Marcia Roepke
Trail Time

Trail Time – A Sparkly Winter

Over the past few days, the forest steadily became rimed with frost. Every branch, twig, needle and blade was coated in an intricate layer of ice crystals. Previously invisible spider webs were made visible by the delicate ice that coated and thickened each silken strand. Early this morning I watched a frosty cloud front slowly moving toward us from the north, transforming the landscape and leaving the world glittering even more in its wake.

It’s been wonderful weather for sledding, hanging out by a fire, snowmobiling, skiing, snowshoeing and ice fishing! The lodges that have recently reopened have experienced a big surge in snowmobilers. Last week was the ice fishing opener for lake trout in the Boundary Waters. Science Sue reported that on one lake there were hardly any anglers! Her crew caught some beautiful lake trout that day.

It’s also great weather for meandering winter dog walks down plowed back roads. I had a memorable walk last week with my dog, but it wasn’t memorable because of exciting events; it was memorable due to the lack of excitement and because of the powerful silence and stillness and beauty of the day. I saw very few moose prints in the snow and I was in a place where the path is usually crisscrossed by moose trails. The snow was deep and the wind had been ferocious the week before; I think the moose were hunkering down in protected places until the snow firmed up. I did’t see any wolf prints or scat at all, and that was surprising to me, since there has usually been lot of evidence of wolf activity there in the past.

Though there was little evidence of moose in the woods, a recent drive down to the end of the Trail yielded sightings of five big healthy-looking moose. I think we saw one cow and calf twice, though, but even a three-moose day is quite satisfactory. One pair ran through a big clearing after our car approached slowly. They were stepping high in that slow-motion way they have and covering a lot of ground fast. Lars said that moose are the darkest thing in the landscape. I said except for a bear. Yes, we agreed, a bear is the darkest thing you’ll see in the woods.

On another day, Lars and I saw a beautiful big fisher bound across the Trail. It was a classic profile of that beautiful brown-furred animal sailing over the snowbank with ease, ears perked, long tail flying behind. They run very differently than otters and this one was much bigger than a marten. I’m always happiest when I can get a confident ID. And I saw a grouse for the first time in weeks! With the deep snow, animals take to the roads where the traveling is easier, and birds land to peck at the gravel necessary for their digestion. There have been many flocks of Common Redpolls on the road. They are very slow to startle and fly when cars approach. I lost count of all the dead little bird bodies I saw one day on the Trail. I know that in nature no flesh is wasted, and the birds soon became another animal’s lunch, but still, let’s try to give the animals a fighting chance to survive winter. Slow down, please.

And we will all really need to slow down driving by Trail Center this week because the Gunflint Mail Run Sled Dog Race is this Saturday,  Jan 7. The parking lot there will be filled with sled dogs, sleds, teams, trucks. And the teams cross the Gunflint Trail in several places that day and into the evening. There will be volunteers at the crossings watching for car traffic, so take care.

If you’ve never been to a sled dog race, you are missing out. They are exciting and noisy and social and then after all the dog teams have left, everything quiets down for a while. One word of advice: leave your pet dogs at home and watch children closely so they don’t distract the racers. For more information about how to watch the race and where to eat, check out the website at:

The first 12-dog team takes off at 8 am; the first 8-dog team leaves at 9 am. Teams will arrive back at Trail Center in the early afternoon for a mandatory layover and then they’ll head out again 3 or 4 hours later, depending on the size of the team.

May there be happy and safe racing to all the teams!