Moose Lake Agates          by  John and Mary Rettler

Having a business meeting in Minneapolis on Saturday was the only invitation we needed to make a trip north this past weekend.  We packed a couple of bags, a cooler some water and ice and we were off!  We rambled up along the “Big Muddy” through Nelson to Fountain City and back-roaded along the Chippewa River a bit and checked out a couple of Camp Grounds and river accesses for Agate hunting.  It was not too promising. Stopped to stretch in the park in Arkansas WI to observe Plum Creek which is noted for its ability to produce trace amounts of placer gold, and drove up past Plum City, Nugget lake and then on towards Hudson, where we spent the night at a hotel.

Saturday morning after a quick breakfast at McDonalds, we were at our business meeting at 9:00 am.  Afterwards we drove north on I-35 about 2 or 3 hours towards Carlton County, arriving around 4:30 or so.  I had taken out some permits through Carlton County, to be able to mine out of the three open pits available to look for Lake Superior Agates.  The Permit is free and is good for 30 days, and the County is good enough to e-mail you maps of the area with directions and boundaries to keep you out of trespassing trouble.  We went exploring to find where they were and get familiar with the area.

The first pit was “Hatchery Pit” between Moose Lake and Barnum.  We changed clothes and donned out gear and went off on the gravel road towards the pit.  It was an easy find, and we were able to start hunting twenty feet from the car.  This is an open mine pit and is easily accessible, with a small shallow water hole (depending on recent rainfall), well suited for pets and tool washing, when you’re done.  The soil is a mix of clay loan, various sized rock and granular sand easily scraped or dug with rakes or hand tools.  You can find piles of material to dig in twenty feet from where you park, and there is a series of mounds and rolling piles surrounding the water hole.  If you hike to the back side of the pit, a couple of hundred yards away, you can actually walk into the working portion of the pit to search.  I am guessing this is frowned upon, but it is accessible.  This all being said; there is ample amounts of rock and material to be picked up by walking with zero digging needed.  It is a fine place to look for all sorts of specimens.  I was digging into a spoils pile and found some interesting stuff, but you have almost as good a chance by just walking the sandy surface until one finds you!  No huge finds, but some nice specimens none the less.  I went hiking over the edge and off to the “operating” portion of the property a quarter mile, and when I returned an hour or so later to find Mary still happily walking around looking for shiny rocks and enjoying the wild outdoors.  One other car was there when we returned, and there is no problem with crowds, actually quite the opposite.

With the day slipping away and the need to find a campground yet, we headed towards Carlton and Cloquet.  We didn’t know it was “Carlton Days” and about every campground in sight was booked full.  The area is well known for white water rafting and kayaking and we had hoped to stay at Jay Cooke State Park, but they were filled.  Jay Cooke Park is an awesome display of white water, glacial masterpieces and up-close and personal views of the up-shoots from the tectonic plates shifting billions of years ago and leaving what the glaciers couldn’t move.  The massive dams and picturesque views of the rapid moving waters, rushing down the Rocky River is awe inspiring.  You can see most of it by just driving through without having to pay any fee’s unless you want to go into the camping or picnic areas.  But they were full so we ended up staying in just outside of Carlton at a KOA (Kampgroud Of America).  Not my first choice at they are more expensive than I care to spend, as I am such a cheapskate, but it served the purpose.  Besides, there was a train track just 20 years behind where we parked so I couldn’t resist the opportunity to put some coins on the rails and see if I get some souvenirs by morning.  Yup!  Sure enough. Two freight trains came through during the night, and the next morning I had my “Railroad Coins”.  I am always amazed at how heavy train cars are and what they can do to a penny or coin.  …sometimes I just amuse myself.

Sunday Morning we went to Cloquet for breakfast at McDonalds again, and drove back through Jay Cooke Park to get some pictures in the better morning light.  We were stopped by the bridge across from a Kayaking outpost and a young woman and her friends came over to admire the rushing water with us, and asked us if we were going kayaking too?  Mary and I laughed as we looked at each other and I said to her; “Does this look like the type of body that would squeeze into a kayak!?  In my size they call then Tug Boats”!  But it was fun to see the young’uns all excited about risking their lives in a raging river; that we would last twenty feet in, before plunging under the surf and crashing into the rocks!

Next we drove south again and headed to the “Soo Line Pit”, just on the edge of Moose Lake, by I-35.  It was a half mile hike to the pit, and despite the mosquito’s we enjoyed the dig, and again found this to be a nice place to enjoy the day rock hunting.  The “Soo Pit” is quite different than the Hatchery Pit, It is steep hills, with much erosion creating some alluvial fan like array of erosion with volumes of washed rocks to choose from.  This is assisted by the flow of ATV’s which climb the steep hills and trails and unearth more material to dig through on a regular basis.  Or you can climb the bluffs which are steep, but easily climbable for the adventurous of mind.  It’s a bit further to go than the others, but a nice easy to walk path for those who don’t mind the exercise.  No real prizes or treasures, but a few cool specimens to bring back and cut and tumble.  After a couple of hours we visited with a couple of ATV’rs and another family looking for Agates as well, before we started back to the vehicle.

We had some lunch from the cooler before the short trip to the other side of town at the “Airport Pit” just south of Moose Lake.  This too is easily accessible, and is only a hundred feet to the material to be gleaned.  This is an open pit, but they routinely spread truckloads of material out and agitate it to stir up the contents from time to time, with a frost tooth or ripper.   Making the hunt much easier, as most of the specimens will be on the surface and exposed for you, or the digging us minimal on loose or shallow surface.

We were tired and having a long drive back, we left early and called it a day early as it was 2 pm and we needed to hit the road.  You have to figure a good six hours one way, but certainly worth the drive, if you take in account all the sights and relaxing scenic views along the way.  It’s a drive, but worth it and we highly recommend the trip if you’re interested in Lake Superior Agates.

John & Mary Rettler