In Search of Superior Crystal: Four Photographers Tour the Grand Island Ice Curtains

If you head up north in the deep winter months, chances are you’ll find some ice…and lots of it! Today, guest blogger and landscape photographer Aubrieta Hope shares her journey to the shores of Lake Superior to find and photograph the awe-inspiring 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.

Michigan Scenery

The sunrise over Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and casts its glow over the ice curtains. Photographed by Craig Sterken.

Craig Sterken Photography

Grand Island grandeur. Photographed by John McCormick.

Michigan Nut Photography

A crystal cave. Photographed by Neil Weaver.

Neil Weaver Photography

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 Photography

Craig Sterken crosses the ice in front of an ice cave. Neil Weaver peeks outside to capture the moment.

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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).

Cure Your Cabin Fever! Five Reasons to Take a Vacation Day and Head Outside

According to the U.S. Travel Association, U.S. workers only use 77 percent of their paid time off, resulting in nearly 169 million forfeited vacation days and $52.4 billion in lost benefits! Luckily, PTO days can be used any time during the year, and a quick winter trip is sure to cure any cold-weather blues. Here are six reasons to use those vacation days and explore what a winter day in Pure Michigan has to offer.

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1. There’s plenty of fresh powder! 

With more than 51 ski areas, 260 chairlifts, 1,000 runs, 50 terrain parks and an annual snowfall of more than 100 inches, Michigan offers some of the best ski and snowboarding slopes you can find in the Midwest. In-state resorts like Boyne Mountain Resort and Crystal Mountain are perfect for weekend away to shred some fresh powder or even take your very first lesson. Many resorts offer tubing and sledding fun, too!

2. Wineries are less crowded in the winter.

Take a winter winery tour! Many think that all Michigan wineries hibernate during the winter season, but some stay open all year long  for you to enjoy! One popular winter activity among foodies is to warm up with a glass of wine/small bites from a trio of wineries along a 7.5-mile ski and snowshoe path on the Leelanau Peninsula. The only question is, do you prefer red or white?

3. Trying something new can be thrilling!

Dog Sledding
Dog sledding is a wild winter adventure. The hot breath of the huskie pack fogs the crisp winter air as they pull you with focused determination across the glistening landscape. Imagine you’re racing against another team, over the same frozen terrain that explorers did long ago! Dog sledding is a fun activity for the whole family and can create memories that last a lifetime.

Iceclimbing

Ice Climbing
One of winter’s newest silent sports, Ice climbing, combines challenge and adventure. With ropes and harnesses, ascend stunning icefalls, cliffs and rock slabs, all waiting to be conquered. Swing your axe into the ice, hold on tight and inch your way up the frozen ladder. Be one of the first people to know to say you climbed a frozen waterfall!

Ice Luge
Did you know that one of lonely three luge tracks in the United States can be found right here in Michigan? Located near the shores of Lake Michigan in the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex, you’ll be able to fly down the track just like the winter Olympians do.

4. There’s always time for quality time.

Photo courtesy of Zehnder's

Photo courtesy of Zehnder’s

Romantic Getaways
Sweep your sweetie away on a romantic getaway. You don’t have to go far to find a perfect weekend getaway with that special someone in your life. Some romantic packages include champagne dinners, in-room Jacuzzi’s and wine tastings while others let you relax with spa treatments or special in-room amenities. There’s no wrong choice when surprising a loved one with a romantic getaway in Michigan.

Family Fun
If you’re experiencing some cabin fever, we bet the kids are too! Family-friendly waterparks can be found all over the state, just waiting to wash away the norm. Whether you splash in the shallows with the little ones, or race each other for bragging rights down the twisting water slides, nothing brings families closer together than a Pure Michigan water park adventure. 

Ice Fishing5. The fish still bite during the winter. 

During the winter, Michigan’s four Great Lakes, more than 11,000 inland lakes and hundreds of rivers and streams provide anglers with the perfect location to ice fish for bluegill, perch, pike and walleye. Whether you’re a master angler or don’t quite know your way around a reel yet, fishing in Michigan is fun for everyone. Make sure to mark Free Fishing Weekend (Feb.14-15) on your calendar and check out our Winter Angler’s Ultimate Packing List before hitting the ice!

How would you spend a winter day off in Pure Michigan? Share your photos enjoying the snow using #PureMichiganSnowDay on Twitter and Instagram or visit michigan.org/snowday.

Five Thrilling Gifts for the Adventure-Seeking Traveler on Your Shopping List

While many will be shopping for gizmos and gadgets for their loved ones this holiday season, we couldn’t forget about the adventure lovers who are always seeking their next thrill. Luckily, Michigan offers some of the most unique and adrenaline-pumping winter activities around.

This year, give the gift of adventure with these five experiences that are sure to blow the thermal socks off the thrill-seeking traveler on your shopping list.

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Dog Sledding Tours

Dog sledding is a wild winter adventure. The hot breath of the huskie pack fogs the crisp winter air as they pull you with focused determination across the glistening landscape. Imagine you’re racing against another team, over the same frozen terrain that explorers did long ago. So “mush!” and check out these exhilarating tours around the state.

Ice Climbing

Michigan is home to one of the best ice climbing regions in the country. One of winter’s newest silent sports, ice climbing combines challenge and adventure. With ropes and harness, ice climbers ascend stunning natural ice structures. Icefalls, frozen waterfalls, cliffs and rock slabs are all waiting to be conquered. Ice climbing takes you to breathtaking scenery that few people experience.

Ski and Snowboarding Packages

SkiingGet stoked! Michigan ski and snowboarding regions offer adrenaline junkies some of the most exciting, diverse terrains in the Midwest. Michigan is home to more than 40 ski areas and resorts that offer both beginners and experts a thrilling ski or boarding experience. So whether you want to catch some big air or just take a lesson, Pure Michigan is the place to look.

Ice Luge 

Luge

For those who’ve always dreamed of being an Olympian, the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex offers three separate luge tracks designed to introduce beginners to the sport of luge. Shorter in overall length than Olympic-style tracks, the Muskegon track provides an Olympic thrill with the safety of the participant in mind.  The track is designed specifically for general public use and those who never have slid before! Equipment is provided.

Winter Zip Line

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If you thought zip lining was only for summer fun, think again. Snow Snake zip line tours consist of ten unique and exciting lines that take you through thick woods and over deep valleys at speeds reaching up to 25 mph. The longest line is more than 800 feet long and the highest is 70 feet high. The entire tour is take you more than 4,000 feet. If you know someone between the ages of 8 and 88 who is adventurous and loves being surrounded by the great outdoors, consider booking a zip line tour.

Want to discover more Pure Michigan winter fun? Head to michigan.org/winter for a complete list of activities you can enjoy this season.