Duluth, Minnesota: Part 1

On Lake Superior’s shore

Duluth was the farthest northern and eastern point on this trip, and was the original reason for the whole journey. We wanted to see Cal’s family, particularly his mother. It had been a few years since I’d been there, less so for Cal, and COVID conditions finally seemed to be right for visiting her in her senior citizen’s apartment.

Home is wherever we are

Would you want to stay in an RV spot like this? How about if this (below) were your view? We were at the Lakehead Boat Basin Marina, and our nine days here flew by. In my limited experience of RV’ing so far, I can say that there is no where else I’d want to be stuck in a parking lot, but it’s where we’ll return whenever we come back!

Lakehead Boat Basin Marina, with a view of the lift bridge

Cal was born and raised in Duluth, except for a few years when his Army Dad moved the family to various assignments. He started bringing me here the year before we were married. That was more years ago than I’d like to say, but I loved it from the start. I hadn’t been to a whole lot of places in my life yet, although I thought I had, and it was unlike any other place I’d been. I can still say that there aren’t many places like it, and every time we return, it feels like coming home. It has a 50’s and 60’s feel to it, a hearkening back to days when life was simpler.

The center of focus is Canal Park. At its core, there is a lift bridge that takes cars and pedestrians to Park Point, a long spit of a peninsula lined with mostly older summer homes, but people do live there year round. A canal leads from Lake Superior and under the bridge into the harbor, where the Big Lakes ships receive ore from the northern Minnesota mines and head back out again. The lower platform of the bridge raises when the ships are coming through. The ship blasts its horn (called a salute), the bridge operator returns with blasts of its own, and it has been nothing but pure family entertainment for decades. Cal’s Mom reminisced about his grandpa loading up whatever grandkids were around, and heading down to the lake whenever a ship was sighted. His Dad would also ferry all his siblings down, and there would often be ice cream for a treat afterwards.

The Arthur Anderson coming in to the canal

Whenever we heard a horn blast, we would drop what what we were doing and hightail it down to the bridge. It was only 5 minutes from our site, which is why we chose to stay there. There were two different occasions when we were out grocery shopping, saw a ship in the lake when we drove back over the bridge, and scurried around the RV to toss the groceries where they belonged so we could go see.

Arthur Anderson under the bridge, with a view of Duluth on the hill beyond

I was very excited to see the Arthur Anderson. It was the last ship to have contact with the Edmund Fitzgerald, which famously sunk in Lake Superior in November of 1975, and was the subject of a hit song by Gordon Lightfoot. It was the first ship on the scene when the Fitzgerald sank, looking for survivors, but there were none. It’s hard to believe that a ship this old would still be plying the Great Lakes, but we saw some that were even older.

On a good day, and particularly on the weekends, the canal walkway is lined with spectators when a ship is coming or going. Behind them is the other part of the hill that Duluth is built on, which includes the downtown area. Tourism has grown in the years since I’ve started coming here. The Lake Superior marine museum has been next to the canal since the early 70’s (which does predate my arrival). The old warehouses behind Canal Park have been torn down or rehabbed and replaced with hotels, restaurants and shops. That’s either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your point of view: local, or tourist. Before RV’ing, we depended on hotels or bed and breakfasts for our stays in Duluth. We saw prices rise astronomically, and availability decrease, over the years. But the tourism has kept a city which used to depend on the steel mills afloat. A lot of the visitors come up from Minneapolis/St. Paul on the weekends.

Sometimes it got pretty chilly out there on the canal!

Some ships are quite long, such as the Mesabi Miner. It stretched all the way from the front of the canal, at the lighthouse, almost all the way back to the bridge.

There are other boats that use the bridge. Sailboats usually come in or go out together, so the bridge has to only be raised once, and then it only needs to go halfway up.

The disadvantage to staying on Park Point is that you have to build a possible wait on a ship or set of sailboats, if the bridge is up, to your travel time. In this picture, it was time for all the sailboats to go out to the lake and we waited a half hour. If you look carefully to the left of the bridge, you can see the mast of one of the sailboats going through. We were lucky and didn’t have this happen often.

We had an anniversary celebration at the JJ Astor restaurant on the top of the Radisson hotel, which revolves. Cal took a picture of a ship in the harbor while we were up there. Afterward, we walked around the bridge area, which is beautiful lit up at night.

Some of the folks living on Park Point have the harbor as their back yard. One resident had a beautiful garden that we could enjoy on our way out to the bridge.

Sometimes we could see a ship going in or out in the harbor right from our marina
Enjoying a harbor view with the company of another RVer’s dog

In Canal Park, along Superior’s shore, there is a boardwalk that the city has lately rebuilt after the last bad storm wiped it out. They’ve had to do this before, so this time they erased the beach and built it up with a lot of rock. That has caused a lot of controversy, but hopefully they won’t have to rebuild it again. From the boardwalk, you can see something called the Ice House. Cal says it’s been called that his whole life. In doing some research, I find that other people call it Uncle Harvey’s Mausoleum. Harvey Whitney built it in 1919 as a sand and gravel hopper, and it was in use until 1922, when Lake Superior claimed it for its own. Its entertaining to watch people swimming to it, and playing on the rocks, from the boardwalk.

We took a long ride on the boardwalk one day
We were lucky to catch an excursion train going through. Fitgers, on the smokestack, is a local brewery.
Looking back at Canal Park and the bridge from a stop on the boardwalk.
Stormy skies
We enjoyed some amazing sunsets

I thought I’d put all of Duluth on one blog but it didn’t fit! We just had too much fun.

Next time – all of the other fun that we had in Duluth area, but probably no ships.

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