Every day we are thankful to be here. Thankful to be traveling, thankful to be with each other, thankful to be alive in a time that allows us to live out our dreams. Every day is wonderful, but some are spectacular. Yesterday was spectacular.
We woke up in Mackinaw City, Michigan, located south of the Mackinac Straits, the connector between Great Lakes Michigan and Huron. We proceeded to watch the Weather Channel with dread. Steady rain and even thunderstorms for the next week. The temperatures were also not to rise above 50 degrees. After two straight rain-soaked camping trips, we were not looking forward to another. Our plan had been to camp at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore last night. The Weather Channel pretty much put an end to that plan.
We left our hotel room to a clear but cold morning. Two days ago, the fog had been so thick that we were not able to see the towers of the nearby five-mile long suspension span Mackinac Bridge. Yesterday the grandeur of its 600-foot Ivory and Green towers was in plain sight. We were soon about a quarter of the way over the Bridge. Then we stopped. Construction. It seemed as if we were driving on open grates. I was curious. While still stopped, I opened my car door to investigate. I was right. Open grates and a clear view of the whitecaps 200 feet below. I grabbed onto my hat, gathered myself and calmly closed the car door. What a way to wake up.
The 101-mile drive to Pictured Rocks was magical. We hugged Lake Michigan during the initial 59-mile stretch on Michigan Route 2. The Lake’s blues were mercurial, changing from one brilliant shade to the next as the sun peeked in and out. Sand dunes appeared to our left along the coast as the coniferous forest thickened on our right. Every so often, a breathtaking lake would appear amongst the trees, its indigo water emitting a soft blanketing fog. The Upper Peninsula is some kind of place.
Our northwestern trajectory was bringing us into ominous clouds that hovered closely above the background of the layered pine forest. Michigan Route 77 turned into Michigan Route 28. Our foreground morphed between dark wetlands, pine trees, and enchanting lakes. We had passed through such beautiful land, what more could Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore hold?
Minutes after we emerged from the Visitor Center clothing layered and map in hand, the clouds abated, the sun appeared and the temperature rose. What luck. Munising Falls was our first stop. The short hike to the cascade took us past a rushing stream whose banks were adorned with abundant yellow wildflowers. A fellow tourist stood with videocamera filming, transfixed on the flowers. We joined him, mesmerized by the colors and the sounds of the water.
Our pleasant walk in the sun moved towards Munising Falls. The waters fell about 50 feet cutting a hole in its semi-circular sandstone surroundings. We climbed up the platforms on both sides of the Falls and were welcomed with close-ups of both the cliffs and the water. We left ready to enjoy the day for as long as we could.
We hurried to the famed Pictured Rocks formations, stunning 200-foot high sandstone cliffs, molded by glaciers, stained by minerals and immortalized by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his epic poem “Song of Hiawatha”. Our view at the first overlook provided an outstanding view of the white Miners Castle formation but none of the many shaded rocks. Until we looked straight down. We were directly above them. I was struck initially not by the rocks, but by the Lake. It was my first view of Lake Superior. Vast, blue, complex; yes. But where she whipped against the sandstone cliff she turned a bright green. We would have to move to another overlook to get a better view.
I could finally make out the colors of the Rocks from the third vista sight. The oranges, tans, greens, whites, and myriad mixtures in between contrasted sharply with the sparkling rich blues and fluorescent greens of the Lake.
As I walked up the overlook boardwalk, I happened to glance upward. That’s interesting; a bald eagle. A bald eagle? A bald eagle! ‘Look up Gab. Do you see it, do you see it?’ I quietly yelled. We raced up the pathway so we could get a clear look through the trees. There it soared. Back and forth, circling upward and around, higher and higher, moving majestically, riding the currents. We stared and stared until it moved too high for the eye to follow.
We tried to take a hike along the Lakeshore but could not. We were too giddy and not quite ready for a calm walk in the woods. Another waterfall was a different story. The Miners Falls Trail continued the excitement. A wonderful NPS self-guided trail pamphlet explained the forest in simple but effective terms. It even asked the hiker to envision walking though the forest in May. If you did, “the forest floor would be covered with wildflowers and it would be like walking through a perfume factory”.
We did not have to imagine. It was May and the blue, yellow, and violet wildflowers were plentiful. The forest, however, smelled far better than a perfume factory. The 50-foot Miners Falls fell with much more force than its Park companion did. The Miners Falls’ tea-colored waters crashed through cliffs similar in coloration to the coastal Pictured Rocks.
We left the Park in awe. We would have regretted our early departure had the sun not disappeared for good minutes after our hike ended. We were ready to spend the night in a Marquette hotel.