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Published: June 27th 2018
Isle Royal - Verticals and Horizontals
Isle Royal National Park
It wasn’t quite the longest day of the year, but the next day when we began to see the certainty of land a few miles in front of us. Emerging out of the grey waters, the dark strip of an island slowly grew larger and more textured. I could see the outlines of the ridges that make up Isle Royal first. The definitions of rocks and trees became more real the closer we approached. After three hours of sloshing across calm, but boring water, the approaching island yielded a certain measure of excitement.
As we got closer, the excitement became a bit more palpable. Just what was this island we call Isle Royale? What in the world had we gotten ourselves into?
The first thing you notice is this isn’t just one island. It is a multitude of them, of varying sizes. Some are little more than big boulders washed by lake waves. Others seem like miniature strips of land, long and narrow, with a mixture of rocks and trees sticking upwards like ridges of a hairbrush. Turns out there is one big island surrounded by 400 smaller islands and islets that make up
Lake Superior is a Big Lake, but that’s Isle Royale on the Horizon.
Isle Royale - this isn’t a single island, but an archipelago making a tightly bound ecological unit.
Besides the number of islands, the striking thing about them is their orientation - they all form nearly perfect parallel ridges. The ridges differ in height and many of them descend beneath the surface of the lake only to emerge further up the straight line, like a mythical sea serpent rising above and falling beneath the horizontal lake. I learn that these parallel lines of rock are actually layers of basalt that were deposited eons ago. They were thrust upward at an angle and worn away by glaciers to form the ridges, like layers of pastry. The hardest layer forms the Greenstone Ridge, the tallest one in the park, which forms the backbone of the main island stretching nearly 45 miles in a northeast/southwest direction.
Because these ridges may lie just below the surface, navigating these waters is not as easy as it may seem. There may be water there, but it isn’t clear how deep it might be. The captain carefully steered the boat through an unseen labyrinth to get us, finally, to Rock Harbor, a bay nestled between two
Those are the Lodge Buildings as the Boat is Coming In
of these ridges. There I half-expected someone to yell ‘da boat, da boat’. No-one did that, but still there was an element of entering Fantasy Island as we descended down the steps to the dock.
We spent the next hour working our way through the visitor center, looking for books and souvenirs of interest, talking to park rangers, and generally getting oriented. Our bags were off-loaded and were taken to our room, awaiting our arrival. The Lodge really wanted us to get moving on the island as quickly as possible. We were happy to accommodate, but instead of heading out on a hike, we were hungry and headed to the restaurant, the Lighthouse.
Our package included three meals a day, and so we ate there most of the time. But besides having prepaid things, I have to say that the food was surprisingly excellent. I don’t know exactly how an outpost on a remote island is able to prepare consistently good food. National Geographic gives their grilled Lake Trout a top ten rating and Joan said it was nearly perfect. (I’m allergic to fish, so can’t say that I tried it.) But I ordered a New York Strip
steak medium rare, that was excellent. If the food is flash frozen and then reheated, I don’t know how they are able to get something like a steak to the perfect temperature, but they did. My last meal was garlic lime shrimp with wild rice. And it was every bit as good as the steak. (Breakfast and lunch are not as good as the dinners, but are still just fine and worthy of the package.)
After lunch, we went back over to the office and signed up for the Sunset cruise on the Sandy, a small boat that does sightseeing tours around different parts of the eastern end of the island. A cruise was included in our package. Then, exhausted from waking early, traveling three and a half hours by boat, and the excitement of the new place, we went to our room and took a nap.
After dinner, we proceeded to the dock for our ‘sunset cruise’. We did a cruise with that name the week before at Pictured Rocks and thoroughly enjoyed it, so we were hoping for the same kind of experience here. We left the dock, proceeded out of the bay, and headed across
View from our Deck on the Beach Below
the inlet to a smaller island called Raspberry Island. There we disembarked for a half-mile hike that served as our introduction to Isle Royale. It was terrific.
There are several different environments on these islands, but the major ones are the forests, the rocky shoreline, and the bogs. The Raspberry Island hike took us through all three of these and the introduction to these environments is a bit overwhelming because they are so different from what we are used to. I’ll talk more about them in future posts because it is these environments that really pose the essence of Isle Royale and what makes it so unique. For now, I’ll just note that it was on this hike that we encountered carnivorous plants thriving in the swampy bog. (Given the number of mosquitoes, I don’t think the plants were going hungry.)
After returning to the boat, we headed out for the open sea. We headed northeast, the general direction of the islands and the waterways until we reached the northernmost part, Point Blake. To round that, we had to go quite aways out, presumably because the ridge that forms the island is not too far below the surface.
Coming back around, now off the northernmost part of the island, the captain told us about the shipwrecks that have happened here. There are more than a few - the combination of treacherous weather and the ridgelines just below the surface, have created serious ship hazards. Many a boat has sunk and more than a few lives lost around this island. The shipwrecks provide grist for the scuba divers if they are willing to endure 40 degree water.
Then, the captain had us turn in the other direction to see what was supposed to be the highlight of the trip, the sunset. Unfortunately, clouds obliterated the view. Having seen some spectacular sunsets earlier from our stay at Pictured Rocks, we can imagine what they might have been like. In this case, they would have been sunsets over Canada, as that was the landmass in the northwestern distance.
The sunset a disappointment, but enthralled with the hike on the island, we returned to our room after 11:00 PM and went to bed. A new and even bigger day awaited us.
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