#6 Gunflint Lake to Bridal Veil Falls, Minnesota

6-Duluth Lift Bridge
Duluth Lift Bridge

July, 2003—After visiting the Browns on Madeline Island, (off the northern tip of Wisconsin, accessible only by ferry), Ian and I steered the canoe-topped car toward Gunflint Trail on the “Arrowhead,” seven hours away on the northern tip of Minnesota (and shaped like an arrowhead). We skirted Lake Superior, with lunch in Duluth, and arrived just in time to see a skyscraper-sized tanker sail right through the narrow channel under the old lift bridge. Our plan was to meet our canoeing neighbors whom you met on Minnehaha Creek, Margy and Jerry, and their youngest son, Ben. They were lodged at the lovely Heston’s Resort in a cabin bordering Gunflint Lake. This clear, shimmering lake edges the canoeing paradise of the “Boundary Waters,” the long chain of lakes separating the United States and Canada.


6-Sunset arrival
Sunset arrival

We arrived at sunset, just in time to see A BEAR lumbering across the road! It was my first in-the-wild bear sighting and I saw the same bear a few moments later, strolling through camp.

6-Gunflint Lake picnic
Gunflint Lake picnic

The next morning two canoes were loaded with picnic supplies and we headed up the northern edge of Gunflint Lake. We paddled past remote cabins, outcroppings of high rock, and miles and miles of hardy trees. The trees leaned and clung tightly to rock, relentlessly reminding us that winter was long, hard, and bitter. But not so today — today

 was sun-filled and the water was clear and cool and joy was everywhere! Ben came along in our canoe and he and Ian discussed the feasibility of the Loch Ness monster for the entire paddle.

Tiny Bridal Creek
Tiny Bridal Creek

Jerry, who has taken many trips to the Boundary Waters (including the “Grand Portage,” a several days trip that follows an early fur trappers route, and includes a nine mile portage at the end), knew just which island to stop on for our lunch.

Our final destination was the tiny creek that spills from Bridal Veil Falls where we planned to swim and hike to the falls. The creek turned out to offer only yards of navigatable rushing water but we managed to paddle it, nonetheless! The hike to the falls followed the creek’s edge and the soft mist from the hidden falls hung everywhere.

6-Bridal Falls
Bridal Falls

 Suddenly there they were — walls of giant black glistening rock streaming with lacy white falling water! We took a ridiculous amount of pictures while scrambling around breathing in the cascading air. Inhaling the bubbling air made me gloriously happy! I spied a tiny waterfall cavern under the roots of a tree, the entrance draped with ferns. It had to be the home of some dripping water spirit but I did not catch sight of it.

6-Ben's Loch Ness Monster
Ben’s Loch Ness Monster

Back at the creek’s entrance on Gunflint Lake we took a long swim and guess what! Ben actually found the Loch Ness Monster. I was able to snap this picture just before it got away…

#5 Zumbro River, Minnesota

5-Wabasha morning
Wabasha morning

July 19, 2003—Again we headed back to the “driftless area,” the southeastern corner of Minnesota that the glacier missed. The map showed an outfitter outside of the Mississippi river town of Wabasha but that outfitter proved to be long gone, so the river trip began with a very early morning study of the canoe map to find another outfitter who could run our shuttle. With the help of map, telephone and local advice, we drove thirty miles to Zumbro Falls where we were ferried up to the Zumbro dam for our put in. (Our shuttle driver turned out to farm the 300 acres he grew up as well as drive a dynamite truck, delivering explosives all over the Midwest. This is the first certified dynamite delivery person I ever met.)


4-Dismal dam
Dismal dam

The canoe landing was behind a nook, facing a thirty foot dam, and the water was sludgy and green. The dismal looking start made the turn into the river even more startling — The water was clear and sparkling with a swift current. We called it “Fishy River” as clouds of fish darted under our canoe.

The day proved to be gorgeous and we sailed under bridges and around bends with a cool edged breeze behind us and a clear, sun-filled sky around us. Small islands dotted the river and we stopped by several to eat, swim, and wander. On one sandy beach waves of mating dragon flies lighted on us, the male brilliant turquoise, the female camouflaged brown. I could not feel their light-as-air touch on my arm. How does such a light creature manage in the tumult of wind and rain?

Steering shift
Steering shift

Ahead of us we saw a bald eagle fly down to a log alongside the river. It stood there, imperious, king of all he surveyed. Suddenly a wide-winged blue heron flew up the river. Evidently that log belonged to the heron because the massive eagle lifted and gave the heron his perch. Later we saw a strange silhouette on top of a tall, dead tree trunk — We think it was a turkey vulture.

Ian insisted that it was time I learned to steer- and so we swapped places in the canoe. The river was sprinkled with very easy Class

One “riffles,” (small rapids), so it proved to be the perfect place to learn to steer with the paddle from the back. I learned to dodge rocks and head for the clear “V” of open water at each rapid. I’m hoping canoe school is in my future so I can better learn to manage the canoe in rivers sprinkled with boulders.

High water evidence
High water evidence around bridge pilings

Two events startled us — First, evidence of Very High Water was all around us. Grass and twigs were caught in tree branches and huge mounds of logs were wrapped around bridge pilings.- It was impossible to imagine this perfect river swollen above our heads, dangerous with rushing tree trunks. 

It was impossible to imagine this perfect river swollen above our heads, dangerous with rushing tree trunks. The second startling event was, after having the river to ourselves all day, suddenly rounding a bend and finding a hundred people in innertubes dotting the river! This proved to be the most challenging steering of the day as I threaded us through the human obstacles. A few bends later we were back in the peace of this most gorgeous of rivers with the fabulous name: Zumbro!

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