At this time of year, I get emails and phone calls asking for directions to the glorious paintboxes of autumn that I have written about in past columns. I suppose I could provide a mile-by-mile guide to places like Gunflint Trail or Ely, where you might wake up and find a young bear sleeping on the roof of your car. Or the steep hills around Lutsen and Finland, where it looks like 10,000 helicopters have dumped 100 million gallons of red and yellow paint on the oaks and maples.
Instead, I suggest you do what Helen and I have done for 16 years — load up the car and explore.
REACHING BACK into memory, this is one of our favorite trips: Go north to Dubuque, take the highway past Dickeyville and follow your nose. Plan to stay overnight in Hayward, Wisconsin. Next day, take a left at Hayward. You’ll cross a bridge at Superior and bingo! Stop in Duluth for hamburgers at Grandma’s and then head out on the Scenic Drive along Lake Superior. Stop at Al’s Smokehouse for some salmon.
Be careful along Scenic Drive, or you might go kerplunk into Lake Superior. You are that close. On a windy day you might need the wipers. Cruise through Two Harbors, and suddenly you’re breezing through two long tunnels at Silver Creek. Now, you are in the true northland.
Lake Superior normally looks so quiet, no flapping torments of waves. The scenery is hypnotizing. On one side is Lake Superior; on the other side of the highway, life is like a hilly forest made up of tons of crayons. These are the hills that autumn’s palette has lured us with, like a Lorelei, each fall.
If you're lucky, a light wind will be rising and the birches will be thrashing. The branches are lightly yellow, as if spread with butter.
ROAM THE FALL splendor of the Gunflint Trail and Naniboujou. The sun sneaks in and out, slyly appearing to make the road ahead turn pinkish from the reflection of the trees. Like lost souls, we have followed the old timber roads. We would slide open the roof of our car to allow the low yellow branches to tickle our heads. The land is mystically silent, no cars, no houses.
Only once were we frightened in the woods. We followed a crude sign, “Maple Syrup.” We crept down a narrow lane; it was getting dark and no syrup in sight. Suddenly, a house was ahead. A woman appeared, looking like a character from the movie “Deliverance.” She blocked our way, holding a gallon jug of maple syrup. We quickly paid and got out of there.
Driving down another country road, we came upon a turn marked by an oak that looked like a big red apple. Suddenly we had found a landmark in the middle of nowhere. There it was, Trestle Inn, a wood-floor saloon built from timbers of a wrecked railroad bridge. They remembered our previous visits and the barmaid yelled out: “Get out the rootbeer. Io-way is here again."
Contact Bill Wundram at 563-383-2249 or firstname.lastname@example.org.