Earlier this week my wife and I drove up to northern Minnesota to visit Voyageurs National Park. This jewel of the North Woods encompasses 84,000 acres of interconnected waterways separated by 134,000 acres of densely wooded land and over 500 islands. Located along the transition between the northern boreal forest and southern hardwood forest, this area hosts a wide variety of plants. Since it’s predominantly backcountry, it also hosts a wide variety of mammals including wolves, moose, and black bears. The waterways teem with game fish including northern pike, yellow perch, walleye, and sturgeon. Many interesting birds can also be seen in the treetops and skies here.
Before we even entered the park we were treated to a bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus, Accipitridae) perched on a conifer:
Our first stop was at the Woodenfrog Campground in Kabetogama State Forest. Campsites within the national park are accessible only by boat, and we didn’t have time for that depth of exploration on this visit. Despite the more accessible, car-camping nature of this campground, it still had a nice remote feel to it. Even though it was late July, the campground was only about 20% full. We picked campsite 33, had no one around us, and had a nice little path down to the shore of Lake Kabetogama:
While we enjoyed the setting sun here, a mother mallard duck (Anas platyrhynchos, Anatidae) and her babies swam up to us, came ashore, and foraged around for a few minutes:
The ducklings were a little more adventurous than the mother:
This little guy came right up to me:
Before long they moved off into the setting sun:
That night we hoped to see the aurora borealis but the activity was low during our visit. We did get to see a vast number of stars, however, while listening to the mournful calls of common loons. The dawn light brought even more beauty:
That morning we headed out onto the lake with a rented motorboat from the laid-back proprietor of Gappa’s Landing.
Although Voyageurs was named for the 17th and 18th-century French fur traders who paddled these waters in birch-bark canoes, we opted for more expedient travel on this visit.
Along the way we dropped anchor in an isolated cove on Cutover Island to each lunch:
While out on the boat we trolled the shores hoping to see a moose or bear. While we didn’t get to see those large mammals, we did see some large birds. First was a turkey vulture (Cathartes aura, Cathartidae):
Then we saw one of the common loons (Gavia immer, Gaviidae) that we heard crying the night before:
Even though we spent four hours on the boat, we covered only a fraction of Lake Kabetogama. On top of that, Kabetogama is only one of four major lakes in the park. One could probably spend a month here and still not explore it all.
Once off the lake we made a few more stops that were also cool. First was a roadcut on Highway 53 just west of the Kabetogama entrance.
These rocks are a 2.7 billion-year-old migmatite–granite complex near the edge of the Vermilion Batholith. As part of the Canadian Shield these rocks are some of the oldest in North America, forming the heart of the continent. Here and throughout much of Canada, hundreds of millions of years of erosion have exposed them at the surface.
Here specifically, intrusive magma made contact with older surrounding rock, partially melted it, and created this twisted palette of contrasting colors. The lighter shades are granitic rock formed from the magma of the batholith, while the darker shades are biotite schist formed from the contact metamorphism of older sedimentary cover material. The chaos of the heat and pressure that existed at this interface was nicely preserved as the material cooled and crystallized in this form.
After this spot we headed over to the Ash River area and stopped at the Beaver Pond. The beavers were long gone, but this wetland could be an ideal habitat to see wildlife.
Our final stop was on the Blind Ash Bay Trail where we got a nice overview of the east end of Lake Kabetogama:
Our brief visit really didn’t do this park any justice. A person could easily lose him or herself in the wilderness here, paddling and hiking with abandon for weeks. Although we got a taste of it, real enjoyment would come from some serious backcountry travel. It’s high on my list of places to return.