(cover story)

There are no roads here. No towns or airports. There are no gas stations, businesses, cars, airplanes, electricity, phone service. There is water. And if you are not on it, you are in the woods.

The lakes and forests of Minnesota’s Boundary Waters are straight from the Pleistocene. Paleo-Indians navigated chunks of melting ice left by retreating glaciers when they hunted woolly mammoths and caribou in the area 12,000 years ago. Mastodons, saber-tooth cats and 500-pound beavers roamed the region then. When the first Europeans breached the wilderness west of Lake Superior in search of a route to China — and then highly valuable beaver pelts — the only way through was in a canoe. The United States-Canada border that wanders along the northern edge of the region, and gives it its name, follows their route almost precisely.