Avenue of Pines Scenic Byway Phototour

October 10, 2016 at 6:42 pm | Posted in Highway Phototours | Leave a comment

Not as well promoted as it’s neighbor the Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway, the Avenue of Pines is still worth a drive. Named after the red pines that were planted along the roadway in the 1930s, the byway follows MN 46 it’s entire length. There is a story going around that the road was given that number because it’s forty six miles long. Although it’s probably apocryphal, there may be some truth to it since in the 1933 renumbering plan, 46 was originally meant for a highway along the western edge of the Twin Cities (The now defunct initial highway 101 west of Lake Minnetonka). So let’s jump several hours and a world away to the town of Deer River…


The Byway Begins

The Avenue of Pines officially starts along with MN 46 at this intersection on the outskirts of Deer River. There is absolutely no clue the byway starts here, unlike the nearby Great River Road which is marked with precision. Just off to the right of the photo is a major casino. I can’t help but wonder what the people watching the security cameras thought of me taking this picture.

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Entering the Forest

Although both termini are outside the Chippewa National Forest, most of the byway is inside it. Here is a  view of the entrance point. Note the National Forest sign on the right, and the monument sign in the distance on the left.

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The Pines

Here we see the byways namesake, the Norway (or red) pines, the state tree of Minnesota. Despite the look of having been here a long time, they are only about 70 years old. It wasn’t too long after the last of the northern forest was cleared in the early 1900s that the realization came that such wanton exploitation wasn’t a good thing, and modern forestry practices were instituted. As part of that change in ideology, the National Forest system was established, and these pines were planted to try and speed along natural regrowth.

It’s only human to try to assign personality to the wilderness. It can seem both malevelent, as when you’re momentarily lost or alone in your tent at night, or benevolent, as listing to the wind whisper through the pines or a loon calling on a lake in the morning while at you’re friend’s cabin. Here you can see both majestic and sinister characteristics, the darkness (exagerated by the camera) in the trees that go on for a scores of miles  and their soaring height. In reality the wilderness is neither good nor bad. It is what it is. Go in, have fun, but be prepared.

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Lake Winne

Despite running through Minnesota’s lake country for most of it’s length, there are very few places where you can actually see water from the byway. This is the most notable one, where the byway crosses a narrow channel Lake Winnibigoshish at a narrow point. Lake Winnibigoshish, known as Lake Winnie, is one of Minnesota’s premier walleye lakes. The name comes from the Chippewa Indians and means “miserable-wretched-dirty-water”, from the fact that the lake is shallow and muddy.

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Sidetrip: The Lost 40

The Lost Forty is a worthwhile side trip, about 12 miles off the byway on county roads. Because of a surveying error, Coddington Lake was mapped as being a 1/2 mile north of where it really is. In Minnesota, all lakes are public property so the land didn’t officially belong to anyone, and thus no one cut the old-growth trees. They stand today as one of the only places you can see the Minnesota forest as it once was. (Itasca and Scenic state parks are two others.) Before the late 1800s about 1/3rd of the northern forest was old-growth trees; now it’s a tiny fraction of a percent.


The Wilderness Regrows

Just outside of the national forest, you can see dramatically how a forest changes after being cleared either by fire or logging. The first tree species to spring up are fast-growing “weed” trees like aspen and birch. In the long term, however, the evergreens come back. Evergreen trees have the long-term advantage in northeastern Minnesota because the soil is very acidic, which evergreens thrive on but most other plants don’t like. Also the harsh climate favors trees that can produce food year round and effectively shed snow.

In the picture, the bright green canopy are aspen and birch trees, but notice how many of the smaller trees are darker evergreens. Eventually the deciduous trees will die off, leaving the evergreens the primary species. If left alone, in another 100 years or so it’ll look like nothing ever happened here.

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Entering Northome

As you enter Northome, this gigantic black bear greets you. Bear hunting is a sport in Minnesota, though not at the same level as deer or pheasant hunting. A lot of newbie campers are terrified at the thought of being around bears, but the danger they pose is greatly exagerated as black bears tend to run away from people. There have been only four bear attacks in recorded history, two by Lake Mille Lacs in 2002, and two in the Boundary Waters Canoe area in 1987.

The second photo shows the intersection with MN 1 at the edge of downtown Northome. Both the Mn/DOT route log and the Legislative Route description seem to imply that MN 46 actually ends here, but the signs in the field clearly show a multiplex to US 71 at the other end of town. Also note the nonstandard directional sign, not uncommon in more rural areas of the state.

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The Byway Ends

At the far end of Northome, the Avenue of Pines along with MN 46 comes to an end at this unremarkable intersection. The nearest large town, Bemidji, is over fifty miles away going south on US 71, while the Canadian border is to the north on MN 72, arguable the most remote highway in the state. Eighty miles long, it passes through only one incorporated town between it’s termini.

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