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Boundary Waters Unknowns
February, 2012
Ken Anderson

Roughly 35 miles from Grand Marais up the Gunflint Trail Road is the Rockwood Lodge owned by two wonderful people: Mike and Lyn Sherfy.   It’s from there we launched into Poplar Lake and the Boundary Waters.  We left our cars with the Sherfy’s without worry of break-ins by either 2-legged or 4-legged critters.  You need to know that bear and moose do wander through their parking lot. 

At the end of our Boundary Water adventure we loaded our boats and equipment into our cars and drove roughly 5 miles toward Grand Marais stopping at the Trail Lodge’s restaurant (Rockwood Lodge doesn’t have a restaurant license).  Locals eat there…that’s always a good sign you’ve picked the right place.

The food was so good we decided to come back for a second go-round.  Imagine a walleye sandwich so huge you wonder if this is (or was) an unnatural walleye.  You can even wash it down with Moose Drool beer!  If you’re really adventurous feel free to try their Bull Moose hamburger.  We came back for their ribs a day or two later only to waddle out of there moaning about eating too much.

Lodge owners meet their friends there as do the moose hunters telling tales.  I noticed many of the moose hunters’ faces have that tanned, hardened skin brought about by gobs of outdoor time spent in the cold and wind. 

We spent time in Grand Marias both before and after our Boundary Waters trip.  Grand Marais was, for us, not just a supply depot but also a small town with that small-town atmosphere. 

We were in Grand Marais late in the year when the summer tourists are gone and it’s easy to talk with locals in uncrowded restaurants.

Graduate students from Estonia and Slovakia are at the end of the summer jobs that gave them the opportunity to practice English and earn hard currency.  A bit melancholy, they seemed torn between leaving (Visa requirement) the States, as they call it, and going home.

Some mornings we’d go to the Java Moose Cafe for coffee, pastries and their Wi-Fi.  A rather petite late 20’s-something-looking woman owns and operates the café helped by her mirror-image daughter (other than daughter being a 5’9”brunette to mom’s 5’1”blond).  The mom told us about her native-American brother-in-law harvesting rice over the weekend by filling his canoe with rice by knocking rice-grains into the canoe with a wooden pole.

Then there was Sven and Ole’s Pizza where seemingly most of the town goes weekly to play a version of Trivia Pursuit.  If your team (and we did team up with two locals) earns enough points to beat the other teams you’re rewarded with discount coupons at Sven and Ole’s.  They’re competitive as hell and Texans are advised to speak well when losing since these folks favorite pastime is playing that northern version of rugby: ice hockey.

Grand Marais has a man-made harbor shaped roughly like a crescent moon.  While walking along its walkway we met a group of Duluth art-teachers piling rocks into the shape of Picasso-like sculptures.  These folks were clearly enjoying each other and their work with the help of a little beer.

We took the opportunity to visit what some consider the canoeing capital of the world: Ely.  Ely contains both a wolf and a bear center either of which is well worth a visit.  There simply isn’t space enough here to discuss our positive experiences in visiting those centers.  It’s an understatement to say we adjusted preconceived ideas about wolves and bears.

Comparing Ely to Grand Marais is, for me, like comparing two ways of life.  Gleefully, both towns are without big box stores.  Ely reminded me of outlying Houston suburbia; Grand Marais reminded me of a somewhat larger Bryson City.

One other thing I found interesting is the effect of a warming planet on the deer and moose populations.  Deer are moving north in response to warmer temperatures and moose are moving north for the same reason. 
The upper range of the deer used to be (roughly) Duluth and the lower range of the moose used to be (roughly) northern Minnesota. Warmer temperatures cause both to move further north. 

The deer bring with them disease and parasites which adversely affect moose.... what the deer are immune to kill the moose.  The moose population is in decline whereas the deer population is on the upswing.  One local told us he’d wrecked his car 5 times in the last 4 years because of deer jumping into the road.

Locals told me you’re at greater risk of being killed by a deer while driving than by either a bear or a moose while in the woods...something to which I can attest since it happened to me twice in my 2 weeks of driving there.

Finally, I understand there will be increased sun spot activity this year reaching a high point in mid-September.  As such the aurora borealis may provide a show in the Boundary Waters.  A good boat, the right lake, and a glowing sky…yup, I’ll be there.

Ken Anderson