Friday 21st July – Pretty Superior

I had a sweet, uninterrupted sleep last night but thanks to the mozzies I woke up to after getting out of the van, I didn’t stick around for breakfast. I kinda like just getting up and going, gives me another excuse to find a nice breakfast spot. Knowing I was going to be at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore most of the day, I figured I’d have brekkie at the first attraction, Munising Falls. I stopped briefly at the visitor’s centre at the entrance to the park and spoke to a nice young chap who told me there was lots to see and do in the park! He gave me some great pointers and sent me on my way.

A short way down the road, I was at the carpark for Munising Falls. I made some oats in the carpark then made off for the waterfalls. They weren’t super exciting, but a nice easy start to the day. My legs were achy thanks to my stair session yesterday, something I would come to regret later that afternoon.

The next point of interest according to my National Parks map was a beach around the corner. When I came to the carpark and found that it wasn’t much more than a sandy beach, I thought I’d carry on before I decided it was a perfect chance to take my first swim in one of the Great Lakes. The National Lakeshore runs all the way along Lake Superior and goes from sand to rock to huge dunes in the process.

I parked away from everyone else, donned my bikini and walked into the shallow water. If it hadn’t been for the fresh water, I’d have sworn I was at the ocean. It is such a nice feeling to dive into water knowing its fresh, especially when it is a nice cool temperature and not freezing like Lake Tahoe. I enjoyed my dip, flicking my (now long) hair about the place. I dried off and was back in the car to get to my next stop.

Miner’s Castle was just a lookout over the cliffs but what a view it was. There weren’t too many people on the small platform that looked down onto blue/green waters with huge pastel rocks lying just underneath the surface. On the point of the cliffs was a rock formation that gave the place its name, looking like a castle. It was a gorgeous sight, one I hadn’t really expected. The colours in the rock an the green trees perfectly contrasted the clear waters making for a beautiful sight. There were plenty of kayakers below us enjoying the view from the water.

I walked from the top platform down to a lower viewing deck, but nothing topped the first view. There was a beach here too and it was pretty, but full of people so I was glad I’d taken a dip when I had the chance. After taking a few snaps, I climbed back up the stairs (legs hurting) to the car. A short drive back down the access road, I checked out Miner’s Falls.

The walk in was about a half mile and being amongst the green trees was gorgeous, with specs of the blue/grey sky shining through the canopy. The trees stood tall and were in full flourish. I can hardly imagine this place covered in snow, which it must be for the majority of the year.

At the end of the trees I could hear the falls. A while later, I could see them. They weren’t anything all that spectacular but I didn’t mind, the walk through the trees had been worth it.

In the time I’d been walking, I’d figured out that if I did the 10 mile hike at the Chapel area now, where the cliffs were at their most beautiful, I wouldn’t be able to do a lighthouse tour later in the day. Wanting to do both, I drove twenty minutes past the hiking area through the park to get to a place called Hurricane River. After parking here (amongst many cars) I walked 1.5 miles down a muddy dirt road to reach the Au Sable Lighthouse.

This had scored a mention in the Lonely Planet book, hence why I was keen to check it out. I listened to my audiobook as I walked underneath the trees, the water of Lake Superior to my left, thick forest to my right. The book kept me perfectly occupied until I could see the white and black tower through the trees ahead. It was a small compound, fit for a married couple living in isolation while running the lighthouse. I started in the building that used to be the lighthouse master’s quarters and spoke to a quirky lady about the lighthouse until she got on to telling me about the book she was reading, all about the invention of the Frennel lens that propelled a simple gas-fed flame hundreds of meters out to sea. I promised her I’d have a read of it when I got the chance.

I had a look through the small collection of artefacts in the building before moving on outside. I wandered the grounds and peeked into the support buildings surrounding the lighthouse before joining a family and a couple on the porch of the house attached to the lighthouse for the 1pm tour. I’d brought money with me in preparation and paid $5 instead of the required $3 since the ranger Nancy couldn’t give me any change. I didn’t mind too much.

Outside on the porch, Nancy introduced herself and asked us all to say where we were from. I got the usual “Wow!” when I said I was from Australia and once we got inside she showed us a blackboard that was filled with greetings from people that had come from all over the world. Considering it only covered visitors from the last two weeks, it was an impressive list! The Aussies that came before me had spelt G’day wrong, but I let it slide.

Nancy told us all about the different lighthouse masters and assistants that had operated this facility and about the turmoils they faced thanks to the fog in the fall, the bitter cold in the winter and the flies in the summer. On top of that, they had to contend with refugees that came knocking on their door when their ships were wrecked on the shallow reef just beyond the door.

The house was quaint, likeable and perfectly maintained, which is to be expected of any lighthouse master’s quarters. When Nancy was through with her stories, she directed us to the steel spiral staircase that led to the tip of the lighthouse tower. After climbing the spiral, we were met by another ranger and squeezed ourselves out of the hatch and onto the outside balcony. The view into the yard below was great and thanks to a relatively clear day, we could see the coastline for a long way, including the massive dunes just up the coast.

The lighthouse, long since out of operation, now serves as a tower to house the replacement – an LED assembly that runs off solar panels and batteries. Amazing that all that infrastructure used back in the 1900s can be replaced by such a small piece of equipment. We all mingled around at the top for a while, taking a good look inside the tower as well at the original Frennel lens that stood inside.

Back down the stairs, I had one last chat with Nancy before getting on my way. On the way back, I took the detours that lead me down to the beach to see some of the pieces left over from shipwrecks. There wasn’t much to show for the carnage, amazing that only a few pieces of timber and thick nails hadn’t been washed away or dissolved by Superior’s waters.

After walking back down along the road and checking out one last shipwreck (which I couldn’t see any evidence of), I got back on the trail by walking up a river that flowed right into the lake.

Now I could do my hike! I was a little concerned about my legs carrying me that distance when they were crying so much from what I’d put them through yesterday, but lucky for me, the way was supposed to be flat so I figured I’d be able to suck it up and do it.

I drove back the way I’d come and was alarmed to see a huge line of cars parked at the Chapel area. I’d been thinking I’d have the trail to myself since it was a longer hike but it seemed that wouldn’t be the case! I found myself a spot along the side of the road and made myself a huge salad for lunch. It was beyond 3pm so I was bloody starving. While eating, I packed a bag with some water and snacks, put on my shoes and hat and set off. I was looking forward to listening to more of my book while walking and got straight into it as I entered the canopy of trees.

The walking was easy but for the muddy sections of trail that required clever detours and balancing on top of logs to keep my shoes out of the swamp. After less than hour, I came upon Chapel Falls. The wide band of water fell over a bowl-shaped cliff before trickling down steps to the river below. For a lot of people, I think this was the end destination of their hike because I hardly saw anyone after passing them.

Another half hour of walking and I reached the shores of Lake Superior once again and what a stunning view to come out to. I was at Chapel Rock and saw something out of fantasy. There was a huge tree standing tall on top of a cliff of rock that had eroded away to have arches underneath the tree and hardly anything to either side of it. The roots of the tree covered every inch of the top of the formed boulder, determined to hold its ground and gather nutrients from rock.

I marvelled at the beautiful natural statue a while before turning west to follow the coastline. There was another river running into the lake here, creating another beautiful sight. I followed the river down to the beach for another view of Chapel Rock.

There were plenty of people on the beach who had probably been dropped off there by boat to spend the day. There were dozens of kayaks in the water too with big boats following them to pick up their kayaks and take them back to base. I was just happy to be enjoying this beautiful place for free.

I carried on down the beach until the path took me back onto the top of the cliffs. The ranger at the visitor’s centre had told me this section of the hike was the best place in the park to get stellar views and he wasn’t kidding. The trail ran right alongside the top of the soft cliff edge with constant views through the trees of the coloured sandstone cliffs and the pure water lapping against their bases.

A group of kayakers on a tour followed me along the cliff and I listened to the tour leader to see if I could learn more about the formations. I stopped at every viewpoint to admire each set of cliffs, pausing my audiobook so I could take it all in.

For five miles I followed the cliff edge, but it felt like much less than that. I was still amongst the trees and so sheltered from what had become a hot sun and I found a lot of them covered in a type of mushroom, growing straight out of the bark. That’d be where fairies live I reckon.

There were a couple of places where the cliffs jutted out into a point over the ocean. The heights were dizzying and I could only imagine jumping from such a place and hoping that the clear water would catch you. The arches and cavities formed by the walls just kept getting better, they were out of this world beautiful, especially with the colour of the water below them.

At the end of the cliff trail, Mosquito River met Lake Superior. Needing a break from my shoes, I took them off and got down to the beach by walking on the rocks covered by the river. The water was shin deep at most and the current not too strong so I managed without falling on my arse. The view I came out to was beautiful. Two huge cairns had been built at the exit of the river, nice pieces of art that complemented their natural surroundings perfectly.

Time for a swim. I stripped down to my undies and walked into the cold water. It seemed colder that it had been in the morning and I was happy for it. The afternoon had become warm and it was refreshing to submerge my aching muscles and feet into the water. After diving under, I stood waist deep in the water for a long while, just enjoying this place.

Feeling pretty cold, I didn’t waste time getting going again. I put my clothes back on and walked barefoot back up the river before donning my shoes again. My muscles felt renewed. The trail took me away from the cliffs and back towards the trailhead along Mosquito Falls. Back into my audiobook, I enjoyed the green canopy around me as I trudged back to base.

I crossed the river multiple times and navigated around many sections of muddy trail before I came upon Mosquito Falls. Another pretty setting, but I didn’t linger. My legs were aching, my feet sore and wanting to be in my Tevas, so I pressed on. I didn’t have long to go now.

Needing a break from my book, I listened to music for the last hour, looking up into the trees as often as I could.

It was a relief to see the carpark at the end of the trail. It was 7:30pm and I was ready for camp. I hadn’t planned on doing so much in a day, but I couldn’t help myself. The carpark was devoid of cars so I had no trouble finding the Astro and driving off along the dirt road. Nearly back to the main road, I was confronted with a bear! As I turned a corner, the black furry beast with a light brown snout lumbered across the road on all fours. He wasn’t too big, and looked a little embarrassed to have been caught in the act as he escaped into the forest. My hand went to my mouth in surprise at seeing him and I came to a stop to stare back at him when he stopped in the forest staring at me. He ran off soon after and I slowly carried on, incredulous that I’d just seen him!

I’d found a free camp towards the end of the park but since the sun was setting, I thought I could see one last part of the park before hunkering down for the night. I pulled in at Twelve Mile Beach. I was hoping the picnic area there would have a view of the lake but it was behind a hill. No matter, I heated up some left overs for dinner and carried them down the stairs to the beach where I sat by the water and watched the sun go down.

The beach stretched on as far as the eye could see (probably about twelve miles) and the sun streaked a yellow pattern across the water. Apart from a few groups far off in the distance, I had the whole sandy stirp to myself and I lapped it up.

When the sun went behind the layer of fog that stood up from the horizon, I considered the show over and retreated back to the car. When I got a smidge of phone reception as I drove east towards the exit of the park, I put the camp coordinates into Google Maps so I could be directed right to the spot. It took me down a forest road and when I came up to the point, there was nothing there. No pullout, no road, no nothing. Hmm. I’d worried that I was leaving camp so late that this would happen.

I carried on a little further down the road and found what looked like tall grass and flowers that had been pushed over by tyre tracks. A quick look on Google satellite showed that it led to a small meadow. I pulled over on the side of the road and went to inspect. The ground was firm and the tall grass dry so I considered it safe. I navigated the Astro down the narrow path, the bike copping a few trees in its bars as I did so. In the end I was rewarded with a pretty little meadow that was out of sight of the road. Yes, this would do.

No fire, no nothing required tonight. I was shattered enough to brush my teeth, clamber into bed and go straight to sleep, hoping that the bear didn’t have any hungry friends in the area.

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