Monday, July 23, 2018
I got up and got going a little before eight in the morning. I hopped in my car and got on highway 61. I opted for old 61 the scenic road that runs along the shore of Superior from Duluth to Two Harbors, not the big freeway that’s further inland. The scenic road is beautiful that early in the morning. Sure, it takes a little longer to get to Two Harbors, but it’s well worth it. I got on the newer 61 once I got to Two Harbors and kept heading up the shore until I got to Palisade Head.
I nearly missed the turn off the highway, but I didn’t and I drove up the very steep and narrow road to the top where there’s a small parking lot. I was surprised by how busy it was for it being 9:30 on a Monday morning. I grabbed some fruit and a yogurt out of my cooler and found a high point to sit on while I ate my breakfast. The view from the top is gorgeous. Palisade Head rises about 300 feet (about 100 meters) above the lake. I think a lot of people just drive past not realizing what a beautiful overlook they’ve missed. There’s a great view of Shovel Point, which is further up the shore, and even from up at the top the lake looks like the ocean. The far shore isn’t visible; the Apostle Islands off of northern Wisconsin are little bumps on the horizon.
After I finished my breakfast, I decided to walk around for a little. There aren’t any trails on the top of the cliff that I’m aware of so I just wandered. I ran into a few people a ways away from the parking lot and they asked if I was there for the berries. Me being me had totally forgotten that mid to late July is when wild blueberries are in season in Minnesota. I hadn’t gone there for the berries, because I had forgotten they were in season, but as soon as I knew they were I season I was there for the berries. I ran back to my car, yes, I did actually run. I found something to put berries in, and went back to where I knew I’d find them. I had only planned to spend about a half hour up there, but I spent almost two hours there once I found out there were wild blueberries to be had. The wild blueberries are absolutely tiny compared to the ones you find at the grocery store, but they have quadruple the flavor. I ended up picking about a pint before I decided to call it quits, but I could have spent doing that, but there were more things to do.
From Palisade Head, I was working my way back down the shoreline to Duluth. My second stop of the day was Split Rock Lighthouse. I’ve been a bunch of times in my life, but it’s a North Shore must. I arrived just in time for a guided tour. The guide briefly went through the history of Split Rock Lighthouse. It was built atop a 130-foot cliff in 1910 in response to a tragic storm in November of 1905, in which 29 ships were lost on Lake Superior. The Madeira is one of the ships that was lost in that storm. Her wreck is just north of where the lighthouse now is, and is one of the more popular wrecks for diving in the area. Split Rock was retired in 1969, and is now run by the Minnesota Historical Society.
The tour ends near the old oil house where they used to store the kerosene to keep the light burning. From that point, you can go look at the lighthouse keeper’s house that’s been restored to how it was in the 1920s, the fog signal building, and the lighthouse on your own time. I started with the house. There’s a beautiful old cast iron range in the kitchen, and the whole house is very cozy. Next, I walked to the lighthouse, and climbed the narrow, 32-step, spiral staircase up to the top where the Fresnel lens made in Paris still turns. After that, I went over to the fog signal building, where there’s a lot of information on lighthouses in the area, the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975 in which all 29 members of the crew were lost, and the Mataafa Storm of 1905. I followed the path to the stairs by where the old tram ran down to the shore to take my touristy pictures of the lighthouse. I didn’t spend a ton of time there since it was pretty crowded and I had a lot of other things to do.
My next stop was the always popular Gooseberry Falls. This is another place I’ve been toa bunch of times, but I do really enjoy going. I was really surprised by how busy it was, considering it was a Monday. Gooseberry Falls is made up of the Upper, Middle, and Lower Falls with plateaus between each of the falls. When I go there I followed the trail from the visitor center down to the Lower Falls. The water was moving pretty good over the falls, but it wasn’t rushing like I’ve seen after heavy rains. I worked my way up to the top of the Upper Falls enjoying the midday sunshine and the soothing sound of the water. Since it was a pretty warm day, by northern Minnesota standards at least, there were a lot of people there swimming in the pools between the Upper and Middle Falls. I didn’t spend very much time at Gooseberry since there were too many people there for my liking, and I was hungry.
I drove a couple of miles up the shore to Iona’s Beach. I parked my car got my lunch out of the cooler and followed the trail through the woods to the beach. I know when most people think of a beach they think nice warm, white sand, but when it comes to the Minnesota North Shore it’s smooth, red rocks. The beach was nearly empty, which was lovely. I found a spot halfway down the beach and sat down and ate my sandwich and my veggies and hummus. I rolled up my jeans and walked into the lake just up to my ankles and skipped a few rocks. Lake Superior is very cold; in the summer, the water temperature is right around 50°F which is about 10°C. Even as a Minnesota native I can only stand to be I the water for a few minutes before my toes start to go numb. After I’d had enough of the cold water, I dried my feet off, put my shoes back on, and walked back through the woods to my car.
I was on my way back down the shoreline to a North Shore classic, Betty’s Pies! I found some traffic on 61, but since it’s not winter in Minnesota it’s our other season, road construction, so I wasn’t too surprised. What did surprise me was how busy Betty’s Pies was. I mean, it’s always busy, but I figured with it being Monday it wouldn’t be that busy. I had to wait about 15 minutes just to sit at the counter and not at a table. For those who haven’t been to Betty’s Pies, it looks like a classic American diner. There’s a counter you can sit at or booths to sit at around the restaurant. I chose to sit at the counter since it was just me. I had some strawberry-rhubarb pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a cup of coffee. The pie was fantastic, as always.
I had two stops left on my way back down the shore to Duluth and both of them were in Two Harbors, which is only about three miles from Betty’s Pies. I figured at most it would take me 10 minutes to get there, I was very wrong. Highway 61 had turned into a parking lot. It’s one lane in each direction, and with the construction, there was a stretch that was only one lane. There were a few times where I just put my car in park and turned the engine off because of how long I’d be sitting there. People ahead of and behind me were getting out of their cars to see if they could see what was going on. All I can say is I was very thankful for Spotify. Those three miles took me a whole 40 minutes. Once I got through the single lane stretch there was more than a mile of cars waiting to go the other direction.
Once I finally got to the Duluth and Iron Range Depot Museum I only had about an hour until they closed. It wasn’t the most exciting museum I’d ever been to, but I’d never been to that museum so I figured I’d check it out. Its main focus was the different industries that had built up the area. Everything from the logging in the early days of Minnesota history to the discovery and mining of iron ore. I also stopped at the lighthouse, which is much smaller than Split Rock. Like most places along the shores of Superior, there was an exhibit about the shipwrecks and the storm of 1905. A good portion of the lighthouse is now a bed & breakfast, but you can still climb up to get a view of the surrounding area. There’s also the restored keeper’s house to look at as well.
At that point, it was getting close to dinner time, so I drove the last half hour back to Duluth. I stopped at Black Woods again for dinner since it was on the way to my AirBnB. I packed up most of my stuff before going to bed so I wouldn’t have to do it in the morning and got a good night’s sleep.
Until next time, safe travels!