Research Along the North Shore

View of Lake Superior from the top of Enger Tower

View of Lake Superior from the top of Enger Tower

One of the great pleasures of being a writer is doing location research. With the advent of the Internet and wonderful tools such as Google Earth, it’s easy to research locales we’ve never visited. Still, there’s nothing like actually being there where you can capture the sounds and scents. The experience becomes tactile rather than visual.

A week ago my daughter and I made a two-day trip up to one of my favorite places: Duluth, MN. (This trip also allowed us to cross off items on our Summer Bucket List.) In the book I’m currently editing, many of the scenes take place along Lake Superior’s shoreline, and I wanted to capture them precisely so that those familiar with the North Shore won’t be removed from the story. Here’s a teaser of that trip.

Rocks leading up to Enger Tower

Rocks leading up to Enger Tower

To your right you’ll see Enger Tower. This tower was built out of Blue Stone from the area in 1939 and looks out over the Duluth Harbor and the St. Louis Bay. Counting the green beacon on top of the tower, it stands 531 feet above the level of Lake Superior.

The climbing rocks leading up to the tower play an important role in one of the scenes of my book. In my first draft, I was writing off of memory as Enger Tower was closed on a previous research trip, and my memory was somewhat faulty. Now this scene will be far better.

That evening we visited Canal Park at night. The famous Aerial Lift Bridge (not pictured below) and the city were beautifully lit up.


The next day we added a spontaneous element to our trip: touring Glensheen, the Historic Congdon Estate (Built 1908). It had been years–probably 30–since I’d toured it, so when we saw the sign advertising tours, we quickly made a U-turn. We learned fascinating historical info such as: people decorated their kitchens and bathrooms with white tile because back then people believed  they could see germs better on white and therefore could kill them easier.


We rounded off the trip with a visit to Gooseberry Falls including an exhausting hilly-trail walk to Lake Superior. This walk was also research as the trail was used as a setting in my Hearts at Risk novel. (Note to travelers: make certain you recharge your camera batteries each day. You don’t want to get to Gooseberry Falls and discover your battery exhausted. 🙁 The disposable cameras available for purchase don’t do the area justice.)

Also, I’d be remiss not to mention the other quick stops we made:

  • Grandma’s Sports Garden in Canal Park – met a friend and her family and surprised her with a small birthday celebration. 🙂
  • Judy’s Cafe’ in Two Harbors – we were looking for a hometown style restaurant and found the perfect one in Judy’s. I’d absolutely stop there again.
  • Mocha Moose in Two Harbors – quaint coffee shop on Scenic Drive that even has an old grand piano. My daughter couldn’t resist sitting down to play.
  • Candy StoreGreat! Lakes Candy Kitchen in Knife River – want delicious, homemade chocolate? It’s worth a stop. The adorable building alone draws you in. I’m already formulating a story around this cute shop.
  • Tobies in Hinckley – of course we stopped here to pick up a half dozen of their famous cinnamon rolls! The guys wouldn’t have let us in the house if we’d come home empty-handed.

Have you ever been to Duluth, MN or the North Shore area? Which are your favorite sites? If you’re an author, what have been your favorite research trips?

Comments 4

  1. I LOVE Duluth. My brother lived there for many years which gave us a great excuse to go there often. Is Judy’s restaurant where the wonderful pies are? There’s just so much to see and do and enjoy in Duluth. I’m glad it’s the setting for Hearts at Risk!

    1. The place with the pies is Betty’s Pies in Two Harbors–another excellent place to eat. We stopped there on our last research trip.

      Judy’s was just a little cafe’ in downtown Two Harbors–it’s the kind of place my parents would probably head to for their daily morning coffee.

      It’s my dream to retire along the north shore, but then I think about those hills in winter, and I have second thoughts … But, if we’re retired, we won’t have to go anywhere, right?

  2. What a fantastic trip. Love the pictures and literal tour, Bren. I’ve been to Europe but not most of the USA. Yeah, I’d have definitely tried the Candy Kitchen. Love those kinds of places.

    1. And I’ve never been to Europe. Actually, the only time I’ve been out of the country was probably 25 years ago. My husband & I made the trek up to Thunder Bay, Ontario and were there for a couple hours.

      As a family we’ve traveled over much of the US, from the Dakotas and eastward. Someday we’ll have to travel west.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.