Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Bayfield, Wisconsin
Seems like every big park has its iconic feature. Yellowstone has Old Faithful, Yosemite has Half-Dome, and Glacier has, well, used to have, big glaciers. The feature that captures more photos than any other here at Apostle Islands has to be the sea caves. There are two sets of them in this park. The ‘Winter’ caves are those here on the mainland, on the northwester side of Bayfield peninsula. They are called the ‘Winter’ caves because they are sought after in the winter because of their ice formations. Photos of these caves are often taken from the frozen surface of Lake Superior and they are stunning. We tried to see them on the Fourth of July, but essentially got rained out.
The ‘Summer’ caves attract tourists, and cameras, in the summer. They are on the northern side of Devil’s Island, the most northern island in the group. The main way to see these gems are from a boat. If you have your own boat, you can navigate to the island, dock at the pier near the lighthouse, and even camp on the island. These caves are favorite spots for kayakers because you can
paddle right into them and through some of the arches. I can imagine what a trip that would be for avid boaters.
The rest of us are stuck taking a ‘cruise’ of some kind, along with a boatload of other people, all seeking the same views. Several options exist, but unless you can afford the $400 for a personal tour on a charter boat, you will likely book one of the many Apostle Island Cruises, which are a more reasonable $45/person. We did that and took our tickets down last night for the ‘Sunset Grand Tour’ which leaves the dock at 5:30 for a three and a half, 55 mile trip that threads its way around a dozen of the islands.
Most of the tour is designed to give you an introduction to the islands. Our captain, who is a sixth generation descendant of one of the original Scandinavian settlers of the region, had lots of personal stories to tell about these islands before they became a national park. Logging, fishing, and harvesting brownstone were the main economic draws, although all of that is long gone now as tourism is the only big industry anymore.
helps give a sense of the magnitude of this park - 21 islands of different shapes and sizes, but all of them, from the boat at least, look very similar. There is a solid bedrock of brown sandstone, capped with dense forests. Because of slight variations in history and geography, there are minor differences between them - the mix of trees or the thickness of the brownstone. But I couldn’t tell the difference from the boat. And when I asked the deckhand to show me on the map where we were at one point, he couldn’t tell exactly which island was which either - he pointed to one island in the distance and said that was either Oak or Bear, but he wasn’t sure which. The captain had a similar confusion at one point and confided to me that he usually has to consult the GPS to tell exactly where he is. If even the locals get confused, I guess I shouldn’t feel too bad.
The north side of Devil’s Island, though, is definitely distinctive. The brownstone cliffs here tower maybe 30 feet above the water. But over several thousand years, Lake Superior has thrown quite a bit of
wind and water at those cliffs, successfully eroding them into intricate patterns of arches, caves, and stacks. The result are some spectacular views. Smaller than similar formations at Picture Rocks, they seem more intimate and intense. Hopefully the pictures will give a sense of what we saw last night on a terrific cruise.
Earlier in the day, Joan decided to test her shoulder. We got the bicycles down from the roof of the car and biked a four mile path called the Brownstone Trail which hugs the coastline south out of Bayfield and down through a lakeside community of rather large ‘summer homes’. It was a pleasant ride and Joan did not have any real problems from her shoulder. Her complaint, though, was that cycling was difficult because she couldn’t trust her shoulder to be there quite yet and so she has to be overly cautious. She decided not to take the bicycles over to Madeline Island today because the bicycling wouldn’t be as fun as she was hoping for. That’s a good thing, in my book, because I don’t want her hurting that thing again. So we will just walk around, or maybe rent a golf cart or
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