Come Stay, Come See – Pack it all in?

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.

Painted Canoes and Worn Out Shoes

Just met a soft-spoken, unemployed civil engineer who, five years ago, decided that sitting around worrying about his lack of employment due to the “Depression’ was not getting him anywhere so he started to walk across the country.
He’s walked the eastern seaboard from Key West to Canada, some Pacific trail and several others. He was now walking from Missouri (his home and where his wife is located) to New York following trails and connecting roads. He had one midsized pack on his back and a couple of hiking poles with some serious miles on them.
I wanted to find out if he was a little nuts because he looked a little light in gear for the Kekekabic trail which is a four-day adventure in rugged terrain.  I had recently spoken with a deputy sheriff from Lake County who had to go in a few weeks ago to rescue two guys who only brought with them a battery operated GPS (and no map or compass!!!) which they lost by dropping it when crossing a fast-running creek.   It was fresh in my mind what can befall someone on the Kek trail when they get lost or the weather goes south quickly.  I didn’t want to see another guy get himself in trouble, hence the reason for my questioning his preparedness and mental state.  I figured I could always call the sheriff’s department once he was out the door and they could catch him.

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.

The Painted Canoe of Ely
The Painted Canoe of Ely

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.

painted canoe of ely
The Painted Canoe of Ely

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.

Basket O’ Loons Gift Set

Own a piece of northern Minnesota with a fun gift basket from Ely, Minnesota!

Get two beautiful and unique glass mugs hand painted by Ely artist Joe Baltich of Northwind Lodge, Red Rock Wilderness Store, and sole artist of Ely Art Company!  Included are a 4-pot assortment of delicious Gene Hicks Coffee in a basket with pine cones picked right next to Jasper Creek at Northwind Lodge!

You can’t get any more authentic than that!

Makes a wonderful, thoughtful gift drenched in real wilderness from, you guessed it; real wilderness at Northwind Lodge on Jasper Lake!

These will be available in limited numbers so order your Basket O’ Loon Mugs today while you can still get them.

loon mugs in a basket
Basket o’ Loons Gift Set from Northwind Lodge

 Cost is $69.95  with FREE SHIPPING!  Applicable tax is extra.

For this extra-special gift made in Ely, Minnesota, Order Online Hre

Coming This May & June

I’m working on a new experience for for our May & June lodge guests!  Still hammering out the details but I hope to enlighten participants in the beauty of the natural world all while honing a skill that you didn’t even know you had.  It’s going to be fun, eye-opening, and something you can do well into old age.  And, I’ll be doing it “Joe Style” with no saffron robes or Birkenstocks and everybody will be keeping their clothes on.

We’re going to preserve our wilderness through observation and implementation.   If you like color and control, you’ll love this adventure!

Nebo Flashlight – Tactical LED Light and Laser

This is a pretty cool light.  Of course, it is an LED unit plus it is “tactical” which means that the front is sharp and perfect for gnarling up the face of an assailant.  The light is bright, and they blink and there’s this little brass circle in the middle of the lens which makes it interesting.  That part is a laser.  It’s a really bright little laser and while I’m not entirely sure what it is for, I see no reason to NOT own one.  You never know when you you are going to need a laser.  This light also does something cool if a laser is not cool enough for you.  You hold the “On” button down for 4 seconds and it goes into SOS mode which is  …—… for SOS.  I finally read the instructions and discovered that little snippet.

When we’re not trying to get rescued at Red Rock, here’s what we like to do with a Nebo laser:   Order Yours here – Limited Supply

Watch the video here:

Our Rental Cabins – Everybody Knows Everything

A few weeks back, one of our new cabin guests checked in and commented on how he really liked our cabin videos because he was able to get a feel for the cabin choices.  He’d chosen Cabin 7 for his stay. When he and his wife arrived, I did what I’ve been doing for years for our new guests and gave him a tour of the cabin.   It only takes a minute and when I was through, he said “Just like in the video.”  I thought that was kinda cool, but didn’t fully grasp what it all meant and I also felt a little redundant.

Today, I took large new party who had rented three cabins and did the same thing.  They arrived ready to pay for their cabin up front which is our general requirement but I usually like to show the cabins first.  In Cabin 2, I was giving a quick history as to why the whole cabin felt a bit crooked and a lady filled in my sentence and then said “Hey!  You’re the voice on all the videos!”.  Again, that was neat but I didn’t grasp the full meaning.

Our cabin videos are pretty simple and a bit shaky because I’m just running around doing very impromptu shots in each cabin with no tripod.  Sure, we could have opted for a slicker presentation with sharper vids by hiring a guy with a professional camera and a large tripod.   Then we could have done some scripts and hit all the key points with a minimum of “ummm’s-ahhh’s and stammering.  That’s all nice and probably holds a lot of appeal to many but that’s not how I roll.   I like the “more real” feel sometimes.  It appears that many of our guests do as well.

All of our cabins have unique features to them from their interiors to their locations around the resort.  Having individual videos really seems to address many new guests concerns and questions in advance.  It has only taken me until now to realize that.  Hence the reason for so many of them coming in ready to check right in and begin their vacation.   They’ve already seen their cabin.

Everybody knows everything before they get here.

You can watch our cabin vids Here

Ely MN Fishing Resorts – and then there’s Wood Lake

I grew up going to Wood Lake as a young kid with my brother and dad.  I also began gudding fishing trips at 14 on Wood Lake when we could use outboard motors.  I lugged many a 3  HP Evinrude down that 180 rod portage over many years.  When the government came in and closed down all motor access due to environmental activism gone amok, we were forced to switch to rowing on Wood Lake.  Over the years they drew the BWCA lines avoiding influential properties while disregarding smaller entities like us who relied upon Wood Lake for our lodge guests along with other businesses who did as well.  I’ve pretty much concluded that their goal was to wipe us out and they darn near did.   When we lost motors on Wood Lake (for the so-called greater good on an obscure lake like Wood lake), we also lost 50% of our returning lodge guests by the following season in 1979.

We had to completely rebuild our business and convince new customers that rowing was much easier than it looks. Well, despite the enemy’s attempt to fold our business, we prevailed. Supporting national environmental causes always wipes out, displaces, or causes hardship to some little family trying to earn a living.  Please remember that.  “Greater good”, my butt.

Animosity towards those who would happily ruin us aside, we found that rowing on Wood Lake actually allowed us to travel further than motors did, all in one day.  With motors, we had a limited amount of  gas.  If we ran out of gas, we’d have to row home!  Is that even possible?  Gasp!  Well, yes – it actually is and it’s a LOT easier than it sounds.  To date, I have rowed myself and two other people (many different folks) for thousands of miles for about 20 years or so.   I ended up actually preferring rowing over using an outboard.  Carrying the oars down to Wood Lake is easier and I never, ever worry about how I’m going to get home.  With oars, I have complete control over the boat far moreso than with a motor.   Plus, as a result of rowing, one develops strong back muscles, impressive arms, and improved confidence about one’s abilities.  Trust me, NONE of this was figured into the 1978 BWCA law and the RARE II rider that closed Wood Lake down to motor travel.

Now, are there times when one wishes a motor was handy?  Sure.  When it ‘s windy and you are caught in 3 foot waves a motor would be excellent to have.  But, you don’t have one, so you have to plan your day, your route and your escape plan.  Sometimes your escape plan is to park it on shore and wait until the wind dies down.   No motor makes you smarter and stronger which is another thing the Sierra Club never planned on happening. To go to Wood for a day, plan on packing a lunch, (no aluminum cans – plastic is fine for pop).  You should have a small pack to carry stuff.  We can get you one here at the lodge.  You’ll need the key for a boat and also the oars.

Things you need to remember:  a landing net, stringer, tackle box, rod/reel, rain gear, hat, sunglasses, sun screen, bug dope, no flip flops or Teva-style sandals unless you like tearing your toe nails off on rocks, camera.  If you have or can access AT& T, your cell phone will work on Wood. Here’s a video from Wood Lake when it was pretty rough out.   It’s not always like this, but it can be, so remember that planning your day can be helpful.

Bluegills and U-Boats

Using what whatever snow is left in the yard to get the Skidoo to the water, I drove out on the ice on Jasper Lake  on March 16 at 1:30 PM to set up a pup-up shelter for fishing.  It was warm out at about 40 degrees but like every other March, it was windy.   Blowing from the south, then the north, we ended up tying the 6 x 8 pop-up off from each end to my Skidoo and my dad’s 4-wheeler.  We were 100 yards off the beach of Northwind Lodge.

We made use of pre-drilled holes from the day before when we went fishing with Dave Oliver and Paul Haraldson, so setting up was quick.  We got inside the tent along with Delilah and began paying homage to the gods of bluegills by staring down the hole.  Boy, talk about getting a sore upper back and neck after doing that for 4 hours straight.

We dropped down various jigs a sparkly little spinners and they began to come in.  There were fewer today, but they were running bigger.  Nice sized, fillet-able fish swimming 5 to 7 feet below.  Today’s visibility was not as good as yesterday and we can never understand why.  Conditions were about the same with a partly cloudy day, but nonetheless, the sunnies below were bigger and a bit more picky.  All of a sudden, a 5 lb northern pick glided across in the shallow depths below.  The sunnies blew the popstand at that point and then some really nice sized largemouth bass came in for a look.  Even though the sunnies are good sized, those bass come in and they are huge.  2.5 to 4  pounders stopping in to see if they want that tiny #14 tungsten jig with a little bit of plastic on the hook.  It gets your adrenalin flowing because these are really nice fish. But nope, they swam by. After all that fish activity going by, it takes the bluegills about 30 minutes to come back after the head bluegill declares the coast to be clear.

I have 5 rods on the ice floor of our living room on the lake.  Each is rigged with a different jig & different plastics.  Most of the stuff I use is tungsten.  When the school is passing through, one must keep their interest for them to stick around.  So, if they are slow moving to one lure, crank up fast and drop another.  Must have been the air-pressure, but they were only moderately interested in what we were offering.  There was my dad setting the hook and saying “aarrggh!” and and me doing the same while declaring  “dang it!”.  The fish below would suck in a jig completely. To hook them requires an immediate hookset.  You’re like a coiled spring with a trip wire.  Trouble is that inexplicably, you can set the hook and miss them time and again despite their having inhaled the entire jig.  We call it “flipping them”  when we set a hook and it pulls them up and they flip a sideways somersault and swim away dazed but unharmed.  To avoid frequent flipping, we tried letting them take it for one second and they spit it out in slightly less than one second.  Their little bluegill tongues must quickly identify plastic.  We finally moved to tungsten bead head flies made by Cortland with no plastic and caught a few, flipped a few more.

Then, in a blast of sunfish panic, those slow-moving fish dispersed in all directions like spokes on a bicycle wheel.  Big northern coming through like a German U-boat on the hunt.  The bluegills beneath his level could hear the “ping” as the big green U-boat glided methodically overhead.  To hide, they descended deeper & deeper, closer to the bottom, holding their breath, beads of sweat rolling off their gill covers.  Minutes changed to hours as that big predator swam between them and the two faces staring down the holes in the ice above watching and waiting.  And waiting. And waiting.

Dang northern scared everybody off.  We sat for another 30 minutes with 5 bluegills on the ice and nobody was returning back to that spot.  My dad and I finally gave up.  We knocked down the tent, loaded the sled and cranked up our machines and headed home.   Had we caught every fish we saw including some very large perch, we’d have had fish laying all over the ice.  There certainly is no shortage of fish in Jasper.  Keeping them on the hook is the tricky part.