My Travel Loving Grandmother
My grandmother, who will turn 90 this year, is a force of nature; her travel plans for the year are always a subject of conversation at family gatherings.
Like me, she has called Michigan home for most of her life, and, like me, she has an insatiable case of wanderlust.
Although she travels extensively on international vacations, she is, understandably, less motivated to tour around Michigan.
When my father convinced her to come with us on a camping trip in the Upper Peninsula one year, she was skeptical.
In her youth, the U.P. wasn’t a recreational destination; it was a rugged and much less accessible wilderness populated largely by men working tough jobs in mining and logging.
Today, it often still feels like the region is still more dominated by bears, moose and deer than people, but it is nothing short of a hidden gem in terms of natural beauty.
Over 30 percent of the land is government-owned forest that is used recreationally.
A couple hours of driving north of the Mackinac Bridge will get you to a quaint town called Munising, where there are some places to eat and a handful of shops.
One of my favorite foods, fresh smoked whitefish, is everywhere, and cheap — a few hours south, in the Lower Peninsula, it doubles in price.
This is also the departure point for the Pictured Rocks cruise, a two plus hour boat ride along one of the most breathtaking shorelines I have ever witnessed.
It stretches almost 50 miles along Lake Superior.
The Amazing View
On the boat, the first thing you see is the impossibly turquoise water. You might think to yourself, ‘Is this the Mediterranean? The Aegean? Southeast Asia?’
You’ll feel a sharp, fresh breeze without a hint of salt as the boat begins to move. At first, the land you can see is simple, uniform — mostly green trees.
Pine, birch and oak. Wildflowers and wild berries. But as the trees fade into stone bluffs and mineral-stained cliffs, you might feel your mouth opening of its own accord.
For a geologist, this place is probably some kind of paradise. For everyone else, it is a place that makes you scramble for your camera and hope that you have enough battery life to last the entire ride.
Lake Superior’s choppy waters have carved strange smatterings of caves into the rock, and there are shadowed crevices in the cliffs that are large enough for the whole boat to pull into.
Inside, you can look up and see trees spilling over the edges, or you can look down and see the sandstone forming a deep cradle below the water.
As the journey continues, you can see the battered remnants of old ships that crashed.
Rock arches jut out into the waves, and every surface has layers and layers of stripes or bleeding colors: ores and minerals that look like they have been painted on by some giant, over-saturated brush.
The Most Popular Pictured Rocks Beach
A castle-like formation marks Miner’s Beach, the most popular beach on the lakeshore for swimming.
Where the grains of sand are round like tiny pearls, and slabs of sandstone make platforms that hug the side of the towering rock castle.
Along the shoreline, there are several trails and campgrounds, and you’ll see distant kayaks, hikers, and beach-goers who pause to wave at the boats.
The U.P. is full of incredibly hospitable people. You can ask any local about a food recommendation (like a local meat-filled pastry) or how to get to a campground and they’ll be happy to guide you.
The characteristic friendliness of the Midwest is exaggerated up north, and surrounded by all the fresh air and stunning geological features, it’s not hard to see why.
The more time I spend on the lake, the happier I get. There is something cleansing about the U.P.; after vacationing there, I always feel reinvigorated.
The breaks in the cliffs are not only marked by crevices, rock formations, and beaches; there are several picturesque waterfalls along the route as well.
Near Miner’s Beach, there is an unnamed, even less inhabited beach that is my family’s favorite. There is a nice stretch of sand, but large portions of the beach are layered sheets of sandstone.
They form shallow steps down from a tiny waterfall streaming out of the forest. It’s lush and mossy, and the stone extends far out into the water.
Besides being pretty, the stone also helps to warm up the shallows of the infamously cold lake.
The occasional fissures in the stone create mysterious crannies and sudden (but not very deep) drop-offs.
In the ocean, it would likely the house of all kinds of unpleasant creatures — eels, crabs, sea urchins. But in Lake Superior, there is nothing to fear in the shadowed crannies.
Later in the tour, you’ll find a small, inhospitable island with a single tree growing at its summit.
As the boat adjusts its angle, you see that the tree’s roots stretch out far above the water to the mainland, where the soil is rich enough to sustain the tree.
Every time I see it, my breath falters. The raw, untouched beauty of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore serves as a gorgeous demonstration of the power of nature.
It reminds you that the Earth is so much older and wilder than we often imagine it to be. It leaves me thinking of the vastness of geological time, and how we fit into the land, rather than how the land fits us.
When the boat turns around and heads back to Munising, you get to see it all over again.
Once my feet are back on solid ground, I am always left satisfied, but half-wishing I could stay aboard for another tour. My grandmother felt similarly, after seeing that stunning shoreline.
“I guess I don’t have to go all the way to Thailand to see things like this,” she said. “Who knew?”
Now, you do. If you ever get a chance to explore Pictured Rocks, I promise that it is well worth the trip.
If You Visit the Pictured Rocks:
National Park Service
Author Bio: Kelsey Dean is a traveling English teacher currently residing in Seoul. She was born and raised in Michigan, but has also lived in Costa Rica, Korea, Italy, and Turkey, and has visited many other countries. She loves camping, swimming, and all the pancake-shaped foods of the world. Since she usually writes poetry and short fiction, her work is published in a wide variety of literary magazines.