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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Adventures of Winter Into Spring 2012...

Greetings Dear Readers! Let me first apologize for such a long long delay since my last post. No specific excuse but I have so many pix and things, I suspect this will end up being a series of postings to catch up our followers on all that has happened recently up here at Cascade Bluff! 

First, a reminder that though it is now April 5 and spring is most definitely in the air (though Wunderground is predicting our low temps to be in the teens tonight) only about 6 weeks ago this was the scene at Cascade Bluff. Brr! looking back at these photos reminds me of how easy we had it this year, because the snow fall was minimal and our usual extreme winter temps were not terribly extreme. 
Hah! Nothing compared to last year, when the path to the sauna looked like a long narrow tunnel with 4 foot high walls... Piece of cake! 
 Hmm, not a good solar day...
 Near the end of February, when it was still worth it to gear up with hats and mittens and thick jackets (unless you are Val, and you almost never wear a thick jacket, gloves or a hat in winter when it is any temp above 20 below), we had some dear friends as guests, MJ in red and Loie in brown...
 They enjoyed tramping about on our land for a couple of days, and then we all decided to take a trip into town for lunch and other touristy things that we like to do with our guests in support of the local economy... 


So, it was a really beautiful sunny day, and we decided to "take the scenic route" back to our cabin, or "the back way"... For those familiar with the roads around Grand Marais, we left town on the Gunflint Trail and drove to Devil Track Lake, took a left on the north shore of the lake and planned to "cut through" on some of the lovely smaller roads that eventually connect up with "our" county road, Pike Lake Road.


Except that what we didn't know was that the connecting roads aren't really considered... hmm... roads in the winter. They are considered snowmobile trails


And there aren't any signs telling you this fun fact. You basically just have to "know," as locals and some knowledgeable visitors seem to... or, as we did, discover it! 


No one travels without a GPS these days, they come attached to your phone, and pretty soon we'll have them wired into our heads... A GPS is helpful, right? Umm, no. The GPS thinks all these roads are roads, of course. As does the County map. And they ARE roads... in the summer. 


And what might be the main difference between a "winter road" and a "snowmobile trail", 
one might ask? Answer: plowing. 
It gets trickier. The famous John Beargrease Sled Dog race runs right by the first intersection where we turned off of Devil Track Lake Road... If not, we might have not been fooled for long enough to get ourselves in very deeply. You see, the county DOES plow the first 1/4 mile of so of that unnamed (but numbered) road, because people park there to watch the sled dog race, and the support teams use that spot as the racers go by... so we turned and said, hey, nice road! A little snowy, but pretty... 
Then things got snowier... and deeper... and though it took us a while to notice it, the edges of the road had none of those telltale plowing "humps" or ridges...But we did notice that the only other vehicles we saw were two snowmobiles... and even then we weren't sure, because they were on a smaller "trail" crossing ours... And hey, they waved and grinned at us! Are't folks nice up here in the north country? (You'd think they might have said something...!!!)
But then it finally became sickeningly obvious. We were NOT on a road at all. And we had no place to turn around, 'cause the sides of the snowmobile trail were soft and squishy, way too soft for a car to turn on... no plows, you see...


Here we are in the Explorer, considering our options at about mile 4 of 6.5 or so of this adventure. We are stopped because... well, the car was steaming and smoking just a teensy tiny bit... 
 Poor Ursula, the Ruddy Red Explorer bear of a vehicle, had been trying really really hard to get through the increasingly soft and deep stuff that the snowmobiles had packed down to some extent, but not as firmly as a car would. Val was the driver (otherwise we all might still be out there...) and she'd been white-knuckling it, revving and rumbling through one near-miss after another... but the steam and smoke made us stop...
We had, of course, overheated Ursula. And of course, we had no extra coolant (or even water) with us. We considered snow... thought better of that... You can see the first of many sacrificed car floor mats that helped us get some traction after we had to stop and let her cool off, because of course all this took place as we were heading up a hill... 
 Not entirely sure why we decided to do this (can't recall our logic, which seems a bit faulty in retrospect) but we then sent MJ and Loie off on a hike ahead, to "scout out" how far it was til the road/snowmobile trail turned into an actual road again with signs of plowing... 
All was eventually well in this adventure. Loie and MJ didn't walk far enough to find the plowed road, but they got close and returned in time to help push at a particularly opportune moment. Fortunately for us, the weather was cooperative, it was about 35 above, not 35 below... The sun was setting but hadn't set yet... No wolves or other toothed critters came to check out if we might make a tasty snack... and with the help of all of our floor mats, some pushing and a very determined driver (Val, the driver you always want in any sort of thing like this) we did in fact make it out not just alive but completely unscathed. Even Ursula wasn't damaged. We stopped by Casey, our buddy/plowing guy/neighbor's place and he gave us a liter of coolant, made sure we didn't have an open bottle in the car, and teased us a bit about trying this with our NON-TRACKED vehicle... of course, why drive to town with your tracked vehicle?? especially when you are off on a cross country adventure??


Much fun was had by all, particularly our friends and neighbors who enjoyed hearing all about our mistake and ribbing us gently. Turns out this happens pretty much every year, and for those poor folks who don't have an Explorer like Ursula or a great driver like Val (or a bunch of extra floor mats) who get really stuck and can't get out, they end up being hauled out by one of the huge tracked trucks used to groom for snowmobiles, at significant cost. Here's a story from the local paper about the exact same scenario, but from last year when the snowfall was MUCH greater... could easily have been us!!
http://www.cookcountynews-herald.com/news/2011-03-05/Front_Page/Vehicles_stranded_after_wrong_turns_onto_snowmobil.html

And in case any of you have forgotten about Babe, our bright blue Jeep with the fancy "shoes", here's a reminder...
http://www.cookcountynews-herald.com/news/2011-04-16/Community_News/Making_tracks_through_the_backwoods.html

Okay, enough of all that... no big loss and lots of experience gained, including learning all about the different colors and kinds of radiator coolant, how you "burp" an engine after the radiator has been run nearly dry, why it was a wise choice not to dump snow into our radiator... and how sturdy an Explorer is! Thank you, Ursula... and thank you THANK YOU thank you, Val! 
And one final moment of humor: our friend Stan and his wife Pat were driving on the very same roads (wisely, after the snow had mostly melted) and they found one of our car mats!! We hope to retrieve our lost possession from them soon. Thanks, Stan and Pat!


Then the oddly early spring of 2012 arrived in full force. While we never had 80 degree temps like those in the Twin Cities Metro area and points south, we did get into the upper 60's and even 70. Here are a few photos of waning winter days and the ever changing "seasons" of Feb-March-April, 2012...


Here's our outdoor thermometer recording 67 degrees in the shade, March 10! 
 The view to the west, with dwindling amounts of snow...
 The Cascade River from our Lookout spot, her ice is all soft and looks orange as the tannin-tinged water runs over the semi-submerged ice...




During the winter months we built a bunch of benches, and this is the first one to be "deployed" outdoors... This day was too nice for a jacket, even for me! 
 Our timber bench, close up... eventually will be moved to its final spot on the ledge of our look-out over the river...
More sunshine...

...what a great thing to get a sunburn in early March...
 Rosie loves her leash, and in this photo she is doing her best to rid the northland of flies...
 Snow's almost gone...

 This was the best sunset shot I could get during the very cloudy spell we had around this year's vernal equinox. Notice that the sun is setting to the right of that tall spruce now? 
 And then the snow was totally gone, or so we thought...

But before we get to winter's little kick in the butt, I don't want to forget to post some of these fabulous February fotos...


On Feb 20 the air and the humidity and the temperature was just right for that rare event, hoarfrost. I had posted one of these as our "opening page" photo for a while, and here is a sample of the rest... 
 Looking southeast, with long tendrils of mist winding through the valley...
 You can't see very far, but it seems like you can see forever...
 It was so incredibly quiet that day -- the river was still frozen, no wind, almost no birds were around yet.... hardly a sound. 


 March brought some gloomy days too...



...and some mysterious, misty mornings...

...The day brought more mystery...

...tinged with a hint of pink...


 ...The March sky had some beautiful astronomical sights, like this crescent moon in the morning, just before dawn...
 ...and if I looked in a different direction, Superior was working her magic...

A bit later that same morning saw the sun rising out of the mist...

 ...and up a little more...



In fact, for a while it seemed that every morning and every evening was simply gorgeous...



...and I even caught the "conjunction" of Venus and Saturn! 


...and by near the end of the month, every last scrap of snow was gone...

But then March had one final kick in the butt for us. On March 31, going out, just like the song says, like a lion...


This is supposed to be our lookout... onto a big ol' cloud...

 The definition of a "lowering sky"....

...and one last taste of snow... Gee, those Adirondack chairs look chilly...

Soon to come, more posts and pix of flowing (aka, not frozen) water, mischief with "cold frames" and other gardening experiments, more visitors, and an influx of new duckies! Can't wait, can you?

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