Land of 10,000 Lakes

June 7 – 13, 2017

Minnesota. Home to Al Franken, Bob Dylan, Prince, Jesse Ventura and Garrison Keillor. Who wouldn’t want to explore this place in depth? After our wanderings along the north shore of Lake Superior we headed west, traversing the Canadian Shield and crossed back into the States at International Falls, Minnesota. The border crossing was interesting – there’s a very large International Paper mill that seems to straddle the border, and the crossing provides a short tour of the industrial plant.


Standing atop the Canadian Shield, Gary sprinkles Dori’s ashes in Lake Huromian, Ontario, Canada. She would have loved the cold water.

International Falls is best know for often being the coldest place in the lower 48, but when we arrived it was just comfortably cool. Like many visitors, this was our jumping off point for a visit to Voyageurs National Park.


A mural in International Falls illustrates the glory days of logging, ice harvesting, and mining.

Voyageurs National Park is uniquely a water-based park. While there are some hiking and snowmobile trails, watercraft of some sort is essential to thoroughly experience the park.


One of our adventures was to rent a pontoon boat for a day and cruise from our cabin on the Ash River to Kettle Falls on the Minnesota-Canadian Border.

At Kettle Falls  you look south into Canada! Kettle Falls, and the Kettle Falls Hotel, has a rich history. Between 1650 and 1830 Voyageurs portaged their 26 foot birch-bark canoes and packs of beaver fur around the falls. Gold was mined at Rainy Lake in the 1800’s, and the area was essentially clear-cut by loggers in the late 1800’s – early 1900’s. Commercial fishing in the 1920’s saw enormous quantities of lake fish sold at auction. Being so close to the Canadian border also facilitated bootlegging during prohibition. The hotel, built in 1910, is said to have been financed by the local Madame, Nellie Bly. The hotel was operated by the same family for 70 years, and in 1976 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Kettle Falls Inn, still hosting guests. The National Park Service completely renovated the hotel in 1987.


The Inn was in serious disrepair when the National Park took it over; the slope in the barroom floor was preserved as an illustration

To see the other end of Voyageurs NP we moved from “The Ash Rivieria” to Orr, Minnesota. We stayed at a lovely B&B and got to learn a bit about life in this northern reach of MN. Our B&B hostess spoke of family businesses run into debt when the younger generation took over; of how the great recession impacted log home building; and how bartering (although the term wan’t used) is an important part of getting along up there. An example: our B&B has a good water well, and lots of grass to cut. The neighbor doesn’t have a well, but does have a good mower. So they trade water for mowing. We also came to appreciate that snowmobiles aren’t just for fun around here. We spoke to one man who boasted that he didn’t drive his car all winter – went everywhere by snowmobile, including straight across lakes, much faster than by road.

We left Orr, MN, after a good bird walk in the Vermilion Gorge along Crane Lake. Next stop – The Big Bog and Lake Itasca, headwaters of the Mississippi.


The rain clouds were so dense they could be mistaken for mountains


North Shore of Lake Superior

“The traveller sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.” G.K. Chesterton

We had some idea of what we would see, but no particular expectations. A question we are frequently asked is “do you book everything in advance?” Well, yes and no. It’s unusual that we just roll into town and look for a place to stay. But we don’t have everything planned before we leave home. And such was our exploration of the North Shore of Lake Superior. We knew how much time we wanted to spend, and how far we were willing to drive each day, and let the map show us the way.

Bayfield, Wisconsin, was our first stop.


This beautiful brownstone is the visitors center for the Apostle Island National Lakeshore. The building was formerly the county courthouse, but through some twist of fate, the county seat was moved to Washburn. 

From 1870 – 1924 Bayfield was an active logging community, with a saw mill located at the harbor. When I think of logging I always think of the Northwest, but the forests were pretty much cleared in the Great Lakes areas before the logging in the Northwest took over.  “Canadian lumberman James Little remarked in 1876 that the rate at which the Great Lakes forests were being logged was “not only burning the candle at both ends, but cutting it in two, and setting the match to the four ends to enable them to double the process of exhaustion.”


We took the ferry to Madeline Island, one of the 22 islands that comprise the Apostle Island archipelago in Lake Superior

Next up was Grand Marais, Minnesota. Here was our chance to explore Superior National Forest, the largest National Forest east of the Mississippi.This is Voyageurs country, the French-Canadian fur traders. The trappers worked this area until the beavers were nearly gone. Fortunately for the beavers silk replaced fur as the fashion of choice in Europe, and the Voyageur era came to an end.


The view of Lake Superior from Pinchushion Mountain, part of the ancient Sawtooth Mountains Range. This mountain range has a geologic history that goes back some 1.2 billion years! 


Gunflint Lake, near the end of the Gunflint Trail. This is where the Voyageurs found a good supply of chert for making gunflints, hence the name.

The area was also heavily logged, and in the early logging days this did not include replanting, as it does today. In the 1930s the CCC was deployed on reforestation and conservation projects. Logging continues, but in a more sustainable manner. We met a member of a family lumber mill – he was 3rd generation, and the mill continues to operate. He and his family live on land his parents homesteaded in 1920. It was clear he had no love for the current rules. But still, he managed to make a go of it and had a business to turn over to his children. We met him when we took an opportunity to learn about Norwegian Fjord Horses.


We spent a morning ground driving and then going for a carriage ride. Norwegian Fjord horses were used to haul timber back in the day.

Our last stop along Lake Superior was at Eldorado Beach, in Suniah Township, Ontario, Canada, north of the city of Thunder Bay, Ontario. Border crossing is always a treat. The most interesting question this time involved fishing bait. “Agent: are you going fishing? Us: no. Agent: So you aren’t bring any bait into the country. Us: No.” Really? Bait? So we crossed and found ourselves back in eastern daylight savings time.

We spent a day exploring Sleeping Giant Provincial Park and Ouimet Canyon. One Ojibway legend identifies the giant as Nanabijou , who was turned to stone when the secret location of a rich silver mine now known as Silver Islet was disclosed to white men.


Nanabijou’s image (starting with his head to the right in this photo) can be seen in the rock formation prominent on the peninsula that comprises the park. In the teachings of the Objiway, Nanabijou was a “trickster” and co-creator of the earth.


We spotted this black bear on our way to the canyon. The best part was the German family behind us – they had never seen a bear and were they ever excited, especially when we let them pull ahead of us when we decided it was time to continue the drive.

The Ouimet Canyon was a surprise – never expected to see a nearly 500 ft wide gorge with a depth of 300 ft. A prominent formation along the canyon wall is know as the Indian Head. Nanabijou features prominently here too. According to the Ojibway, “A long time ago there were giants. One called Omett was a good giant and helped Nanabijou when he wished to raise a mountain or make a new lake. Omett fell in love with Naiomi, Nanabijou’s daughter. Naiomi liked Omett and encouraged him to display his strength. One day Omett was moving a mountain when a peak broke off, struck Naiomi and killed her. Greatly frightened of the wrath of Nanabijou, Omett hid Naiomi’s body in a shallow lake and covered it with a rock shield. Searching for Naiomi, Nanabijou was striding over the great shield when he felt vibrations from under the rocks. Reaching into the sky, he grasped a thunderbolt and drove it into the rocks, splitting them open. In the wide canyon he discovered his daughter’s body. Nanabijou buried Naiomi in the bottom of the canyon. From her grave grew the rare and beautiful flowers found only there. To punish Omett, Nanabijou turned him to stone and placed him on the canyon wall to watch over the grave for all eternity.”


The Indian Head formation is on the left

From Eldorado Beach we turned west, completing 520 miles of the 1300 mile Lake Superior Circle Tour. I guess we will have to return.

June 2 – 7, 2017

But is it art?

This is a question we often ask when visiting museums, especially contemporary art museums. My reply is yes, because “art is intentional.” I read that on a pencil at the Albertina Museum in Vienna, Austria, so it must be so.

It was a question we asked again today when viewing “ReTooled: Highlights from the Hechinger Collection at the Columbia Museum of Art. John Hechinger, of Hechinger Hardware fame (familiar from my Maryland days) decided to develop a “tool inspired collection of diverse 20th century art” to enliven his company headquarters.

Here are a few of the pieces to contemplate.


Arman (French born American, 1928-2005): Blue, Brown. 1988.


Hans Godo Frabel, “Hammer and Nails” 1980, Glass


Fernand Léger (1887-1955) Les Constructeurs, 1951

The museum was also highlighting some of the collection of 1970’s art. So much happened in the 70’s, from the end of the Vietnam War, Nixon’s resignation, the establishment of the EPA and the Dept of Energy, the Iran hostage crisis, gas rationing, Three Mile Island, the list goes on. The art work in this exhibit included some that was developed for the celebration of the USA Bicentennial. They seemed particularly poignant in today’s environment too.


Fritz Scholder (American, 1937) Bicentennial Indian, 1976. The only promise ever kept was to take their land, even today.


Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976) Poster, Our Unfinished Revolution (Octopus), 1976. 

Chillin’ with the Yoopers

“Yoopers”. That’s how people from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan refer to themselves. And the people who live in the “lower” peninsula? They are the “trolls” – because they live “below the Mackinac Bridge.” Get it?


It’s important to have a good sense of humor when you live in a rather remote place.

The UP is a curious place. It’s about 1/3 of the land area of Michigan, but has only about 3% of the population. It sometimes gets forgotten on maps, and is a source of confusion – why isn’t it a part of Wisconsin? After all, it’s attached to Wisconsin and separated by water from the rest of Michigan. Here’s the back-story. The UP became part of Michigan in 1836 when”The Frostbite Convention” settled the Toledo War.  The Toledo War centered on a disputed strip of land between Toledo Ohio and the southern end of Lake Michigan, which, apparently, wasn’t exactly where cartographers thought it was. At the time the UP was considered a barren wasteland. Ohio got Toledo and the people of Michigan thought they lost. Turns out they did pretty well, as the UP is rich in copper and iron, as well as forests that continue to support the logging industry. Read about the details at “Mitten History”:

The Frostbitten Convention; or, How Michigan Ended the Toledo War and Became a State


Our cottage was literally steps away from the AuTrain River


A happy kayaker

After five days of all out birding in NE Michigan we were ready for a break. Well, not a break from birding, just the pace ;-).

We explored the forests, bogs, swamps, and marshes of the Hiawatha National Forest and the Seney National Wildlife Refuge. Along Lake Superior we visited Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and the Moosewood Bog, a restoration project in Marquette.


Spruce-Tamarak Bog


Pictured Rocks National Seashore

Marquette is one of those towns on the verge of becoming something else. With its rich red limestone buildings, it had been a hub for the mining industry. Now it seems to be teetering between its former life and a resort community, for people who think the vacation towns of the lower peninsula are becoming too crowded. From the conversations we had with local shop owners it sounded like the jury is still out on which way Marquette will, or should, go.


Upper Harbor Ore Dock – Presque Isle Harbor, Marquette.  Iron ore mining is still a part of the economy. Railcars unload ore pellets into pockets built into the dock. The dock has a capacity of 50,000 tons. When the transport ship arrives, chutes extend from the pockets to fill the vessel. Such ships can be 1000 feet long and 100 feet wide!


No, it’s not an alien spaceship. It’s the Northern Michigan University Superior Dome in Marquette and it’s constructed of 781 Douglas fir beams and 108.5 miles of fir decking.




Nettie Bay Part 3: Badger and other taxa

When you’re out bird watching you can’t help but notice your surroundings – flowers, butterflies, insects, scenery, and of course, mammals. While we were enthralled by the acrobatic stunts of courting Bobolinks, one of our companions quietly said, “is that a badger?” Instantly, everyone within earshot turned to look and there she was, an American Badger, just outside her den. Needless to say she kept our attention for quite some time! A “life” mammal for many of us (not that we’re keeping a list ;-).



A scene from Wild Kingdom, as Jim stalks the badger with his camera.

As our ramblings continued we met up with two fisherman, just coming in to unload their catch. Between them they represent 157 years of fishing on Lake Huron. Their catch was lake trout, around 600 pounds, worth, to them, $600. We paid about 10 times as much when we purchased some smoked lake trout later in our trip. Fishing, like farming, remains a hard way to make a living.


The EH LaBlance has been working Lake Huron since 1941. The current owner has had her for 17 years.


Unloading the days catch – lake trout


The Great Lakes fishery crashed in the early 1960’s due largely to an invasive species, the sea lamprey. Sea lampreys are parasitic primitive fish, native to the Atlantic Ocean.

Sea Lampreys

Sea lamprey

They have no commercial value and fish do not normally eat them. Using their suction mouth, they attach to a fish and feed on its blood and body fluids – sort of a vampire of the sea. A single sea lamprey can destroy up to 40 pounds of fish! The sea lampreys entered the Great Lakes by way of the Erie Canal and were first observed in Lake Ontario in the 1830’s. Niagara Falls kept the lampreys from going any farther, until the Welland Canal was deepened in 1919. By 1921 sea lampreys were in Lake Erie. They made it into Lake Superior in 1938.

We learned all this at the Hammond Bay Research Station, yet another stop on our bird watching ramble in NE Michigan.


The Hammonds Bay  Research Station began as a life saving station in 1876, and is now one of the leading research facilities in the Great Lakes for invasive species control and native fish restoration

US and Canadian organizations have been working cooperatively since the 1950s to control the sea lamprey population. The work has paid off, and current control efforts have resulted in a 90% reduction of sea lamprey populations in most areas of the Great Lakes. The effort costs about $20 million annually, but preserves a $7 billion industry. Hard to find a better return on investment.

There is one use for sea lampreys – lamprey pie. It is considered a delicacy at the English Court, with records going back to King Henry I. A lamprey pie, using lampreys from the Great Lakes, was baked for Queen Elizabeth II to celebrate her becoming Britain’s longest reigning monarch.

Nettie Bay, Part 2: Botany

Well yes, it’s been a long time since Part 1. This road trip was exceptional in many ways, not the least of which was the lack of cell and wifi service. So contemporaneous, or nearly contemporaneous blogging fell victim. Like a good traveler, I did manage to keep an old fashioned written journal. So, undaunted by technology, I shall continue, with this retrospective look at the journey we took and the experiences we had.

Birdwatching was the major draw for this visit to Nettie Bay, but so was the opportunity to learn about the ecology and environment of the area. Wetlands of various descriptions make up the NE Michigan landscape, such as marshes (extremely nutrient rich and characterized by reeds and grasses), bogs (acidic and fed by rainwater), and fens (alkaline and fed by groundwater). Learning about the plant life led me down the slippery slope of wildflower identification, photography, and oh heavens, could listing be far behind?

We also came upon a commercial cranberry bog. After some smooth talking by Mark, the owner of Nettie Bay, Laura, the daughter of the bog owner, joined our van and gave us a tour of the operation. On their 220 acres they produce 3 to 4 million pounds of cranberries each year. Some of the interesting factoids: they rent (!) 550 bee hives (!) from mid June to the end of July (more on the bee business when we get to ND – another one of those “who knew” experiences); some of the vines are known to be over 200 years old; the bogs are flooded in winter to form a 10-12 inch ice cap to protect the plants. There were other points made too, like having to compete against Canadian berries (they are subsidized) and the challenge of finding temporary labor. It sounded like a story I would hear on NPR, and was a great opportunity to learn about the challenges faced by small businesses in this rural part of northern Michigan.


Ram’s Head Orchid (Cypripedium arietinum) a rare “Lady’s Slipper” orchid that grows in environments that are based on a limestone plain with thin or no soil.


Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris) found in marshes, fens, and wet woodland areas


Dwarf Lake Iris (Iris lacustris) lined the trail at Thompson Harbor State Park.  It’s a rare wildflower found only in limited areas, and is the state wildflower of Michigan.

Yellow Lady's Slipper -Cyripedium calceolus

Yellow Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum) a more common orchid, and one of the 12 species that occur in the US

Bog Bean and Bog Rosemary

Bogbean (foreground, Menyanthes trifoliata) and Bog Rosemary (Andromeda polifolia)

Michigan cranberry bog

Cranberry Bog

Next up: Part 3 of 3 for Nettie Bay – Badgers and “other taxa”.

Nettie Bay – Birds, Botany, Fish and a Badger! Part 1: Birds

There’s nothing quite like watching birds on their breeding grounds. While it’s possible, and sometimes easier, to see birds during their migration, they aren’t at their finest. They are on a self-propelled road trip, fighting the elements from as far away as Argentina, heading to the mountains and woods of North America. Imagine the tables are turned – how would you like a bunch of birds staring at you while you’re taking a break at a roadside rest during a long journey?

We spent four nights at the Nettie Bay Lodge fullsizeoutput_169cbirding with Jim McCormac (see his blog at and eight other bird watchers. We met Jim at the New River Birding and Nature Festival, and enjoyed his approach to bird watching and his knowledge of botany. We knew it would be a great opportunity to see birds and learn about about the bogs and woods of Michigan. The star of this adventure was the Kirtland’s Warbler, FullSizeRender but his title was nearly taken by a rare view of a Connecticut Warbler we saw and heard singing – but was unwilling to pose for a photo. The Mourning Warbler was, by contrast, a real extrovert.


Mourning Warbler

The view from our cabin was lovely, especially the first morning, when a fog had settled over the bay. This view made our early wake up call so much more enjoyable. The calling Loon didn’t hurt either.

P1070059While Gary and I do quite well finding birds on our own, we do enjoy the company of others on adventures like this. We learn from each other, and everyone always has an interesting story or two, for those times when the birds are quiet or otherwise evasive. Towards the end of our trip we visited the Ocqueoc Falls, the highest waterfall in the Lower Peninsula 😉



Cherry Blossoms, Asparagus, and Sand Dunes – NW Michigan

Before this trip I knew next to nothing about Michigan. Detroit, Motown, and auto manufacturing. And of course Flint, due to the recent horrible stories about the water. So we avoided the entire south east portion of the state.

Truth be told we were biding our time between bird watching events. The planning for this trip started with a destination – Glacier National Park. Once we looked at the routing we concluded we could string together some other activities that had been on the list. And so that meant spending some time in Michigan.

We chose Lake Leelanau for it’s proximity to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and found a cottage to rent. It was located on the Lake Leelanau Narrows and offered a lovely water view and base for our explorations. We tallied 31 birds for our “backyard” bird list.


Our backyard for a week on the Lake Leelanau narrows

Cherry blossoms were in full bloom. Who knew that 70-75% of Montmorency tart cherries and 20% of sweet cherries grown in the U.S. come from Michigan.


Empire, Michigan, hosts an annual Asparagus Festival, and we were lucky enough to be there for the 2017 event. Who knew that Michigan ranks second in the nation for asparagus production and acreage, producing up to 21 million pounds each year. The asparagus was fabulous – we had beer battered asparagus, asparagus bratwurst, asparagus beer, and asparagus ice cream. Really, It was all good.

Sleeping Bear Dunes introduced us to an entirely new ecosystem. Along this section of the Lake Michigan shoreline there are large sand dunes – 400+ feet high in some sections.  Behind the sand dunes are hardwood forests, bogs, and fens. It make is for interesting walking – climbing over old dunes that have turned to forests and emerging in the “new” sandy dunes that lead to the lake. The lake is amazingly clear – too clear according to the fisherman. But it makes for a pretty sight.



We enjoyed a Friday night Fish Fry at Dick’s Pour House, the best walleye so far.

In the states it’s all to easy to see places looking more the same than different. Even back in the 18th-19th century it was notable to Alexander von Humbolt (1769 – 1859) who compared America to “a Cortesian vortex, carrying away and leveling everything to a dull monotony.” So by traveling the path less taken we do find the unique features that set the towns and villages apart. In NW Michigan the use of cobblestones in building construction is one of those unique features. The retreat of the glaciers during the last ice age left numerous small, rounded cobblestones available for building, and we saw them put to use in many buildings around the area. This parish hall is a particularly good example.P1100201What’s next? Birding and botanizing in NE Michigan.

The Lower Peninsula of Michigan, Part 1

fullsizeoutput_162bLand of the Trolls.  That’s how people in the Upper Peninsula refer to everyone below the Mackinac Bridge (aka the Lower Peninsula, or the part of Michigan we are most familiar with). Above the bridge they’re Yoopers. Here’s a factoid – Michigan is the largest state east of the Mississippi. Before this trip the Detroit Airport has been the extent of my Michigan travels. Does that even count?

We have greatly enjoyed our travels to The Netherlands, so we decided to start our Michigan explorations in Holland, Michigan.  “A band of Hollanders” established the city in 1847, along with Zeeland and three other colonies. Now Holland is famous for its annual Tulip Time Festival. Tulips are planted throughout the city.  They even have a “tulip tracker” on their website.

After leaving Holland it was back to birding. We went inland to the Loda Lake Wildflower Sanctuary in the Huron-Manistee National Forest. There we found our first Pink Lady Slipper and first Canada Warbler of the season, along with many American Redstarts. After I took this picture we flushed a Ruffed Grouse. Now that was exciting!


Pink Lady Slipper (Cypripedium acaule)


American Redstart in full song

What’s next? the Leelanau Peninsula. We figure it’s roughly the ring-finger of the Michigan Mitten.

Familiar Territory – Last Stop


Planting Time

McClure, Ohio, Gary’s home town, was our last stop in Ohio. It’s rural agricultural Ohio at its best. Although it looks the same, the back story is different. Where there once were small family farms there is now a more corporate approach. The equipment has changed too – we spent a couple of hours watching the operator prepare this large tractor to plant the field across the road. Donna is hoping for soy beans – corn blocks the view.

We always enjoy morning walks at Grand Rapids or Wintergreen Park in nearby Bowling Green. The wild flowers were blooming and the birds were moving. We both caught a quick look at a Mourning Warbler. It’s only the second time we’ve seen this bird (and he didn’t pose for a photo). It is continuing its migration north – about 90% of the population breeds in Canada.


Grand Rapids, Ohio


Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) in bloom

A regular feature throughout Ohio is ice cream stands. Sometimes when we travel we can search and search for an ice cream, often to no avail. In Ohio, there seem to be at least two in every town. This one was particularly decorative. Even the bars serve ice cream.

Before we left we stoped at Klein Brothers  Hardware, in Malinta. Our step-brothers, Mike and Carl, have made a go of it in the local hardware business for 31 years! ( check them out for their “Made in the USA” specialities!) It isn’t easy, but I believe it brings a richness to their lives that’s otherwise hard to find.


Spring flowers are an important part of the annual business cycle