One of my favorite photos from a July 2013 visit to the northern Midwest — the Rock of Ages light near Isle Royale National Park, taken from the boat that ferries visitors to the island.
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.
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 near or on 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.
July 14, 2013: From Pictured Rocks to Lake of the Clouds to Bayfield
Before heading to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, 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.
Finally 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.
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, and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
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 where we were surrounded by ancient color, I knew the rush had been worth it. What a glorious end to a long day.