Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

The Bear got Away but the Grouse and the Loons Didn’t

Friday July 11 and Saturday July 12, 2014
Bear Paw Campground
Itasca State Park, Minnesota



After such a great day yesterday at Tamarac, today was a let down.  We drove to Park Rapids to go to the grocery, pick up Winnona’s heater valve, more coolant and go to the beer store for David.  The only errand we amazingly didn’t have to run was to go to the pharmacy.   It took me a while to work up to willingness to go shopping so by the time we drove there, 20 miles, did everything, and drove back it was dinner time.

THE MOST EXCITING thing of the day was seeing a black bear along side the road into the campground when we returned from Park Rapids.  He was a young bear up on a fallen log tearing off the bark looking for grubs or beetles.   I took several pictures of him out my rolled down side window.  How great!  A bear at Bear Paw campground.   But when I got home, and went to put my memory card in my computer to look at the pictures and transfer them, I found I had forgotten to put it back in the camera.   I COULD NOT BELIEVE it.  One real drawback of my canon is that it has NO internal memory so unlike David’s camera if you have no memory card then you have no pictures.   I saw Mr. Bear but sadly you cannot.  Well you can’t see my picture.  But I borrowed this from the web.  He was back in the bushes and trees and looked just like this except everything was green.




After dinner we took a walk around the campground and checked out the lake front lots and the kayak put ins.   Now we know which campsites we would reserve IF we were going to reserve and the ONE we really wish we could have walked in to.   Someone one July 13 is going to be lucky and get #68.  I’m too lazy to take down, move and set up again or it could be me.

Our favorites were # 66, 67, 68 69 & 70.  They all face the bike path and the lake.  Some of the campsites in the campground are not terribly level.  Even the one we are in which looks really level required David to put Winnona’s front tires up on blocks.   Of the lakefront sites theses are the only ones long enough and level enough for Winnona or anything bigger. They range in length from a 50’ pad to 65’.  Not sure I believe that.  I think a 40’ RV in the 50’ would not have room for their truck or car.  Sites 66-69 have 50 amp service, site 70 has 30 amp.  There are no water hook ups and the fill up at the dump station coming in takes a LONG time.  If you can come with a full tank I’d advise it.

Here’s my favorite and its view.



There are two kayak/canoe put ins but one is clearly nicer in terms of the water at that spot than the other. Both of them require carrying the boats down some stairs.  The lake, even as high as it is, is still much lower than the campground.

At the major dock folks have left their canoes so I suspect we could leave our kayaks too and do early morning or later evening paddles without carrying them back and forth.  Sounds great!












On our first trip to the Visitor’s Center at Itasca we bought a copy of this book and have found it to be wonderful.  It has nearly everything you could possibly want to know with fabulous pictures.  It has the park’s history, its natural history, everything to do in winter and summer, details of every hike.  It is the must have book.

So when we saw that its author was going to do a program called “Trail Favorites, walk and talk with Deanne Johnson”, we headed over there to Forest Inn.   The talk was mostly about how Itasca dealt with the great depression.  The CCC was a big part of that and everybody knows that David loves the CCC so this was great. 

What also turned out to be even more interesting is that during the talk and pictures about the pageants, put on here to entertain folks in the middle of the depression when no one had any money, there were pictures of some of the Objibwe from the nearby White Earth Objibwe Indian Reservation who participated.  Included in these pictures was this one of David Boyd.   This would have been about 1934.  This is a picture of a picture and not very good but it was particularly interesting because at the Red Cliff Pow Wow in Wisconsin, several of the Native Americans also had the surname Boyd. 




We were actually hoping to hear about the various hikes in the park and get his advice about which ones might have at least fewer mosquitoes.   But he explained at the outset that following the talk he would lead a hike on the Dr. Roberts trail.  We’ve been there, done that and found way too many mosquitoes.   So instead  set out to see a few of the spots he recommended in his book.

The first two of these are on the Brower trail which runs from Bear Paw campground to the Douglas Lodge.  It’s 2.5 miles one way.  We should have walked that down to the lodge and back this morning except we didn’t find out about the talk in time.   I’d still  like to do it but just in case we don’t, we stop to see Preacher’s Grove, a stand of uncut Red Pine on the edge of the lake.  These trees began to grow after a major fire burned through the area in 1710.

These are more of the tall tall pines for which the upper Great Lakes are known.  They were favorites of the loggers.  We are very happy to see that Jacob Brower, Father of Itasca, managed to save a few of them for us to enjoy.







Our next stop is at a placed called Peace Pipe Vista.  I couldn’t find any explanation for the name.  There is a long set of stairs down to the viewing platform which now is partially blocked but still a lovely spot.  Since it was Saturday, around noon, we did not have the trail to ourselves.  As we were going down several Native American children were climbing up huffing, puffing and saying “there’s a lot of steps”.   I thanked them for their warning and asked if they were tired.   Yes they were they replied.

At the head of the steps was a very interesting geology plaque telling us that Minnesota was located in the approximate center of the North American Continent, midway between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, Hudson Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.  It has three divides of watersheds.   The 10,000 lakes of Minnesota  cover 5600 square miles, an average of 1 sq mile of water for every 15 of land.  This supply of water has a surface area exceeding the water area of any other state and finds its way to the ocean through the Hudson Bay, the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico.  We had a friend, Debby,  watching us read.








And it was a LONG set of stairs.  Turns out there were 3 sections each of which looked like it was the end.



Mosquitoes aren’t the only ones around flying through the air today.


We stop at the main boat dock for Lake Itasca and find it full of folks in pontoons, fishing boats and renting kayaks.  The tour boat passes by while we are there.   It’s the third in a list of 4 of our potential kayak put ins and though it is the easiest, it is the least attractive at least to us.

One of our standard visitor questions is where to paddle.  David had asked when we first got here if there were smaller lakes to paddle than Itasca.  Mary Lake was recommended.   We passed it on our way to visit Judy and saw that it was bordered by the road.  We were hoping to have something more secluded. 

So today we are off to check out Lake Ozawindib.  Ozawindib was a 19th century Objibwae warrior of the Cass Lake Band who guided Henry Schoolcraft to the source of the Mississippi River in Lake Itasca.   What a mistake Ozzy.

As we are driving down the dirt road a female ruffled grouse and her chicks are walking across the road.  David stops and I take pictures through the window so as not to upset them.  But our window is terribly dirty from all the dirt roads of the past few days and the pictures are terrible.   I am able to open the door and step out to get a shot of the female before she heads off into the bushes but not of the chicks so my terrible pictures will have to do to show how absolutely tiny they were.







The lake turns out to be perfect and not a soul is around.  We were just going to “check it out” but instead we get the boats and our gear and get in the water.  That’s the really nice thing about driving your boathouse, everything is always with you for a spur of the moment paddle.








Many areas along the sides of the lake are covered in splatterdock and white water lilies.  We have paddled among the splatterdock in many places but the white water lilies are rare for us.
















There are other lovely wildflowers along the shore as well.














We find no less than FOUR beaver lodges on various sides of the lake.  This must be a large beaver colony or they change houses quite a lot.   Do all beaver dams look alike?   Here are two of the four we saw with a lovely spot I paddle through in between them.










The lake is lovely and quiet.  All we hear is the wind and  bird song.  We have this beauty all to ourselves.  It’s a mini paradise. 

The very best part of the day is the loons.  A pair are on the water and so are we.  We watch them for a long time.  They dive under the water and come up quite a ways from where they were before.  We only hear one call.  I am really hoping there will be more calls but just seeing them is such a treat.   In some cases, I am quite close to them as you can see.  The secret?   Don’t paddle.  Put your paddle right in line with your kayak so it can hardly be seen.   Only paddle when they dive and only for a few strokes so you are not paddling when they come up.  It helps in all of this to have a rudder.











There is one cabin all alone on this lake.  It has two bedrooms but no utilities only a pit toilet.  You have to be willing to rough it but what a great place to get away.  You could go out in the canoe or row boat provided and check on all those beavers early enough in the morning or late enough in the evening that you might actually see them.  AND you might hear the loons often.   AND who knows, you might see a bear.







We’ve circumnavigated the lake and it’s past lunch time so we head for shore.  
We’ve really had a lovely private afternoon on this Saturday crawling with folks in Itasca State Park.
No one but us and the birds.





  1. Oh! amazing loon photo, red eye and all. wow. what a wonderful lake to paddle. That memory card thing gets all of us at one time or another, Sherry.

  2. Wonderful photos of the loons. Haven't seen one yet or if we did we didn't know that's what it was.

  3. wow! what photos....love them.....

  4. What a lovely paddle. And those shots of the loons superb.
    OMG, I'm finally caught up, as are you.

  5. Really pretty loon pictures!! They ride really low in the water don't they??

    1. What a treasure of a lake! I'd love to stay in that cabin. The blue harebells were my favorite and the picture of you (?) with the beaver den and reflection! Love the loons. I have not been around them since New Hampshire about 15 years ago. So looking forward to being back in that area this fall.

  6. What a beautiful morning on the lake!! Your photos of the loons and the flowers are really special:o))

  7. 1934 David Boyd Indian...very interesting! Could he be a relative? Probably not. You don't like to shop except for camp sites and kayak locations ;) Great find. Waterlilies and loons...both gorgeous!! I do love loons and secluded spots away from the masses. :)

  8. Looks like a great paddle. Excellent picture of the loon.

  9. What a perfect morning on a lake...all by yourselves! It doesn't get any better than that! Love the close up loon shot. I have never seen loons, I think they are more East than West.

  10. Bear medicine is introspection and grouse medicine is spiral/spirit path medicine.......followed by a perfect peaceful paddle on a secluded lake. I think you have definitely tapped into all the right energy of that wonderful place. Love the upside down reflections photo.....very cool. Loons are dressed so formally, hard to imagine the "silly as a ..." reference when seeing them.

  11. "Driving your boathouse". Got a real good chuckle out of that one! :cD

    Sorry you missed the bear pictures, but at least you got to see him live and in person, what a thrill that must have been!

  12. What a beautiful hike and paddle! Your wildflower photos are wonderful -- as a flower lover, I appreciate that you always ID them. The white waterlily is especially lovely, and your image of the harebells is very artistic. I'm impressed with your loon photos -- we've found them very difficult to photograph while kayaking -- but we have plenty of photos of ripples on the water where they dove just before we snapped the photo!

  13. You definitely found the sweet spot in that area. Those loons look like wooden ducks placed in the water. So beautiful! I love how the harebells are draping across that log:) Great paddle!!

  14. Another amazing paddling adventure. And thank you for labeling the flowers! I still have to see a loon in our travels, so for now Im just happy to see your beautiful close up captures.

  15. the wildflower pics just made my day. . .I think waterlilies are just divine. . .and I am so hoping to see a loon at some point this summer. . .surely I will.

    For the very reason you stated is why I now download my pics via the USB cable. . .not good about putting the card back in the camera. . .

    I enjoyed your day!

  16. Gorgeous shots - love the colorful flowers and up close beautiful loon!

  17. Great shot of the loon, and the lake looks a lot like our home lake minus the beaver lodges. I'll post about kayaking on my lake next week, but in the meantime I've got a post scheduled on Friday that will link to this one. Glad you're still enjoying your stay in the Midwest!

  18. Great photo of the loon.

    Re: no memory card ... If I forget to put a card in, I get a "no card warning" on the LCD, and a "cannot record" warning as well ... both when I turn on the camera. Not sure if this is because I have the tips and hints option turned on ... you might want to look at your settings.

  19. The perfect kind of day with no one but you and the birds! The waterlilies are really pretty as are the wildflowers. Splatterdock? Are those the lily pads? We have paddled through those at Alligator River- often where you see alligators. The close up of the loon is beautiful! Sorry you missed the bear. My camera (a Canon) is like that also.


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