Map of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
Visitor Center, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Bayfield, Wisconsin
There are just four National Lakeshores and all four of them, as you might expect, are on the Great Lakes. I’m not finding much difference between a Lakeshore and a Seashore, in the National Park System. And both of them are bigger deals than people seem to think. We already knew that National Parks deserve several days to fully explore. But we discovered in last years trip that seashores (Gulf Islands, Canaveral, Cumberland, Cape Lookout, and Cape Hatteras) deserve much more than a single day. So we bumped up our planned stays at the four Lakeshores, and I’m glad we did.
Indiana Dunes was our first Lakeshore stop and we were pleasantly surprised at how much there was to see both culturally (the early settlement communities) and naturally (the dunes, of course, and the inland forests and wildflowers). Further up Lake Michigan, we spent a week at Sleeping Bear Dunes. There was even more to see there with the importance of shipping, lighthouses, life-saving crews, and the settlements at Glen Haven and Glen Arbor. The sand dunes there, although themselves not as large as at Indiana dunes, sat perched on top
of 400 foot glacial moraines, giving them an imposing character all their own. South Manitou Island was another treat, with ancient cedar trees (and millions of mosquitoes). Sleeping Bear illustrated how important the recreational opportunities can be at a National Lakeshore, as kayakers and canoeist took advantage of the many lakes and streams. Water Sports reached their extreme at Pictured Rocks, on the southern shore of Lake Superior. There the preferred way to see the gorgeous rock cliffs is by boat. You either take the cruise boat and ogle with a hundred other folks, or you put a small boat in the water and paddle around there, even closer. Either way, the stunning rock formations are amazing.
Apostle Islands, also on the southern shoreline of Lake Superior, on the Wisconsin side, are going to be yet another version of the lakeside experience. We went to the National Lakeshore Visitor Center yesterday to do our initial park exploration and planning. We did our usual thing of talking to a ranger, viewing the film, look at the exhibits, gather pamphlets and brochures, buy my souvenir (at Lakeshores and Seashores, I get a lapel pin), and, of course, buy another book about
the area. We then went to the marina area of Bayfield, found a table at the Rooftop Bar at the Bayfield Inn and had a plate of nachos and a couple of drinks. We like to do our planning that way. Joan has some rebellion items she wants to do here, although the hills in the town and her shoulder problem suggest that we might not be bicycling as planned.
The Apostle Islands are a group of 22 islands that are here just off the Bayfield peninsula. One of them, and the largest I believe, is Madeline Island. There is a small town on the island and a State Park, and it is not part of the National Lakeshore. The other 21 islands make up the Lakeshore, as well as a small strip of land around the top of the peninsula. It is difficult, if not impossible, to actually see all 22 islands at the same time. So Christian missionaries, trying to subvert the Native American religion, figured there was only a dozen or so and took the opportunity to call them the ‘Apostles’. The name stuck, along with the Christian tendency to say that everyone else’s beliefs are
The islands played a small role in the logging industry a century or so ago, and farmers have tried to eke out a living on islands that, while not as rugged as Isle Royale, are nonetheless not exactly easy spots to live. Their most important function, however, was to serve as lighthouse locations to keep ships from hitting them. Initially they were erected to steer boats into harbors at La Pointe and Bayfield. But as ships got bigger and technology enabled longer voyages out of Duluth and Superior, the lighthouses were established simply to steer ships away from the islands altogether. There are six lighthouses still standing and most of them are available for visits.
The book I bought here is about ‘rewilding’ the park. It is the story of how to take these islands, altered by logging and agriculture, and restore them to a more ‘wilderness’ character. Apparently the efforts are proving remarkably successful. Should be a good read (along with the dozen other books I’ve started but not finished!)
According to the film, each of the islands poses a different character. Variations in location and the resulting micro-climates, probably do set up some interesting
differences. A Wisconsinite, or just someone who might love this park, could probably spend a week on each island before tiring of what is available here. There are water taxis available to take you to each island, or, of course, with good weather, you can canoe or kayak to them. We, obviously, won’t have time to visit all 21 and so we will be sampling.
Our plans start this evening with a three and a half hour sunset cruise which takes a 55 mile path through and around various islands. It is raining this morning and so we are thinking we will drive back down to Ashland and restock our supplies (the local grocery store is both limited and expensive.). We may need to reschedule our cruise as well, depending on what the forecast is for this evening. Sometime this week we will be walking Myers beach, on the mainland, to view the islands from that perspective. What isn’t certain yet is whether we will take a taxi out to one of the islands - we understand it is fairly expensive. Once again, the best way to explore this park is from a small boat, but we don’t own
one and even if we did, Joan’s shoulder, and our lack of experience, suggest that kayaking might not be a good idea. So our exploration of this park might be a little limited.
Nevertheless, we will definitely have fun during our week here in Bayfield.
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