March 31, 2009
We assembled at the grounds of the Superior National Golf Course west of Route 61, very close to our condo at the Lutsen Resort in Minnesota. We waited for our outfitter. A snowmobiling trip north to the historic Gunflint Lodge near Gunflint Lake and the Canadian border would prove to entertain us for the next two days.
We were anxious for the sound of engines, speed and wind in our faces. This adventure would be much different than our usual sliding down slopes on boards.
Minnesota has over 20,000 miles of snowmobile trails, and there are approximately 240,000 registered machines here, surpassed only by the state of Michigan, which has over 350,000. Proof that snowmobiling is very popular in the upper mid-west. We were about to see why.
It was forecast be a temperate couple of days, so we would not have a cold ride.
A pickup pulling a large covered trailer soon arrived, and six machines quickly unloaded. Two large Yamaha 4-stroke sleds and four two-stroke 550 cc Ski-Doos would be our transportation. Helmets with face shields were distributed and fitted. We gathered around to inspect the goods.
Our tour guide Mike Prom had his own speedy Artic Cat machine. Mike and his wife Sue are owners of an outfitting company called Voyageur Canoe Outfitters in nearby Grand Marais. http://www.canoeit.com
The large machines were assigned to Martin and Mike, the largest riders in our group. With machines assigned, instructions given, hand-signals explained, and overnight bags strapped on the back of each sled, it was mid morning by the time we got on the trail.
With the sun shining, we headed out following our leader Mike to traverse the Sawtooth Mountains, some of the oldest mountains on the planet we were later told.
It would be a long one-way 65-mile trip, on 8-12 foot wide trails with a stop for lunch at the Trail Center Lodge on the Gunflint Trail. http://www.trailcenterlodge.com Our return route would be different with a stop for lunch at the The Landing at Devil Track Resort right on a lake. http://www.deviltrackresort.com
Along the way we were very close to the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area where no motorized vehicles are allowed. This famous area contains approximately 1.3 million acres and extends nearly 150 miles along the International Boundary. Over 1200 miles of canoe routes, 15 hiking trails and approximately 2000 designated campsites are contained within it.
The snow was soft and granular both ways. Trails were all machine groomed, some groomed more recently than others.
This trip was a good way to witness the “Land of 10,000 lakes”. Contrary to license plates, actually there are 12,000. At several locations during our journey, we traversed snow and mush covered lakes. Quite a thrill at fifty miles per hour [the legal speed limit] with a rooster tail of snow and water flying behind each sled. Mike assured us that we were safe, with nearly 3 feet of winter ice under us. According to him, the ice did not usually break up until mid May.
We bounced and swayed as the soft snow tried to steer our slick shiny vessels. Both slow and fast, we rounded sharp corners, crossed small bridges, climbed steep hills, and ran flat sections fast, trying to play catch up with the machines ahead. Mike kept us moving at a good clip. We had to arrive for our gourmet dinner at the Gunflint Lodge. http://www.gunflint.com
As though they were caught in quicksand, soft snow on the sides of the packed trails briefly trapped two machines and sucked them down on their sides. It took three of us to pull the machines free. Guess it paid not to travel alone, as the sleds were very heavy.
I found the two types of sleds offered quite different rides. The heavier four stroke machines rode bumpy trails much smoother than the others.
There are no huge mountains here. Some would call them large rolling hills. Deciduous forests prevailed with sections of past clear-cut terrain. The trails followed lakeshores, utility rights of ways, logging roads, and meandered through dense sections of evergreens.
Our destination, The Gunflint Lodge, was worth the trip by itself. In existence for 75 years, Sue and Bruce Kerfoot own and operate it. It consists of a main lodge with bar and restaurant and several out buildings, including many cabins, conference center, naturalist center and private residences. During our short stay fine dining was experienced by all, including Canadian walleye chowder, venison, trout, and some of the best French toast I have ever eaten.
Early morning was a surprise when wild deer were within a few feet of our rooms. This answered why the lodge had corn and seed bin containers in the lobby. The deer show up for several days each year in large numbers, and if you are quiet and still, you could feed them right out of your hand, “ said Bruce. We did.
There is an enormous deer population in Minnesota. Predator grey wolves also are present, but not frequently seen. During our six-day stay in Northern Minnesota, there were four carcasses found, the results of wolves preying on deer.
The deer, the fine cuisine, and the welcoming attitude of our guide and the Kerfoot family made our trip one full of surprises. It’s clear that Northern Minnesotans are indeed friendly folk. It’s a fine place to escape the hectic part of our lives. Expect no cell phone service, no in room telephones, and no TV’s at Gunflint, just nature in all its variety. The Kerfoots and Mike Prom like it that way.