Backpaking is one of those things that I've always wanted to do but been too intimidated to try on my own. It requires a lot of specialized gear and, depending on where you're going and how long you're gone, you may also need special skills. Well, Karin had a lot of gear (stove, small tent, tush wipes) that I did not. I did have a 15 year old external frame backpack that I'd never used (although mice had called it home at some point). I loaded it up with what gear I had, including bug spray and two pounds of gorp and headed up to Traverse City to meet Karin at her place. We went through our gear and made final plans for what to eat, and the next day made the five-hour journey to Pictured Rocks.
We arrived at the Visitor Center and got our backcountry permits around 3pm, and saw that the last boat tour was scheduled for 4pm. We raced over to the marina and Karin ran across the street to a Subway to get us dinner while I held a place in line. The evening light was fabulous, the waters calm, and I shot over 200 photos of the famous sandstone cliffs!
The tour starts out in Munising and passes by Grand Island, a six by 3.5 mile island that was inhabited by native Americans for over 5000 years. This structure, the Grand Island East Channel Lighthouse dates from more recent times, having been built in 1868.
One of the first landmarks the tour passes is Miner's Rock, one of the most photographed formations along the coast, though usually seen from shore (that will be in a soon-to-come post). When Karin was a kid and her family came here, people were still allowed to climb around on the rocks and spires. Now a viewing platform has been erected to help protect both the rock and those with rocks in their heads.
The colors of and on these sandstone cliffs was amazing, especially in the late afternoon sun. Water oozing through the rocks carried minerals that painted the stone faces a myriad of colors, from rust, white, green and blue to turquoise. It was amazing too to see where plants could get a foothold and, if not thrive, at least survive.
There was no end to the shapes and colors and textures. I would love to do this in a kayak and be able to get up close, to paddle under the arches. The weather was perfect for kayaking, warm with light winds from the south (off-shore) and we tried not to think about the fact that we'd chosen bi-pedal locomotion for this trip!
The constant interaction of water on rock has carved out caves all along the shoreline. I can only imagine what sounds these formations make when the November gales send waves crashing into them. I'll take the placid September weather any day!
In calm weather the boats are able to enter this "cave" and give passengers a close-up look at the rock. It was a bit too dark to get clear shots when our boat pulled in, but I like this shot for the sense of scale. The boat has two decks and looked huge at the docks, but here it is dwarfed by the cliffs, which reach 200 feet high in some places.
We passed several kayakers along the way too, and I love how tiny they look set against the sheer sandstone cliffs. Makes me think twice about paddling the coastline!
In all the tour took nearly 3 hours. The National Lakeshore is 42 miles long, 15 of which are these sandstone bluffs. There are many waterfalls along the way, but by this time of year most are dried up. Even so, the views were amazing, and while I don't generally go for touristy-type attractions, this is one I'm glad I didn't miss.
Thanks, Karin, for making the suggestion!