Highway 61 Revisited

IMG_1585No room at the inn…

Cristi and I finished up our week of river running in Wisconsin with a whitewater filled trip down Section 2 of the Bois Brule River. We both felt a little sore after drawing, prying and backferrying the big red beast through rock garden after rock garden, so we laid in for a lazy morning at our campsite.

The forecast called for high temperatures near 90 degrees. We were tired of the heat and I suggested we pull for the North Shore on Lake Superior. I knew that it would be at least ten degrees cooler over in Minnesota by the Big Lake, and we were only a few hours away.

With our plan in place we decided to go fishing. Cristi is new to Tenkara fishing and we’re planning some backcountry fly fishing adventures in the mountains this summer. We spent a couple hours working the pool and riffles below the campground bridge with little success. Cristi did hook up and land a little Brown. Her first trout ever.

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Rest stop on the way up the Shore.

It was after noon when we pulled out of the Copper Range Campground. We rolled north toward Lake Superior and followed a winding gravel road that took us to the mouth of the Bois Brule. Maybe we would get in a swim before our drive. Lake Superior’s normally blue waters were stained brown from the red clay cliffs at the mouth of the river and the stable flies were relentless, so we turned tail and ran back south on Highway 13, headed toward Duluth.

Just north of Duluth we turned right onto the original route of Highway 61, now a scenic byway. The road winds its way along the shoreline of Superior, and delivers spectacular views. I drove Cristi this way once before, on our first trip to the Boundary Waters together, but that day was foggy and overcast. Today, the skies were clear and Cristi was stunned by the size and beauty of Kitchi-Gami.

By now it was early afternoon, but it was Monday. We figured we wouldn’t have too much trouble finding a spot at one of several Minnesota state parks that line the route north toward Grand Portage and the Canadian border.

When we turned into Gooseberry Falls State Park we got a shock. The place was a madhouse. The day-use parking area was completely packed. People were milling around between the cars an in the path of traffic. We didn’t even stop. We bid a hasty retreat. Gooseberry Falls is a pretty small park. I was sure we would find a spot at Tettegouche.

At the Tettegouche visitor center we stepped up to the counter and asked the staffer behind the desk for help.

“We’re hoping to find a camping spot for tonight.”
[Typing and looking at computer monitor]
“All our sites are booked.”
“You don’t have anything at all?”
“Nothing.”

Fortunately, she had access to the entire state park system and could check availability on up the Shore. Next park on 61 was Cascade Falls.

“Nothing available.”

Maybe Judge Magney would have a spot. It was way up the Shore, almost to Grand Portage.

“No Sites.”

“After that, it’s Canada,” I said. She smiled and nodded.

So there you go. Another lesson from the road. Even if it’s Monday. If it’s 90 degrees you can expect the entire population of Minneapolis to descend on the Shore.

We were striking out on state parks, and she began to suggest some private campgrounds that might work. Cristi was quick to jump in, “those will be too expensive for us.”

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Tucked in at the Eckbeck Campground.

The last option on the list was a state forest campground. It was about three miles up the road toward Finland. It would be cheap, and hopefully there was room at the inn.

We jumped into the truck and swung back out onto 61. Our next left took us up Route 1 along the Baptism River. A few minutes later we pulled into the Eckbeck Campground.

It was hot. The weather was building. There was a severe thunderstorm warning for just about all of Minnesota, calling for dime sized hail and gust to 60 miles per hour.

My wife is a brave woman. There isn’t much that will back her down. But she doesn’t like thunderstorms. Lightning. We all have our Kryptonite. At least hers makes sense.

So there was a discussion about the weather. The impending destruction. Whether we would be safer three miles back toward the shore at the Tettegouche visitor center.

Now, I am about as cavalier about lightning as Cristi is cautious. And I was set on having a place to stay for the night. Being done for the day. I pressed my case. We stayed.

We did a couple laps of the campground, made a failed try to back into one site, and finally sawed the Casita back and forth into a spot that would work. Cristi stuffed a chunk of 2×6 under the driver side tire to level things out and we were parked for the night.

Thunder was grumbling. I didn’t know how long the rain might last, and we didn’t have an electric hookup. So we had to be able to keep the windows open to keep cool through the night. I broke out my 10X12 Cooke Custom tarp and slung it over the driver’s side of the Casita. Then I realized that water running off the roof of the camper would get under the tarp and into the windows, so I pitched a second tarp over the first to button things up.

We pulled out our REI Hang Time Chairs (I know, it sounds like a product placement, and we almost left them home, but the $7 Walmart chairs just didn’t cut it. We tried) and sat down under the tarp. Then the rain rolled in.

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Happy Hour!

It rained. Hard. Dumping down. Pouring off the tarp. And there was lightning. It was pretty intense. Cristi told me later she went through three PBRs to calm her nerves. We turned on the battery powered FM radio and dialed in the UMD student radio station.

The thunder and lightning was almost continuous. We cranked the radio and sipped coldbeers. Highway 61 Revisited came on. It’s a regular radio program on the college station. Bob Dylan songs and covers. Some of it was really good. Obscure stuff. Gillian Welch came on doing a cover of a song I’d never heard.

Somehow it all came together. We’d driven old 61 up the Shore, struck out on camping at the state parks but managed to find a spot in the end. We were dry and tucked in for the night. That radio program was the icing on the cake.

“You know,” Cristi said, “I don’t usually like Bob Dylan.”

“Yeah,” I said, “but this is pretty good.”

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The next day we stopped back at Tettegouche. Turns out you can park in the rest area and hike into the park free of charge. We headed for the beach at the mouth of the Baptism River.
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The beach was a popular spot. Warm water comes in from the river and mixes with the cold water of the Big Lake. Cristi and I swam out the mouth of the harbor for her first ever swim in Lake Superior. Icy cold and very refreshing on a hot day.
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Pink Rhyolite cliffs jutting out of Superior in Tettegouche State Park.

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After our “warmup” at the Baptism River we found another, more secluded beach for a Lake Superior swim. Surface water was cold, but if you swam down to the bottom it was ice cream headache cold.
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The hike out to the point in Tettegouche. Keep away from the edge…
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It’s a long way down.
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Cedars growing around a glacial erratic.

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The next day we were on the road again. We crossed the Mighty Mississippi…
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Met Paul Bunyan in Ackely, MN.
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And ended up in a shady spot in Buffalo River State Park, MN.
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Buffalo River is home to the largest intact tallgrass prairie remnant in Minnesota.

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Bumpy roads and a heavy frying pan took a toll on our cabinet latches. We’ll have to find a spot to send some replacements out ahead of us.
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From Buffalo River we headed west to pick up I-94 near Fargo. This was our first time on the Super Slab since we had left Green Bay. I was shocked by how much traffic there was and couldn’t wait to get back to 2 lanes.
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It didn’t take long. Outside of Bismark we picked up the Lewis and Clark Trail and drove secondary roads for the rest of the day.
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The Lewis and Clark interpretive center near Fort Mandan, ND.
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At the end of a gravel road near Coleharbor, ND is Wolf Creek, an Army Corp of Engineers campsite on the south shore of Lake Sakakawea.
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You find a nice, shady spot for a dog and what does he do? Goes and sits in the direct sun…

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The next day we took ND 1804 through New Town and up to Williston before heading south on 85 to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Our first National Park of the Summer.
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The Juniper Campground on the banks of the Little Missouri River in the northern unit of the park.
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We planned to spend a couple days in the park. Since Pedro wasn’t allowed on park trails we made a shady spot for him while we headed out on a quick hike to the prairie dog town off the Buckthorn Trail.
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On the way to the prairie dog town we passed a solitary bull bison. He was well up the hill from us so we weren’t too worried about getting charged. You can see him waay back in the center background of this picture.
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The prairie dogs are pretty bold. You can walk right past them before they scoot out of the way toward the nearest burrow.

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On our walk back things got interesting. We passed some hikers who told us the old bull had walked down the hill and was blocking the path back to our truck. We decided to climb up and around him.
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Unfortunately, our detour ended in a steep cliff. We had to backtrack the way we came and hike out well into the prairie to give him a wide berth.
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He was posted up on what Cristi called his “dog bed” dusting off in an area he had scraped clean of vegetation.
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We spent about a half hour bushwacking across the prairie. As we neared the road we ran into a guided group. The naturalist told us this old bull was a known troublemaker. “Oh, that’s Grumpy Gus,” she said, “he’s notorious for running people off trails and off buttes.” Glad we took the long way around.
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Pedro isn’t allowed on trails in the National Parks (it makes sense, we’re glad he wasn’t there for the bison and prairie dog hike) so we took him for a walk next door at the Little Missouri Grassland.

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On the drive back the low tire pressure light went on. Sure enough. Another flat tire.
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Two flats in two weeks. I’m getting pretty good at this by now.

 

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The whole flat tire ordeal really took it out of Pedro.
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It was Saturday and we hoped to leave the following morning. I didn’t want to drive without a spare, so I made a run up into Williston to Walmart to try to get a new tire. They were backed up three hours with six people in line ahead of me. No luck. We decided we would stay another day and get the tire fixed Monday morning.
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Sunday morning we started our day with a walk on the Little Mo nature trail, not far from the campground.
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Capstones on the Little Mo trail.
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From there we walked to a roadside area that has some unusual rock formations.
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They’re called cannonball concretions and are formed when silt flows into holes in sedimentary rock and mixes with other minerals to form a natural concrete. Unfortunately, this one had been tagged.

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Our campground host, Tom, suggested that we do a hike that begins at the Oxbow Overlook at the end of the park road. On the way we ran into a real live buffalo jam.
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The bison were in the road and showed little inclination to leave. We settled down at an overlook to watch an see if anybody’s car would get gored as they tried to creep past the herd.
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After about a half hour the herd yielded the road, traffic began to move again and we crept carefully by on our way to the overlook.
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We were in the hunt for an unmarked trail that started somewhere near Sperati Point. We started on the Achenbach Trail across a broad expanse of shortgrass prairie.
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The view northwest from Sperati Point.
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Looking south down the river valley.
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From Sperati Point we backtracked until we found a clear trail that headed south into the valley.
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Within a few minutes we were out of the prairie and into the badlands desert.
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The trail was well marked a little rough in spots.

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After about an hour on the trail we had used up about half our water and weren’t seeing the landmarks that Tom had pointed out to us. Made a wrong turn somewhere. So we headed back to the car to beat the heat.
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We’d been without pizza for a few weeks, so we broke out the Fry Bake and mixed up some dough.
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My plan was to cook the crust first over the two-burner.
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And then finish the pizza dutch oven style with some coals over the fire.
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Not bad. Still working on getting the crust nice and crispy.
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That’s a wrap for the week. Tomorrow we ride again in search of a new tire.

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5 thoughts on “Highway 61 Revisited

    1. Steve

      Should you find anything daunting as you pursue these days simply weigh the crisis at hand against the opportunity to be back wrapping and that should take care of it

  1. Mark

    We got that rain on Monday night in the BWCA but we really got hammered on Thursday night. It was our last night and we had a storm over our camp for a solid twelve hours. Pam and Lea moved into the tent with dad and Ron so they had some fun in a four-person for their final night. Great trip – sorry you couldn’t join us.

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