July 19, 2013: Grand Portage to Isle Royale to Grand Portage to Bayfield
After a couple of small lake adventures, we were back to the shores of Lake Superior, this time on a boat that goes to Windigo at Isle Royale National Park. Although Windigo is reached by boat from Grand Portage, Minnesota, Isle Royale is part of Michigan. The island, Lake Superior’s largest, is known for long-term study of its isolated eastern timber wolf-moose populations and their predator-prey relationship. J. had seen a moose on his previous visit, but we weren’t going to have that kind of luck this day.
The boat was more crowded than I expected, with both day trippers like ourselves and overnight campers. Even in the sun, the air was much cooler than on our previous boat adventures, and I was glad I’d brought an extra layer along. J. was stuck with a single layer and short sleeves in the strong, chilly breeze.
This is more of a ferry than a cruise, with the primary business of shuttling visitors back and forth between mainland and island park. The main intermediate stop on the outbound trip was to look at the wreck of the SS America, parts of which are visible in the shallow waters near Isle Royale. There’s nothing like the feeling you get when you’re looking at a sunken passenger ship from the deck of a passenger ship that you hope won’t end up next door. On the positive side, everyone aboard the America on June 7, 1928, made it to lifeboats.
At Windigo, we were greeted by National Park Service Interns, who helped give us the rundown on the rules. Once recent college graduate from lower Michigan told us how it’s a long adventure just to get home.
Once on Isle Royale, the first things I saw were a tiny northern red-bellied snake, one of the island’s three reptile species, and hundreds of butterflies swarming the bushes near the dock — both very easy to photograph. Given the limited amount of time we had, I spent too much time with the butterflies, at the visitor center, and in the convenience store.
Next, we took the nearby Nature Trail, which is close to the visitor center and passes through a few habitats before turning into a wide dirt road next to the water. We thought we saw a moose in the water across the way, but it was a combination of wishful thinking and a snag.
At the dock, we talked with an intern about the wolves. There are only an inbred handful left, a few adults and a few pups. They’re rarely seen, even by the rangers and interns. The island is home to other wildlife, including thieving foxes, which are featured on “Wanted” posters.
Recently I read that (inbreeding aside) one reason for the Isle Royale wolf population crash was parvovirus. Someone, ignorant of the rules or simply flouting them, brought their dog onto the island. I’m sure they thought, “Stupid rules. What harm can my Fluffy do?” As it turned out, Fluffy introduced a deadly disease to a vulnerable population. Bad dog (well, bad humans)! I’d like to think the culprit was caught, prosecuted, and punished, and also learned a lesson — but there are always those who believe rules (and laws) are for other people.
We talked to the intern so long that, before we knew it, the boat was full and about to set off. For much of the return trip, J. had to stand along the rail with a few others, with cold spray soaking all of them. The boat made only one stop that I can remember, at the magnificent Rock of Ages Light — another of my favorite trip photos.
Back on the mainland, we stopped at the Grand Portage National Monument, then continued to Grand Portage State Park, where an easy walk takes you to where the Pigeon River drops over High Falls, with Canada across the way. As with Cross River, the Pigeon seemed engorged compared to videos I’ve seen of it. We were covered with mist even before we reached the viewing platform, and I wondered how water resistant my new Nikon D7100 would prove to be.
With the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore cruise the next morning, we had a long drive to Bayfield ahead of us. We tried to get to Beaver Bay before Lemon Wolf Café closed for the night, but just missed it and ate at a nearby bar, then drove off into another long evening. We arrived at the Silvernail Guest House in the early morning hours, having left Minnesota behind reluctantly.