Friday, December 28, 2007

Winter at Gunflint Lodge

Hello Everyone,

I returned on Wednesday evening after a long day of travel from CT to Gunflint Lodge. Between the drive to the airport, the flights, and the drive home from MPLS I was traveling for 16 hours. It was a long day.

The drive from Duluth to Grand Marais is always my least favorite part of the drive (but only in the winter months). I don't like this part of the drive because there are so many deer that can jump out at you at any time so you always have to be scanning the ditches and road for deer. Fortunately I did not see any deer. The drive from Grand Marais to Gunflint is always one of my favorite parts even though by the time I get to town I am exhausted. I like this part of the drive because you always have a good chance of seeing a moose and my return trip did not let me down. Like mom said in earlier blogs the moose normally hang out between South Brule and the North Brule, but I didn't see any moose on that part of the drive. Fortunately I kept my eyes open for moose because around Iron Lake I saw two cow moose separated by about 5 miles. Both of them were kind enough to be walking off the road by the time I saw them so I didn't have to be worried about hitting them. Both of the moose looked healthy and full so hopefully they are pregnant with baby moose.

Today two of our employees went out on the ice to test it and returned with the following report about the thickness of the ice. Directly in front of the dock cribbing the ice is about 14 inches thick. This was one of the first areas on our 1/2 of the lake to freeze. About 100 yards out the ice was between 10 and 12 inches thick. Then they ventured out to the ice that had recently frozen and found that the ice was quickly thinning. The last spot they measured before retreating to shore was 5 inches thick. The rate at which it was thinning was fast enough to scare them from venturing further out onto the lake. We all agreed that with how quickly it was thinning it definitely is not safe yet. So if you are coming to Gunflint Lodge the ice along the shoreline is safe, but please do not venture out onto the lake yet because it is not safe.

A couple of posts ago mom told the story of how a couple of natives checked the ice for safety. One story I have been told is that if the animals are not seen walking on the ice, then it probably isn't safe yet. We have not seen any large animals like deer roaming around on the ice yet. At least the animal theory is consistent with our sample holes we drilled.

The ski trails are mostly all open and groomed. Shari Baker at the Gunflint Pines e-mailed out this report about the snow conditions up here: Total snowfall this season is 34" with 5" in the past week. The snow depth off of the ski trails is at 18". We have between a 5 and 8 inch base of snow on the trails. All of the open trails were groomed on the 27th or the 28th so the tracks should be in great condition as I type this post.

Whenever I return from vacation I like to walk around the property just to see how things I get to spend some outside time with our dog Tucker. After watching Tucker have to jump to get through the snow I decided that the current snow on the ground is probably deeper than at any time last winter. It was good to see all of the snow on the ground and in the trees.

One last note is that we do have some availability in early January if you are looking for an early winter vacation. Give us a call if you are interested as this is normally a time when we are sold out, but for some reason we have a few empty cabins.


Monday, December 17, 2007

A Christmas Trip

Bruce and I are off again tomorrow. We will be home on the 30th.

These last few days we have been working on finishing projects before going. All the presents are wrapped. I made cookies. The clothes are washed so now it is time to pack – not a favorite activity of mine. Bruce cleans and packs the car. I may even have time to run the vacumn. Tonight we go to one last Christmas party. With all our stops, it will take us 4 days to get east.

Saturday Bruce and Dave Seaton finished all their cutting of the pine tree. This picture shows Dave cutting one of the slabs that will become a counter in the museum.

Bruce even got a chance to do some of the cutting. Now these pieces will get sealer on them in the pole barn. They will dry all winter before the finishing work is done.

The decorators at the lodge did a great job this weekend. Here is a picture of the outside of the lodge.

It looks better at night but even now is an improvement over the gray nothingness. Between Christmas decorations and summer flowers, I really get spoiled.

Finally here is a picture from the overlook on the main Trail of Gunflint Lake.

It is all nicely covered over with ice. If you look at the Narrows, you might think that there is no ice. You would be right! The Narrows is where all the water drains out of Gunflint on its journey to Hudson’s Bay. Because there is always running water, the Narrows never freezes solid. All winter long we warn guests to stay away from this part of the lake. Ice is never safe if there is running water. There are lots of stories to tell about people who didn’t learn this lesson.

So now we are in a waiting game for the ice to get solid. It is no where near safe yet. John has put up signs on our dock and down at the public landing to warn people to stay off the ice. Years ago we used to have George Plummer across the lake to tell us when it was safe. Now we wait until we think it is safe and then wait another week.

Irv Benson on Saganaga Lake was another one who tested the ice. He cut a green stick about 5 or 6 feet long. When he was fairly certain the ice was safe, Irv would start walking out. The walking stick would hit the ground next one of his feet with each step. From the vibrations of the green stick, Irv could tell if the ice was safe. It all sounds pretty easy sitting here at my desk but don’t ask me to go out and try it. I’ll just wait until some else tells me it is safe.

Eventually the ice will get thick enough on the lake to support a car. We don’t drive all over the lake but we could. Mother used to tell about chasing a wolf with her Model T on the lake. The wolf turned around and gave her a big vicious snarl. Mom decided it was time to go home.

Once the lake is safe to walk on, you can still get in plenty of trouble. Slush is a real mess. It is formed from the weight of new snow pressing down on the entire lake. Eventually a crack forms and water pours onto the new snow creating slush. This slush is insulated from freezing by dry snow on top of it. It will not freeze solid until the dry snow is disturbed by wind blowing it off or by a snowmobile trying to go through it.

One time we had two young girls riding Mom’s Polaris Playmate snowmobile. They got into some slush and thought they were going through the ice. Both of them jumped off the machine and ran to shore. Then they realized they had not turned off the snowmobile so one of them ran back to do that. The main danger they were in was having the snowmobile freeze solid to the lake. Bruce came out and quickly got the machine out of the slush. Then he cleaned all the wet snow out of the track so that would not freeze either.

Now is not the time to get into ice stories. There are hundreds of them all with the same theme – don’t trust the ice. Over the winter I’ll tell you some more stories.

Drive carefully over the holidays. Gunflint family wishes you and your family a merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Sled Dogs Are Here

Gunflint Lake finally froze last night. Bob Baker, whose home has a huge view of the lake, says it is frozen as far as he can see. From the east end Fran says that everything they can see is frozen. Everyone knew the lake was ready. All that it needed was a cold, cold night. We had that last night with temperatures well below zero.

During the day yesterday, the temperatures were nicely above zero. So we got another three inches of snow. It is starting to build up. I think we are about at the time when the groomers can start to track the ski trails.

Another seasonal change has happened this past week. The sled dogs have arrived for the winter. Two gals, Linda and Helen, will be running the program this year. Here is a picture of Linda and one of her puppies.

Helen also has puppies here. They are both very excited about being up north.

The program has changed a bit. The gals are going to concentrate more on putting a little adventure into it. The options will no longer be just a ride on the loop. They want to take guests out into the BWCA, out on the lake, and out fishing. Spend a few minutes on the main website at the lodge to look at the schedule of mushing events. I think that you will find them very interesting.

This week was also tree cutting week. One of the needs for the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center is a “cookie” (round slab with bark) to show the rings of a tree and explain what they tell us. The first project was to find the tree. Bruce and I drove around last fall and found one just behind the stable. Here is a picture of the tree just before cutting.
I know the tree looks beautiful but notice that the top is gone. That means the tree is dying. It is just what we were looking for – a dying tree that was still pretty solid. In addition to the cookie, this tree will supply the museum with boards for the top of a counter and benches for the theater. There is no sense in letting this good wood rot away.

Last Wednesday, Dave Seaton came up to help Bruce or maybe Bruce was helping Dave. Well, you know the stories about boys and their toys. Dave had a new bar on his chain saw that would make a 24” cut. Bruce had the bobcat to help lift and move the sections of the tree. They were both really enjoying themselves.

The tree came down just where they planned it. They had to go up about 20 feet along the trunk to get a solid cookie. The base up to the cookie was already rotted out in the middle. Here is a picture of Dave cutting that cookie with Bruce in the bobcat holding the tree in place.
Next time you see it, the cookie will be in the museum.

When they were cutting the tree down, Bruce noticed that there was a squirrel in it. He careful watched and saw the squirrel jump free of the falling tree. Later they searched and found the squirrel hole and the nest material that had been in the hole. We saved that too. It may find its way into the museum too.

We have another group of holiday decorators at the lodge this weekend to finish the putting up lights and trees and wreaths all over. I’ll take some pictures and send them to you on Monday.

Last night was the staff Christmas party. After a wonderful dinner, everyone went down to Okontoe for a sleigh ride and some carol singing. It is the time of year when we realize, again, how lucky we are to have such a great staff.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Moose on the Loose

It’s time to check in with you folks again. After six weeks of traveling, just doing ordinary household tasks feels good. Another thing that improves life is that Bruce and I are finally over the effects of jet lag. Of course, time is still going on even on Gunflint Lake. Christmas is coming and there is too much to do.

Driving up and down to Trail is another common happening in our lives. We love to see what will appears along the way. Thursday night we were driving home from Duluth when a moose popped out. I mean a MOOSE. We had just passed the North Brule River and turned into the left curve when he appeared on our lane. All we could see from our SUV was a huge rump and long, long legs. And the worst was that we were looking up at that rump!

Luckily Bruce was going slowly enough that we were able to move into the left lane. We were so hypnotized by the rump that we never looked to see if he had antlers. Bruce figured he was so big that it had to be a bull moose. That is just too close to come to a moose. And yes, even though it was too dark for a picture, I did not have my camera with me.

Quite a few people have been seeing moose lately. We generally consider the path of the Trail from the South Brule River to Swamper Lake to be “moose country.” On one trip to town we saw three moose there and then two moose Thursday night. Moose can appear other spots too. A friend coming up from town saw one near the Trout Lake Road, another hot spot of moose activity. She also saw more moose further up the Trail.

Last winter we did not see very many moose on the Trail and we all became complacent. Well, change your attitude and slow down. Get your passenger to help. The passenger watches the right ditch and the driver watches the left ditch. Everyone looks for tracks on the road. Tracks can be a good indicator of animal activity. Moose are fun to see while you are driving but you don’t want to see them too closely.

This next picture shows the view from the top of our driveway over Gunflint Lake on the 4th. You can just barely see a thin line of open water on the far side of the lake. If I took that same picture today, it would all be open water. The east end of the lake had not frozen and the wind came up. It blew out all the ice. When a lake is partially frozen, even a light wind from the wrong direction will blow out new ice. Last night was 10 below here but there was a wind. Gunflint didn’t freeze. The first calm night we have will be when the lake freezes. Then it’s a wait until the ice is safe. When we think it is safe, we wait another week before venturing out.

My last picture shows you why we live in the woods. This picture was taken outside my office window about 1:30 this afternoon. I know you can’t see to count, but the buck is a ten-pointer and just huge. He was pawing the snow to get at the leftover leaves from my iris plants and was in no rush to leave.

I don’t think that deer can see through windows. After calling Bruce and visiting Lisa, I grabbed for my camera on the desk. A furious time of shooting pictures finally gave me this one. All the time the buck continued to concentrate on his snack. How do you think he knew the leaves were under a foot of snow? That is my question of the day.

It was a fun day at our house. It’s late in the afternoon and the temperature is dropping. The wind has gone down. Maybe the lake will freeze tonight.

Moose and Deer Sightings

It is time to check in with all of you again. After being away for six weeks, it feels good to just do ordinary tasks at home. Of course, life continues to march on. Christmas is still coming and the lake is still waiting to freeze over. Bruce and I appear to finally be over jet lag.

The picture below shows him with his grandparents – us.

Another part of our life is driving up and down the Gunflint Trail to town or Duluth. On Thursday night we were returned from a day trip to Duluth. We were in a little rush because it was the night of Shari and Bob Baker’s Christmas party. This is always a fun time. At any rate we crossed the North Brule River and started into the left turning curve. All of a sudden there was a moose in our lane. By this I mean a MOOSE. From our SUV we were looking up at its rump. In fact Bruce and I were so hypnotized by the size of this rump and the length of the legs that we never took time to see if it had antlers. Bruce figured it must have been a bull because it was so huge. Luckily we were able to get into the left lane at a reduced speed and move past the animal.

This should be a warning to all of us who got complacent last year about moose. For whatever reason last winter, very few moose were seen while driving the Trail. Generally, you can consider “moose country” to be from the South Brule River to Swamper Lake. In our last two trips we have seen 4 moose within that area. Others have also reported seeing moose there. That does not mean they can’t be other places. A friend coming up from town saw one by the Trout Lake Road, another hotspot of moose activity, plus other moose further up the Trail.

Take a few minutes longer to drive the Trail by going a little slower. Also get your passengers trained help watch the road. The passenger watches the right ditch and the driver watches the left ditch. Finally, everyone looks for tracks on the road. Tracks are another good indicator that game is active in the area.

This picture shows the view from the top of our driveway just a few days ago.

See how the lake is almost frozen across? Well, if you took that picture today, it would all be open water. The lake did not freeze over the next night and the wind came up. When the lake does not completely freeze over, all it takes is a light, steady wind to take out all the ice. Last night is was 10 below. Because there was a wind, the lake did not freeze and we still have open water.

This last picture tells you why we live in the woods.

It was taken this afternoon about 1:30, 2:00 p.m. right out my office window. I was just stepping into the office to get a book. After quickly calling Bruce and visiting Lisa, the camera was the next thing I grabbed for. In case you can’t easily count, that is a ten-point buck. He was pawing at the ground to eat the leftover leaves from my iris garden. He was magnificent.

I don’t think that deer can see through a window clearly. We were moving around and taking pictures but he just stayed put. It is times like this that the digital camera really comes in handy.

So there we have the most current activities at our house. Hope things are just as exciting at your house.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Early Winter on the Gunflint Trail

I did a little tour of the neighborhood looking for pictures for the blog. Having to come up with pictures makes me do more than sit at the computer and think nice thoughts. For our trip we bought one of the small digital cameras. It sure was nice to just pop it into my small fanny pack. Now the plan it to keep it in the car for each time we go to town. Of course, I forgot it when we went to town yesterday. Two moose were on the road when we came home. You will just have to take my word for it.

Now that things are quiet around the lodge, animals have been appearing again. Lee has seen moose and otters. One of the otters was having a grand time sliding down some new shore ice into the lake. The deer are also all around especially since the hunting season ended. How they know to disappear during hunting season is beyond me. This morning there were three on our driveway. The fox couple from last year also appears to be hanging around.

Today I went visiting the ski trails that have now been packed and groomed for the first time this winter. There are no tracks on them yet. Those will come with the next snow fall. It is just good to start seeing all the trails come out of the woods. I think this picture of the Highlands Trail by the road overlook gives you a pretty good idea.

My pictures will improve with practice – I hope.

Gunflint Lake is not frozen yet. This picture by the bridge at Cross River shows how the ice is forming out into the lake.

There are actually three bands of ice. The first one was just before we got our last two inches of snow. Then there is a narrow band frozen one cold night. Finally we got a much wider band that froze last night. Beyond that is the open water steaming as it cools down. The steaming means that the water is warmer than the air. That is not hard to believe since it was 7 degrees this morning.

Most of the smaller lakes along the Trail are frozen now. Magnetic Lake froze several days ago. Loon Lake was in the middle of freezing yesterday. Parts were frozen but there were also patches of open water. Loon may have finished freezing last night. It was cold and calm. Our coldest nights come during a full moon with no clouds and no wind. Once a lake is totally frozen, it won’t go out until next spring. If it has open water, there is always a chance that strong winds will blow it open again.

Then there is the issue of making solid, hard ice. Ideally, there is a period of 5-6 nights after a lake freezes when the temperatures are low and there is no snow. This will give you several inches of clear blue ice. Snow during this period will insulate the new ice and really slow down the growth of the ice. And this is what puts us into a bind because, of course, we would like lots and lots of snow. Fortunately, Mother Nature makes the decisions about ice and snow.

Another stop I made was at the lodge. Bonnie went out yesterday and cut a balsam Christmas tree for the lodge. This picture shows it propped up against the steps leading into the lodge.

The bright orange tag shows that we paid our $5 fee to the Forest Service for cutting a tree on their land. Trees cut in a natural forest are not like those from a tree farm. They are much more irregular and not nearly as dense because they have not been cut and formed during their growth.

This weekend the tree will go up as part of our first weekend of Holiday Decorating. Each year we have guests who come to help decorate the lodge and grounds for Christmas. I will admit that helping decorate Gunflint Lodge is not quite as prestigious as decorating the White House (they use volunteers too) but we think it is just as much fun.

I’ll spend the next couple of days exploring the neighborhood some more. Who knows what stories will appear.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

On to England

Before we get into the last part of our trip, I just wanted to let you know that we did get our snow. Overnight there was an accumulation of about 8 inches. This gives us over a foot on the ground. It is just glorious outside. Dave Tuttle, who helps pack our ski trails, will be out packing and grooming after this snowfall.

Now let’s get on to the last of our trip. By the time Bruce and I arrived in London we were ready to be on our own. Four and a half weeks on tour is tiring. Our plan was to spend the next week exploring the Cotswolds, a place we last visited 35 years ago.

To get to the Cotswolds we had to drive. This is not as easy as you might think. Remember they drive on the wrong side of the road over there. They also have lots of roundabouts (traffic circles) that work totally backwards to us. Finally the driver sits in the right seat and many controls like blinkers are on the opposite side to us. With both of us watching carefully we made it to our destination, Stow on the Wold.

The first night was spent in an inn on the square at Stow. The next day we found what we really wanted – a cottage. Here is a picture of Box Cottage where we spent the next five nights.

It is a small rental cottage in Broadwell, a tiny village about 5 miles from Stow. The cottage has one bedroom and bathroom, a living room with wood stove and a kitchen/dining area. Within walking distance was a pub which served good food. We ate there every night and eliminated the need to drive after dark.

The plan had been to spend time hiking but it didn’t work out. Several days were rainy or too cold and damp to make walking fun. Also the area had had flooding in the spring. Everything was wet and all the trails were very muddy. We tried one day and came home with an inch of muddy clay sticking to our shoes. On to Plan Two.

We spent several days exploring the small towns all around us. Here is a picture of the village green at Broadway.

We often saw riders out with their horses and leading a second horse for exercise. It was nice to be among English speaking people and restaurant menus that were familiar to us. One day we even met a clerk who had been to Northfield, Minnesota, and had heard of the Boundary Waters! With Christmas coming we did some shopping. Buying anything brought us face-to-face with the declining dollar and it makes travel expensive.

Two days were spent visiting castles. The first visit was to Blenheim Castle where Winston Churchill was born. Set on 2100 acres of land, it has been in the same family since the early 1700’s. It is huge and filled with all the touches of a great castle. It was also “dressed” (as the English say) for Christmas. Our second visit was to Windsor Castle. Here is a picture of the changing of the guard at Windsor Castle.

We were lucky to be the only two people on the tour of the outside grounds. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable about the history of the castle. In this royal residence, everything was impressive from the rooms to the paintings to the floors. After the extensive damage from fire in 1992, everything was repaired. One parquet floor was somewhat blackened from the fire. The solution was to pry up each piece, turn the bottom side into the top side, and refinish the new top side. Both castles were a fun glimpses into life styles we will never experience.

By the time we got to our last hotel near Gatwick Airport, we were ready to go home. It had been a wonderful trip but home sounded really good. We spent the night in Minneapolis and were awake at 5:30 and driving home by 6:00. Even filling up with groceries, we were home by 1:00 for a late lunch. That night our own bed felt great.

Saturday, December 01, 2007


The next stop on our trip was Egypt. We flew with two other couples on the Turkey trip into Cairo. There we joined with two more couples bringing our group size up to 10.

The first day in Cairo was spent visiting Geza and Sakkarra. Geza is the location of the Sphinx and its three main accompanying pyramids. Up close they are as awesome as in a pictures. Geza is also filled with tourists, venders, police, camels, horses, and horse drawn buggies. It is a very busy place. Sakkarra is the first pyramid built and is called the Step Pyramid. It is hard to imagine that these pyramids were built over 4,000 years ago.

The next day we left Cairo and headed out into the Sahara Desert. We spent our first week visiting the western oasises of the Sahara. During this week we received a first touch of the vastness of this desert that stretches all across the top of Africa. Once away from an oasis nothing grows because there is literally no water, rain, dew or moisture. Even in an oasis, water is at a premium. Sand, dust and dry air are everywhere.

A couple of highlights stand out from that week. On my 62nd birthday we went for an hour’s camel ride in the desert. The picture below shows our mounts.

Just watching the camels saddled up was great entertainment. Once we relaxed riding them wasn’t too bad. Of course, I would not look forward to a long trip on a camel.

Another night we camped out in the desert. We along with all our equipment drove out in three four-wheel drive vehicles. On the way we stopped to buy firewood as there is none in the desert. At our campsite the vehicles were arranged in a “U” shape. Large rugs were staked and tied to the vehicles to protect the inside of the “U” from wind. This picture gives you an idea of the setup.

Rugs were laid down. Next came tables with six inch legs. The guides prepared a wonderful dinner of roast chicken, rice and potatoes with vegetables. After dinner they made a traditional tea of tea, mint and sugar. Then it was time to sleep. The tables were removed and foam mattresses were laid side-by-side on the rugs. Sleeping bags went on top and we crawled in. We must have looked like a bunch of hot dogs on a grill. All of us slept with varying degrees of success but all also agreed that the starry sky was unbelievable.

Our second week in Egypt was spent on the tourist milk run along the Nile. Hundreds of Nile tour boats provide accommodations and meals as you cruise the river. When the boats dock at night, small boats with venders converge on the tour boats selling souvenirs. This picture gives you an idea of the scene.

The ancient Egyptian ruins are magnificent. Because there are so many tourist tryping to see the sites, the government has everything quite tightly organized. We saw the Vallye of the Kings, Hatshipsut Temple, Luxor Temple, Karnak Temple, Abu Simbel, the Unfinished Obeslisk, and Philae Temple. In all cases there were literally hundreds of tourists at each location making it difficult to get a feel for each place. Everything was just huge and crowded. We were, however, lucky to see the mummy of King Tut which had just been put on display in his tomb.

Our overnight train ride from Aswan to Cairo was an interesting experience. Once in Cairo we visited the Egyptian Museum. It was packed with both treasures and tourists. Our guide Nasser did a good job pointing the highlights and then turning us loose. We were all very impressed with the finds from King Tut’s tomb. Both the quantity and the quality of them were amazing. The last day in Egypt was spent visiting a church, a synagogue, and a mosque. It was an ecumenical day. We also found time for some last minute shopping

Meanwhile back at Gunflint we are awaiting the arrival of a snowstorm. It is supposed to move in and out very quickly and give us a bunch of snow. I'll let you know what happens tomorrow when the last installment of our trip is posted.