Saturday, June 6, 2009


The area in Minnesota coming down from Canada to Duluth is known as “the beak,” or more commonly the “North Shore.” If you look at a map of the state, you will understand the former. It could be the land that time forgot, hours above Duluth and 300 miles from Thunder Bay Ontario, and a long way from a Walmart. Recreation is the major industry. Unlike the cabins and cottages on the Canadian side, they are well kept. The paint is not peeling, and luxury resorts are found. It is either a Minnesota compulsion, or, as they say here often, another thing for which they won’t have to apologize.

The trail signs indicate that snow mobiles roar through here in the winter. It is antithetical to the state, which is nearly a green nation so vociferous about recycling and alternative transportation. Cross country skiers use trails that are now, as spring arrives, given over to bike riders., hikers, bird watchers and others who wander out of their winter lairs to enjoy the clear air and sunshine and most of all the lake and its’ river tributaries.

One such is the Temperance River. As rivers go, it is not a major one in the traditional sense. It is remarkable for its geology, waterfalls and perhaps, its name.

The first white visitors to this area were nomadic French fur traders in about 1660. Pierre Radisson, Medard Chouart, and Sieur des Groselliers travelled up the lake shore from the south and with the Ojibwa Indian tribe. These and other Frenchmen traded furs until 1763. The first non-nomadic residents were likely clerks for the American Fur Company at posts along the shore in the 1830’s. The Ojibwa named the current “Cross River” just south of this one Deep Hollow River. That changed when the first missionary priest, Father Baraga crossed from Wisconsin in horrible weather and landed at its mouth. In gratitude to his God, he erected a cross at the river mouth and changed the name. One presumes the Ojibwa were not consulted although they may have been grateful for the good Father’s fate.

The Temperance is the next river north in this same Wayside, a term used here that includes parks in protected forests. It is unique for its fast moving water over soft lava like rock which has caused deep “potholes” to be created. It also caused the riverbed to erode quickly and the Indians knew it as The Deep Hollow River. In 1864, a report from Thomas Clark, in a moment of whimsy, sarcasm, as a pun, or because he thought it mattered, he called the stream the Temperance River because, unlike other North Shore Rivers, it had no bar at its mouth. Thus a long forgotten clerk with an odd sense of humor or propriety named a memorable stream of the North Shore now dedicated to recreation trout, steel head and Chinook salmon.

La Coachasita and I have spent an agreeable three nights here. I have enjoyed the trails and the unique river while she has done whatever it is that Dodge Vans do to gather themselves for further strenuous effort. It is 20 degrees below normal and the wind will remind you should you forget. Some of the trees are just now leafing out and a new low temperature of 24 degrees occurred the first night at Silver Lake, the closest town. The weather people relate that it is the coldest June since 1964 which is not necessarily something I needed to know or rejoice in now. The air is dry so the thermometer is long. We enjoy 55 degree weather during the afternoons of days with fifteen hours of daylight. This last is odd to a “southern” boy like me who finds it hard to sleep when the sun rises at 430 AM and sets after nine and darkness comes well after 1000 PM. When the wind stops, as it will in late afternoon, it seems nearly hot and the sun is warm on the face.

The Temperance State Park is part of the Cross River Wayside. It is 2500 acres, and one of the many areas dedicated to public use here. Inland from here is “The Range” which is local-speak for the Iron Range. One should not be surprised at the cold here I suppose. International Falls and Embarrass which are usually two of the coldest places in the continental U.S. in winter are less than 100 miles west.

This is a pretty place. The lake is out my window in the campground, the trails friendly, and the people even more so. Most arrive from “down below” with about all the toys they can possibly carry. Short summers lead to lots of outdoor time for these people. They enjoy their time here hiking, riding, and sitting near the roar of the river falls reading or drawing what they see. This is a place of Minnesotans in this time of year so cameras are rare as are long distance travelers.

The day we arrived I did find a pair of Californians who startlingly enough live 20 miles from my home. They are natives of the Twin Cities and were visiting parents. Their VW Vanagon was festooned with bikes and inflatable kayaks and their plan was, after having followed parents back home from Arizona, to go into Canada and travel west until they reached Glacier National Park in Montana. They thought they would be home by August. Odd to find such fellow travelers in a 25 site campground in what most would consider the middle of nowhere. Life is however, as we have found on these trips, a series if unusual circumstances.

The infamous black fly and oversized mosquitoes are beginning to appear quite suddenly today as some humidity moves in and the weather warms a bit more. They will be here a while so it is with some relief that tomorrow is moving day and after fighting them off for two hours I am now loaded and ready to drift south and west from here. I still have no fixed route except it is time to find a town with a real grocery store and perhaps a laundry. I will spend what appears to be a wet weekend in a large private campground with more comforts than usual. My search will continue for the Lincoln Highway and it will take me farther south and then west for a three week trip toward home.

The pattern this time, if there has been one since Michigan, is to plan about four days in advance and then plan some more. My original itinerary has long been abandoned mostly due to the weather. I like that, particularly when I have this much time on the return trip. It is not a forced march through a heat wave. I would rather it that way.

Now, if there is a place where there is no rain tomorrow, we will move on.


  1. Dang! I wish I had known you were so close. The cabin is only about an hour's drive from Duluth, and Duluth is only about 3 hours to the cities and Spring Lake Park.

    I assume you have already headed west as it is Sunday the 7th.

    Great post. The temperance is a beautiful river. We will be passing through that area on our way to the BWCA the end of July.

    So close.......

  2. I only now just got it! Denial is also a river in Egypt! It took several readings before my feeble brain made the connection....

    Very good!

  3. I love that part of the world, but you are wise to leave before the mosquitoes return in full force.

    I will never forget the evening my wife and I were standing on the shore of an Ontario lake, watching the sky turn colors as dusk arrived. When suddenly, as if on cue, a huge dark swarm of mosquitoes rose from the lake. We began walking back to the car, but the walk turned into a trot, and quickly into blind panic as the hungry swarm chased us to the lot. Hundreds of the little beasts got into the car in the short time it took us to open and close the doors. We were swatting mosquitoes in the car for days afterward, hundreds of miles away.

    Thanks for the great photos.

  4. Great coincidence about meeting the California couple. Interesting info about Temperance River, which I'd not heard of before. Happy travels!