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Saturday, September 29, 2018

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Hi Blog!

On Friday, September 28, 2018, we left St. Ignace and drove into the heart of the UP. We positioned ourselves halfway between Whitefish Point and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. We have a few days in the area and hope to get out and about to explore both locations.

On Saturday, we decided to visit Pictured Rocks National Seashore. Our first stop was the resort town of Munising on the shores of Lake Superior. After procuring lattes and information from Falling Rock Cafe and Bookstore, we crossed the street and made a stop at the Pictured Rocks Interpretive Center. Run by the Forest Service, the center provided us not only with information on Pictured Rocks, but also on the Seney National Wildlife Refuge and the Hiawatha National Forest. The Ranger was kind enough to highlight a map for us giving us great ideas for hikes and scenic stops. We particularly appreciated the brochure on waterfalls and lighthouses.

Before leaving Munising, we had to backtrack slightly to see the two waterfalls we drove right past on the way into town. First up was Wagner Falls. While this waterfall is only 20 feet, the way the rocks step out to create a perfect curtain of water makes this one of the most photographed waterfalls in the area. In fact, we watched as two photographers, complete with tripods and rubber boots, stood in the middle of the icy cold stream to get their shot. We, however, stayed high and dry when we took our photo.

Just around the corner is Alger Falls. This is just a little cascade by comparison, but it is easily viewed from the side of the road making for a quick photo stop.

As we proceeded back through Munising, signs of Fall were all around us.

We stopped at Munising Falls Visitor Center only to learn that we learned all there was from the first ranger at the Interpretive Center. Oh well, at least the falls were pretty.

Pictured Rocks derives its name from the 15 miles of colorful sandstone cliffs northeast of Munising. The cliffs reach up to 200 feet above lake level. They have been naturally sculptured into a variety of shallow caves, arches, and formations resembling castle turrets and human profiles. The Miners Castle overlook is the only place on land to see the cliffs. The majority of tourists take a scenic boat tour in order to see them. Here is our best shot of Miners Castle.

After the lumbering era ended around 1910, much of the land making up the current National Lakeshore reverted to the State of Michigan for unpaid property taxes. Eager for federal help and recognition, the state cooperated with the federal government in the region's redevelopment. In October 1966, Congress passed a bill authorizing the establishment of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Pictured Rocks was America's first National Lakeshore. This is our view from high atop Miner's Castle.

After climbing the Castle, we drove around to Miners Beach. We were amazed at the force of the waves crashing on the beach. Lake Superior may be a fresh water lake, but hearing the surf pound the beach, you would swear it was an ocean.

After our beach walk, we had one more waterfall on our list - Miners Falls. The Miners River drops 50 feet into a sandstone canyon.

After Miners Falls, it was time to head to the eastern end of the park. The middle section of the park contains the Beaver Basin Wilderness Area. Road access is limited. We decided to bypass this area and save it for next time when we have more time for Jeep roads, longer hikes and kayak trips. However, we did stop to admire all the fall colors.

We've been seeing signs all over the park for the North Country Trail.  The N.C.T., is a national scenic trail. It is a footpath stretching approximately 4,600 miles from Crown Point in eastern New York to Lake Sakakawea State Park in central North Dakota. Passing through the seven states of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota, it is the longest of the eleven National Scenic Trails authorized by Congress. As of early 2017, 3,009 miles of the trail is in place. The remaining 1,600 miles is still being developed. The North Country Trail runs through the entire length of Pictured Rocks National Seashore. The section we are hiking will take us to the Au Sable Light Station. Dave points the way.

The Au Sable Light Station was built in 1874 on Au Sable Point, a well known hazard on Lake Superior's "shipwreck coast." The Au Sable Point reef is a shallow ridge of sandstone that in places is only 6 feet below the surface and extends nearly 1 mile into Lake Superior. The Au Sable Point reef was one of the greatest dangers facing ships coasting along the south shore of Lake Superior during the early shipping days when keeping land in sight was the main navigational method. The Au Sable Point reef was known as a "ship trap" that ensnared at least 10 ships. The light is fully automated now, using solar panels to generate electricity which is then used to create light!

After our three mile walk on the North Country Trail, we drove over to the Log Slide Overlook. Back in the day, loggers would drag trees out of the forest and slide them down the sand dunes. There were a number of footprints marching down the slide, but we decided to enjoy our views from the top rather than the bottom - mainly because it would have been a very long, hard slog to climb back up!  Just over Kathy's shoulder in the photo below is Au Sable Point, which we had just visited. If you look really closely, you can see the top of the light station.

Just around the corner from the log slide, we got our best view of the Grand Sable Dunes. The dunes cover a 5-mile stretch along the southern shore of Lake Superior in the eastern portion of the Pictured Rocks. Glacial melt during the last major advance/retreat created the conditions for the formation of the Grand Sable Banks. Dominant northwesterly winds eventually caused blowing sand to become perched on the banks. Today, the Grand Sable Banks rise to heights of up to 300 feet at a 35 degree angle from the shore. The dunes perched on top of these banks offers a desolate sandscape with jack pine forest near the edges.

After shaking the sand out of our boots, we finish our tour of Pictures Rocks in the town of Grand Marais. While rock collecting is verboten in the National Lakeshore, Grand Marais welcomes visitors to its beaches. Not much chance of running out of rocks here.

A few volunteers jumped into Kathy's jacket pocket. 

While the weather was cold and drizzly at times, we still had a great introduction to Pictured Rocks National Seashore. We have lots of ideas on what to do next time. In the meantime, we have a trip to Whitefish Point to prepare for. Stay tuned.

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