We start our exploration of the Gunflint Trail with lunch on the patio at the Gunflint Lodge.
(We actually started at the Bearskin Lodge in hopes of having lunch in their lovely lake-view dining room. Unfortunately, right now they only serve dinner and only on Wednesdays – and only with reservations. This is a great disappointment both because the lodge would make a lovely lunch stop and because the restaurant apparently was to be run by the marvelous chef behind [now closed] Chez Jude in Grand Marias.)
Our goal is the new Chik-Wauk museum and nature center and (by the time we finish lunch) the day is getting late, so we head straight up there, marveling at the landscape around us along the way. (None of us have been through here since the 2007 Ham Lake Fire and the landscape is dramatically different here, altered by the fire in unexpected ways.)
Chik-Wauk was a small resort before being purchased by the federal government as part of the Boundary Waters Canoe area. As too often happens, the beautiful main lodge was left empty and abandoned for 30 years – fortunately someone eventually saw the value in saving this piece of history. Today it houses a gift shop and small museum that tells the history of this place in particular and the Gunflint Trail in general.
I’m glad to see such a lovely historic structure reused. The idea that all formerly settled “wilderness” areas must be returned to pre-settlement conditions has always baffled me a bit – it seems like a denial of the complicated nature of the world. It seems we should find appropriate uses for historical structures and I hate the way so many historic structures in our forests, parks, and wilderness areas have been destroyed or simply left to rot.
(I am thinking of the Joyce Estate as I write this. Most of that northern Minnesota retreat could no longer be salvaged by the time the Department of the Interior realized it was worth saving. But, of course, the same phenomenon plagues the Upper Post at Fort Snelling, so it isn’t just an issue in wilderness areas. Pretending something never existed just because it doesn’t fit the storyline we want to emphasize today seems like historical amnesia.)
Despite the intervention of humans here, the real highlight at Chik-Wauk is (as it always has been) the gorgeous setting.
Now that we have accomplished our goal for the day, we take time to loop around the end of the road and start working our way back, making detours all along the way wherever we think there might be an interesting lake or overlook.
There are lots of really nice houses here, at the end of the trail before the real wilderness begins.
But mostly we find quiet, almost pristine lakes and the ancient rock the fire exposed.
Now all I need to find is a moose or two.
Just as dusk is ready to descend, J-man and I hike down to a moose viewing area. (The other sit in the car and read.) The occasional rain drops help distract us from noticing the mosquitoes as they land on us. (Mosquitoes another hiker described as being as being as big as a moose). We don’t see a moose, although we hear something large nearby in the woods move, cracking a branch before staying very still. We can’t see it, but I am sure it was a moose.
Time to call it a day.
Next post: Goodbye, Lake Superior