ELY – Just five miles from Canada, and 15 miles northeast of Ely on the Fernberg Trail, stands Red Rock Wilderness Store and Northwind Lodge, formerly known as Jasper Lake Resort. It is a place that holds generations of memories like pitch-black nights with shimmering stars while gathered around a campfire, the dancing lights of the Aurora Borealis, and midnight wolf operas. The resort, now managed by Joe Baltich, Jr., has been in the Baltich family for three generations. Surrounded by the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), and deep in the northwoods boreal forest, the resort offers something unique from others in the area. It is liking walking into the past with its rustic charm, while still offering today’s modern amenities such as wireless service. It just might be possible that Northwind Lodge is the oldest family-run business in the area. The resort, which is over 70 years old, dates back to 1944.
The Red Rock Wilderness store, which doubles today as Joe’s art studio, has the largest selection of fishing tackle in the area. Some of the locals callRed Rock the “Cabela’s of the North.” Today Joe’s store also has his artwork for sale – wine glasses, mugs and canvases displaying beautiful northwoods scenery. You could say that he has come full circle when it comes to his art. It was there at the resort on Jasper Lake, at the age of 13, that he discovered he was not only an outdoors enthusiast, but also an artist. The resort has seen and weathered a lot of changes over the years. Change within the resort industry is common, and calls for innovativeness at times. The resort was once known for skiing, and had its own Nordic ski trails. It was on one of those snow-covered trails that Joe met his wife Annette. Skiing under a canopy of pines however, is now a part of the resort’s past. But innovativeness and creativity is what Joe is all about, and it is his passion for painting that is the inspiration behind his most recent resort venture.
This past week I made the drive to Red Rock to see “The Painted Canoe of Ely,” Joe’s latest masterpiece. It is a symbol of both art and adventure in the wilderness. Joe spent over 400 hours last winter painting on the unique aluminum canvas! His original plan was to paint the animals of the BWCAW but instead, at someone’s suggestion, he painted the history of our region. He chose to depict the wilderness area in the 100 years prior to its federal wilderness designation in 1978 on one side, and the wilderness area how it exists today on the other. The canoe is a Grumman canoe which is symbolic in itself. Grumman originally was a leading producer of military aircraft. If you look close, Joe included a painting of a Grumman Hellcat F6F fighter aircraft used in 1943-1944 during the war. After World War II wound down in 1944, the company began to produce Grumman canoes which replaced wooden canoes that were mostly being used at that time. The Grumman canoes, being lighter and stronger, made portaging and canoeing in the wilderness easier. Grumman canoes are a significant part of our BWCAW history.
At age 13, Joe’s first experience with art began when he experimented with his father’s wood burning kit. Tiring of the kit’s designs, he began to draw his own – deer, moose, and squirrels. Soon he was selling the wood plaques to resort guests in the store. One day one of the guests, who happened to be an art teacher, told him he needed to learn to paint. He couldn’t even imagine that. The woman left and came back two hours later with a rock she had just painted. It had a wilderness scene with a deer and a sunset. He thought it was one of the most beautiful things he had ever seen. She sent him to town for the basic painting supplies he would need. He painted his first rock that night at the dining table while his family gathered around him. He sold his third rock. The money he made from his artwork allowed him to purchase his first art studio –a small 8×10 shed from Sears. Headded stools, an easel, and a fluorescent light. The resort kids would gather in there each night and watch him paint. He would take orders from guests. He sold many blue herons on canvas. While attending UMD in college he was often commissioned by students to paint gifts for their parents. His dorm room walls were like an art gallery.
After college in 1983, he returned home feeling discouraged by the present job market. He returned to guiding at the resort, which he had been doing since he was 14. He also became involved in politics and served as Ely’s mayor and on the city council for a time. It was upon returning to resort life after college that Joe discovered his studio had been damaged by the elements. He attempted to fix it, but it was never quite the same. Joe lost his mojo. For 32 years Joe took a sabbatical from art. That is until he decided to paint an Adirondack chair last year forIncredible Ely’s fundraiser – Chair-ish Ely. And guess what? Joe the artist was back! Joe describes this past winter painting the canoe as “an adventure into art.” Painting the canoe, Joe said, was something he needed to do for a couple of reasons. He needed a demonstration piece for his new program “Into the Brush,” and he needed something cathartic. It was a slow winter for his business, and he needed something to keep him busy and that was good for his psyche. “Into the Brush” once just an idea, is now a reality.
There’s a lot of conversation these days about saving our local wilderness. Many are concerned about preserving it for future generations. They are worried about the environment. Others are concerned about what may appear to be a bigger threat. It seems that with each passing year, the number of people traveling to Ely to spend time in the wilderness is declining. A decline in tourism means a decline in local business. Joe has seen the decline. He believes there are various reasons for the drop in numbers. One is that we have a large aging population that either is no longer able to venture out due to health issues, or they feel they have “been there, done that.” Digital distractions have also impacted interest in both the young and the old. Today’s generation is also more concerned about safety, and feel uncomfortable about being unplugged from civilization for any length of time. With this in mind, Joe came up with a new idea to introduce people to the wilderness. His idea combines wilderness adventure and art through his new endeavor “Into the Brush.”
“Into the Brush” (www.intothebrush.org) is in the process of becoming an independent 501(c) (3) nonprofit. Through “Into the Brush,” Joe is offering a new and adventurous program at Northwind Lodge. The program offers an “art camp like experience” where guests can learn the basics of painting by adventuring in the wilderness, and then coming back and putting it on canvas, wood, stone, or glass. At “art camp” you can stay in one of the resort’s housekeeping cabins with friends or family. Each day you will spend two hours in the morning, and two hours in the evening learning how to paint. Inspiration will come from the 2-3 hours spent hiking or canoeing each day independently, or under Joe’s guidance. The program offers 4- or 7-day classes. The classes are designed for the beginner with no experience necessary. Joe also offers 2-hour micro classes on occasion to anyone, not just resort guests. Joe has a lot of plans for the future of “Into the Brush.” He envisions an art gallery someday, and even internships and visiting artists. He is also thinking about expanding his art program to include photography and other mediums.
Through his new venture, Joe hopes to introduce a whole new group of people to the wilderness. Perhaps even those who would have never imagined themselves adventuring in the heart of Minnesota’s northwoods. The truth is, people are increasingly seeking out adventure. Many, though, want something just a little bit different than what has been the tradition.
If you are looking for something to do this fall, I encourage you to take a drive up the Fernberg Trail and see the canoe for yourself. It is breathtaking. Joe will give you the history behind each of the scenes on the canoe because Joe isn’t just an artist, he’s also a storyteller, and what some call a wordsmith. Perhaps you will find that one of the scenes is related to your family history. For me it was the panel with the logging camp scene, because my grandfather ran a logging camp on the Echo Trail. Don’t forget to ask Joe about the panel that contains his own family’s history. What an adventure that was!
“The Painted Canoe of Ely” is the canoe that tells a story. It’s worth the drive, and the drive up the Fernberg is beautiful in the fall. Take the time to visit Kawishiwi Falls along the way, and stop at the Rookie Lake overlook also. If you are lucky, you just may spot a moose!
Jody Anderson lives in Embarrass, MN.
Come embrace the great outdoors of northeastern Minnesota! Let autumn’s crisp air and bright colors inspire you! Cooler weather makes this an ideal time to take a road trip to admire the fall foliage that lines the shores of our beautiful Jasper Lake. Of course, the boreal woods in the heart of the Boundary Waters is beautiful ANY time of year, but it is especially so in the fall.
You may be well aware that Fall is not only about the colors of the changing leaves. But don’t forget that there are so many other things that to do here as well. Fishing is great – nice bass, big perch and lunker northern pikes cruise the depths here. Fall wildflowers are blooming – just walk the gravel roads. The fall birds are migrating in the deep blue skies above – look up and listen. Watch the resident loons get the young ones ready for leaving the lake for winter and keep an eye open for the otter family playing off our docks. Top it all off with a look to the heavens and you’ll see our stars and Milky Way shining so brightly you can almost touch them as we have very little light pollution in the northwoods. Don’t forget the added bonus of the northern lights dancing across the northern treeline of Jasper Lake for you – should you have that particularly good fortune here at Northwind Lodge.
So what are you waiting for? Grab your favorite travel companions and set out to enjoy your best fall experiences with us at Northwind Lodge! Come up to stay – leave feeling relaxed and refreshed.
Fall Special Rates Starting at $89.95 -$99.95* a night for the first 2 people and $10.00 a night for anyone extra depending on the cabin size. This Northwind Lodge Special will run until the end of September. Free boat is included with the special, motor rentals are extra. (*tax is not included)
Call us to book your Fall Adventure Getaway at 1-800-280-1078, 218-365-4512 or 218-365-5489 to book your fall vacation now!
One of our guests came in yesterday and asked “where the bugs were?” Another guest came in later and said he got a mosquito bite and looked a little rattled by it. I replied to him that if one can count a single mosquito bite and know exactly where it occurred on one’s torso, then the bugs are completely gone. He didn’t appear very comforted by that statement, I think because he expected me to jump up and down about his single, solitary, mosquito bite.
In summary, regarding the bugs in Ely, Minnesota: What bugs? Mosquitos are few in numbers, and if you can count them that is like no bugs at all. Deer flies and horse flies are out and they are infuriating little buggers. Killing them brings me great satisfaction. But, they come and go depending on the temps and humidity levels its seems. Black flies have been gone for about 2 weeks and with the exception of a few really active days, they made a modest impression on the world up here. Noseeums are out from time to time and if you wonder why you suddenly developed and itch on the back of your hand or arm, it was probably one of those. They were out yesterday while I worked on a trailer for the 4th of July parade to haul The Painted Canoe of Ely to Ely which will be happening in about 1.5 hours. Gotta get there at 10, wait in line until 1 PM and then drive really slowly through town following the guy in front of me. Noseeums look like super tiny black flies are are hard to see. They make me itch for about 30 minutes which is irritating but not debilitating. To date for this summer, I have seen three ticks. Two on me and one on Delilah. All of them are dead – the ticks.
So, I expect the bugs to become even less in the next few weeks until they are all but gone for the entire month of August and all of September. If you were to come to Ely right now, unless you are a “safe-space-seeking” Millennial ( or whatever group that is – I can’t keep track), the bugs amount to a hill of beans. Swat ’em in a blind rage and move on with your day. Enjoy the satisfaction that only killing a mosquito, deer/horse fly, noseeum, and the occasional jackpine beetle can bring. Dang jackpine beetles don’t seek out humans and bite really slowly when they do. We don’t know why they bite because they eat pine trees not mammals. If you are not paying attention, you’ll feel a building intense pressure wherever they bite. But, again, that is a really infrequent occurrence even when you live here like me but you don’t forget it, however. They have a squeezing bite that will make you sit up and take notice. You swat those with your cap and grind them into the dirt with your foot when one lands on someone you like. If you don’t like that person, don’t tell him and sit back to watch.
Bugs – I wouldn’t worry about them. I haven’t used bug dope since early June and that was for two whole days. Don’t be a wimp and worry about dumb stuff. There is an entire wilderness up here needing visitors to come see it.
Today’s Bug Report
While working in and out for much of the day, I killed one sand fly (black fly is the proper term) and saw 4 mosquitos of which I killed two. That means that there are two mosquitos most likely lying in wait preparing to ambush tomorrow’s guests when the arrive.
What should you the visitor to Ely, MN take away from this current bug report? If you can count the bugs, they’re not much of a threat. Now, a few days ago, there were 552,347 sand flies out when I was working on my lawn tractor and shooting the bull with guest and friend Mike Perlich from Indiana. Of those we killed 63 and they in turn drew a short pint of Mike’s blood. On me, not so much because I had a very specific and effective bug spray on that is designed for repelling biting flies. It’s not N-n-diethlymetatoulimide (DEET) which serves as a masking agent for mosquitoes specifically. The stuff we sell has two fly repellents that actually repel flies. Do you know how we confirm that bugs are low? We’re not selling this specific bug dope by the wheel barrow load . We are the only place in Ely selling it and we do have an army of regulars who buy a bunch when the bugs a biting . Now, either everyone is selling it (not) or the bugs aren’t really wicked. The dope sales tell a lot. Bug dope.
Noseeums- nah…mosquitos- couple…black flies (sand flies)-few and variable. On the water-no bugs. Ankle biting flies and deer flies aren’t here yet. That’s in July.
Don’t worry about the bugs. Not that big of a deal right now. Maybe tomorrow they’ll help us walk, but I doubt it.
The fish are biting out on Jasper, loons are calling, the birds are signing. Come up an visit us.
I have to laugh a little. The world, under digital “assault” and influence has become a bit silly in how it seeks recreation these days. I’m referencing the “need everything/do everything that-can-be-fit-into-a-day” crowd who kindly call to find out more about making a reservation to stay here at Northwind Lodge.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about anything but I am marveling at what appears to me to be either a really high set of vacation expectations or a complete lack of common sense or a little of both.
We get calls from new guests who want to stay here at the lodge. Many times, they are only willing to commit for two nights. That’s fine – we are very happy to get them here to see what they’ve been missing for all this time. But, in the reservation process, with knowing that Check In is usually 3:00 PM or later and Check-Out is 9 AM, two nights and about two days is not a lot of time. Heck, you just get here and it’s time to go already. (We hear that all the time.)
The interesting part is the initial phase of making the reservation. Now everything is laid out in the website as to available activities here. Nonetheless, I think they just need to hear a human say the activities roster on the phone. As a result, they want to know what species of fish are in Jasper Lake (Large/smallmouth bass, sunfish, northerns, perch and some walleyes) plus they want to know what they are biting on (three weeks into the future – OK, we’ll guess), and if they will be catching fish (another guess – Most Certainly, Sir! – 6 to 10 hours).
Then, many need to know what the hiking options are (Blackstone/Secret Trail – 3 hours, Kawishiwi Falls Trail 1 -hour, Bass Lake Trail 3-hours) and how difficult/easy they are. Then, they want to know what there is to do in Ely (Wolf Center – 3 hours, Bear Center- 3 hours, shopping in Ely – 3 hours). Then they need to know what dining options there are in town (Italian – Sir G’s, Nouveau – Insula, Chocolate Moose, American-Evergreen Restaurant, Rockwood, Steak House Gators Cheese Emporium, Fast – Dairy Queen, Subway, and a few others I’m forgetting here. Each restaurant will burn up about 2-3 hours of time.
After that, they need to know if they can fit in a Boundary Waters Day Canoe trip to an area that will have few people (Sure, how fast can you paddle?). That’s another 6 hours minimum. Many times, they will need us to rattle off all the entry points (Moose Lake, Snowbank Lake, Lake One, Ojibway Lake, Fall Lake, Wood Lake) that surround us for their consideration before deciding to pull the trigger on a two-night stay here at the lodge.
OK, at this point, knowing that it is two whole nights and about the equivalent of two daylight days, you may want to do the math and add up some of the hours. Usually after that barrage of questions in making time-management decisions, we see people checking in, going to town to have dinner, and oversleeping the following morning by about 2 hours. At about 11 AM, they are up and around saying they “usually don’t oversleep like this at home”. Then, some head down to the lake and sit in the Adirondack chairs and look out across the water. Others head out in a kayak and enjoy the day. Then, they come in for a sandwich and later, check out our store and then take a nap. Then, maybe a hike on the gravel road to Ojibway Lake and it’s time to grill a steak and have a beer or glass of wine. Then a nap before bedtime. Maybe sit by a fire at the beach.
After that, they wake up the next morning and have to check out at 9 AM.
I grew up right here and for 48 years have observed this going on for all these years. In my opinion, two nights at a region like this is great, but doesn’t quite hit the mark for the vast majority of vacationers. In pre-trip decision making, one needs to realize that in fresh air surrounded by the incredibly beautiful area called “Ely” and particularly at Northwind Lodge, the activity list usually gets chucked and time speeds up, even in a week long stay.
So, in making plans to run all over the state in a week-long whirlwind tour, give that some thought. It’s not Wally World and Youtube and in reality, you most likely won’t be getting a heck of a lot done in just two nights.
Stay a bit longer, plan on wasting a few of your days snoring. Then go paddle and hike and fish and shop and explore.
After a bit of conversational questioning and general Iron Range nosiness, I found out that he refers to the current recession as the Depression and doesn’t believe it is actually merely a recession. I also saw that he had the correct maps and a smartphone. He claimed he had a satellite emergency notification system (like a Spot), a GPS and plenty of food tucked in that pack. He sounded sensible, not overly certain, and quite capable. It was after all that when I found out he was a civil engineer by trade.
I mentioned that “my walk across the country” was in that canoe resting upright on sawhorses before him. I explained that with the depression and increased competition for even less discretionary dollars, retail business slowed down in our store so dramatically that starting last June I fell back to my one ability that nobody can take from me. That would be my ability to paint. I pointed to my painted canoe and told him that the silver lining in terrible business is that I was afforded the time and opportunity to do something really different and The Painted Canoe of Ely was born. For just over two months and almost 400 hours of work, I painted this aluminum canoe with the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness -past and present- to the best of my ability to make something unique to Ely that hopefully people would travel to see. It became my obsession, my Sistine Chapel. And while Michelangelo easily runs astronomically large circles around me artistically (it’s really close to zero comparison), he never painted a canoe.
I told the hiker that this was the very first thing I ever painted in my life in which my end goal was not to sell it. I’ve pretty much sold every piece that I ever painted, but this canoe was different for me. I was very happy that I was actually able to do this and am quite content with the outcome.
He walked around the canoe, pausing and bending to examine the detail of the various scenes as they changed along the freeboard. He mentioned the 3D effect that some of the trees had along with the depth of the images. I attributed that particular effect to painting on aluminum. Painting on aluminum offers a visual presentation that stretched canvas won’t touch, I explained. I can’t quite figure out why, but it just does, and I really like it. He appeared to like it as well.
He then asked if he could snap a few photos and wanted me to stand alongside the canoe for one of them. He said that he would never have guessed that walking for hundreds of miles and a chance following of a dirt road would lead him to see something like this work of art out in the woods. He seemed glad that destiny led him down this path and added that he was sure blessed to be walking across the country like this because this life experience was one that he couldn’t even imagine prior to actually doing it. I offered that one just doesn’t get to find the great things and people he’s found/met while traveling in a car. He agreed.
With that, he shook my hand, looked one more time at the canoe and told me that I’ve “certainly made a lot of lemonade” and continued on his way.
May his journey continue to be safe and worthwhile. It was an interesting mid-day for me.