Tuesday, June 17, 2014

North Country: Lake Itasca

Jun 17 2013

I left the Minneapolis area early this morning with only one minor detour. Between the rivers in the area twisting up the roads, the summer construction, and not knowing the area, I managed to get slightly confused there for a minute. Other than that one little bobble that put me in the thick of it for a few miles, I was mostly headed away from the city so the majority of the traffic was going the other way, and boy was there a lot of traffic! Glad I wasn’t headed into town!

As soon as I could I jumped off the freeway and onto US10. I took it up through St. Cloud, the quarry capital of the state, I know this because I stopped at their little park and read all the plaques. Farther up US10, headed more or less north into the pines, I picked up US71 at a surprisingly busy intersection in the little town of Wadena, and got serious about heading north. By mid-day I made it up to Itasca State Park. The outflow of Lake Itasca is the official headwaters of the Mississippi River.

After some fiddling around to pick just the right spot, I got myself parked in a lakeside campsite, hoping it would have more of an insect clearing breeze than the campsites up in the woods, and used the remainder of the afternoon to get in a little more than 7 miles of hiking, this time in cooler weather much more conducive to such foolish activity!

Just like the trail at Lake Texoma, exactly one week ago, today's trail was also lakeside, but this time I only did a couple hundred feet of up and down and don’t feel beat up at all tonight. At one point the trail crossed a small sand beach and there were a few bathers out. Boy! people are white up here! No I don't mean race, I mean white, as in I,m not sure they should have that skin out in the sun like that! Of course I'm sure as a kid growing up in Michigan, when me and my siblings/cousins invaded our first beach of the summer we had that same, nearly transparent, glowing white skin  . .

It’s a good thing I remember what the North Country is like this time of year, specifically what the little insect creatures can be like! Before heading out on my hike I spayed my clothes; light colored long pants, long sleeves; and my hat down well with bug juice. As long as I stayed on the trail near the lake the mosquitoes were just heavy, but along the way I took a two mile side trip up to an old saw mill down a lightly used, (I think it’s more of a snow-mobile route.) somewhat grown up trail and the bugs went from heavy to thick and pissed off! I had to break out the bug net despite all the bug-juice dripping off my ears.

The saw mill was more of an abandoned facility than museum. Everything seemed to be laying right were it was last used, like the whistle blew and the workers dropped their tools, picked up their lunch-boxes and just never came back. I suspect that if the funding can be found someone will turn it into a proper museum one day, but for now it was nice to have the place to myself, well, just me and the bugs, and just poke around among the equipment speculating on what it was for and imagining the bustle and sounds and activity when this was a going concern.

One of several 'exhibits' at the saw mill. I'm surprised the swarming bugs don't show up in this photo!

The actual location of the Mississippi headwaters was swarming with kids of all ages, one of whom was moving like a teetering, tottering – well – old lady, probably because she was. Certainly old enough to know better, but of course along with the more agile kids, she walked right out onto a row of rocks marking the official point of change from lake to river. Predictably, she went in and it took three people to get her back out again. She’s going to feel that in the morning! And her camera is toast. . .

The rocks out there mark the official boundary between lake and river. While I was setting up for this photo an accidental human dip-stick showed that the water is deeper than you might think!
The visitor center near the headwaters has some nice displays covering the history and geology of the area and along the trail between the campground and the headwaters is a small museum located on the site of one of the original homesteads in the area with more on the geology and history as well as quite a bit on the natural processes and wildlife of the area.

The Mississippi River, a few yards from where it first becomes a river.

Ahh trees. . . (I'm sitting here at the picnic table as the sun sets looking out across the lake at trees rather than out across the road at buildings like I was the past two nights back in Minneapolis.) 

No comments:

Post a Comment