Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Animal Sightings

There seems to have been a rash of moose sightings lately. Last Saturday night Sheryl Hinderman and I went up to Trail's End Cafe for dinner. On the way home we saw a moose in one of the ponds alongside the road.

Several days later Sheryl was passing that same pond when she saw a Mama Moose with her newborn calf. These little guys are really cute right now. Their color is a medium brown. The tops of their ears reach to about Mama's back.

I was coming home from town on Monday and also saw a Mama Moose with her young calf. Mama was in no hurry to get off the road so we all looked at each other for a few minutes. Then she decided it was time to take a bathroom break. Finally she and Junior ambled down the shoulder. Mama was walking but Junior was really running to keep up. They are so ungainly looking!

Bruce has been out lately strawberry picking. He's the only one with the patience to do it. At one of his secret spots he saw a big wolf. We always think of wolves as disappearing immediately from sight. This one sat and watched him before calmly walking into the woods.

Finally Sheryl walked down to the lodge early Monday morning to open up. She took a quick look off the end of the dock before going into the lodge. Overhead there was a beautiful bald eagle soaring in the sky. Just in front of the dock a loon was calling. It's a great way to start the day.

So pay attention as you drive the Trail. Who knows what you will see.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Historical Society

Today is the first annual meeting of The Gunflint Trail Historical Society. It is a new organization whose purpose is to tell the story of the people who live and have lived along the Trail. This story will be available to the public at a place called the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center.

On Saganaga Lake there used to be a resort called Chik-Wauk Lodge. Chik-Wauk means a"jack of pines." It was started in the early 1930's by the Nunstedt family. In 1952 it was sold to Phyllis and Carl Noyes and Erma and Herb Brugger. Bea and Ralph Griffis bought the resort from the Bruggers in 1958.

One of the unique buildings at the resort was a main lodge built entirely of rock. The Nunstedt's had originally built a more traditional log lodge building. This building burned down in 1933 before the first guest stepped in the door. They weren't going to let that happen again so the next building was made with rock walls.

In the 1980 Ralph and Bea sold the resort to the Federal government as part of the 1978 Wilderness Act. Ralph and Bea lived in the main lodge during parts of the summer for the next 20 years before poor health overtook them. Since then the Forest Service has been looking for a use for this historic building.

One idea the Forest Service had was to find a partner who would develop the building into a museum. Last summer this lead to the formation of The Gunflint Trail Historical Society. We are now engaged in building the museum and collecting history on the Gunflint Trail and its people.

It is turning into quite a project. We hope to open the doors in 2010 but we need lots of help from people like those of you reading this blog. None of us know the stories of you or your family's experiences on the Trail. We don't have your pictures or maps or letters or diaries. We don't even know your name to contact you. If you have a story to tell about the Gunflint Trail, please contact us with it. The quilt that will be the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center is going to be sewn from many stories of the people who love this area. Instead of responding to this blog, just use my e-mail address of

As I hear stories, I'll forward these stories on to the rest of you. There are going to be some really good stories coming in.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Driving to Town

For the past 40-some years one of the most constant parts of my life has been the 45-mile drive from Gunflint to Grand Marais.

I first drove up the Trail in June of 1964 on my way to a summer job at Gunflint Lodge. The woman who drove me up was a fast, jerky driver. The section of road that is now County Road 92 was the main trail then and was unpaved. Unknown to my driver, I have terrible motion sickness. My first view of Gunflint Lake as we came down the hill was extremely welcome.

It's hard to estimate how many times I have driven the Trail since then. In the beginning we went to town once every couple weeks in the winter and maybe once a month in the summer. Winter trips were often postponed by a snowstorm until the road crews plowed us out. I learned to make shopping lists so, hopefully, nothing was forgotten. Especially in the winter there was literally no place to buy anything until you got to town.

Now we drive to town at the drop of a hat. The road, the snow plowing and our cars are so advanced that even in the winter it is extremely rare to not be able to get to town. Our sons rode the bus from Gunflint all through their years of school. Snow days were no worse for them than for anyone living closer in.

Justine used to make it to town in the winter even though the Trail was only plowed at Christmas and Easter. In those days you either waited for someone else to go or you shovelled all the uphills going in and the up hills coming home. The car (with chains) could usually make it on the level stretches or downhills.

To people living in a city, 45 miles to town seems endless but I generally enjoy the drive for several reasons. The first is that it is quiet. Running a business and raising a family does not give you much quiet time. The drive to town does. I keep the radio off. Cell phones don't work. I'm frequently driving alone.

Secondly, the drive is also a great place to see game. Yesterday driving home a medium size owl came from the right side and almost hit my windshield before soaring upward. Thursday night Bruce and I saw 2 small fox kits scamper into the brush alongside the road. Sometimes all you see is a mouse but other times you follow a moose down the Trail for a block or more.

Finally, I also have favorite spots to look at. For example while coming up the Trail just before you get to Swamper Lake there are a bunch of rocks peeking out on either side of the road. They are probably the remains of an old river bed. One of our neighbors named them the rock garden and I always think of them as that.

In the spring it's fun to watch the North Brule and the South Brule for the first signs of melting ice. Once they start melting, we know that spring is truly coming. Another less pleasant sign of spring in the heaving of the pavement when the ground under the road melts. Certain parts of the Trail are worse than others and you need to slow down. There are always a couple new spots that rattle your teeth because you go over them too quickly.

I also remember the two (only two) spots where I have put the car in the ditch. No need to repeat those experiences.

Spots where moose are likely are never forgotten. Same with deer spots. When driving with someone else, the rule is that you are responsible for looking for moose or deer on your side of the road. Even so there are close encounters. Bruce once had the length of his car dusted by a moose's chin and knee.

I must admit that the best time to drive the Trail is when you are coming home from a long trip. Once the car passes Hedstrom's Mill, I know that I am home.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Blow Down -- Grow Up

This Fourth of July will be seven years since the Blowdown of 1999. As you may remember a windstorm with winds of over 100 miles per hour swept across the canoe country that afternoon. At Gunflint Lake we were hit full force and trees went down everywhere. Throughout the Superior National Forest (and thus BWCAW) over 30 million trees went down. Luckily no one was seriously hurt.

The aftermath of the storm was really with us for the next year. First there was the mess to clean up. We closed for almost two weeks just to take trees out. The only alternative for parts of our back property was to clearcut. This was true for many areas up and down the trail. Then all winter long we had to live with at least one article a week in the Minneapolis Tribune about not if but when the horrific firestorm was going to sweep through the area. Finally April came and the Gunflint Trail was a sorry looking place. Clearcut areas were just flat and bare. If we managed to survive this great fire that was coming, it would still be forever before we had our forest back.

Well, forever is getting a lot closer. It seems that this summer and last year the regrowth of trees has shot forward. I was walking this week through the area we clearcut. Suddenly there are trees up to ten feet tall. Also you can't see through the growth.

We built a new home across from the stable in the winter of 1999-2000 and didn't have to take down a single living tree. Everything was down. The contractor just pushed it all into a pile and burned it. Poplar are growing off the root systems of the few remaining trees and we have trees 15 feet tall. All the upright birch have died but clumps of new birch are growing out of the stumps. They are 10-12 feet high and beginning to have bark that peels off.

Down on Leo Lake one of the neighbors planted and nurtured some small red pine. They are now 4-5 feet tall and just beautiful to see. Above the Moosehorn Road, the Forest Service planted lots of red pine seedlings. Then a couple of years ago they released them -- that means they cut the brush around the young trees to give them more sunlight. These trees are now about 3 feet tall.

Our side road was hit very hard by the blowdown. You could see Gunflint Lake in places it had never shown through before. By next year the view of the lake will again be covered by forest vegetation.

Don't get the idea that we have a mature forest again. That is still in the future but the growth thus far indicates that the forest is coming. It is truly miraculous the way our forest has regenerated itself.

And, knock on wood, that horrific firestorm hasn't come yet. In fact, most of the fuel for that fire has already rotted away.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Canoe Races

Yesterday I started my annual rounds to pick up raffle items for the Gunflint Lake Canoe Races on July 19th. For over 25 years these races have been held. Except for a few at the very beginning the races have been used to raise money for the Gunflint Trail Rescue Squad which became the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department some years ago. It's our annual community picnic on the Gunflint Trail.

When the rescue squad was first formed, everyone knew that it would take a coordinated effort by the entire community to financially support and to staff the squad. An unspoken understanding arose that the older residents (both seasonal and year-around) would raise the money. The younger, year-around residents would staff the squad. Eveeryone did the tasks that they did best to give the community a much needed service -- an ambulance and now a fire department.

Today the Trail residents still contribute according to their abilities. Anyone who has every chaired the event will tell you that the committees are the best ever. They just do their jobs year in and year out with almost no direction. Many committees are now headed by a second or third chairman who learned their job from the previous chair. We need lots of unusual skills too. One man stands at the cash till for food and can quickly and accurately total the food cost in his head. Another couple spend a week or more carefully labeling all the raffle gifts so merchants get full credit. Three teams collect gifts throughout the community. So many women make sloppy joes and have for so many years that it's become everyone's favorite recipe.

On the day of the races about 300-400 people will appear at Gunflint Lodge in the late afternoon. Races start at 6:00 and so do the raffles. Smokey the Bear will be here. There are minnow races for the kids. Golfers can try their luck at hitting floating golf balls into a floating canoe. There are races for every age. Voyageur Canoe Outfitters often brings down a big voyageur canoe for rides. Last year, our Jamaican students even set up a little booth to braid hair. They contributed over $100 to the event.

The final event occurs around 9:00 p.m. when we raffle off a Winonah canoe which the Winonah Canoe Company has donated. For several years now it seems that the canoe has been won by some young staff person from a nearby resort who only bought one ticket. They will use this canoe for the rest of their lives. Bruce says these kids are much more appropriate winners than a gray-haired old fart like him.

Raffles and races, food and drink are all fine but the best part of the race is seeing all your neighbors. We may only see each other once a year but it is time to catch up on news and see how the kids have grown. My own children always remember canoe races in the summer. I know that I will be looking for Ken Rusk to get my annual hug and kiss.

If you are in the area, plan on spending the evening at the Gunflint Trail Canoe Races on July 19th at Gunflint Lodge.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

A Gift from the Past

Sometimes the receipt of an item that had belonged to a relative will give you an emotional hit that is unexpected. This is what happened to the Kerfoot family this week. When Bruce's mother Justine passed away, one of the items left in her garage was an Old Town canoe. Mom had owned the canoe forever. One of her unfinished tasks was to recanvas it. The new roll of canvas was sitting in the canoe.

We all hemmed and hawed about what to do with the canoe. It was in terrible condition but we didn't want to trash it. Even Bruce was somewhat daunted by the restoration project. After a couple of years, Robert got moving. He found a woman in Ely who did canoe restoration and contacted her. It turned out that Jeanne Bourquin is one of the top old boat restorers in the country. They talked. A deal was struck and she picked up the canoe.

Last week Lee received word that the canoe was done. Jeanne would be bringing it to Grand Marais for the Wooden Boat Festival. Today Bruce and I went down to bring the canoe home. We had quite a time finding Jeanne since we had never met her and had no idea what she looked like. We went to her motel and got a general description. Finally I approached a woman who seemed about right and said, "Excuse me but are you Jean Bourquin?" She nodded yes.

Bruce and she quickly took off for the motel in our small Ranger pickup to load the canoe. It seemed to take forever. When he returned the canoe was sheathed in a canvas sack. I had to take his word that it was wonderful.

Immediately upon getting home, we called Lee to come down. As Lee and Bruce removed the canvas, this fire engine red canoe emerged. It is perfect! The inside looks brand new. The cane seats are solid and ready to take a paddlers' weight. No detail was overlooked. The slot of every screw is lined up the same way. A little later Eva was able to come down and breath in the magic of the canoe.

Jeanne had even researched the origins of the canoe with Old Town Canoe Company. They keep exact records of all their boats. Canoe #102497 was sold to Mom in 1929. It was the same year she and Grandma Spunner bought the lodge.

But the emotional impact of this canoe came from all the memories it brought back. Mom told me that the Native Americans across the lake taught her the "J" stroke. She paddled back and forth in front of the lodge until she mastered the stroke. Decades later I watched one day as she and her great friend, Charlotte Merrick, paddle into the current and up Little Rock Rapids on the north side of Magnetic Lake. Then there was the filming of "Lady of the Gunflint Trail." At 72 Mom portaged and paddle this canoe in the film.

We only know a small fraction of the tales this canoe could tell but it was wonderful to welcome it home.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Gary Lake

Yesterday was one of those necessary days of scattered showers. Several times during the day blue skies appeared between white puffs of clouds. I quickly brought my inside chore to a stopping point. However, just as I was ready to step out the door, another rain shower started. Nothing got done in the gardens.

By late afternoon I was pretty frustrated. Bruce suggested that perhaps I might wish to go with him on a minnow collection run. He was going to Gary Lake, that elusive location I had never been invited to. "Yes" was the immediate answer.

We were in the midst of a shower so rain gear had to be dragged out and put on. And don't forget a baseball cap or else you can't see when the hood of your rain gear is up. It was warm enough that old tennis shoes worked fine. We stopped at the lodge for bait (old bread) and Tucker. Tucker was not interested in coming. He doesn't like to share the bench seat in the truck with anyone but Bruce.

After a short drive, we got to the landing where our canoe rests. It's not really a landing as much as a small muddy entrance to a narrow, shallow creek leading to the lake. On both sides of the creek were the tall grasses typical of these areas.

The canoe was loaded with a cooler for minnows and the new bait. Bruce said there were nine traps to check. We paddled down the winding creek. It is not the best situation to promote marital harmony, but our marriage survived. Because of the rain, mosquitoes were out in force. Rain gear is a great protection from mosquitoes as well as rain.

The best-kept secret of Gary Lake is the trip down the creek. At this time of year it is lined with wild iris! They were unbelievable. These iris are much smaller and more delicate than our domestic ones. The pale purple leaves have a vein of yellow that quickly divides into many little veins of pale, pale yellow. Only about half the blossoms had opened but it was still a huge collection of purple.

Bruce suggested cutting some for a vase back home. I quickly said that the flowers didn't last long enough. But I have to admit that the real reason for not cutting the iris was that they belonged in a setting like the sides of our winding creek. Here they peeked out at you from around every curve and grass bunch. Even if Bruce and I are the only people to see them (which is probably the case), this is where they should remain.

So we collected the minnows, endured the mosquitoes, and enjoyed the iris on our trip to Gary Lake.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Wildflowers Galore

We are far enough into June that the roadside wildflowers are everywhere. The most spectacular are the lupine. In the last week it seems like they have all decided to bloom. Purples are, of course, the most common color but there are also lots of shades of pink. I have even seen some that are of an ivory color.

A couple years ago one of our neighbors used to have beautiful yellow lupine. I really coveted the seeds off those plants along the road but did not want to take them without permission. Finally I got around to asking one summer. The next year there were no yellow flowers! A friend of mine who knows a lot more about flowers that I do suggested that the yellows were hybrids. After a couple of generations, the hybrid colors do not come through any longer.

Lupine may be the showest flower along the road, but they are not the only ones. Great patches of tiny yellow flowers herald the arrival of hawkweeds. A few orange hawkweed are sprinkled in. Buttercups are not far behind. The white flowers are shasta daisies. Nestled down along the ground are wild strawberry blossoms.

In the woods the bunchberries are in full bloom. Star flowers and false lily of the valley are two other white flowers that grow on the floor of the forest. The lady slippers are finished but it was nice to see some returning to their pre-blowdown locations. Columbine is doing very nicely. Labrador tea is another flower that is almost finished.

While driving the Trail today, I forgot to look in the iris pond at the junction of the Hungry Jack Road and the Gunflint Trail. Just a bit past the parking lot of Trail Center is a little pond. Every spring we see a beautiful display of wild iris in there. So if you are driving by in the next few days, be sure to look to see if they are in bloom.

This is just a short list of all the flowers in bloom. Mostly it's restricted to those that I can actually recognize or remember. There are a lot more flowers. Get yourself a color coded guide and spend some time looking around as you hike through the woods.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

A Little More History

Anyone who has eaten breakfast or lunch in our dining room has seen the map of Gunflint Lake that we use as a placemat. On it the route of the Port Arthur, Duluth and Western Railway is shown along the north shore of Gunflint Lake. There isn't much more information about the railroad on the placemat so I thought you would enjoy learning a bit more.

The railroad ran from Port Arthur for 86 miles in Ontario to the narrows between Gunflint and Magnetic. There a bridge was built (we have a picture of the bridge), You can see the supports for the bridge as you motor through the narrows. The railroad continued for 6 more miles in Minnesota. It ended at the Paulson Mile which is located in on the Kekakabic Trail. The year was 1892.

During this time period it was widely believed that there were great deposits of iron, gold and silver in this area just waiting to be discovered. The town of Gunflint would expand into a city. The American end of the railroad would connect with the Port Arthur, Duluth & Western Railway Company of Minnesota which was just 50 miles away.

For a variety of reason the connection was never made. One reason became apparent when the first and only load of ore was shipped from the Paulson mine. It was low grade taconite which could not be refined at that time. Another reason was that a financial panic in the U. S. in the early 1890's dried up investment funds. Also the Canadian company was bought by the Canadian Northern Railway as part of their system for bringing western grain to Port Arthur. After this purchase the Duluth Extension was used only for silver and lumbering. Once those died, the line ended.

Talking about the dry facts of this railroad makes one forget that there is a human toll to building such a railroad. We have a reminder of that toll just across the lake from us. In a rock cut along the railroad route is a nicely chiseled cross. It marks the spot where one of the workers was killed by a dynamite blast. Charlie Cook, our Native American friend, told Justine about it years ago but that is all we knew.

Just recently Kevin Roalson, a former sales manager for us, sent me an article telling about this lethal blast. It seems that Joseph Montegen and 3 other men were blasting three holes with dynamite. Two blasts went off perfectly but the third never ignited. They waited 15 minutes and then went to look. One man poured water into the hole while Mr. Montegen dug out the loose rock that had been put on top. Suddenly the blast went off and Mr. Montegen caught it in the front of his body. He was killed instantly. It is a sad story but probably not unusual for the times.

On a cheerier note, the railroad has had a couple interesting nicknames. In Canada it was known as the "ghost railway to nowhere." Here at Gunflint Bruce's parents called it the "Poverty, Want and Dispair." Certainly nothing much ever came of it.

Between 1904 and 1916 the track between Gunflint and North Lake was abandoned. We have several pictures of a speeder care being used on it including one with Grandma Spunner and guests. The trestle that crossed Burnt Trestle Bay was burned by two men who lite a fire under it to stay warm when stranded one the winter. The station at North Lake was used for many years. Eventually it was moved to Addie Lake to become a summer cabin.

That's your history lesson for today.

Friday, June 09, 2006


Hello Everyone,

Occasionally as guests contact me I would like to post their comments in cyberspace for everyone to read.

This summer guests have been "thrilled" and "Blown Away" with some of our new changes to the lodge and the staff in general.

Here is a longer testimonial from a guest in May "My family and myself had the honor of spending the weekend at your place. I just wanted to say how blown away we all were by your service and personal interest in us. It was wonderful. I hope to come back many more times. I will recommend the Gunflint Lodge to everyone. I was truly amazed by your staff. Everyone from the front desk, waiters and bartenders, the service and kindness was consistent all the way through. Thank you so much."

A guest staying with us right now was overheard saying "When my friends would go back to the same place year after year for their family vacation I could never understand why anyone would do that. After spending a couple of nights at Gunflint I finally can understand what they were feeling."

I would love to hear some comments about your experience at Gunflint Lodge. Nothing makes me happier than sharing guest comments with our staff. This year we really have an amazing team.

We look forward to welcoming you to Gunflint.


Thursday, June 08, 2006

Fishing Guides

After reading about our fishing success, the guides at Gunflint demanded equal time. After all, they are the true professionals at this. We are just a retired couple trying to entertain house guests. So here we go.

Jon Schei has had a couple of fun days. On the 6th he and his party got 5 lake trout with the largest weighing in at 8 lbs. They also caught about 20 bass ranging from 15-19". Somehow 1 walleye snuck into the mix. Then yesterday Jon decided it was time for walleyes. They got 11 in the 22-26" range. Fifteen bass and a 34" northern completed the mix.

Dennis Todd also has had a couple of good days but they were the reverse of Jon's. On the 6th Dennis was catching walleyes. There were 15 of them including one at 30". Yesterday Dennis's party caught oodles of bass and northerns. How do you figure what is hot on any given day?

Last but by no means least, Adam Treeful had his story of a day full of not just fishing but also catching. In 40 minutes his party limited out in lake trout. They moved on to walleye with good success including 2 fat ones that measured 23" and 24". There was also a nice eater walleye. That's fishing code for one in the 2-3 pound class. Filling out the day there were lots of bass to provide plenty of fighting action.

It sounds like the Gunflint guides having been having some pretty good days on the water. There is no doubt that men who are on the water day in and day out keep track of where the fish are better than an old retired guide.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Fishing Games

Yesterday was Nancy's last day with us so we decided to go Lake Trout fishing in the afternoon. It was a wonderful day. Clear blue skies with a south wind to put a light waves on the water.

We drove over to Bruce's favorite spot on the north shore of Gunflint Lake. I can't tell you exactly where it is or what we fished with because these details are deep dark secrets for all guides. It's kind of like the location of your best wild raspberry patch.

One common fishing game is to have a pool for the first, the biggest, and the most. Usually the winners get a cash reward but we didn't have any money so we just talked about it.

Well, Bruce got the first trout after we had been out for about 1 1/2 hours. It was a nice 3 lb. fish but not quite enough for dinner since Lee and Eva were going to join us. We could have all had a taste.

Then we entered the long dry spell. The frustrating part was that Bruce's deep finder was showing fish all over and lots of them. We tried trolling and jigging with just about every kind of bait. Each rod had a different lure on it or a different color on it. Any fisherman readying this is familiar with the situation.

Finally about 5:30 Nancy got a fish. By then she had been snagged on the bottom so she just thought she was snagged again. Bruce felt the line and said, "Would you believe a fish?" A few minutes later she landed a beautiful 7 lb. trout. That was the biggest.

By now I was feeling a little bit left out. It would not be long before we went back home. In just a few minutes I felt that familiar tug on the line. A nice 5 lb. fish ended up in the net. Then shortly after that I got a second fish so that took care of the prize for the most.

We fished a bit longer to try to limit out with two more fish. Of all those thousands of fish, there were only four hungry ones, or maybe dumb ones. We drove home with four fish and sunburns after a relaxing day on the water. It was a great dinner!

Friday, June 02, 2006

Evening Sky

Last night I was in Grand Marais playing softball. It's an activity that I am not particularly great at but the team needs another player. About half way through the game, the blue skies with puffy white clouds turned black. We got spits and sputters of rain but managed to finish the game.

Afterward I drove home watching an ever-changing sky. Coming up the hill from Grand Marais, there were two rainbows on my right. The furtherest right one was the brightest with colors going green-yellow-red-purple. The colors on the left rainbow went purple-red-yellow-green. I am assuming that they were caused by another shower at a different angle to me.

After passing Hedstrom's mill, the clouds broke up more. The setting sun gave me bright orange clouds with a blue sky. I'm trying to find the correct shade of blue to tell you what I saw but azure seems to fit best.

Moving further up the Trail the clouds were gray but the reflected sun made parts of them look pink. Of course, the blue sky continued to show between these clouds.

By mid-Trail I was back to orange with some dark gray clouds. This time the blue sky was a bright aquamarine. Luckily the sun was below the horizon as I drove along Poplar Lake. If your timing is wrong, the setting summer sun can shine directly in your eyes all along Poplar Lake.

Once I got up to Iron Lake and Loon Lake, the blue sky had turned a very pale blue. It was almost white with just a hint of blue tint. The clouds were a steel gray.

Coming down the hill at Gunflint, there were a few streaks of sunlight hitting the clouds. They were more the yellow of a setting sun with gray clouds overhead.

It isn't very often that the colors of the sky change so dramatically as you drive along. Because of the trees alongside the Trail, you only get a very narrow view of the sky. Rarely are there huge vistas and that probably contributed to the changes in colors that I saw. Whatever the reason, it turned a very familiar drive into something with a surprise around every corner.