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A foggy morning on Minnesota’s North Shore

A gloomy fog had ascended from the north as I drove from the south, along highway 61. The morning started as a clear, beautiful October day in Duluth, with the passing of seasons visible upon every tree. The night was chilly and the day was tolerable, but “there’s certainly nothing else like Fall in Minnesota,” I found myself believing.

I had been living in Saint Paul, three hours south of here, and I had to leave. I needed to escape the monotony. I’m not one for staying put in places for too long and I had overstayed my welcome. Freedom along the open road is a thing that is often overlooked by many disconcerted hearts. Driving toward no particular destination and only your thoughts to keep you company is relaxing to the tempestuous and seemingly engulfing swirl of everyday life.

Glancing at the clock above my car radio, I realized that time was passing at an alarming rate. An hour had elapsed, although I felt that I had been on the road no more than ten minutes tops. I shook my head and wiped the last of the sleep out of my eyes. While blurry eyed, I started to look to my right where the rocky and wavy coast of the great Lake Superior began to show itself. The fog was thicker here, more than before, but something in the distance caught my eye and I found myself slowing down. High above the cliffs I made out a tall, lit building protruding powerfully from the mass of low-hanging cloud.

I’ve long recognized the state of Minnesota by their adopted symbol of a lighthouse perched atop a mighty cliff of crumbling stone. And today, along my drive, I discovered that this wondrous historic sight was real. Following the road signs, I weaved down the path toward the lighthouse. It was no longer visible, due to the jagged and skinny limbed trees joining the fog to create an opaque ceiling above me. I passed by the rangers station and another road that was labeled as “permit only” by its entrance. I parked in the lot nearest the doorway and I nearly skipped with excitement, as I’ve never visited a lighthouse before.

I eagerly pranced to the front desk which was conveniently placed in between the door and the gift shop. I told them my name and what I do, and I collected a media pass and was shown around by the curator. She’s quite nice and extremely personable, I thought. We talked for about ten minutes until the tour guide was ready to begin. My guide was a tiny young lady with fiery red and bushy hair. She had a nervous stammer about her; I attributed it to her being new at guiding tours. All in all, she did a fine job, walking us to the old hoist and around the keeper’s house, where she then stopped to cut us loose at the steps leading up to the lighthouse.

The Split Rock Lighthouse was less momentous than it had looked from afar; it was simple inside, nothing but the winding steps up to the intriguing glass eye. My tour group mates and I were to cover our eyes when the light would wind to face toward us. Along with my ticket to peruse the grounds, the curator gave me a day pass to the permit-restricted campgrounds that I passed on my way in from the highway. I rejoined my car, pulling out of the lot and then I took a left down the permit-only driveway.

The restricted path wound downward near the coast, where I stopped and parked at the Trail Center. A few cars were visible underneath the light fog that was beginning to touch the ground. I walked into the parted trees, along a dirt path, where I could hear the roar of a campfire and the sound of children playing and laughing. I walked through numerous and empty campsites, complete with picnic tables and metal rings for campfires. I could smell the water from the subtle lake breeze. I recognized the sound of soft lapping waves. The road seemed to end at an outcrop of young forest, but then I noticed an adjacent makeshift path to my right, which required one to jump over a fallen tree.

About twenty feet after the fallen log, I came to a small drop-off that I hopped and landed on a black beach. The beach was covered in pint and half pint size smooth black stones. The stones were perfectly smooth and flat and perfect for skipping along the light-tempered water of the lake. I found myself in a cove; the lighthouse wasn’t visible, because the tree line of the forest was too high from where I stood. Directly across from me I could make out a small island that was attached to the far length of the cove simply by a few stepping-stones of land. I walked to the edge of the lake, where I skipped a few stones, then I felt the crisp cool touch of the water on my fingertips.

Walking along the beach proved to be a difficult task – the stones behaved like a slippery mess. After several minutes, I made my way to a small cliff that blocked the beach. I decided to climb its rocky face, which was easier than I had originally imagined. I breathed in and felt the cold air deep within my lungs, and a feeling of being in the ‘right place at the right time’ came over me. I walked around the roof of the cliff, bypassing a few whimsically grown trees and I saw it. I’m not sure if the cloud of fog parted just for me or if I wasn’t paying attention before, but the sight was magical and powerful, and personal. The Lighthouse stood tall and strong, along the cliffs, above the crashing waves. It was grim and gloomy from the foggy mess, yet stout and absolute, a rock of stability to comfort and govern all.

The Split Rock Lighthouse

Minnesota's Split Rock Lighthouse

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