Two Harbors had a sweet lighthouse, fire engine red, but we had so much to do that we didn't stop for the tour.
There was a ship at the ore dock, which we were finding seemed to occur at most towns we were stopping in. I suppose they were making their last runs for the season, before the "gales of November" blow in. Shipwrecks are more than just legends in these parts -- they're harsh realities.
We also stopped at a rock shop in town, where I got to see some rare samples of something I was hunting with determination: thomsonite. Thomsonite is found in only two places on earth. One is on Thomsonite Beach just south of Grand Marais, Minnesota, and the other is another part of the world somewhere (I can't remember where), but the stones differ in color. The MN thomsonite is a beautiful rock that consists of shades of pink and rings of green in concentric circles, found on chunks of basalt. While I hadn't seen any up close, I knew I just had to find some on this trip. At the shop, I saw some yummy samples of tumbled and polished stones, and others that had been fashioned into jewelry. There was a large sample on display of what it looks like still attached to the basalt, and I put the image to memory. I was determined to find some myself.
We spent some quality time searching for agates on a beach just north of Two Harbors, and found some small pieces. The cold made it painful to stand and walk around the rocky beach, so I chose to sit and my boyfriend laid on his belly on the rocks. Somehow, the rounded rocks were comfortable and it felt warmer the closer we were to the ground, perhaps because the wind resistance was minimized. We could've easily spent the day sifting through rocks there, but onward we pushed.
Our next stop was Gooseberry Falls.
We should have known from the size of the parking lot that it was going to be unlike the waterfalls we love most -- remote, natural and few people. Oh, Gooseberry Falls was nice, but it was like Disneyland, waiting in line for access to a particular viewing spot, people everywhere! We explored it intensely, but I doubt we'd ever go back.
The beauty was unquestionable.
The water was delightful as it flowed over the rocks.
But every attempt to take a photo of the falls with a wide angle view failed. People were infesting the falls and we quickly grew tired of it.
The sun was coming out in bursts between the puffy white clouds, highlighting and shadowing different areas of the falls in ever-changing ways, which made my nerve endings buzz with elation. However, the competition for good spots to occupy and the sheer volume of people wandering close to the falls on the rocks, quite a few with their dogs, really ruined it for me. What on earth could dogs appreciate about this? I swear, half the people there had dogs. It was like a dog park more than anything. And let me tell you, the dogs looked as irritated as I was. It was a nice area, but unless I could get all the other people to leave, I was going to have to pass on it in the future.
From there we went to Split Rock Lighthouse, the single most photogenic lighthouse I've ever seen.
The wayside before the turnoff for the lighthouse provided a really nice view, and at one point, I swear I was seeing double as I approached the prime locations.
Up close, Split Rock Lighthouse is just as alluring.
We got to explore a recently renovated keeper's house, where the home was decorated as it would have been 100 years ago when the keeper lived there. In the keeper's house and in the lighthouse as well were folks dressed in costumes representing the same era, and for a moment, I froze, and battled with bizarre thoughts in my head. Were they real? Or were they ghosts? Was I hallucinating? No one mentioned that there would be costumed people pretending to work in the buildings. Are they real?
They were. But it felt so authentic and so surreal that I wasn't sure.
Walking around the lighthouse situated on top of Split Rock with a sheer drop to the water below, I was sick with fear. I trembled more from terror than the bitter cold and whipping wind. That was one frightening view! Yet the lighthouse was stunning, immaculate, and felt as much like a safe harbor for my fear as I'm sure it did for sailors. It definitely had an ominous look.
And the dramatic view of the landscape below was really something.
We left Split Rock at sunset and I was a bit frantic. We were supposed to have made it to the Canadian border by the end of the day, but we were nowhere near it. And it was getting dark fast. We had to decide whether to drive the long distance to get closer to the border and miss all the North Shore scenery, or stay somewhere close overnight, putting us one day behind. We decided to be a day behind and find a room right away.
Sometimes decisions are made for us and our minds are involuntarily changed.
There were no rooms. In any towns nearby. They were full from Two Harbors up. Each town offered the promise of a half dozen motels, all without vacancies, and we drove further and further in the pitch black. Not only did we miss the scenery along the North Shore, but we were occupying the roads when the moose come out. That was another fear: I'd hit a moose. It stressed me out and kept me from ever wanting to drive after dark. As if it didn't weigh heavy enough on my mind, every few miles there were signs warning of moose in the area.
We drove and drove, stopped places where people actually felt so sorry for us not having a room that they called towns ahead and checked for vacancies for us. One person said that we should just go straight to Thunder Bay, Ontario, because there wouldn't be a vacancy this side of the border.
Luckily, we found a room in Grand Marais. It wasn't pretty, but it had vaulted ceilings and heat, which was good! We were about 80 miles from Canada and had missed a huge chunk of the North Shore, but we had a room and weren't going to have to sleep in the car on the side of the road somewhere. With the moose.