My wife Jan and I just returned from a long driving trip that brought us up Highway 61 on the North Shore of Lake Superior. We continued on around the Lake and back through Lower Michigan, with a stop in Chicago. In all, I drove 2,000 mile in less than a week. Boy, are my wings tired.
Our first stop was at the Glensheen mansion. This 7.6-acre estate on Lake Superior was built by Chester A. Congdon between 1905-08. Tours are given of the main building. Considering the age of this building, the tour was as accessible as you could expect. I was able to tour the main level in my wheelchair. When the rest of my tour group went upstairs to the second floor, I was escorted to the sewing room for a slide show of the upper 2 floors. The mansion does have an elevator but I was told that it is very small and unreliable. The last thing I wanted to do on my first day of vacation was to end up stuck between floors of a 100-year-old building! The other building and the grounds were very interesting and accessible. I do have to confess that for the first time in my life I returned to my van finding that I had left my headlights on. Yes, it was click, click, when I tried to start the engine. Luckily for me, one of the workers at the mansion had a set of jumper cables.
Our next stops were at some of Minnesota’s State Parks. The first one was Gooseberry Falls. It is known for its spectacular waterfalls, river gorge, Lake Superior shoreline, log and stone structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and wildlife. I loved to listen to the thunderous roar of the upper, middle and lower falls of the Gooseberry River, as it plummeted through a rocky gorge. We stopped by the Joseph N. Alexander Visitor Center where you can find park information, interpretive displays, a park video, Nature Store, and more. This building was extremely accessible, including power-assisted doors, a unisex restroom and a lowered information desk. The newly paved paths gave us a good view of the upper and middle falls.
About 7 miles down the road, we stopped to see the Split Rock Lighthouse. Unfortunately, this park wasn’t as accommodating as Gooseberry Falls. I was able to get to the base of the lighthouse, but from there it was either steps or trails that are not accessible. I did stop at the history center, where I viewed the 20-minute video that describes why and how the lighthouse was built. If you use a wheelchair and want to see the classic view of the lighthouse from the lakeshore, get ready for disappointment. I did not find a trail that was accessible to the lake.
Our first night was spent in Grand Marais at the Aspen Lodge. This hotel was very well built, with accessibility in mind. The room had plenty of space and the bathroom was very accommodating. I was able to access the entire building including the pool area and the outdoor deck.
The next morning we stopped at the Naniboujou Lodge for breakfast. Wow, what a great dining room! Naniboujou is now on the National Register of Historic Places. The Lodge boasts Minnesota’s largest native rock fireplace, a 200-ton work of art that stands in the 30 x 80-foot dining room. This room is brilliantly decorated in designs of the Cree Indians. The absence of phones and televisions in the rooms gives you a sense of being “away from it all.” The Arrowhead Room, a sunroom with an outdoor feel used for afternoon tea, board games, and reading, complements the architecture of the 1920s. The outside area is flat and accessible right down to the lake. But, if you’re going to stay here, call well in advance, and leave your cell phone at home. Don’t forget to get one of Nancy’s sweet rolls.
Our last stop before entering Canada was at Grand Portage National Monument. This served asthe headquarters for fur trade activity and the Ojibwe heritage. It linked Lake Superior with a westward system of lakes and rivers. Access from the parking lot to the great hall and kitchens are accessible by way of a paved trail and ramp.
The rest of our trip was spent going around Lake Superior to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. From there we headed south over the Mackinaw Bridge to Chicago. After visiting family for two days, we headed back to Minnesota.
We traveled an average of 250 miles per day. This seemed just right considering the stops for sightseeing, meals and other breaks. If you plan on a long road trip like this, consider tuning up your vehicle and your wheelchair. I always bring spare parts for those emergencies that need to be resolved immediately.