Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for May, 2004

(technically Day 6)
Three Mile Campground to Rock Harbor Campground (and the Island’s only open Store to buy a propane/butane stove canister)
Rock Harbor Campground back to Three Mile Campground
5.7 miles hiked

Michael:

The WallAt about 2:00 a.m. I was startled awake by a moving rock.

From 2:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m. I tossed and turned in fits of anxiety and fear.

By 3:15 a.m. I was sound asleep.

Let me explain.

Two nights ago, we stayed in one of the Isle Royale’s lean-to shelters at Three Mile Campground. The Campground’s shelters all face Lake Superior. That night the wind sounded like a helicopter rotor hovering nearby overhead. Constant, deafening and menacing. Many times it felt as if its force would lift up the floor beneath us.

We slept there again last night. The wooden shelters have a roof, a hard floor and are fully enclosed on three sides. The fourth side consists of wire-mesh; great for summer breezes and Lake views, bad for spring nor’easters. I needed to do something to protect us from the winds. The Rangers had promised 35-knot gusts. Gale force blows coupled with sub-freezing temperatures. They would not be wrong.

During the cold breezy afternoon, we worked on a wind barrier. We covered the mesh from the chest level to the floor with a combination of our tent’s footprint, garbage bags and athletic tape. We anchored our quixotic wall with large rocks. Feasibility, practicality and shame in our own wimpiness stopped us from wallpapering everything.

The finished product breathed in and out with each wind burst and seemed to make things less chilly. We fell asleep at 7:00 p.m. It was too cold to do anything else. Fires are not allowed at Three Mile Campground. We dozed off in our tent warm, warmer than the previous four nights even though it was much colder around us.

At about 2:00 a.m. I was startled awake by a moving rock.

I turned to Gab, “What was that?”

She answered, “The anchor rocks from our wall. It’s been happening for a while now. I’d be surprised if it’s still up.”

I popped out of my warm cocoon, opened the tent and peered out into the cold. Nothing had moved. The wall was intact except for some loose athletic tape. I panicked. In a sleep walking mist I flattened down the detached tape and hurtled myself back into the tent. In the process, I had lowered my body temperature by about ten degrees. At 2:00 a.m. I was warm, dreaming and content. At 2:15 a.m. I was freezing, awake and anxious.

I listened intently for every sound. The constant roar of the wind coming off the Lake, through the Harbor and into our tent provided no relief. The gusts came about once a minute striking more fear with each reoccurrence. I listened to the wind suck in my wall and then exhale it with such ferocity that it lifted the anchoring rocks.

After every gust, I wondered if my wall was still there. It couldn’t be, I reasoned. The garbage bags must be flapping away, the rocks must be strewn everywhere. I am getting so much colder. I can’t do anything about the situation. I have to get up and fix the wall. When will the sun come up? Why am I on this damned Island? Did the wall ever work? I have to get up and fix the wall. I am on an Island in the middle of Lake Superior. Am I crazy? I am crazy. Nothing was wrong the last time I got up. I am so much colder. I have to get up and fix the wall.

“Gab, should I get up and fix the wall?”

“I am not willing to do that,” she elliptically responded.

“Well you wouldn’t,” I snapped back.

She didn’t counter.

More rocks moved. The wind breathed deeper and deeper. I peered out the tent window. Nothing seemed to be out of place. I tried to get to sleep. More rocked moved.

It was 3:15 a.m. Something dawned on me.

My nose wasn’t cold. It had been the previous four nights. I am in a wooden shelter. The wall is working. I am driving myself crazy. I could stay up all night and worry or I can accept that I have prepared to my best ability. No more athletic tape is going to make me any safer. If part of the wall comes down, than so be it.

I do not need to engulf myself in fear. Yes, its 25 degrees outside and yes, the winds are strong but I cannot let that take over my night.

5 minutes later I was sound asleep.

Missed A Day?
Isle Royale Day One; Isle Royale Day 2; Isle Royale Day 3; Isle Royale Day 4

Read On!
Isle Royale Day 6; Isle Royale Day 7

Read Full Post »

West Chickenbone Lake to Three Mile
12.1 miles hiked

Gab:

Invincible Gab“My name is Gabrielle and I am invincible.”

Someone named Brian Tomasetti taught me this mantra when I was still in treatment. Nearly twenty years later, I still carry it with me and when I remember to say it, it charges my entire day. We decided this morning to hike an extra four and a half miles past Daisy Lake, our intended campsite and on to one named Three Mile. Let’s push ourselves. Let’s move! I woke up this morning, put on my pack which gets lighter everyday and said my magic phrase.

Here, you try it: “My name is ______ and I am invincible!” Doesn’t it feel great?

Yesterday was by far the most beautiful day on the island. Bright sun. No people. Six moose. SIX. Today, more people and no moose sprinkled the trails but our day was equally excellent. Could it be that we are both feeling fit? Getting used to the routine of waking up, packing up camp, hiking, finding a campsite, pitching the tent, rolling out the bags, finding and boiling water, starting dinner, watching the sun set, making tea, crawling inside the tent, doing a crossword puzzle, bundling up for the night, then waking up to repeat the process?

Possibly. But as always, as soon as one feels overconfident in his or her abilities and skills, one spills the entire batch of tortellini, ruining the one hot meal of the day and adding about a pound of wet soggy material to one’s pack. Leave No Trace. Pack it in. Pack it out. Wet, soggy, inedible, dirt covered tortellini rendering one to hungry tears.

Did I say one? I meant me.

But the tortellini incident was yesterday. Today is a new day and did I mention, my name is Gabrielle and I am invincible?

Today’s hike took us past more forest, over some rocky climbs and through mud where my head-down hiking stance spotted a wolf print. It also led us over long, 10-inch wide boardwalks built across otherwise impassable marshes. When the setting sun highlighted mist and steam rising from the shallow grassy waters Michael, who is neither a fan of water nor bridges of any kind, uttered this memorable line:

“This is some Lord of the Rings type sh*t.”

You know, the part where Gollum pulls Frodo out of the murky waters filled with the souls of the dead and haunted? Yeah. We were balancing ourselves over that. Somehow, my pack felt much heavier and my steps more uncertain after my darling husband shared the visual. Thanks honey.

Our Campsite - Right Before the Tortellini Incident We made it to Three Mile unscathed and found a lovely campsite awaiting us – the first one with shelters. The shelters are good sized, three-sided wood structures with a fourth wall covered in screening. And there was one open and ready for us to use. Strange how three walls and a roof can seem so luxurious.

This campsite was also the first that we shared with the island’s other visitors – fishers and canoers. There is a cement pier facing Rock Harbor and a small sandy beach which makes this campsite a favorite among water enthusiasts. A few shelters down from us, some fishermen were clearly enjoying their pre-June 1st stay. Beginning June 1st, campers are limited to a one-night stay at the more popular sites. Before June 1st, no rules apply. We spotted at least two coolers, camp chairs and a huge Coleman grill. These guys were definitely comfortably rooted.

As were we, once we heard that we were facing 30-mile an hour winds and a huge storm over the next two days. We staked our claim to the last free shelter and thanked heaven it was May 30th. Tomorrow, we’re not moving.

Missed A Day?
Isle Royale Day One; Isle Royale Day 2; Isle Royale Day 3

Read On!
Isle Royale Day 5; Isle Royale Day 6; Isle Royale Day 7

Read Full Post »

Hatchet Lake Campground to West Chickenbone Campground
7.9 miles hiked

Michael:

Moose in the WayAt 7:00 p.m. today, two hikers walked past our idyllic campsite along West Chickenbone Lake and said hello.

They were the first people we had seen in a day and a half. In that same time period we had seen six moose up close and personal. We had heard another trampling through the woods and snorting mightily near to our tent at about 1:00 a.m. What a place.

After two days without a single moose sighting, we had resigned ourselves to a moose-less journey. I even haughtily proclaimed that I did not believe there were any moose on Isle Royale despite the unvarying trail obstacle of moose droppings. They look just like deer droppings, round and numerous, except they are bigger. Which makes a lot of sense.

We had even seen parts of a moose skeleton, picked clean and scattered by the famed Isle Royale wolves and vultures. But no actual moose.

Today’s early early morning visit was trepidatious fun. I was rudely awakened by Gab’s beating left fist on my leg, “I think there is a moose outside.”

“Huh”
“I think there’s a moose outside,” she repeated excitedly.

I listened. Branches snapped and leaves rustled in a major way. You read seven feet tall, 1,800 pounds but the size doesn’t really sink in until you hear them just yards from your piddling tent at 1:00 a.m.

“I think I am thankful you woke me up,” I thought. “Can moose see in the dark?”
“Do you want to put on the headlamps and see what it looks like,” I asked.
“No sudden movements. Remember?”
“You’re right”
“Well, uh, maybe? This could be our only chance,” Gab added after sitting up and exiting her sleeping bag. Then she rethought. “Uh, no. I’m a little scared.”

We both were. Soon, though, the rustling moved away from our tent and up the ridge. It took us a while to get back to sleep.

Our first sighting came today as we neared the beautiful vista from the top of Mount Siskiwit. I came over a ridge with my head down, watching my steps. When I looked up, a young bull was standing on the trail 20 yards in front of me, peacefully eating. I stopped dead in my tracks.

His antlers were just forming. He did not yet see me.

I turned around. “Gab, look up,” I whispered. She kept walking. “GAB, LOOK UP,” I said a little more forcefully.

That caught both hers and the young bull’s attention. He picked his head up. So did Gab. I slowly backed up, giving him his space. We took our packs off. He went back to eating. We were in awe. He scratched his head with his front leg.

After about ten minutes of adrenaline and wonderment, we realized that this guy was in our path. We were at his mercy. It was his Island after all. I walked forward a little. He picked up his head. “You really don’t want to do that,” his expression voiced. He was right. We waited some more until he decided to snack in a different spot. We were now allowed to continue our hike. Thank you Mr. Moose.

In the next four hours, we would cross five more and feel the same overwhelming excitement each time. What a day. What a place.

Missed A Day?
Isle Royale Day One; Isle Royale Day 2

Read On!
Isle Royale Day 4; Isle Royale Day 5; Isle Royale Day 6; Isle Royale Day 7

Read Full Post »

South Lake Desor Campground to Hatchet Lake Campground
8.1 miles hiked

Gab:

Our Campsite, Day 2This morning I realized how long it has been since I last hiked with a pack on my back. Three years? Four years? It has been a very long time.

I woke up with aching hips and shoulders because I had been wearing the waist belt of my backpack far too low on my pelvis the entire first day. All 11 miles. I had assumed that I was sore and uncomfortable because I am painfully out of shape. Although this is not untrue, as soon as Michael noticed the problem and we readjusted my pack, I felt much, much better.

In sharp contrast to yesterday’s hike which was over in record time, today seemed to last forever. Where we were fueled uphill by anticipation and excitement yesterday, today we were pushed along by the realization that we have days of hiking and camping ahead of us. We are less than one-fourth of the way through. While yesterday the dozen other hikers on the boat gave us fodder for conversation and speculation all afternoon, today there didn’t seem to be much to say. At least that’s how I felt. I had a hard time of things today.

It rained last night which means everything we are carrying is soggy and heavy and will no doubt have an aroma by the time it is unpacked. Tell me again why I like this?

I like hiking because everything I need, I have. Right here. It’s on my back. I like hiking because it gives me a chance to cook, which I rarely get to do now that we no longer have a kitchen. Making something edible out of Ziploc bags of grains and spices is strangely satisfying to the exiled chef in me. Never mind that I broke our new stove last week in Kentucky the first time I used it. I fixed it. It’s fine now.

I like hiking because it gives me time to myself. It is pure, uninterrupted “quiet time for Gabby” as Michael likes to call it. This I cherish, rainy gear and all.

When we hike, Michael is usually twenty paces in front of me. I bring up the rear. Once I understood that it made no sense for me to scurry and try to keep up with his longer, more powerful stride, and that sporadic stops and starts wear me out, hiking became much more enjoyable for me. This is my pace. This is about me. Slow and steady wins the race. Twenty paces behind, I am left to my own devices – usually singing a random collection of tunes to match the beat of my steps, recounting past incidents and situations and stringing together strange word/song/idea associations, or just letting my mind wander. Every once in a while, I even look up to see what’s going on around me. But then I usually trip.

Lately, whenever I am faced with a physical challenge, my thoughts drift to my friend Sarah who decided last year that she was going to run a marathon. She began training, running every morning rain or shine, honing her body and mind to the task, only to find that at the last minute, the marathon she planned to run would be cancelled due to security concerns. All of that work! How could they?! The morning of the cancelled marathon, Sarah packed a daypack full of water, planned her route and ran anyway. All the way to a handmade finish line. The photo of her triumphant finish is the one I pull out in my mind when I need that extra incentive. Sarah, I was thinking about you a lot today…when I wasn’t thinking about moose.

View From the TrailAre we ever going to see a moose? We dodge moose poop on the narrow trail every ten steps. I can’t stop thinking about moose tracks ice cream. But we have yet to see the elusive beast. I don’t think we have unknowingly walked past any. I mean, they’re huge, right? We’d know it if we saw one, right? People seemed to say it was a foregone conclusion that we would certainly, definitely see moose while we are here. So I’ve been obsessing about moose. And strawberry rhubarb pie in Grand Marais, Minnesota. But that’s another story altogether.

Missed A Day?
Isle Royale Day One

Read On!
Isle Royale Day 3; Isle Royale Day 4; Isle Royale Day 5; Isle Royale Day 6; Isle Royale Day 7

Read Full Post »

Grand Portage to Isle Royale (via Voyageur II)
25 miles
Windigo to South Lake Desor Campground
11.3 miles hiked

Michael:


First Day View
Look at a map of Michigan, the Great Lakes or even the United States as a whole. Now look closer, focus in on Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world. Look in the northwest corner. There is an island. An elementary school teacher of mine told me to imagine Lake Superior as a wolf’s head. The island is its eye. That eye is Isle Royale. That is where we will be spending the next week.

We have been anticipating Isle Royale National Park since the early planning stages of our trip. It is our first extended hiking excursion, our first venture into the wild. Isle Royale has shaped our schedule, forcing us further south in order to visit the Park in a moderately warm time. The Park has always been in the back of our minds. Thing is, we know very little about the place and it kind of scares us.

This week has been a crash course. Very few people we meet have been there. “All I know is that you better be prepared. Once you are out there, no one can help you,” has been the ominous consensus. I guess they are right, we will see. We spent two nights in Duluth and one in Grand Marais, Minnesota in preparation. Yesterday we made a last minute purchase of an extra fuel canister, a larger pack towel, 20 garbage bags, long underwear, rain pants and a book detailing hikes on the Island. I think we’ve thought of everything.

The maps emphasize Isle Royale’s isolation. 20 miles from Minnesota to the northwest, 60 miles from Michigan to the southeast. The island itself is 45 miles from end to end and eight miles across at its widest. Park Rangers, potable water, food and anything else you might need are located only at Windigo and Rock Harbor (more or less the Island’s western and easternmost points, respectively). Everything you need is on your back.

I think our packs weigh somewhere in the 30-something pound range. We don’t have a scale. They feel pretty good. We arrived at the dock in Grand Portage, Minn, packs in hand, at 7:00 a.m. Generally, the 60-foot Voyaguer II leaves for the island when everyone gets there. We left at 7:45 a.m. In two hours, we will be at the Windigo Visitor Center.

Gab on the TrailWe have scheduled the Voyageur II will pick us up in seven days at Rock Harbor. Gab and I will hike the 45 miles cross-island, west to east, in about five days. The remainder we hope to spend doing day hikes without our burdensome packs. We will take Isle Royale’s most popular route, the Greenstone Ridge Trail. According to our recently purchased book, the Trail goes along the Island’s central backbone. The strenuous and rocky Minong Trail skirts the island’s northernmost ridge. After much discussion, we decided that we do not need the Minong’s challenge.

The Lake Superior weather has not been kind this week. Highs are in the 50’s and rain has been plentiful. Rocks and rain are a mixture we do not want to face. Greenstone it is. Let’s just hope the Trail is not too crowded. We have no idea what is in store. The Lake can be awful temperamental. We are a little bit scared. Once we leave the boat (the Captain says noon) we have a 12-mile long, uphill hike to where we can pitch our tent and sleep. Wish us luck.

Read On!
Isle Royale Day 2; Isle Royale Day 3; Isle Royale Day 4; Isle Royale Day 5; Isle Royale Day 6; Isle Royale Day 7

Read Full Post »

in Lake Superior
Visited: May 26, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 49 of 353
Local Website

Want More?

Click Here to Begin Our Seven-Day Isle Royale Adventure

Isle RoyaleWHAT IS IT?
The largest Island in the world’s largest freshwater lake. Isle Royale NP is a World Heritage Biosphere. Isle Royale is an incredible 99% wilderness. The 1% includes only the Rangers’ living quarters, a small lodge, two Visitor Centers and the campgrounds. The 45-mile long by 9-mile wide island boasts hundreds of moose and three wolf packs.

BEAUTY (9/10)
Spring came while we were on the Island. Wildflowers bloomed in front of our eyes; trees became a luminescent, full lime green. We thought that we had seen a newborn moose calf, but closer inspection revealed a yearling. Much of the hiking goes along the ridge and through the dense boreal forest. When the forest opens, you remember that you are in the middle of Lake Superior. Clear skies enabled us to make out the skyline of Thunder Bay, Canada, 35 miles away to the north. Nothing spoils the serene beauty here on Isle Royale. No cars, no buildings and no unnatural sounds.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (4/10)
Isle Royale has mildly interesting stories of unsuccessful mining operations and dramatic shipwrecks. We found the Island to be compelling because of its veritable lack of human history. Few people have ever lived here and the forests are still virgin. Moose first migrated here in the 1900’s by swimming! A few wolves crossed the extremely rare frozen Lake Superior to get here in the 40’s. That’s cool stuff.

On the TrailCROWDS (9/10)
We found solitude at Isle Royale NP. There were very few people even on the most popular hikes. The people that we did see shared with us the same sense of personal accomplishment, detachment and amazement. There was a strong kindred spirit among all visitors to the Island.

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (1/5)
Perhaps the most remote National Park in the continental United States. You need to take a sturdy sea-worthy boat or a seaplane to get here. Once you are at Isle Royale you must use either its moderately difficult trails or travel by kayak or canoe through its harbors and lakes. Only one rustic hotel exists and even if you are staying there, you need to get out into the backcountry to see anything. You must hike (or paddle) and stay in a tent. There is no other way. This Site appeals to a very small and specific crowd, the willing outdoorsman.

That being said, most visitors come to Isle Royale NP for the isolation and the solitude. They would say the Park’s lack of access is its strongest asset. After a day of seeing zero people and six moose, we agree. But our rating system is not perfect and for continuity’s sake the score must be a 1.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (3/5)
Both the bookstore and the lone open food store on the Island had ample selections of merchandise but very little that we wanted. The weather effectively holed us in our shelter. There were no cheap paperbacks and no selection of games/puzzles. We wanted a memento from our trip but the T-Shirts, stickers and patches all suffered from a design deficiency. We wanted a pre-packaged meal but had to settle on the salt-drenched Zatarain’s red beans and rice. So yes there is a large selection of stuff, but nothing in that group appealed to us.

On the TrailCOSTS (1/5)
The requisite boat to the Island is not cheap at $100 or more round trip. Staying on Isle Royale costs an additional $4 per day per person. Proper gear and preparation for the whims of Lake Superior will cost even more. Because of the steep transportation fee, most visitors spend at least 5 days on the Island. In fact, among National Parks Isle Royale enjoys the longest average stay per guest.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (2/5)
Plenty of Rangers at the Isle Royale’s two Visitor Centers. No Rangers anywhere else.

TOURS/CLASSES (5/10)
Immediately after stepping off the boat, a lovely Park Ranger gave us an instructive and necessary 20-minute orientation that focused on the Leave No Trace philosophy. Everything you bring on must leave with you. She also answered all of our questions about the Isle Royale. Everyone listened intently to her “What do we do when we see a moose?” answer.

After the orientation, the Ranger issued the backcountry permits inside the Windigo Visitor Center. All hikers had to specify which campground they were to stay at on each night of their visit. We were not yet sure of our plans so the Ranger cheerfully indicated which campgrounds were the best and which vistas we should not miss. Our 10-minute talk with her was more helpful than the 175-page Isle Royale Hiking Trails book.

After leaving the Visitor Center, we felt confident in our journey. We were no longer petrified about what we were about to do. Thank you, Ranger.

Just Before the Tortellini DropFUN (8/10)
Anticipation for this particular park has been mounting for nearly a year even though we weren’t really sure what to expect. We spent over two days in Duluth and a day in Grand Marais, Minnesota preparing ourselves mentally and physically for the challenge of our first real hiking adventure of the two-year trip. This anticipation and build-up added to our fun and sense of accomplishment.

Seven days and seven nights is the longest we have ever been backcountry camping. In many ways, this was a test. Can our sedentary bodies still balance a pack? Will the novelty of pitching the tent wear out within a week? Will we get bored? Sick of each other? Answers: Yes. No. Only on a very rainy and cold day 6 and… hmm… well … No. In that order.

We felt a range of emotions on the island. Excitement, fatigue, awe, hunger (after Gab dropped the tortellini dinner), pride. It was quite an emotional roller coaster, but we laughed and smiled and dropped our mouths in wonder a lot. We nearly shed tears of joy when the sun came out on day seven and Captain Ryan arrived with the Voyageur II. Later that day we were both misty eyed as the boat sped away and we lost sight of Isle Royale.

Morning MistWOULD WE RECOMMEND? (8/10)
We had a great time and were not the least bit disappointed. The beauty of the National Park was well worth the planning, the time dedication and the expense. Still, Isle Royale NP is not for everybody and Lake Superior can be a monster. You need to camp. Transportation must be done via hiking or paddling. Transportation to the Island is available only mid-April through October. Each season provides its own obstacle. If you are not fighting inclement weather, you will be fighting biting flies and mosquitoes. Our trip to Isle Royale NP was well worth it.

TOTAL 50/80

Read Full Post »

Munising, Mich.
Visited: May 21, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 46 of 353
NPS Website

Want More? Read about both Gab’s and Michael’s terrific day on the Upper Peninsula

Miners Castle at Pictured RocksWHAT IS IT?
Area hugging Lake Superior’s southern shoreline for 40 miles resplendent with multi-hued sandstone cliffs, waterfalls, lighthouses, dunes and forests.

BEAUTY (8/10)
The Pictured Rocks are stunning 200-foot high sandstone cliffs, molded by glaciers, and stained by minerals. Their oranges, tans, greens, whites, and myriad mixtures in between contrast sharply with the sparkling rich blues and fluorescent greens of the Lake. The Park’s waterfalls charm and the wildflowers emit wonderful aromas. And we saw a bald eagle!

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (5/10)
The sandstone cliffs tell a geological story. Like the concentric rings of a tree, each color tells of a different age of rock. We do not understand geology but the gravitas of the explanatory panel made the colorful cliffs rather interesting.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous poem, The Song of Hiawatha takes place in and around the Pictured Rocks NL. The pictured rocks are specifically mentioned.

CROWDS (6/10)
There was a small crowd at each of the stops we made at Pictured Rocks NL. Everyone looked happy, especially a group of excited kids who enjoyed reading aloud to their parents the descriptions provided by the Miners Falls Trail walking tour pamphlet.

The Flowering U.P.EASE OF USE/ACCESS (2/5)
The southern coast of Lake Superior is awfully remote. Once you find your way through the scenic two lane highways surrounded by Wildlife Refuge areas and National Forests the Site itself is well marked if not easy to get around. Most of its interior roads are unpaved and better suited for a 4×4 than our Nissan Altima.

Paths and Lookout points at Miners Castle were all paved and accessible to individuals with physical disabilities.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (4/5)
A quirky selection highlighted by ecological philosophy books and I (Heart) Hiking T-Shirts.

COSTS (4/5)
The Site is free.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (3/5)
Two Rangers staffed the main Pictured Rocks Visitor Center. They were friendly, helpful and gave good suggestions on lake shore highlights. Other Visitor Centers in the interior of the park were not yet open for the season, so no other Rangers were available.

TOURS/CLASSES (5/10)
The Miners Falls Walking Trail pamphlet was cool. We are appreciative that the box at trail’s head was diligently restocked. There was no video and no museum display at the only open Visitor Information Center. Maybe things will be different post-Memorial Day. Given the stellar publications and exhibit panels we saw at Pictured Rocks we are willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

WaterfallFUN (8/10)
We followed the Rangers’ recommendations of where to go and what to see and were not disappointed. Short hikes to the Munising Falls and Miners Falls were easy and pleasant; both falls were beautiful.

We drove to the lookout at Miners Castle where three vista spots offered views of the Pictured Rocks. The best place to observe Pictured Rocks is probably on a boat, but we enjoyed our landlocked view. A large set of picnic tables offered a perfect lunch spot for us to devour our leftover pizza. And, of course, spotting the bald eagle was the icing on the cake.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (8/10)
We didn’t expect much from Pictured Rocks NL. The previous National Lakeshore, Sleeping Bear Dunes NL, was pretty, but not spectacular. It was fun enough, but nothing to write home about (although we write home about everything). Pictured Rocks NL for some reason captured our hearts. We had such an enjoyable time there.

Maybe it was because the morning clouds cleared just in time to see sun reflecting off the Munising Falls, bringing out the vibrant yellow of the wildflowers. Maybe it was because we made the decision early not to camp out and were giddy at the idea of a shower and a hotel room waiting for us in the next town. Perhaps it was because we had no expectations of the site to live up to. Or maybe it was because Pictured Rocks is a beautiful area that is well maintained and well stocked with information to help you get the most out of your visit.

We imagine this is a highly touristed destination in the summer time. We can see why.

TOTAL 53/80

Read Full Post »

Vincennes, Ind.
Visited: May 14, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 44 of 353
Local Website

George Rogers ClarkWHAT IS IT?
A classical Greek-style memorial that commemorates both the defeat of the British at Fort Sackville (Vincennes) in February 1779 and the life of Indian fighter and American pioneer, George Rogers Clark.

Please do not be confused. George Rogers Clark did not forge the Lewis & Clark Trail; that was his younger brother, William Clark.

BEAUTY (4/10)
The Memorial is a typical classical-style Memorial. Its granite exterior consists of sixteen columns that support circular roof. A larger than life bronze statue of George Rogers Clark sits in the building’s center, underneath a glass skylight. The Indiana limestone walls are adorned with full color murals of Clark’s pioneer exploits.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (4/10)
George Rogers Clark has often been called a brilliant military strategist. After learning more about him and the Battle at Vincennes, we are not so sure. He was undoubtedly a hot-headed madman whose National Parks Service Site and federally endowed Memorial is more than a bit odd.

The Site often refers to The Battle of Fort Sackville as a Revolutionary War victory. Yes, the enemy was British, the year was 1779 but Clark was not fighting for the Continental Army, he was fighting for Patrick Henry and the territory of Virginia. Clark had left Fort Sackville unattended a year earlier choosing to set up his headquarters westward across the Illinois in Kaskaskia even though his British frontier nemesis Lt. Gov. Henry Hamilton was stationed in the east near Detroit. When the supposed Indian-ally Hamilton moved into the vacant Fort Sackville, Clark realized his tactical blunder and decided to regain the Fort.

Clark opted to attack Fort Sackville during February, when the British would be off-guard as well as short of soldiers and Indians. Somehow, Clark had forgotten that the Illinois prairies flood that month. He marched his troops 180 miles over 18 days. They were short of provisions because of miscommunication between Clark and the boat, The soldiers marched chest deep in freezing water, and, as far as we could tell by the maps, into the flooded areas instead of away from them.

Near frozen death, somehow the men arrived without casualties and besieged the Fort. Clark’s greatest talent must have been bluffing because he convinced Hamilton to surrender despite being outnumbered and at a geographical disadvantage. Clark’s victory changed little in the Revolutionary War. He merely gained control of the Ohio River from which he would launch attacks against frontier Indian tribes in the name of the Kentucky and Virginia territories.

Fun with GeorgeClark never felt any dedication to the United States. In 1788 after his march of 1,200 Kentuckians against the Great Lakes Indians was abandoned he remarked, “no property or person is safe under a government so weak as that of the United States”. In 1793 Clark even accepted the position of French general with the goal of attacking the Spanish cities of New Orleans and St. Augustine. Both of his insurrections met strong rebuke from George Washington.

As you can see, we were interested in the history of George Rogers Clark. We just have no idea why someone so openly hostile towards both the federal government and the very idea of the United States would have his own National Park Service Site.

CROWDS (4/10)
The large school groups at the Visitor Center must have been involved in a concerted plot to clog up every traffic artery inside the building. We believe they also had something to do with the man who snored loudly throughout the Site video. Once we went to the Memorial, everything was OK.

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (4/5)
Vincennes is not close to much at all. It is 50 north of Evansville and about 120 miles east of St. Louis, Mo. To get to the Historic Park, one must drive through a residential area and neighborhood streets. Even though there are signs, we couldn’t help doubt our directions. Are we going the right way?? Our fears were for naught. Right around the corner, there was the huge granite memorial, just like the signs said it would be.

The Visitor Center and memorial are accessible to anyone with a disability. The park which surrounds the Clark monument has several paved white paths outlining the area and leading the way to the memorial and the VC.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (4/5)
Great selection. If William Henry Harrison and George Rogers Clark children’s books are on your list, you now know where to go.

COSTS (3/5)
$2 per adult, $4 per family, free with National Parks Pass.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (3/5)
In the Visitor Center area, there were a few Rangers, but they all were giving lectures to school groups. We were lucky enough to have an unoccupied Ranger inside the Memorial itself to fill in the George Rogers Clark blanks.

Clark’s ColumnsTOURS/CLASSES (4/10)
We knew very little about Mr. Clark before the video presentation. Afterwards we were able to write four truncated paragraphs about the battle and harbor definitive emotions about the man.

The museum had different conclusions than ours about Clark.

The National Park Service provides headsets and a prerecorded tour of the Memorial’s interior. Michael despises those non-interactive Tour Guides so we skipped the canned lecture and asked the Ranger the 45 minutes worth of questions that the video had produced. He too found the Clark site to be historically odd. His candor on all park-related topics was refreshing.

FUN (4/10)
We really enjoyed talking with the Ranger. The size of the Memorial is impressive. That’s about it.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (2/10)
If it were not for the nicely manicured lawns and the nice Rangers it would be a wholehearted no. There are so many idealistic, honorable and noble characters in American history. George Rogers Clark is not one of them. His motives were selfish and not akin to those of the great men of his era.

TOTAL 36/80

Read Full Post »

We woke up at the Fairfield Inn in East Louisville yesterday morning. Our plan was to head south to the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site then head back north to Louisville. Maybe even catch a minor league baseball game. Everyone says such nice things about Louisville.

We went downstairs to take advantage of our free continental breakfast. It was 7:00 a.m. After picking up the free copy of Tuesday’s USA Today we entered the breakfast room. Four men in ragged looking business attire sat at the first table. Single businessmen took two others. We sat down and were immediately caught in a barrage of swearing, self-loathing, and hardcore grumpiness. Gab’s eyes told me that we needed to get out of the city immediately. We needed to be outside. We needed to camp.

Our itinerary told us that we would visit Mammoth Cave National Park one year and a half from today. Things change. Southward, ho. We would camp outside, thunderstorm predictions or not. When we imagined our trip, we envisioned fresh air, campgrounds and majestic vistas. So far, it has been two months of cities, hotels and historic sites. I love what we done so far, but a week of Cleveland, Canton, Akron, Toledo, Dayton, Columbus and Cincinnati does not sell out at the travel agency.

We left Lincoln’s birthplace at 10:15 a.m. and arrived at Mammoth Cave at 10:15 a.m. thanks to an unexpected switch to Central Time. Slowly but surely we are moving westward. We arrived in the Visitor Center and grilled the Park Ranger on which cave tours he would suggest. There are 10 unique guided tours that explore different parts of the cave. We decided on our tours and asked if there were campsites still available. He laughed and said ‘of course, you don’t need to worry about that’ in a soft Kentucky drawl.

After the four and a half hour Grand Avenue Cave Tour finished, we excitedly drove to the campsite to get a space. Let me first admit that Gab and I are camping novices. We have camped only once before in the United States. Gab as a Girl Scout me at a KOA-type campground in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. We both had horrifying experiences. We did a few long distance hikes in South America but we still get a little giddy at the notion of pitching a tent. We want to experience the beauty of America and its nature. If we can do it, anyone can do it.

At the check-in, the Park Ranger suggested a nice camping spot so we followed her advice and took Space #76. A couple taking a walk around the campground just complemented our campsite; thank you Ms. Park Ranger. We are under the protection of many tall White Oak Trees, the same White Oaks used to make the barrels which age Kentucky Bourbon. We are at the outer edge of the campsite. It is very nice. The Park Service provides a parking spot, a grill, a concrete park bench and a large area to pitch the tent. If every Park is like this, we are set. Birds sing, woodpeckers hammer away, wild turkey’s gobble and the wind gently rustles through the trees. Only the intermittent hum of an RV generator spoils the outdoors’ song.

The Campsite is populated mainly with RV’s and towed campers. There are only a few people sleeping in tents. Even though we are going to be gone for two years, we seem to be carrying the least amount of stuff by far. Cars overflow with camping gear, chairs, tables, coolers, and who knows what else. Our tent looks petite next to the behemoths at the other sites. But we are doing quite well and having a spectacular time.

Click Here to Read More about the Park indoor activities.

Read Full Post »

in south-central Kentucky
Visited: May 11, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 42 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Frozen Niagara at Mammoth Cave
WHAT IS IT?
To date, 365 miles of mapped passageways, the largest cave system in the World.

BEAUTY (9/10)
Every room and every passageway has a unique and striking beauty ranging from overwhelming awe to subtle grace and including everything in between. Each turn brings a different world more incredible than the last. Both tours we took followed a natural dramatic plot that built towards a breathtaking climax. They were epic movies that revealed unknown worlds. Their beauty was so unbelievable that we frequently had to remind ourselves that we were not on a movie set or on a ride at a theme park. We were underground. Incredible.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (4/10)
Native Americans explored the caves for gypsum, which they used to make paint and perhaps had other medicinal or ceremonial uses. Parts of Mammoth Cave were converted into saltpeter mines between 1810 and 1814. Mammoth Cave was one of many caves that supplied the United States with most of their raw material for gunpowder during the War of 1812. Thomas Jefferson’s embargo had made gunpowder importation from India and China impossible.

Mammoth Cave is one of America’s oldest tourist attractions. Stephen Bishop, a slave, became known as one of the best guides, exploring and naming most of the rooms and tunnels still visited today. Local businessmen would purchase land around Mammoth Cave and search for sinkholes which could signify new entrances to caves which they could convert to money-making attractions, drawing tourists from their original destination of Mammoth Cave. Today’s Cave City carries on this tradition.

CROWDS (7/10)
The National Park Service puts a limit on the number of people that can go on each guided tour. We went on two tours, the 2 ½ hour ‘Making of Mammoth Cave’ was full at 60 but the 4 ½ hour ‘Grand Avenue Tour’ was nearly empty with only 25 out of a possible 118 tourists. The size of the ‘Grand Avenue Tour’ was a joy but the ‘Making of…’ tour’s size did not detract from our visit. We had no trouble asking either of the two Rangers a question.

Be forewarned. A Park Ranger told us that come Memorial Day, most tours sell out. A summer visit to Mammoth Cave requires planning. Reservations can be made in advanced for all Cave tours. You do not want to travel the whole way to southern Kentucky just to find out that there is no way for you to go into the Cave.

The Way OutEASE OF USE/ACCESS (2/5)
Unfortunately, if you use a wheelchair or have any sort of difficulty walking, you will not have much opportunity to enter Mammoth Cave. There are tours of varying lengths and catered to various physical abilities, but none are accessible to individuals with physical disabilities. Ages ago, the National Park offered a “wheelchair tour” using the elevator to the underground cafeteria, but due to liability concerns, those tours ceased.

The Park is not required to offer accessible tours of the caves since the Visitor Center and one of the walking tours is.

For the first time in the Ratings, we are also reporting on the ease of use of campgrounds located in a national park. We tent camped in the most central campground, located just ¼ mile from the Visitor Center and Mammoth Cave Hotel. There was ample space at the grounds which hosts both tents and RVs. We were allowed to take a look around and choose which site we wanted for our two nights. We ended up going to the site the Ranger recommended. The campgrounds are clean and bathrooms with potable water are within short walks of all sites. The whir of RV generators was the only annoyance. We should probably get used to it.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (5/5)
The bookstore is great. It takes up about a quarter of the Visitor Center and is filled with books on the history and geography of Mammoth Cave, spelunking and orienteering, the War of 1812 and the mining of saltpeter.

COSTS (1/5)
You can only go into Mammoth Cave on one of 10 different guided tours. Each guided costs a different amount, ranging from $10 to $45 dollars a person. Seeing the Cave could get pricey.

Underground CafeRANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (5/5)
There seemed to be Rangers everywhere. They do a terrific job of making themselves accessible. We were amazed.

The tours we went on left with two Rangers. The ratio of two Rangers to 60 visitors on our tour seemed overwhelming but proved otherwise. The Rangers are skilled guides and found a way to answer everyone’s questions mainly during the long walks from place to place.

We saw the maximum 14-visitor, 6 ½ hour long ‘Wild Cave Tour’ leave with three Rangers. The ‘Wild Cave Tour’ costs $45 a person and is a get on your hands and knees pull yourself through small passages full-on spelunking tour. Next time.

We did not go on the any of the Tours that max out at 120 visitors. We believe that they also leave with two Rangers but we are not sure.

TOURS/CLASSES (9/10)
Skip the two 10-minute introductory videos on the Park and get in line to buy tickets for the Cave Tours. Everything covered in the videos will be covered in the tours.

The tours’ emphasis can be split into two categories: 1) Geology and 2) the Cave’s Cultural and Commercial History. While it is best to take one of each, the Guides will touch on both sectors. Information repetition between tours is more than likely.

Two different areas of the cave are also covered in the tours: 1) the area near the Historic Entrance and 2) the area near the Frozen Niagara entrance. Tours do overlap areas but most will show you at least one thing another tour does not cover.

We chose the ‘Making of Mammoth Cave’, a geological tour showcasing the Historic Entrance area and the ‘Grand Avenue Tour’, an historical tour that took you to all points from the Carmichael Entrance to the Frozen Niagara Entrance. We do not regret our choices. Next time we will go on the Violet City Lantern Tour, an historical journey done with only lanterns. It sounds like a lot of fun.

Weather isn’t a factor for the Cave Tours. Temperature inside the caves remain a cool 54 degrees year round.

The River StyxFUN (9/10)
We had a wonderful time. It felt fantastic to finally camp and cook outdoors, even in the rainstorm that swept over Kentucky our last day and night. The Tours were expensive but worth every penny.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (9/10)
Absolutely. Our tour groups were all ages. Everyone seemed to really enjoy the tours. Rangers pepper their talks with anecdotes and bad jokes. They do a good job at keeping the group together and entertained. Camping made the trip more affordable and enjoyable for us.

If your image of cave interiors is filled with stalactites and stalagmites stretching from the floors and ceilings, you might be disappointed. Cave sculptures are present in parts of Mammoth Cave viewed by the Frozen Niagara Tour and final few minutes of the Grand Avenue Tour, but are absent in most of the Cave. What Mammoth Cave does offer is a striking range of passageways, some cavernous, some a little snug for larger folks. The ranger-led tours are filled with historical and geographical facts but by no means dry. We weren’t joking about the doing the Wild Cave Tour next time. We are definitely coming back.

TOTAL 60/80

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »