Shanty Town, Minnesota Style

Sort of ….

After leaving the Big Bog bombing range I headed up to the Canadian border. We can’t visit Canada of course, but we can get within a stones throw along the Rainy River. Heck – we could even throw a stone across, get a Canuck to throw one back and start a border incident. 😀 Don’t plan on it though. The river is too wide and the Border Patrol is just around the bend.

I spent a night at Franz Jevne State Park on the Rainy River, one of the smallest and most primitive Minnesota State Parks. No reservations, primitive sites, vault toilets, and plenty of open sites from which to choose. All of them were, in fact choosable — I was the only camper. The post-pandemic camping surge apparently hasn’t made it this far north.

The sole on site park staff is a retiree who lives just outside the entrance and gets paid 20 hours per week at $12.50 per hour to maintain the park. The sole park staff and the sole camper ended up in a couple hours of conversation, where I learned that he’s intensely proud of his park, that he’s in the park seven days a week even though he’s only paid for five, and the park equipment is so poor that he uses his own tools and brush mover to maintain the trails.

And of course the conversation included retirement, health care, the Minneapolis protests-turned-riots, and government bureaucracy. The usual. Heck of a nice guy.

I also ran into a black bear about 30 feet off the trail. No cubs, displaying not the slightest bit interest in me, no problem. We crossed paths again a bit further down the trail. I can’t remember any other time when I ran into a black bear on a trail. Years ago I had a moose invade my Boundary Waters campsite in the middle of the night, but never a bear.

I wasn’t carrying my camera, so no pictures.

Lake of the Woods

After 37 years in Minnesota, I finally visited Lake of the Woods (!)

Lake of the Woods straddles the US-Canada border. It’s a prime destination for fishermen. The shanties in the header photo are actually ice fishing huts stored at Wheeler Point. In winter the local resorts plow roads across the frozen lake and rent out fish huts/houses for winter ice fishing. In Minnesota of course, real fishermen own their own fish house – likely equipped with a bathroom, stereo, TV, satellite dish, generator, furnace and microwave.

Zippel Bay State Park, on the shore of Lake of the Woods.

I didn’t (and can’t) visit the Northwest Angle – a small chunk of Minnesota that’s only accessible by crossing through Canada, by boat, or on a winter ice road. No border crossings, no ferries, and no ice roads. If I get up here post-pandemic I’ll make an effort to check it out.

On the way back south I overnighted at Lake Bemidji State Park, mostly so I could catch up with a friend. Nice conversation, nice park.

I ended up hiking in five new-to-me state parks (Scenic, Big Bog, Franz Jevne, Zippel Bay, and Lake Bemidji) and learning a lot about this part of Minnesota. Mostly that the Lake Agassiz Lowlands are flat as a pancake, Minnesota has millions of acres of peat bog, the area is sparsely populated, and interesting to visit.

As far as the post-pandemic camping surge, I found that from Sunday through Thursday there are open sites at every State Park in this area. The popular parks are booked on weekends, but some of the less-popular ones have weekend openings, especially if you don’t need electric. For retirees like us, it makes no sense to tie up a site on a weekend when we can camp during the week.

As usual, this trip generated a list of tweaks I need to make to the campervan.






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