My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Saturday, September 28, 2013

A Perfect Day

Cold, rainy, cloudy, windy? YES. Warm calm, sunny? YES. We had a pretty full spectrum of weather while on our first trip into the Boundary Waters. We ended up doing little or no paddling on two days, paddling because we had to on one - day - to get in, and then paddling on a very changeable day. We also paddled out under lowering skies just before another big storm struck.

But Friday!  Now that was a day!  We had beautiful weather, light winds, the prettiest lake of all, and wildlife. And of course the high spirits of the four of us kept us laughing all day.

(Several of these pictures will be easier to see if you click on them to get the larger picture.) 

Day Paddlers

Just another beautiful view - think this is of a camp site near ours

Beautiful day and happy paddlers
 Below is a map showing the lakes we passed through.  Our trip started from our campsite on Gaskin Lake.  If you look on the east side of Winchell and then up the portage into Gaskin lake, you will see a green pin.  The red pin to the right was where our campsite was. The area around the corner from our campsite and down to the portage is moose habitat.  We didn't find a moose there but heard one splashing one night.  Winchell is the biggest lake in the area, and with its east to west orientation, sometimes gets big waves.  Bob said it is not too popular for camping because you can get wind bound and have to just sit the winds out in camp.

Our route: Gaskin - Winchell- Omega - Otto - Omega - Hansen - Gaskin - Camp

Our trip continued through most of Winchell to the portage to Omega Lake.  This was my favorite lake of all.  It has arms and islands, so you have to travel through it to see all of it.  It had some beautiful bluffs and a few stunning campsites  Probably the best one was on top of a high rock.  It was occupied so we didn't get to explore it.  The guy camped there was swimming, something we never managed to bring ourselves to do. We continued to explore the lake until we found another campground, this one above a low rock.

Rocky bluffs in Lake Omega

"Hey guys - lets stop and explore this beautiful camp site. "

Checking out the campsite and enjoying the views
 We decided it would make a great lunch stop so landed and immediately started taking pictures.  A higher rock ledge seemed made to set our cameras on. Natalie declared this was the perfect spot for a group picture so lined us up, started the camera and ran to here place in the lineup.  Then I had to do the same.

But that Andrew - he suddenly dropped to his hands and knees.  Bob responded by sitting on him. After racing to my place, I decided to try and sit on Bob. Then the camera flashed.  Now's it's obvious that I should have aimed for Bob's lap.

Wild things
 After all this exertion, we were ready for lunch.  It was about this time that I had to shed my pants legs -  this was the only time I had to just wear shorts on this trip. After lunch, the warm rock seduced us into taking a nap.

Layabouts and still-working Bob - my hat and life jacket mark my resting spot

Finally we, (actually probably Bob) decided we should leave so we could finish our exploring agenda for the day. We slowly collected our gear and loaded up to continue exploring the lake. Then we went on to explore Otto and Hansen. (Lakes.)

Back to the boats after lunch
I can't remember exactly where we were when we saw an adult loon and a large baby but it was after lunch.  The adult was repeatedly diving and catching tiny fish and feeding the baby.  We watched, entranced, as the adult repeatedly feed the youngster, sometimes only feet from our boat. Then the adult called and another youngster came from maybe fifty yards away to get its feeding.

Young loon waiting for parent to bring food - sometimes it stuck its head under the water to look

Parent with food
Parent feeding youngster

Yum!  More!

Parent swimming off with both chicks
A few minutes after this encounter, we saw two mink swimming - one obviously a baby.  But seconds later, we could only see the mom who swam back and forth in front of us, apparently to distract us from her child.

Mink? - paying a lot of attention to us

We got to enjoy a few more lakes and portages.  Natalie and I were grateful for our canoe haulers.  Neither of us could have survived balancing on rocks and hauling the canoes, even though they weighed only forty-two pounds.

Bob puts our canoe in the water while Natalie boards her canoe

Almost done with a very good day
 Both Bob and I had hauled our hammocks and I was really craving some hammock time. But the days had been too cold to lie out.  This day, we got home in time for me to enjoy about an hour in the hammock before it was time to cook supper. I did have to add my fleece pants and jacket, though.  This was  the icing on a cake of a day.

Reading and swinging - two of my favorite pastimes combined

Friday, September 27

 Here at the Bison Range,  I finished pinning bees yesterday and started cooking the chilli for the Big Sit today.  We don't have many people signed up, but I'm afraid that, if I don't prepare for crowd, I'll have lots of hungry people. So I'm going to cook way too much food and then feed the  leftovers to the staff. I'll be closing tonight, then working in the visitor center the next three days. Hopefully, I can also get the database finished so I can get the bee labels made.  Then putting a label on each bee will keep me out of trouble for many more hours. Off to buy more groceries.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Boundary Water Adventure - Week One

Poplar, Liz, Caribou, Horseshoe. Gaskin, Winchell, Omega, Henson. Jump, Allen, Vista.  Just the names of these lakes invoke mystery and a make one want to explore them.    And we did, during our first five days on the Boundary Waters.

After dropping Bob G. off  at the Greyhound Bus Station in Minneapolis, I spent one night by myself at a Forest Service Campground on the Baptism River, about fifty miles from Grand Marais. The next morning I dug out my dirty clothes and went into Grand Marais to wash them, then enjoy the town and it's library.  During the day, I had several telephone conversations with my cohorts in this adventure, Bob S., Natalie, and Andrew, who were driving up from Houston, Texas in one marathon drive.  It took them 26 hours to get there.  I had already figured out that I was about 80 miles from the bunkhouse, where they decided to stay an extra night, so I went back and packed up my camp and then met them for supper at  Sven and Ole's Pizza, in Grand Marais, which was an adventure in itself.

Then we drove about another thirty miles to Rockwood  Lodge and Canoe Outfitters, on the Gunflint Trail, not far below the Canadian Border. The fact that we were almost to Canada became noticeable when Natalie and I  stopped at a little cafe, called South of the Border, in anticipation of breakfast burritos to eat while we were washing our clothes the following weekend. We were shocked to find NOTHING that had any kind of Mexican flavor.  Then we realized that these people were talking about a different border than we knew.

Sunday started slowly with the group catching up on sleep while I walked down the road in search of early morning coffee. I took my computer with me and ended up spending about an hour working on it while drinking coffee and enjoying the scenery on Popular Lake from the lodge's windows   Later, Bob, who has been to this area before, took us to an amazing small, but crowded, restaurant called the Trail Center, which is also on the Gunflint trail. There we had huge breakfasts before coming back to pack our stuff into our waterproof portage bags and get our food organized into our two bear barrels.  Then Bob drove us around to explore the rest of the Gunflint Trail.  We ended up at the Gunflint Northwoods Outfitters, which is HUGE - lots of cabins, a large, high-end restaurant ad hundreds of canoes and kayaks for rent. Our suppers were good and were presented like those from high-end restaurants. They were priced like those high-end restaurants too.

Rainy day ahead

To paddle and camp in the Boundary waters, you need a permit.  Each entry point has its own quota of permits. Bob had ordered our permit for Monday, through Liz Lake so we had to wait to go in then.  Monday dawned cool and rainy. We rushed to get off before the weather worsened.  We planned to camp on Gaskin Lake, which meant we had to travel through five lakes and do four portages, totaling 249 rods.

 Since we had to walk each portage three times, we had about 2.3 miles of walking, 2/3's of it carrying gear and supplies.  ( There are 320 rods in a mile.)  The paddling was pretty easy, since our canoes were 18 feet long and loaded enough that we didn't have to worry about being driven off course by wind and waves.  But the portages always seemed way longer then they were because they went up and down hill, were full of large rocks and roots ready to cause a stumble, and several of them were muddy.

By the time we got to Horseshoe Lake, it was raining steadily.  The last, 98 rod portage was a torrent of water through which we had to climb uphill, feeling for our footholds. But by the time we found an empty campsite on Gaskin Lake, the rain had stopped for a while and we were able to get our tents up and eat supper before the rains came again.

Don't wanna

Tuesday was still cloudy, a little wet, and windy.  The guys got bored and went out exploring the lake, but Natalie and I stayed in camp and relaxed, except for a going on a short paddle that evening to look for  moose and check out the portage to Winchell Lake.

Wednesday we still had cool and cloudy weather with a few sprinkles but we went exploring anyway. We traveled through pretty terrible portages to Jump and Allen Lakes.  We tried to paddle down the Brule River but would have had to wade back upstream pulling our canoes and it was too cold to want to get wet if we slipped on the rocks.

Natalie on a portage trail

The dining area is NOT for canoes, Andrew
Thursday was so cold and windy that we put on all our clothes and kept a fire going most of the day and huddled around it.  The guys stayed warm sawing and chopping wood.  Natalie and I did help haul some of it to camp and also held the logs for the person doing the sawing. Bob and Andrew kept us amused with wood chopping and sawing contests and  by Andrew throwing what he called a mini caber.

First you pick up your caber and get it balanced

Then you toss it as far as you can

Natalie's picture of Bob and me sawing wood

Andrew splitting a log

Huddling around the fire
Friday was an absolutely perfect day.  We had warm and sunny weather, light winds, and explored an exceptional lake.  That story is too long for this blog so I'll share it later.

We  didn't see a lot of wildlife but had a bald eagle hanging out at our camp for a few days and ospreys, ravens,  red-breasted nuthatches, chickadees, vireos, flickers, and other woodpeckers around our camp. We had a pine martin visit us and, while paddling,  saw an otter with a baby. The otter distracted us by swimming back and forth, while the baby hid. And of course we lived with the song of the loons. We even got to see and hear a baby loon doing its begging call and then getting fed by a parent. However we didn't get to see a moose or a bear.  Bob and Andrew finally saw a huge bull moose crossing the road while they were driving to the Duluth airport to send Andrew back. (He only had a week of vacation.) We also didn't hear of see any wolves.

Natalie and Andrew among the waterlilies
Andrew hauling a canoe

Balancing on the rocks at a portage

Andrew hauling a food pack - we had two of these

One of the easiest portage entries - no rocks and shallow water
Natalie's picture of Bob and me paddling - usually I paddled with  single blade and he paddled  with the double

Our campsite on Gaskin Lake was quite large.  Natalie and I were in the same area as the fire ring  while Andrew and Bob  had their tents up in the "back bedroom". The walk to the toilet was probably the longest I've experienced.  I was glad I never had to walk to it in the middle of the night.

Bob getting his boots on before paddling

Monday, September 23, 2013

Vacation Bigs

While on vacation I accidentally or purposely visited some giants.  Most of these were in North Dakota which seems somehow compelled to make them.

I purposely visited Jamestown to see the world's largest buffalo.  While there, I also found that it was the home of a Big author, Louis L'Amore, who was  born in Jamestown. There is a little town built of old buildings that have been moved to the site of the World's Largest Buffalo. One of the buildings is devoted to him and holds (probably) a copy of each of his 126 books.

I also hoped to see  and photograph the white buffalo, White Cloud who is lives as part of a small heard of buffalo maintained by the National Buffalo Museum at this same site in Jamestown.  However, the only view of her was a very distant one of her lying down with her back to me.

World's largest buffalo

Display of Louis L'Amore's books

Then I accidentally found two more Bigs - a huge sandhill crane, named Sandy, in Steel, ND and a Holstein cow, named Salem Sue, who resides on a hilltop near New Salem, ND.


Salem Sue

 On our trip to Minneapolis to drop Bob off, we stopped to visit another Big - this time a real, living person, Judy Bell.  Judy is an ex principal - that will command your attention -  and a fellow National Wildlife Refuge volunteer and blogger. She writes a blog almost every day and takes better wildlife pictures than I do.  She is also a better birder. I'd like to grow up to be just like her, except I'm already older than her and can't figure out how to reverse that condition.  Check out her blog, Travels with Emma. Emma is her high energy dog.

We were supposed to get to Tamarac NWR  in time to tour the refuge with her, but got there too late to do much more than see a host of trumpeter swans. There were at least fifty of them when we drove up, the most I've ever seen together.  Then we had a short but lovely time eating supper together at a little restaurant.  We still had a few more hours of driving to our camp site so didn't get to visit long.

Trumpeter swans with other birds


The last Big I found was in Akeley, Minnesota, on my way home.  It is of my childhood hero, Paul Bunyan. Here are some of the tall tales about him.

Paul Bunyan - holding a treat for Babe?
I made it home last night after two long days of travel.  I was surprised I was only two days from the National Bison Range.  It felt like it might take a week, at least, to get back here. After attending a staff meeting, I've spend most of the day cleaning and sorting my stuff and still have more to go. I'm going to close the refuge tonight.  I hoped it would be a sunny day but we are having lots of rain showers and the day is very dark already. So I'll probably get no pictures tonight. I'll work on catching up on editing pictures and getting up a blog or so about our Boundary Waters trips.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The No Prairie Dog Hike

I wanted to hike a short trail that started from the Cannon Ball Concretions and seemed to wind through the prairie of the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  Bob doesn't like hiking unless he is seeing some great scenery so chose not to go.

The blues and browns are prominent colors in the early light
I got to go early in the morning on a day that was lightly overcast.  It made for beautiful light along a wonderful route. I was able to hike close to lots of badland outcroppings and into eroding canyons.

I had great expectations of reaching the prairie dog community and then stalking them to get some great pictures.  But I was distracted by the scenery.  Then I spotted a mule deer, standing on a cliff and watching me.  Seconds later, I spotted a rabbit sitting so still as be invisible.

Mule deer watcher


Prairie and badlands formations

The day got better and brighter and I walked into a small canyon filled with hoodoos and concretions.

Close view of concretions and hoodoos

Another view from within the canyon
I was surprised to find cactus in both Montana and North Dakota. 
Another close and long view

Then somehow, I managed to completely miss the prairie dog town. Perhaps I had a little help from a bison.

Trail sign/ old Bison rub
I came back to the tour road near the Long X trail pullout, then took the tour  road back to the car. The scenery from the road, was not as dramatic as when seen from the trail which ran a lot closer to the formations.

I got to take a few bee pictures

Mid morning colors

  I considered the hike a great success, even without prairie dogs.