Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Cody, Wyoming

Bruce and I got home last night from Cody, Wyoming. While in Cody we attended the Dude Ranchers’ Association convention. The members of this group are not a lot different from Minnesota’s family owned resorts. We fish and they ride horses.

The purpose of our trip was to find some jobs for the 500 foreign students we will be bringing in this summer for jobs across the U. S. Housekeeping and kitchen jobs are just as plentiful on a ranch as on a resort. We met some really nice people and found a bunch of jobs for our students.

On Sunday morning before we drove back to catch our flight in Billings, Montana, we took a little ride. Cody is only 50 miles from the east gate to Yellowstone National Park. Folks told us that it was easy to see some game if you just drove the road. They weren’t kidding.

One of our sights was a herd of grazing sheep. They were so busy eating that they hardly had time to look at me. You can almost see the edge of the road in the bottom of the picture.

The best sighting was when this buffalo wandered down the road. I got out of the car to take the pictures but was very careful to keep the car between me and the buffalo.

Bruce laughed at me but I didn’t see him getting out of the car. This is only a two-lane road. Look at the center line to get an idea of how close I am to this animal.

In addition to these animals, we saw mule deer and mountain goats. Then there were the herds of cattle and horses. We did not see any elk or moose. We'll save that for the next trip.

Of course, the scenery up and down was beautiful. We just stopped and snapped this picture.

The town of Cody is very interesting. We went to the Buffalo Bill Historical Center because they are hiring 4 students. Unfortunately I didn’t have a chance to look around the museum which was fairly big. They have 1200 visitors a day during the summer. Another summer long event in Cody is a rodeo every night for June, July and August. There also appeared to be lots of great gift shops and restaurants. But don’t get too interested in Cody because we want to see you up at Gunflint this summer.

It was a good trip but it’s even better to be home. Our weather is changing today. When we got up, the temperature was 25 degrees at about 7:00 a.m. It’s 2:00 p.m. now and the temperature has dropped to 2 degrees. We are also getting a little snow which is nice.

Last night a couple of the neighbors on the lake drove home from Duluth a little later than we did. When they hit the Trail the driving quickly went sour. There was a freezing mist coating everything. It took them two hours to come up the Trail. Doesn’t sound like much fun to me.

Later this week we are off again. This time it is to Jamaica. Now don’t get all excited. We will be spending from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. interviewing students in two rooms with no air conditioning or even a fan. Between the two of us, we’ll interview about 150-200 students. Also we do this in Kingston which is definitely not a tourist destination.

Then it will be back to Kansas City for Grandson Zach’s birthday party. I understand that we are going to ride go carts this year. It will be fun no matter what we do. Robert and Miranda also have a little sightseeing and shopping planned for us.

I’ll try to get in another blog about what’s going on here before we leave.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

We are just finishing the January cold spell. Usually when we have the full moon and clear still skies, January temperatures drop well below zero. So we had three mornings where it was 20 below zero and one morning where it was 13 below. This morning it’s at zero. During the day we have warmed up to right around zero. Because the wind has not blown much, guests have still been outside skiing and dog sledding. The cold nights have also helped the ice grow on the lake.

During the good old days we could get a cold spell where the temperature warmed up to 20 below during the day. Gunflint Lake has seen 40 below many times. Those are the days when you just want to stay inside and keep the fireplace going.

Now that the ice is safe, the dog teams have been going out on the lake down to Bridal Falls. Once they start using the lake, we freeze in some hitching posts just past the dock. Usually just plain posts are used but they get hard to see as the ice and snow builds up during the winter. As the picture shows, Jason got a little more creative this year.

He found some young trees, cut a hole in the ice, and froze the trees in. It looks like we have a new forest growing. They will be really easy for the mushers to see.

Cold weather has also brought the deer in closer to my house. Here is a morning picture of deer feeding right outside my kitchen window.

They have learned to clean out all the sunflower seeds from the bird feeders by sucking them. Another thing that the deer like to eat is grapefruit rinds. I am being serious! Bruce and I each eat half a grapefruit for breakfast. I just cut each rind into 4 pieces and throw it out. The first deer in will finish them off in no time. Just for kicks we cut up a tangerine and threw it out. They liked it even better than the grapefruit. So none of our deer will be getting scurvy this winter.

A group of neighbors were over for dinner recently. We are all gray hairs and have a potluck at each home during the winter and summer. After dinner we play dominoes for 11 people. It is like nothing you have ever seen before. I wouldn’t say we cheat, but there is a lot of table talk.

At any rate we got to talking about seeing the wolves on the lake. Bob Baker has the best view of the lake from his home above Gunflint Pines. He sees deer out on the lake regularly. The other day we even had a wolf that was curled up about 200 feet in front of the lodge. The wolf was in a tight enough ball that you could hardly be sure it was a wolf but there was nothing else for it to be. I was just about to go home and get my camera when the wolf got up and wandered off. We figure that he was just looking around in case there were any deer to be had.

During March we often see wolves on the lake. They like to nap in the warm sun during the afternoon. Actually with the wolves traveling on the lake, we see more of them in the winter than in the summer. Bruce, however, has come across them in the summer when he is minnow trapping at some back lake. Once he came across a pack of four or five and was glad that he was inside the truck rather than walking. They tend to give one an eerie feeling.

For those you who might remember the fox couple from last winter – they are back. Gimpy and his wife have taken up residence underneath the north wing of Justine’s house. Here is a picture of the small hole in the rock foundation that they go in and out at.

There is a beaten down snow path right through the hole. The fox have become quite used to having people around. One evening I was driving to the lodge from my house. It looked like a guest was walking her dog only it was the female fox walking about 10-15 feet in front of the guest alongside the road.

Bruce and I are off to Cody, Wyoming, today. As many of you know we run a little side business that brings foreign students into the United States for four months of work during their school breaks. This year we will bring in 500 students. They work all over in country from resorts to moving van companies to landscape companies to dude ranches. So we will be attending the Dude Ranchers’ Association meeting for several days. It will be just like the small conventions of canoe outfitters that we have gone to for years. One of the highlights of the trip is a chance to see a different part of the country.

I will tell you about our adventures out west next week

Friday, January 11, 2008

Snow Flakes Keep Falling

With winter temperatures in the moderate ranges, I have been trying to take a few walks. One of my most constant walks is just down the back road. A neighbor’s mail box is exactly one mile from us. So that is my walk – a mile up and a mile back.

I took Tucker with me on a couple recent walks. He, of course, travels twice a much ground as I do. Tucker likes to just roll in the snow which doesn’t appeal to me. He also seems fascinated by any stick in the woods. Now he is reduced to digging and pulling them out as this picture shows.

When there is no snow, he picks up dead branches (sometimes four or five feet long) and prances down the road with them. He seems quite proud of himself.

Another walk we took was on the back trail to the lookout. As we looked over the forest and lake, a herd of deer raced through between us and the stable. I managed to catch three of the deer in an opening. Hopefully you will be able to see them too.

It is interesting walking to the lookout. As many of you know, the area between it and the lodge felt the full force of the 1999 Blowdown. As a result we had a logger come in and clean everything out. The next summer we planted 5000 pine trees of various species. It is all coming up again. The birch, which grow off the stumps of dead trees, are 10 feet tall. The poplar, which grow from the roots of other trees, are just as tall. In between we have the spruce and white pine and cedar we planted coming up. They are now in the 2-4 foot range. We also have balsam, which comes up on its own, filling in everywhere. All in all there is the makings of a very nice mixed forest growing. In the summer, the leaves fill in enough that you can no longer see through from one end to the other.

On one hand it is easy to look at the Blowdown as a disaster but it also saved us. Our forest in the back basin was growing old. We didn’t want to log it but trees were aging and something needed to be done. Admittedly the Blowdown took things to extreme but it has given us a new forest. I do, however, miss the wonderful, huge white pines that were lost. Those will take generations to replace.

Another project for this time of year is to test the thickness of the ice. Yesterday Don and Jacob donned their fire department dry suits (gumbies), picked up an auger and walked across the ice to a little over half away across. This is the part of the lake that was one of the last areas to freeze. Here you can see them drilling a hole in the ice.

They found the ice was from 10-12 inches thick which is very good. The snow on the ice is wind-whipped into a hard crust. There are also many areas of bare, slippery ice. I walked across those areas very carefully and still found myself slipping occasionally.

Those bare patches reminded me of a trip I took across the ice years ago. I was driving a group of women in a van across the ice to ski on the East End Trail which used to run on the old railroad bed on the north shore of Gunflint. The ice was very slippery and I didn’t want to have the van go too fast. I just put the vehicle into drive and kept my foot off the gas pedal. When in drive, there is just a very little forward push on the tires. It was enough to slowly move me across the ice.

The best news is saved for last. It’s snowing outside as I write. We have about an inch of new snow. The north shore of the lake is visible but just barely. The snow is fine and steady. I never watch the weather so who knows how much we are supposed to get. It is just good to look out my office windows and see the snow come down. The other bonus is that I don’t have to drive anywhere today. Let it snow!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all of you from all of us at Gunflint!

Bruce and I had a great trip out east to celebrate Christmas. One of the many highlights was a trip into New York to see the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Show. We were looking forward to it all along but we never realized how wonderful the show is. If you are ever in New York at the correct time, don’t hesitate to see this show. Lunch and dinner in the city completed a great day.

We returned home on the 30th. Two weeks worth of mail was stacked up. It was just fun to sit down and read all our Christmas cards at one time. We sure have an active bunch of friends.

All the January catalogs were also sitting there. They included about a dozen flower and garden catalogs. As you can see from this picture, my garden is not ready to accept plants yet. So I will spend the next few months planning and dreaming about what goes into the garden.

This morning I spent time writing thank you notes for Christmas presents. My mother instilled that habit into me many years ago. I, in turn, made sure the boys wrote their thank you’s. They had to have them done before school started again in January.

Bruce and I are also into another traditional activity for this time of year – trying to get rid of the excess weight we put on over the holidays. It's almost like someone pastes the pounds on us at night. Getting on the scale our first morning home was not pretty. In fact there was a lot of moaning and groaning. We are back into the low fat, small portion meals. It is not nearly as good as holiday food but what can you do?

The lake is covered with solid ice. Neighbors tell me that it has been groaning quite a bit. You don’t normally think of a frozen lake as groaning or making any noise but it really does. The actually size of the ice changes as the temperature goes up and down. Lower temperatures result in more ice. The ice cracks and creates ridges. In fact, when it cracks you hear a loud boom. When the temperatures rise, the ice shrinks in size.

Today as I walked down from the mailbox I could see a twisted line where the ice had cracked and let water up. This area was bare ice while everything around it was covered with a layer of snow. It will, in turn, be covered with snow when we get our next storm.

We have about 15-20 inches snow. Tucker loves to roll in the snow every time he goes out. The guests are enjoying playing in the woods too. All the trails are groomed for cross country skiers. The sled dogs are taking people through the forest. A few snowmobiles have been passing by on the lake.

Today is a perfect day to be out. It was just below zero in the morning but warmed up to over 10 degrees by lunch time. The sun is shining and the snow is glistening. With the clear skies, maybe we will see northern lights tonight.