THE PICTURED ROCKS CRUISE
Before reaching the start of the high cliffs, our course skimmed past the shoreline of Grand Island. Located a short distance off the mainland, the island protects the entrance to Munising Bay from the wild winter waves. Six miles long and 3½ miles at its widest, Grand Island is part of the Hiawatha National Forest. Although it appears to be pristine wilderness, it was logged in 1954. Today there are about 30 cottages still standing that were grandfathered when the federal government acquired the island. The hunting retreat and game ranch of William Gwinn Mather, the president of Cleveland Cliffs Iron, still stand, as well as a resort that operated from 1904 to 1959. Other than the vehicles brought over by the cottage owners, no others are permitted on the island. The island’s hard-packed dirt roads make for great biking trails. There are also many hiking trails. Primitive camping is allowed, but there aren’t many conveniences. Many people take their boats over and explore the rugged coastline.
We were able to get a close-up view of the Grand Island Lighthouse. Built in 1868 of wood in a school house style, it has a unique square tower. Although it was intended to guide ships into the harbor and offer protection from the shallow sandy shoals nearby, its light was hard to see. Munising constructed two range lights on shore, which worked better. The light was decommissioned in 1908. Efforts have been ongoing to prevent erosion from taking it into the water.
About twenty minutes into the trip we began getting close-up views of the rocky headlands. Actually, the formations begin modestly, but as the cruise continues onward, the cliffs rise higher, becoming more dramatic and colorful the farther we went.
Seeing Pictured Rocks from the water is the best way to appreciate not only the scale of these cliffs, but also their rich and varied colors as well as the patterns seen in the rock. The sandstone bluffs have been shaped by wind, waves, and ice into impressive columns and watery caves. Then mineral-rich water seeping between the sandstone layers stain the colored “pictures.” Red and orange colors are iron, black is manganese, white is limonite, and blue and green are traces of copper. Some of the colors on the cliffs are subtle, others are very vivid. The evening light enhances all the hues, warming the colors until they seem to glow.
Many of the formations have been given names, illustrating the forms they take. Perhaps some are even self-evident. Irregardless, their natural forms can speak for themselves. It was a very worthwhile cruise.
Cave of the Bloody Chiefs
Seventeen miles out, and another seventeen back. The temperature drops quickly as the sun goes down. We put on our polartec jackets and gloves, but chose to remain on the open top deck. It was a bracing breeze that chilled our cheeks, and very stimulating. It was a fitting way to end our stay here at the Pictured Rocks . . .
watching the sun set behind Grand Island.
Airstream Travelers, Chris and Melinda