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Near Windigo Ranger Station, Isle Royale National Park

Near Windigo Ranger Station, Isle Royale National Park

Welcome to a potpourri of book reviews, dreams, photography, poems, ruminations, and stories. Scroll down, explore, ponder, and share if you like.

Pigeon River High Falls, Grand Portage State Park, Minnesota

Until I get around to writing about this summer’s visit to Minnesota, here’s a compare and contrast of High Falls in Grand Portage, Minnesota, from one summer to the next — quite a difference in the volume of water.

July 2013:

Pigeon River High Falls, Minnesota

Like Niagara Falls, with Canada on the other side

August 2014:

Not looking as Niagara-like in August 2014

Not looking as Niagara-like in August 2014

And in miniature for fun:

Pigeon River High Falls, miniaturized

Pigeon River High Falls, miniaturized

Adventures in Southern Illinois, 2014 edition

Champaign to Anna to Giant City State Park to Heron Pond to Fern Clyffe State Park, then home

May 23, 2014, late evening: J. and I set out for a brief return to Shawnee National Forest and the Cache River. Other than visiting Heron Pond, I didn’t have a plan.

We made it to Champaign before stopping. I forgot that Champaign is a few miles east of I57, so we overshot it.

Post Oak rest area

Post Oak rest area

After breakfast at Le Peep, we were on the road again. We had to bypass some of last year’s distractions, like Amish Arcola and Rend Lake. We did leave the expressway for Mattoon and a quick stop at a place I hate to leave: Common Grounds. Closer to our destination, in Mount Vernon we detoured to a Toyota dealer and a car parts store to look at the malfunctioning lower glove compartment. We also took a break at the Post Oak rest area, which with its bridge and trees is scenic and soothing. I remembered it from last year.

Davie School Inn

This time we focused on the more civilized western part of Shawnee, with home base at the Davie School Inn. Built in 1910, this elementary school is now a distinctive and very comfortable bed and breakfast — if the sight of a student desk and other holdovers from the school don’t traumatize you with memories.

Our host described Anna, which we’d been to before, as “just like Mayberry” (that is, there’s no need to freak out if you leave your car unlocked for a few minutes — or more).

Makanda, Illinois

Makanda, Illinois

I’d been intrigued by the name and description of Giant City State Park. As it was already late afternoon, it was nearby, and our host recommended the park’s lodge for dinner, it seemed like a great place to use the daylight we had left. On the way, we stopped in Makanda at what in any other place would be called a strip mall, only this was a rustic building carved into a hillside, and its stores were mostly local art and other tourist shops, with an ice cream joint in the middle. I loved its charming hillside location and unpolished design. You realize how sterile urban and suburban big box and brand shopping is when you see something like this.

We inadvertently took a hilly, twisty back way into Giant City State Park. These aren’t words I usually associate with the flat, bland Illinois landscape, so it’s like being in another world.

Giant City State Park has numerous trails, and I tried to find the one that was popular and not too difficult. (There may be a correlation.) After wandering around a while, we came upon the Giant City Nature Trail head, past a picnic area overrun with happy, screaming children. According Illinois DNR:

By far the most popular trail at Giant City, this 1 mile trail is home to the famous “streets” of Giant City. You’ll walk on a mulched trail with wooden walkways at difficult spots. There are some strenuous uphill portions on this trail. Take this trail to view a diversity of plant habitats from creek bottomland to dry blufftop. This is also a promising trail for seeing the largest woodpecker in the United States, the pileated woodpecker.

This didn’t sound like something I couldn’t handle (although I wouldn’t be sure until the end). We were lucky because we weren’t swarmed by mosquitoes.

The “giants” of Giant City are huge rocks with “streets” between them, the natural antonym of a model scale urban canyon.

Giant City Nature Trail map

Giant City Nature Trail map

The giants are beautiful and impressive, and we would have stayed longer if we weren’t running out of daylight for photos and time to get to the lodge for dinner before it closed. After we passed the Giant City “streets,” I was even nervous that we wouldn’t be back to the trail head by dark — I wasn’t prepared with this convenient and easy-to-follow map.

I moved as quickly as I could over the more strenuous uphill portions and somewhat rougher terrain. Earlier we’d seen a woman who was in the final stages of pregnancy, and I’d marveled at first that she was going to attempt the trail, but then her family detoured back to the parking lot, so they saw only the sandstone bluffs.

When we got back to the trail head, I noticed the sign said Fat Man Squeeze was closed due to snake activity. I realized later we hadn’t inadvertently disrupted the snakes. Even if we had spotted Fat Man’s Squeeze (we weren’t sure), from the looks of the photos it would have been a miracle if I could have gotten even my arm through. For a lot of reasons (mainly the distance between us), the snakes will remain safe from me.

Like Starved Rock Lodge, Giant City Lodge was a CCC project and has a similar rustic, roughly timbered feel (although the construction style may be different — I’m no expert). It’s decorated with specimens of various taxa that have been treated by a taxidermist — deer, fish, ducks, etc. Food and drink were welcome after the long, tiring day, and so was the classroom with the Jacuzzi shower and bath at Davie School Inn.

After a big breakfast, we set out for the Barkhausen Cache River Wetlands Center to get better directions than I had for Heron Pond, although on the way we spotted a few signs pointing to the pond. I’m glad we stopped at the center not only because having directions helped us to find it (what you’re supposed to pass through, how far to go) but also because for a little while we could watch the barn swallows and hummingbirds forage.

I’m not sure where we went wrong last year (I think we just gave up), but although Heron Pond is a little out of the way, with the signs and the directions it’s not hard to find. The final approach, however, is down a narrow, single-lane gravel road whose shoulders have been cut away so there’s a good drop on either side with not much room for error. We were in luck; we had just started down it when a car came toward us, so we didn’t have far to back up to get to a point where we could let them pass. I wonder if the road is being made wider, but I can’t say.

The road is long enough to make you wonder if you somehow missed the pond but eventually you do come to a crude parking area, and the trail head is clearly marked. The trail itself is easy, and we stopped to take photos at several spots that didn’t make me think of what I was looking for, but were scenic on their own. The sign at the trail head was a good clue, as was the bridge we crossed soon after starting out — I’d seen it in a video of Heron Pond.

Although we didn’t see wildlife galore, we did occasionally see movement, which in one case gave away the location of a lovely leopard frog. I’m assuming he’s of the southern variety.

While the first part of the trail is more open and the water looks like a conventional creek (or “crick”), soon we started seeing swampy areas to the left, with denser vegetation. By this time, though, the fatigue from the up-and-down Giant City trail was hitting me hard. The experience helped me understand the descriptions given by people with disease-related fatigue. My legs felt like heavy dead weights that were getting harder and harder to move, even when walking on level, even surfaces. As at Lusk Creek Canyon the year before, I told J. I couldn’t go any farther if I were to be able to make it back to the car. Also as at Lusk Creek Canyon, when we hit a signpost (in this case a fork), he left me so he could see how far off the destination was. It turns out that Heron Pond wasn’t much farther, although that is relative when you’re fatigued and hurt all over. I plodded along until we finally reached the Heron Pond boardwalk, where adorable anoles were one sign that we weren’t in northern Illinois anymore.

As one woman passed us, she asked if we’d seen the cottonmouth (copperhead?) under a tree we’d passed. No! I’m disappointed we missed it — I’d been hoping to see a snake, although last year we’d been told they’re elusive.

Years ago, I’d read Marjorie Zapf’s Mystery of the Great Swamp, set in the Okefenokee of 50 to 60 years ago. n the hot, humid air that would be more typical of summer than spring in northern Illinois, Heron Pond looks like something you might find in Georgia — a tiny, northern, less wild Okefenokee. In the book, though, you see the world from Jeb’s eyes as he poles a canoe through trees covered with Spanish moss. When I read The Mystery of the Great Swamp as a child, all of it — the swamp, the canoe, the venomous snakes dangling from the trees, the birds, the dappled lighting and the deep shadows, the profound stillness and subtle sounds as the animals carried on with life — all of this was deliciously alien to my imaginative child-self. I was young enough to think I was Jeb, poling through the silent but not still Okefenokee, in search of answers to questions no adult understood or admitted. I didn’t love the ending because it wasn’t an ending for just Jeb or just me; it felt like an end to something bigger and critical to life itself — the unknown. Without mystery in life, what’s left?

Heron Pond isn’t large or remote enough to harbor the Great Swamp’s mystery — nor, of course, is the Great Swamp. It’s lovely, peaceful, and otherworldly, though, especially after the hours spent passing through central Illinois, if you can imagine the other tourists and, in my case, the pain and fatigue away.

Illinois state champion cherrybark oak

Despite the humid heat and the sun, we stayed a while , then J. wanted to head toward the state champion cherrybark oak. So did I. By this time, my legs felt like they weighed one hundred pounds each, and every step was a painful effort — so painful that I broke into tears and became and even more miserable travel companion. At least I got a lovely photo of the champion cherrybark oak and for a moment I was Jeb — in a 52-year-old woman’s body, chronic condition and all.

Before we passed the Wetlands Center on the way back, we picked up a high-profile, slow-moving farm vehicle in front of us. As he headed toward a large turtle parked in the middle of the lane, I cringed, expecting to see the big guy flattened. The farm vehicle, however, passed over it, so high off the ground on its giant wheels that the turtle was in no danger as long as it stayed in the middle. After the vehicle passed, the turtle, which had been hunkered down, stood as high on its legs at it could and began to hightail it across the road. I’ve never seen such long legs on a turtle. Later my hair stylist pointed out what should have been obvious to me — the turtle was trying to keep its body as far from the hot pavement as it could. I hope it made it to a nice cool spot nearby. As for the vehicle, after a convenience store stop, where we had lost it, it found us again, but finally it pulled off the road at a farmhouse a mile or two away.

Further along the road what I could swear was an otter crossed in front of us. It had the low profile and short legs of an otter and walked very differently from the only beaver I’ve seen walking (in Kankakee River State Park).

The plan had been to squeeze in another activity as it was not much past 4, and there would be daylight for a while. I didn’t have much left, however. After a rest, we went to El Jalapeño in Anna for dinner. By this time, beautiful clouds had built up, and thunder rumbled in the air, but not much came of the threat except the opportunity to relax all the sore muscles and stiff joints.

Monday (Memorial Day) came, and it was already time to return — after another hearty breakfast, of course. Before we left the Jonesboro area, we stopped at Hidden Lake Bed and Breakfast and learned that they had indeed sold the property in two parcels — the main building as a private home, and the guest house as an inn — and that they were getting to move within a month or two. I’m glad I was able to enjoy the amazing breakfast room overlooking the array of bird feeders and a brief walk around the hidden lake last year.

Because time was short, we made only a quick visit to Fern Clyffe State Park, seeing a dead coyote along the way. At Fern Clyffe, the waterfall that had not been running on my previous visit in late May 2013 was not running. One of visitors, who lives nearby, helpfully informed us that after a good rain it had been running the past weekend. Curses.

The rest of the drive back was uneventful. We stopped in Roger Ebert’s university town, Champaign, for a second Memorial Day visit to Café Kopi, another comfortable place that’s hard to leave. By the time we pulled over at the Main Line Station rest area, storm clouds had developed around us, just like last year at the same place. This was the third beautiful trip that ended in rainy or stormy weather — almost as if the weather were trying to brace us for the return to work and reality, to bring us back from the mystery of the great swamp to the banality of everyday life.

Day 7: Two Harbors to Grand Portage and stops in between

July 18, 2013: Two Harbors to Gooseberry Falls State Park to Split Rock Lighthouse State Park to Beaver Bay (Lemon Wolf Café) to Tettegouche State Park to Cross River to Temperance River State Park to Grand Portage

Northern Rail Traincar Inn is made up of repurposed freight cars, with rail yard graffiti included. You know the cars have been on this track for a while because birds’ nests are balanced on some of the hardware. The inn’s office and common area continue the theme, located at the head of the cars in a depot-style building. Northern Rail Traincar Inn ranks second to Marcia’s Bed & Breakfast in Ottawa, Illinois, for most unconventional place I’ve stayed.

We visited the Two Harbors Lighthouse, where our view was hindered by the fog that hadn’t dissipated from the night before. I liked taking photos framed tightly by the lighthouse ports. It puts the world in an interesting focus.

On a couple of the evening drives we’d hit large objects that had jolted the car. Once we got out in the rain to find we’d run over a large truck tire shedding and moved it to spare anyone behind us the trouble. Since Two Harbors seemed to be a good-sized town, I suggested that we get the car’s underbelly examined. At first we went to a teeny garage in town, but they didn’t have a lift, and they referred us to a bigger place on the highway, Sonju. This may have been the largest dealership I’ve ever seen (because I haven’t seen many). I waited in a comfortable sitting area with TV and WiFi and enjoyed the respite. Although we lost time, they were quick to take a look. I’m glad they did, because some clips had been snapped off, leaving some wires dangling. You don’t need that when you’re hundreds of miles from home with many unfamiliar, remote areas in between.

Heading north, we stopped for an hour and a half or so at one of the most picturesque waterfalls I’ve seen — Gooseberry Falls State Park. The middle falls are set among conifers and the kind of dwarfed, twisted, gnarled trees I’d expect to near Monterey, California. The middle falls are easy to get to — there’s even an accessible version of the trail — and gentle enough that families waded into the water nearby. We stayed much longer than we should have, and again I didn’t want to leave. I took photo after photo, some normal, some miniaturized, some with Hipstamatic filters.

From Minnesota North Shore, July 18, 2013

The next planned stop was Split Rock Lighthouse, built after a shipwreck on nearby rocks. Split Rock is like Two Harbors’ richer, more glamorous cousin, and there’s a formal tour of the light and its buildings. A guide told us the best spot for the perfect photo of the lighthouse, but I was reaching the limits of my endurance.

The proprietress at Northern Rail Traincar Inn had recommended a restaurant to J., Lemon Wolf Café in Beaver Bay. We stopped there for a delightful dinner, from Minnesota wild rice soup (what else?) to entrée to homemade pie. Lemon Wolf Café is a great find, worth a visit if you’re in that part of Minnesota.

After Beaver Bay, we stopped briefly at Tettegouche State Park, where there was an amazing view in the late afternoon light, with fog remnants obscuring land and water here and there in the sunlight. I envied the life of the cheeky chipmunk who posed for photos in the parking area.

At one point we crossed a bridge where we noticed water rushing toward us on its way to Lake Superior. We backtracked to nearby wayside, as did others, and found ourselves on the bridge facing the engorged waters of the impressive Cross River, which seems to hurl itself at you but descends under the bridge. Even in the dimming light, this was another photo and video moment.

Further on, we stopped at Temperance River State Park, where a short walk downward brings you to river rapids and within sight of one of its waterfalls. It was hard to see and even harder to photograph this late in the day, and the ubiquitous mosquitoes were starting to make themselves felt. We met a ranger and one or two others there, but mostly it felt like we were alone in the dusk.

Except for fog and a little evening drizzle, so far the weather had been perfect, but between Temperance River State Park and Grand Portage, a deluge came — rains heavy enough to make it hard to see and drive. It was still pouring when at last we pulled into the parking lot of the Grand Portage Lodge & Casino, owned and operated by the Grand Portage Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa — a welcome sight after a very long day.

Day 6: Rainy Lake to Crane Lake to Two Harbors

July 17, 2013: Rainy Lake Grand Tour

After another satisfying breakfast, we said goodbye to Sandy Point Lodge and caught the Rainy Lake Grand Tour boat, which goes to the Rainy Lake Visitor Center, with an educational stop at Little American Island. Here, our National Park Service ranger explained the workings of a gold mine from the 1890s. The real focus, however, was the surprising number of bald eagles that peered at us from the trees, as well as the occasional loon. We even spotted a little loon family. The captain obliged us by slowing and/or stopping when he or anyone else spotted wildlife of interest.

We were past the halfway point in the trip, and I was tired of all the driving I wasn’t doing. As with the trip to Kabetogama, this night meant another long journey. First, we went to Crane Lake, where we dined at Voyagaire Lodge and Houseboats. This is a serene setting, partly because the road we’d taken ends at Voyagaire. I loved the sense of nothing beyond this point, which made it feel remote and magical, even if it is neither.

After that drive of more than two hours, we had at least four more to go to get to our next way station in Two Harbors. The closer we got to Two Harbors, the foggier the darkness became. We traveled almost blindly, and in places where there were houses I thought every mailbox emerging suddenly out of the mist was a deer. I don’t know how long the drive was with rest stops, but we arrived at Northern Rail Traincar Inn well after midnight. Having learned from previous experience, I had had J. call ahead to make arrangements for the very late arrival. Whew.

Day 5: Kettle Falls cruise back to Sandy Point Lodge in Kabetogama

July 16, 2013: Kettle Falls Cruise

Arrowhead Lodge and Resort was a CCC project and has a rustic look like Starved Rock Lodge. Our proprietress served us breakfast on a porch overlooking Lake Kabetogama, where a flock of pelicans was going about its own breakfast business. This was another place I could have stayed for hours.

We left in plenty of time for the 10 a.m. cruise to the Kettle Falls Hotel — but a few moments after parking, J. realized he’d left his camera at Arrowhead. We sped back at a frightening speed over roads not designed for it, to find out that he’d left it on a stool. We hurried back and made the boat with a minute or two to spare — just enough for a biology break, which was necessary because the boat to Kettle Falls doesn’t have accommodations.

On this cruise we were provided with binoculars and a park ranger to talk about the area’s natural history. It seems I spent some of the cruise scowling at J. for his speed record attempts and trying to get photos of the loons and bald eagles pointed out to us.

At Kettle Falls, J. toured the hotel’s upstairs, then we ate and walked the trail and learned more about the area’s history until it was time to head back.

We stopped at the Pine Ridge Gift Shop for a few restful moments, then headed for the original destination, Sandy Point Lodge.

After settling in and dining on a fabulous dinner in a great room with huge windows overlooking Lake Kabetogama, I wanted to sit by the lake and relax for a while. By that time, however, the perfect weather had turned. Black clouds rolled in, the wind picked up and whipped the dock flags noisily, and the lake darkened and tossed. As long as it wasn’t raining, we stood on the dock taking photos and video, watching as boats came in ahead of the squall line across the way. It looked terrifying, but was “signifying nothing.” As quickly as the storm came it blew off, leaving behind a pastel sunset. While these would become some of my favorite trip photos, the wind seemed to have blown in greater swarms of mosquitoes, and they were taken at the cost of many painful bites.

As this would be the one time we wouldn’t have to drive hundreds of miles to the next destination, it seemed a good idea to go inside, shower, catch up online, and call it an early night.

Day 4: Apostle Islands to Madeline Island to Amnicon Falls to Kabetogama

July 15, 2013: Apostle Islands National Lakeshore to Madeline Island to Amnicon Falls State Park to Kabetogama

The Bayfield Inn offers whirlpool suites. Is it necessary to say that as soon as I woke up from the long drive and late night, I inserted myself into warm, soothing jets for as long as I could, which wasn’t long enough?

Today’s objective was a cruise around the mysteriously named Apostle Islands. Our genial captain told us quite a bit about the unpredictability of Lake Superior weather, and it was soon clear that current conditions were conducive for a thick pea soup fog. After we had learned a great deal about the islands we could barely see through a few breaks in the fog, we headed back to shore with the option to get a refund or choose another day. Fortunately our plan had us staying in Bayfield Saturday before heading home, so we signed up for that morning’s tour.

On the ferry to Madeline Island

On the ferry to Madeline Island

With the afternoon in front of us, we lined up for the ferry to Madeline Island. Maneuvering the car around the narrow space by the pilot house made J. nervous, but the man guiding him said, “Trust me.” All, including the car, made it unscathed. Even better, the morning’s fog had cleared, and the sun had emerged. I looked happy enough!

On Madeline Island we ate outdoors at The Pub at The Inn on Madeline Island, which has a wonderful view of the lake and mainland. The only fly in the ointment were the flies, which weren’t repelled by the natural repellent J. had bought when exchanging the cruise tickets. Even so, you can’t beat a good bar lunch on the lake.

Afterward, we drove around, eventually heading out of town and checking out the houses and properties. I imagine, but don’t know, that most people leave the island for the winter — which was hard to picture on a sunny summer day.

We found ourselves at Big Bay State Park, where we fought off mosquitoes while gazing across the lake. A kayaking class floated by. On one of the Pictured Rocks cruises, someone had told us that sea kayaks are recommended for navigating Lake Superior and its unpredictable weather, and that it’s a very bad idea to go out alone. We’d seen a few brave souls on their own.

Our last stop on Madeline was at Grampa Tony’s, where so many teenagers were working that I started to look for Richie Cunningham.

Our next goal was Kabetogama for two days, but we detoured to Amnicon Falls State Park until it was too dark to take photos.

The never-ending road took us through Duluth, which, in the growing twilight, appeared surreal. As at Porcupine Mountains, there was something unearthly about the muted light.

On this long drive as on others, we were terrified of hitting deer. On one of these night drives, someone ahead of us flashed their lights. We found a mini-herd parked in the center of the road. They didn’t budge even as the car passed slowly within a couple of feet of them. They know who rules the night. After that incident we jokingly hoped for “deer buddies” ahead of us in remote areas who could warn us of deer on or near the road.

The rest of the night reminded me of entering Shawnee National Forest. In the dark, it felt like we were surrounded by forest and fields, with signs of habitation and commerce seemingly scarce. When I needed a bathroom break, it took some time to find a rough, almost deserted bar that was still open.

After an interminable time in the darkness (unbroken, alas, by the aurora borealis), we found the Sandy Point Lodge area, but with spotty to no cell phone coverage it was difficult to navigate. Finally we arrived, exhausted — but it was closer to 1 a.m. than midnight, there was no light, the door was locked, and no one answered the phone. We learned a valuable lesson — call ahead to make arrangements. Although coverage was weak, I was able to check Yelp and make a few calls. At last a sleepy-sounding woman answered and said we could stay at her place, Arrowhead Lodge and Resort. Delirious with joy that I wasn’t going to have to sleep in the car, I told her we’d be right over. “No hurry,” she said. “I have to get dressed.” We found Arrowhead and brought in as little as we could, following her up a narrow staircase. By then it was after 3 a.m. That was a long day, and then some.

Day 3: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore to Lake of the Clouds to Bayfield

July 14, 2013: From Pictured Rocks to Lake of the Clouds to Bayfield

We took a few moments to admire the view from Sunset Motel on the Bay. Forget Southern California and Los Angeles — this is where a TV series should be taped — in spring, summer, or fall, of course.

IMG_2228Finally we tore ourselves away for the morning cruise on another lovely day. With the sun over the shore, the lighting wasn’t as dramatic or as good for photography, which allowed me to relax and focus more on what we’d seen and what we’d missed the night before.

Back in Munising, we went to Falling Rock Café and Bookstore, a comfortable place with the key ingredients — good coffee, edibles, and WiFi, plus the added bonus of used books for sale! I could have stayed there all day or even all week, but Munising’s waterfalls were calling. What a great thing it must be to live in a town with so many picturesque waterfalls. There’s also Johnny Dogs, where hot dogs are named for cities — not unlike the Chicago hot dog, which is probably what I had. Hyde Park could use a Johnny Dogs, complete with outdoor seating.

I’m not sure which of Munising’s waterfalls we saw, except for Alger Falls at the intersection of M-28 with M-94. Others include Wagner Falls and Munising Falls.

By now it was getting late in the day, and Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park was not getting any closer, so we had to say goodbye to Munising reluctantly after finding out the lighthouse wasn’t open.

The road to Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park runs in part along Lake Superior, where the muted light held mystery, and on the clean beach you can feel like the only person on earth.

By the time we got to the park, dusk was starting to descend, and the mosquitoes were out for my blood. J. said it was all he could to put the park admission money in the envelope, surrounded as he was by a cloud of vampirelets.

Despite the persistent nips and dimming light, we made it to Lake of the Clouds, where the forest was a rich green and the river and lake a deep blue under a pastel sky subtly tinged with pink. I wish we could have spent more time there, but Bayfield awaited.

Days 1 and 2: Chicago to Port Washington to Munising, Michigan

July 12, 2013: From Chicago to Port Washington, Wisconsin

J. and I set out very late for the northern adventure, leaving a little before 11 p.m. The first port of call was Port Washington, north of Milwaukee, where the only place that seemed to be open was Holiday Inn Harborview — nothing like the Hamburg Thruway Holiday Inn circa 1970.

July 13, 2013: After a stop at Smith Brothers, breakfast at Tellos Grill and Café, and a thwarted attempt to get into the lighthouse, we were on the road again. We had to be in Munising, Michigan (Upper Peninsula), before the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore sunset cruise left harbor at 7 p.m. It’s a more daunting drive than it appears to be on a map, especially with only one sleep-deprived driver.

After passing through Green Bay, the next notable stop was Escanaba, Michigan, for old-style fast food at Hudson’s Classic Grill, where we squeezed onto a bench outside to save time.

By now I’d noticed the mix of trees along the way had been changing, and by the time we entered Hiawatha National Forest I’d figured out that this is what a boreal forest looks like — magical, because it’s not the beautiful but familiar deciduous mix of Western New York and northern Illinois. I couldn’t help but think of Hiawatha (the poem) and “From the land of sky-blue waters” (the Hamm’s beer jingle). I haven’t heard the Hamm’s commercial for years, but it’s part of the detritus the human brain collects.

While the drive from Port Washington to Green Bay seemed long, at least after Escanaba we knew we were closing in our target, although at a slower pace through the forest.

Munising, Michigan

At last we arrived in Munising and headed straight for Sunset Motel on the Bay. We checked in, dropped off some stuff, drove the short distance to the dock, and found a place to park. By this time, a long line had formed, and a few minutes after we’d joined it at 6:40 it began to move as people boarded one of the two boats. At least we didn’t have to run to catch the boat, so the timing was as perfect as could be — considering the hundreds of miles we’d covered and the limitations that come with having the one overtired driver.

As for the cruise, the photos tell the story, I hope, of perfect weather and nearly ideal lighting from the setting sun glowing on Pictured Rocks. People jumped up and down or stood at the rail, holding up their phones to try to capture the wonder (and probably missing much of it as the boat sped along). When the captain reversed the boat into a tiny bay so that we were surrounded by ancient color, I knew the rush had been worth it. What a glorious end to a long day.