Lisa Meyers McClintick, travel writer & photographer

Showing posts with label gunflint trail. Show all posts
Showing posts with label gunflint trail. Show all posts

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Where to see a moose? Drive until you lose your cell signal.

If you want to spot a moose, drive north until your phone signal stops working. Seriously. That seems to be the trick. You have to get out there on the edge of wilderness. A bit of luck helps, too.

We've now had two moose sightings this year. The first one was in January on Minnesota's Gunflint Trail. They like to escape the deep snow and lick salt along the sides of this scenic highway. The second was in June on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. This moose wasn't far off the road. We were able to pull over and watch her as she watched us.

Friday, January 28, 2011

"Narnia" wonderland on Minnesota sleigh ride

Mark Patten with Duke and Captain at Okontoe's sleigh rides. Photos by Lisa Meyers McClintick.
Take a winter ride through lantern-lit forest

By Lisa Meyers McClintick

Remember the magic of "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe" movie as Lucy steps into the hushed winter wonderland of Narnia?

We've found it here in Minnesota, where people from more than 50 countries and almost every state have found their way to Okontoe Sleigh Rides, a wonderful discovery on the Gunflint Trail.

Our son jokingly wanted to know if our driver, Mark Patten, was Santa. He did, after all, drive a sleigh, and have a rather commanding (yet nurturing) presence. He also lived somewhere that looks a lot like a heavily forested North Pole.

How north is north? If you had on enough warm clothes to plow four miles through the woods, you'd hit Canada.

Just to clarify, The Gunflint Trail isn't as rustic as it sounds. It's fully paved and deservedly considered one of Minnesota's Scenic Byways as it climbs up from the Lake Superior shore from the pretty harbor at Grand Marais and into the thickly flocked fir forest.

Bob and I, along with friends Kasey and Beth and our three kids, kept warily watching our mini-van's thermometer on the way. We groaned as it hit 8 below and cheered when it once (briefly) went to 5 below zero. Were we nuts for driving more than an hour from Lutsen Resort and flinging our overtired kids into subzero cold?

Thankfully not.

They immediately and delightedly ran up to Duke and Captain, the maple-furred Belgians who were pulling our sleigh that night. With the cold temps, though, we didn't dawdle long before squishing close together for warmth and welcoming the quilts the family piled upon us. Then it was off along the trails, gliding through the trees, past the amber lanterns and along the hushed expanse of Bow Lake with a steady jingle of bells.

Carols & history lessons

It was the most fitting setting we've ever had for breaking into a round of "Jingle Bells" and a few other songs that romanticize sleigh rides. For us, it was adventure and fun and novelty. Educational, too.

Mark had the kids imagine how wickedly cold and uncomfortable it would have been to be a turn-of-the-century teacher who had to spend two days making the trip from Duluth to Grand Marais in a sleigh. We knew how numb our fingers were getting, and we had only logged about 35 minutes and had the comfort of Thinsulate, down filling, and hand warmers.

That led to a great discussion of how lumberjacks survived with meager clothing and long days in the forest.

There's plenty of time to ponder life in a sleigh whether it's past and present, earthly or celestial. We admired the moon (not quite full but plenty bright) and constellations of Orion the Warrior and the Seven Sisters. We paused at an outdoor chapel and rustic camp and giggled at the designated Kissin' Tree. It encourages guests--especially couples--to pucker up. Small wonder the tree has witnessed its share of engagements. A sleigh ride for two ranks way up on the romance-o-meter.

Despite all the quilts and hand-warmers, we did get chilled and cut the ride short by five minutes. No matter. It made the post-sleigh ride welcome at the Pattens' historic 1907 Finnish homestead that much warmer. With lanterns and candles lit, Nancy ladeled out homemade hot chocolate as the kids spooned in mounds of marshmallows. A perfect way to wind down the evening.

Gunflint Trail, moose and wolves

The sleigh rides are especially ideal if you're staying on the Gunflint Trail. Gunflint Lodge and Bearskin Lodge are two that are convenient and open year-round. Bearskin is the closest and has lovely cabins on a spacious lake. Gunflint is larger and has lovely dining in the log lodge with deer roaming throughout the property.

If you don't want to base yourself that far north or in Grand Marais, it's do-able to make an evening outing of the sleigh ride from Lutsen.

On our drive back down the Gunflint Trail, we startled two moose. (Good to know: They like getting out of the deep snow and walking along the roads--especially with road salt to lick.)

If you get really lucky, you might even spot a wolf along the way. We saw a lone wolf along the Gunflint Trail a few years ago--a fleeting and thrilling experience on another unforgettable winter night.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Best places to eat wild rice

Since it's wild rice season in Minnesota, here are a few of our favorite places to enjoy this nutty grain also known as Mahnomin:

Clearwater Travel Plaza's fritter French Toast and wild rice sausage.
Savory wild rice sausage
Clearwater Travel Plaza, Clearwater, Minn.
This bustling, impressive pit stop on I-94 south of St. Cloud built a huge fan base with its homemade fritter bread French toast. It's accented beautifully with plump, savory wild rice sausages made down the road at McDonald Meats in Clear Lake. You can grab a to-go package at the plaza or at the meat market.

Sweetest bowl of wild rice
Hell's Kitchen, Minneapolis, Minn.
Owner Mitch Omer serves hand-harvested wild rice in a bowl with dried blueberries, craisins, real maple syrup and cream. He found inspiration for Mahnomin Porridge reading through fur traders' journals. Hell's makes tasty, zippy and creative soups and sandwiches, but we lust most for the breakfast menu's lemon ricotta hotcakes and toasted bison sausage bread made with coffee, currants and pie spices. Sadly, they no longer serve breakfast at Hell's in Duluth's Canal Park.

Cozy Red Paddle Bistro at Gunflint Lodge
Wild rice on pizza? You bet.
Coho Cafe & Bakery, Tofte, Minn.
Get ready for an earthy, savory and unforgettable blend of shitake, button and portabella mushrooms with locally made wild rice sausage on the cafe's Call of the Wild pizza. There are plenty of surprising and tasty twists on familiar foods in this hip, kick-back gourmet cafe nestled along the Lake Superior harbor.

Best wild rice soup
Red Paddle Bistro, Gunflint Lodge on Minnesota's Gunflint Trail
I've had plenty of good creamy wild rice soups over the years but one of the most delicious and unexpected ones was here. The colorful walleye chowder blends nutty wild rice with tender bits of walleye, sweet corn and tangy sun-dried tomatoes. The setting--a warmly glowing wood-paneled restaurant overlooking the indigo blue of a winter's night--doesn't hurt.

Quivey's Grove
Tastiest wild rice side dish
Quivey's Grove, Madison, Wis.
One of my all-time favorite meals was at this historic stone carriage house on the outskirts of Madison, Wis. Steeped in history, the owners let historic meals influence their entrees such as trout, tender beef and pork chops. What I remember most was the complex savory-sweet nicely textured wild rice side dish. It blends sage, coriander, celery, red pepper, chicken broth and tangy bits of dried cherries.

There are surely more amazing wild rice meals across the state. Please feel free to comment and share your favorites.

Read other wild rice posts: