July 19-24 – The sense of the North Woods is everywhere up here in northern Minnesota – from the type of lodging that passes as ‘decent’ to the large fish statues along the road… the boats & boat trailers and bait stores everywhere (and yet grocery stores are hard to come by except in the ‘large’ towns of which there aren’t many!)… to the abundant rock and dense woods seen nearly in every direction… and saving the worst for last, all the damn mosquitoes and black flies! For some reason, they love me; they don’t seem to bother Fred. Lucky him; miserable me! But I digress…. Anyway, we have spent nearly a week in International Falls and the surrounding area which is home to Voyageurs National Park. This national park is a series of 30+ interconnected lakes and 900+ densely-forested islands that sits along the U.S.-Canada border. The park is named for and commemorates the French-Canadian voyageurs who paddled birch bark canoes for fur trading companies in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
We began our time here as we usually do, visiting three of the very helpful Visitor Centers – Ash River, Kabetogama (cab-a-TO-GA-ma) Lake, and Rainy Lake – to learn the beautiful and rich history of this area. All three Visitor Centers have wonderful displays depicting local nature, wildlife, and local traditions in these parts. We were fascinated to learn of the significant role beavers have in this place! Once sought after for their fur to make stylish beaver hats, they are now once again abundant and working hard to gnaw down trees to create lodges (the name for their homes) and dams which then cause rivers to flood which creates lakes in which the beavers live and thrive. [Interesting side story: we saw two beavers; one swimming in the lake he had created near Kabetogama, and then one swimming across the road – that’s right, the road! – at Kettle Falls. Due to heavy spring and summer rains, the main road to the hotel was flooded out, and as it was like this for a couple of weeks, we were told that the local beaver had his eyes set on damming the road up and turning this excess pool of water into a permanent lake. As Fred was sitting on the hotel porch drinking coffee one morning, he and other guests heard a crackling, and looked out to see a tree falling! – that rascally beaver had eaten his way through a tree trunk and was downing trees for his dam project!] Back to beavers… their impact on the ecosystem in these parts was fascinating and we thoroughly enjoyed learning of their importance here.
Other wildlife living in Voyageurs include many good-eatin’ varieties of fish (walleye, bass, northern pike, etc.), muskrat, bald eagles, loons, ducks, and, Fred’s new favorite, the American White Pelican. Moose, bear and wolves also roam here, although we didn’t see any of these, much to my disappointment.
For me, most enjoyable was learning about the namesake Voyageurs. These canoemen were known for their strength and stamina, for they often paddled 16-hour days through waterways and lakes to transport their fur pelts.
Their colorful attire, the roisterous songs they belted out while paddling, the complex network of Indian alliances (predominantly Ojibwe) with which they worked and traded –
I really learned a lot about this time and place and am going to look for some further reading materials about it.
The way to enjoy this park is clearly by getting out on the water, and many people do just this. It appears that most fish these waters from their private watercraft, but also prevalent are houseboats, and we saw quite a few of these cruising in the daytime, then taking overnight shelter in the calmness of the coves in these lakes. We, ourselves, thoroughly enjoyed a 4-hour, 10-mile canoe ride back into Mica Bay. And much of the fun was knowing that on one shore was the U.S. and the other was Canada. [Say in your best Tina Fey/Sarah Palin voice, “I can see Canada from my boat!]
We spent our final two days and nights at the Kettle Falls Hotel and Resort – designated a Historic District for its notable regional history. This ‘jewel in the forest’ was worth the time, effort, and made-well-in-advance reservations to get here (including 30 minutes full-throttle across several lakes, waterways and narrows on a Shuttle Service boat), and once here, we really enjoyed the character of the place and all the people we came in contact with – from Rick the owner;
his girlfriend, Kathy; his son, Sean; the bartender-one-night-cook-the-next-morning, Larry; his girlfriend and wonderful waitperson, Tangie; the effervescent and always-smiling, Bev; native Ojibwe, Ida, who shared stories with guests of old Ojibwe ways (they used to take moss from the trees and use this in baby swaddling (think diapers)); another vivacious bartender-turned-cook, (we can’t remember your name, sorry…!); and all the nice guys who shuttled our bags with their fleet of golf carts and always chatted with us and really seemed to care that we were enjoying this place as much as they enjoyed working here. We chatted with fellow guests throughout the day as we all shared the front porch – which sometimes became the overflow dining room – for reading, sharing, talking, coffee/tea/beer drinking, and occasionally mosquito-swatting.
Hover your cursor over the photo and click on the arrows to scroll through photos of our adventures in Voyageurs National Park:
Billed the ‘Tiltin Hilton’ for its famous sloping floor in the saloon that features a fabulously raucous nickelodeon, it was far from a Hilton in terms of state-of-the-art, modern, high-class rooms, but it was, after all, a reputed place for the old loggers and fishermen to come enjoy the company of womenfolk every once in a while – why else would Madame Nellie Bly have financed the place?!? And I can only dare to imagine what happened in the quaint rooms still furnished with antique pieces from back in the day (100 years ago) and/or the shared bathrooms down the hall! In spite of and because of all this, we enjoyed our relaxing visit here, and would consider it a ‘must do’ if you’re going to visit this park – and you should visit this park!