Rainy Lake - On Gold and Eagles

Published: July 16th 2018
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Voyageurs National Park, International Falls, Minnesota

We took our first ‘cruise’ yesterday in Voyageurs National Park. The Grand Tour of Rainy Lake, I think it was called, aboard the Park Service boat Voyageur. It wasn’t a huge boat, compared to many we’ve been on up here, but it was still nearly full with around fifty people. The upper deck was where the best views were, but we didn’t scramble up there fast enough, so we spent most of our time on the outdoor portion of the lower deck, standing or leaning against the siding. (We could have sat in the enclosed lower deck, but that was too confining for the gorgeous day.

The tour doesn’t pretend to see all of the park - that would take a couple of days, I’m sure, but it did cover a pretty good section of the upper portion of the park called Rainy Lake. If you look at a map of the park, the main land portion is basically an oddly shaped peninsula called Kabetogama that sits between Rainy Lake on the North and Kabetogama Lake on the South. Two more lakes, Namakan, and Sand Point, and mainland south and west of them, form more of the wilderness portion of the park. These lakes aren’t really stand-alone, but are connected with each other by various waterways and wetlands. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of islands that are part of this watery landscape.

The Rainy Lake tour was kind of short, but I think it probably was a good survey. We left the dock at the visitor center and proceeded to American Island. This small island was the location of the only profitable gold mine that fueled Minnesota’s gold rush in the early 1890s. The island was actually the site of a small mining town for a few years which is difficult to imagine, given how small the island was. The mine operated for just a few years until the panics of the mid 1890s set in and easier-mined gold was found further west and north. The tour disembarks on the island where you can see what remains of the operation. There was another mine shaft, dug into all of this 2.5 billion year old rock, on another island, which you can see from the boat. Gold mining was part of the story here.

Another part was fishing and the tour

Gold Mine Pit (Dug into 2.5 billion year old metamorphic basalt.
takes you past the Oveson Fishing Camp, a fishery that operated off another island for more than two decades. Starting around 1985, commercial fishing was shut down in the lake, largely because the recreational fishermen didn’t want their fish being caught and sold off.

Mining and fishing were of minor interest to me, but I was taken with being able to see all of this ‘greenstone’ which forms the basis for most of the islands and the mainland around the lake. You can’t really tell that this stuff is among the oldest rocks on the planet, but it is kind of cool to be able to touch them.

The other part I enjoyed is the connection to the Voyageurs. Rainy Lake is a key part of the Voyageur’s highway. Joan and I have both read about how Rainy Lake is one of the important paths the Voyageurs traveled as they brought furs down from the northern woods of Canada to the rendezvous at Grand Portage. Although not as important as Grand Portage or Fort William, Rainy Lake served as a congregation point bringing together canoe brigades from points west and north. It was fun to imagine them rocketing

Another Mine on Bushehead Island
past the rocks, islands, and forests as they sung their songs and paddled their canoes.

Then there were the eagles. The Park Service’s most recent census reports 29 pairs of nesting bald eagles in the park. We didn’t see that many, but I suspect we saw a half-dozen nests and maybe eight or nine different eagles. I don’t know how to get photographs of them. The boat doesn’t get close enough for a smart-phone camera to take a decent picture. And if you engage the telephoto options, then you are at the mercy of the boat’s movements. We tried to take a few pictures, but were only marginally successful. In a couple of cases, you can tell they are bald eagles - mostly, you’ll have to take our word for it. But they were striking in their majesty. I saw a couple of them flying - their grace is remarkable.

After the boat ride, we went out to dinner to the Thunderbird restaurant, just a couple miles from the visitor center. We had a couple of drinks and dinner on the deck. It was fun to watch the houseboats and speedboats come in and go out of the

There’s an Eagle up there in one of those taller trees.
dock. Joan had walleye, and I had the Steak Oscar. Both were very good, but a little pricy.

We continue our exploration of the park this morning, so I have to get moving.

Additional photos below
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Rainy Lake isn’t as big as Superior, but its still a big lake.

Another Eagle on a branch second tree from right

The Voyageurs Trunk Line Route

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