Sunday, June 6, 2010

Lake Superior and nearby places

We rented out a Mitsubishi Gallant for our 150 minutes drive to Duluth from Minneapolis via I-35. The weather was warm and sunny and every second or third automobile on the freeway had a trailer or speed boats hiked on the rear. The route for anyone who’s driven along I-35 is nothing remarkable… I do not remember having seen something of worth. Our plan was to visit Lake Superior, Split Rock lighthouse and wrap it with a hiking trail along Gooseberry Falls. Nature had one more addition to make to the list.

As we were approaching the city of Duluth from an elevation, we could see the famous Aerial Lift Bridge, which apparently was not on our agenda. We had to cross Duluth to reach destination one. At that time of the year somewhere in the middle of July, some kind of road construction was underway which made us go through a few detours. However it was not long after leaving the city that we came to a breathtaking drive with the Lake on our right. Finally having found a spot to park our car, we pulled over and the first caution sign that we read was –Lake Superior can be UNPREDICTABLE and HAZARDEOUS. Walking across the notice-board when I saw the Lake it looked anything but a Lake… it was huge, as far as the eye can see only water and lots of water. The only difference from any sea that I could make out of was that there were no waves crashing on the rocks but light ripples. The water was a welcome cooler than the air and we cooled our heels there for sometime. Rest of the gang was engaged in photography while I just savored the sight… so vast and at peace. There were a couple of boulders where you could just sit with your legs dangling in the waters. A carat of Corona would make it picture perfect. We didn’t have a picture perfect situation there. So this bay that I’m talking about was kind of deserted, it was just the four of us and after having done all that we could have in that small outlet of the Lake we left for the lighthouse.

A drive further up along the North shore of Lake Superior and through one or two tunnels brought us to the famous lighthouse –which has apparently been retired and serves as a historic sight. This was my first visit to any lighthouse and well I found it quite a sight. Set on a rock, the tower stood tall facing the Lake. We had to buy tickets, a wrist band to visit the lighthouse. Now this tower had been constructed more than 100 years back as a result of a loss of a lot of ships in the unpredictable and hazardous lake of ours. We had to climb a few stairs inside the tower to reach the top where some kind of revolving machines were kept which made perfectly no sense to me. The lighthouse now belongs to the Split Rock lighthouse State Park operated by the Minnesota Historical Society. This site still has the original tower and lens, the fog signal room, the oil house and the three keepers’ house and all these have been maintained to look just like they did back in 1920. I gathered this from the handy booklet that I collected from the ticket counter. And if I remember correctly there’s a small museum on the history of the lighthouse.

A small beaten down path from the tower followed by a long narrow wooden structure took us to the shoreline. The light house appeared majestic from this point. We spent sometime on the rocks watching the waters from close quarters. This place had a lot of visitors and photographers trying their best to the get a picture perfect shot of the lighthouse. Having gathered ourselves from there, the tough job at hand was to climb the stairs upto the lighthouse. With two halts, we were able to make it to the top. Though we were there in the afternoon, I’m sure the sight of the tower would be beautiful in the evening.

The last place on our agenda –Gooseberry Falls State Park. This place had the highest visitor count among all the places that we visited that day. We freshened up in the State Park rest area and picked up a trail that would take us through all the three water falls. After walking for less than 15 mins from the office we could see the first waterfall… a light stream falling from a height of some 20-25 feet. The fun part of this waterfall [and the two of them that followed this] was that you could actually stand at the mouth of the fall and get the view of the water falling down. Moreover near the mouth the water kind of gets into gusto gearing up for the fall. I took up a place in one of the rocks there and enjoyed the view. No dangling feet here. But yes, we were in July, when the rains had well started more than a month back. We continued on our trail which had two smaller waterfalls before it took a turn and we were now on the other side of the park. Here also we found a stream but no fall. The path in a few places was almost lost among the tall grass that had grown in abundance and with clear sign post it was difficult to get lost. After about a couple of hours of starting from the State Park office we were back there, but via a different route and with that we came to an end of a fun filled day out.

It was a day spent well but we hadn’t had the slightest inkling of what was waiting for us when we hit I-35. We were on course for the last one hour or so when suddenly it started raining. Now rain is not uncommon here, but what happened next was something I’ve never experienced in my life.

The rains kept getting harder and harder. Though the wiper in our Gallant was working at top speed, it was not enough for me see clearly even for a split second beyond 10 feet or so… I could barely make out the tail lights of the car in front of mine. This was getting trickier and trickier by the second… and remember we were on a Inter State with a minimum speed limit of 45 mph. However I saw the car in front of mine turn on its emergency lights and as soon as that happened, I looked at the rear view mirror as I stepped off the gas pedal, turning on my car’s emergency lights. As coordinated as it could be, all the cars that were running at ~70 mph came down to 10 mph or below with no casualties in less than half a minutes’ time. We all crawled for sometime till we came to an Exit… which meant that we had an over head pass where we could take shelter. This was a major shelter... we had at least a dozen cars waiting there, trying to escape the downpour. This was the first time all four of us got to reclaim our senses and take account of what we just passed through and also enjoy the magnitude of rainfall –something we all had never seen in our lives. So much rain that you just cannot see the end of the car’s hood even when the wiper clears water at top speed is simply amazing. It felt as if we were under some waterfall.

After waiting for 10-15 minutes we were ready to embrace the rains, once again. A few cars that passed us gave me the courage that the route was not completely undoable and with that thought we joined the roads again. This time the taps in the skies were not running at full speed and the drive was comparatively comfortable with a speed of around 20-25 mph. We saw a lot of cars on the sideways still with their emergency lights turned on and unwilling to start again. I kept following the car in front of mine; emergency lights doing their blinking job. All along the way we could see what the rains had done… a few uprooted shrubs, very clean sidewalks and deserted roads. Finally as the rains stopped more and more cars joined us till we were back to the normal speed of the Interstate. I lost my way back home a couple of times, unable to figure out the turns as suggested by the GPS. I’m not sure how but I found my way into the campus of UofM enroute. But then, in another 20 minutes we were comfortably back home. The drive was what I had enjoyed the most. My most memorable drive in the US till now.

For the benefit of the readers I’ve provide with a site where more info about what to see in Duluth can be obtained.

1 comment:

Haddock said...

that is a great bridge....