Jay Cooke State Park

It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that the North Shore of Lake Superior is a crowded place in the summer.  When planning our Duluth adventure, The Adventuress and I looked at each of the state parks, but only found one that 1.) had a campsite available for two nights, and 2.) did not involve a long hike from the car to the campsite.  The park that we found ended up not being on the North Shore, but was close enough.

Jay Cooke State Park is a heavily forested park on the St. Louis River south of Duluth.  It is at the eastern most end of Minnesota Highway 210, which made it easy for us to navigate there.  Historically, the river made navigation not as easy here.  The park is home to the Grand Portage of the St. Louis River, used first by Native Americans for who knows how long, and then by French fur traders in the 1700’s and up until the rail road built a bridge through the area in the mid 1800’s.  Pennsylvania financier Jay Cooke donated the initial plot of land for the park as part of a rail road deal.  He had originally intended for Duluth to be a “new Chicago”, though the financial panic of 1873 and his subsequent bankruptcy scaled those plans back.

The towns of Thompson and Carlton are right outside the park.  The Black Bear Casino and Resort is nearby, if you’re into that sort of thing.  We arrived in Carlton just at the tail end of Carlton Daze, which appears to be the local version of a small town block party.  The main street had been closed off to traffic for a street dance type event.  A couple of local bars were keeping the celebration going through the evening, after the food trucks and other tents had closed down.  Carlton is also on a number of  trails through the area, such as the William Munger State Trail and St. Louis River State Water Trail.

We didn’t know what to expect when we arrived at Jay Cooke.  As we drove into the park, outstanding views of the St. Louis River were presented around every corner.  We were used to the wide muddy scene of the Missouri.  The St. Louis turned out to be wide and rocky.  Each rock formed a rapid, and the river continuously roared, making the necessity of the Grand Portage readily apparent.

After setting up camp, we went for a walk.  The Swinging Bridge is the most famous man-made feature of the park. This incarnation of the bridge was recently opened, as the previous bridge had been swept away in a flood in 2012.  This same storm took out a section of Highway 210 in the eastern side of the park.  The bridge isn’t nearly as treacherous as the memorabilia at the visitor’s center made out.  Fellow park goers did seem to enjoy making the span bounce by jumping up and down in the middle.

On the other side of the bridge are a number of trails.  The Superior Trail and the North Country National Scenic Trail run through this area.  There are also a number of local park trails.  The area immediately by the bridge, and on the rocks upstream of the bridge were busy, but a short hike downstream provided some much needed solitude.

A short drive up 210 brought us to Oldenburg Point, a nice picnic area with tremendous views of the river valley.  Sizable stone picnic shelters are also found here, a remnant of the CCC work that took place in the 1930’s.

The campground was compact, but the trees provided privacy for each campsite.  Wood was available at the visitor’s center, along with various sundries.  A gas station and grocery store can be found in Carlton, though the hours of the grocery seemed to be limited.

The weather was cooperative, until it was time to break camp.  We ended up taking down the tent in between rain showers.  Not long after pulling out of the campsite, the real downpour started.  We ended up going to the River Inn, which is an indoor picnic shelter with a large fireplace and nature center.  Rain must be a common occurrence here, there were a number of rainy day activities for the kiddos available in the shelter.

We found Jay Cooke State Park to be a pleasant place to stay and explore.  I hope next time to stay longer to further explore the trails and historic features in the park.

Maah Daah Hey 150 Coming Soon!

This one flew under my radar until just now, unfortunately.  LAND, holders of the Maah Daah Hey 100 endurance bike race, now are holding the Maah Daah Hey 150 starting September 17, 2016.  The course includes the original MDH trail, along with the newer MDH “Deuce” trail.

This race has multi-day options, and some of the options are open to runners as well.  Riders have the options for one, two, three, or six days.  Cutoffs for each day are 24, 14, 12, and 10 hours, respectively.  Trail runners have the option of completing the race in 6 days (with the same 10 hour cutoff), OR running all 150 miles in three days.  I don’t have an exhaustive list in front of me, but I believe this would be the longest endurance run held in North Dakota.

Hopefully, the race will be enough of a success that they’ll hold it again next year.  That would hopefully give me enough time to prepare.  Six days in the Badlands in September sounds lovely, and would be good motivation to keep training during the summer.

First Annual Chicken Loop At New Johns Lake

A friend of mine, AlsoPaul, held the first annual Chicken Loop Event last weekend (August 19-21).  Chicken Loop is the premier (and, for now, only) kiteboarding event in North Dakota.  One would think that wind sports would have more of a history in ND, but you have to start somewhere.

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I stopped by for a bit on Saturday.  It was more for moral support than anything since my largest kite is a 3 foot trainer.  Unfortunately, the wind wasn’t too cooperative, but a few people did get some time on New Johns Lake.  The inconsistent wind meant a lot of boarders would get launched just in time for the breeze to die and leave them stranded in the middle of the lake.  Fortunately, several friendly boaters were available to lend a hand.

Incidentally, this was the first time I had been up to New Johns Lake during the summer in a number of years.  Usually, I get there in the fall or winter during the hunting season when its more quiet (and cold).  New Johns Lake is part of the Garrison Diversion Project, along with several nearby connecting lakes.  Campsites are managed by the Bureau of Reclamation, and seem to be first come first served as far as reservations go.  I think it might be a good camping weekend some time, though it appears an early arrival is necessary during the summer months.

Another fun fact: the lakes are on the North Country National Scenic Trail. Most of the thru-hiker reports I’ve read have gone through this area in the early spring (March) time period, which isn’t the best time to be walking through an open, treeless prairie where the wind is always blowing at 20 mph and it could rain and snow in the same 24 hour period.  May and June are much better months to see this area, in my humble opinion.

There were several participants from across the state.  The event was successful enough that the Second Annual Chicken Loop will be held in 2017.  Good work, AlsoPaul!

Fort Pierre National Grasslands Bioblitz

Adventuress is a nature gal, and heard about a Bioblitz happening at Ft. Pierre National Grasslands in the middle of June.  Naturally, the first thing I asked was “What’s a bioblitz?”

“Oh, it’ll be great!  We’ll meet with a bunch of other nature types and inventory all the plants we come across.”

I’m usually suspicious of anything involving other people, but Adventuress seemed intent on doing this.  So, at the end of the work week we piled into the car with Adventure Dog and headed south to Pierre.

We camped at Griffin Park in Pierre.  The park is next to the river, by the hospital.  The camping area was a little confusing for us.  Eventually, we figured out that we could just pitch our tent anywhere on the grass by the RV parking.  The facilities were a little spartan, but manageable.  We were awoken at 1 in the morning by two gentlemen who loudly expressed their deep concern to each other about being respectful to the other campers.  Thankfully, it started raining, which convinced them to abandon the conversation and head in for the night.

We struck camp in the morning and headed to the local Perkins for a muffin breakfast.  Coffee and ginormous muffins in hand, we met the rest of the blitzers at the grasslands HQ.  This being a government operation, there were safety briefings to attend and paperwork to fill out.  They had been warned ahead of time that Adventure Dog would be along, so veterinary information was available just in case.  A couple of birding groups had headed out earlier that morning.  There was also a fish group, but they had done their survey earlier that week.

I’s dotted and t’s crossed, we headed out into the grasslands.  The first thing that hit me was the almost total lack of trees.  I’ve been out to western ND a number of times, but this was something else.  I could see why “Dances With Wolves” was filmed here.  We pulled into the first area, and began the blitz.


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Usually I see grasslands from afar while zipping down the road, or in the fall while pheasant hunting.  In the fall, the plants have pretty much run their course and are various shades of brown.  Now, in the late spring, the grass was green, and dotted with a multitude of colors from wildflowers.  I took in the scene as the botanists began their hunt.  There wasn’t a lot I could offer to their Latin laced observations, so I mostly hung back and kept Adventure Dog out of the way, and tried to absorb what knowledge I could.

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The first area thoroughly scouted, we moved on to the next.  This new location was on the other side of the rise, just down the road from the first spot.  This area had a small creek running through it.  The botanists resumed their hunt, and again I stayed back a bit.  Odd dragonflies buzzed around.  A family of mule deer wandered through, eyeing us suspiciously.  The botanists were so consumed with the plants that they never noticed our deer audience.  Meadowlarks and orioles provided background music.


The third and final stop of the blitz was Sheriff’s Dam.  We met up with some of the birders there, and continued looking for interesting plants. There was some excitement as a wildflower not previously seen in this area was spotted.  Soon after, an American Bittern popped up to surprise everyone.  Of course, this bird was too camera shy to let anyone get a decent photo.  By this time, it was 90 degrees and high noon.  I took Adventure Dog back to the car and let her cool off in the lake.  Soon, the rest of the group joined us.  Lunches were broken out, and we ate and chatted while storm clouds built to the north.

Now that the blitzing was over, the hosts had one final treat.  We drove up to a fenn on the grasslands.  An arachnologist gave a presentation on how spiders were captured for study.  He had a couple different traps that were used.  One was a ramp trap where spiders marched up a metal ramp and would fall into a plastic container filled with a glycol solution.  The solution was effective at preserving the structure of the spiders, and the DNA of their cells.  Next, he demonstrated his vacuum pack, which looked like something out of Ghostbusters.  This gadget was a little less successful on this day, as nothing came up during the demo.

The blitzing day done, we headed back to Pierre for a quick stop at the state capitol.  We took the scenic route home, which took us up to Mobridge, and across Lake Oahe.  We drove through Standing Rock during the golden hour, and were treated to a beautiful view of the broken plains there.

It was a good, but long day.  I learned a great deal, and Adventuress had a good time.  Adventure Dog would have liked to have run free for a while, but the heat wouldn’t allow it.  I don’t know if we filled out any of the missing pictures in the soon to be updated Ft. Pierre wildlife guide, but we had fun trying.

Australian Goldfish Are Growing into Monsters In the Wild

Image: Murdoch University, screenshot from ABC News Twitter Common goldfish dumped from household aquariums into rivers in Western Australia are growing into four pound monsters and endangering native species.. The behemoth fish are being found with alarming regularity, according to Australia’s ABC News..

Source: Australian Goldfish Are Growing into Monsters In the Wild

Dumping Goldie into the nearest lake may seem like the most humane way to get rid of unwanted goldfish.  However, keep in mind that these fish are from the carp family, and can seriously mess up a body of water for native species.

On The Water Rideshare

Via GearJunkie, it looks like a kayak share is coming to Minneapolis to go with the area’s bike share.  The idea is that a customer can rent a kayak, paddle 4 miles downstream through the Mississippi National Recreation Area, then take a bike back to the starting point.  If it pans out, this should be a nice way to spend a day on the river on a beautiful stretch of urban and (somewhat) wild riverfront.

Eagle Mountain

On a recent trip to northeast Minnesota, The Adventuress and I decided to make the trek to Eagle Mountain.  The weather reports kept showing that Monday would be rain free, so we took the day and headed up the North Shore.  The weather was perfect for the hike, and getting there was a breeze (with only minor delays for road construction).

The highest point in Minnesota is supposedly also one of the most remote of the highest points in the U.S.  If you measure remoteness by availability of cell phone signals, this is probably true.  Minnesota is also the state with the highest point located the closest to the lowest point, at Lake Superior.  In the end, this means that its a relatively short trip to dip your toes in the cool waters of the lake after the hot hike to the summit. For all the guff that North Dakota gets about being flat, it turns out that at 2300 feet, Eagle Mountain is 1200 feet lower than White Butte (ND’s highest point at 3500 ft).

From Duluth, we took Highway 61 north to Lutsen (pronounced LOOT-sen, for those of you who haven’t grown up around Scandinavians), then Cook County Route 4 up to “The Grade”.  County 4 winds through the Superior National Forest, and is an easy drive over pavement and gravel.  The trailhead is 4 miles east of the County 4 intersection, and isn’t too hard to spot.  The signage in the area was useful and kept us on track.

At the trailhead, there is a parking lot, basic restroom facilities (meaning a vault toilet with no running water), a picnic table, and the registration booth.  The trail enters the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA), so registration is required before hitting the trail.  For day trips, there is no fee or permit limit (as of 2016).  A sign about a mile into the trail marks the BWCA border.

The trail itself is heavily wooded and can be thick with mosquitoes.  Bug proof clothing is a big help, as is bug spray.  The terrain is easy to navigate.  The inclines and declines are modest, at least at the start. Until you get to Whale Lake, it doesn’t seem like the trail climbs much with all the non-switchback up and downs. The biggest obstacles are the rocks and tree roots. Hiking sticks are a great help to navigate through the roots and rocks without falling.  There are a couple sections that go over boggy ground.  A board walk is in place over these areas, which should keep your feet dry. Water is available at Whale Lake, though it should probably be filtered or treated before drinking. The Adventuress found the Whale Lake water to be particularly tasty (after filtering, of course).

We set off on the trail at about 12:30 pm.  Along the trail, we spotted a wide variety of mushrooms and wildflowers.  You could say, we were tripping on mushrooms the whole way (ha!).  Wild blueberries grow along the trail, and happened to be in season.  For wildlife, there was the occasional butterfly, bird, and dragonfly, but the trail seems to be too busy for wildlife/human interactions.

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The trail splits on the west side of Whale Lake.  Going left will take you to the summit, while going right will eventually lead you to Brule Lake, which is quite a ways into the BWCA and probably not where you want to go on a day trip.  There is a prominent sign to lead hikers in the right direction.  After the trail leaves Whale Lake, the incline is more noticeable.  The deciduous trees give way to pines, and the forest thins out a bit.  Just before reaching the summit, the trees clear out and the BWCA spreads out before you.   The trail also gets a bit lost here, as the ground turns into granite boulders.  Just keep climbing, and the trail will make itself visible again.

At the summit, a large black plaque marks the Highest Point in Minnesota.  The immediate view is treed in, so go back down to the clearing to enjoy the view before heading back down the way you came.

The Adventuress and I did the 7 mile hike in about 5 hours.  We could have shaved a bit off if we didn’t stop to check out the plants and mushrooms, or take a break at the summit.  Between the two of us, we used about 2 1/2 20 oz. bottles of water.   The one hangup occurred while we were trying to leave the parking lot.  Two gentlemen standing by our car were so involved in talking about portages in the BWCA that they didn’t notice we were trying to leave.  Who knew portage talk could be so riveting?


We finished off the day resting our toes in the waters of Lake Superior at Temperance River State Park.  There, The Adventuress rediscovered her childhood passion of rock collecting.  The water was refreshingly cool, and the sunset was spectacular.

It was a beautiful hike on a beautiful day.  It would be interesting to do the same hike in the fall or winter to see the change in season.  We didn’t find the trail to be all that strenuous.  If you happen to be in the Lutsen area, a hike to the summit of Minnesota would be a good way to spend a chunk of the day.

Yosemite Day 1 (June 7th)

After the madness of the weekend, post rush hour San Francisco was pretty tame.  It took a few minutes to figure out how to get down to the airport, but that trip went smoothly.  Soon, my rented Hyundai Accent was zipping down the 101 towards Palo Alto, and eventually towards Groveland.

The GPS continually guided me east, across the bay and through the hills on the east side.  The urban jungle gave way to rolling hills covered in tall, tan grass and spread out trees.  The countryside looked a lot like western North Dakota, only with more tress.  After crossing the Don Pedro Reservoir (which appeared a good deal lower than normal), it was back into the hills.

The trip to Groveland was much shorter than expected, so it was off into Yosemite right away.  The forest was thick in this area, except for a large area that had obviously been hit with a fire in the past couple years.  I’d later find out that the Rim Fire in 2013 had burned a large portion of this area, but hadn’t directly affected some of the more famous areas of Yosemite.

The first view I had of Half Dome.
The first view I had of Half Dome.

Fortunately, there are a number of turn-offs on the highways that go through the park, and most happen to have great views of scenery.  It didn’t take too long before I had my first view of Half Dome.

One of the iconic falls in the Yosemite Valley.
One of the iconic falls in the Yosemite Valley.

Then it was off into the Yosemite Valley with views of Bridalveil Falls, El Capitan, and the other summits that surround the valley.

After leaving the falls, the creek flows into the Merced River.
After leaving the falls, the creek flows into the Merced River.
Experimented a bit with the shutter speed on this one. Pretty pleased how it turned out.
Experimented a bit with the shutter speed on this one. Pretty pleased how it turned out.

Traffic ends up being thick in the valley, even in the evening.  Reluctantly, I started back towards Groveland to check into the inn.  Yosemite Riverside Inn is nestled into a bend on the South Fork of the Toulumne River.  Interestingly, it appears that the city of San Jose owns a youth camp right next to the inn grounds.  Check in and unpacking done, it was off to the nearby towns to scour for supplies for tomorrow’s hike, and to find some dinner.

A view from the overlook near Buck Meadows.
A view from the overlook near Buck Meadows.

On the way back to the hotel, I stopped to enjoy the view of Stanislaus National Forest.  The area north of Highway 120 was regrowing after the Rim Fire has burned most of the trees.  It was a little odd to see so much relatively bare hillsides after driving through such a heavily forested area.


Ft. Lincoln First Day Hike

North Dakota Parks and Rec. had a number of “First Day Hike” events for January 1st at parks throughout the state.  I attended the event at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park.  The event was well attended, over 300 people participated along with a number of dogs.  We hiked roughly a mile from the On-A-Slant Village, down to the Heart River bottoms, up the bluff below the infantry post, and back to the Visitor’s Center.  The weather was beautiful, and all the participants were rewarded with sweeping views of the area.

I only snapped a few photos while on the hike.  More are available on Ft. Lincoln’s Facebook post on the event.

Additional hiking events will be held throughout the year at Ft. Lincoln.  More information is available at the Facebook event page.

See you on the trail!