We are currently in Yooper territory – the Michigan Upper Peninsula! Our campground is located near Munising, the gateway to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
Pictured Rocks stretches 42 miles along Lake Superior’s south shore, between the towns of Munising and Grand Marais. Within its boundaries lie streams, waterfalls, several sandy beaches, enormous dunes, 100 miles of hiking trails, and 15 miles of sandstone cliffs — the latter of which gives the park its name.
The sandstone cliffs rise up to 200 feet above lake level in towering sheer walls. Although the sandstone itself is mostly tan/brown, seeping mineral-rich groundwater have painted the walls brilliant shades of red, black, brown, green, orange, blue and white. Additionally, winter storms and waves have sculpted and carved caves and fantastical shapes into the soft sandstone walls.
We explored much of the park on foot, using the well-marked hiking trails. Many of the trails are short jaunts to overlooks or waterfalls but one hiking loop has become one of our all-time favorites! From the Chapel Fall trailhead, the 11 mile loop took us by two waterfalls, a beach, and a several-mile stretch on top of the best part of the sandstone cliff formation. On this clear blue-sky day, the scenery from the cliff top was spectacular. The clear Lake Superior water shone in shades from turquoise to deep blue. We watched tour boats and kayakers cruise by. From various vantage points, we even could catch views of some of the famed cliff formations, arches, and colors. The hike wasn’t especially difficult (total up/down elevation change was about 800 feet), but it is long-ish. We’ll probably go back and do it again before we leave!
However, the best way to see the cliffs is by boat. So, we purchased tickets for the Pictured Rock cruise and headed out. The mid-day sun may not have provided the best lighting to see the colors, but it was still impressive. As we cruised the calm waters, the guide called out features by their fanciful names; Minor’s Castle, Lover’s Leap, the Indian, the Pirate, Battleship Row. Splotches of color on the rocks created a sort of Rorschach test – I saw an entire frontier scene with oxen, horses, fence line, cowboys and cabins. Others saw a row of Indians. One person claimed to see Hootie and the Blowfish — I didn’t get it.
One famous formation is called Chapel Rock. A lone white pine (estimated to be 250 years old) perches atop a fancifully-carved formation. Once, an archway connected the formation to the mainland, but that collapsed about 100 years ago. There is insufficient soil to support the tree, but a large root system reaches out and connects the tree to the main cliff. I think there is a life lesson there for us – we may be planted in infertile soil, but we can still thrive if we maintain a strong connection to the Source.
It is yet another beautiful area of this country that we are privileged to explore.