The Outside World, In and Around Duluth

Isle Royale – Day 2

On every other day on the island, we would wake up early and hit the trail. However, this Sunday morning (5/23), we took our time waking up, and once we were up, we explored our surroundings.

Actually, I woke up at 5:30am, walked down to the Windigo ranger station restroom, was sick one last time, walked back and head a bland oatmeal breakfast, and THEN we explored our surroundings. Not sure what that sick thing was all about. Too much fresh air, my wife thinks. Maybe so. Anyway, that was thankfully the end of that.

There’s an old moose exclosure over near the Windigo visitor center. An exclosure is a place where native vegetation – in this case, balsam fir – is allowed to grow without being grazed by the local animal population. In this case, moose, and to a lesser extent, snowshoe hare. There was also a bit of yew growing in the exclosure, and I can’t say that I remember ever finding yew anywhere else. Apparently, yew is pretty tasty when you’re a moose.

Outside the exclosure, we found this little guy slithering across the trail:

Red Bellied Snake

The first time I heard about red-bellied snakes, I learned that they were about as big as a good-sized nightcrawler. Obviously, this snake is much bigger than that, which is interesting, since most life on Isle Royale tends to be a little smaller than members of the same species on the mainland.

Eventually, we broke our Washington Creek camp, and started hiking to the Island Mine campsite. The amusing thing about the Island Mine campsite is that there is no island anywhere around. Middle of the woods. Silly nomenclature. The dotted green line was our hike for the day:

We got to camp, set up, and then shouldered our daypacks to hike over to the Island Mine itself. The Island Mine was one of the many places on the island where copper was found.

200+ years ago, you apparently could hardly walk more than five minutes on Isle Royale without stumbling over yet another copper deposit. Mining companies were understandably very interested in staking claims on the island, but until 1854, the island was controlled by the Ojibwe. This is the year they ceded their land to the U.S. government, in the ‘Isle Royale Extension’ of the 1842 Treaty of LaPointe:

Public Domain Map of Isle Royale Treaty Region

This is interesting – when you go to the Wikipedia page for the Isle Royale Treaty, you get a list of the tribal signatories, but it doesn’t describe what they got in return. Why would they give over their land? Talk about a one-sided account of things. The answer is $400,000 (spread over 25 years), and hunting and fishing rights. Hmmm.

Anyway, at the mine, one of our class members, Patrick, gave a presentation about mining on Isle Royale. Regardless of how it came to pass, mining on Isle Royale is certainly an interesting topic. It’s amazing how fast industrial mining came to the island, and amazing how fast it collapsed. The good bits of copper were quickly plucked out, and then it just got too hard to mine enough copper commercially to be industrially viable. At the Island Mine site, the mining companies literally just walked away, and all of their equipment is still there, slowly rusting:

Island Mine Equipment

We head back to camp for dinner (the first of many dinners of burritos):

Rob and Matt Making Burritos

After dinner, a few people made a fire in the fire ring – there were two fire rings over our eight days, and we used them both. Instead of hanging at the fire, I headed into the tent to catch up on reading and writing.

For readings, we were reading sections from Napier Shelton’s “Superior Wilderness”:

This is a great book to read as you make your way across the geological, natural and cultural history of the island. Just the thing for a group of neophyte interpreters to study. Reading this book also got me to thinking how cool it would be to do exactly this sort of thing on other trips, family vacations, etc.

From a homework perspective, the days looked like this:

  • Wake up, pack up and hit the trail
  • Stop multiple times for Tom or one of us to interpret something
  • Eat lunch on trail
  • ID birds and wildflowers along the way
  • Get to our destination, set up camp, do some more interpretation
  • Make dinner
  • Do more interpretation, journal (assigned), or read, and then hit the sack

I like writing, so my journaling always took longer than I wished. I also spent a lot of time writing and re-writing the script for my Civilian Conservation Corp lesson. I also had a couple different Isle Royale books that I was trying to keep up on, in addition to Shelton’s “Superior Wilderness.” So I just didn’t have enough time! Before we left, I thought I’d be getting to bed early and waking up after eight or nine hours of sleep, but that just never happened. Oh well.

Next Stop: Lake Desor

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