A Week in North Central Minnesota or How Many Times Can You Cross the Mississippi River in One Week

We spent a wonderful week at a nice little campground on the edge of Bemidji, Minnesota. We were not there for the campground. A look at the map told us that this was going to be a great place to explore and it was indeed.

We arrived on Wednesday, May 26. As the next day was a running day we inquired at the office as to where I could go for a safe run with some additional discussion about a long run for the weekend. The proprietor told us about a great bicycle trail that could be accessed just over a mile from the campground. Running to the south one could go about 35 miles before running out of trail. Well, I thought just perhaps I had died and found myself in runner’s heaven. The next morning I went out to test the trail. The mile run to the access point was easy enough as there was plenty of shoulder to run on and the drivers seemed to expect runners and bicyclists because they gave me a wide berth as they passed. When I turned onto the trail I was absolutely shocked at the wonderful surface. The trail is paved in blacktop and plenty wide for snow mobiles to pass one another, so there was plenty of room for me and the occasional cyclist I encountered. If there was a downside it was that in the first three miles of the trail I was going mostly uphill. The scenery was about the only thing that was better than the surface upon which I was running. I came home with a grin on my face. It was fabulous!

The seventeen mile run I made on Saturday was pretty special as well. The predominately uphill outbound business was pretty exhausting making the last five miles pretty tough, but all in all a good run as well. My last run was purposely short so I could run hard and work the hill to my advantage. It was one of the best five miles I have put on the road in a long time. It was almost as though I was running a race as I just pushed on and on. I really didn’t want to leave that trail behind at the end of our week.

Bemidji is in the heart of Paul Bunyan land. In fact I am not sure if we saw more references to Paul Bunyan or the Headwaters of the Mississippi River. The visitor center in Bemidji has a lot of “memorabilia” from Paul’s home. Things like a foot long toothpick, walking sticks that measure a good ten feet, a telephone that could be a bread box and even fingernail clippings that look more like woodchips. It is really pretty cute. I included a photo of a statue of Paul and his blue ox, Babe, that stand outside the visitor center.

You cannot go to this part of Minnesota without visiting Itasca State Park. The park is of course where Lake Itasca is located and the lake is a magnet for summer fun seekers of all sorts. We saw folks on house boats, pontoon boats, canoes, kayaks and just about anything else that floats except high speed boats. There is a tour boat on the lake that offers a great two hour tour of the lake with Native American naturalists who pilot the boat and provide a near continuous narrative of the history of the area, the white man’s discovery of the headwaters of the Mississippi River, the wildlife and vegetation. It was truly a great tour. We saw a few Bald Eagles and Common Loons while on the boat. My photos are not great because of the great distance, but I have included them in the web album anyway.

Following the boat tour we took a hike to a cabin which is only four logs tall. However, the logs are of such great diameter that the height of the cabin is conventional even in today’s terms. The photo in the album says it all. We also came upon some pretty neat flowers along the trail.

After a drive along the length of the lake from south to north we came to the location where the Mississippi River leaves the lake. None of the streams, creeks, brooks, or rivers that feed Itasca Lake are named Mississippi, so that exit point is truly the headwaters of the river. There is a large visitor center a short walk from the headwaters. Among other things at the visitor center is a huge model of the Mississippi River from Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico with all the major tributaries indicated. It is a pretty amazing visual representation of this mighty river. As I mentioned we drove from south to north along the shore of Lake Itasca. Well, the Mississippi actually flows north out of the lake and then several more miles to the north-northeast to Bemidji and Lake Irving and Lake Bemidji. Upon leaving Lake Bemidji, the prominent direction is east before finally turning to the south where it slowly grows to the mighty river that comes to mind whenever Mississippi River is mentioned.

With all the meandering that goes on from the headwaters and for the first hundred miles or so, there are numerous opportunities to cross the river several times. Since we drove into Bemidji daily while staying in the area we crossed the river a minimum of twice each day, but we found countless other opportunities to cross the little stream.

Of course we did the tourist thing and took pictures of one another walking across the river where it comes out of Lake Itasca. Just downstream of the lake’s outlet the stream actually narrows to about ten feet across. It is pretty hard to imagine that the giant river that dissects this nation has such a humble beginning.
We made two attempts to go to International Falls while we were in the area. On the first attempt the weather just kept getting worse and worse looking. So, we reversed our course prior to getting even half way there. It was a smart decision as there were some pretty good thunderstorms in the area later in the afternoon. As we were making our u-turn we remembered that we had left our awning out. That is a bad mistake if you are not close by or have not made friends at the RV Park who will look out for you in your absence. As it turned out we got home in plenty of time to bring in the awning and our weather never did get quite bad enough to threaten it.

On our second attempt to go to International Falls we charted a course that would take us through International Falls and into Canada where we would turn to the west and drive another 80 miles or so and then re-cross the border and return to Bemidji via a different route for the major portion of the drive. When we got to International Falls we decided to visit Voyageurs National Park. To get to the park you drive due east from International Falls. The drive was pretty and the very small portion of the Park you can see without a boat was pretty spectacular. The time we spent driving to and from the park plus the time at the park made us rethink our desire to cross into Canada and then add another bunch of miles to an already long drive. So, we returned via the same route we arrived. It was only a 259 mile day!!

Our last full day in the area was a bit dreary and there certainly were some threatening clouds in the sky. So, off we went to find and visit the Lost Forty which is a piece of land that, due to a surveying error in 1882, was spared from logging. The surveyors mistakenly had Lake Coddington in the location of the forest. So, today it remains a virgin forest with Red and White Pines as the primary trees. Some of these pines are absolutely huge for pines. Many measure in excess of 48 inches in diameter and have been aged at around 300 years old. As impressive as the big trees are, I found the undergrowth to be just spellbinding.

As it was an overcast day with filtered light, we saw more shades of green than can be imagined. The contrast among the greens was pretty amazing, but the contrast between greens and browns was even better. I have included a few images from that day in the web album. There were some pretty neat flowers on the forest floor as well. Wait until you see my water drops on leaves. They are just too neat.
Of course, Connie and I cannot be in one location for a full week without discovering some pretty good restaurants or, as is sometimes the case, discover there are none. Well, the Bemidji area offers its fair share of wonderful dining establishments. We sampled great Italian, German and Mexican food during our stay.

The highlight though has to be the last place we ate, Sparkling Waters, Dining Between the Lakes, which as the name implies is located on a sliver of land between Lake Irving and Lake Bemidji. The menu was diverse and gave us a true challenge as to what to pick. The prices were reasonable and ambiance was just wonderful. As happens a lot with us we got to talking to our server trying to learn a little about his background and his future plans. Well, Aaron was a true surprise. First, he is the son of a retired Navy Chief Warrant Officer. More surprising his father and step-mother have settled in Buffalo, Wyoming, the city I lived in when I joined the Navy all those years ago. While living at home in Buffalo, Aaron attended Sheridan Junior College in Sheridan, Wyoming, the city where I was born. Finally, while attending school he worked at the Wyoming Rib and Chop House in Sheridan, one of our favorite restaurants in Sheridan. It is so rare to find someone who has ever lived in Wyoming it isn’t even funny. To find one who shares as much Wyoming history as Aaron and I do is unthinkable. By the way Aaron intends to stay in the food service business, but I doubt he will be waiting tables much longer. He is close to graduating from college and he seems to have a plan.

Well, enjoy the photos I have uploaded to a web album and come back here in a few days as there should be another chapter about our visit to the Lake Superior area.
Today we arrived in Superior, Wisconsin where we are making some more memories.

A Week in Bemidji, MN


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