In Search of Superior Crystal: Four Photographers Tour the Grand Island Ice Curtains
In the heart of winter, when the drifts are as high as houses and snow-dusted pines line the roads, photographers travel to the Upper Peninsula in search of crystal. Not antique-store crystal, but Superior crystal, the kind that occurs when the north wind turns every drop of open water into something sparkling and new. During the coldest months, the great lake freezes, heaves and breaks, forming mountains of crystal rocks, so tall they seem like permanent landforms. Icebergs and volcanoes rise in the harbors and bays, reflecting all the colors of the sky. Waterfalls slow from a rush to a trickle, building columns that bubble and sing. And, on the sandstone cliffs, springs that flow unseen in the summer months create glittering ice curtains.
During winter’s last stand, at the very beginning of March, I headed north to find Superior crystal. My trip was inspired by winter photographs of the U.P. that I’d viewed online. I’d seen dramatic images of enormous frozen waterfalls, great Superior ice fields, and shining rivers wreathed in morning mist. I wanted to experience and photograph all those scenes, but more than anything, I wanted to see the legendary ice curtains of Grand Island in Munising Bay. These immense, aqua blue ice curtains form when cold temperatures freeze the springs that seep from the island’s rocky cliffs. It can be tricky to get to the ice curtains, though. The island is not accessible every winter because the currents are strong in the bay, preventing adequate ice buildup. During last year’s historically cold winter, the bay froze sufficiently to allow foot traffic. For awhile it looked like Grand Island would not be accessible this year, but February’s arctic blast arrived just in time.
When I heard that people were safely crossing from Sand Point, I got ready to go, too. Some were crossing on snowmobiles, others on foot or on cross-country skis. I donned snowshoes and piled my camera gear into an old plastic saucer-sled rigged with bungee cords. The crossing took me about half an hour, but I expect the memories to last a lifetime. My photographer friends Neil Weaver, Craig Sterken and John McCormick made the crossing too. Here’s a glimpse of what we discovered.
The late afternoon sun illuminates majestic ice curtains and boulders. Photographed by Aubrieta Hope.
The sunrise over Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and casts its glow over the ice curtains. Photographed by Craig Sterken.
Grand Island grandeur. Photographed by John McCormick.
A crystal cave. Photographed by Neil Weaver.
Chunks of ice lay on the frozen surface of Lake Superior - previously a part of the magnificent ice formations above. Photographed by Craig Sterken.
Craig Sterken crosses the ice in front of an ice cave. Neil Weaver peeks outside to capture the moment.
Aubrieta V. Hope is a landscape photographer with a special interest in northern Michigan and a lifelong incurable affection for winter! Aubrieta's work can be found at www.michiganscenery.com. To view additional images of the Grand Island ice curtains and other grand landscapes of Michigan, she highly recommends visiting: Neil Weaver Photography. Craig Sterken Photography, Michigan Nut Photography (featuring the photography of John McCormick).