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  • Mikah Meyer

The Color Purple...On The Rocks

Unit #19 / 412 - Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

"It had to rain the day I enter the Upper Peninsula and have zero cell service," I thought as I drove through Michigan's densely covered Hiawatha National Forest and turned the A/C to "defrost" for perhaps my first time in July.

Following a week of near perfect weather (highs 80s/lows 50) in the northern tip of "The Mitten," almost as if scripted, after crossing the Mackinac Bridge onto Michigan's Upper Peninsula, it began to downpour.

After two hours of cutting through the forest, Andy and I arrived to the town of Munising (pronounced Muni (like municipal) - Sing) and escaped the cold rain via the hot tub at the generously donated Pictured Rocks Inn. The next day we were fortunate to meet the Superintendent of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Laura Rotegard, who pointed us toward some of her favorite sites.

She confirmed that one of the best ways to experience Pictured Rocks was via water. Having told us that 31 people had to be rescued from kayaks the previous day due to rough waters (including staff), Andy and I were happy that our afternoon viewing happened to be via a much larger vessel.

However, after making it past the first 3 of 15 highlights on the tour, our captain announced:

"Well, folks, in all the years I've worked here, I've never had this happen...but one of our engine's overheated and we need to turn back."

Having already lost a lot of daylight to this tour, and seen some stunning views, I asked one of the employees, "Is it worth us rebooking instead of the refund?"

With each reconfirmation of my question he nodded more adamantly, and Andy and I soon found ourselves rebooked on their 8 PM "Spray Falls" tour--the latest of the evening which takes you one highlight further than the "Sunset Tour."

We returned that evening to find our Pictured Rocks Cruise upgraded from our 15-mph top speed previous boat to a 30-mph max speed catamaran.

This boat sped passengers from highlight to highlight, slowing to a near stop at each spectacular formation.

Turning around at 9:15 PM, the ever-setting sun treated us to completely different shades of the colors created by minerals left in the porous rocks.

Go home, tree. You're drunk.

Pulling into the Munising harbor just after watching the sunset over Lake Superior, Andy and I returned to rest our now wind-cold bodies once more in the hotel hot tub.

But as much of an extreme highlight as the boat tour was--one that 240,000 people experience each year, Superintendent Rotegard reminded us that the 500,000 additional annual visitors to Pictured Rocks experience its colorful sandstone in many ways accessible by land.

And the next day, Andy and I got a chance to be the other set of arms waving from boats to the mainland.

Viewing many of the cliffs (some as high as 200 ft.) from above allowed a completely different perspective, especially when it came to seeing the faces that give some rocks names like "Indian Head." We got to feel the fragility of the sandstone, what has allowed wind and water to create many archways over the years, along with dip in the waters of this, the coldest of all the Great Lakes.

That temperature does not keep large swaths of people from enjoying the waters of the world's largest freshwater lake, and especially after hiking through the forest, a lake dip or sandy stroll is a welcome reward.

One that shows the beauty of Pictured Rocks doesn't only have to be seen, but felt.

5 Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Highlights (You Can Do)!

1. Take the Boat Tour

I cannot recommend this highly enough. My itinerary consultant Chris Calvert mentioned it months before my trip, during planning, and it did not disappoint. Having taken part in the 1 PM tour and the full 8 PM "Spray Falls Tour" (the latest offered by Pictured Rocks Cruises), I definitely recommend the 8 PM. The changing views provided by sunset were spectacular.

2. Swim via a Beach

Yes it's the coldest of the Great Lakes, but it looks darn near tropical from above. Be like the many "Yoopers" (residents of the Upper Peninsula) who had no fear and were diving into the lake.

*Extra Tip* On Chapel Rock Beach, Chapel Falls empties out into the lake. This creates a shallow pool of water, warmed by the sun and very pleasant for either foot or full body exposure.

My "Human of National Parks" for Pictured Rocks. Read her story and more by Liking/Following my Facebook or Instagram.

3. Hike to a Pictured Rock Formation

Chapel Rock was cool from the water, but even cooler to see the hanging roots up close. The Chapel Rock Trail is one of many from the parking lots spread amongst the coastline forest.

4. Bike Grand Island

Though technically not part of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the Grand Island National Recreation Area is within view of the shore and perfect for biking, according to Superintendent Rotegard.

Didn't get to bike on Michigan's famous car-less Mackinac Island? No problem. Avoid the crowds on Grand Island's car-less roads instead.

Bike to this century-old lighthouse on Grand Island.

5. Kayak

Want an up close view of the rocks? Or to touch the rock face without getting in the water? Use one of the NPS' three kayak concessionaires, only able to hit the water on low-wind days, and actually go under/in one of the many arches and coves along the coast.

Upcoming Units (COMMENT with recommendations please! What should I do at each park? Local interesting detours? Food stops?)

(Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota)

-Isle Royale National Park

-Keweenaw National Historical Park

-Grand Portage National Monument

-Mississippi National River & Recreation Area

-Pipestone National Monument

-Voyageurs National Park

-Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site

-Theodore Roosevelt National Park

-Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site

-Apostle Island National Lakeshore

-Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway

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