Caving to Wisconsin's Sea Caves
Unit # 22 / 412 - Apostle Islands National Lakeshore:
Did you know if Lake Superior was drained it could cover the entire lower 48 United States in three feet of water?
Or that it's also the world's largest freshwater lake?
It makes it all the more impressive that shooting out the top of Wisconsin, 23 islands staked their claim as floating land oases.
Well, it used to be 23.
Mother Nature had her way with one of them during a storm and afterwards, the Apostle Islands counted only 22 land masses in their ranks.
I love this story about the island being obliterated into the lake, because it is so indicative of what the Apostle Islands are known for:
They are a park shaped by weather. Or to be more specific: water.
When I first set out on an Apostle Islands Cruise Grand Tour to get a general overview of the islands, I wasn't that impressed.
Perhaps sensing my monotonous mood, the captain chimed in:
"If you'll look to your left you'll see a bald eagle's nest. We have over 34 pairs of bald eagles on the islands and often get lucky with a sighting."
Sure enough, a few minutes later, one of Easy E's cousins flew overhead.
Soon after, we were treated to a story about one of the most interesting National Park System inhabitants I've encountered thus far.
Denise is a woman in her late 40s who volunteers on Manitou Island (Ojibwe for "spirit") each summer taking care of an old 1930s fishing resort which hasn't been active since WWII. During her 2.5 - 3 months she'll greet 1 - 2 visitors a day and explore the island for her own pleasure. In between, she'll eat some of the food she spends 9 months preparing--canning everything she'll need so the only time she'll have to leave the island is at the end of the summer.
She loves Manitou Island so much that even when taking her summer vacation recently, she simply left her South Shore dwelling to set up a temporary home on Manitou Island's North Shore.
Though the Apostle Islands used to be filled with varying sorts of restaurants, fishing and hunting retreats, today their main feature is the same one that made me jump out of my seat at its appearance--crushing any thought I had about this park's worthiness.
The "sea caves," as they're so affectionately called, hug the northwestern shores of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, proving day by day how the weather, and water, shape this landscape.
Devils Island, as seen in the video below, offers some of the most dramatic sea caves by being at the northwestern tip of the Apostle Islands cluster.
Not to be outdone, the mainland provides a different set of sandstone-shaped creations much larger than those on the islands.
As I got to experience with a Lost Creek Adventures kayak tour departing from Meyers Beach--which almost seemed destined for a Mikah Meyer vist--these taller lake walls provide the opportunity to touch the same sandstone used to build Chicago's skyscrapers after one of their great fires, and also the chance to go under and inside these natural rocky creations, if you can stomach it.
Chatting with a group of my fellow kayakers who'd chosen Apostle Islands for their annual Girls Trip, I asked, "Of all the places you've gone in your 20+ years of traveling together, where's the best?"
"Right here," one of them shouted as her and her Minnesotan gal pals paddled their way back to Meyers Beach at the end of our tour.
Having spent the past two weeks on, in, or around National Lakeshores, I was surprised by their assertion that this was the best they'd experienced.
Then again, just like that island that once existed, Mother Nature proved she had the power to obliterate my thoughts that Apostle Islands National Lakeshore was just some chain of tree filled islands like anywhere else.
5 Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Highlights (You Can Do)!
1. Kayak the Caves!
Hands down the biggest highlight of my time was kayaking the rocks with Lost Creek Adventures. Getting to paddle underneath the arches and inside the large caves offered a perspective unknown by any other method of experiencing the park.
2. Hike the Meyers Beach Trail
One of the most popular hikes in the park, it allows you to see the rocks (you hopefully just kayaked) from the opposite perspective. Especially cool was looking down into the cave I'd only hours earlier looked up from.
3. Take a Tour by Boat
Apostle Islands Cruises offered a morning and evening "Grand Tour," providing an overview of all the islands. I opted for the evening, as I've found the sunset often provides ideal rock viewing and a great view of the sun descending into the water.
4. Visit Raspberry Island and the Lighthouse
Staffed by two National Park Service Rangers, this lighthouse was preserved and is manned specifically to give visitors an up close experience.
5. Go Island Hopping
Private boats and/or water taxis will take you to any Apostle Island you choose, whether that's to search for one of the 10 black bears on Stockton Island or brave the bird poop on Gull Island's protected nesting area (open to visitors three months each year).
Upcoming Units (COMMENT with recommendations please! What should I do at each park? Local interesting detours? Food stops?)
(Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota)
-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
-Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway