Cool water flowed around my ankles as I peered through shifting, shimmering sun specks at the river’s surface. Small, white ovals among the gravel on the river bottom caught my eye, and I submerged my waterproof camera to get a better look. But my wrists and hands disturbed the invisible current, and the added turbulence picked up the tiny mussel shell and tumbled it downstream.
As I stood up and straightened my back, my gaze also headed downstream to where the river slid around a corner. My partner and I had stopped on this shallow gravel bar to stretch our legs during a 20-mile-long day of paddling on the Namekagon River. We’d planned this two-night trip at the last minute in order to replace our annual trip to the Boundary Waters. Due to severe drought and extreme fire danger in northern Minnesota, the entire wilderness had been closed to visitors.