MISSION: To visit every state and territory in the U.S. For my mission a visit is greater than a stop over; I wish to explore the natural and cultural environments of these areas. Each of these locations has a story to tell, and I want to find it.

As of February 2018 I have visited all 50 states (and Puerto Rico and 2 island in the US Virgin Islands) at least once.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Beauty of the Islands

The day after my birthday, the weather was perfect for spending time on the water.  It was a warm, clear day - not a lot of wind.  The sky of blue, there was soft puffy clouds in the sky and I was ready to tour the islands... and so was everyone else who had been rained out, fogged out over the last several days.  The boat was filled, but I was at least able to score a window seat by a few nice people.  When I travel alone, it always nice to end up near people that like to chit-chat... and on a long boat ride touring islands, I knew I would want to talk. 

As promised, the islands and the views were well worth the wait.  Lake Superior sat as a smooth base,
the the islands rose as these green slivers where the sky met the lake.  While on the boat, we were treated to stories of brownstone and its cliffsides, of fisherman and of the Native American heritage of the region.   Sure the area is beautiful, but it is not easy.  The lake freezes over in the winter (well most winters until recently).  Lake Superior is so large and so cold that it, more or less, controls the way of life in the region - creating fog and driving weather patterns.  There are wolf, coyote, bear in the woods.  The winters are long - heck it snowed in May this year.

A few of the islands housed historical fishing shacks (pic to the left), but I am not so sure people use them anymore.  We passed the old brownstone rock quarry (pic to the right), one of the main reasons the area was settled.   We saw cormorants diving in the cold waters, gulls flying above and were told more about the "huge" fish in the lake.  The captain weaved tales of ship-wrecks and stranded fishing parties.

While Lake Superior is deep, there are shallow shots near the islands and in the dark or fog, everything blends together.  So, as you guessed, the islands have their fair share of lighthouses.  And although most of the lighthouses are run automatically now, Raspberry Island has a park service Lighthouse keeper (different tour) that mans the house during the season.

The true crown jewel of this trip was Devil's Island and the seacaves.  Here, the sandstone cliffs have been eroded away by years of erosion, and left in its wake is this complex cave network.  Look closely,
and you can see the sandstone's shifting colors; you can see how in spots it goes deep and others the caves are shallow.  And at this point in the cruise, we were to drift past these features a few times.... well, that was the plan until out boat went through a black fly hatch.  From that point on our boat and trip was swarmed by thousands of biting black flies.  Our captain cut the visit to the caves short.  We needed wind, stat!

Out came the vacuum cleaner to suck up the pests by the captain (hey, he can't get up from his chair while piloting).  Out came the OFF - it came out in droves, clouding up the boat in its haze.  People swear by it, but it does not work!  Then a crew member started walking around with the Windex... that killed them (or drowned them).  The adage that the flies are attracted to dark colors may be true since the settled on my backpack's black back, but that did not mean that they did not land on khaki or while right by it.  I guess when there are that many of them, they just land everywhere.

The black flies also came out for a party on Madeline Island.  There I was, trying to make the best of my rain soaked morning and my cancelled boating trips when a park ranger suggested I take the car ferry to the only inhabited Apostle Island.  They promised the thick fog would burn off and I could go for a hike.   They were right... by mid day the fog was gone (but the rain left lots of goodies in its wake).

Big Lagoon State Park sits on the shore line of the island, away from its town center.  The main draw is the beach, but there are camping spots, picnic area and trails throughout.  I headed off on on the ridge view trail and hiked towards the lagoon through the woods.  Now, anyone with a clue would know that this was going to be messy... I was expecting mud. Heck, I was expecting mosquitoes (it is called a lagoon park).  But it was here where I got my first taste of the mutant flies.  I started out hiking in my rain jacket, but after a few  miles I really wanted to take it off...rain jackets really are not known for their breath-ability.  Sweaty, hot and in a humid place after a big rain (not long after a late spring season) was a recipe for FLIES!    As soon as I took that jacket off, they descended.  I lasted maybe a quarter mile before I had to but the jacket on.

I grew up near horse farms.  I know what horse fly bites feel like.  The flies loved our pool, and we would often dive into the water to get away... well, my plan was to hike, take a break at the beach and
then hike back.  The flies followed me everywhere (fresh blood and sweet smelly sweat!)  It did not matter too much that I could not stay because when I put my feet in the water, I knew I was not going further.  It was freezing - it was reported to be 42 degrees!  I stood at the water's
edge and looked up and down the coast line.  There was no one around.  But when I passed the field, at the transition between the woods and the swamp zone, there were a few families out and kids frolicking in the water... wow, that northern blood it think!  Maybe it keeps the flies away too.

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