Lake County

2017 in review

The year started with one of my favorite winter activities, Checkpoint Minnesota, a statewide scavenger hunt that was unfortunately in its last year, unknown to everyone. I’ll miss it, though I admit I never officially submitted my visits, because I enjoyed the motivation to get out and explore during the cold. We only made it to four of the 10 checkpoints during this year’s event, though we had been to two of the others in the last two years, and later in 2017 we coincidentally went to two more.

March for Science Minnesota

I was out of town for the women’s march in January, so I made sure to be in attendance for the March for Science in St. Paul on Earth Day. The homemade signs were clever and inspiring, and I was happy to see so many people marching proudly. I had to leave the event early for a family wedding shower, so I didn’t get to see the rally at the capitol.

large group of people, many holding handmade signs, walking toward the capitol building

Old-school Dairy Queen in Moorhead

On an overnight trip to Fargo-Moorhead, I requested dessert at the “rogue” Dairy Queen, where they play by their own rules and serve a “heritage” menu of items that more modern restaurants don’t anymore. I had a Mr. Maltie frozen chocolate malt on a stick.

barn-shaped building with a red roof and white sides, with Moorhead written in blue script near the top

Highland water tower

This St. Paul water tower is open to the public twice a year, and we climbed it during Highland Fest in July. The tower was designed by Clarence Wigington and completed in 1928. It was retired from service only a couple months ago.

looking up at the top of a six-sided brick water tower

Lynx win their fourth championship

Two years ago, I wrote about the Lynx dynasty after Minnesota won its third championship. Now it’s four in seven years. I was fortunate to once again be on press row taking statistics for the deciding Game 5, this time at Williams Arena.

streamers falling next to the scoreboard as the clock expired

Roadside attractions

None of these were destinations themselves this year, but it’s always fun to come across one of these statues on a road trip.

Minnesota state parks and SNAs

At one point, we were trying to visit all of the state parks. While we’re technically still working on the parks passport, we haven’t added many new stamps over the last couple years. Instead, I’ve started visiting scientific and natural areas (SNAs) more frequently. So these two categories are combined into one.

Minnesota Historical Society sites

I decided that 2017 was the year to complete visiting all 26 MNHS sites. And I’m happy to say I did, finishing with a Christmas tour at the Mayo House in Le Sueur on Dec. 16! Counting places I’d been before, I made it to 18 sites this year.

First-time visits

Especially with the MNHS trips, we saw a lot of towns for the first time:


dark brick building with a small sign that reads Hawley Lanes


wire corn decoration on a lightpole at sunset

McGregor (which has an emu!)

emu behind a wire fence

Pequot Lakes, during a five-day family reunion

red-and-white bobber-shaped water tower

Redwood Falls, for a family wedding

a bank that manages to look like both a spaceship and a castle

Christmas tours

And, as has already been documented, I closed out the year with road trips to see Christmas lights, within about 2 hours of the metro.

2018 resolutions

In 2017, we crossed off several longstanding wish-list visits (Moorhead DQ, Maplewood State Park, Lost 40), so I need to add some new ideas.

I’d like to go back to Moorhead to see the Hjemkomst ship and the Hopperstad Stave Church. I’d also like to eat ice cream at the Peppermint Twist in Delano, visit the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, go biking near Lanesboro, take a ghost tour in Pipestone, see a water skiing show, watch a movie at a drive-in theater, go to the Northwest Angle.

New state parks on the list: Moose Lake, Great River Bluffs, and Glacial Lakes. I’d like to go back to Interstate for a pothole tour and see the bison again at Blue Mounds. And I’d like to see five new-to-me SNAs.

Categories: Aitkin County, Beltrami County, Cass County, Clay County, Crow Wing County, Dakota County, Hennepin County, Itasca County, Lake County, Le Sueur County, Morrison County, Olmsted County, Otter Tail County, Pine County, Polk County, Ramsey County, Redwood County, Renville County, Washington County | Leave a comment

The gales of October

An early winter storm was predicted to arrive on the north shore late on Thursday, October 26. When I arrived at the Split Rock Lighthouse historic site for a work visit late that morning, the winds were picking up and it was raining off and on.

The view across Lake Superior may appear relatively calm, but whitecaps are forming:

the horizon in the background, water with waves and small whitecaps in the bottom two-thirds

…and starting to crash on the shore:

coastline viewed from above, with a small island in the distance, white lines marking waves reaching shore

I walked down the 171 stairs in the spot of a former tramway to the edge of the lake, where the water was making small splashes on the shore:

Split Rock Lighthouse at the top of the cliff at the top right, mostly woods with a couple thin orange trees, rocky shoreline with wavy water

Watch the Waves at Split Rock Lighthouse video on YouTube

Back up to the lighthouse, and beyond to the northeast side, where sea caves are visible below the lighthouse and create nice, big splashes:

lighthouse viewed from the opposite side at the top of a tall cliff, with a long wave hitting the rockface

Watch the Waves at the Sea Caves video on YouTube

Then I left the historic lighthouse and set off down one of the state park trails. With the light rapidly fading, this is the scene two and a half hours after the first video, farther down the shoreline where perhaps the bigger rocks helped make more dramatic splashes:

the lighthouse farther in the distance, a large flat rocky surface in the foreground, with a curved wave splashing to the left

zoomed-in view of a greenish-blue wave about to hit the shore, lighthouse in the distance

a wave just breaking, a large splash in the middle and extending downward toward the right, with several waves lining up down the shoreline in front of the lighthouse

closeup view to the east with a large wave hitting at the left, another one coming in at the right

Watch the Bigger Waves at Split Rock Lighthouse video on YouTube

I wanted to stay longer and watch as the waves got even bigger, but I needed to head back to the Twin Cities. It was getting too dark to take many more pictures, anyway. I made it out of town before the storm really hit — and caused a lot of damage in Duluth.

first of three images of the same wave, this one breaking with a large splash

second image of the wave, the tallest part now on the right

third image of the wave, mostly dispersed but with many individual droplets hanging in the air

More about this storm

Categories: Lake County | Tags: | 1 Comment

Split Rock and Gooseberry in winter

Split Rock Lighthouse is said to be one of the most photographed spots in Minnesota, as well as one of the most photographed lighthouses in the U.S.

The lighthouse on the cliff from a spot to the south, with lots of trees on the rocks

Split Rock is a Minnesota State Park as well as a Minnesota Historical Society historic site.

The back side of the lighthouse, on the walk in from the parking lot

Two years ago, we decided to take a day trip to the North Shore. I had applied for a position with MNHS and with that organization on my mind, I wanted to see one of the historic sites that’s not in the Twin Cities – and it was a good excuse to add two stamps to our state parks passport. (And to visit Betty’s Pies on the way.)

Construction of Split Rock began in 1907 after several deadly shipwrecks on Lake Superior, including a late November 1905 storm that killed dozens and damaged or destroyed more than 20 ships. This map shows 29 wrecks.

Sign detailing the Gales of November and the wreck of the Madeira

The lighthouse itself is closed during the winter, so we didn’t get to climb up to the beacon, but we were able to get up-close outside…

Dark blue sky behind the beacon viewed from below

…and to see a beautiful, sunny view of Lake Superior.

The snowy shoreline south of the lighthouse

We left the lighthouse and started off on a very cold hike through the park.

Bare popple trees along a snowy foot path

Being January, the rocks were frozen and snow-covered, although the lake wasn’t iced over.

Rocks covered in snow covered in ice

And then we were treated to a gorgeous view of the lighthouse and the lake.

The lighthouse on the cliff, with the calm lake to the right

I was enchanted by this island to the south, with a pastel sky in the background as the sun went down.

A small island with lots of pine trees, close to the snow-covered shore

Now, switching back to the first park of the day, Gooseberry Falls, which was completely frozen over.

Looking up at the icy falls from immediately below, on the iced-over river

A view from the top of the falls, looking down:

Foreground disappears and the background is far below

The Highway 61 bridge over the Gooseberry River:

Steel arch bridge over a snow-covered river

Ice climbers:

Two people watching a climber who has just started

We didn’t stay long at this park, pretty as it was, because we wanted to leave plenty of time for Split Rock. Since then we stopped here once again but only as an afterthought and only for a quick hike out to see the unfrozen falls. Soon, we need to plan a real visit and explore the rest of this popular park.

Date visited: January 25, 2014

More photos

Categories: Lake County | Tags: | Leave a comment

On the way to Grand Marais

The first weekend in October we took a road trip to Grand Marais. It’s just over four hours by car, though that assumes no stops (which is never a safe assumption with me in the car). Here are some of the things we saw on the drive.

We were delayed briefly in road construction on 35 near Hinckley, so we enjoyed the colorful trees.

trees starting to change color - mostly green but some yellow and orange

Lunch in Duluth, with a quick glimpse at the lift bridge as we sped past.

lift bridge between the arena and the aquarium

On the north end of Duluth, we got our first clear look at Lake Superior.

the lake out to the horizon, with the highway guardrail in the foreground

We took the Highway 61 expressway to Two Harbors rather than the scenic drive along the shore. Of course we had to take one brief turn off the highway to see Pierre the Voyageur. He used to be at the Voyageur Motel in Two Harbors, but now he’s a greeter just before you reach the town. He looks like he has no pants, although his new owners have said he’s wearing tights. (I didn’t get close enough to verify.)

statue of a man holding a canoe paddle

A sign of autumn: pumpkins for sale in Two Harbors.

signs for sweet corn and pumpkins under a white tent

The tunnel that’s a familiar milestone to everyone heading north on Highway 61.

cars driving into and out of Silver Creek Cliff tunnel

My in-motion photo of the brief glimpse of Split Rock Lighthouse from 61 was so blurry that I deleted it. We then made a spontaneous stop at Gooseberry State Park for a short hike out to the falls. The rest area at Gooseberry is one of the few locations in Minnesota state parks where a parking permit is not necessary (though we have one anyway). It was late afternoon on Friday and the parking lot was packed; cars were even circling to grab a space when others were leaving. I bet it was even busier the next day.

the top of middle falls on the left side

Finally entering Cook County!

Highway 61 with a Cook County sign

We’d been advised that a tram ride at Lutsen Mountains is always fun but essentially required in autumn – and we were lucky enough to hit a peak weekend for fall color. We were there in late afternoon with the sun just starting to set behind the mountain…

tram near the top of Lutsen Mountains

…but looking the other direction, a gorgeous autumn view!

hundreds of trees, mostly orange and yellow with some green pines

The charming trams, whose days are numbered…

three cars that look like red apples

…because a new tram system is about to be launched.

new tram mechanism at the top of the mountain

A view of Lake Superior in the distance on the way back down the mountain.

a sliver of the lake in the distance, with lots of pines in the foreground

Our tram’s shadow in the orange trees.

The second day we were in Grand Marais, we ventured north to Naniboujou Lodge for a late lunch. I had a ridiculously delicious turkey club sandwich with cranberry and mustard, which seems like a strange combination but worked. I also had their famous french onion soup and burned my mouth because I couldn’t wait until it cooled.

side view of the building, with lots of windows in the cedar shake siding

Everyone takes pictures of the ceiling inside the lodge’s restaurant, and it’s easy to see why.

a hanging light fixture underneath a multicolor, patterned ceiling

Of course we also visited the state park (Magney) that’s across the street from the lodge. More about that will be in a future post. (So will Grand Marais itself.)

We stopped at a public beach in Colvill on the way back to Grand Marais. I was mesmerized by the Lake Superior’s giant waves all weekend.

On the way back to the Cities on Sunday afternoon, we made a quick detour in Silver Bay to see Rocky Taconite.

statue that looks like two large taconite balls with arms and legs

A short stop in Two Harbors to see the grand Lake County courthouse. We had stumbled across it on a cloudy day in August and wanted to see it again on a nicer day.

four columns on a Beaux Arts building with a dome

Even a rest stop is beautiful in autumn. We pulled over at this one just outside Knife River because a sign advertised a historical marker, which noted that the four-lane divided part of Highway 61 is called the Arthur V. Rohweder Memorial Highway.

red maples at the Knife River rest stop

It was at this point that Bill decided to take over the driving responsibility. I think he had had enough “detours” – though we had already planned to stop in Knife River anyway for the Great Lakes Candy Company. We picked up caramels, chocolate-covered toffee, and sponge candy.

Only in Minnesota: a sign advertising a fishcake supper.

sandwich board sign along the highway

We took the scenic half of highway 61 after Knife River. There are many pulloff areas for viewing Lake Superior. Just north of Duluth, we saw a barge.

Our last stop of the trip was at the Thomson Hill Information Center, a rest stop on the south end of Duluth, where we saw the barge heading toward the lift bridge.

lift bridge in the distance, colorful trees in the foreground

More from the North Shore

Categories: Cook County, Lake County, St. Louis County | Tags: | Leave a comment

Camping at Tettegouche State Park

It had been years since I’d been camping, so when a friend told me she booked a campsite at Tettegouche State Park, I jumped at the chance to tag along with her and a third friend. This beautiful park borders Lake Superior and also includes the highest waterfall in Minnesota.

Baptism River just before High Falls

The park is outside Silver Bay, which is a little more than an hour north of Duluth. We didn’t realize that this rest stop at the park’s entrance also contains the Tettegouche visitors center, so we drove right by and had to come back. It’s a brand-new building that opened just a few weeks prior to our visit, so hopefully they will add signs soon that make it clear.

combined visitors center and rest stop

We reserved campsite 25, a walk-in site, so we had to carry our gear down a short shared path. Site 25 just happened to be the exact spot where two of us stayed with another friend 13 years ago! I climbed up onto the giant rock at the site to re-enact a picture from 2001.

Campsites 24-25 signs, and two pictures of a woman sitting on a rock

We arrived in late afternoon so first we set up our tents and unpacked our gear…

two tents

…and then made dinner over the campfire. We also had hot breakfasts – including grilled toast – each morning.

sweet corn and packets of potatoes and onions on the campfire

The first morning we hiked to High Falls, which was close enough to our campsite that we could hear the water during the quiet nights.

High Falls from the top, with the Baptism River flowing away

We approached the falls from one side, then walked along the trail further up the Baptism River to a bridge to cross to the other side.

walking bridge crossing the Baptism River just before High Falls

Up close on the other side.

High Falls from the right side

It was late morning when we reached the picturesque bottom of the falls and there were lots of other visitors, so I was lucky to get this shot without people – though you may notice a swimming dog at the left. There were also some human swimmers.

High Falls from the bottom

I can’t resist admiring wildflowers, and it seemed like I stopped every 10 feet along the trail through the woods to take another photo. This is one-flowered pyrola, which faces the ground so I had to get on my knees to see its face. Just one of dozens of wildflowers blooming at Tettegouche that weekend.

Two one-flowered pyrola flowers from above (one with four petals, one with five); one flower from below

We also saw some wildlife, including this pack of at least four garter snakes.

at least four snakes in the grass

We relaxed the rest of the day after our long hike – and of course finished with another campfire. It was too dark to get good pictures of roasting marshmallows, but no camping trip is complete without s’mores. In addition to the traditional Hersheys-and-marshmallow, we also tried some other variations, including marshmallow Peep with Nutella or Reese’s peanut butter cup.


The next morning we took a foggy walk along Lake Superior to Shovel Point.

cliffs along Lake Superior, partially obscured by fog 

I didn’t notice whether there was a sign that advised visitors of the number of stairs on this trail – which was probably a good thing!

lots and lots and lots of stairs to Shovel Point

Lake Superior’s “natural air conditioning” was in effect, which was lucky for us given the workout on the stairs. Even with the fog, the view was worth the effort – though I couldn’t tell where the lake ended and the fog began!

looking out at the lake at Shovel Point, with the lake meeting the fog

On our way back, the fog started to lift. fog along the Lake Superior shoreline from Shovel Point

We had a clear view of the former natural sea arch, which unfortunately collapsed in 2010.

what remains of a natural sea arch on Lake Superior: a sea pillar close to a rocky cliff

Great weekend of hiking and sightseeing at this gorgeous state park.

Tettegouche State Park

Visited: July 18-20, 2014

Categories: Lake County | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Blog at