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Grand Rapids to the Gunflint Trail: A Work-cation

Scott had a few jobs in Northern Minnesota to do so he packed them all in to one week to make a trip out of it. 

I offer a special rate for my 360 photography to Minnesota tourism businesses through Explore Minnesota. We would be making stops in and around Grand Rapids, Duluth, Grand Marais and the end of the Gunflint Trail. Of course I have to bring the family along. 

If I'm going to have to take off work to stay home with the kids, I might as well come along too.

No road trip is complete without a Culver's stop.

Theo was not having it in the car. After stopping twice already we took another stop by the big Walleye at Mille Lacs.

The lookout point was, um, kind of poopy.

And it was stinky.

Then we arrived at our hotel in Grand Rapids.

One of the benefits of combining work and vacation:  a free hotel.

We also got free meals at 17th Street Grill and a pool pass to the hotel next door. I was already loving working for Visit Grand Rapids before the shoots even started.

They totally didn't have to do this for us. It was very nice of them to include the family.

There was a chance of rain, which pushed my first shoot back a few days. Instead I started my day by climbing up the ski jump at Mt. Itasca. This was nerve wracking. I've never been so nervous in my life, but I got the shot.

I spent the day with the kiddos at the pool.

I had a few more shoots in the afternoon before I met up with Brooke, Meadow and Theo.

Scott was done with work early so we headed over to the Itasca County Fair. Two fairs in two weeks! I know!

All the same rides as last weekend.

We went straight for the food and found corn on the cob and shakes, again.

Corn on the cob was only a dollar!

This fair had some interesting buildings like the outdoor bingo with counter service.

Meadow had been begging to play a game since we walked in.

We let her play one game at the Dakota County Fair and now she thinks it's a thing we do.

She picked the duck game and of all the prizes she chose a plastic trumpet.

She somehow skipped a samurai sword.

And a baton that she has been asking for.

I liked the counter service here.

I'm not sure why we didn't eat at that one.

We walked through the animal exhibits and ended up watching a horse mounting and dismounting game (I hope that makes sense).

Loving her new trumpet...

and all the girls running around and riding horses.

Theo wanted to try it out.

Then we checked out the rest of the animals.

Meadow finally decided she was hungry.

This girl normally loves corn on the cob, but she just wanted a pretzel.

Meadow and I were going to ride the strawberries when a little girl her age came over and asked Meadow to ride with her. All you heard was giggles coming out of their strawberry.

Theo wanted to go on a ride.

Meadow and I went on the not-Cars inspired race car ride.

We quickly looked through the 4H buildings before everyone took their stuff home.

I've never seen a pine tree competition before.

We missed a couple of buildings, but saw most of the fair.

"Papa, take a picture of me doing a ballerina pose."

We were supposed to go back to the 17th Street Grill, but we found that it was closed when we got back. We couldn't agree on a plan b. So, I was like, "Zorbaz."

Now we know why our friend Daniel would look down upon this decision, but Meadow loved running down by the lake and they had a huge list of beers.

Scott wanted Mexican and I wanted pizza. We both got what we wanted.

Was it great? No. Was it serviceable? Yes.

Or zhould I say Zcott?

Then Scott got to go swimming with us. I picked up this floatie at the nearby farm supply store.

Brooke and I both got to go down the big slide and Theo and Meadow swam and swam. That is, until Theo decided he'd rather have a snack.

With the weekend crowd gone we had the place to ourselves.

 The next morning we were back at the pool.

Meadow is slowly warming up to going further into the water. I finally convinced her to try her goggles on and put her face in the water.

Theo is looking more like Scott.

I had a small break between locations. So we ate, you guessed it, at the 17th Street Grill. I have to say every time we went there we got something good. This gyro was so good.

Then we had to go our separate ways. I had a shoot in downtown Grand Rapids to get to.

The kids and I walked over to Culver's for an ice cream treat. We actually lucked out on the location of our hotel. There was a few things we could walk to.

Recently Meadow and I have gotten back into geocaching. I hadn't played in a very long time and Meadow is at the perfect age to start playing. 

We found an easy cache by our hotel.

Then we headed back so little buddy could nap.

Then playtime until Papa came back.

Theo was over that quick.

These are the three stages of Meadow and Theo playing. It always starts and ends the same way.

Meg from Visit Grand Rapids suggested I bring my family along to the Lost 40 deep in the Chippewa National Forest about an hour north of Grand Rapids. 

When surveyors came through looking for trees to log this 40 acres was accidentally missed.

It had mistakenly been mapped as a part of a neighboring lake.

With the cottage being in a logged area I've never really seen a virgin pine forest.

I had Meadow stand by the trees for comparison.

After the shoot and hike at the Lost 40 we got back to Grand Rapids as fast as possible to eat one last time at 17th Street Grille. Sadly, we had missed sushi night, but I got ribs. So that's a win-win.

The next morning we had to check out of our hotel room and Scott had to go to work all day. The kids and I had the day to explore with no car. Scott dropped us off at the Forest History Center.

I had planned on bringing the family along when I shot Forest History Center. I was scheduled the day it was closed.  This did end up giving Meadow, Theo and Brooke something to pass time while I worked all day around Itasca County.

 We had a proper tour this time, but didn't get to go up the tower because of Theo.

We stayed as long as possible before heading out.

 The Forest History Center is 3 miles from town. The public transportation here is odd. You can request a ride and they pick you up within an hour. Since we had a lot of time today we slowly walked our way back to town. There was actually a paved trail from the history center to close to town.

On the way we found some wild raspberries.

 To motivate Meadow on the walk we geocached.

 Meadow was so excited to find this purple ring in the cache.

I was carrying Theo plus a backpack of all the things might need for the day. We took a break along the trail. Boy loved cucumber.

We had made it almost to downtown when a woman pulled over to ask if we needed a ride. I kindly turned her down saying we were almost to our destination. I might have used her a mile back.

 I promised Meadow pizza for lunch after our long walk. Sadly the pizza restaurant was closed unexpectantly for the day.

We didn't want to have to walk too much further so we tried out the nearby Brewed Awakenings coffee shop.

Meadow ordered breakfast. A yogurt and granola banana split. I can't believe I never thought of this.

 We noticed across the street was a big Wizard of Oz mural. I'm kind of sad we never made it to the Judy Garland museum. Next time I guess.

 Next we walked over to the candy store in the old train depot.

 The store was a little disappointing. Meadow got a candy bracelet anyway.

 Then we walked over to the library. I wish we had thought to come here eariler or on a different day. They had a large Children's area.

Our route was something like this.

Then we drove to Duluth for the night. Blake had won this putty that makes fart sounds. Meadow thought it was hilarious.

Meanwhile I was walking through Glensheen to determine our final scope before the shoot.

I then came back bright and early to shoot my favorite mansion. Scottie (yes another Scottie, ha) from Glensheen had reached out to me a few weeks before the Grand Rapids shoots and I said, "Well, I can squeeze you in between two other gigs." This is going to be one of my favorite 360 Street View tours I've ever created. 

After leaving Duluth we headed for Grand Marais.

I had to make it up to Grand Marais to shoot Voyageur Brewing in the afternoon. In Two Harbors we stopped at the new taco stand that used to be a drive-thru coffee shop. Great idea, 5th Street Tacos.

He's always trying to steal my food.

I can't blame him.

It would've been fun to explore Two Harbors, but onward we had to go.

Scott went on his way while we did some more exploring.

I had to shoot the brewery while they had fun.

Our first stop was the donut shop of course.

 Meadow mentioned that she wished her cousins were here.

Meadow insisted on taking my photo too.

"Oh another one!"

Then we walked over to the water to wait for Scott.

Theo was loving the rocky beach.

I meandered over to the fam after finishing my shoot. Find My Friend is a really useful app.

Searching for sea glass.

Wow, donut shaped sea glass. Oh, wait they got me a Swedish donut. Yum.

I think its called a Skizzle.

Then we took a little hike to Artists Point.

We were in no rush, so we went exploring.

The waves were much bigger on this side. In the distance Meadow thought they were whales.

No whales here, little bear.

Lover of rocks.

We had one night where we didn't have any place to stay. We didn't want to lug around all of our camping gear for one night. Luckily Scott had some Hipcamp credits to use and we scored an old cabin at a resort on the Gunflint Trail, the Loon Lake Lodge.

Well, when we arrived they didn't know we were coming. The booking email got lost and they were so busy that they missed the message I left. Luckily they had one cabin available.

Meadow was happy to be staying indoors during this trip.

Our view was pretty nice.

We made mac and cheese with brats for dinner. Meadow would've preferred just boxed mac.

Meadow wanted to check out the dock and lily pad.

Once out there she was too scared to walk on it.

Theo stuck to the dock.

Loon Lake Lodge is one of the older resorts along the Gunflint Trail opening back in the 1920's. It is now run by a couple our age and their two young boys.

We got in a few rounds of card games before heading to bed.

Brooke caught me reading stories to Meadow. We took one kiddo each for the night. Meadow sleeps right on top of you. I can't believe how much space she can take up.

For an extra fee the couple serves breakfast and dinner in the old lodge. We couldn't pass up on the all-you-can-eat breakfast.

It's like a buffet, but better.

You choose any item(s) from the menu and you can order as many times as you want.

Meadow was also pumped.

The owners and their two boys were loving Theo.

Swedish pancakes, breakfast hash and eggs. So good.

That's shore lunch potatoes to you. I actually had them put the potatoes in an omelette for me.

Our time was short lived at Loon Lake Lodge. We had to get to Voyager Canoe Outfitters.

This outfitters is owned by the same folks that own Voyageur Brewing, which I also shot. VCO is located a stones throw from the Boundary Waters.

I shot the 360s of the outfitters and Meadow, Theo and Brooke got settled into our cabin for the weekend.

Can you spy the toad?

The water here is so deep. It drops off to 18 feet at the end of the dock. Meadow really wanted me to jump in.

Thanks for capturing this Meadow.

The owners wanted me to capture one of the BWCA campsites.

This area was so rocky I'd be afraid to take my motor boat through.

They have an awesome tow service that will take you where you want to go or pick you up when you're dead tired from paddling. They helped us get to the campsite quickly.

I had no idea there was portion of the BWCA that allows motors.

Pretend camping.

We were actually originally going to spend one night at the cabin and the remainder of our stay canoeing and camping. With such a jam-packed trip I settled on skipping the camping this time around. Thus we pretend camped.

For someone who says she hates canoeing she sure had fun.

Theo on the other hand did not like the canoe.

Brooke went back and forth between paddling and making Theo happy.

They loaned us one of the We-no-nah Canoes to paddle back. 

We made it back just before sunset.

We played more card games at night. At both the old cabin and this place Meadow asked, "Where's the TV?" I knew this week would be good for her.

We had picked up groceries in Grand Marais and, of course, we made nachos.

In the morning Brooke made us all pancakes and then I had a few shots to pickup.

Meadow liked to try to catch minnows.

When I came back I tried some fishing off the dock. This was not what I had in mind.

We couldn't figure out what to do on this potentially rainy day.

We then decided to head over to the nearby Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center. The nature center was very kid friendly with lots of hands on activities.

Inside the museum we learned about the of the Gunflint Trail from natural history to the tourism boom.
The museum itself is housed in the original lodge of a now closed resort. Sadly it's the only remaining building left from the resort.

A postcard from its heyday.

The nature center let us borrow some binoculars to go on a little hike.

The part of the BWCA that we'd been to previously was much flatter and not rocky. We were loving this extension of the North Shore, but way more remote.

We tried to find blueberries in Blueberry Hill.

There were blue berries, but not actual blueberries.

Meadow suddenly loves to pose for pictures. She laughed hysterically when I mentioned it looked like she lost an arm.

There are some rad rocks and stones up here.

Afterwards we went to the end of the Gunflint Trail for dinner.

Trail's End Cafe to be exact.

Theo wanted to be a cuddle bug.

Meadow wanted to be like Theo.

And then we got a decent pizza at the end of the world.

Back at our cabin Scott did some more fishing.

Yesterday this place was busy and today was pretty quiet.

I took the advice of the outfitters and had already caught a hefty small mouth bass off our dock. I tried my hand at a few other places, but didn't get more big guys.

I forgot to take a picture of this smally before I cut it up. Clearly I had more trouble with the first filet than the second one.

The next morning Theo was ready for a canoe ride.

Big breakfast day.

Thanks, mama.

Today was canoe day whether Theo liked it or not.

At this point he was actually happy. 

We planned on canoeing through here to Seagull Lake, but we didn't think that would work with a 6 month old and 5 year old.

We almost walked into a couples campsite thinking it was a portage trail. They offered to drive us and our canoe up past the rapids. We politely declined.

We turned around and stopped at what we named Meadow's Island.

Our quick stop turned into a picnic while Theo slept in the boat.

I showed Meadow how to put cheddar bunnies in her peanut butter sandwich. Brooke turned away in disgust.

Frickin' weird.

I get it now why people love this area and come back every year. Maybe next year we can take an actual camping trip.

Babies can sleep anywhere even in a canoe in the BWCA.

We had wondered what was across the river from Voyageur Canoe Outfitters. It turns out there are bunch of bunk houses for peak season. This time of year everyone was on our side of the river.

We had a goal to get to James Bay on Saganaga Lake.

If we were faster paddlers or had more time we could have made it into Canada.

We took another break to climb rocks along Sag Lake. Theo missed out again to nap.

I had a small mouth for a second but it did the standard acrobatic jump and got away. 

Also, Apparently you're supposed to wear neutral colors. Someone's going to yell at us when we bring up our red canoe for a camping trip.

And our orange life jackets.

We canoed up to a group of swimming beavers. Their tails would slap the water every time they went under.

But they were too quick for me. Clever gals. After getting near James Bay and a short paddle from the Canadian border, we turned around. I had lost a lure trolling it behind the canoe and we had to get back before dusk.

When we got back I grilled up the last of the brats, corn on the cob, taters and the fish I caught.

This is the first time Scott has caught a fish, cleaned it and cooked it himself. Outside of the cottage.

I think it turned out good.

The next morning we had to leave early to head back home.

Meadow wanted to stay up here forever.

But not without stopping at the Naniboujou Lodge for brunch buffet.

This was on our bucket list for quite a while. We actually had to drive a bit north after coming down from the Gunflint Trail.

The room was amazing. Can you believe the walls have never been repainted since it was done in the 1920's? All I can think is that must be some fine lead paint.

Blake had recommended this place. It was pretty cool.

The food was really good, but we do like the variety of Black Bear Casino's buffet.

The fireplace is the largest stone fireplace made from Minnesota stone.

Someone offered to take our photo. We could always use another family photo.

Thanks, stranger.

I kind of want to come back here in the winter.

Too bad our anniversary is in the fall, this would be a great escape.

You can come for Thanksgiving dinner. Blake?

Then we had to get back on the road. We took another pitstop for Theo at the Silver Creek Tunnel.

We'd also always wanted to stop here.

It turns out that you can't hike to the top from here. Highway 61 once skirted the cliff, but MNDOT didn't want to see anymore cars driving off it.

I always thought you could go to the top too. I can't believe this was still part of Hwy 61 in the 1990's. It apparently only had that rock barrier.

Meadow really wanted me to ask them if she could climb too.

Instead she did her free style climbing.

This girl loves climbing on rocks.

On our way through Duluth we stopped at Blake's land. We hadn't been here since the boardwalk had been put in or since Blake started building his summer home. Like my dad he's just figuring things out as he goes.

We hung out for a little bit before heading on our way.

That was the end to this epic trip to Grand Rapids and the Arrowhead. Until next time.


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