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Posts Tagged ‘Lake Superior’

Grand Portage, Minn.
Visited: June 2, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 50 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Voyageur GabWHAT IS IT?
A reconstructed fort/trading village that includes a great hall, canoe building warehouse, and kitchen. Grand Portage lies at an important geographical place; the site that connected the Great Lakes and cities of the east to the fur trapping lands of the northwest.

BEAUTY (6/10)
While the monument is enclosed entirely within Grand Portage Indian Reservation it does include the 8.2 mile Grand Portage Trail which extends through the scenic boreal forest from Grand Portage Bay to the Canadian border. The forest is gorgeous as are the views of Lake Superior. The reconstructed fort is nothing if not accurate.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (7/10)
Grand Portage NM is the real voyageurs site, as opposed to the nearby Voyageurs NP. Grand Portage NM marks and recreates the great summer fur trade Rendezvous. It also educates about the fur trade in general, canoe building and general 19th-century northwest life.

The site can be seen as a companion to the Salem Maritime NHP in Massachusetts. They both explain a similar period and experience in American life: the beginnings of international trade. Grand Portage NM, however, does a much better job.

Superior DangerCROWDS (7/10)
Given Grand Portage NM’s recent opening and remoteness, we were surprised to find dozens of tourists at the Site. The crowd was happy, interested and full of questions. Perhaps they had come from the nearby slots-only Native American casino and needed to spark their brains. It worked.

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (1/5)
Located at the northeast tip of Minnesota. The Park is seasonal, opening on Memorial Day. We were there during its opening week.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (5/5)
The superb bookstore includes colorful Voyageur-style belts and hats as well as hand-made ceramics and goods imprinted with the North West Trading Company logo. The book selection is also tremendous and the store was the first to include the highly informative 2004 edition of Fodor’s Official Guide to America’s National Parks; a necessary purchase given the extreme change in Parks’ operating hours since the book’s 2001 edition.

COSTS (3/5)
The cost is $3 per adult, $6 per family. The Site is free with the National Parks Pass.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (5/5)
There were Rangers and volunteers everywhere. All were dressed in period costume so it was difficult to differentiate. In the Great Hall there were three people, two dressed as voyageurs, one dressed as a North West Company businessman.

There was a cook in the kitchen and a working canoe builder in the warehouse. They all knew so much. We spent nearly two and a half hours talking to them about the voyageurs, listening to their stories (mostly told in the first person) and asking questions.

Rendezvous GroundsTOURS/CLASSES (10/10)
One of the best yet. We especially enjoyed the discussions we had with both the cook and the canoe builder. The cook taught us about the intricacies of Minnesota wild rice. He even told us where to buy the “world’s best wild rice, a steal at $6 a pound”: nearby at the Grand Portage Trading Post and Post Office, run by the local Ojibwe Native Americans.

We learned what the North West Company executives ate during Rendezvous, what herbs were planted at the time, the history of the North West Company and its merger with the Hudson Bay Company and the environmental, political and conjugal effect the voyageur had on the region.

The cook was a wellspring of information, as was the canoe builder. He explained the trade routes, the canoe logistics, the canoe making process, the Rendezvous, the voyageur class system and so much more. Our guides were very skilled. They had the unique gift of being able to combine macro and micro issues into a living organic whole.

In addition, the self guided walking tour pamphlet, which seems at first superfluous, is one of the best we have seen so far. It culls even more information than the guides provide. Among other things, the pamphlet suggests books to further your knowledge, gives a handy North West Company timeline and describes a guided hiking trail over the 8.2 mile actual ‘Grand Portage’ from the Pigeon River to the site that borders Grand Portage Bay. The pamphlet is friendly and does not talk down to the reader; subsequently it is enjoyable to both adult and child, a rare feat.

Four videos are available for your viewing. We felt our time was better spent talking to the Rangers/volunteers. The planned Ojibwe Heritage Center will be a welcome addition in a Park Service seemingly bereft of Native Americans east of the Mississippi River.

The PortagerFUN (9/10)
As soon as we entered the Grand Portage fort, we stepped back in time. There is no Visitor Center, no welcome and nobody dressed as a Ranger. You immediately step into the Great Hall and must orient yourself to the year 1800. It is initially disorientating but ultimately a brilliant success.

You can touch sample pelts, dress as a voyageur, wear the beaver pelt top hats, watch a massive canoe being made, see flint lock rifle demonstrations and see an 18th-century garden.

These wonderful hands-on living history displays still take a back seat to the impressive and knowledgeable Grand Portage NM staff. Everything about the site was first rate. We had a great time.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (8/10)
A volunteer staffer told us that Grand Portage NM is not a “destination site”. That is a shame but not for good reason. It is in the middle of nowhere.

There are still many reasons to come to Grand Portage NM: 1) one of the three boats that travel to Isle Royale NP leaves two miles from Grand Portage NM; 2) the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness is very close and 3) the famed scenic drives up Highway 61 and up the Gunflint Trail are nearby.

If you find yourself doing any of these three things post-Memorial Day, come to Grand Portage NM. This Site is a hidden gem.

TOTAL 61/80

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in Lake Superior
Visited: May 26, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 49 of 353
Local Website

Want More?

Click Here to Begin Our Seven-Day Isle Royale Adventure

Isle RoyaleWHAT IS IT?
The largest Island in the world’s largest freshwater lake. Isle Royale NP is a World Heritage Biosphere. Isle Royale is an incredible 99% wilderness. The 1% includes only the Rangers’ living quarters, a small lodge, two Visitor Centers and the campgrounds. The 45-mile long by 9-mile wide island boasts hundreds of moose and three wolf packs.

BEAUTY (9/10)
Spring came while we were on the Island. Wildflowers bloomed in front of our eyes; trees became a luminescent, full lime green. We thought that we had seen a newborn moose calf, but closer inspection revealed a yearling. Much of the hiking goes along the ridge and through the dense boreal forest. When the forest opens, you remember that you are in the middle of Lake Superior. Clear skies enabled us to make out the skyline of Thunder Bay, Canada, 35 miles away to the north. Nothing spoils the serene beauty here on Isle Royale. No cars, no buildings and no unnatural sounds.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (4/10)
Isle Royale has mildly interesting stories of unsuccessful mining operations and dramatic shipwrecks. We found the Island to be compelling because of its veritable lack of human history. Few people have ever lived here and the forests are still virgin. Moose first migrated here in the 1900’s by swimming! A few wolves crossed the extremely rare frozen Lake Superior to get here in the 40’s. That’s cool stuff.

On the TrailCROWDS (9/10)
We found solitude at Isle Royale NP. There were very few people even on the most popular hikes. The people that we did see shared with us the same sense of personal accomplishment, detachment and amazement. There was a strong kindred spirit among all visitors to the Island.

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (1/5)
Perhaps the most remote National Park in the continental United States. You need to take a sturdy sea-worthy boat or a seaplane to get here. Once you are at Isle Royale you must use either its moderately difficult trails or travel by kayak or canoe through its harbors and lakes. Only one rustic hotel exists and even if you are staying there, you need to get out into the backcountry to see anything. You must hike (or paddle) and stay in a tent. There is no other way. This Site appeals to a very small and specific crowd, the willing outdoorsman.

That being said, most visitors come to Isle Royale NP for the isolation and the solitude. They would say the Park’s lack of access is its strongest asset. After a day of seeing zero people and six moose, we agree. But our rating system is not perfect and for continuity’s sake the score must be a 1.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (3/5)
Both the bookstore and the lone open food store on the Island had ample selections of merchandise but very little that we wanted. The weather effectively holed us in our shelter. There were no cheap paperbacks and no selection of games/puzzles. We wanted a memento from our trip but the T-Shirts, stickers and patches all suffered from a design deficiency. We wanted a pre-packaged meal but had to settle on the salt-drenched Zatarain’s red beans and rice. So yes there is a large selection of stuff, but nothing in that group appealed to us.

On the TrailCOSTS (1/5)
The requisite boat to the Island is not cheap at $100 or more round trip. Staying on Isle Royale costs an additional $4 per day per person. Proper gear and preparation for the whims of Lake Superior will cost even more. Because of the steep transportation fee, most visitors spend at least 5 days on the Island. In fact, among National Parks Isle Royale enjoys the longest average stay per guest.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (2/5)
Plenty of Rangers at the Isle Royale’s two Visitor Centers. No Rangers anywhere else.

TOURS/CLASSES (5/10)
Immediately after stepping off the boat, a lovely Park Ranger gave us an instructive and necessary 20-minute orientation that focused on the Leave No Trace philosophy. Everything you bring on must leave with you. She also answered all of our questions about the Isle Royale. Everyone listened intently to her “What do we do when we see a moose?” answer.

After the orientation, the Ranger issued the backcountry permits inside the Windigo Visitor Center. All hikers had to specify which campground they were to stay at on each night of their visit. We were not yet sure of our plans so the Ranger cheerfully indicated which campgrounds were the best and which vistas we should not miss. Our 10-minute talk with her was more helpful than the 175-page Isle Royale Hiking Trails book.

After leaving the Visitor Center, we felt confident in our journey. We were no longer petrified about what we were about to do. Thank you, Ranger.

Just Before the Tortellini DropFUN (8/10)
Anticipation for this particular park has been mounting for nearly a year even though we weren’t really sure what to expect. We spent over two days in Duluth and a day in Grand Marais, Minnesota preparing ourselves mentally and physically for the challenge of our first real hiking adventure of the two-year trip. This anticipation and build-up added to our fun and sense of accomplishment.

Seven days and seven nights is the longest we have ever been backcountry camping. In many ways, this was a test. Can our sedentary bodies still balance a pack? Will the novelty of pitching the tent wear out within a week? Will we get bored? Sick of each other? Answers: Yes. No. Only on a very rainy and cold day 6 and… hmm… well … No. In that order.

We felt a range of emotions on the island. Excitement, fatigue, awe, hunger (after Gab dropped the tortellini dinner), pride. It was quite an emotional roller coaster, but we laughed and smiled and dropped our mouths in wonder a lot. We nearly shed tears of joy when the sun came out on day seven and Captain Ryan arrived with the Voyageur II. Later that day we were both misty eyed as the boat sped away and we lost sight of Isle Royale.

Morning MistWOULD WE RECOMMEND? (8/10)
We had a great time and were not the least bit disappointed. The beauty of the National Park was well worth the planning, the time dedication and the expense. Still, Isle Royale NP is not for everybody and Lake Superior can be a monster. You need to camp. Transportation must be done via hiking or paddling. Transportation to the Island is available only mid-April through October. Each season provides its own obstacle. If you are not fighting inclement weather, you will be fighting biting flies and mosquitoes. Our trip to Isle Royale NP was well worth it.

TOTAL 50/80

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Munising, Mich.
Visited: May 21, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 46 of 353
NPS Website

Want More? Read about both Gab’s and Michael’s terrific day on the Upper Peninsula

Miners Castle at Pictured RocksWHAT IS IT?
Area hugging Lake Superior’s southern shoreline for 40 miles resplendent with multi-hued sandstone cliffs, waterfalls, lighthouses, dunes and forests.

BEAUTY (8/10)
The Pictured Rocks are stunning 200-foot high sandstone cliffs, molded by glaciers, and stained by minerals. Their oranges, tans, greens, whites, and myriad mixtures in between contrast sharply with the sparkling rich blues and fluorescent greens of the Lake. The Park’s waterfalls charm and the wildflowers emit wonderful aromas. And we saw a bald eagle!

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (5/10)
The sandstone cliffs tell a geological story. Like the concentric rings of a tree, each color tells of a different age of rock. We do not understand geology but the gravitas of the explanatory panel made the colorful cliffs rather interesting.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous poem, The Song of Hiawatha takes place in and around the Pictured Rocks NL. The pictured rocks are specifically mentioned.

CROWDS (6/10)
There was a small crowd at each of the stops we made at Pictured Rocks NL. Everyone looked happy, especially a group of excited kids who enjoyed reading aloud to their parents the descriptions provided by the Miners Falls Trail walking tour pamphlet.

The Flowering U.P.EASE OF USE/ACCESS (2/5)
The southern coast of Lake Superior is awfully remote. Once you find your way through the scenic two lane highways surrounded by Wildlife Refuge areas and National Forests the Site itself is well marked if not easy to get around. Most of its interior roads are unpaved and better suited for a 4×4 than our Nissan Altima.

Paths and Lookout points at Miners Castle were all paved and accessible to individuals with physical disabilities.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (4/5)
A quirky selection highlighted by ecological philosophy books and I (Heart) Hiking T-Shirts.

COSTS (4/5)
The Site is free.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (3/5)
Two Rangers staffed the main Pictured Rocks Visitor Center. They were friendly, helpful and gave good suggestions on lake shore highlights. Other Visitor Centers in the interior of the park were not yet open for the season, so no other Rangers were available.

TOURS/CLASSES (5/10)
The Miners Falls Walking Trail pamphlet was cool. We are appreciative that the box at trail’s head was diligently restocked. There was no video and no museum display at the only open Visitor Information Center. Maybe things will be different post-Memorial Day. Given the stellar publications and exhibit panels we saw at Pictured Rocks we are willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

WaterfallFUN (8/10)
We followed the Rangers’ recommendations of where to go and what to see and were not disappointed. Short hikes to the Munising Falls and Miners Falls were easy and pleasant; both falls were beautiful.

We drove to the lookout at Miners Castle where three vista spots offered views of the Pictured Rocks. The best place to observe Pictured Rocks is probably on a boat, but we enjoyed our landlocked view. A large set of picnic tables offered a perfect lunch spot for us to devour our leftover pizza. And, of course, spotting the bald eagle was the icing on the cake.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (8/10)
We didn’t expect much from Pictured Rocks NL. The previous National Lakeshore, Sleeping Bear Dunes NL, was pretty, but not spectacular. It was fun enough, but nothing to write home about (although we write home about everything). Pictured Rocks NL for some reason captured our hearts. We had such an enjoyable time there.

Maybe it was because the morning clouds cleared just in time to see sun reflecting off the Munising Falls, bringing out the vibrant yellow of the wildflowers. Maybe it was because we made the decision early not to camp out and were giddy at the idea of a shower and a hotel room waiting for us in the next town. Perhaps it was because we had no expectations of the site to live up to. Or maybe it was because Pictured Rocks is a beautiful area that is well maintained and well stocked with information to help you get the most out of your visit.

We imagine this is a highly touristed destination in the summer time. We can see why.

TOTAL 53/80

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