April 9, 2020

Week 8: Of Angles and Astrophysics

The CHIPS neutrino detector in the lab.

All photos by author.

Us men are forever looking for a clandestine domain to call our own. Batman has the Batcave, Superman has his Arctic Fortress of Solitude, and supervillians seem to be forever finding secluded islands on which to build their secret lairs. And while one could argue about the psychology that underpins the drive to head to such a remote locale, said heroes and villains would have plenty of islands to choose from in our present base of operations at Lake of the Woods in northern Minnesota.

But it’s in the journey and not only the destination that this week’s tale lies. We departed Bayfield, Wisconsin last week after our tour of the Apostle Islands and the ‘Fruit Loop’¯ circuit of locale farms to cross the northern end of the state into Minnesota. When they say it’s the “Land of 10,000 Lakes”¯ they’re not kidding… in fact, we wonder if they might’ve missed a few in the count.

A farmhouse winery on the ‘Fruit Loop’.

Our next base of operations was Ely, Minnesota. Located an easy two hour drive west of Duluth, Ely reminded me of the smaller communities you’d sometimes come across in the Alaskan Bush. We had a great cabin on the shores of White Iron Lake just outside of town, where our AstroLab Maggie was glad to report that they are not only dog tolerant, but dogs get pretty much a free run of the place.

Astro-lab looks to the future on Lake Superior.

Ely features both a Bear and Wolf center and also makes a good gear and staples pit stop before you head off into the woods for adventure. But there is also astrophysics in them thar hills, and that’s just what we went in search of.

A fascinating set of experiments are in the works deep in an old iron mine in Soudan, Minnesota. One is MINOS, a detector looking to test key astrophysical theories as physicists shoot neutrinos at it through the Earth from Fermi lab in Illinois, 700 kilometres away. Another is COGENT, which is looking to identify dark matter. And although we didn’t get to go down in the mine while we were there (the lift was inop) we did get to see the shiny, brand new CHIPS detector just prior to its submergence in a mine later this month as it sat in the above ground facility.

We then struck out northward to the town of Baudette, Minnesota for a brief sojourn at Borderview Lodge. Located on the shores of the Rain River and the entrance to Lake of the Woods, Borderview is a fisherman’s heaven, a place where the Weather Channel reigns supreme on the bar’s big screen as folks attempt to divine just what the tempestuous northern Minnesota weather will do today.

A comparison of geographic landmarks.

The end of this week’s tale finds us in the Northwest Angle at the top of the state at Flag Island Resort. We also crossed off a unique inadvertent accomplishment, having visited the most southern point in the lower 48 in the Florida Keys earlier this year and now, the most northern “in the Angle.”¯

Astrolab ready for action in “the Angle’.

More on our adventures around The Lake of the Woods and beyond next week!


  1. [...] border between the United States and Canada along the 49th parallel, this fascinating region is well worth checking [...]

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