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Picture Perfect Day Trips:   Part Two by Heather Monthei

The Minnesota northwoods mean more than a favorite fishing hole to me. It is a veritable classroom of nature study, historical lessons, and cultural learning. Each trip we make into the wilderness is an education and on these two destinations we were focusing on art.

Hegman Lake Pictographs  (Discuss the pictographs on BWCABoard.com)
The Hegman Lake road was a short drive from Ely, just past the point where the Echo Trail turned to gravel. The parking lot was filled with vehicles, a sure sign that this was a popular entry.

The sweet aroma of pine wafted through the 80 rod portage to South Hegman Lake. A tiny red squirrel scampered out of the way, while chickadees welcomed us down the well-worn path. Vivid autumn colors painted the small maples lining the log stairway that led to the water.

A thickening cloud cover ushered in a crisp, cool breeze as Marshall and I plied the waters toward North Hegman Lake. Three giant boulders paraded along the rocky embankment, remnants of the glacial era. Small bushes near the rapids flamed in their fall raiment while crystal water gurgled over smooth stones, and a fallen leaf spun in an eddy.

The pictographs were easy to find at the narrows leading to Trease Lake. Coral-red images stood out boldly in contrast to the crusty lichens clinging to the sheer granite wall. These historic native illustrations are thought to be some of the clearest examples of pictographs in the BWCA/Quetico wilderness. The figures included a bull moose, another four legged animal, several canoes and a maymayguayshi spirit-man; a series of horizontal lines joined with a painted cross to tower above the other figures. This display was Indian art at its finest, and the symbols touched us with wonder and awe.

Natives dating back several centuries are credited for these pictographs while many other examples are thought to be 500-1000 years old. Their symbols give us clues to the traditions, legends, and values of the Ojibway people; their paintings confirm their close tie to their natural surroundings and their animal "brothers".

The early Indians created the red ochre paint by mixing iron hematite with boiled sturgeon spine or bear grease to depict their stories on the stone canvas. Some of these images are thought to be influenced by vision quests which show important spiritual insights. Perhaps they were painted by Midewewin priests or shamans, those connected to Ojibway religious beliefs. On the other hand, they might tell stories about historical events or point directions like symbols on a map. Whatever the origin I am always in awe as I study the objects and try to interpret them, yet I always feel inadequate as I try to understand the hidden meaning of their messages.

Several researchers have offered theories behind the Native American artwork. Michael Furtman in his book "Magic on the Rocks" compares the moose on Hegman to the paintings on Darky Lake in Quetico and suggests that they might have been painted by the same artist. The author also sees the panel as relating to the Ojibway story-legend of Nanabush, the four legged animal representing a wolf which is hunting the moose.

Carl Gawboy, professor at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, offers another suggestion about the Hegman pictographs. The professor of Indian studies links them to the constellations and compares the image of the "spirit man" to the star grouping in Orion. The Ojibway might see him as "Wintermaker" as he appears in the eastern sky during the coming of cold weather. The seven short horizontal lines just above the larger figure might represent Pleiades while the moose could be Pegasus and the four legged animal may well denote Leo the lion. He completes the correlation by comparing the canoes to the Milky Way or the "River of Souls" in the Indian tradition. Gawboy surmises that the cross could represent the star Capella, but as I gazed overhead at the sky that night, I wondered if Cygnus the Swan could hold some significance, too.

All of these constellations are normally observed in the winter sky, a time when the rock wall would have been more accessible to the artist from the ice-covered lake surface. Gawboy's theory made a lot of sense to me because the Native American people celebrated the winter season as a time for hunting and storytelling. As I gazed at this marvelous display of ancient art, I thought about the various theories; but as with all the other pictograph displays we've seen in the wilderness, this exhibit left us with more questions than answers.

The north end of Trease Lake provided the perfect place for a picnic lunch. The picture window of this "cafÈ" overlooked the long narrow lake with the pictograph narrows at the far end. A white-throated sparrow provided background music, and a raven circled overhead. I took note of the rose quartz imbedded in the granite boulders where Marshall and I were sitting. As I glanced around at the adjacent rock, the whole outcrop gave off a pink luster.

The 460 rod trail to Angleworm Lake took an hour to hike; we stopped often to take in its scenic splendor. The hills and muddy spots in the trail were not difficult, and without the canoe and gear the length was less challenging. Splashes of color on the rocky open areas demanded our attention; the contrasting veins of each tiny leaf were worth examining. Nature's artists were working overtime, each hue intensifying our surroundings in warm tones.

Woodland asters and Solomon seals towered over bunchberry and wintergreen on the forest floor while mustard colored ferns lined the walkway. Blueberry bushes and wild rose could be identified in boggy areas. Mountain ash and choke cherry added more color to the big picture. Twisted scat embedded with fur showed evidence of wolves, and occasionally we could catch a musky scent.

As we approached the end of the portage, our path crossed the Angleworm Hiking Trail. Continuing on to Angleworm Lake we found the first backpacker campsite mounted high above the water. Fragrant white pines and bronze birch surrounded the site. A small garter snake staked his claim near the square wooden latrine. We tarried long enough to be mesmerized by the sparkling ripples of this isolated lake and to vow we would return soon to paddle its waters.

Island River Pictographs (Discuss the pictographs on BWCABoard.com)
The long gravel road to Entry Point #34 was a seemingly endless nineteen miles. I kept a close eye on our steadily dwindling gas supply and calculated how many miles we were from the nearest service station. We were a long way from civilization.

The foliage that lined the washboarded lane was heavily laden with frost which glistened in the rising sun. The surrounding foliage consisted of second growth forest where the entire region had been logged out a half century ago. Rows of pines had been planted to replace those which had succumbed to the sawmill operation.

I had read two different accounts of the ancient Indian paintings on the Island River site. The Forest Service documented them as one of the largest displays in the area, which "shows a clearly drawn maymayguayshi figure (man-like) with long arms, flanked by an animal with horns or antlers, and other objects yet to be identified" (Superior National Forest flyer, Kawishiwi District, 1995) This display had been discovered as recently as 1974.

Robert Beymer's guidebook ("Boundary Waters Canoe Area Guide," 1994) characterizes them as a "reddish blob." Selwyn Dewdney, researcher of the historic Ojibway art, wrote in 1950 ("Indian Rock Paintings of the Great Lakes," 1967) that a rock in the river showed a cross and handprint on it. Questions were raised further as a newsletter from Voyageur North Outfitters referred to the art as "petraglyphs" rather than pictographs. Intrigued by these discrepancies we were eager to discern them for ourselves.

This trip to the Island River was actually our second quest. We had planned to meet some friends at the bridge landing, and together we would paddle to the pictographs in question. Marshall and I had sought out the art in 1997 and had reservations about what we found; Cheryl was not sure she had found them at all, and this would be Dick's first trip in this area.

Our friends arrived about 9 a.m., and within minutes we were on the water. The first part of the river going east was clear for a short time then widened and became choked with wild rice. The channel looked like a grassy marsh with a multitude of channels from which to choose; the rice was so dense we had to push our canoes with our paddles through the stick-like stems.

Each stroke brought a new shower of grain; the sharp pointed seeds pelted us and quickly covered the bottom of the canoe as we meandered through the maze of tall grasses. Although a permit is necessary to legally harvest wild rice, the stuff literally jumped into our boat. Most of our bounty was dumped out along the portage trails, but we were picking up strays from the carpet of the mini-van for weeks to come.

Cheryl and Dick were ahead of us and before long they seemed to be swallowed up by the tall rice. Submerged grasses caught on the bow of our canoe slowing us down considerably; I had to continually reach out and scrape off the "hitchhikers" with my paddle.

The 30 rod portage offered no surprises, but I noticed the portage signs had been removed since our previous trip. On the next portion of the river we searched for the images on the rock mentioned in Dewdney's book but couldn't even locate the rock.

We moved on to the cliff that Marshall and I had found in 1997. The flat rock wall on the south side of the river created the perfect pallet for the painting. The stone had a smooth face with some ragged edges where chunks of mineral had broken off near the top. A small wiry tree grew out of a crevice.

There was no problem locating the orange-red blob that Bob Beymer mentioned in his book. It was on eye level on the west side of the cliff but was worn and indistinguishable, difficult to tell if it were paint or lichens. As we turned the corner and backed away from the north-facing wall, however, the image of the "man-like figure" stood out.

The pictographs themselves had not changed in the last 5 years, but I still questioned their authenticity. The maymayguayshi that the Forest Service described towered over the river, his large arms curved down toward his feet in a symmetrical manner, and with a little over-active imagination I thought I could detect a "horned animal." It still looked more like lichen than paint, but it was too high to distinguish the texture.

Michael Furtman in his book "Magic on the Rocks" considers four "peculiarities" of the Island River pictographs. The first difference is the unusual height of the images and the mystery of how the artist could have reached that level. One could only question how someone could reach 15' above canoe level, and as we gazed at the cliff it seemed unlikely that anyone could climb up to that height. I visualized the painter climbing a ladder balanced on ice.

Also, the objects were considerably larger than the other Ojibway art in the BWCA/Quetico area. The maymayguayshi in this panel measured perhaps 3' tall. In addition, the grayish black pigment differs from the typical reddish-coral paint of the traditional pictographs. The last unusual feature is that these examples are on a wall which faces the north. Most of the traditional paintings face east although the displays in the Lac La Croix area look west.

There was no documented mention of the letters which stood out near the Island River pictographs so I assumed they were recent additions. The initials JWC had been scratched into the lichen which I hadn't remembered from before, but the RD5 I noted from our previous trip were pretty well obliterated. The large gray-green figures still looked to us like lichen rather than paint though the Forest Service and others insist the images are genuine. For the four of us novices it will probably remain among the many mysteries of the northwoods.

It was still early in the day so the four of us continued up the river. The only sound was the scratching of the reeds against the sides of the canoes. A 40 rod trail took us to more of the river, and several small lifts over beaver dams led us to Comfort Lake.

A bald eagle left giant shadows on the water as he soared above us. We spotted an opening on the other side of the lake which looked like another portage so we paddled over there to check it out. Cheryl was the first out of the canoe and soon disappeared down the path. It wasn't long before she came back smiling and shaking her head in disbelief. "There's a road over there!" she grinned. Here we had paddled to what seemed like the ends of the earth, discovered a pristine wilderness lake, only to find we were on the edge of an accessible logging road! Even more of a surprise was the sound of a truck engine as two land surveyors appeared on the scene.

Comfort Lake offered one campsite with a large granite outcrop. We used the picnic table for our lunch then lingered there to visit and enjoy the solitude. Two large translucent snake skins kept Cheryl company on the rock, while several baby garter snakes slithered near the trees. Large billowy white clouds ushered in a little wind, but the breeze felt good on the warm day.

On our return trip through the wild rice I spotted our portage in the distance and studied the myriad of possibilities to get there. The grasses were eye level, and while I could see the landing lying straight ahead, a wider channel at the left appeared easier to navigate. It didn't take long, however, before our destination slipped from view, and we ventured into a shallow marshy finger which came to abrupt dead end. The western bank, nevertheless, piqued my curiosity.

Pulling close to the shore I quickly scrambled up the grassy ridge where I found a straight gravel path scored with tire tracks. We considered that this right of way might have been part of the former railroad bed that ran to the sawmill at the former Forest Center lumber camp. Remnants of the historical past painted colorful pictures as we caught a glimpse of another era.

Marshall and I have been fortunate to find Indian pictographs on many of our extended canoe trips into the wilderness. Large displays span the granite cliffs at Lac La Croix, Crooked Lake, and along the Kawishiwi River while smaller clusters of figures gather on Rocky and McAree Lakes. Not everyone has the time to explore the depths of the wilderness, however, and many have no desire to experience a rustic camping experience. Nevertheless, they don't have to miss out seeing this mysterious ancient Native American art.

It's nice to know that there are primitive galleries just a short paddle down the way.


       --article courtesy of BoundaryWatersMagazine

More on Pictographs from Doug Jordan of Jordan's Outfitters

There are some really nice picture rocks on the Basswood River just past Lower Basswood Falls. Not only are the pictures something to behold, but the color of the surrounding rocks is something to see...red, black, orange, yellow colors spread out through the cliffs because of the different minerals in the rocks. 

You can get there in two ways...one, starting at Fall Lake, paddle to the entrance of Basswood River for your first night, and then take the four river portages your 2nd day. You can either camp on the river your 2nd night of paddle up into Wednesday or Thursday Bays of Crooked Lake. If you enjoy fishing, excellent catches of walleye, small mouth bass, and northern pike abound in Basswood River and in Crooked Lake. The portage at Upper Basswood Falls is a mile long, but it's not a hard portage having no hills to negotiate or swampy areas. The other three portages are short and easy walking, too.
The 2nd way to get there is to start at Mudro Lake, paddle to Fourtown, east to Horse, then up the Horse River to the Basswood River. Mudro is a harder permit to get because there are only 6 permits a day and many people want to go into Fourtown to base camp and fish.

                                                   --Doug Jordan, Jordan's Outfitters


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