Road Trip to Minnesota and Isle Royale National Park

My longest road trip and backpacking trip ever!

August 2-19, 2010
On Sunday August 1st I worked half a day and that afternoon came home to finish packing.  My parents came up to our house in the high desert and we went out for dinner at my favorite Mexican restaurant – El Tio Pepe’s.  Mom and I ordered margaritas – they were quite strong and I felt drunk which honestly has never happened to me before.  I normally don’t drink more than one drink and this was just one but had a lot of alcohol in it!  So Mom and I were pretty silly that night, lol  It was a good start to our vacation!

Monday morning we got up, said goodbye to Todd, and myself, my parents, plus my parent’s dog Abbey drove away heading north on I-15.  I drove the first leg of the trip then Dad took over for a few hours then I resumed.  We stopped in Primm for an early lunch and the drive was pretty uneventful until Provo, UT.  It took us a while to get through the construction mess that encompasses this city right now.  Then we were in Salt Lake then made our way up into the Wasatch Mountains.  We stopped to eat dinner at a sandwich deli and then decided rather than camping that night at a nearby Utah State Park that we would stay at the Best Western in Coalville.  We were all very tired from a long day of driving.

The next day we awoke, packed up, and headed back on the road.  We only had about a half day of driving to get to Glenrock, WY where my Grandma lives.  We stopped at Muddy Gap near where my Great Grandfather was a foreman on a ranch and admired the view.  Abbey went to a grassy area to go to the bathroom and she was sniffing around a sagebrush when I saw her suddenly jump backwards and I heard the rattle of a rattlesnake.  I yelled at Dad to grab Abbey and check her to see if she’d been bit.  She didn’t seem to be in pain or anything but I told Mom to keep an eye on her and after I took a photo of the snake we headed into Casper.  As we got into Casper I saw a vet on the right hand side of the road and asked Mom if Abbey still looked okay.  She said yes.  Then we pulled into a gas station and Mom went to get Abbey out of the car and only then did she yelp – that’s when we discovered her neck was swollen and indeed she had been bitten.  So back to the vet we went and we rushed her inside.

The vet tech carried Abbey back and they treated her for a rattlesnake bite.  They don’t give anti-venom to dogs – it’s very expensive – instead they just treat with Benadryl and steroids, and later an anti-inflammatory and antibiotics.  Long story short – Abbey ended up being okay.  Thank goodness!  Dad’s now taken to calling her “Hard Luck Abbey” – remembering also the Carrizo trip when Abbey  cut her back leg badly getting into barbed wire.

So, by the time we got to Grandma’s it was late in the evening and we just turned in for the night.  The next morning we had breakfast with Grandma, I got to see her property near the North Platte River, and then I headed out on my own.  I headed north across Wyoming and South Dakota to Teddy Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.  I got there at 5:00 pm which ended up being plenty of time to find a campsite and drive the 36-mile scenic loop road and walk a few short trails.  I saw tons of wildlife – bison, elk, deer, wild horses, and prairie dogs.  It was a beautiful evening!

The next day I awoke early, packed up my tent, and headed east.  I was aiming to arrive at my friend Nancy’s condo by 5:00 pm Central time when she would get off work.  I only stopped briefly a few times and made it to Saint Paul, MN at 5:05 pm.

We then ate dinner and went to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport to pick up Dyan who flew in from Baltimore.  We headed back to Nancy’s condo and packed our packs.

Friday morning we awoke, loaded up the car, then began our 5 hour drive north to Grand Portage, MN.  Once in Duluth the drive was beautiful!  The northern Superior coastline of Minnesota is gorgeous.  I kept having to remind myself that it wasn’t the ocean we were looking at, but rather the largest freshwater lake in the world.   Everything  about it says ocean to me…

We stopped at Gooseberry Falls and at an overlook of the Split Rock Lighthouse which was spectacular.  We arrived in Grand Portage about 5:00 pm and visited Grand Portage National Monument.  The 8-mile portage to avoid the falls and rapids of Pigeon Creek was the largest obstacle to many fur traders in the 1800’s.  The exhibits and employees at the National Monument were all very interesting and friendly and I enjoyed the visit.  We then went to the casino/restaurant near there and ate dinner then retired at the marina campground early.  We had to get up early in order to catch the boat to Isle Royale. 

I awoke about 4:30 and it was already beginning to become light – which happens when you’re this far north in August.  At 5:00 am Dyan and Nancy awoke and we ate a quick breakfast, packed up the tent, and headed for the boat dock.  We took the Voyageur II to the island.  It’s 3 hours to get to Windigo where we went to the visitor center to get our permit.  Then it was back on the boat and another 3 hours to get to the other end of the island, Rock Harbor.  There we found a shelter at the campground and set off on a 4 mile dayhike to Scoville Point.  It was a good introduction to the beauty of the island.

Dyan made most of the dinners we had on the trip and that night we had chili – homemade and home-dehydrated and quite tasty!  It was a quiet warm evening and I slept well.

In the morning we packed up and Nancy headed out first since she was faster at packing and hiking than we were.  Dyan and I took a more leisurely pace the entire trip, exploring side trails and taking lots of pictures.  We explored Suzy’s Cave which is a sea arch created when the shoreline of Lake Superior was higher.  We ate lunch on the beach near the Siskowit Mine and I noticed something bright white in the water – it was a piece of porcelain.  I found others nearby – apparently broken dishes from long ago. 

We reached Daisy Farm Campground in early afternoon and found Nancy in a shelter she had laid claim to.  The shelters are at many of the campgrounds on the island and are 3-sided with a roof – the 4th side being screen.  So they provided a nice dry comfortable and bug-free spot to lay our beds. 

Our shelter was very close to the water so Dyan and I went for a swim.  I found Lake Superior water to be the perfect temp – not too cold, certainly not as cold as most of the lakes I’ve swam in before in the Sierra!  Perfect for a dip :)

The next day was a warm one and a tough hike.  We hiked north across the island to McCargoe Cove.  The first part of the hike was marshy and overgrown.  You cross most of the marshy areas on planks which are wide enough to hike on but still kind-of narrow so you have to watch your feet and keep your balance.  The first few planks we crossed I was probably kind of clumsy.  A dozen planks later and it became second-hand.

The trail then ascended Greenstone Ridge.  This is the highest ridge on the island and the most heavily traveled.  Well, take that with a grain of salt.  You’ll only see maybe 6 to a dozen hikers on any given day during the week in August on even the more popular island trails.

The ridge had great views but was hot!  We were happy to reach East Chickenbone Lake where we ate lunch.  The smaller inland lakes on the island, though, have leeches, so no swimming for us.  Dyan did soak her feet and ended up with one little leech on her foot – no big deal, she just picked it off afterwards.

We had about 2 more miles to hike to reach McCargoe Cove and it was a very warm afternoon.  So I was happy to reach this cove of Lake Superior and promptly got myself cooled off therein.   Then Nancy told us that some guys had found leeches in the cove.  Lake Superior doesn’t have any leeches in general, except a few in these deep shallow warm coves.  Well, Dyan once again got a leech on her foot, but I never found any on myself.  I guess the leeches, unlike the island mosquitos, didn’t care for my blood.

There were a bunch of people at the cove, most of them belonging to a Park Service trail crew.  One of the guys who decided to avoid the possibility of leeches by jumping off the end of the dock cut his foot on a rock on the bottom and they were performing first aid on his foot when we arrived.  They then got on the radio and called for a boat pickup.  So we decided no jumping off the dock for us!

The next day we hiked on the park’s least hiked trails, the Minong Ridge.  This trail was reported to be much rougher than the Greenstone, though I found that it wasn’t really, at least the section from McCargoe Cove to Todd Harbor is well-maintained.  We didn’t see any other hikers that day on the trail, but we did see “3 guys who hiked out of the woods and back into the woods.”  Three wolf-moose researchers that is, traveling cross-country, and just happening to cross the Minong Ridge Trail in front of Dyan and myself.  Most people stick to the trails on the island – traveling cross-country is extremely difficult here.  But they were looking for moose kills and thus had to leave the beaten path.  They were very nice and knowledgeable and told us they had seen big wolf tracks on the beach east of Todd Harbor.  We also saw wolf scat on the trail itself.

Along this stretch of trail we found the red squirrels to be expecially chatty.  These I swear are the friendliest squirrels on Earth!  They’ll talk to you for a long time and run around to and fro looking at you and sizing you up.  They probably don’t have much contact with people.  I got some cute photos of one of them as it ran around us at lunchtime.

We made it to Todd Harbor in the early afternoon and found that Nancy had snagged the only shelter at this camp.  There was nobody else camped here, even the two kayakers who floated into the harbor in the afternoon decided not to stay.  So we had the harbor to ourselves that night.  It is glorious, my favorite spot on the island.  There is one little island out in the harbor in particular that’s so beautiful.  It’s just big enough for one big spruce tree :)  I dubbed it Todd Island.   Dyan and I went swimming in the harbor, no leeches there, and we all enjoyed watching the beautiful sun set that night from the point near the group campsites.

The next day was a short day – only 4 miles to Hatchett Lake.  Nancy decided to hike with us this day since it was so short and plus she needed a rest.  When we got to Hatchett it looked like rain so we put up the tarp and tent and so we had a place to keep dry when the skies opened up.  By morning, however, it was dry again so we were good to go.  No swimming that night – Hatchett Lake looked like a leechy lake to us.  And that night Dyan was cracking us up as she assessed her trail-worn feet.  She said, "Even my blisters have blisters!"  lol

The next day we hiked 8 miles to South Desor Lake.  We joked and said it was named after our De-sore feet and our De-sore backs.  Then Dyan got a De-sore neck when she decided to trip and fall head-first!  Fortunately into a spongy mossy/duffy area, but still her neck was sore for the remainder of the trip.

On the way to Desor we passed by the Ishpeming Point Fire Lookout Tower - it's a cool spot to take a lunch break, or a dry spot to stand underneath if it happens to be raining. 

Desor Lake, though an inland lake, is huge and there is a nice sandy cove near the first  group campsite.  So no leeches we went swimming and it was nice to cool off and clean up. 

The last day to Windigo was our longest – 11.3 miles!  We climbed up to the Greenstone Ridge again and the park’s highest point, Mt. Desor, a soaring 1394 feet above sea level, lol  Unfortunately there is no view from the island's loftiest point - it is deep in the forest.   It started to rain on us shortly before lunchtime so I strung up my extension poncho as a tarp so  Dyan and I could have a dry spot to eat.  It stopped raining shortly after lunch and the rest of the hike into Windigo was dry and sunny – though not much sun reached the forest floor.  This southwestern part of the island is a dense birch and maple forest and very pretty!   I would love to see it in the fall.

In Windigo we found Nancy at her favorite shelter, one she had stayed at before that had a good view of the marsh.  We rested for a little while then headed to the store to buy shower tokens.  The showers were hot!  Too hot!  I would’ve rather just jumped into the lake!  Who needs soap anyway? 

Then Dyan and I ate dinner while Nancy went to a campfire program.  She came running back into camp and told us to grab our cameras, that there was a moose on the road!  Well, by the time we got to the road the moose had gotten into the lake where she was munching on some greens growing on the muck at the bottom of the lake.  Yummy!  I snapped a couple of photos but the light was too dim by that time for them to turn out very well.  Oh, well, we saw a moose at least!  And we also saw a fox that scampered away from us as we were running towards the road.

The next day we planned on having an easy morning and perhaps renting a canoe in the afternoon to explore Washington Harbor.  Well, our plans quickly folded when the gal at the store told us a storm was expected and the boats may not run tomorrow.  And since Dyan had a plane ticket for Monday morning we decided to head off the island a day early.  No worries – that’s why we planned on an extra day in case the weather turned on us, which it has a tendency of doing this far north.

So we took the larger Wenonah Boat back to Grand Portage over very stormy “seas”.  We had each taken a Bonine anti-sea sickness pill.   I probably should’ve taken 2.  I’ve never been sea-sick before, but felt quite ill on the trip back to the mainland.  I finally fell asleep and felt better sleeping rather than staying awake on the voyage back.  A little girl on the boat did get sick and we all felt sorry for her.

I was glad to be back on the mainland and we retrieved the car and loaded up our stuff and headed to Grand Marais.  There we ate cheeseburgers at the Angry Trout Café which had a fantastic view of the lake.  We were entertained by a ground squirrel running into the restaurant and watching the waitresses corner it and chase it out.  We scarfed down the burgers and ordered dessert and made short work of it as well.  Then we headed to Sawbill Lake in the Superior National Forest at the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for the night.  

It was very windy in the morning so we put aside plans to rent a canoe there and just headed back to Nancy’s apartment in St. Paul instead.  We took showers, did laundry, then ate another big dinner and dessert.  We vowed to go back to our regular food portions the next day ;)

On Monday we said goodbye to Nancy and thanked her for planning a fabulous trip then I took Dyan to the airport.  Afterwards I drove up to St. Croix Falls, WI to visit the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway Visitor Center and to say I’d been to Wisconsin.  Then I drove back around Minneapolis/St. Paul and headed to the southwest towards Pipestone National Monument.  This is a beautiful little park preserving Native American Pipestone quarries and a restored bit of beautiful prairie.  I took the ¾ mile interpretive trail to see the quarries and Winnewissa Falls. 

Then I headed south to Iowa and drove on backroads to the Missouri River near Sioux City.  I found a nice campsite at Ponca State Park and planned to sleep in the car but found it to be too hot and if I rolled the windows down in came the mosquitos :(  So I set up the tent and then had a peaceful night’s sleep. 

On Tuesday I headed out on backroad highways west across Nebraska.  I went to Chimney Rock National Historic Landmark and Scott’s Bluff National Monument.  Both were famous landmarks along the Oregon Trail.  Then I made my way into Wyoming and reluctantly got on the interstate to drive back to Glenrock.  I met my parents at their hotel room and we had a nice night.

In the morning we had breakfast with my Grandma and then we all headed back on the road towards home.  We stopped at Independence Rock and I climbed to the top.  Then we stopped at my Great Grandfather’s ranch near Split Rock which is yet another famous landmark on the Oregon Trail.   Here my Grandma and my mom and her siblings spent many of their younger years roaming the beautiful countryside.  It remains remote, undeveloped, and beautiful today.

We decided to not go to Rawlins and instead stay on the scenic highway going towards South Pass.  This was where the Oregon Trail crossed the Continental Divide.  It was a beautiful strech of road.  But sooner than later we had to get back on the Interstate and we drove to Coalville, UT where again we decided to stay at the same hotel we had stayed at on the way out.  It’s a very nice place to spend the night a bit off the beaten path.

On Thursday we headed to Salt Lake then south on I-15 to Cedar City.  There we stopped to visit with my Great Uncle George and Aunt Loydine.  It was  a short but good visit.  Todd’s parents also live in Cedar City now but we’ll have to go back sometime when we have more time to see them.  Maybe Thanksgiving or Christmas?

It was then back on the road to St. George then Mesquite where we grabbed dinner then Vegas then Barstow then home.  I was very happy to see my beautiful house and my handsome husband standing out front of the garage when we pulled into the driveway :)

So, it was a great trip.  A lot of fun, a little bit of adventure, and some beautiful sites to see along the way!  Thanks so much to Dyan for being a great hiking partner, to Nancy for planning the trip, and to my parents for helping me drive part of the way!  I haven't totaled it up officially but the drive was about 4,300 miles and the hike about 50!




















Link to all Road Trip Photos (including my Great Grandfather's Ranch, pictures with Grandma, pictures with George and Loydine, pictures taken from the road, Grand Portage National Monument, Pipestone National Monument, Scott's Bluff National Monument, and Independence and Chimney Rocks National Historic Sites)


















Link to all Teddy Roosevelt National Park Photos


















Link to all Isle Royale National Park Photos















































Dyan's Isle Royale Photos


More info about Isle Royale National Park
More info about Teddy Roosevelt National Park
More info about Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
More info about St. Croix National Scenic Riverway
More info about Pipestone National Monument
More info about Chimney Rock National Historic Site
More info about Scott's Bluff National Monument


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