Ely And The Echo Trail – A Nostalgic Tour

Ely And The Echo Trail – A Nostalgic Tour

The Ely, MN Water Tower is sort of iconic.
The Ely, MN Water Tower is sort of iconic.

Twenty five years ago I lived in Ely, Minnesota.  I wasn’t there long, just a couple years as I attended Vermilion Community College for Conservation Law Enforcement.  I was still in my late teens back then.  It was a great time in my life as I recall the fun I had living up there.

Classes at the college were interesting.  I lived a few hundred yards away from the campus, in a seventy foot trailer house with two other guys.  90% of the trailers on the lot (I recall there being about thirty of them), were occupied by 4-6 people, mostly dudes, who attended the college.

Living In Ely

My trailer had two bedrooms with two beds in each room.  There was one full bathroom that everybody shared for showers, and one quarter sized bathroom attached to one of the bedrooms.  I was lucky enough to have the room with its own toilet and sink.

Most of my time living there I didn’t have to share my room.  Two of my roommates went to high school together and decided to go to Vermilion Community College together and they shared a room at the opposite end of the trailer.  There were good guys.  I forget their names though as we didn’t hang out much but were on friendly terms.

Ah yes, my early education took place on and mostly off campus.
Ah yes, my early education took place on and mostly off campus.

I was supposed to have somebody else using the spare twin bed in my room, but like I said I didn’t have to share my room too often.  My first room was a gang-banger from Denver Colorado.  He was an ass-wipe who preyed on the mid-teens girls living in town.  More than a couple times angry fathers showed up at my door looking for him.  Eventually he just disappeared about three weeks into the first semester.  I later learned he went back to Denver when some girl’s father threatened to kick the hell out of him.

A few weeks later I got another guy assigned to my room.  His name was Matthew and a nice guy.  Too nice, almost a weenie.  He was horribly home sick.  Missed his family and girlfriend back home In Massachusetts in the worse way.  After racking up a $750 phone bill in one month his parents freaked out and said he should just come back home.  So he did.  Never saw or heard from him again.

And after Matthew left I had my room all to myself for the next 1.5 years.

Sweet Setup

I had my own car while there, a Ford Escort.  My own room.  A 25″ black and white TV in my room with basic cable.  And a small desk upon which sat my beloved (and missed to this day) Commodore Amiga 500 computer (I was a Commodore Computer geek).

I had food to eat, a warm bed to sleep in, amusing means to entertain myself if I didn’t want to leave my room.  And I had made a couple great friends.

Classes were interesting and I was learning a lot.  But by far the largest part of my education came outside of classes.

Echo Trail Love!

Most free time I had was spent in the woods outside of Ely, usually up the Echo Trail.  Back then it was mostly just a gravel road.  There were several places to pull off and enter the BWCA, as well as hiking trails, and smaller lakes to explore outside the BWCA.

A view from Meager Lake, where I used to chill out at and relax with friends. Fishing, camping, campfires, swimming...etc...
A view from Meager Lake, where I used to chill out at and relax with friends. Fishing, camping, campfires, swimming…etc…

Often I would just head off on my own, usually up to Meager Lake, or the Bass Lake Hiking Trail.  I would be gone for hours and sometimes all day, usually on my own.  Just hiking, fishing, sleeping under a tree, reading, tracking animals, watching for wolves, bear and moose.

Sometimes my friends would come along and we would hang out along some lake we would hike into.  Setup a little camp and cook some food.  Sip some whiskey, talk about life, girls, and anything that came to mind.  Sometimes I’d bring a gal along.  There were not many girls in attendance at Vermillion, but I was lucky enough to get to know a few and take them out for some camping, cooking, hiking, fishing, skinny dipping, wolf howling… Good times.

Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long” song would make a good anthem for my times in Ely… minus the ‘smoking funny things’ line… never did any of that stuff.

My two main buddies up there were named Jesse and Andy.  I lost track of those guys over the years.  I wonder what they are doing today?  And then there was Jenny; nice figure, but her face was longish looking.  I didn’t care, she was fun.

I have many great memories of the Echo Trail.  I love it there.

Went Back After 25 Years

Most of my BWCA trips over the years occur off the Gunflint Trail or the southern reaches of the BWCA.  Since I had left Ely all those years ago I had not been back until just a few weeks ago.  It was almost surreal seeing Ely, the college, the trailer court (now a camping trailer lot), and the Echo Trail haunts I frequented.  Things have changed, but not much.

Sunset from on Big Lake off the Echo Trail. Forest Fires in Canada had the air tinted with and faintly smelling of smoke.
Sunset from on Big Lake off the Echo Trail. Forest Fires in Canada had the air tinted with and faintly smelling of smoke.

My father rented a cabin on Big Lake off the Echo Trail.  My entire family was invited up there.  I took a few days off and spent some time hanging out at the cabin and fishing with my nephew and dad in my dad’s boat.  Everybody left a day early and I ended up having the place to myself.  I didn’t spend much time in the cabin – I hopped on my Jeep and drove up and down the Echo Trail looking for my old hangout spots.

Meager Lake is just off the Echo Trail and a short drive and hike.  It was so good to see that place again.  The memories came flooding back.  Cooking up some grub with my buddies.  Fishing.  Bringing Jenny out there.  Sitting around a campfire watching the stars above.  Day dreaming.  Learning about women (still don’t have a clue).

I look back at those time and recall life was so much simpler, much more quiet and laid back.  Didn’t have much for a care in the world back then.  Living day by day and having fun.

Going Back To Ely, Sooner Than Later

I’m not going to wait too long before going back to Ely.  I want to bring my wife up there and show her around.  There are some sites to see, such as the International Wolf Center, The North American Bear Center, the Dorthy Molter Museum, the Echo Trail, and much more.

The valley behind my Jeep Renegade used to be a heck of a view. Twenty-Four years of growth has filled it in. It's still very pretty, just less of a grande view.
The valley behind my Jeep Renegade Trailhawk used to be a heck of a view. Twenty-Four years of growth has filled it in. It’s still very pretty, just less of a grande view.

In fact, I plan on going back next month in September for either a BWCA trip off the Echo Trail, or maybe just to camp at one of my past haunts for old time sake.  It will be a solo trip.  Perhaps in the Spring I will return again if the wife and I can arrange to have the same time off together, which isn’t always easy.

TD

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