Trail Time

Trail Time – Life on the Gunflint Trail

It’s a winter wonderland on the Gunflint Trail this week. There’s about a foot of new snow making a great base for cross-country skiing, snowmobiling or snowshoeing… and dog-sledding! Many years have passed since I first careened down a snow-covered logging road in Hovland behind a friend’s team. And I remember a wonderful time dog-sledding in the Boundary Waters on a winter camping trip years ago with a terrific group of people that included one of my best friends and my future husband, Lars. Dog-sledding is a lot of fun to do and it’s almost as fun to watch. The sled dogs are so full of energy and joy. They love to run! Next week there’s a great opportunity to watch some excellent dog sledding: The Gunflint Mail Run Dogsled Race will be held Saturday, January 8. Some good places to watch the action are at Trail Center Lodge, Big Bear Lodge or Rockwood Lodge. There’s also a spectator area at the Old Blankenburg Pit, where the twelve teams will be turning around. NOTE: It is very important that spectators do not bring their dogs to the races. And keep a tight hold on young children. Things get lively and move fast. You can find lots of information, as well as safety and etiquette tips, on the web site at gunflintmailrun.com

The new deep snow promises good cross-country skiing conditions all along the Trail. Closer to town there’s the Pincushion Trail system and the trails at the George Washington Pines. Bearskin Lodge and Golden Eagle Lodge together groom over 40 miles of trails known as the Central Gunflint Ski Trail system. Further up the Trail there is almost 30 miles of trails known as the Upper Gunflint Trail. Both the mid-and upper trails require passes that can be purchased at the lodges that maintain them. There’s also the Banadad Trail further up that is maintained by the Banadad Trail Association. Passes are available at the east and west trailheads. There’s also snowshoe trails at the Washington Pines or you can bushwhack away from the skiers. Pincushion, Golden Eagle and the Gunflint Lodge have snowshoe trails too. Some of the lodges rent equipment for snowshoeing and skiing. And Bearskin Lodge will be offering dogsledding rides again this year. Call first to get dates and to make reservations.

The energy level picks up with the Mail Run Race. And the start of the winter sport season means there’s more cars driving on the Trail. Slow down for the big trucks plowing and spreading salt and sand to make driving safer, and be extra careful of the moose traffic. Moose love to kneel down and lick the salt off the road. The roads can be icy enough that extra time is required to stop when you come around a corner to see a moose in the middle of the road. The nighttime darkness only adds to the danger. We saw a moose one dark November night and were able to stop in time. It is astonishing how quickly they appear out of the darkness even with your high beams on.

I was gone for few days around Christmas, and I’ve been listening for the songs of winter since I’ve been back. The lake ice has quieted, but I hear the wind soughing through the white pines and the sound wind-borne snow makes as it shushes over the snowy ground. The chickadee-dee-dee, the snarky call of the nuthatches, the quiet coo of the gray jays, the singing of redpolls and grosbeaks, the chatter of red squirrels, the racket of blue jays and the croaking of ravens are some of my favorite winter songs. Snowmobiles aren’t in my top ten favorite list – I admit I am biased toward the quieter sports – but when I hear them I think, “Someone’s having a lot of fun!” The sound of chainsaws means someone is working getting firewood and that is a good sound to me.

Yesterday afternoon the winter quiet was disrupted by my dog barking at the sky, toward the top of some nearby birch trees. Two chicken-sized birds were sitting up in those slender branches swaying in the wind. Daylight was fading fast and the birds appeared as dark silhouettes against the lighter sky. It was two grouse eating the birch catkins high up in the birch trees. I am used to seeing their little snow caves where they last out a storm, but grouse high up in a tree is an unexpected sight and it makes me smile. They just look so big up there – too heavy for the thin branches. They make me think of an illustration for “a partridge in a pear tree” in that twelve days of Christmas song. I’ve always understood that the “true love” in the song was a person, but I was thinking today about what my love of the woods gives me on each of these twelve days. My true love of the woods – that is, my devotion to the beauty of the natural world – sends me out to see the wonders of the boreal forest in all seasons. Winter offers unique gifts, more than one a day I bet, if I were to keep track. Which would be a good way to start out the New Year, recognizing each daily gift. Happy New Year to everyone!