Northwoods Memories Multimedia Productions


Trips: Seagull Lake and Saganaga Lake, Cache Bay

Monday, February 23rd, 2009
submitted by: Bob Evans

Our Northwoods Pictograph project is based on our commitment to revisit every pictograph site seen in the past and visit those we have not yet seen.  On our first trip in 2007, we visited 13 sites through 4 entry points in Quetico and two entry points in the Boundary Waters.  This trip consisted of four individual trips of one or more nights and two day trips of a few hours each.  In this report on the first part of the trip, I will cover the day trip to the Sea Gull Lake pictograph site (in the BWCA) and the overnight trip to the Cache Bay site across the Canadian borderOrder Cache Bay and Seagull Lake Bulletins.

Northwoods Pictograph bulletins used on this trip:  Saganaga Lake, Cache Bay and Seagull Lake  (one bulletin covering two sites).  Order Bulletin here .

 Fisher Map used on this trip:  F 19

McKenzie Map used on this trip:  Map 6

  I also provide some information for future paddlers or those interested in simple trips, pictures of the Cache Bay Ranger Station, a video clip of the Quetico sea plane resupplying the Cache Bay Ranger station,  and the account of a completely unexpected and exciting encounter with a group of paddlers who reported a new petroglyph site.

Start Trip:

We started from Oklahoma City traveling up I-35 to Duluth where we had breakfast with a couple we met in 2006 in McKenzie Lake.  McKenzie is a bit remote.  Maps of the portage from McKenzie Bay of Kawnipi Lake into McKenzie Lake shows water through, but it is rocky, and up stream at low water, it is safer to portage the short distance on the west side of the rapids.   We put ashore and heard voices on the other side.  It was late in the season and we certainly did not expect to see anyone in this area.  We met a delightful couple from Atlanta, Georgia who have a summer home in Duluth.  They are very experienced Quetico travelers and were heading out the north end of McKenzie Lake through Lindsay Lake and Cache Lake.  That is a difficult route with two very long portages.  We visited for awhile and then set off north toward the two McKenzie pictograph sites 

 After breakfast we drove to Grand Marais, and the Gunflint Trail to Voyageur Canoe Outfitters (

Paddling to the Sea Gull Lake Pictograph Site:

The Sea Gull Lake site, referred to as “the Pallisades” has been known to us for some time but we had not been there before.  Minnesota Natural Resources and the Forest Service officials were very helpful with available information about the site.  There is debate concerning the Pallisades.  Many do not think it is a painting but rather just red pigmented rock. 

The paddle from the public dock to the Pallisades is interesting, as there are dozens of islands along the route, making navigation a bit more of a challenge than some other areas.  For beginners– this is a large lake with many campsites and good fishing.  The outfitters in the area know it well and can help set up a great trip with lots of opportunities to learn navigating around the lake without any portages if that is what you would like.  We can recommend Voyageur Canoe Outfitters ( ), Seagull Outfitters ( ), and Tuscarora Outfitters ( ).   Should you elect to use one of these outfitters, please tell them “Hi” for us.

We found the Pallisades and spent time examining the cliff thoroughly.  There are many red areas on the cliff but only one that looked like a possible painting.  We photographed the site and made notes for the Northwoods Pictograph bulletin.  Since it is a very simple site, we combined it with the nearby Cache Bay site on Saganaga Lake.  That bulletin is now available for purchase. (Order Here  )

Overnight on the Gunflint Trail:

On the return trip we hit winds and rain.  But the paddle wasn’t long back to the dock.  We loaded and went back to Voyageur for the night.  Because Voyageur doesn’t have dinner service, we went to Way of the Wilderness Outfitters (  ) for dinner.  They are located literally at the end of Gunflint Trail and have a restaurant called the Trails End Cafe.  We enjoyed the good food after a cold paddle in.

Paddling to the Cache Bay Pictograph Site:

The following morning we ate breakfast with Voyageur  and loaded into a tow boat for a drop off at Horseshoe Island, just across the Canadian Border in Saganaga Lake.  The crews at Voyageur were handling several parties going out that morning and we were impressed with how smoothly they handled all of the groups.  We were on the water early and had an easy tow to Horseshoe Island.  We loaded into our canoe and headed for the Cache Bay Ranger Station.

For beginners–Saganaga is another lake with lots of possibilities for a good trip which can be enjoyed without portages or with only a  few to get started.  Again the outfitters on Gunflint Trail are all familiar with the area and can help set up a great beginning trip.

The Cache Bay Ranger Station is on an Island in Cache Bay of Saganaga Lake.  In the attached picture the solar panels are obvious. 

Cache Bay Ranger Station viewed from water.

Cache Bay Ranger Station viewed from water. However in recent years they have been replaces with a series of panels that are less visible as you paddle toward the station. Two rangers are usually in resdence at the station in season. For those of you who have not paddled here before, the rangers take care of fishing licenses and camping permit fees. There usually is a small store with informational items, and some clothes items. The most important thing that the Rangers have up to date information on bear sightings, closed campsites, water levels, and bunches of other information that will be useful to you. They also usually conduct a brief orientation for you on important parts of canoe camping practices and regulations.We tied up at the dock where you see canoes in this picture. Cache Bay dock and Pavillion

 There is also a small area where canoes can be pulled up on land if weather demands it.  Immediatley beside the dock is a small pavillion.  The several panels on the walls contain a wealth of information about the park, its ecology, safety practices and other interesting points.   We always check the panels for new information each time we pass through.  The pavillion is also a great place to have lunch or a snack.  Note that in this picture the permanent dock is well above water level and the floating dock is quite a ways below the permanent dock.

The ranger station is supplied by the Quetico Park float plane.  In 1996, when I was at the station, the float plane landed for resupply.  Above is a short video clip of the plane approaching the dock and then taking off later in the day.  Note the very high water level.  The permanent dock is under water and the floating dock is riding high.  

These planes fly over the park but they must stay above a specified altitude.  When paddling, you can occasionally hear and see them overhead.  It is fun to watch them approach, land, and taxi on the water.  It is also fun to watch them take off.  They also occasionally fly rescue missions into the middle of the park when emergencies occur.  Many years ago, a large number of fire towers were in the park and were staffed with rangers.  Some of the towers still stand in the park but none are staffed.  Monitoring forest fires is now done with float planes.

One of the Rangers who may greet you when you arrive is Janice Matichuk.  This summer (2009) will be her 25th season at the station.  Everyone traveling through should congratulate her and wish her Happy 25th Anniversary.  She is  very knowledgeable about the area and Quetico.  Doubtless she has helped thousands of folks traveling through her station.   If there are few people checking in when you arrive and she has time, you will be privileged to visit with her for a few minutes about the park.  When I was on a solo trip in 1996, I was laid up here for an afternoon and evening due to a bad storm heading in from the west.  Janice alerted me to the storm.  I spent the afternoon visiting with her and she was kind enough to share with me the scrapbooks and photo albums she has in the station.  To this day I still use information gained from those materials in my research and writing. 

Though Janice was not at the station when we arrived, we did get information on the area, including the high water levels.  The Ranger said she had been at the pictograph site the previous week and the water level was within a foot of the bottom paintings.  When we first visited this site in 1995, a very low water level year, Edwina in the bow, had to hold up a paddle  at arm’s length to shade the pictographs from the sun to be able to see them.

There are several camp sites nearby should you want to overnight here and the Rangers can assist you in locating a good one.   It takes less than an hour to paddle to the pictograph site from the Ranger Station.  When we arrived, the water level was about 6 inches from the bottom images.  The images here are very interesting and very clear to see.  The Northwoods Pictograph bulletin for this site (Order Bulleitn ) has interesting information about these images and even about some speculation on an erasure.   We checked our data from earlier trips and returned to the Ranger Station to report current water level information to the ranger as she had requested.

A slight rain began to fall, so we ate lunch at the pavilion on the dock.  By mid afternoon, the rain had stopped and we decided to paddle back to Horseshoe Island for the night.  Our pick up there was scheduled for early in the morning so we could enjoy a leisurely morning breakfast.  There are two camp sites on the island and space is usually available.

A New and Exciting Discovery:

We enjoyed the evening on Horseshoe Island and a good breakfast in the morning.  After breaking camp we moved down to the beach to meet our  pickup tow boat.  While we were waiting, another group paddled in for a pick up by another outfitter.  We visited, and in the course of the conversation, our pictograph project entered the conversation.   One of the men asked me if I had seen the white painting on Kawnipi.  Now, white paintings are rare and may be painted with white pigment or they may be chipped into the rock (petroglyphs) but both of these are rare in Quetico.  I immediately asked for information.  He sorted through the files on his camera and showed me two pictures of an image, definitely white, very symmetrical and looking like an abstract body with outstretched arms.  He helped me to locate the area on my maps where he saw the image.  We gave him one of our sample bulletins with our email on it and he agreed to email me the pictures so that I could use them to help find the image during a trip planned for later in the summer.

A find like this is very exciting, as unreported sites do not come along often.  He was gracious to give us information to help us find the site.  The Northwoods Pictograph bulletin for this site and the other sites on both sides of the entrance to Kawa Bay of Kawnipi Lake will be available May of 2011)

Our tow arrived and we motored back to Voyager  Outfitters, showered, packed and prepared to leave for Atikokan, Ontario.  Before leaving I visited at length with Mike, the owner and one of his staff members who was planning a trip to Kawnipi.  I gave him all the information I had on the site and asked him to provide us with more information if he found it.

Heading into Canada:

On our way to Atikokan we were in phone contact with Jon  ) who has been a ranger and Quetico official for many years and is now a board member of Friends of Quetico (  ).  Some of his historical photography is on his web site.  He had offered me much information and contacts of help to our pictograph project and we were to meet him for lunch.  We were behind our travel times, however, and were not able to meet him.  I want to do that in the future, however, as he is a great resource.  Thank you Jon for your help.

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