and transformation. Vultures are viewed as fearless of death – they stare it in the face and eat death for breakfast (literally)!

I did feel cleansed after that hike. It was like the sunshine and clear air burned off all the old gunk. Perhaps it’s only to make way for more new gunk (ha ha), but I’d like to think I’ll have some time before I get clogged up again.

 

A Visit to the Tallest Waterfall in Minnesota

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The High Falls in Grand Portage State Park, Minnesota.

My traveling companion and I meandered north along Lake Superior with migrating bald eagles toward the Canadian Border last weekend. Although temps are still freezing, the long spans of daylight and slackening snows have a feel of spring about them.

We decided to cover some new territory by visiting the High Falls at Grand Portage State Park along the border. The 120-foot falls are the highest in Minnesota, so, in order to be proper Minnesota residents, we figured it was about time we saw them.

A short and slippery hike (wear your Yak Trax!) brought us to a giant white-frosted wedding cake of a waterfall. Most of the falls were encased in ice, but underneath, the Pigeon River flowed with unstoppable abandon. A large crack across the middle foretold of the eventual cutting of the cake once temperatures rise.

Once done with this quest, we drove back south to our resort (the Naniboujou Lodge, which I will write about separately). We vowed to stop at the intriguing and picturesque harbors we had seen on our way up, but were too goal-oriented to explore.

20180324_160746VignetteWe stopped several times along the highway, but the best place was one without a ready-made scenic parking lot. We glimpsed a bay that whispered of Norway and ice and stillness. We drove back and forth, looking for the best access road. There were no roads, only private driveways.

Finally, we chose one that looked the closest to the bay. As we pulled in, we could see from the untrammeled whiteness of the driveway that no one had driven on it for most of the winter. However, there was a foot trail through the snow that we could follow. So, after some hemming and hawing, and getting out of the car, we did.

A short crash through the underbrush brought us out to the view, which now SHOUTED of Norway and ice and stillness. Oh, it was gorgeous and well-worth a little harmless trespassing! Please enjoy these images of our “Secret Cove.”

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Grand Canyon Joy

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“Wherever you have friends, that’s your country, and wherever you receive love, that’s your home.” A Tibetan saying.

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The Observation Tower on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

“Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.” Dali Lama.

“Whoever gives you love, that’s your parent.” Dali Lama

“The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” Nelson Mandela

These quotes, which are worthy of pairing with Grand Canyon scenery, came from “The Book of Joy.”

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The Grand Canyon in Arizona.

The Beauty Way: Adventures in Northern Arizona, Part 3

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Young lovers on Airport Mesa, Sedona.

These words from the Navaho prayer, The Beauty Way, kept going through my head during a hike among the red rocks in Sedona. It’s hard to get exercise when all you’re doing is gawking all around you. But perhaps that offers exercise of a different sort….

I walk with beauty before me. I walk with beauty behind me.
I walk with beauty below me. I walk with beauty above me.
I walk with beauty around me. My words will be beautiful.

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Bell Rock as seen from the Bell Rock Pathway.

 

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Red rock, white trees, Red Rock State Park.

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May you walk in beauty…

Photo Caption Contest!

 

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My family celebrated Thanksgiving early this year. This is my favorite photo from the memorable occasion. My dog Buddy is looking longingly at the turkey carcass.

It begs a photo caption. Suggest your best one by commenting below. I (the sole judge) will send the winner a free copy of my novel, Plover Landing. I will ship it anywhere in the world, so put your creativity caps on, people!

The contest will be open through Saturday, November 25. I will contact the winner privately for their address.