A Travellerspoint blog

December 2009

To Idaho: Gardiner, Montana to Missoula, Montana

Yellowstone Moments, Bozeman Area and Western Montana

sunny 20 °F

I get up early nowadays. I’m used to Central time and here I am in Mountain time. So I’m up well before the dawn, rested and ready to go. I decided taking in the dawn in Yellowstone National Park would be an appropriate way to start my day. I packed my stuff into the van and drove south into the park. It was clear that it would be a nice sunrise, though not a dramatic one. I was driving east towards the Tower junction where I had planned to do some Nordic skiing on the Black tail Plateau when I saw 2 bull elk not that far off of the road. I quickly pulled over and turned off the van, and used my vehicle as a blind to take photos of the grazing elk just as the sun hit them. It was one of many Yellowstone moments I would have that day, though at the time, I didn’t know it.
At the trailhead of the Black tail plateau, it was cold. It was Ten degrees above zero, and my ski boots were frozen. I had neglected to bring them into the hotel to warm the night before. It was like wedging your foot into a frozen rock crevice. Ah well, I figured the heat of my body would quickly warm them up, and so it did. I was about a half mile into my trip when up in the distance, about 150 yards away I saw a dog like animal trotting towards me on the trail. I instantly froze. At that distance I wasn’t sure what it was, it could have been a wolf, a coyote, a fox, or a dog. I didn’t want to take the chance on scaring it off sooner than I had too, so I held my position, still as a statue. It came trotting on, uninterested in me. I couldn’t believe it hadn’t smelled, heard, or seen me; it just didn’t care. Closer and closer it came, and I could tell it wasn’t a wolf. Not nearly big enough. It wasn’t a fox, as it was too big, and the tail was wrong. So then it had to be a coyote, as this was clearly not a dog. I tell you, it passed by me on the trail not 3 feet away from where I stood. Unbelievable. I decided as it passed to try and get a picture, I threw down my poles, shrugged off my pack, rummaged around and pulled out my camera. I turned and began shooting. Luckily for me, the coyote stopped and allowed me to photograph it. I watched it move further along, and it was joined by another that had apparently circled around me. They trotted away, I couldn’t believe my luck. The early bird catches the worm. Damn right.
I continued on my way, striding for awhile, then tiring and slowing to a good plod on my skis, enjoying the day. I spied more elk on the next ridge over, grazing on the grass. I stopped under a fir tree and watched a downy woodpecker forage for its breakfast through my binoculars. It was a very still day, hardly a breath of wind. When I sat still and listened, I didn’t hear a thing. This is the Yellowstone I love. Deserted and beautiful, peaceful and calm, winter is the BEST time to visit this magical place. I skied on through the meadows working my way up a high ridge before I decided I had reached my apex. I was about 3 miles in, and with 3 miles back out, I figured this to be enough skiing for one day. I sat on a rock eating an orange watching the distant hills. I hoped to see more wildlife, but it wasn’t to be.

On my way back, I began to see other skiers coming my way. Every time I’d see one, I’d quickly start striding with enthusiasm, apparently trying to pretend that I was in great shape, and a competent skier. After passing them and alone once again, I down shifted into my usual plod, gasping for breath. I’m not sure why I was doing this, but there were a lot more skiers than I wanted to see, and by the end of the six miles, I was exhausted.
The BEST way to end a skiing jaunt in northern Yellowstone is to rest your weary bones in the Boiling River hot spring. I was smart this time and was already wearing my swimming shorts under my sweats, no need to hop around in the pit toilet freezing various parts of your anatomy. I quickly hiked the trail a mile or so upstream to where the Boiling River empties into the Gardner River. It’s easy to see, as a huge cloud of steam was billowing upward in the 18 degree air. I was lucky, the first soaking pool (which is the best pool) was more or less unoccupied and I stripped down and stepped into the soothing water.

I have to tell you, I LOVE natural hot springs. I’m a connoisseur of hot springs. I dream about them, I’m haunted by them, I love soaking in them. So after a long ski, there’s nothing quite like sitting under a waterfall of hot water. I sat with my eyes closed, a massaging barrage on my back, slowly breathing deep and counting my breaths. It was very meditative. Around my legs, an occasional cold current would flow over them followed by a hot current, swirling around and repeating itself. My lower leg would be 10 degrees cooler than the top of my leg. It was very good for the senses and the soul.

Across the river on the far bank, I watched an American Dipper search for food. The dipper is about 7 inches tall, and has the basic body shape of a wren, though it’s a bit bigger. These birds are very interesting. They get their food by jumping into freezing water, and eating it off the bottom. They bob back up to the surface and dive back down then flying off to the bank to eat. They work their way up the river in this fashion searching for food.

The hard part of any hot spring soak is getting out of it. It’s especially hard when the air temperature is less than 20 degrees and you have to walk on hard packed snow with bare feet to get to your towel and clothes. I moved fast. White lightening. Back at the van, I pulled down the shades and changed, happy to get in clean warm clothes. I drove out of the Yellowstone valley to Livingston where I ordered and devoured a cheese burger at the Montana Chop and Steakhouse. Satisfied, sleepy and sedated from my terrific day, I headed west to Bozeman.

As I was entering Bozeman, coming over the pass in the Bridger Mountains, I saw a snow covered canyon wall that reminded me of Alpine skiing. I got excited, and a small adrenaline burst went through me, as I knew that I’d soon be carving the runs at the Bridger Bowl. Bozeman, Montana has always been a favorite stopping place for me. It seems I always meet friendly people, find cool stores, and enjoy my visit. This time was no different. I rented a room at my favorite motel in town, the Royal 7 budget inn. The rooms are large and very clean, and the price is far below any chain motel. The owners are friendly and I’d rather spend my money on the local guys than the corporate world.

I spent the next two days carving up runs at Bridger Bowl about 30 miles north of town on the north side of the Bridger Mountains. The second day was better, as 3 inches of fresh powder had fallen during the night and I enjoyed making some of the first runs on the new snow. One of life’s little pleasures. The Bridger Mountains are beautiful. A marbleized sky of blue, gray, white, and gold was a fitting ceiling for the rugged mountains that surrounded me. The Bridger valley was lit by morning light and spread out before me reaching to the far distant valley walls of more mountains. It was beautiful, and it was a terrific backdrop for some alpine skiing.

After spending the morning skiing, I spent the afternoon driving through the wide open landscape of western Montana. It was a good day to cruise, I was listening to a book on my Mp3 player, the roads were good and the scenery enjoyable. The long golden prairies of rolling grassland met snow capped mountains far away in the distance. Strong Montana names like the Bitterroot Mountains, the Little Blackfoot River, the Clark Fork River rang out like a song from the landscape. Town names like Discovery, Anaconda, and Butte give evidence of Montana’s mining history. I was immersed in Montana, and I was loving it.
It was getting dark, and I was getting tired. I had another 130 miles to go before I got to Kellogg, Idaho. Kellogg is the area I’ll be calling home for the next 2 months. Rather than push my driving limits, I tucked into a motel for the night. I ordered a pizza to celebrate the coming new year. Tonight, I’ll think back to 2009 and my journey through it. I’ll reread my journal entries, and look at some photos, losing myself in memories. Tomorrow, I’ll take on another year of traveling, starting with 2 months of being a ski bum on Silver Mountain. I also hope to enjoy the mountain views and winter splendor of my cabin home in the village of Wardner, Idaho.

Posted by Rhombus 19:46 Archived in USA Tagged photography Comments (2)

To Idaho: Traprock Valley, MI to Gardiner, MT

Blizzards, Teddy Roosevelt National Park, Pompeii's Pillar and Yellowstone

15 °F

I had been watching the progress of the blizzard that was pummeling the upper Midwest for days. I had planned to leave the day after Christmas, but would play it safe if I needed to. I woke up early and checked the radar, and current conditions on the television. It looked like I had a decent weather window and so I started my journey to Idaho.

The first day was a long drive day. I drove from Michigan’s Keweenaw peninsula to Fargo, North Dakota. The roads started out decent, clear and dry. Then they slowly deteriorated throughout the day to snow covered, and finally a thin covering of the dreaded black ice. The highlight of the day was driving through western Minnesota. There was a decent covering of powdered sugar snow that layered everything. The snow seemed to hush my passage. It was like I was driving through an art museum full of tree sculptures inside a snow globe. It was very peaceful. I arrived in Fargo in the evening, tired and exhausted from concentrating hard on safe driving. The roads in Fargo weren’t plowed and were very slippery. It was clear the blizzard had hit hard here, with 4 foot snow banks, and heavy drifts. I gratefully found a nice motel, too tired to take on another state.

The next day I headed west on I-90. Freeways though boring, are your best bet in bad weather. The plow drivers generally take care of the major arteries of traffic first, before the secondary roads. The day was shaping up nicely, and it wasn’t long before the sun came out, just east of Bismarck, ND. Bismarck marks the change of landscape from eastern prairie to the storied western landscape of America. Crossing the Missouri River, I noticed the land taking on the western feel. Rolling hills dominated the eye, leading off to the horizon. Buttes began jutting out of the hills, and there were less trees than the east. The road began to rise and fall, but still straight as an arrow.

I drove past Dickinson, remembering past trips where my van broke down there. Later, I pulled off the highway intending to visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park. I stopped in at the Visitor’s center to find out the condition of the park road. I woke up the lonely ranger, and learned roads were fine. Happily, I drove north into the park. The rugged landscape was beautifully lit with low angled, winter sun. The warm light formed long blue shadows on the fresh snow. It was gorgeous. In the distance, I spotted an Elk crossing the road, and running off into the meadow. I like how they run, noses in the air, like a stuck up French waiter. I stopped and turned off the van and used my binoculars to watch a herd of about 20 Elk. They eyed me with suspicion, who had the nerve to interrupt the winter solitude? It wasn’t long before they got bored with me and moved down through the woods to the river. Elk are magnificent creatures.
I drove deeper into the park, winding up and down and around the high, eroded sand formations. The badlands covered in snow were a new experience for me. I’d seen them in every other season except winter. Finally, I reached the end of the road and the turn around point. I was at one end of the scenic loop, and it was the best place to stop. I got out, and took a few pictures of the scenery, then decided to go Nordic skiing on the closed road. Spontaneous decisions can yield excellent rewards, and I was well rewarded. I skied through the soft powder, digging the landscape around me. The wind had built up impressive drifts, and carved intricate curves in the powder. The sun was angling lower giving the scenery very warm hues. There was no wind to speak of, and I was happily striding on my skis. It was good to get some exercise after being cooped up at the steering wheel for so long.
I had skied roughly 5 miles. I was satisfied with my efforts, and the sun was just setting over the horizon. I worked my way back south through the park. I filled up my gas tank in Medora, and headed west once again into the beautiful and proverbial sunset. I drove west into Montana, one of my favorite states. The cold blue landscape met the cold clear air and formed an intense afterglow of the sunset. A good way to enter a state. I drove another 100 miles or so to Miles City, where I once again stopped for the night.

Ah, Montana. I love driving through eastern Montana in the morning. The endless, undulating highway; a river of asphalt through the wheat fields and badlands which meets the wide open sky, giving Montana it’s moniker as the Big Sky State. You can see forever in every direction. The distances of the west are vast. It takes a long time to get anywhere, and it gives you a lot of time to think. My mind wanders, I get lost in the antique store of my memory; aimlessly picking up a long forgotten item, dusting it off and contemplating its meaning. Why am I storing up such useless knowledge? For instance, I was 64 miles into my drive, and my mind produced the name Chris Fuamatu Ma afala. He was an unremarkable running back for the Pittsburg Steelers (my favorite football team) some years ago. I kept saying his name out loud. Like a mantra. Granted, he has a strange name, but wouldn’t this knowledge be better replaced with, oh, I don’t know, Basic First Aid or something? Alas, I can’t help what my mind stores up, and it does give me something to ponder as I drive the relentless miles of the interstate.

For years, I drove by Pompeii’s Pillar National Historic Monument. I always kept saying that “I’d stop there next time.” Well today was “next time.” I pulled off the interstate, and drove over to the entrance and parked. The park was closed, but I was happy to walk the mile to the pillar. The sandstone pillar’s claim to fame was that William Clark (of Lewis and Clark expeditions) etched his name on the rock in 1806. I had the park to myself as I walked through the 3” powder. My steps gave me a rhythm, “Squeak, Crunch. Squeak, Crunch.” You know it’s cold when the snow squeaks underfoot. The sun was out, I had an azure blue sky above me and I was hiking towards a piece of American History, life was good.
I climbed the heavily constructed wooden steps up to the famous etching. Signs were posted that it was unlawful to leave the boardwalk, that I was being filmed and an alarm would sound if I left the boardwalk. Considering I was alone and miles from civilization I didn’t feel too threatened, but it kind of bummed me out that the place was sanitized and protected against having any fun. Like a solitary cow in the branding shute, I made may way through the maze of ramps and stairs to the famous inscription. It was in flat light, but I could still make it out. I didn’t feel any sense of awe that I was standing where Clark had stood, but it did give me some perspective. I tried to imagine the place without all the civilization and protections. I tuned out the distant train horn and the hum of the freeway. I looked towards the Yellowstone river and its copse of Cottonwood trees that bordered it. I realized that this place had been a campground and stopping place for a long time before Lewis and Clark ever stopped there. It was perfect. It had water, shade, and protection from the elements. Not only that, climbing the butte was easy and gave you a view for miles in every direction. I liked it.
I walked down the ramps and stairs back to level ground. I headed towards the river through the grove of Cottonwoods and became enamored with these fine trees. I like Cottonwoods. There a big deciduous tree, growing near rivers and lakes which gives them plenty of water to grow big and strong. The bark is rough and deeply furrowed. It has character. like an old man’s face. They grow to 40’ to 80’ high and provide excellent shade with their heavily foliaged branches.
I walked back towards the van and began seeing snow angels all over the place. “God must have been punting angels left and right” popped into my mind. Calvin and Hobbes is always good. I drank some cider and hopped back onto the freeway heading west to Livingston. I enjoyed seeing the Crazy mountains just west of Big Timber. In Livingston, I turned south on Hwy 89 and entered the Yellowstone valley that leads to Gardiner and Yellowstone National Park.
I love driving through the Yellowstone valley. It’s one of the quintessential Montana landscapes. The eastern valley wall consists of the jagged Absaroka Range. The western wall is a collection of foothills of the Gallatin National Forest. The Yellowstone river snakes it’s way north from the park, winding through the ranches, and grassland of the valley floor. The ranches add to the landscape in their own way. It’s nice seeing horses grazing in the meadows far off in the distance. Farther south, I entered Yankee Jim Canyon, and the road winded it’s way along side of the now rushing river through the rocky canyon. The geology of the rocks is flaky and layered, most of it on an angle from some prehistoric arrangement. Finally, I hit my destination, and that was Gardiner, MT.
Driving south through town, I saw 3 mule deer slowly walking towards me down the middle of the road. They weren’t spooked at all, seemingly indifferent to traffic. I stopped and watched them slowly amble over to the sidewalk. I figured they must’ve wanted to do some window shopping and it was nice to see them using the sidewalks instead of the road. I purchased a room for the night, then headed south into Yellowstone National Park. I wanted to find out the trail conditions for cross country skiing. I also wanted to take in the scenery and hopefully see some Big Horn Sheep or some Buffalo. I saw that the hot spring parking lot was full, so I decided that I was going to go for a sunrise soak tomorrow and hopefully avoid the crowds. I pulled up at the Mammoth Hot Spring Terraces. The steam rising was billowing and brightly lit from the setting sun. I grabbed my camera and went out for a nice hike around the terraces. After my hike, I stopped by the visitor’s center for some trail maps and advice then coasted my way back down to Gardiner. I took a hot shower, heated up a pasty (a Cornish meat pie) for dinner. Thinking back on the first 3 days of travel, I’m happy with my progress and the beautiful American landscape.

Posted by Rhombus 19:56 Archived in USA Tagged photography Comments (0)

Natural Ice Sculpture

Observing Lake Superior's Frozen Art

0 °F

“I started my day with a debate. ‘Should I go out and take in the sunrise, or not.’ It's not an easy discussion to have with yourself. I decided to set up a system of rewards; a.k.a hot coffee and a muffin upon my return. Outside: cold, snow crunching, slicing wind. Protected by 1970's big green jacket, I find the atmosphere awash with an intense orange quality that sparkles magnificently on the ice. Like a 10 minute wink, the eye of the sun opens briefly, then is gone. Satisfaction. I find my rewards, and listen to Yo Yo Ma play some Bach (appropriate), and happily plunk myself in front of my cheery fire. Good morning.”

This is a typical journal entry for early winter days when I‘m in the Lake Superior region. On the one hand, I love going down to the lake for the sunrise. The cold air wakes you up immediately, I like being up and about when all the world is asleep. I enjoy hearing the soft “chuff” of the small waves against the rugged shoreline. The world is lit up by warm, low angled “painters” light. It make for a very peaceful way to start the day. The way a day should be started. The problem is, is that it’s usually so very cold. It’s hard for a body to take such abuse so early in the morning. The rewards of dynamic pictures and the beauty of dawn make it worth it for me however, as the ice layered on the shore can make a spectacular scene when paired with a fiery sunrise.
Of late, I’ve been pretty well disciplined about getting up and going out for dawn. It helps that I have a new camera to play with, and that I know that the ice formations are very beautiful. These formations are formed by strong winds which whip up the lake into a bombardment of waves smashing into the shoreline. The air temperature is below freezing, which turns the water into ice that is basted with each wave for as long as the storm lasts. It makes a smooth, slick glaze that covers everything. The branches of trees and stalks of shoreline weeds form the backbone of the interesting sculptures.
Another interesting feature of winter that occurs on Lake Superior is the sea smoke. Sea smoke is formed when super cold air moves over relatively warmer water. Sometimes, the sea smoke will last all day, or will dissipate as the day warms. Dawn and early morning is when the smoke is most intense. I went out to see the lake with it’s churning water, and rising sea smoke and found a perfect backdrop to shoot the ice formations. It was 5 degrees below zero, and I bundled up with long johns and a parka. Once I started moving around and getting into the photography, I didn’t really notice the cold.
I love the variety of the intricate shapes that are formed. It’s like looking at puffy cumulous clouds in the sky, seeing shapes and objects in the frozen ice. Some of them look like ballerinas frozen in time, others look like a city that Dr. Seuss thought up with it’s collection of frozen and connected frozen blobs. I have to be very careful when positioning myself for a picture amid the fragile ice. One errant slip could easily destroy the delicate formations.
The natural ice sculptures can be found all around Lake Superior in the winter months from Late November through March. I’ve found my favorites locations on Minnesota’s north shore. Look for strong winds coming off of the lake in the forecast, and freezing air temperatures. Then set your alarm to get up early so you’ll be ready when the sun comes up. Make sure you dress warm and wear many layers. Brew up a cup of hot coffee and sit in front of a warm fire when you get back! I think you’ll find it’s a great way to start your day.

Posted by Rhombus 19:39 Archived in USA Tagged photography Comments (3)

Earning Travel Time

Working to Live, Not Living to Work

We all need traveling money. I‘m very devoted to my free time and to my travels. In order to travel as extensively as I do, I made a decision some years ago that I would give up my pursuit of collecting stuff. I gave away all but my most sentimental objects. I decided that I would live simply in order to give myself the time I needed to explore. I got out of debt, and I vowed never to return. In short, I’ve created my life the way I want it to be. Gary Ferguson in The Sylvan Path puts it this way: “Only a fool would trade a free life for the chance to store up goods.”

Fortunately for me, I’ve found great jobs that allow a lot of travel time in the off season. I’ve taken full advantage of these jobs, first building up a bank roll and then using my time off to hit the open road. I want to tell you about my some of my jobs and how they support my free spirited lifestyle.

When I graduated from college I found myself a job in Duluth, MN. I was a land surveying technician for 7 years. This job gave me steady, decent paying work that allowed me to be outside. As an added bonus, every winter I would get let go, due to lack of work. Now, that sounds bad, but for me it was PERFECT. I could save up all summer, knowing I’d have 3 months off to travel with during winter. I also knew I would be rehired in the spring, so there never was any need to look for work. Eventually, though I LOVED having winters off, I got bored with surveying. My job consisted of mostly doing geometry and math which I’ve never liked. It got to the point where I reached my professional high point for the foreseeable future. My company was changing, it wasn’t a fun place to work anymore. Maybe I was jaded with doing the same work for so long, but it was time to try something new. I’m the kind of guy who likes to keep my mind going, I like learning new skills. After threatening to quit for years, I finally did. I have no regrets.
The next job I found was completely different. I became a deckhand for an Alaskan charter fishing lodge out of Sitka, Alaska. I’ve always wanted to go to Alaska. I wanted to work on the ocean, to see if I could take what the ocean was dishing out. I was going to be doing something I was interested in, and so my mind would be learning new skills, and getting new experiences. I didn’t have any experience on the ocean, had no skills a deckhand needs other than a great attitude, willingness to learn, and hard working. I didn’t let the lack of skills get me down. I figured I could learn anything I needed to, and I was right.
In early April, my friend and I packed up the van and went on a 2 week road trip up to Prince Rupert, British Columbia where we would meet our ferry which would take us to Baranoff Island, and Sitka. I already liked this job. Two weeks of traveling just to get to the job, is a definite plus for me. We enjoyed the trip, taking our time through the Palouse region of SE Washington. Then we saw the Columbia River Gorge in full spring bloom. Finally, we worked our way up the coast through Olympic Nat’l park and to the border. After customs, we drove north 400 miles to Prince George via the Frasier River Gorge. Then west 400 miles to Prince Rupert where we would meet our ferry. We spent a day taking in the foggy, rain swept scenes of the Inside Passage. It was very dreary. Finally, we landed in Sitka at 4 am, and I had my first taste of the beauty Alaska had to offer.
The ocean is many things. It’s describable beautiful, It’s a great metaphor for life; the way it is always moving and flowing, rising and falling, always changing. It has it’s own movement and rhythm. It’s many different self sustaining eco-systems in one. It’s also a terrific backdrop for summer employment. I love the ocean. The romance of working on the sea, the gorgeous views, the fishing, all the wildlife, the movement all speaks to me. No, it YELLS at me! In my first weeks, I began learning the ropes, literally and figuratively. I found out I’m not prone to sea sickness, which was awesome. It took me half of the summer to get my “sea legs”. In the beginning of the summer, I was taking 10 extra steps just trying to stagger across the heaving deck of our 30 foot boats (picture a drunken Irish jig). Everyday was different. I’ve seen dead flat calm seas, with the hot baking sun down on us, all of us stripped down to tee shirts, and baking our pale skin. I remember fondly the day we found ourselves in 20 ft swells, that we rode like a bobbing bottle. It was so smooth you didn’t even know you were rising and falling unless you’d look out over the seascape. Nearby boats would disappear when we were both in the trough. Then you could see the unbroken chain of swells marching in to smash the island from the crest of the swell. Some days it would rain all day, the ocean was nasty and unsafe, so we had to fish in the inside passage. We were surrounded by ocean views of rolling ocean meeting jagged rocky, spruce covered cliffs and mountains of the islands we fished around.
The sea life we saw was spectacular. I saw humpback whales at least 3 times a week, surfacing and diving, blowing (the stench that comes out of a whales blow hole is terrible, a mix of rotten fish guts and bad farts), breaching (when they jump completely out of the water), fluke diving and pectoral slapping to stun fish. I saw harbor seals, sea lions, which would sometimes steal our salmon while our clients were reeling them in. I saw a pod of Orca whales, working in tandem to catch salmon. The birds were constantly around us, my favorite, the huge Albatross would swoop around us like B-1 bombers, inches from the water. I saw murres, gulls, tufted puffins, and dozens of others I didn’t know the names of. Bald Eagles were everywhere. Next to our lodge was a little bay, and eagles would dive down plucking herring from the water every 15 minutes or so. I had been wanting to see this my whole life, and in Sitka it happens all the time.
We caught many different kinds of fish, King, Coho, Chum, and Pink Salmon. We caught many different kinds of delicious Rock fish, Yellow eye rock fish, and Ling cod. We caught big Halibut, the biggest ones were 220, 165, 148 lbs. That was my favorite part of the job, landing the big halibut. The client would reel it up to the surface and my captain would stick a big 8” shark hook in its jaw, so it wouldn’t break the circle hook when we heaved it in. Then he would lift it’s head out of the water, and I would take the 18” wooden gaff and would hit it on the head as hard as I could. Then I would gaff it, and we would heave it over the side and beat it over the head some more, stunning it so it wouldn’t destroy our deck. It went smoothly at times, other times the bucking and heaving fish would pound away at the boat with it’s large, powerful tail. On the way back to the dock, I’d fillet that halibut in 4 nice fillets at full speed on the boat deck with a razor sharp fillet knife. Kind of keeps you on your toes more than a desk job would.

So I spent a summer working a job I loved. Not everyone can say that. I didn’t spend any money while I worked up there, I took meals and lodging at the lodge. I bought 2 souvenirs before leaving, and that was it. It was another perfect job. I had 2 great road trips, traveling to and from Sitka. I learned new skills and had a lot of fun working the job. I was on the ocean everyday, watching the beautiful Alaskan landscapes. I saved a lot of money, virtually everything I made. These funds will easily fund this year’s trips, and allow me to save 10% of my income for “retirement“. Rolf Potts in Vagabonding (which is a terrific, inspirational read) puts it best “…the best litmus test for measuring your vagabonding gumption is found not in travel but in the process of earning your freedom to travel.” Words to work by.

Posted by Rhombus 17:33 Archived in USA Tagged boating Comments (2)

The North Shore

The Landscape of the Lake Superior Region

A humid evening, warm, allowing comfort in shorts and a tee shirt. I’m in a birch forest; I can barely make out the white trunks of the skinny trees that surround my van. I’m resting my weary bones on my rocker in the back of the van. All the windows are open with cool breezes gently flowing through. The slider door is open, letting in the darkening dusk. I’m sipping a cold peppermint tea, deeply satisfying. Nick Spitzer’s American Routes plays softly over my small battery powered radio. I also hear the occasional call of a Swainson's thrush, one of my favorite birdsongs. The far away rumble of the Temperance River completes the ambiance with a steady rushing sound. It marks the end of the day for me. As I relax, I think back to my day, and why I love the north shore.
The north shore of Lake Superior is a rugged landscape of pine and birch forests, meandering rivers with cascading waterfalls, high rock bluffs, glacier carved lakes and dominated by the crystal clear waters of the big lake itself. I have lived by Lake Superior my whole life. I grew up in Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula and moved to Duluth after graduating from college. Since then, I’ve spent most of my free time exploring the north shore region of Lake Superior, and discovering it’s secrets.
The lakeshore of the north shore is very beautiful. It’s full of basaltic boulders and ledges, rocks and stones of a million shapes and sizes. It has miles of beaches of finely grained pebbles, to shoreline strewn with pumpkin size boulders to huge rock monoliths-like Palisade Head, rising 200 feet out of the water in a huge hump of stone.

Lake Superior is comfortable to swim in for about 2 and a half months each year. From the last week in June to the first week in September you’ll find the warmest temperatures. I’ve gone in as early as the last week in April (I fell in while bouldering) and the latest I’ve been “swimming” has been the second week in September. The lake, excepting mid-summer, is frigid. It will knock the breath right out of you. It’s PAINFUL. Agony spiking through the limbs, gasping for breath, and making an eerie high pitch yowl that only dogs can hear are typical symptoms of immersion. The cure is a hot sauna, or short of that, a hot car that’s been baking in the sun for a couple of hours. If you are fortunate enough to have a sauna to steam in before and after a swim in the lake, you will feel a cleanliness that is truly next to godliness.
The lake isn’t the only place to swim. I love wading up the myriad of root beer colored rivers that meander there way from their headwaters down through the Sawtooth Mountains to the big lake. My favorite is the Devil Track river just north of Grand Marais. It’s not an easy river to access, as you have to inch your way down a steep, slippery canyon wall. It’s the type of canyon where there’s one way in and one way out. The sides of the canyon rise well up over 100 feet are made up of a reddish, sharp rhyolite that flakes off easy, and impossible to climb. It’s an enjoyable hike, I usually wear sandals and shorts as there are many river crossings to make. The river winds up through the gorge, like a snake doubling back on itself similar to the canyons of Utah. It’s the most interesting river canyon in northern Minnesota. The river walk leads to a beautiful waterfall with a large pool to swim in at it’s base. It’s also the end of the hike, as the cliff the falls cascade over are 30 feet high and slippery with moss. I love swimming here. It’s deep, and the roar of the falls drowns out all other noise. Floating around on my back in this pool, looking up at the blue skies with puffy cumulous clouds bordered by high canyon walls is one of my favorite ways to relax. An idyllic vacuum.
Autumn is a very special time along the north shore. The changing of the seasons is always a welcome time of year for me. It’s a good reminder that the world is in a constant state of change, and that hanging on to anything is a fool’s folly. I love early October. The days are perfect temperature for outdoor activity. The whole forest looks ablaze with fire. Each forest road is a corridor with walls of trees that mix bright orange, red, yellow leaves setting your retina’s burning with the radiant scenery. It’s great to be alive and breathing the cold air, smelling the earthy, musty scent of fallen leaves dried grass and dirt. It’s one of life’s simple pleasures, really. The north shore’s fall colors don’t last very long. Usually there is a one week window for the peak of the colors. Then a good storm will move in, blowing the leaves down and pummeling them flat with heavy rains. It’s the earth’s way of cleaning up the forest, and telling you it’s time for winter.
I’ve described a very small portion of the north shore’s charms. I could go on for another ten pages stumping for the region I call home. It’s a wonderful backyard to play in, on one of the world’s great lakes. I often take it for granted, though. I see folks on vacation coming to visit the area, and I wonder “why?“ Why would you vacation here, when there are so many other more exotic places to go? I find my answer when I’m sitting in my rocker in the back of my van. All the windows are open, with cool breezes softly flowing through…

Posted by Rhombus 08:47 Archived in USA Comments (1)

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