Minnesota’s North Shore woods and wilderness always offers adventure, especially in winter. My wife and I spent a long weekend on the North Shore of Lake Superior a few weeks ago. We drove about an hour north of Duluth on the famed Highway 61—which I’ve ‘revisited’ on hundreds of occasions since Bob Dylan cut his famous album of the same name back in 1965. Our plan included hiking and snowshoeing in Tettegouche State Park, just past Silver Bay. No camping on this trip however; temperatures varied from about -12°F to 20°F. Our snowshoe trek was with a group of 15 or so people, including kids, with a Park Naturalist leading us to the starting point on the Baptism River, under the Hwy 61 Bridge. Strapping on our snowshoes, the group started the trek upstream, following the frozen river (with many pockets of open water—it is a river, after all) about a mile up to the lower falls, known as The Cascades.
The Baptism is an good-sized river. We followed the shoreline (within 15-30 ft.) crossing the river twice en route to the falls and twice again on the return trip, weaving around spots of open water. The open water was often fast-moving and unless you were familiar with the river, it was difficult to gauge its depth. It was reassuring to have the Naturalist there as he explained we would traverse shallow-water areas as much as possible. Although I have fished the Baptism River frequently over the years, it was still difficult to remember specific points along the river what with all the snow and ice cover. There are quite a few deep pools in the lower section of the river as it approaches Lake Superior. Even with the Naturalist mentioning he had hiked the route the day before, it is always unnerving to see fast-moving open water and not worry about the possibility of breaking through the ice.
Twice during the trek, three young boys found their way to the front of the snowshoe procession, leading the group through the fresh snow. I caught up with them and told them that if someone was going to crash through the ice and fall into the river, it would be better if it was me, rather than them. I got no arguments, and they quickly fell into line behind me.
Snowshoeing the Baptism to the Cascades was exhilarating, seeing the frozen falls in its icy splendor. After snowshoeing, my wife and I hiked out to Shovel Point—a major geological outcropping, to check out the scenery. It was getting cold with the wind blowing in off Lake Superior, so we soon called it a day. The trails and observation points out there seem to have changed a bit, probably part of the construction and expansion of the new Visitor Center and amphitheater. All a bit unsettling for me since I recall when Tettegouche was still one of the lesser known gems on the North Shore, going by the name of Baptism River State Park.
The Baptism River snowshoe trek reminded me of another snowshoe adventure a few years ago. My wife and I were part of a much smaller group of four people and a guide, snowshoeing up the Onion River. A much smaller river compared to the Baptism, we went upstream from Lake Superior and over a low falls until we reached a higher falls with steep canyon walls. The Onion River was bounded by steep near-vertical, canyon walls on both sides along the much of the section we snowshoed. It was a pretty amazing view, with the canyon walls literally closing in on you as the river narrowed upstream. When hiking trails, you usually approach the rivers and view them down in the canyon or gorge below. This was an interesting juxtaposition.
I doubt we’ll be snowshoeing any more rivers this winter season, given the amount of unseasonable warm weather in recent weeks. However, next year, my dream is to go further up the North Shore just past Grand Marais and follow the Devil Track River up to the high falls. There is a deep gorge along the Devil Track, so it should prove another interesting endeavor from mid-January through February.
It’s often been said that Lake Superior, the North Shore and lands further north and to the south were shaped by Fire and Ice- volcanic and glacial activity. The geologic snapshot shows the North American, mid-continent rift (a partial separation of the land), developing just over 1 billion years ago. The rift ran from today’s Great Lakes area down to what is now Kansas. Thick lava flows tended to fill the rift over time and as the lava cooled, the valley continued to sag under the weight, and then slowly filled with sand and gravel sediments (sandstone). About two million years ago, during the Ice Age, large continental glaciers began to form and moved into what is now the Great Lakes region and southward. These glaciers, often 10,000 feet or more in thickness, advanced and retreated as many as half a dozen times, scouring the sandstone deposits and forming the Great Lakes basin. Then about 10,000-12,000 years ago the glaciers began to melt, filling the basins.
In more recent years, various researchers and ‘experts’ argue over the impact of industrialization and the ancillary combustion of fossil fuels on global temperatures, which are said to be rising due to increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere (from the combustion). The rising temperatures are viewed as a threat to our environment and way of life. Others say global temperatures are actually falling if satellite-based temperature data is examined. And still others claim some base climate data has been manipulated in order to maintain the positive temperature slope used to depict this short-term global warming trend.
Just how important is this short-term global warming trend, if indeed there is one, when compared to the longer geologic time trend referenced above? The miniscule data points and temperature changes being discussed today, over data measurement periods often less than 100 years, pale in comparison with the overall trends established over the last 10,000 years.*
Personally, I tend to view these empirical, physical trends over geologic time favorably, and I think they are due more weight in the overall analysis than data trends over the past 75 – 100 years. And how do we propose altering this longer-term warming taking place in geologic time? By using less fossil fuels, and more renewable energy? By transferring vast sums of capital from rich nations to poor nations to help them cope? Can we realistically alter this longer-term trend in geologic time, even by spending billions or trillions of dollars? The warming has been going on much longer than since the Industrial Revolution. Think about it. Where would we be without global warming? Just sayin.’
*Lake Superior-Born of Fire and Ice,
Miller, James D., Jr.; Jirsa, Mark A.; Leversedge, Phillip (Minnesota Geological Survey, 2000). Description – Preliminary trail guide, Tettegouche shoreline. These panels were provided to the Dept. of Natural Resources for editing and placement along the Park trail, and are provided here as an update to the Baptism River State Park geology summary published in 1948. The panels also include a summary of geology for the Lake Superior Basin.