Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

Split Rock Lighthouse, MN (Aug 19, 2016)

On November 27, 1905, a storm system moved through the Great basin, bringing fresh easterly winds to the Great Lake region. By early morning the next day the winds had reached 68 miles per hour in the harbor of Duluth, Minnesota, on the shores of Lake Superior. It became known as the Mataafa storm, after one of the 29 ships that sank that day. During the storm the water of the lake on the North Shore were raised by almost three feet above normal, and heavy ice and snow covered the region. The temperature were so low that one of the body of the unfortunate sailors from the Maatafa wreck had to be chopped out of solid ice from the bay to be given a proper burial.

Split Rock Lighthouse Park
The portion of the Lake Superior shore where the wrecks occurred was named as the most dangerous coast of the whole Great Lakes region. To prevent a similar tragedy to repeat in future storms, the Pittsburg Shipping Company, owner of many of the lost vessels, lobbied the government to provide some protection in the form of a lighthouse. The Split Rock Lighthouse was built, on a 140-feet rock cliff overlooking Beaver Bay, not far from the site of another shipwrec from that fatal storm, that of the Madeira shooner-barge. With its octagonal shape, steel-frames brick building, it is the most picturesque lighthouse on the Great Lakes. When it was built there were no roads along the North Shore of Lake Superior, and all construction materials had to be supplied by water, and lifted on the cliffs with a crane. Its dramatic location made it a popular touristic attraction for sailors and excursion boats, and in 1924 a road was built from Duluth to allow land access. This was the beginning of Route 61 now connecting all the previously isolated towns on the North Shore, all the way to Grand Marais. Now retired, the lighthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969, and designated as National Historic Landmark in 2011.

View from Corundum Point
Since 1945 the lighthouse is part of the Split Rock Lighthouse State park, managed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. We visited the park on our free day during our summer trip to the North Shore. The park is beautifully maintained, with many trails on land, and even a kayak and canoe route along the lake shore. We spent the whole day walking around the park, with Kero leading the way from one pebbly beach to the next (see for example the panorama below). The park has several camping grounds easily accessible from the road; something to consider for the next time we will visit (assuming that Kero would be up for camping... we never tried staying overnight in a tent with him that and I am not sure he would be relaxed enough to actually let us sleep). Before turning back to the cabin we rented, we climbed up a trail leading to Corundum Point, a rocky outcrop raising from the lake with an excellent view on both sides of the shore (little photo above on the right). The point claims its name for the belief that the outcrop was rich of corundum mineral (Al2O3, the same gem as emerald). A crushing house was built high on the lake shore to process the mineral, that however turned out to just be a hard rock, and not the precious gem. One can still see the foundation of the mining buildings along the steep (and sometimes almost lost in the vegetation) trail.

After a quick lunch with some cheese I "smuggled" from Italy, we went back to the car, for a quick stop on the cabin we rented near Lutsen, before heading north to Grand Marais for dinner.

Split Rock Lighthouse Park, MN (Aug 19, 2016)

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