June 27, 2015

6/19/15 - Isle Royale NP

Isle Royale National Park is closer to Minnesota, although the islands are considered Michigan and the official Visitor Center is in Houghton, Michigan. If you go on the boat from Houghton, you have to stay overnight and the hotel cost is pretty high. It's also quicker and cheaper to get there from Minnesota. We took a day trip out of Grand Portage on the Sea Hunter III.

There's a $4 Park User Fee that isn't included in the boat ticket so you have to either pay it separately on-line or line up to pay it when you get there. The boat leaves at 7:30 am and it takes about two hours to get there. Of course, I wanted to sit outside.

There's an old twisted tree standing on a rock on Hat Point as you leave Grand Portage Bay called Little Cedar Spirit Tree. The Ojibwe hold it sacred and sometimes they leave tobacco to ensure a save journey on Lake Superior. I'm not sure why a tree would want tobacco, but that's what the guide said.
It must work because the lake was unbelievably smooth. Doesn't look like it's only 39 degrees though, does it?
As we arrived in Washington Harbor, the captain took a little detour so we could see the shipwreck of the SS America, a passenger steamship that sank in 1928. It's sitting at a steep angle but you can get a glimpse of a white bar and a shadow under the sparkly water. I couldn't see any more than that. There's more info about it in the Visitor Center, which is a little more interesting than this. Apparently people go to the park specifically to dive this wreck, but let me repeat that it's only 39 degrees down there!
When we actually got to Windigo, there was a Ranger waiting on the dock for us.  Actually, she wasn't a Ranger, but an intern. There were at least three college girls, working there for the summer. They handled the interpretive talks and the Visitor Center, using lots of notes and admitting when they didn't know the answers, which was fairly often. I don't think we ever did see a Ranger. Oh, well, maybe they were off riding herd on the moose and the wolves...doing their job keeping them away from the day trippers.

Since we only had a few hours on the island, we opted to learn as much as we could by going to the interpretive talks. Actually, the first one was also an interpretive walk along part of the Nature Trail through the "moose-free" enclosure, which of course, had no moose because they were with the Rangers. There we could see the difference in trees that were allowed to grow naturally and the stunted ones that were chomped on by hungry moose in the winter. (Check out the clipboard--she has a script and read everything to us.)
Between talks, we had a few minutes to wander down another trail and stopped to watch a float plane arrive. That's another pricey way to get to the island.
Next talk was about moose. You can probably tell we didn't see a moose here either. This intern did at least know a little more about her subject. It was a really good talk for the kids in the group...oh, did I mention there weren't any kids in the group?
The last talk was given by yet another intern, only this one was REALLY good! She talked about the history of the hotels and lodges that were there before NPS bought the islands. She was knowledgeable, enthusiastic, funny and made it interesting for all of us. It was a bit of show-and-tell too but George got to play Walter Singer and read the card about his fancy hotel The Island House.
Not much left of any of them now--this is all that's left of the John's Hotel. It's not on my bucket list.
When it was time for us to leave, all the interns lined up on the dock to wish us Bon Voyage.
On the way back to the mainland, the boat captain took us past the Rock of Ages Lighthouse. Pretty impressive thing on that little chunk of rock, but lighthouse keeper is another job that would have been on my "Careers I'm Not Interested In" list.
Apparently only about 20,000 people a year go to Isle Royale. (Which BTW is not pronounced like it should be--the locals totally ignore the "e" at the end, so it's just royal, not royale. I'd been saying it wrong for months.) I can understand why more don't come--it's difficult and expensive to get to. What I can't understand is why everyone thinks this is such a beautiful and unique national park. I really hate to sound like I'm bragging about home, but I think the San Juan Islands in Washington state are prettier, easier and cheaper to get there on a ferry, have a more impressive history and there's more to do too. (Apologies to my friends from Michigan and Minnesota.)  

More pictures here:  Isle Royale Natl Park 

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