This is a view of West Munising Bay and Grand Island, taken from a high vantage point on a steep cliff that hugs the shore.
Sunday, October 23, 2005
This is a view of West Munising Bay and Grand Island, taken from a high vantage point on a steep cliff that hugs the shore.
Some ducks at the city dock in Munising. (There actually were three ducks there, all bobbing in sync, but I couldn't get the third one in the frame with the other two.)
It was mid-afternoon when my boyfriend required his daily coffee break, which is essential so he doesn't fall asleep. (I've seen it; he will fall asleep anywhere, doing anything, without that dose of caffeine.) So, we pulled into what seemed like a simple park, and it turned out to be one of Michigan's proud attractions, Lake Michigamme!
Once we were west of Ispeming, the colors started to really pop. I took this picture up a tree trunk while wandering around, desperately looking for a potty.
This trip was full of potty issues for both of us, which will unfold.
We found a motel in Bessemer, Michigan and settled in for the night.
It was a cute motel room and we watched reruns of Law and Order until about midnight. It was much like being at home, for me. I do so love Law and Order.
One of us (I won't name names, but it wasn't me) plugged up the toilet in the motel room that night, and the office had closed so we couldn't get a plunger. This was a problem because we couldn't "go" anymore after that. I, literally, stripped, peed in the shower, showered off, and redressed whenever I had to pee. "Number Two" was not permitted!
What a gorgeous drive! It looked like this all the way to Lake Superior.
The Black River is on the western edge of the Porcupine Mountains, riddled with waterfalls and old growth trees. Due to the topography, trees in this area have never been harvested and they stand taller and larger than most others in the region. It's fabulous to stand amongst these trees! Only one other area in the Upper Peninsula can boast old growth trees, and that's the Tahquamenon Falls State Park.
Color was ripe on most trees except those closest to the water.
We stopped at Potawatomi and Gorge Falls on the way to the shore, and were blown away by the sight! Below is Potawatomi Falls.
The river widens and pours over bumpy rocks that give it a look of kinky white hair.
At the river mouth, there is a bridge suspended across the width of the river, which proved very photogenic.
You can see in the photos that the Black River is indeed very dark, and by the time you reach the mouth of the river, you cannot see the riverbed if the water is more than a foot deep. The darkness is from the tannin in the pine trees, which dyes the water a deep, dark brown.
One of my favorite sights in autumn is the bright redness of sumac leaves. I'm overjoyed when I can catch one in varying degrees of redness like the one below.
From there we visited Ironwood, home of the world's talles Indian. A 52-foot-tall, fiberglass Indian stands on the edge of the business district in this strange town. Here is my boyfriend sitting on his moccasin, which creates scale. Why a gigantic Indian? I still can't figure that one out.
Twisted girl that I am, I couldn't resist taking this picture up the backside of the Indian. Oh, you know you would do it too!
We drove out of Michigan and into Wisconsin from there, only to end up back in Michigan to see Superior Falls.
Superior Falls on the Montreal River is beautiful, but tricky. The area is owned by Wisconsin Electric Power, who controls the flow of the river and access to the surrounding land, so it's not exactly tourist friendly. There is a worn path with a chain-link fence that leads from a parking area to a viewing area. What's very unexpected is the height you're at to view the falls -- you stand 100 feet up from the river at the edge of a sheer cliff, seeing the falls in the distance. The river water drops some 40+ feet from a pool above into the flowing river that goes on to join Lake Superior a few hundred yards away. It's stunning, if not dizzying to find yourself on this precipice and the dwarfed falls ahead.
I should mention that it was 80º again that day and I'd been running around in shorts all day, sometimes too warm for comfort. However, that all changed rapidly from the moment we left Superior Falls. The drive to Ashland was increasingly ominous as a large storm blew in, which would impact the Lake Superior area dramatically for a long time to come.
While in Ashland, we stayed at (what I consider) an overpriced and sad Super 8. I much prefer the mom 'n' pop style motels, which for some reason feel more inviting. However, we had an incredible meal at The Deep Water Grille & South Shore Brewery. I had the shaved prime rib sandwich, which stands as the best sandwich I've ever had! If you're ever in Ashland, Wisconsin, stop here!
Though we had a busy day and were worn out, the hurricane force winds and driving rain kept us a bit electric into the night as we watched more reruns of Law and Order on TV (alternating with The Weather Channel) and were grateful for the large building to protect us from the dangerous elements outside. Losing power was a threat, but it didn't happen. We did sleep well, though, thanks to the soothing sound of the rain.
Not so surprising if you know me, we zipped through most of the shops and found ourselves spending a costly long time in a particular shop where we found the owner, his dog, and new puppy to visit. The puppy, Ozzy, was a 4- or 5-week-old Am. Staff., brindle, and he looked so much like my dog did as a puppy, I couldn't tear myself away from this little guy. The full grown dog, of no relation, was also a brindle Am. Staff., and could've been a sibling of my dog as well. For the first time since departing, I really, really missed my dog.
From there we drove up to Bayfield, which was less scenic in the dingy grey rain. I do love rain, passionately and deeply, but this weather was just blustery and unpleasant, with no end in sight. We found a room at The Seagull Bay Motel, and were delighted with the privacy, scenery and friendly proprietor. Despite the weather, we were also able to visit some local shops, an orchard and have dinner at a local landmark, Maggie's. You have to have a high tolerance pink and pink flamingos, because the polenta fries have to be tasted! Surely in the summer this town is a bustling mecca of preppy boaters and wealthy vacationers who can drop $1,500 on a woven rug with a Nordic flare, which happens to be made in China. Other towns in Wisconsin regard Bayfield as a bit snobby, which I didn't notice, but it felt like it was trying to appeal to the upscale traveler. Regardless, it seems a delightful town with crafters aplenty, orchards everywhere and a view to be envied. Unfortunately, we spent little time enjoying it due to the weather, and we called it a night after some hearty reruns of Law and Order.
(I took no pictures because it was too wet and windy to get out of the car.)
When we got up, there were stories of floods all over the Bayfield Peninsula. Roads were washed out and travel was dubious at best. We ate a fantastic breakfast at The Egg Toss Cafe. Well, I did. My boyfriend got boring oatmeal. Who eats oatmeal at a restaurant when you're on vacation? It boggled my mind!
Then we shopped and picked up some goodies, bid the Apostle Islands adieu, and headed up and around the tip of the peninsula. (With regret, we were unable to take the Apostle Island cruise, due to the weather.)
There are a few towns along the way that are tiny and quaint, with little more than a gas station, bar, gift shop and church. Cornucopia was partially submerged and the park along Lake Superior was a flooded mess. Herbster provided us with a fantastic little gift and craft store, where we spent a lot of time warming up and escaping from the still-driving rain. The kind older woman who owned it not only gave us a tour, but told us all the artists' information, history and details about their products. What a personal touch! I spent a lot of my Souvenirs Budget in that store!
From there we drove a short distance to the turnoff for Twin Falls. This photo won the grand price at lakesuperior.com's online contest, and inspired me to visit the falls. Look at that soft trickle.
Due to the heavy rains and floods, we were unable to take the lower trail to see the falls -- it was under rushing water. Instead we were left with an overhead view and a remarkable difference from what I expected.
The destination was Superior, Wisconsin for the night, and we were unsure if the path to Superior would be clear, as there were many sections of the road where we drove through high water that was flowing over the road with currents!
On a whim, I turned the car when I saw a sign for Amnicon Falls, and we drove a bit out of the way for a falls I hadn't put on the itinerary or researched. When we got there, we were, again, overwhelmed with what we saw.
This falls is normally a calm flow of water, which allows swimming in the pools and walking on the rocks at the riverbed. According to the park ranger, only one other time had the water risen this high and been flowing so violently, so we were definitely seeing it in an unusual state.
He also recommended we take a peek behind the outhouses adjoining the parking lot, to see a small section of the falls that is not something he even bothers telling folks about because it's so small and insignificant. What a sight!
From a bit downstream, the covered bridge, a signature view, is surrounded with mist tossed high from the splashing falls.
What luck that we caught it at such a time!
Parting from this area was difficult, but we had a destination to hit.
On the way to Superior, we stopped at Wisconsin Point to see world's longest freshwater sandbar, which is comprised of Wisconsin Point and Minnesota Point. At the tip of the Wisconsin side, Wisconsin Point Lighthouse stands solidly. The storm was still tearing up the area and throwing 10- to 15-foot waves up the shoreline, so the lighthouse was taking a beating. Some fool person had walked all the way out to the lighthouse for photos, and I was astonished when waves crashed around him that were taller than him. Not me! The safety of the shore was where I belonged. Yet, his presence drove home the danger of position the lighthouse was in.
It was so cold and the wind was so harsh that we spent little time enjoying the view and quickly scurried back to the car and drove into Superior to find a room for the night. What we found was a dirt cheap room in a motel near the downtown area, and then made our way to, quite possibly, the best Mexican restaurant on the Lake Superior Area. Guadalajara Restaurant was delicious and authentic -- utterly improbable considering the area.
We returned to the room to discover that the heat was not working. Much to our horror, the motel office was closed and no aid was available. Wearing extra clothes and covered in tons of blankets, we snuggled into bed for the night, watching The Weather Channel and the freezing temperature in the forecast. They warned of snow for Duluth and The North Shore, which we shuddered thinking of. Was it really just two days ago that I was wearing shorts and complaining of the heat?
We happily left Superior, Wisconsin en route to Duluth, Minnesota and The Great Lakes Aquarium. I enjoy a museum/aquarium visit, but there are a lot of parts that bore me to tears. My boyfriend, on the other hand, can happily spend 6 full days in a small town museum of three rooms, and not get bored. At an aquarium, I turn into a 4-year-old and fight the urge to throw myself onto the ground whining my head off, begging to leave, then kicking and pounding my extremities on the floor. Fish are great: I'm a Pisces who is true to her sign. But I can't stare at a sturgeon for a half hour without wanting do have my aforementioned temper tantrum. I go to a museum to view, to touch, to oogle relics, but I don't plan to read every single sign, watch every single movie, touch every single display and watch every single creature for so long that people slip a mirror under my nose to make sure I'm still breathing. So, I have to attend these events with him on days when I am feeling at the peak of my patience performance.
This aquarium kept my attention for much longer than usual.
I got to pet a stingray! This is my boyfriend petting one as well!
They are much rougher than they look. I expected something smooth and slightly dolphin-like, but they feel bumpier and not at all smooth. Too cool!
While I was trying to keep myself entertained, I found myself drawn to the reptiles and amphibians, as usual. This turtle and I basked together. He held still and didn't blink for much, much longer than me. Clearly he had the personality necessary for a lengthy stay at the aquarium, which I did not.
I also had fun watching the eagle stand there staring at me, and the otter running frantically back and forth, looking desperately for something he couldn't find, then repeating the search every 10 seconds. My guess is it was his keys -- I do that when I can't find my own keys.
Yeah, leave it to me to find the highlights of an aquarium to have more to do with fish predators than fish.
Though, I must admit, I totally adored the jellyfish! In fact, I said, "Jellyfish! Jel-lyfish!" Suddenly I found myself with my nose plastered to the glass, thinking this annoying song:
Jellyfish, jelll-lllyfish, what are they feeding you?
Jellyfish, jelll-lllyfish, it's not your faa-aault.
(And you thought "Smelly Cat" was hard to get out of your head!)
It's worth a mention that when I was finally able to lure my companion out of the aquarium and into the real reason for the visit, the gift shop, he stood there and jabbered with the store clerk forever and I found myself smiling politely as I waited impatiently to pay for my choices. The nice thing was he mentioned we're rock hounds and immediately she whipped out a jar and offered up a piece of raw agate for us to have. To me, agate is like a diamond. Screw real diamonds: they're clear and boring. Agates have character, minerals, history, bands of color, translucence and opacity: they are the pinnacle of my rock love. So, I forgave him for his tendency to get the store clerks yapping our ears off. Free agate is worth it!
After we left the aquarium, we found our way to the only other interesting thing I had on my Duluth itinerary: Hawk Ridge!
I've been unable to ascertain the height of Hawk Ridge, but for someone with a crippling fear of heights, it was f*cking high up! I could see across the bay and up the south shore of Wisconsin, not to mention the islands way out in the lake. Freighters looked like tiny little rowboats. Down the ridge was a large section of Duluth itself, and people were invisible, only the houses making dot-like specks in sight. We watched a cloud, just slightly above our eye level, sweep in from the hills (or mountains -- I called them mountains) and start raining down on Superior, while we stood in the sunlight watching the storm cloud do it's business!
While we watched for raptors, ships came and went from the harbor in their majestic glory, with the beautiful shades of pastels that Lake Superior offers up in the bay.
Oh, and we did see raptors: a couple immature eagles (without the white head and tail yet), many red-tailed hawks and we spoke with one of the bird experts about an interesting bird we'd seen earlier, which we discovered was a northern harrier. I've made many trips to Lake Superior, and almost every trip provides me with a great eagle sight. This trip was no different. It seemed eagles were everywhere, and the recent storms in conjunction with the season and wind direction brought many out that afternoon for us to watch. Truly spectacular! I'm sorry I couldn't get pictures. With only a 10x zoom, my camera wouldn't have caught one that was more than a speck. A still is unfair to represent the eagle anyway -- watching one soar is the real way to appreciate them.
The drive down from Hawk Ridge on Seven Bridges Road was gorgeous. (Yes, that's right, Seven Bridges Road, the Eagles song... That connection didn't get lost on me.) The bridges were even pretty, and a river meandered its way down to the lake, zig-zagging under the road seven times, complete with waterfalls.
The last stop for the day was one of my favorite spots on the trip: Stoney Point, on Minnesota's North Shore. No gift shops, no tourists to complete with for access. Just soft blue light at sunset, watching the waves splash on the worn rocks. These are some of my favorite pictures from the trip.
Check out the shape of the rocks.
I have a fascination with water and rocks -- two elements coming together, enhancing and shaping one another.
We stayed in Two Harbors that night, at a motel room the proprietor promised had functioning heat. When we were certain that our room would be warm when we got back, we headed to the very famous restaurant, Betty's Pies. Since my boyfriend is a vegetarian, he ordered a mysterious dish: a wild rice burger. There's something going on with that region and wild rice, because it was sold in large quantities at every turn. We were curious and when he ordered the wild rice burger, I expected something strange to happen, something special, but it turned out to be just a regular burger made of wild rice -- the same wild rice that's available at the grocery store at home. If someone can explain the wild rice prevalence in this area, please share! Back on topic, he said the wild rice burger was the best he'd ever had. He wasn't sure how they got wild rice to taste like hamburger, and he was afraid to ask, but he ate every last crumb. Then we had some key lime pie for dessert. Mmmmmm!
When we got back to our room, it was nice and toasty. Hurray! However, something foiled our warm night. We were so hopeful that we would catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights that after 11 PM, he kept going outside to look up for signs. Somehow, on the last trip out, he didn't close the door completely. We didn't realize it, though I did think it was getting colder and colder throughout the night. By the time I woke up in the morning, light was shining through the six-inch opening. Our door was open six inches, all night. We're lucky some creature didn't come crawling in while we were asleep. Maybe one did and we didn't know!
Two Harbors had a sweet lighthouse, fire engine red, but we had so much to do that we didn't stop for the tour.
There was a ship at the ore dock, which we were finding seemed to occur at most towns we were stopping in. I suppose they were making their last runs for the season, before the "gales of November" blow in. Shipwrecks are more than just legends in these parts -- they're harsh realities.
We also stopped at a rock shop in town, where I got to see some rare samples of something I was hunting with determination: thomsonite. Thomsonite is found in only two places on earth. One is on Thomsonite Beach just south of Grand Marais, Minnesota, and the other is another part of the world somewhere (I can't remember where), but the stones differ in color. The MN thomsonite is a beautiful rock that consists of shades of pink and rings of green in concentric circles, found on chunks of basalt. While I hadn't seen any up close, I knew I just had to find some on this trip. At the shop, I saw some yummy samples of tumbled and polished stones, and others that had been fashioned into jewelry. There was a large sample on display of what it looks like still attached to the basalt, and I put the image to memory. I was determined to find some myself.
We spent some quality time searching for agates on a beach just north of Two Harbors, and found some small pieces. The cold made it painful to stand and walk around the rocky beach, so I chose to sit and my boyfriend laid on his belly on the rocks. Somehow, the rounded rocks were comfortable and it felt warmer the closer we were to the ground, perhaps because the wind resistance was minimized. We could've easily spent the day sifting through rocks there, but onward we pushed.
Our next stop was Gooseberry Falls.
We should have known from the size of the parking lot that it was going to be unlike the waterfalls we love most -- remote, natural and few people. Oh, Gooseberry Falls was nice, but it was like Disneyland, waiting in line for access to a particular viewing spot, people everywhere! We explored it intensely, but I doubt we'd ever go back.
The beauty was unquestionable.
The water was delightful as it flowed over the rocks.
But every attempt to take a photo of the falls with a wide angle view failed. People were infesting the falls and we quickly grew tired of it.
The sun was coming out in bursts between the puffy white clouds, highlighting and shadowing different areas of the falls in ever-changing ways, which made my nerve endings buzz with elation. However, the competition for good spots to occupy and the sheer volume of people wandering close to the falls on the rocks, quite a few with their dogs, really ruined it for me. What on earth could dogs appreciate about this? I swear, half the people there had dogs. It was like a dog park more than anything. And let me tell you, the dogs looked as irritated as I was. It was a nice area, but unless I could get all the other people to leave, I was going to have to pass on it in the future.
From there we went to Split Rock Lighthouse, the single most photogenic lighthouse I've ever seen.
The wayside before the turnoff for the lighthouse provided a really nice view, and at one point, I swear I was seeing double as I approached the prime locations.
Up close, Split Rock Lighthouse is just as alluring.
We got to explore a recently renovated keeper's house, where the home was decorated as it would have been 100 years ago when the keeper lived there. In the keeper's house and in the lighthouse as well were folks dressed in costumes representing the same era, and for a moment, I froze, and battled with bizarre thoughts in my head. Were they real? Or were they ghosts? Was I hallucinating? No one mentioned that there would be costumed people pretending to work in the buildings. Are they real?
They were. But it felt so authentic and so surreal that I wasn't sure.
Walking around the lighthouse situated on top of Split Rock with a sheer drop to the water below, I was sick with fear. I trembled more from terror than the bitter cold and whipping wind. That was one frightening view! Yet the lighthouse was stunning, immaculate, and felt as much like a safe harbor for my fear as I'm sure it did for sailors. It definitely had an ominous look.
And the dramatic view of the landscape below was really something.
We left Split Rock at sunset and I was a bit frantic. We were supposed to have made it to the Canadian border by the end of the day, but we were nowhere near it. And it was getting dark fast. We had to decide whether to drive the long distance to get closer to the border and miss all the North Shore scenery, or stay somewhere close overnight, putting us one day behind. We decided to be a day behind and find a room right away.
Sometimes decisions are made for us and our minds are involuntarily changed.
There were no rooms. In any towns nearby. They were full from Two Harbors up. Each town offered the promise of a half dozen motels, all without vacancies, and we drove further and further in the pitch black. Not only did we miss the scenery along the North Shore, but we were occupying the roads when the moose come out. That was another fear: I'd hit a moose. It stressed me out and kept me from ever wanting to drive after dark. As if it didn't weigh heavy enough on my mind, every few miles there were signs warning of moose in the area.
We drove and drove, stopped places where people actually felt so sorry for us not having a room that they called towns ahead and checked for vacancies for us. One person said that we should just go straight to Thunder Bay, Ontario, because there wouldn't be a vacancy this side of the border.
Luckily, we found a room in Grand Marais. It wasn't pretty, but it had vaulted ceilings and heat, which was good! We were about 80 miles from Canada and had missed a huge chunk of the North Shore, but we had a room and weren't going to have to sleep in the car on the side of the road somewhere. With the moose.
First thing on the agenda was backtracking to the shore just south of Grand Marais to go rock hunting. We were now in the land of thomsonite! (If you didn't click on that link and get a glimpse of that stone, you really should, because it's the coolest thing!) Though my rock guide for Lake Superior listed this area and Ireland as the soul sources for thomsonite, with Grand Marais having the only pink and green, I've read on other websites that there are a few more places that do have thomsonite, so I don't know who to believe. Regardless, it's the coolest thing to find something so rare and I was on a hunt.
Bundled up nice and warm, we started scouring the zillions of rocks along the shore, which were all haphazardly tossed by the strong waves from the storms of the past week. It was a goldmine for chunks of agate, which we found quite a bit of, and I swear, without having a geologist confirm it, I think I have a few pieces of thomsonite! They're about ¼-inch big, but they're definitely green and pink, unlike the granite and sandstone that is prevalent, resembling more of a quartz type of translucence. Very cool if they are! Very cool if they're not, too. I do love my rocks, no matter what they are made of.
We spent a good chunk of time there until my bladder was bursting (which always ushers us on to a new destination, for I will not squat in the woods), and we drove on to Grand Portage, Minnesota.
Having missed most of the scenery of the North Shore, Grand Portage (an Indian reservation) looked about as beautiful as anything my eyes had ever seen. The hills were enormous, covered in evergreens and yellow birch, maple and aspen. The neverending sight of green and yellow, all along the roadway, going up and down the towering hills was just spectacular.
We stopped at a casino, just to peek in and there was a large sign on the door that announced that guns and weapons were forbidden. Hmmm -- it felt suddenly like we were down south. At the marina, we were blessed with a small peninsula to look out on the lake and surrounding landscape, which was stunning. I'd love to live in one of the houses at the bottom of this hill!
While I did expect to see Indians in Duluth or Bayfield, I didn't, and here we were in Grand Portage, which I didn't know was a reservation until we saw the sign, I found myself staring with glee at the real Indians. Not some politically correct Native Americans -- which I'm told they hate and would rather be called "Indians," and who can blame them? I'm not talking about some lame, Hollywood actor with a spray on bronze and a long braid wig. Of all the cultures in all the world, that of the Indian is most engrossing to me. While we learned about the Indians in school (and very little in my area), their attempted extermination is not referred to as a holocaust or genocide, though it really was. The more I learn about the little freedoms they have with our country and government, the more bitter I feel about the whole thing. However, I have to say, if all the reservations look as beautiful as Grand Portage, they at least have that.
I read some fascinating facts about the Indians in and around Duluth; they have their own tribal license plates, and don't have to have the ones belonging to the state orbenefitedd by the government. Also, whenever land on the shore of Lake Superior becomes available for sale, they often try to buy it, to preserve the lake and take back what we have destroyed. It just makes me wonder how different things would be if they ran the show. So, visiting a reservation was an honor for me.
Just driving through it was great. Look at the typical view we had on the road.
Everywhere the eye could see was this!
We stopped at a tiny little gallery, where an Indian artisan had set up shop, displaying her beading work. We spoke with her at length, and she did a terrific job of explaining the different style stitches she used, some taught by her grandmother and some new ones. I bought a beaded bracelet, which I love, but it's too big for my wrist, so I'm looking for a way to make it smaller.
Reaching the Canadian border was a scary thing. We'd been warned and were terrified we wouldn't be able to get in because my boyfriend didn't have his birth certificate or other proof of birthplace. It was a constant fear we swallowed and didn't talk about much. The idea of having to turn back and miss Canada was too devastating to consider, so when we reached the border, I was on the verge of a breakdown. The stoic woman manning the booth at the border asked for identification, which we had, and she asked why we wanted to visit Canada and for how long. I tried to be as friendly and perky as possible, to come across as a harmless piece of dust on an unusedknickknackk, which must have worked because she waved us through without hesitation! We were in Canada! Yay!
We stopped immediately at the tourist center once across the border, if just to catch our breath and celebrate our entry. The young guy working inside gave us all kinds of brochures for the Thunder Bay area and some hotel suggestions as well. But what I really wanted to know was, had he seen any moose. He admitted that though the signs are everywhere and the warnings are intense, he'd not yet seen a moose in his entire time working for the tourist center. Shucks! If the locals aren't seeing them, the odds are not good that we will either!
The drive to Thunder Bay was every bit as gorgeous as the drive through Grand Portage, seeming to be just a continuation of the splendor. The Sawtooth Mountains are so awesome in the fall, I can't imagine how much of a thrill it would be for the locals when the colors start to show. What a show! We did notice that the color change included only yellow. No red or orange around. It turns out that this is typical of the region all the way around the north side of the lake. Interesting fact that I'll have to research more when I have an opportunity.
We found a cheap room in Thunder Bay, right in the heart of the city, grabbed a fairly poor meal at a fast food Mexican restaurant and some reduced-price donuts at a local shop (because it was after 6 PM and they are two for the price of one). The food would disappear quickly that night, but the donuts, since we bought a dozen and got a dozen free, would rattle in my backseat and disgust me for the remainder of the trip.
The night was quiet and we really enjoyed our room. Sometimes the price does not indicate quality!
We skipped breakfast and drove straight out of the city to get to the area of the amethyst mines. The drive northeast was great because the sun was still relatively low in the sky to the east, still hovering over the lake, and it provided some cool views of the lake and silhouettes of the landscape.
This is a view of Lake Superior from a gas station. (Please ignore the crooked horizon -- I'd skipped breakfast and was feeling unbalanced.)
And this view is from a gift shop next door.
There were three amethyst mines we wanted to hit, and the first one we came to was the Amethyst Mine Panorama. Although the drive to the mine off the main highway was long and arduous, it was well worth it.
Amethyst was everywhere! Large boulders laced with amethyst divided the "in" and "out" road to the mine itself, and the ground glistened with shades of lavender and purple. Neither of us was dressed for the dirty job ahead of us, but it didn't matter. We were surrounded with amethyst!
After a tour and a lesson about amethyst, we were guided to an area that was covered in rocks that had been dug out of the mine and dumped for 50 years on these spots. The mining company dug through these piles to find specimens to sell or use, and they were the same quality we had access to. At $2 CND per pound, we grabbed a bucket and started digging.
My method was to plop (gently) myself down on a higher mound and start digging. My boyfriend grabbed a hose and rinsed sediment off of the surface rocks to find his gems. I think we both had equal luck finding ones we liked.
What we learned was that amethyst comes in shades as light as lavender and as dark as black with red speckles. It's made up of quartz that has varying amounts of iron in it, and the darker the stone, the more iron that's present. Amethyst is a 6-sided crystal, and some very coveted pieces are the 6-sided tips, though the color preference of the crystals is really a personal choice. We found a few tips, many deep purple shards, some fantastic rocks with visible purple veins of amethyst running through them, and a couple pieces of rock with the crystals growing up from the top, with many complete crystals in all their glory.
On display in the middle of the tour area was a wall of rock that was masoned like brick, with gorgeous amethyst as the stone of honor.
Oh what I would give to have a fireplace of amethyst like this!
The sun was out, the weather was nice, and time flew so fast that we didn't even realize it was 2 PM until, of course, I had to go to the bathroom and couldn't hold it any longer. Three hours of digging through rubble and we collected a nice 2-pound bucket full of purple heaven.
Have I mentioned that amethyst is my boyfriend's favorite? Up until that point, he'd referred to this trip as a once-in-a-lifetime trip. After the amethyst mine, he was now saying we needed to do this again next year or in the spring. Heh, heh, heh -- it wasn't such a strange idea to drive around the lake after all!
So, for about $10 CND (two $3 admission fees and $4 for the amethyst we mined), which is about $8.50 USD, we had three hours of fun, saw more amethyst than most will in a lifetime, and I even had a nasty mining blister to prove what hard work it was. Oh, and if anyone is thinking of trying this, do NOT sit on the ground while digging unless you bring some kind of cushion, because recently mined rocks are sharp, painful, and capable of tearing giant holes in even jeans.
After our long-ish time spent in the first mine, we decided to skip the other two and head to our next destination.
The road back to the highway provided some really gorgeous views as well. That's Lake Superior in the distance, by the way.
Once again, the trees of gold and green were everywhere.
Lake Superior on the north shore is unlike anything I've ever seen. The rocky shores, the crags and hills, the ancient remains of mountains that are estimated to have been as high as the Andes, and the rich forests that carpet the landscape are breathtaking.
This is a view from a small wayside, overlooking Nipigon, Ontario.
Driving across the Canada shore of Lake Superior looks like this.
Around every corner is an inland lake that has no human presence anywhere near it and appears utterly untouched, while on the other side is Lake Superior, seen from higher up on the hillsides that the road climbs and winds around.
I swear, you'll be driving along with forests on both sides of the road, and then you'll come around a turn and suddenly this is your view.
We noticed a wayside in Rossport and immediately pulled over. As the sun was nearing the horizon at the end of the afternoon, Rossport just lit up with beauty.
The waves softly splashed the rocks on the shore, which were worn smooth from it.
Here I found handfuls and pocketfuls of beautiful granite, which caused me to refer to Rossport as Rockport. It takes effort for me to call it by the correct name now, as I will inevitably connect it to the vast amounts of beautifully plain rocks I couldn't get enough of.
It was at this point that we decided that our day of travel would have to come to a close very soon. The plan was to drive to Wawa, but it was looking like Marathon would be our unexpected stop for the night. This meant we'd be able to visit White River in the morning instead of missing the home of Winnie the Pooh due to the fading light.
Marathon was a surprisingly quaint town. We found a very cheap motel room on the edge of town and my boyfriend and I fell in love with the manager's dog. Clearly this dog had some husky in his blood, but according to the owner, he got her from a nearby reservation, where a female dog (what he referred to as a plain, "reservation dog") got out, got pregnant by something in the woods, and had this litter of puppies. I wish I had pictures of this dog! She HAD to be half coyote! And she never ever barked, ever. He showed us a photo of the dog when she was a puppy, and this dog looked like a bobble-head toy. She was 90% head! It was hilarious, but she was a terrific dog.
The room was a cinderblock cell painted yellow. My first discovery was that there was no alarm clock. While my boyfriend walked to the office to get toilet paper (which had not been stocked by the cleaning crew -- not a good sign), I searched the room high and low for a clock. When it was clear that an alarm clock was not an included amenity, I grabbed the phone to call for a wake-up call in the morning. There was a phone, but the phone line was gone! I moved furniture, followed all the cords and lines, but no phone cord was in the room. When my boyfriend came back, I told him the crisis and he chuckled, said the owner had some battle with the phone company and removed all the lines to the rooms. Okay, but how will we get up on time the next morning? While I stressed, he tried to calm me down, to no avail. Instead we went to dinner.
I had the most incredible dinner at The Prime Cut restaurant in Marathon! To spoil myself in my freaked out state, I ordered a half slab of honey garlic ribs. OH MY GOD, that was so good! I am a connoisseur of rib recipes that don't include BBQ sauce, and I'm finding some great ones out there. This one I'd pay big bucks to get my hands on.
Marathon was a nice town, raised above the lake but a fantastic spot to watch the sunset.
Once back at the room, we discovered that there was a way to program the television to come on at a certain time, which provided me with the security of an alarm to wake up with, because I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep without it. Thankfully, I got a good night of sleep after such a full, great day.