Sunset in the Coconino National Forest, looking northeast toward Sedona, AZ, 4/17/15

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Voyageurs National Park (MN), July 26-31

A Voyageur with items to trade for beaver pelts.
An Ojibwe woman behind the birch bark canoe.
Before I talk about Voyageurs National Park, I've got to tell you that I traveled to this national park by driving the shorter distance through Canada (vs. through Minnesota).  Bolstered by my relative success of an afternoon visit to Thunder Bay, Ontario, I decided to go from Grand Portage to International Falls via Ontario's Hwy 11.  My travel through Canada was both beautiful and uneventful.  Getting back into the US, however, was another story!

Evidently my explanation about visiting the National Parks didn't cut it with the US border patrol officer, so he had me pull off to the side to be searched. And then when I explained to the next officer that I really didn't have a dog, that the big dog bowl was there just so that it appeared as though I had a big dog for safety reasons ... I got a disbelieving look. And then when she asked why I had two chairs when I was traveling alone, I don't think my explanation about making it look like someone else was with me was getting any understanding either.

Beavers are still plentiful in the area.
Here is a tree one fell recently.
So, off to their "office" I went, filled out a form assuring them I was bringing nothing Canadian back with me, emptied my pockets and turned them inside out ... while they performed a background check on me. I waited and watched as two other officers started wading through, unzipping, and inspecting all of the variety of bags, drawers, duffel bags, packs, etc. in my car. I've got nearly every cubby hole, and space under and behind the seats stuffed ... I figured I was going to be there for a while. So, I might as well sit back and enjoy watching their efforts.

Just as I was getting comfortable for the show, they decided that I was actually telling the truth and stopped searching ... or, maybe they just didn't want to look through everything once realizing all I had stuffed in there ... or, maybe it was all of the national park brochures in my laptop case that tipped them off.

So, after doing a bit of re-packing, I was off to Voyageurs National Park.  Besides being a wonderful park with all kinds of waterways, it's also a place full of history and adventure.  Voyageurs were French Canadian traders who used birch bark canoes to transport goods for trade.  Primarily they traded blankets, metal ware and tools, beads and jewelry for beaver pelts.  The Voyageurs then canoed the pelts to Montreal to be shipped to Europe where beaver felt top hats were all of the rage.  (If you read my blog post on the Grand Portage National Monument, this will sound similar.)

Although I didn't see any, I'm told that
moose are plentiful in the park.
Not only did the Voyageurs trade with the Ojibwe, but adopted many of their traditions and technologies.  Voyageurs needed to be very strong.  When they portaged their canoes, they also needed to carry on their back 90-180 pounds each of pelts or trade goods.

Voyageurs NP is primarily a water-based national park.  So, I took a couple of ranger-led canoe paddles.  One was a reenactment, as though we were paddlers for the NW Trading Co. on a reproduction Voyageur birch bark canoe.  The second was a nature paddle in a modern canoe along the shoreline.

Canoes aside, I don't think I've ever seen so many empty boat trailers in parking lots before, in my entire life.  Every water access point had dozens of parked pickups with empty boat trailers.  And the Saturday evening I left the park, 99% of the pickup trucks I passed on the highway were hauling a motor boat.  Needless to say, boating is a major pastime here!

Although Voyageurs NP only has campsites on its islands, I found Woodenfrog State Park right on the water.  It was a quiet campground, and somewhat central to the various places I wanted to visit. 

What I think I'll remember most about Voyageurs, however, are the loons.  Their eerie vocalizations seemed to be always around you ... some of which I'd never heard before.  Their wails and yodels were especially confusing to me at first.  Go to this Looney Tunes page to take a listen for yourself.

originally posted 9/10/10

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