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the road north part one

“The freedom of the open road is seductive, serendipitous and absolutely liberating.”

it was about 5:15 pm or so on the third day of june. as i was driving, i had been reflecting on what a good week it had been so far. i was on vacation and still had four more days to enjoy after that day. that particular day, i was headed up the north shore of lake superior to eventually join up with a friend in hovland. he was going to lead me on a hike back into a rather remote waterfall.

i wasn’t really sure this road trip was going to happen, to be honest. gas prices had soared; one day it soared about thirty cents overnight…overnight! inflation had already anchored its roots into the american economy (and overseas as well) and was causing some level of pain to most of us including my wife and i. we debated about whether i should even go.

now….the normal scenario would have been that i, being the photographer, would be pointing out to my wife why i should go. but that wasn’t the case this time. i was actually pondering letting my friend in hovland know that i wouldn’t be coming as i had concerns about gas costs, food, etc. she was encouraging me to go, knowing that it might be a long time before i would ever get up that way again. i’m glad for a wife who encourages my passion and works to find ways to make it financially possible. i even looked up places to stay in the region as it’s getting harder for me to stay awake for a couple days at a time. every place i looked at was either booked or way too expensive so i resigned myself to sleeping in the car as needed. i say resigned as i don’t do well sleeping in the seat of a ford focus. let’s just say it is not designed for comfortable snoozes. 😂

now…back to about 5:15 pm or so….i had just passed a location north of two harbors that caught my eye. as i was looking at it, i decided to keep going since there were other locations i wanted to get to; this was not a planned stop. my mind simply could not stop thinking about what i had just passed. barely a half mile past it, i made a u-turn and headed back to that location.

in reality, it’s a pretty standard location in terms of the north shore along hwy. 61. by standard, I am not saying it was a “meh” location. it was beautiful; so much so that i turned back. what i mean is there are miles of terrain along hwy. 61 that are very similar in look. there is no reason a person, even a photographer, would have turned back to give this a second look….except the light and shadow play in there was phenomenal! a grove of ferns were being backlit by the sun. the leaves of the trees behind all the ferns were also backlit. spread out among the ferns were trees silhouetted in black.

i walked into the heavily wooded area most likely infested with ticks, mosquitos, black flies, etc., just waiting for their next consumption of human blood. fortunately, i had sprayed up with deet on my skin and hat and permethrin on my clothes. i walked through the wooded area to a creek wide and deep enough that i did not try to cross since my boots were not waterproof. i set up my tripod and camera there amidst the craggy twist and turns of branches all around me. it was actually a bit of chore to find a place to set up around all the trees with branches forking everywhere. it was that densely packed!

i found a composition i liked - looking over the creek at the backlit ferns and silhouetted trees with the idea in mind of cropping into the image in post-processing. one of the things i’ve learned in my photographic journey is to make a wider image than you need. you can always crop the image to what you wanted to make an image of; you can never add to the image after the fact. well…you can with some photoshop magic but that’s not the way i work.

this was an image that almost didn’t happen. i’m glad i turned around as it is one of my favorite images from that road trip. whether you are a photographer or someone who just enjoys taking in the scenery, learn to see scenes within the scene. you might have heard me share this before about a “scene within a scene”. this image was part of a larger scene. it would have been easy to bypass without a second thought.

after i made this image, i packed up my gear and headed back to my car. my next photo stop was still about an hour and fifteen minutes away. i made a stop at tettegouche state park to stretch and and take a short break from driving. tettegouche is a popular state park. the amount of cars parked paid homage to that. it’s a fantastic state park but one i stay away from unless it looks like the people count is small.

driving has never been something at the top of my pleasure list. it’s kind of strange to say that as i used to be a delivery driver for a living. i love the road trips; the ideal scenario for me, though, is to have someone else drive and i get to observe from the passenger seat. after a brief stop at tettegouche state park, i pulled out onto hwy 61. barely a minute later, i took a left onto the road that led to finland…the town, not the country. just outside of finland, i took a right and soon was on gravel road.

this road is one of my favorites; the scenery runs along the east branch baptism river and blesner creek. blesner creek ends just a ways past the gorgeous and rustic george crosby manitou state park. it’s been too long since i’ve been in that park and hope to return to it soon another time. it is truly a wonderful stretch where i sometimes stop and get out to take it all in, often without my camera in hand. i love to just be in the moment, enjoying the tamarack trees that are prolific throughout here as well as other trees such as aspen and birch dotting both sides of the river and creek.

swans often swim in this area. this particular day was no exception and there were quite a few swimming in pairs. swans mate for life with very few exceptions. they are such elegant looking birds, moving with a rhythm that is full of grace over the surface of the water. their black and orange markings extending outward from the eyes give, to me, a sense of royalty, much like you would see at a masked ball.

counteracting the swans were ducks that seemed to be in the mood of showing off their feathered “behinds”. those “behinds” would stick straight up in the air as they continuously dipped below the surface of the water, presumably for food, royalty they were not; more like court jesters!

after a time, i finally came to one of my favorite lakes named echo lake. this lake, like the area where i made the image of the ferns and trees, does not offer anything distinctive that would grab the eye of someone that was driving by. it’s a beautiful lake; but it’s one of among many thousands of beautiful lakes in minnesota. however, for me, it’s become a special place as it is one of the first lakes i encountered as a photographer that was rather remote. as much as i like hanging with people, my hearing loss has made me fully ok with being a loner. this is a great lake for me to just enjoy it all to myself!

i was hoping for a more interesting sky but the sky was a clear blue. there was not even a wisp of a cloud. even so, i enjoyed my time of making images. in-between the making of images, i enjoyed watching the sea gulls flying over the deep blue of the water. the constant motion of the small waves washing onto the very small plot of sand and pebbles made for a very mesmerizing experience. this is actually a boat launch stop. i’ve yet to ever see a boat on this lake.

more interestingly, to me, are the pilings that are exposed. i’ve yet to be able to find out anything in my research about what those pilings are all about. did there used to be some sort of public boat dock? did there used to be a store of some sort back in the day that rented out boats for echo lake? i haven’t the slightest idea. hopefully, someday, i’ll find something about the pilings. in the meantime, they will continue to be a mystery as to its origins. while i enjoy looking at the images i made there, there isn’t anything that i feel is worthy of sharing with you. instead, here are a couple of videos i made. the first one pans echo lake for an overall view. the second one i think you’ll really enjoy; it features a sea gull who abruptly dive bombs onto the water. not the most graceful landing i’ve ever seen! it still gives me chuckles every time i watch it!

about an hour later, i was back in my car heading back the way i came. the sun was low in the sky, it lit up the dust rising behind my car as i drove on the gravel road and peered into the rearview mirror. it had a vaguely similar feel and look to those old classic movies where smoke from cigarettes and cigars rise and weave in a dimly lit room.

i made one more stop as i pulled up to where the east branch baptism river crosses under the road. talk about a contrast at the dividing point! before the road, the river is maniacal and rapid; on the other side, it continues on its journey in a lackadaisical manner. with the last of the light from the sun disappearing, i made this image after hiking down into a short but steep incline. i’m glad this image came out as i was crouched down into a squatting position in a little alcove of sorts. with my knees, any length of time makes it tough to get back up. i was only in that position for a couple of minutes but my knee joints felt like the tin man in the “wizard of oz” needing oil as i stood back up. i couldn’t hear the creaking and popping but i sure could feel it! always worth it, though, if the image is a keeper!

after a couple stops for a break from driving, i found myself at a location that i’ve wanted to see for a few years…hollow rock. located close to the mn/canada border, it is literally what the name implies; its a gigantic mound of a rock off the shore of lake superior with a hollowed out chamber of sorts, creating a natural arch. when i look at it, i can’t help but think of the slinky toy. it’s got that kind of a shape.

to get to hollow rock, you turn off hwy. 61 onto a side road that leads to a rustic type of resort called hollow rock resort…at least it looked like it was rustic in the dark. when i arrived, it was almost midnight. it was pitch black except for my headlights. i parked at the dead end where there was a small cluster of cabins. as dark as it was, i had no clue just what these cabins really looked like. i could just see the outlines of them with cars parked there.

after the fact, when i looked up hollow rock resort, i found out that these cabins are on the most northeastern tip of minnesota on a peninsula jetting out into lake superior. the cabins are quite nice looking.

being that it was almost midnight, i was a quiet as i could be as the cabins are right there. i closed the car door as softly as i could, kind of tiptoed to the rear and popped the trunk to grab my gear. i didn’t even close the trunk all the way as i was afraid it would make too much noise. i just slowly brought it down until it rested on the metal frame. i put my headlamp on and turned it on to the red lamp setting. i feared the white lamp setting would have been too bright and might wake someone up.

i walked over in the direction of lake superior and it wasn’t long before I was making my way down a short incline. i was kind of stumbling along the way as my red lamp does not put out much light. it’s great for messing with settings on the camera when the camera is close to the light. but for walking, it doesn’t have much strength to it. i was lucky to be seeing just a few feet ahead. it made it all the harder that i was walking on loose sand covered with pebbles and small rocks. it was a bit of a chore at times trying to stay steady when walking in the dark on unstable ground.

once i reached the shore, i turned off my red lamp and stood in the black of the night. i let my eyes adjust better and i was able to make out the contour of hollow rock. i saw the faint outline of the milky way hovering diagonally over hollow rock. my camera sensor would expose and showcase the mysterious beauty of the milky way but, at the moment, it looked a little bit like a white hazy cloud in the midst of a galaxy resplendent with stars. looking up into the night sky in a dark area never fails to instill a sense of quiet awe within me. to be all alone under an infinite ceiling of bright stars is something that cannot be adequately verbalized. it needs to be experienced as a spectator.

i wanted to capture two qualities in making an image here. one was a feeling of the remoteness of where i was. the second was the sense of majesty in the midst of the remoteness. i tried to achieve that by making a panorama. the overall panorama, to me, gives a good sense of being in a remote location by including a little bit of the terrain on either side of hollow rock. the terrain gives a sense of quietness, isolation and loneliness under the stars with a solitary mound of rock and the milky way above it. the majesty is two-fold here; the obvious one is the milky way but the secondary, though no less important to me, majestic sight is the arch section of the rock with lake superior visible through it. there is something otherworldly and entrancing about it under the stars. it has a fantasy quality to it; it wouldn’t be far-fetched to feel like i’m in a location i’ve read about or seen in movies that are fantasy based. while most photographers might want clear skies when making images of the milky way, i find that the wispy clouds here add a slight sense of whimsy and contribute to the fantasy feel of the location. i hope i’ve done justice in trying to portray the two qualities i shared above…

i felt like i had been there for hours. time seemed relative as i stood in the night. i looked at my phone and saw that the time was past midnight. my body was feeling some aches from the drive up and the various postures i assumed making images throughout the road trip. i certainly had been awake for hours. i woke up around 8 am the previous morning and it was roughly 12:20 am now. i had been awake now for over sixteen hours and i was going to be awake for many more yet. as quietly as i could, i made my way back to the car, loaded up and took off back south on hwy. 61. i had one more stop i wanted to make and then planned to get an hour or two nap in before meeting up with my friend, gary, from hovland.

about 15 miles later, i pulled into horseshoe bay. i’ve been to this spot a few times. gary introduced me to this spot and i’ve since returned to it with him a couple times. i’ve also been there by myself a time or two. it’s a gorgeous spot for photography and night time is no exception. it is also a public boat launch so there is a parking lot there for boaters to park while out and about boating on lake superior.

i drove into the parking lot and took a left onto a road that looked like a trail wagon from the old west might have made. there were two ruts in the road with tall grasses on either side and down the middle. four wheelers can traverse this with no problem with the suspension system they have. not so much in a ford focus. as slow as i went, it felt like i was sliding on my bum down the stairs for a large portion of the way. perhaps you’ve done that as a child? then you know what i’m talking about. bump after bump after bump…i don’t really have a plump rump so i feel them. probably just shared a little too much information there…😂.

i’ve never seen anyone else there as late as it was at night. so it was a bit odd to see another vehicle sitting there when i got to the end of the road. there is a cabin you pass along the way. there is also a rustic campground of sorts at the end. i though maybe somebody was camping there but did not see any tent. I got out of the car, grabbed my gear and headed to the shoreline of lake superior once again. when i walked out into the clearing, i finally saw the owner of the vehicle. he was also a photographer and had been making images of the milky way.

i think his name was richard or something like that. we said hi and i asked if it was okay to join him in making images. “sure! come on over!” he said or something to that effect. as it was dark, it was tough to see him and, of course, i could not read his lips. but i do know the vibe was a welcoming one. he seemed to enjoy having my company. even though i reminded him often that i was hearing impaired and read lips, he would just go ahead and chat with me in the dark. i literally have no idea what our conversations entailed. but i liked the guy and i tried to engage with him the best i could!

periodically he would turn his headlamp on (the red one so as not to mess up our vision in the night) but that really didn’t help me understand. i was far enough away from him to not be able to read his lips under the red light. but that was no problem! even though, as i mentioned earlier, i have no idea what we conversed about, he would talk to me about whatever it was he was talking about and i would just “yup” periodically. i kinda feel bad about that but if he was happy with talking, i was happy to let him talk!

after a while, he decided to leave. i believe he said he didn’t like the clouds coming in around the milky way so he was done. we said our goodbyes and i was alone once more. i stayed for a short while longer. again, i think clouds can add some character to a milky way image as long as it doesn’t completely cover it.

it was 2:00 am by the time i made the bumpy ride back to the parking lot. i was due to meet gary about 5 am. i decided to stay in the parking lot and try to get some sleep. at this point, i was wearing my winter gear as it was in the low 40s. there was a chill in the air even though it was early june. i got out of the car and grabbed a blanket from the trunk. i got back in the driver’s seat, looked the door and put the blanket over me. i leaned my seat back and closed my eyes…..

that concludes the first part of this blog! i’ll be sharing part two for my next blog. i hope you enjoyed this blog and the accompanying images. feel free to share any thoughts or comments regarding either. i read them all and i will respond to them all.

if you are interested in any of the images here for your home and/or business or for that special someone in your life, drop me a message using the contact form below. i’ll be happy to help you put together a photography artwork that will be a great conversation piece and be enjoyed for years!

thanks again for supporting me and my photography by reading my blogs when they come out. please feel free to share them with others who would enjoy reading them as well.

i’ll see you next time with more “images from a quiet world”!

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Thanks for the shout out. LOL! I’m so glad you went. I love the last photo the best. to me it’s moodier, I love the clouds and the way the Milky Way follows the lines of the island. Well done! Well worth the cost of gas. And thank you for coming home safe

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Thanks for your comments Penelope! I’m glad you convinced me to go. 😂 it was a great time and the best was still yet to come with my friend Gary. But….you’ll have to wait to read about it in the next blog!

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