all started the with a last-minute snafu that had the potential to cancel
altogether a vacation that was a year in the making... Fortunately,
there were other plans that were apparently in the cards for us and,
with a bit of scrambling, an alternate destination was able to be input
and we headed out of town on time and anticipating some well deserved
The first leg of our journey included
a trip to a small lake just to the east and north of a city with which
my wife and I are both familiar:
Rice Lake, Wisconsin.
A long weekend last fall included a "look-around" there --
just to see what was in the vicinity. We have on numerous occasions
enjoyed dinner at several local restaurants but, except for a very nice
golf course that we discovered (Butternut Hills, on Long Lake) three
years ago, our familiarity with distances beyond five miles or so has
been limited... at least until we checked out Big Lake Chetak.
Often confused with Chetek -- spelled with an e and located
south of Rice Lake,
Chetak -- spelled with an a -- is
located about 15-20 miles north and east of Rice Lake.
were looking that day for public water access and new lakes to try.
The bad news was that the one public launch on the east side of Chetak
it was not easy to find -- was being reconstructed by
the DNR; I was happy that I hadn't dragged my boat with me on that particular
day! The good news was that, in circling the rest of the lake,
we happened upon a really nice resort about which I had been curious
. I had seen the name "Fred
Thomas Resort" pop up on several Google searches I
had done, and now that we were right in front of the place, we decided
to check it out.
story short: we were very impressed (and you know what is said
about first impressions...) by how well taken care of the grounds were.
And although we did not have an opportunity to look inside any of the
cottages, an impromptu interview with a guest convinced us that the
cottages were as well-maintained as everything else we saw. A launch
area/ramp for resort guests, along with a covered dock area was an added
bonus that I liked. After returning home and discussing the possibilities,
we decided to book a cottage for the next spring.
line? It was an excellent vacation! The owners were really
great people, the cottages were extremely clean and well-maintained,
we fished, we ate fish and we relaxed. We enjoyed watching an
abundance of wildlife: Great Blue and Little Green Herons, eagles --
lots of them, ospreys, loons, beavers, plenty of painted and snapping
turtles -- huge snapping turtles -- and bears (I actually got an unintended
close-up view of a mom and two cubs...). It was the first time
on vacation that our car remained in the exact same spot for the entire
week -- we never ventured out anywhere -- and that was good. It
was more fun on this particular occasion to just park ourselves in one
spot. We did, by the way, rebook for next year, and I am already
looking forward to the trip!
next leg of our journey took
us north and west into Minnesota. Our destination was the town
of Walker and Leech Lake; we
had rented a house there that turned out to be less than fifty feet
from the lake. The house was one of several units that were originally
intended as a sort of private condominium complex. Located just a couple
of miles north of Walker, and now privately owned, the "cottages"
are part of Shores of Leech Lake marina, resort and RV park. It
was definitely larger than we needed, but included was a covered boat
slip and access to many other amenities. Lots of great dining
was also available in and around Walker as well. (One great example
was Chase on the Lake.)
lake itself is gigantic -- at 112, 835 acres, much bigger than I had
realized -- and, if the wind is in the right direction, sometimes difficult
to navigate... On one of the windier days, we decided to do some
exploring. One of our discoveries was located about fifteen miles
to the north and west of our cottage:
Winery. It is a small, boutique winery that featured wines
made from fruit like rhubarb that is grown onsite, as well as other
fruit purchased from local growers, like chokecherries, apples, black
currents, plums and white cranberries. The owner was friendly and conversed
easily, curious about our home state, itinerary and destinations. Proud
of his wares, he allowed us to taste numerous wines; confident I'm sure,
that we would end up buying some. We did. These were much less sweet
-- and much better tasting -- than many of the fruit wines that we have
sampled (the sweetest being from the Amana Colonies in Iowa). We ended
up purchasing a bottle of rhubarb wine (dry and pleasant), one of white
or "early" cranberry (semi-dry and easily drinkable) and one
of black current (dry and akin to a cabernet... almost).
our return, we noticed that Leech Lake still displayed sizeable whitecaps
and I was in no mood for battling the wind and waves. Some tasty
appetizers from Benson's Eating and Drinking Emporium the day before
and friendly conversation with the bartender had also yielded the name
of an entrepreneur: Greg Smith. Like many who prefer a hand-crafted
brew, Greg started his own brewing 17 years ago at home. His passion
became his obsession and, when the economy turned south, Greg cashed
in his 401k and headed north -- so to speak. He perfected his
recipes and voila:
Leech Lake Brewing
Company was born.
located the microbrewery (whose beer we had sampled at Benson's) at
the edge of town and had a nice visit there, sampling the craft brews
and enjoying some conversation with Greg. My personal favorite
was the Loon's Eye Red (an Irish-style ale), but there were a total
of seven to sample; don't take my word for it, visit the brewery and
see for yourself! Unfortunately, you won't find the brews too
far from Walker... at least for now. But who knows?
We had a lot of fun at Leech Lake; I liked being able
to revisit Bemidji, Itasca State Park and see the things that had changed
and those that hadn't. (Read
more about our time at Itasca State Park) The side trips were interesting
and fun; we took time to relax (and even dined out more than we usually
do -- that added to the relaxation); we fished and we ate fish (a personal "must"
for me...) We did not see as much wildlife as we did in Wisconsin,
but then again we were closer to a large town. There were still
bald eagles and loons, herons and an occasional deer. It really
didn't matter much, though. Both legs of the vacation were rewarding
in their own ways and, if I had to choose between the Wisconsin and
Minnesota portions, I don't think I could do it. Both destinations
were great for different reasons; I'm just glad that everything worked
out for the best and that we returned home safely and well-rested.
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