I arrived late in the day, the sun had already set.
“Perfect,” I thought, “This will give me a chance to shoot some long exposures with no people.” At the most traditional of spot, the falls.
The paths around Gooseberry Falls State Park were quiet though well-trafficked. With heavy snow falling, my tracks disappeared behind me. Not uncomfortable, it was just below freezing and I was fine with a single pair of socks. That’s a good thermometer.
Accessing the falls was not easy. Sounds of water rushing could be heard in the shadows behind trees, and the path to them were snow-packed, icy stairs. Thank goodness for railings. With a light grip, and placing my feet as if riding a snowboard, I could slide down them with little effort. It was made only marginally harder with tripod in hand, and I was glad to be walking again when all the stairs were done.
Walking these paths reminded me of a few years ago when I’d come to this park with a girl.
It was January, I had finished photographing a wedding south in Two Harbors and she had come up to spend a day or two with me. This had been one of our stops, and I remember slipping all over in my smooth-bottomed Red Wing boots. Ahhh, the never ending stream of nostalgia.
As I turned the corner and the falls came into view, any onlooker would have noticed the disappointment on my face. The falls were almost completely frozen over. The sediment rich waters made for a pee colored frozen waterfall, iron, dirt, I don’t know nor care what it was. It didn’t look good. (Also not 100% sure that’s where the color comes from, I’m all ears for more educated deductions) I jumped over running water, dodged dog pee and balanced on a thin path of high rock, to access another spot.
From here a framed view of the only visible moving water could be had. No point in wasting the trip out, I’d better get something. So I stood amongst the evergreens that survive on this exposed rock, and took ten to twenty second exposures of the water patch. Sufficiently snow covered on snow and parka, I packed up, shouldered the gear and made my way back. I fell and smashed my camera just a little bit on the last step, too eager to be done for the day.
I survived the night in the car.
My layering system was down pat, and I didn’t feel any cold seepage all night. Which was amazing as the temps dipped to -10˚F. The blanket that covered my face had a most unique crystalline pattern of ice, and all the windows inside were covered with a layer of permafrost. Scraping with my trusty AAA card took a long time and I opened up some visibility holes. Now that my dash looked like it had snowed inside, I took off for the campground area that housed the best area for viewing the sunrise if I could catch it.
A benefit of being the first one to access a spot is you get to see all the secrets. Through my little window peephole, I found I was following tracks down the middle of the road. This entire trip it has felt I have been following a wolf and sure enough, he beat me here this morning as well. It ran along the road almost to the parking lot I ended up in.
Emerging through the trees to the lake, I saw some strange smoke in the sunrise clouds. This was coming from a mystery ghost ship type, and I picked up the pace. Running on freshly snow-covered ice is not easy, and I had to make sure I slowed down early enough I didn’t keep sliding straight over a cliff edge and into the water. I set to photographing and filming the sun coming up through the clouds while grabbing a second camera and going back up the hill to get a better viewpoint of the ship. I’m telling you now, some of these photos better turn out or my frost bitten fingers are going to be pissed.
The world changed from the subtle hues of filtered sunlight to dynamic orange and yellow reflections on cobalt blue ice once it was fully emerged. It seemed like the place should feel warm, as sunlight on your face usually is. Not on the edge of an open cliff edge next to a lake though. The mysterious lake steam was in full effect, dancing over the top of the water, moving to its own silent beat.
The traditional spot here is a section of posts with chain links that freeze over in winter. Of course I had to shoot that, and there were also patches of frozen grasses that glowed in the sun. It would pass behind layers of clouds plunging me into temporary darkness and again full sunlight. The longer I was out, the less effective the double layer of wool socks became. There was nothing to be done about it.
Eventually I exhausted all ideas I could come up with.
My fingers felt like they might fall off, making adjustments with the gloves on were nearly impossible but taking them off left them exposed, and each subsequent removal reduced the amount of time it took to get bitterly frozen. I had been saving the hand warmers for this day, but in my rush I’d forgotten them in the car.
Returning to the car and leaving the park, I felt lucky to have seen the wolf tracks. The roads had been plowed by now, an auspicious sign that starting early was the right thing to do. I stopped briefly at an overview to see more of the sea smoke in full daylight, the dancing wisps almost calling me to join them. Perhaps next time. Now that I think about it, that would be a pretty miraculous scenario to kayak through.
The next mission was to bring life back to limbs, and I headed south to Louise’s Place in Two Harbors. This was my second stop in as many trips passing through, I like the quiet little coffee shop that can be anything but quiet when it gets busy.
If you look at the picture below you’ll see the sign for the pasties. I don’t know what they are, but hordes of people were coming in for them. I even heard a gentleman from Venezuela speaking of their own similar food, the arepa, with the chef. Now I need to go back another time to try them.
There was much more that could be done at Gooseberry Falls State Park, but today was not that day. I had no need to prove my badassery by skiing poorly waxed ski’s through the glacial forest. However, should you get the chance or have the ability to decide your own fortune, I would recommend a winter stop to the falls.
Address – 3206 Highway 61 East
Two Harbors, MN 55616
Map – Winter
Hours Open – Daily from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m.
Phone – 218-595-7100
Established – 1937
Yearly Visitors – A Lot! Will update this number
Trail Miles – 20 hiking; 12 cross-country ski, 2 snowmobile
Hiking Club – Completed/Uncompleted & Rating
Highlights – The Falls! 24/hr wayside, Historic CCC Log & Stone Structures, Lake Superior views, Electric Vehicle charging
Camping – Drive-In, Pull-Through, Group, Kayak
Costs – Camping
Activities – Fat biking (not winter), Gitchi-Gami Trail Access, hiking, SHT access,
Event Calendar – Here – Just Change Park Location