The Diversity of the Apostle Islands

“Sea stack” in the Apostle Islands

Sea Caves, Lighthouses, Shipwrecks and breathtaking Sunsets…..all these amazing attributes are found among the 22 islands above the northern tip of Wisconsin in the chilly waters of Lake Superior. These unique islands were sculpted out of sandstone and formed towards the end of the glacial period 10,000 years ago. The amazing colored agates and rocks found in the area were deposited as the glaciers melted.

Many stories surround how the Apostle Islands got their names, but the commonly agreed upon one, involves the biblical parallel to the 12 Apostles.  Early explorers to the area were missionaries and tended to name new areas based on Biblical names. Counting the islands loosely, many believed that there were only 12, so the name: the Twelve Apostle Islands seemed appropriate.  Even though there are 22, the name Apostle Islands remained.

It’s interesting that there are only four areas protected by the National Park Service as “national lakeshores” and the Apostle Islands is one of them. President Nixon signed the bill establishing the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in 1970. There are 22 islands in the Apostle Islands, but one is omitted from the inclusion in the National Park protection: Madeline Island. This island is the largest of the islands and was omitted due to extensive residential and commercial development already existing on the island.

NPS Visitors Center

When visiting a National Park, my mantra has always been: “Let’s go to the Visitor’s Center first!” A visit to these islands is no exception to that rule. The Visitors Center is in an old courthouse; a historic building in it’s own right, but gives you a real overview of the islands and any information you my need while visiting.  The Visitors Center Park Headquarters is found at 415 Washington Ave. in Bayfield,  north from WI. 13 near 5th street. It resides in an old courthouse building that has been beautifully restored.  It was constructed from Brownstone mined from the Apostle Islands. Inside the center, are numerous displays of historical and also present day features of the park. The folks that work at the information desk have an abundance of information to help with any questions and suggestions about the surrounding area and lakeshore.  There is also a terrific film, 20 minutes long, explaining both the geology and human history of the area surrounding the Apostles entitled: “On the edge of Gichi Gami, Voices of the Apostle Islands.” Most people are familiar with Longfellow’s spelling of Gitche Gumee from his Hiawatha poem (1855). However, today in Ojibwe language class, you are more likely to see gichi-gami, gitchi-gami or kitchi-gami for Lake Superior. Loosely, it does indeed mean “Big Sea” or “Huge Water,” but just about always refers to Lake Superior.

Bayfield Wisconsin is a lovely town right on the south shore of Lake Superior and hails itself as the gateway to the Apostle Islands. Bayfield is the smallest incorporated city in Wisconsin, but it is brimming over with activity near the beauty of Lake Superior and the surrounding hillsides. The area is known for an abundance of recreational pursuits like hiking, kayaking and of course sailing.  When we were there, the town was host to a sailing race. Many of the sailing teams congregating at the local restaurants…you could just tell by the snippets of overheard conversations. Some of the sailing terminology that was bantered about is completely foreign to me, but the great thing is you could tell they were having a terrific time sailing among these beautiful islands.  Also, fruit and apple crops are abundant in this climate and area restaurants highlight locally grown produce. The Bayfield Apple Festival, always starting on the first Friday in October, is a weekend filled with farmers markets, fish fry and culminating with a parade. It’s quite the event in Bayfield. For more info. about Bayfield, check out: http://Bayfield.org

Lights of the Apostle Islands

Having an interest in lighthouses, I really came to the right place: The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore has a larger concentration of lighthouses than any other National Park Service site. There are six lighthouses within the Apostle Islands, but there are even more in that area of Lake Superior, including Ashland Harbor. On the map here, you can see how the lighthouses are positioned among the islands. We only viewed the Raspberry and Devil’s Island lights, so perhaps another trip would be warranted.  After speaking with boat tour personnel and others, I found out that those two lighthouses are perhaps the most photographed and visited of all the lights.  Perhaps due in part to their easier accessibility to the mainland, but they are also possess their own unique characteristics. The building of the lighthouses between 1857 and 1915 ushered in the rise of modern shipping on Lake Superior.

Devil’s Island

Devil’s Island light opened in 1901 and sits atop the island that is the northernmost point of land in Wisconsin. I thought that alone was an interesting bit of trivia! This lighthouse is an impressive 80 feet high and is found above the beautiful sea caves that undercut the shoreline. The sandstone cliffs make a picturesque view with hardwood forests as the back drop. The incredibly rocky and treacherous shorelines, especially by Devil’s Island, make one realize why the lighthouses marking the way were so very important to the early mariners.

Raspberry Island Lighthouse

The Raspberry Island Lighthouse opened in 1862 with a height of 42 feet. The light was installed to mark the west channel in the islands. It is said to be one of the few remaining wood framed lighthouses on Lake Superior. Even though it is rather large, by lighthouses standards, it has a certain charm to it and has been lovingly restored in recent years. The property includes the attached lighthouse keeper quarters, a fog signal building, barn, brick oil house, two boathouses, two outhouses and a dock. When we were there, we saw a few people ascending the huge staircase from the shoreline and dock to the top landing: wow there’s your workout for the day.

There is so much beauty in the Apostle Islands to experience that one visit there will not suffice…looking forward to my next trip there. Put your traveling shoes on. JES

Interstate Park: a shared View

View of the St. Croix- Wisconsin Interstate Park

Atop the glacial formed cliffs towering by the St. Croix river, are two beautiful parks: one on the Minnesota side and one on the Wisconsin side. They share the “Interstate” name and they share similar terrain, however they are operated independently by each state. For over 100 years, visitors have come to this area to view the rugged cliffs, unique glacial formations and the forested hills surrounding the scenic St. Croix River. In addition to the breathtaking scenery, the area is perfect for a number of recreational pursuits include hiking, camping, fishing and boating.

In 1895, the Minnesota Interstate Park was established to help preserve the scenic beauty and geologic wonders found in the area. Wisconsin followed suit in 1900 by establishing Interstate Park at the southern edge of St. Croix Falls, directly across from the Minnesota Park.  Wisconsin’s Interstate Park is the oldest established Park in the state.  When originally conceived in the early 1900’s , the Parks were run with a certain degree of reciprocity between the two states.  However, with changes in administration of the Parks, after 2003 the Parks became independent of each other and are operated by their respective states. Even though the administration is separate, the ideology and shared vision of protecting this unique and beautiful glacial land is reciprocal.

Old Man of the Dalles (photo by: thestcroixvalley.com)

Wisconsin Interstate Park is Wisconsin’s oldest state park and boasts incredible land forms and hiking trails with breathtaking view of the St. Croix River. Interesting geological formations in the park called “potholes” can be viewed in several locations throughout the park. Not the kind of potholes we usually think of that afflict the roadways for motorists, these potholes were formed when sand and rocks were trapped in glacial whirlpools and drilled deep potholes into solid rock. Another feature of the rock formations can be found by the cliffs rising from the riverbeds. Some of the cliffs rise up to 200 feet high above the river. One of the most unusual rock formation is the “Old Man of the Dalles”, with an uncanny look of an old man looking out over the St. Croix River. It makes one think of the man-made stone work of Mt. Rushmore, but it is truly amazing that this visage was totally crafted by natural forces.

Another interesting feature of this Wisconsin Park, is that it also has an affiliation with the National Park Service by virtue of the fact that this park is on the western edge of the Ice Age Trail.  The effects of the glacial period are readily seen across the state of Wisconsin and better preserved than almost any other area of the country. The Interstate Park Visitor newsletter reports: “In 1964, legislation was passed by Congress to preserve and protect this heritage of the Ice Age in Wisconsin. This legislation created the Ice Age National Scientific Reserve.  The Reserve consists of nine separate units located across the state from Lake Michigan on the east to the St. Croix River on the Wisconsin-Minnesota border on the west.”

The Ice Age Interpretive center, close to the entrance of the park, has informative displays on the effects of glacial activity and a 25 minute video entitled “Mammoths & Moraines”.  Additionally they have a book store and gift store in this same facility.  The staff there can help with any questions about the area and what your needs are when visiting the park. For example, which trails would be suited for my hiking ability? Some trails are much “trickier” and steep than others.  If canoeing or boating, there are boat launches available on the St. Croix River and Lake O’ the Dalles.  Campers can take their pick from 82 beautiful wooded sites. Camping is  available May 1- October 1.  The Interstate Park of Wisconsin encompasses 1,330 acres with an abundance of land to explore.

Taylors Falls Scenic Boat Tours

The Minnesota Interstate Park is smaller, at 293 acres, but also has an abundance of interesting terrain and activities. The views of the river provide different outlooks from the western side. When I was there, several brave souls were climbing the steep faces of the rocky cliffs. (With several safety harnesses, luckily….sorry, just not my cup of tea.) Another activity, only available on the Minnesota side of the river, are boat rides on the St. Croix on those old, quaint paddle boats.  I must clarify that the boat tours are not affiliated with Minnesota Interstate Park, they just happen to be right next to the park. Both the Park and the boat tours are in Taylors Falls and both on the riverfront. When you are hiking in the park, it is common to see several of these tour boats going up and down through the Dalles. You gotta love those huge paddle wheels churning up the water. (Cue: “Mississippi Queen…You know what I Mean….”) Boats have been touring up and down this river since 1906.  For more information on the Scenic Boat Tours, you can check out their website at: http://www.taylorsfallsboat.com

Exploring both of the parks can be very rewarding.  They share a border and also share the same vision of protecting a beautiful part of our Midwestern landscape.

Information on Wisconsin’s Interstate Park can be found at:http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/interstate/

Information on Minnesota’s Interstate Park can be found at: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/interstate/

Put your traveling shoes on. JES

Preserving a Legacy: St. Croix National Scenic Riverway

View of the St. Croix from one of the viewing platforms at the Visitor’s Center of the SCNCR.

Sometimes it is easy to make assumptions, frequently incorrect, based on common knowledge and not first hand experience.  It can be an eye-opening experience when you learn something new, that turns your previous assumption upside down. That happened to me recently with an updated geography lesson about the upper Midwest. Growing up in Iowa, the Mighty Mississippi, was the grand daddy of all rivers and forms the eastern Iowa border.  Sure,  I had heard of the St. Croix River, but just knew it was “up north” somewhere.  I didn’t realize that a large portion of the Wisconsin and Minnesota borders are defined by the St. Croix River, which joins the Mississippi further south, almost to the Iowa border in Prescott, Wisconsin.  So many “flatlanders” like myself, just make the assumption that it is mostly the Mississippi that carves out the pathways in the Midwest. Yes, this is true, but the St. Croix has an impressive presence north of the 45th degree latitude.

A visit to the National Park Service Visitor Center of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway is a great way to learn how the St. Croix and the Namekagon rivers have had an incredible influence on this area of the upper Midwest.  In addition to learning about the fascinating geologic and historical information of the area, one can also get information here on hiking, canoeing and fishing these beautiful waters. The rivers have provided commerce, recreation and also abundant resources to support a diversity of wildlife.  The rivers of the St.Croix and Namekagon together make up 252 miles of protected waterway in the St. Croix National Scenic Waterway.

NPS photo, St. Croix river (circa early 1900’s) Logging with Wannigan house

The geologic history of the area began millions of  years ago when the glaciers carved out the river valleys and rugged bluffs overlooking the flowing rivers.  The first human inhabitants of the rivers  were the Dakota (Sioux) and the Ojibwe (Chippewa) that found this area to have plentiful resources for an abundant life.  The next to explore this area were the French and later the English fur trappers. The logging industry in the area took the St. Croix river valley by storm and the pique of the logging industry was the 1890’s. Log jams in the river frequently occurred, not only hindering the progress of lumber to the mills, but also damaging the fragile ecosytems of the rivers.  The life of the lumberjacks was challenging on the river, to say the least, and many lost their lives in this profession. They built small shanties that floated in the river to help carry supplies and were sometimes used to sleep in as they were “steering” the lumber downstream. The shanty was called a Wannigan as shown is this photo. The last major log drive was in 1914.  It is interesting that in St. Croix Falls, WI.  and Taylors Falls, MN. the lumber industry and the rich heritage of the river  is still celebrated today with “Wannigan Days”.  Now that is neat! I learned that new tidbit of trivia when moving to this area….I bet not that many people know what a Wannigan is, well know you know.

500 gallon Freshwater aquarium

When at the Visitor’s Center, be sure to check out the 500 gallon freshwater aquarium. It is stocked with great examples of the kinds of fish that anglers in the area are fishing for. The displays are great in learning all about the wildlife and the plant life near the river. Be sure to take a few minutes (only about 20) to view the film about the rivers and how the National Park Service established protection of this waterway thru the 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

Map of the Namekagon and St. Croix Rivers

The Visitor’s Center is also a great source of information for planning camping, canoeing and/or fishing trips.  They can provide maps, educational materials and answer any questions about the area. The St.Croix River Visitor Center is easily found at 401 N. Hamilton Street, St. Croix Falls, Wi. It is just off the main road (87), 2 blocks north of the St. Croix Overlook Deck.

Put your traveling shoes on. JES

A Tribute to a true lover of the Parks: Theodore Roosevelt.

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Theodore Roosevelt National Park– South entrance near Medora, N.D.

As  one drives through the rugged terrain of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, you appreciate the beauty of the rugged cliffs and eerie colors formed by the diversity of minerals found in this land. Land that has remained untouched by plows or backhoes for centuries, only modified by the wind, the sun and torrential rains. Included within the park are a diversity of landscapes and geological formations, such as the Petrified Forest and Painted Canyon.  The park consists of three separate units: the South unit (right off I-94), the North Unit and Elkhorn Ranch Unit.  Each portion of the park offers an abundance of  things to explore and opportunities for viewing wildlife.  Since the South unit is easily accessible (Exit #24 and #27 from I-94) near Medora, ND and also has two Visitor’s Center to help plan your adventure within the Park, it has a tendency to be the more frequently visited area of the Park.  The Visitor’s Center also has a really interesting museum about the man, the legends and some of the “naked truths” about this fascinating man who became our  26th President.  I was saddened to learn that Roosevelt lost both his mother and his wife on the same day: Valentines Day, 1884.  I can’t imagine the overwhelming grief.  He did seek solace in the lands that he so loved in the hills of North Dakota.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, located on the western side of North Dakota, is a more low-key National Park and does not boast huge mountains or erupting geysers, but nevertheless it is an amazing landscape that has been called “The Badlands of the North”.  Not only does it help to protect this unique area of land, it also pays homage to a man who played a huge role in the development of the National Park Service that we know today.quote-i-have-always-said-i-would-not-have-been-president-had-it-not-been-for-my-experience-theodore-roosevelt-105-74-46 It is fitting that North Dakota was chosen as the site for Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  This land truly inspired him and helped him grow and toughen his resolve, both physically and mentally. He first came to North Dakota in 1883 to “bag a buffalo” and later become involved in ranching.  Through a series of both bad luck and severe weather killing the majority of his livestock, he gave up the ranching life. However, the lessons he learned in the wilderness and with cattle ranching helped to strengthen his resolve and also helped to solidify his conservation ethic. He was quoted as saying: “I have always said I would not have been President had it not been for my experience in North Dakota.”

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Roosevelt and John Muir at Yosemite

Theodore Roosevelt was sometimes referred to as the “conservation President”.  He was responsible for establishing five National Parks and also created a system for the President to preserve lands and monuments by the creation of  The Antiquities Act of 1906. Roosevelt signed the act into law, which gives the President of the United States the authority to, by presidential proclamation,  create national monuments, protect public lands and to protect significant natural, cultural, or scientific features. Roosevelt’s first use of the Antiquities Act was to declare the unique feature of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming a National Monument. The Act has been used over a hundred times since its passage. Its use occasionally creates significant controversy, usually instigated by differences of opinion between Congress and the President.

Recently, President Obama used his Presidential power through The Antiquities Act to proclaim  87,000 acres in Maine as a National Monument in north-central Maine. The area has been christened as: the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.  I believe that you can’t help but be inspired and uplifted viewing this video and thinking of the preservation of this beautiful tract of land in Maine.

 

So here’s to those that help to preserve the beauty of our America and hopefully we can all get out there and  “Find your Park”.  For more information on the Find Your Park program, check out the National Park Service website at: https://www.nps.gov/index.htm

Put your traveling shoes on. JES

A Midwestern “Gem” of National Parks

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Brandywine Falls~ Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Many people don’t realize it, but there is a beautiful “gem” of a National Park in the heart of the Midwest, just south of Cleveland Ohio: Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  From the Native Americans word for “crooked river”, it is pronounced “Ka-uh-ogh-ha”. It is a beautiful park with waterfalls, cliffs and valleys, and a rich history about life in the mid-western states. When people think of National Parks, they frequently think of the “classics”: Yellowstone, Acadia, the Grand Canyon. Yet this park in Ohio is a beautiful representation of our National Parks system: preservation of natural beauty and also a link to the past. Looking at timelines, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is very young as a member of the National Park service. It was established as a National Recreation Area in 1974, then became a National Park in 2000. The fact that it is a relatively young National Park is very evident as one drives through the park and sees many residential areas throughout the park that were “grandfathered” in and allowed to remain within the park boundaries. These private residences do not distract from the beauty of the park, however sometimes seem odd from what people consider a “National Park” should be like. There are so many roads that go in and out of the park, and of course the residents that live there have easy access in and out.  It sometimes blurs the definition of the park boundaries.

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Bridal Veil Falls

The park itself preserves 33,000 acres along the Cuyahoga river valley between Cleveland and Akron, Ohio. The natural beauty of the park includes deep gorges, waterfalls, cliffs and century old majestic trees that rise high in the skyline. Most of the trees are typical of the Midwest and the deciduous seem to outnumber the pines.  With the abundance of Maples, I would imagine this would be a wonderful place to visit in the Fall to see all the changing colors. A diversity of beautiful wildflowers can be found throughout the park and more than 100 bird species nest in the valley. The many trails within the park are perfect for both hiking and biking. Many cyclists make use of the fantastic “towpath trails” that follow the canal paths throughout the park. Some of the canals have all but disappeared except for a low trench, but others still have water in them and still seem “usable”.  The towpaths where the mules were used to tow boats along the canal, have all been resurfaced and make fantastic bike paths.

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Canal boats pulled by Mules

In additional to the natural features, the park has a fascinating history about the use of the canals. The “canal era” from roughly 1825 to 1913, was a period of time that Americans relied heavily on the use of the canal system for economical transportation of both products and passengers. The Ohio-Erie Canal was built in 1825 and served to connect Lake Erie all the way south to the Ohio River. It helped to provide transportation and increase commerce from 1827 to 1913.  In 1913, a devastating flood occurred that  did extensive damage to the canals. At this time the railroads were also expanding into a major form of transportation and beginning to replace the widespread use of canals. The railroads soon became the primary source of transportation and life on the canal boats became a distant memory. When visiting Cuyahoga Valley National Park, be sure to visit the Canal Visitor Center, in the northern part of the park with some fascinating displays and some really interesting historical information about river commerce and lifestyles of the hardworking people who depended on the canals.

Another aspect of the park rich in history, but also providing an adventurous way to get back and forth throughout the park is the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. The train ticket gives you an all day pass and you can get off at any stop and get back on to explore several areas within the park.  The train also offers meals onboard and “tastings” of beer or wine.  With your tasting, you receive a CVSR commemorative tasting glass! Cyclists can also board the train, with their bikes.  They have the option to bike the towpath trail one direction then take the train the other.  Considering how many lengthy trails there are in the park, this is a terrific option for cyclists if you just run out of steam. Bear in mind that the train does not run 7 days a week.  Unfortunately when I was there it was not running. Generally they run Wednesday through Sunday, but be sure to check their web-site for more detailed information and ticket prices: http://www.cvsr.com

Like many National Parks, the park rangers are so interesting to talk with and have a wealth of information about the attributes of their park and also the area of the country they live in.  I would like to give a “shout out” to Ranger Jan at Cuyahoga Valley National Park~ she was a delight to talk with and shared so much information and history with us.  We ran into her at two different Visitors Centers; so much fun chatting with her! So Hi Jan! We will have to go back again one day, and maybe that time we can catch the train! Put your traveling shoes on. JES