August, 2019 – Baudette, Minnesota

Once we got around Bemidji most of the trip north to Baudette was along MN 72.  This is a two lane road that runs alongside both Lower and Upper Red Lake for most of the way.  For a couple of hours we saw very little traffic and miles of black spruce bogs and no towns.  We were able to get to the small town of Waskish where there was a truck stop large enough to pull in for a break in the nearly 3 hour trip north.  From there it was still another hour to Baudette and our next stop at Lake of the Woods Campground.  While we were close to the Lake of the Woods, the campground is actually on the shore of Rainy River.  I expected to find a small campground with minimal amenities whose sole purpose was to provide fishermen access to the Lake of the Woods.  As we left the area around Minneapolis we expected the TV and phone reception to virtually disappear and were ready to spend a few weeks cut off.  However, we found the Lake of the Woods campground to be VERY nice with spacious pull-through sites for transient campers, full hookups, and even cable TV!  In addition, they had free WiFi that was okay, however, the phone reception was excellent so we had a great signal for our hotspot.  This was MUCH better then we had expected.  I will admit that we were one of the few campers that did not have a boat, however, the campground was full of families with kids, especially over the weekends.  It was a great atmosphere for the next two weeks.

Campsite

Since there were not laundry facilities at our last campground, we spent Tuesday doing laundry and cleaning the RV in anticipation of Nikki and Chris joining us on Saturday.

For the past several days, Kal had been fighting a cold that began as a sinus headache and developed into a cough that she was still dealing with.  I had also caught the cold from Kal and had a couple of days of severe headaches over the weekend.  While I did have a running nose as well, I never developed the cough that was causing so much concern for Kal.  Since we were expecting Nikki and Chris to join us on Saturday and Kal wanted desperately to go fishing the beginning of next week, she decided to have a doctor check her out.  We found the local hospital in Baudette and made an appointment at their clinic for the afternoon on Wednesday.  We drove back into Baudette in the afternoon and Kal was prescribed an antibiotic, an inhaler and steroids for the inflamation.  We spent the rest of the day just relaxing in the campground hoping Kal would improve over the next couple of days.

We took it easy again on Thursday since Kal was still coughing a great deal although the medicine, especially the inhaler, was helping.  She decided she was feeling good enough to drive over to Warroad to the Seven Clans Casino by mid-morning.  After a couple of hours in the casino, where neither of us did very well, we drove on into Warroad to a local bar and grill for lunch.  After a nice lunch we drove back to the campground for the afternoon.

We also spent Friday relaxing in the campground where I finally got all caught up on this blog.

Saturday was spent in the campground waiting for Nikki and Chris who arrived late in the afternoon.  After getting them set up, it was time to take advantage of the “Campers Appreciation Weekend” in the campground where they were serving margaritas, pulled pork barbecue,  baked beans, potato salad, and a wide selection of deserts.  We enjoyed the free food, but did not spend much time at the celebration as we had to get over to Chris’ grandparents who also live on Rainy River just a couple of miles away.  We had a delightful evening meeting some of his relatives and taking a ride in their pontoon boat on the Rainy River, before heading back to the campground for our first game of spades before going to bed.

Sunday was an early day as I had to drive Kal and Chris to meet up with Grandpa George for a day of fishing for Walleye.  Since there was only room for four in the boat and one of Chris’ uncles was going as well, this left Nikki and I on shore.  This was fine with both of us since neither of us really enjoy fishing and I can get seasick very easily.  So we headed back to the campground for most of the day which gave us a chance to really talk and I was very thankful we had the time.  I learned a lot more about her job at the Hi-Wire Brewery and how it has evolved as the brewery has grown.  Kal and Chris had a great time fishing until early afternoon.  While Kal caught the first Walleye, they had to throw it back as it was not big enough to keep.  This was the only fish she caught all day.  The others did not have much more luck coming away with only 6 fish they could keep.  Grandpa George quickly fileted the catch and we headed to a nearby bait store to get the fixings to fry them up.  As soon as we got back to the campsite, Chris pulled out their propane stove and immediately fried up the fish.  We all got a good snack and I found out I could enjoy Walleye.  Generally, neither Kal nor I care much for fish, but Walleye is a nice white fish with very little “fishy” flavor.  In fact, most of the flavor is from the breading itself.  After our snack we cleaned up the dishes and headed once again to Chris’ grandparents for a nice dinner of ham, potatoes, and salad.  Chris’s parents, Mike and Jane, joined us once they arrived from North Carolina.  After a nice evening with Chris’ family, we headed back to the campground.  Once again we were able to sneak in a game of spades before bedtime.

KalWithCatch

Monday was another early day as Kal and Chris were once again going fishing with Grandpa George.  This time they had room for one more, so Nikki went along as well.  This left to me all alone most of the day, which I spent going to the store in Baudette and just relaxing in the campground.  I was surprised they called early in the afternoon that they had enough fishing and when I picked them up I found out why.  None of them had gotten even a bite all day, even though the Walleye were enjoying the minnow snacks.  I understand they still had a great time, but Grandpa George was simple disgusted with their luck and came in early.  This was fine with us as this left us plenty of time to play spades.

GoingFishing

Tuesday was the day for the big party planned by Jane, which started with Nikki and Chris heading to Roseau to meet up with his other grandparents for breakfast.  The party was not until 2:00 in the afternoon and consisted of both sets of grandparents along with Chris’ aunts and uncles and even two relatives from Norway that were visiting the states.  We had a delightful afternoon getting to know everyone that included a nice pontoon boat trip up the Rainy River and a great meal of turkey, rolls, and salad.  Although it was late in the evening before the party broke up, we still managed to fit in another game of spades before heading to bed.

Wednesday was a sad day as we had to say goodbye to Nikki and Chris as they started back home to North Carolina by way of Chicago and Knoxville where they had the grand opening of a new tap room for the brewery.  After they left, Kal and I just relaxed in the campground for the remainder of the day.

By Thursday, Kal was feeling good enough to do some hiking so we headed to the shores of Lake of the Woods to Zippel Bay State Park.  I was looking forward to it, since I had yet to get a good view of the Lake of the Woods.  Instead of a 3+ mile hike through the woods, we decided to take the 1 mile hike (2 miles round trip) along the beach to the Coast Guard lights at the mouth of Zippel Bay.  I was surprised to see the long sandy beach as I had expected to see a rocky shoreline like you see on Lake Superior.  The trail began at the swimming beach and ran along the beach for the first half mile.  The Lake of the Woods was very calm with very little wind, so we were able to walk along the waterline which was much easier than walking in the loose sand.  The second half mile cut into the woods close to the shore so you still had good views of the lake.  Once we set for a while watching the fishing boats exit Zippel Bay, we turned around and hiked back to the truck.  We then drove to the marina on Zippel Bay which took us by the campgrounds that we were very nice if you had a tent or a short RV that did not need hookups.  At the marina we took another short trail of about a quarter mile that snaked through a mature aspen forest.  I was very glad to take this walk as being completely surrounded by white trunk trees as far as you can see was amazing.  The trail ended with another view of Zippel Bay.  Since we were only a few miles from the campground we decided to head back for lunch and spent the afternoon relaxing in the campground.

On Friday, we decided to spend another day at the Seven Clans Casino, so at around 10:00 we went to start the truck, only to find it was totally dead.  Turning the key did absolutely nothing and none of the interior lights were on.  The batteries were totally dead.  So we went up to the office to get some help and the owner grabbed some jumper cables and drove their big diesel to assist.  Along with my jumper cables, since both trucks had two batteries, we attempted to jump the truck with no luck.  So Jack, the owner, went and got two chargers, which we hooked to the batteries for about 20 minutes.  After this the truck started up and after thanking Jack, we head into Baudette to find a mechanic.  They really had only one repair shop in town, Johnson Auto.  Thankfully they were not too busy and were able to test the battery, from which it appeared the alternator was not functioning at all.  Thankfully, the local NAPA store had an alternator that would work for the truck in stock and they had time at the repair store to get right on it!!  So, we walked to lunch at Northlake Cafe just a few blocks away.  We had a leisurely lunch and even walked over to the nearby Visitor Information Center to find out about the International Plowing Contest later in the month.  We found out this was an international competition that is very big in Europe.  Competitors use tractors to plow a row in different types of fields and are judged on a number of factors that include straightness, depth consistencies, and at least 10 other factors.  Once we had bothered them enough, we walked on towards downtown Baudette and spent some time in a sportsmen store before heading back to the repair shop.  We got there just as they were finishing up and testing the new system, so by 3:00 in the afternoon, we had a new alternator and two new batteries.

In order to test out the new alternator, we decided on Saturday to drive to the Seven Clans Casino in Warroad to make sure we had no other problems with the truck.  The truck performed well and after a couple of hours in the casino, where we came close to breaking even (an improvement over the previous trip) we headed back to the campgrounds.  We were both feeling better that the truck was ready for the long haul on Monday.

Sunday was spent doing laundry and cleaning the RV again before we headed out on Monday.

July, 2019 – Federal Dam, Minnesota

Our trip north from St. Cloud was along US 10 and then MN 371 before we turned off on MN 84.  The first part of the trip was good straight roads and very scenic as we finally left the farmlands in the prairie and entered the Big Woods of northern Minnesota.  However, once we turned onto MN 84 the trip got a lot slower as the road wound between one small lake after another.  The terrain was still flat with lots of pine and spruce, however, it became obvious why Minnesota is known for its lakes.  After over an hour of slow moving with 25-30 mph turns, we finally got to the shores of Leech Lake Recreation Area, which is a COE campground.  We were reminded again why we prefer COE and state parks for camping as the sites were very spacious and full of trees.  However, this did pose its own challenges such as no water hookups.  We came prepared with full fresh water tanks, so this was no problem.  It also meant there were going to be trees in the way of backing the RV into its site.  The trees made the entry very narrow and my first attempt was too tight to the driver side.  There was no way to move the RV over with the limited room I had in front of the truck, so I had to pull out and try again.  The second attempt was perfect and I got the RV backed into the site with no problem.  At first I was disappointed in the campground as a whole.  It is on the shore of Leech Lake, however, you cannot even see the lake from the campgrounds as there is 1.5 miles of marsh between you and the open water.  I was also concerned that this was going to increase dramatically the mosquitoes, however, this proved not to be the case.  The other campers were complaining about the mosquitoes and they were bad if you spent a lot of time outdoors around a fire.  However, I did not find them to be too bad while we were there.  By the end of the week I had fallen in love with the site being surrounded by the spruce, red pine, basswood, and green ash trees.  After spending the past months in the hardwood forests, this was a great change.

Campsite

On Tuesday we headed west to Itasca State Park to explore a site that I had been looking forward to for years: The Headwaters of the Mississippi River.  At the time of the Revolutionary War it was believed that the Mississippi River flowed out of the Lake of the Woods to the north and thus was used to define the western boundary of the new nation.  However, the Mississippi River does not flow out of the Lake of the Woods and it was a long time before the actual beginning point was found.  In 1832, an Anishinabe guide led explorer Henry Schoolcraft to the true headwaters as it flowed out of a lake he called Itasca from Latin words meaning truth and head.  Actually, his discovery was off by a little bit as there is a small stream that connect Itasca with Elk Lake making it the true headwaters.   In any case, the small stream flowing out of Lake Itasca has been declared the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi River as it begins its 1200 mile trip to the Gulf of Mexico.  It is a common practice to wade in this stream, as evidenced by the large number of people doing just that, but we declined after taking numerous pictures of the event.  Instead we explored the Schoolcraft Trail that travels a mile down the west side of the lake to an overlook of Schoolcraft Island where he planted a flag declaring his discovery.

After our hike we continued on around Itasca Lake on the Wilderness Road to check out some of the virgin trees in the park.  Itasca State Park is the oldest state park in Minnesota since it was established in 1891 through the efforts of historian Jacob Brower who wanted to preserve the land for future generations from the timber companies that were clearcutting the area.  The results are that you can see some of the largest and oldest red and white pine in the state along with virgin forest habitat.  The park has continued to grow over the years to over 32,000 acres including over 100 lakes, much of which was cut.  For example, there is a short loop trail through a red pine plantation established by the CCC in 1932.  I attempted to take this trail, however, turned back when the deer flies became too bad.  This was unfortunate as there were interpretive signs along the trail about past and current forestry practices.  I did get far enough to get a sense of a mature second growth red pine plantation.  The highlights, however, was the largest white pine in the park which was 120 inches in circumference and over 300 years old.  They have erected a boardwalk to protect the roots, however, still the tree did not appear to be healthy and may not survive the next storm.  There was also a stop at an ancient bison kill located where prehistoric Indians killed a number of ancient giant bison.  Except for the interpretive sign at the location, there was not much to be seen today.  A short walk from there entered into the fringes of an old-growth red pine stand with some of the largest red pines I have ever seen.  For the most part, the stand still looked healthy, although none of the trees were state champions.  Once again the deer flies made the trip to and from the stand faster than I would have liked.  It was a great day in the Deep Woods of Minnesota and I can finally mark this off my bucket list of things to see.

Wednesday was another day when Kal gave in to my interests when we traveled east to Grand Rapids and the Forest History Center.  This is a Minnesota Historic Site that celebrates the history of forestry, especially forest industry, in the state.  They have a great museum with numerous exhibits about the lumber companies, loggers, and sawmills that drove the white pine boom from 1839 to around 1920.  The boom started along river, primarily the St. Croix and Rum Rivers, with logging during the winter and using the spring thaw to float the logs downstream to the sawmills which concentrated at Minneapolis.  Steam power was introduced in the 1870s which allowed sawmills to be located closer to the harvesting.  By the 1880s railroad spurs were being build to extend the reach away from the rivers and deep into the woods.  Logging peaked in 1905 when 2.3 billion board feet of lumber was extracted from the forests.  It was believed that this logging would open up the land for farming, but the frequent devastating fires and short growing season made this impractical on a large scale.  Slowly the forests reclaimed much of the land supplemented by massive plantings by the CCC in the 1930s.  Today the forests are still maturing, but there are vast acreages of commercial birch, aspen, and red pine that support a sustainable harvest at nearly the same level as the peak in 1905.  This history is told through a series of hands-on exhibits in the museum.  However, the highlight of the Forest History Center is the reconstructed logging camp.  They have built a logging camp as it would have looked at the turn of the century with barracks, store, mess hall, horse barn, blacksmith/carpenter, and outhouse.  There are three period actors that provide a tour of the camp as if you are new recruits that have made the two day trip from town in the dead of winter.   They introduce how the camp functions and your responsibilities in a very enjoyable presentation through each of the buildings.  The tour ends with a reading of a letter describing life in the camp along with music and a demonstration of how logs are loaded onto the sleigh with a team of horses.  The most interesting display was the two huge sleighs used to create and maintain the ice roads.  The first sleigh would dig ruts into the soil about 2 feet deep.  After the ground freezes, the second sleigh would deliver water the road to fill the ruts with ice to create 6 inch deep ruts for the sleighs to slide on.  They would load the sleighs with up to 20 tons of logs that could then be pulled by a team of only two horses along these roads!!  This is easily 10 times what you could haul on wagons with wheels.  This was one main reason harvesting was done in the winter.  The other main reason was to use the spring thaw to float all of these logs downstream to the sawmills creating huge log runs every spring.  This all ended in the 1890s with the use of railroads to transport the logs.  This was truly an amazing place and a lot of fun!  I also took a short hike through some examples of current forest practices that included pine, oak, and birch management practices.  Very interesting.

On Thursday, Kal had developed a head cold and was not feeling very well.  So we just took it easy around the campground and I worked some on this blog.  By Friday, she was still not felling very good, but felt good enough to travel to the White Oak Casino we had seen on the way to Grand Rapids on Wednesday.  We had a reasonably good time at the casino which started out as a bust.  About half way through our money, I finally hit a minor bonus on a slot machine that brought me to about even.  A couple of machines later I got really lucky hitting a bonus that just went crazy.  It was a set of free spins and the first one hit for $18.  Three spins later and it hit for another $40.  In total I ended up covering all of our losses and we ended the day a few dollars ahead.  While this is nothing to get too excited about, it still represents an unusual experience in a casino where we generally lose $20-$30.  Bottom line is that I ended up having a good time and Kal ended up feeling worse for the experience.

Kal’s cold was not getting better, so we just spent the weekend relaxing in the campground.