Day 3 (September 27, 2015 – Duluth, Minnesota): “Moon Shots”
It was 6:25am when we awoke to the alarm. Having lost another hour on yesterday when we first crossed into Ontario, Canada, our bodies must’ve still felt like it was 3:25am. When I noticed an orangish full moon as we looked out our hotel window looking towards the west, that kind of compelled us to get up out of bed and seize the moment in terms of capturing what we thought was a pretty rare sight (for us at least).
As the moon was continuing to sink on the horizon, we could see that it was turning from orange to red. Was this the blood red moon that we had heard about on the news last night? Well, we weren’t that versed in astronomical happenings so we thought we had scored with this experience. Little did we realize that the real blood red moon was supposed to happen during some eclipse that was supposed to take place tonight!
At 7:30am, we finally went downstairs for a breakfast. There were loads of sugary stuff like cinnamon rolls and chocolate muffins with chocolate chip on them. But there was also the customary pancake machine, which we’ve come to expect from most of the Holiday Inns that we’d be staying at.
In any case, when the brekkie was done, we then went back upstairs to wrap up our packing. Then, by 8:25am, we were in the car, and ready to start what we knew was going to be a very busy day.
First up on this chilly morning, we headed west and towards Kakabeka Falls again. Having showed up past sunset yesterday evening, we were determined to get better looks on this morning. So we made haste and eventually got back to the familiar provincial park at 8:45am.
We started our visit by returning to the visitor center near the campsites where we got some frontal views of the giant waterfall. While there, the hazy morning sun produced some light rainbows in front of the left side of the falls. The light rainbow almost looked vertical. But looking in the other direction, the harsh morning sun pretty much blinded out the down-canyon view.
Now that we were getting some favorable morning light looking towards the falls somewhat, we managed to sneak in a few family shots with the tripod. That is, we did what we could since Tahia always likes to act the clown and really mess up our photos.
Julie then took Tahia back into the car so they could drive to the main side of Kakabeka Falls while I’d walk towards the bridge then reach the other side by foot. I figured I mind as well get some other views of the falls just to complete the experience.
At first, I was getting some interesting profile views of the falls, but once I got onto the bridge, I had to look directly against the sun towards the gorge beyond the brink of the falls. Eventually, I’d join up with Julie just as both of us were converging at the stairs leading to the viewing deck. Tahia stayed in the car while we were expecting to make this part of the visit brief.
Once we got to the familiar overlook, we could see that part of the falls was in shadow, which made photography a bit difficult. Still, we managed to see more of that morning rainbow (albeit light) so it added a bit more color and intrigue to our photos here. I’d reckon that perhaps the best light for photos overall would be an hour or two later when there wouldn’t be any more shadow cast on the falls and the whole width of the falls should be lit up. That said, we weren’t going to wait around for that to happen since we had a lot more waterfalls to do on this day.
Eventually, Julie wanted us to have more family shots from this side of the falls so she promptly went back to the car and get Tahia down here. Then, we took our obligatory shots before more people started to show up. At that point, it was time for us to go.
So at 9:50am, we were back at the car. We then backtracked towards River Road before going left on Barrier Drive, which ultimately hooked up with the Hwy 130. This was the route we should’ve taken yesterday (not those stupid unpaved farm roads that the GPS had put us on), and that might have saved a bit more time and even let us experience the falls with a few minutes more of reasonable late afternoon light.
Well, what was done was done. And we were pretty much cruising along Hwy 61 as we headed back south towards the Canadian-USA border again.
However, we then followed route 563, which branched away from Hwy 61. Apparently, the GPS thought the Pigeon River Provincial Park was somewhere along this route. However, it quickly became apparent that whatever infrastructure we thought was gonna happen here, was pretty much nothing. However, we did spot what appeared to be the Middle Falls.
There was a small unsigned pullout area, where we then stopped the car at 10:45am, and walked past some road barricades towards the banks of the Pigeon River where we could get some decent views of the segmented waterfall. We knew that it would take around 3.1 miles round trip to see this falls from the Minnesota side, but it seemed pretty straightforward to see this falls from the Ontario side (though the lack of signage meant that you really had to look for it).
Once Julie and I had our fill of this riverside view of Middle Falls of the Pigeon River, I then scrambled from the pullout area, which led me right to the brink of the Middle Falls. And indeed, the view was precarious, but I got my profile views of the falls just to mix things up a bit.
By about 10:55am, we were back at the car. Clearly the trail to the High Falls of the Pigeon River wasn’t here. And so we would proceed to drive back to Hwy 61 then head south to the USA-Canadian border. Once we got towards the entrance of the border station, we saw the Pigeon Falls Provincial Park car park and visitor center at 11am.
Shortly thereafter, Julie and Tahia would go to some swings and monkey bars in front of the visitor center, while I’d proceed on the hike. It turned out that the kiddie facilities was perfect for keeping Tahia (and Julie) busy while I was busy doing the solo hike taking me out to the frontal views of High Falls of the Pigeon River as well as the ability to get right up the brink of the falls.
The signage here indicated that it would be about 1.2 miles one-way to get to the falls, and it would require another 1.2 miles or so to get back to the trailhead. But when I followed the boardwalk trail, which then went primitive as it branched into the damp forest, I made haste as I would eventually get near the underpass of the road bridge. Unfortunately, I saw that there was a shorter alternate trail leading directly back to the visitor center.
I guess my initial trail taken as it passed by the Finger Hill Lookout Trail turnoff was probably a short distance longer than it could’ve been had I come to the underpass directly from the visitor center due north. In any case, now that I was alone, I wasted no time continuing beneath the underpass then getting to yet another trail junction where I veered right to head straight for the High Falls of the Pigeon River.
The direct trail continued climbing as it started to leave the shades of the forest. The employees at the welcome center yesterday were right about this side being a bit more up-and-down and primitive. Yet eventually, I’d make it to the overlooks with an unobstructed view of the falls at about 11:45am. From there, I could see an attractive but light rainbow on the lower left side of this waterfall. I could also see that there were far more people on the Minnesota side of High Falls than on the Canadian side.
I spent some time trying to take more photos and movies but the challenge of taking the falls under the good weather was that the waterfall was quite bright. So for the most part, the falls was either too bright or the photo itself was quite dark.
After having my fill of the falls from this vantage spot, I then headed towards the brink of High Falls a short distance upstream. While the view from the top of the falls wasn’t terribly satisfying as there were cliffs kind of in the way and I could only get a sideways view of just part of the falls, I did get stomach butterflies given the dropoff exposure. I guess they were right in that this spot wasn’t for bringing someone like Tahia who probably wouldn’t have the judgment fully developed to stay back from such dropoffs.
Anways, at 11:15am, I completed the hike by following a more riverside trail where I got good views of the Pigeon River, passed by some spur to a Canadian heritage placard, and I further realized that I was pretty much alone on almost this entire hike.
Back at the visitor center, I saw there was a large group of Chinese folks speaking mandarin by the swings. None of them were Julie nor Tahia so I kept going towards the car thinking they were there. But when the car itself was empty, I then headed towards the Pigeon Bay boardwalk trail, which I had punted for later. It was on that trail that I saw Julie and Tahia heading back. They said the trail was short so I just went ahead while they returned to the car to wait for me.
Once I got to the end of the boardwalk, I saw there was a young Chinese couple who were on their way out. And so I had the Pigeon Bay view by myself. This view was of a sheltered bay of Lake Superior, but from a photographic standpoint, it seemed like there was nothing very extraordinary about it. So I got back to the car at about 12:30pm and resumed our drive.
Soon thereafter, we showed our passports to the USA-Canada border patrol, where the lady asked basic questions about where we live and why we were even at Thunder Bay in the first place. When I told her waterfalls, I got the same reaction as the Canadian guy at the other side yesterday. I guess it was either feigned surprise or incredulity wondering why anyone would come from LA to this border crossing just to see waterfalls. But now I wondered if it was just a test to see if they could trip me up with their brief interview.
She seemed familiar with some of the waterfalls in the area so as part of her test, she mentioned Gooseberry Falls. She also asked how many waterfalls I had seen so far. And that was when I ran off a handful of falls that we had seen in the past two days. Gooseberry Falls and the Baptism River waterfall were two of our targets for today. So with that, she let us through.
The drive going back was beautiful though we were on a mission to try to hit the waterfalls we had missed yesterday. What a contrast to the foggy conditions of yesterday! In any case, we couldn’t stop for any of the lakeshore views, Grand Marais (which seemed like a quaint lakeshore town), nor the roadside waterfalls like the one at Cross River. We couldn’t even stop for Ilgen Falls, which I had put on the itinerary as an option.
Julie and Tahia were napping for much of this 81-mile stretch of drive so I wasn’t getting any external pressure to stop anyways.
Eventually we’d find the turnoff for Tettegouche State Park where there was a very crowded car park and visitor center immediately at the turnoff from Hwy 61. But we kept driving along the park road, which twisted its way towards a dead-end where the hiking trail to High Falls of the Baptism River would begin. It was now 1:20pm.
After relieving our bladders at the pit toilet in this trailhead, all of us were now awake and ready to do the hike. The sign here said it was 0.7 miles so we weren’t expecting a very long excursion. But the trail began with a climb and then it started getting muddy. Since Tahia was wearing her tennies, I would have to carry her over the muddy stretches.
After the trail kind of reached an apex, it then kind of slightly undulated before reaching some trail junction, where it seemed like Two Step Falls and some other campgrounds and sites were on the other branch. We then continued on the High Falls Trail, which eventually took us towards the top of the falls.
At first, each of the overlooks we’d encounter had limited space for viewing and they were all taken up by other folks checking out the falls from there so we’d keep hiking towards the bottom, which required us to continue upstream of the falls, then cross a swinging bridge before heading downstream past the falls on the other side, and then descending steps to the banks of the Baptism River for a frontal view of the falls at around 2:10pm.
Again, all the possible spots to view the falls along the trail were essentially “taken” so we started by just enjoying the distant frontal view of the High Falls of the Baptism River, which seemed like it was full. I think it was even more full than the internet photos that I had been seeing as part of my trip planning, which might be a testament to how much rain had fallen in the past week or something.
Tahia was busy checking small rocks at the river while both Julie and I were trying to keep an eye out on her while also documenting the falls. And eventually after having our fill of this spot, we then headed back up the steps and slowly stopped at each of the viewing spots of the falls along the way.
Our strategy of punting the viewpoints for later seemed to pay off as we were able to get to each spot without people hijacking them. And then we pretty much hiked back the way we came while once again trying to let Tahia test her ability to avoid the mud, and then carrying her over the stretches where the mud couldn’t be avoided.
Eventually at 2:50pm, we were back at the car park. Even though the hike was 1.4 miles round trip (0.7 miles in each direction), it sure felt a lot longer than that. And I guess since we spent about 90 minutes on the trail, it kind of showed. Plus, this trail was very popular despite the distances and amount of hiking. I guess since today was still a Sunday and the weather was dramatically more beautiful, it made sense why this place was popular though I swore there were a lot of cars stopped along the road at scenic spots even during the foggy Saturday drive up to Canada yesterday.
Next, we resumed our drive further south along the Hwy 61. When Julie realized that the restaurants (Betty’s Pies seemed like one of the places worth stopping for since we noticed it yesterday on the way up) were actually further south of Gooseberry Falls State Park, we just headed straight for the falls, which kind of got both Tahia and Julie to turn against me for skipping lunch for this long.
Still, there wasn’t much we could do, and it was getting late in the afternoon anyways. In order to return to Duluth at a reasonable hour, we had to stick with the plan. I guess in hindsight, we probably could’ve used another night in Duluth or one of the towns along the way just so we could better enjoy the lakeshore views and more fully appreciate the sights here.
At 3:30pm, we were finally at Gooseberry Falls State Park, which was even more crowded than Tettegouche State Park. We even skipped some other roadside waterfall near Big Bay further confirming that we probably could’ve used another night on the North Shore of Lake Superior. Anyways this time, there was a huge parking lot that seemed to be completely full though we were lucky to find a shady spot near the very end of the car park on the way out. Still, both Julie and Tahia were quite cranky, and I was mentally thinking that this had better be a short waterfalling visit.
So we proceeded to do the falls loop in a clockwise direction. I was thinking that Upper Gooseberry Falls would be the target of our visit since my trip research seemed to imply that the best waterfall was that one. But when we finally got to that falls, which was a short distance upstream from the underpass of Hwy 61, that was when I realized that we had to hike further downstream to get the classic view of the waterfall backed by the Hwy 61 bridge.
At the Upper Falls, there were a couple of small caves, which apparently were used by young workers from the Civilian Conservation Corp during the Great Depression. It was yet another such site as Pattison State Park in Wisconsin had this too at the Little Manitou Falls, which we had seen yesterday. I was starting to wonder about this FDR theme on this trip, which was unexpected.
Anyways, the trail was a little on the muddy side, and while Julie was busy taking photos, I kept going to the brink of the Upper Falls. Once there, I took more photos then started a movie where I’d follow the river from this waterfall then go all the way to the brink of the Middle Falls before stopping. Julie and Tahia followed me, then we decided to go up a level to the pedestrian underpass, which started beneath some wall that looked like it belonged to a castle, but was really beneath the Hwy 61 route.
We then were beneath the Hwy 61 where we managed to get a few more top down views of the Upper Gooseberry Falls before turning to the other side to look through the girders towards the brinks of both the Middle and Lower Gooseberry Falls as well as Lake Superior in the distance. Once on the primitive trail on the other side, we’d eventually get to what seemed to be the best viewing angles of both the Middle and Lower Falls.
In one spot, there was some of a small opening between the foliage where we got to see the Middle and Lower Falls as well as the multiple segments belonging to the Lower Falls. This was by far the best view though Julie and I wished it could’ve been more open to really get all the parts of the falls in one photo. But alas, that’s how Nature works sometimes.
We then continued descending the Falls Loop Trail as it crossed over a couple of bridges. On one of the bridges, we managed to get a look at one of the Lower Falls before continuing to complete the loop near the brinks of both the Lower and Middle Falls. With all the different ways to experience this falls, Julie was openly wondering if this waterfalling experience was worth a 4 rating even though it lacked the thunder of Kakabeka Falls, which we thought was a solid 4.
Well, it was about 4:45pm when we returned to the car, which was clearly much more time than we had anticipated going into this excursion. But at least Julie and Tahia were in much better moods given how this waterfall performed.
Next, when Julie was busy using her iPhone to check out Lunner or Dinner spots, we were having regrets about not eating lunch at this Angry Trout place in Grand Marais. There was even a place near Big Bay that Julie wished we had lunched. So once again this made us regret not having another night or more time to stop. Anyways, we did make a stop for this place called the Rustic Inn, where we enjoyed a pie or two.
Julie got a fruit pie of North Shore blueberry crumb, while Tahia and I shared a five-layered cream pie. I know it’s not normal to have a dessert before dinner, but we had to see what the pie hype was all about anyways. So this indulgence kind of made a Betty’s stop unnecessary and so we’d continue driving towards Duluth, where we decided to head straight for the Duluth Grill for dinner.
Julie had read this place had organic and vegan dishes as well as your typical diner type fair. But when we arrived at 6pm and saw the veggies and fruits grown right around the building, we had a sense this wasn’t your typical diner.
And sure enough when we were having the dinner, we were blown away at Julie’s paella as well as my Asian Steak in curry. Tahia was cranky and we got quesadillas for her, but that wasn’t anything extraordinary. However, the mains as well as the ravioli that we got were awesome. This was easily the best dining experience of the trip so far, and who knew that such a diner would have these healthy yet tasty options in a state not named California? And in Minnesota of all places?!?
Even the Midnight Delight gluten free chocolate cake with ice cream was awesome. And we were totally devouring the entire dinner. By about 7:05pm we were back in the car. As I was busy filling up gas on the way to the Comfort Suites, I noticed some streak in the sky that might have been a comet or something, or it could just be a plane with streaks. But it seemed kind of otherworldly.
That said, in this twilight hour, we knew the moon would look big if we looked east. And sure enough, when we left and drove the I-35, we saw the impressive moon though it probably wasn’t as red just as it would’ve been just above the horizon. Still, the moon was orangish like it was this morning though we knew it’d get brighter and brighter the higher on the horizon it’d go.
Next, we drove into downtown Duluth on the harbor front where we saw sort of this main night life area though there didn’t seem to be that many pedestrians and there were more cars. Still, it seemed like a good place to go for a walk, and had we had more time, we would’ve done just that.
When we finally checked in at 7:20pm, we went looking for the full moon out our window over the lake, and that was when we were bumming that the moon was hiding behind the clouds. But still, we wanted to seize the moment and go for a walk anyways since we knew there’d be limited time to do this kind of exploration had we not done it now.
So by 7:50pm, we left our room and made a quick walk towards part of downtown Duluth before following the lakefront walk. While we were near the lighthouse, we saw that the moon was starting to get a shadow on it! At first, we thought it was from clouds, but upon closer inspection, it seemed like the moon was undergoing an eclipse!
So from that point forward, we’d spend the rest of the evening trying to witness the event and take what photos that we could. Apparently, the rest of the city of Duluth was doing the same thing as it seemed like the walkways (especially by the canal) was full of people gazing at the moon.
But partway through as the moon was continuing to rise and the shadow grew longer, the moon then went into the clouds. So we walked north away from the lighthouse to see if we could see the moon again. Sure enough, we did, which was near some partially submerged ruin, and we managed to get more partila eclipse shots until once again it went hiding in the next batch of clouds.
At that point, Julie and Tahia decided to head back into the room (it was now about 8:45pm), while I now headed back towards the lighthouse again. And along the way, I could catch a fleeting glimpse of the blood red moon with a very slight bright sliver on its periphery before it disappeared for good behind the clouds.
There were fireworks in the distance, and I wondered if they were celebrating the eclipse. Anyways, I took the time to try to wait out the clouds, but they never relented. Or at least never to the point of letting the blood red moon reveal itself completely. So a lot of folks seemed disappointed by this and I had to settle for my couple of photos of the phenomenon in that fleeting moment.
In the mean time, I checked out the famous lighthouse as well as the bridge, which was raised to let some huge tanker or ship through. It was now 9:40pm. And by 9:55pm, I was back in the room to finally call it a night to this very long day. Maybe we might have time tomorrow morning to walk along the lake before leaving. We’ll see…