An Unforgettable Paddling Experience at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Earlier this year, we shared Courtney Kotewa’s spectacular photo of a kayaking tour at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Her prize-winning photo will be featured on the 2015 National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass! Today, Courtney shares the unforgettable experience at Pictured Rocks that inspired her creative capture. 

Photo by Courtney Kotewa

Photo by Courtney Kotewa

Last year, my mom Beth came across a deal for a kayaking trip at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore with Uncle Ducky Outdoors in Munising, MI. Though she has been a lifelong resident of Michigan, she’d never made it up to the spectacular shoreline. She couldn’t pass it up, and she made plans to bring my younger brother Matt and me along, too. We’d never been to that part of the state either, and were excited for the getaway. We had no way of knowing what a fateful trip it would turn out to be!

The kayaking tour itself was everything we hoped it would be. It was a six-hour guided paddle starting at Miner’s Beach. We set out in tandem sea kayaks, up close and personal with the multi-colored sandstone cliffs that make the area so special. Along the way, the guides informed us about the area’s geology and history, telling us some fun facts about Lake Superior and pointing out a shipwreck. We stopped for the lunch we’d packed on a beach partway through the trip. We continued on to the turn-around point – Lover’s Leap. I had been taking pictures along the way whenever I managed to get my phone out of my life jacket. Seeing Lover’s Leap, I grabbed my phone again and took one shot before we paddled through and started the journey back.

Photo by Courtney Kotewa

Photo by Courtney Kotewa

I contemplated not bringing my phone along, because I knew there was the possibility of some big waves along the way. On the return trip we encountered those waves! The guides called it a “wind event” and it made for a fun and challenging paddle back. I was thankful for my kayak skirt! My upper half got pretty soaked but my phone, luckily, remained safely tucked away. Later, when I went to look through the photos I took, I remember being pleasantly surprised with how they came out. But mostly, I was just happy to have had such a great day with my family in what has to be one of the most beautiful parts of the country.

A few months later, I got an e-mail about a photo contest called Share the Experience, put on by the US Department of the Interior. To make a long story short, the contest was open to any amateur photographer who had taken a recent picture on federal land. My thoughts immediately went to my photos from our vacation, and I entered the shot of Lover’s Leap on a whim. A few months later I would learn, to my disbelief, that I was the grand prize winner. I was absolutely shocked, not only because over 16,000 people had entered the contest, but also because my picture was taken quite casually on my cell phone.

Photo by Courtney Kotewa

Photo by Courtney Kotewa

I was, of course, ecstatic to win the cash prize, but what struck me more was how happy I felt to have the winning photo come from Michigan. Working as a travel nurse, my patients often ask about where I’m from and usually know little about Michigan outside from what they hear on the news. I always tell them about what a beautiful and diverse state Michigan is, and now they can see for themselves.

I loved growing up in Michigan. I grew up enjoying summers at Higgins Lake, boating with my family in Holland, running on cross country courses with my best friends, camping, skiing, kayaking, paddle boarding. I could go on and on. Our state provides an enormous variety of ways to get out and appreciate your surroundings. And while I’m currently exploring other parts of the country, I’ve found my appreciation for the mitten state growing when I’m away. When I return, I’m always more aware of how nice people here really are, how the slightly slower pace allows people to relax and enjoy themselves. How much space there is for everyone to roam around in. How easy it is to find a nice place to watch the sunset. How many different parts of the state are truly worth some exploration. I love coming back to Pure Michigan because it’s home.

IMG_1278Courtney Kotewa is a travel nurse from Essexville, Michigan. Travel assignments have taken her all over California and to New York City, but she happily returns home to Michigan often. Courtney loves any opportunity to explore a new place, and likes to stay active in the great outdoors whenever possible.