On one of the days during my vacation last July I headed for Finland, Minnesota to follow the Heffelfinger Road. This would connect me with Cloquet Lake Road and from there to a little lake named Drake Lake. But as I left Finland there was a sign that said the road was closed ahead due to bridge reconstruction. I continued on a bit and saw the bridge was definitely not there anymore.
The day was still young so, I turned around and headed to Highway 11 where I knew of another way to get to Drake Lake albeit more difficult. This was the Beaver River Road and by following it north I would be able to connect to Heffelfinger Road and avoid construction. After a few miles, a sign appeared saying “road closed ahead”. Apparently another bridge was being repaired. But there was still one more way to get to Drake Lake.
This alternate route was Forest Road 102 which would connect me with Camp 26 Road where Drake lake was located. Forest Road 102 was a rough ride with many deep puddles straddling the road, ruts, and large rocks. I think my average speed was about 5 mph.
Finally, I got to Camp 26 Road. Nothing looked familiar. So much had changed since I was last there in 1995 including Forest Road 102 which was more like a two-rut road back then. Much of the forest had been cut down in the intervening years and there are now many gated driveways to hunting cabins. I never did find Drake Lake that day although I probably drove right by it. You can’t see it from the road as it is hidden by about 500 feet of dense forest.
Drake Lake is one of many small lakes in northern Minnesota gradually turning into a peatland, a centuries-long process. The water is dark brown like strong coffee from tannic acids leaching from deposits of peat. Surrounding Drake Lake is a floating fen thick with sphagnum and stunted leatherleaf shrubs. On the north side of the lake is a white cedar forest.
Patches of pogonia, clubspur, and dragonhead orchids, beaked rushes, yellow-eyed grass, and bladderwort plants grow on the floating peat mat. When in bloom these decorate the floating mat with masses of pink, white, yellow, and rusty brown flowers. I’ll be back there next year and hopefully, the bridges will be repaired by then. If not I’ll take Forest Road 102 again.
I did find other interesting spots along the road. One of these was a long patch of spreading dogbane with dozens of butterflies nectaring on the sweet flowers. So I spent some time there trying out a new camera lens. Above and below are a few of the species I was able to identify.