Thursday, January 24, 2013

Primal Wilderness Rambling From Minnesota

A gloomy fog was creeping down from the North, as I drove up from the South on highway 61. My morning began in Duluth with a clear and beautiful October day. The changing of seasons was visible on every tree. The previous night had been chilly, but “there’s nothing else like fall in Minnesota,” I found myself saying and believing.

I was living in Saint Paul, three hours South of here, but had to get away. I needed to escape the monotony. I’m not one for staying put too long, plus I’d overstayed my welcome. Freedom on the open road is an option sometimes overlooked by disconcerted hearts. Driving toward no particular destination with only your thoughts to keep you company is a sweet release from the tempestuous and engulfing swirl of everyday life.

Glancing at the clock over my car radio, I realized time was passing at an alarming rate. An hour had elapsed, though I felt like I’d been on the road no more than ten minutes tops. I shook my head and wiped the remaining sleep from my eyes.

While still blurry eyed, I glanced to my right where the rocky coast of Lake Superior appeared in the mist. The fog was thicker here, but something in the distance caught my eye. I took my foot off the accelerator and focused. High above the cliffs loomed a tall lit building protruding from the gray mass of low-hanging cloud.

I’ve long associated the state of Minnesota with their adopted symbol of a lighthouse perched atop a mighty cliff of crumbling stone. Today, I discovered this wondrous vision was a wondrous reality. Following the road signs, I took the way to the lighthouse.

It was no longer visible, due to the jagged skinny-limbed trees merging with the fog to create a ceiling above me. I passed by the ranger station and another road labeled “permit only” at the entrance. I parked in the lot near the doorway and nearly skipped with excitement. I’d never visited a lighthouse before.

I eagerly pranced to the front desk, located between the door and the gift shop. I collected a media pass and was shown around by the curator. She was extremely personable. We visited for about ten minutes until a tour was ready to begin.

The guide was a tiny lady with fiery and bushy red hair. She had a nervous stammer, which I attributed to her being new to the job. While providing helpful information, she walked us to the old hoist then around the keeper’s house, where she cut us loose at the steps ascending the tower. Time to climb.

The Split Rock Lighthouse was less momentous than it looks from afar. The inside was simple with nothing but the winding stairs leading up to the intriguing glass eye. My tour group mates and I had to cover our eyes when the blinding light rotated toward us.

Along with my ticket to peruse the grounds, the curator included a day pass to the restricted campground I saw while coming in. I now drove down the permit-only road.

The route wound downward by the coast, where I parked at the trail center. A few cars were visible beneath the light fog that was descending. I walked a dirt road through the trees to where I could hear the roar of a campfire and sounds of children laughing.

I strolled through numerous empty campsites, complete with picnic tables and campfire rings. I could smell the water on the gentle lake breeze. I heard the sound of soft lapping waves. The road came to an end at an outcropping of new forest, but I spotted an ongoing makeshift path to my right, accessible by jumping over a fallen tree.

Twenty feet beyond the log, I came to a small drop-off, which I hopped down and landed on a beach. The beach was covered in black stones. These were smooth and flat and perfect for skipping along the surface of the lake. I was now in a cove where the lighthouse wasn’t visible, because the forest treeline stood too high.

Directly across from me, I could make out a small island attached to the far end of the cove by a few stepping-or-jumping stones. I walked to the water’s edge, where I skipped some rocks and felt the crisp cool touch of the liquid on my fingertips.

Walking along the beach sometimes proved to be a difficult task - the stones turned out to be a slippery mess. After much effort, I made my way to a small cliff overhanging the beach. I decided to climb its rocky face, which was easier than I originally imagined.

Afterwards, I breathed the cold air deep into my lungs and a feeling of being in the right place at the right time came over me. Crossing the top of the cliff and bypassing some whimsically-gnarled trees, I saw it.

I’m not sure whether the fog parted just for me or I wasn’t paying attention before, but the sight was magical. It stood tall and strong, above the cliffs and the crashing waves. It was grim and gloomy, yet stout and absolute. The lighthouse was a bastion of stability to comfort and govern everything around it.

Brandon Elijah Scott is a travel writer and photographer with over eight years of experience. He is also an adventurer, storyteller, book lover and filmmaker who currently lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Check out his work at


  1. That's one part of my own country I've never visited. I had no idea I was so beautiful!

  2. I've been through Minnesota once; I remember it as a beautiful, stark place. Thanks for writing about it, Brandon!