Thursday, August 3, 2017

Grand Marais on Lake Superior Minnesota

July 27 - 29, 2017:

We travel on route 1 for 55 very rough, bumpy miles across Minnesota through the Superior National Forest.  It was desolate country, old logging country, nothing but loggers, wilderness outfitters and outdoors lodges.  At roads end at the lake we head north on route 61 for another 55 miles to Grand Marias, Minnesota. Along the lakefront, we get back into civilization again with many tourist related businesses.  We pass several State Parks which we had checked for availability only to find everything reserved.  In fact we were lucky to get a campsite at Grand Marais to take us through the weekend.

A pristine lake view along the route

The Grand Marais Municipal Park is run by the city of Marais, has 300 campsites and is fully booked.  The campsites and jammed tightly together with water and electric hookup and a dump station and shower house.  I believe it is the most expensive campground we have ever stayed at, but it is a very convenient  location, walking distance to town and centrally located to many attractions on the coast.  It is also located right on Lake Superior with great views.

Grand Marais is a vibrant town, very scenic, lots of shops, restaurants, the "world's best Donuts", an amazing Ben Franklin 5 &10, a couple of breweries, a beautiful lakefront park and great lake views.

Downtown Grand Marais

Skipping stones is a huge thing to do here

Lakefront park floral garden

The Beaver House is a local attraction for bait and tackle

Lots of fresh Lake Superior fish here

The chocolate knots really may be the worlds best

They have a folk craft school here like we saw in Ely,
beautiful birch bark canoe under construction

I take a ride to Grand Portage National Monument located about 6 miles from the Canadian border.  It’s a scenic ride along the shores of Lake Superior or as they call it “the North Shore”.  Unfortunately, the sky is about the same color as the lake water so the view is not as spectacular as it could be.  Lake Superior is most impressive, it is the largest of the Great Lakes by far, in fact it is larger than the other four Great Lakes combined.  It 380 miles long by 160 miles wide, with an average of 483 feet and a maximum depth of 1,333 feet, is very clear and holds 10% of the fresh water in the world by surface area.

Also very tree covered, although none of it is old growth

A pebble strewn shoreline showing the clarity of the water

Lots of islands

Grand Portage National Monument is one, if not the best National Monument I have been to.  The name Grand Portage comes from the 8 1/2 mile overland portage trail taken to get the furs to get from Fort Charlotte on the Pigeon River to the North West Company Depot on Lake Superior.  It sounds almost unbelievable, but each man carried on their back two 90 lb. packs of furs (180 pounds) over the 8 1/2 mile trail with rest stops usually every 1/3 to 1/2 mile along the way.  

The french started the fur trade business in 1732, establishing a network of trading posts using the Grand Portage route to Lake Superior.  That lasted until 1754 when the British took over Canada.  The British "North West Company" then dominated the fur trade from the 1780’s until 1803 when they were forced to relocate north to Thunder Bay as Grand Portage fell within the boundary of the “new” United States.  The "American Fur Company" then took over the fur trade which was starting to go into decline due to the decimation of the beavers and the changing fashion trends in Europe. 

The Grand Portage Heritage Center has great exhibits and a movie that clearly explains the fur trade history.  They have reconstructed buildings historically accurate in their original locations with docents to explain what you are seeing and answer questions.  This Company Headquarters and Depot complex of 14 buildings was sort of the main distribution center for the Montreal Based, North West Company and was built in 1784.
There were two different groups of Voyageurs, both predominately French-Canadian.  The Montreal group, the mangeurs de lard, commonly known as the “pork eaters” transported supplies and trade goods by canoe from Montreal to Grand Portage and then transported the furs back to Montreal where they wintered.  The other group of Voyageurs, the "Hivernants" commonly known as the "Winterers" transported furs from the remote interior trading posts to Grand Portage and then transported supplies and trade goods back to the remote trading posts where they stayed for the winter.  All voyageurs arrived at Grand Portage in Early August for the Company Rendezvous where the furs, supplies and trading goods were inventoried, packaged, stored and transferred .  The Rendezvous was also attended by the Company partners who held meetings at this time while the Voyageurs recuperated, received their pay, socialized and I’m quite sure partied heartily.  The Winterers voyageurs left as soon as possible in order to get back to their remote trading posts before the winter freeze.

Love this painting of the indians taking the missionary
downstream in their canoe

Also this one of the voyageurs resting

Indian village area, this was one fort where the indians were
welcomed as they had furs to trade

Kitchen area of the "Great Hall" where the company managers
stayed with their servants and chefs while the voyageurs slept
outside in tents

View from the guard post

They brought their fine china with them and they did entertain
special guests at times in fine style

There were bedrooms for a few company managers 

Furs hanging in the trade room, Beaver was the main commodity
but other furs were also traded

The Great Hall building

I expected Grand Portage to have a small touristy downtown area, but there is nothing of the sort as it is the reservation of the “Grand Portage Band of Chippewa” Indians.  The reservation was  established in 1854, but they prefer to be called by an older name, the “Ojibwa” tribe.  They donated the land for the National Monument and partner with the park service to operate it.  The only tourist activity here is the huge Grand Portage Lodge and Casino complex.  Otherwise there are various tribal management and maintenance buildings, a school and scattered residential housing.  The Ojibwa Tribe has lived in this area since about 1600 and prospered during the fur trade era.  After the United Sates gained independence from England the new international boundary placed Grand Portage in the US and the North West Company had to relocate its fur headquarters north to Thunder Bay.  This was a huge set back for the Ojibwa tribe in the Grand Portage area.  

A short ride north is Grand Portage State Park, just before the Canadian border.  I rode there to take a short one mile hike to High Falls on the Pigeon River.  The waterfall lived up to its hype, it was an incredible sight and the river views were also pretty special. The Pigeon River is the actual international boundary with Canada.

High Falls and gorge, off to the right on the Canadian side was a log flume

The Pigeon River, Canada is on the other side

Replica birch bark canoe and painting at Grand Portage State Park

The Stars of the North Music Festival is going on in Grand Marais over the weekend on the lake front. They had several good local performers, but a fairly small crowd it seemed, unusual for a free event ?   I also went to the Gunflint Brewery on Friday night to hear a band called “Dead Pigeons”.  I kind of wonder why they call themselves “Dead Pigeons”, but I really liked them, probably my favorite band on travels this year to date. 

The Grand Marais harbor stage during the music festival

Dead Pigeons Band

I bought a book a couple of weeks ago called the “Voyageur’s Highway” written by Grace Lee Nute which was excellent.  As I was in an antique shop in Grand Marais I saw another book by the same author called “The Voyageur”.  It was a 1955 edition in near perfect condition with great illustrations, I couldn’t pass up on it.  I might be getting a little excessive about the Voyageurs ?

Great illustrations in this book

We were not able to find an open State Park campsite heading south along the Lake Superior shoreline, as it’s the height of the season and all campgrounds are 100% reservable.  In this computer age, virtually all State and National campgrounds now use a reservation system and they seem to be moving towards having all sites reservable.  As a result there are no campsites available for campers who just show up at these very popular locations.  This is great for people on vacation or on a schedule who must plan their travel months in advance, but it’s not so great for rambling travel types like us.  So, we check out two National Forest campgrounds nearby which are all first come / first served, on a beautiful lake and best of all, way cheaper.  So on July 30th we will pack up and move 15 miles away up the historic Gunflint Trail Road to route 8 to the Devil’s Track Lake Campground. 

The next stop is the ominous, Devils Track Lake Campground:

Twinkles and Slick

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