Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Grand Island, Pictured Rocks, and Grand Sable Dunes
Before this kayak travelogue begins I need to do a bit of housekeeping. A 'blog name' has never been changed in this space before but I guess never say never. I've always avoided names that refer to a person's vocation unless it really speaks to who they are. The two rangers in this space are notable examples. Therefore TheCommish, a bit of naming laziness on my part, shall hereafter be known as the BadHatter (my apologies to Lewis Carroll). When a person has a god given talent, in this case making even the most elegant or attractive piece of headgear look ridiculous when placed upon his head, it must be memorialized. In any event, our entire fall kayaking crew was in Christmas, MI after the symposium ended in Grand Marais a couple weeks back. In addition to RangerMark, the GreenThumbChef, FrugalFisherman, and the VOR, the BadHatters spouse, MsMouseketeer (now THAT'S a good story!) was able to shake loose and join us. We stayed in a small mom & pop resort in Christmas, MI, appropriately named the Yule Log, right on Lake Superior with Grand Island and its National Recreation Area a short 1.5mile crossing away.
It was a great spot. 15 yards from the water with a nice beach to launch from, a picnic table in the front yard, and a lovely, spotless two bedroom cabin as our base of operations. The MO for the week was big breakfast, paddle, happy hour, gourmet meal, and kick back at the picnic table while gazing out at Gitchee Gumee. I suspect I could only do that for a couple months or so before I got tired of it, so 4 days was a bit short. We did manage to hit Grand Island, Pictured Rocks, and the Grand Sable Dunes in that time though, solid work given the short window.
The scenery and topography is much different than either the rocky north shore of the lake, the sandy south shore, or the rocky nooks and crannies of the Keweenaw. It had the sedimentary rock normally found on the south shore but in a much grander scale than is seen in the Apostles. We spent one day paddling along the south and part of the east shore of Grand Island, attempting to check out some shipwrecks and get a feel from the area. Being astute observers, we deduced that when the glass bottom tour boat stopped near a buoy, it must be a wreck. Unfortunately there was a bit of breeze and we did not have glass bottom kayaks so wreck viewing was spotty at best. We did enjoy the old wooden East Channel lighthouse,which has recently been restored. The cliffs and lighthouse on the north end of the island will have to wait until next time.
Pictured Rocks from Miners Beach to Chapel Rock is an amazing stretch of lake. I guess that's why its designated a national lakeshore. Soaring sandstone cliffs that dwarf a kayak, amazing natural streaks of color, and rivers and waterfalls that tumble directly into the lake make it one of the most interesting stretches of the lake to paddle. Did I mention sea arches?
The Grand Sable Dunes don't look that impressive from a distance. But as kayakers keep paddling and don't seem to get any closer, they realize the scale of these massive sand dunes. As many a tourist that visited from the top has discovered, its really fast and easy to roll/slide to the bottom but not quite so easy to get back up. When you land at the base and do the hard part first, its much more manageable. We paddled from the Hurricane River east to the Au Sable lighthouse, past the entire length of the dunes, and back into Grand Marais harbor, the 'scene of the crime' the weekend before. I was worried sick that the Cabin Fever ESB at the Lake Superior Brewpub had become stale since I'd left, but a couple test pints proved quality was still at a high level.
There is talk of making this yet another annual event and I guess since the GLSKS already is, extending it would only be logical when we are in the area. One of the reasons that this lake has planted itself in my brain is the variety that can be found by paddling around it. So much lake, so little time. I guess we just need to keep biting off pieces and revisiting the ones we've already bitten off. The other attractive thing about the lake is that the experience changes with the season, weather, and even the company we keep. That's why I'll never get tired of going back. Never.