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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Screen Shot 2015-03-12 at 3.36.12 PM

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).

These Isle Royale Photos Are Sure to Inspire Your Next U.P. Getaway

Today, Michigan landscape photographer Joshua Nowicki shares some photos from a recent trip to Isle Royale. We’re sure his experience will inspire you to add the Upper Peninsula to your Pure Michigan getaway bucket list! 

Several weeks ago, I was invited to photograph a family wilderness program for the Isle Royale Institute (a partnership between Michigan Technological University and Isle Royale National Park).  It was my first trip to the island, and I was incredibly excited. I was delighted to discover that my expectations for the trip were far exceeded.

Sitting on the bow of the Isle Royale Queen IV and watching Copper Harbor, Michigan disappear into the distance as my cell phone signal faded filled me with joy.  As we moved further out into cool air of Lake Superior, a beautiful white all-encompassing fog surrounded the boat adding to the sense of adventure.  Approaching the island, even before I could see the land, there was a warmth in the breeze and a soft sweetness to the air.  As the island appeared out of the fog, the sky began to clear, and the air warmed.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

After disembarking from the ship, we received a short humorous and very informative introduction to the island from park ranger, Lucas Westcott.  Upon setting foot on land, I was struck by the beauty and wealth of wild flowers; a gorgeous layer of orange, yellow, purple and white blanketed sections of the landscape.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

On my first evening, I went for a walk along the Rock Harbor Trail and saw numerous loons, squirrels, and rabbits.  Additionally, upon turning a corner in the trail, I found myself standing within 30 yards of a cow moose and calf.  At night, I enjoyed listening to the sounds of nature and I could even occasionally hear moose walking through the woods near my tent.  I saw more moose on Isle Royale than I have in all of the trips that I have taken to the Upper Peninsula.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

The Isle Royale Wolf-Moose Study is followed around the world, and I delighted in a trip to Bangsund Cabin to meet Rolf and Candy Peterson.  Standing in the Museum of Pathology and listening to Rolf discuss the project was a surreal experience I will always treasure.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

A short walk from Bangsund Cabin, leads to the Rock Harbor Lighthouse which is open to the public as a museum.  The tower of the lighthouse also provides visitors with a magnificent view of Rock Harbor and Lake Superior.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photgraphy

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photgraphy

The number of amazing experiences I had are too numerous to write about in one blog post. Some of the additional highlights of my trip were:

Hiking along the Greenstone Ridge and enjoying the fantastic view of the island and Sleeping Giant Provincial Park in Canada from the steps of Mount Ojibway Tower.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Marveling at the view of the night sky.  I have never seen the Milky Way so clearly and was even fortunate enough to see both the Milky Way and Northern Lights one evening.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Waking early to watch the sunrise over the forest.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photgraphy

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photgraphy

Walking through sections of white spruce and balsam forest covered with Old Man’s Beard Lichen.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Having the rare opportunity to watch a group of pelicans fly over the island, finding greenstones along the beach near Rock Harbor Lighthouse (all stones were left at the beach as per park guidelines), sitting and watching hummingbird moths busily flying from flower to flower, watching curious squirrels explore our camp, and meeting park superintendent Phyllis Green and discussing how a trip to Isle Royale is an incredible place for a family adventure…just to name a few!

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

If you love hiking and camping, Isle Royale is an absolute paradise where you can enjoy the uninterrupted beauty and sound of nature.  However, if camping is not for you, you can experience the island from the comfort of the Rock Harbor Lodge.  There are a variety of trails that are easy to access from the lodge or by water taxi.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

I look forward to my next trip to explore more of this beautiful national treasure.

Joshua_NowickiJoshua Nowicki is a St. Joseph, Michigan based photographer specializing in landscape, nature, architecture, and food photography. His photos can be viewed online on Facebook or his website.

Six Spectacular Lake Superior Cruises

Michigan’s largest lake is often an awe-inspiring sight to behold. Today, featured blogger Jesse Land of  Things to do in the U.P. describes six unique ways to experience Lake Superior by boat.

Photo courtesy of Jonathon Smith

Photo courtesy of Jonathon Smith

Lake Superior is a magical body of water. There’s just something magnetic about the largest of our great lakes that draws people to it. And those who’ve visited Superior’s waters can (and often do) attest that it’s more than a lake. Somehow, no matter where you’re from, Lake Superior feels like home.

Of course, you can hike the hills that flank the lake, swim her beaches or ride bikes along her shore, but there’s nothing quite like actually getting out on the water. This month, filmmaker Aaron Peterson released a video, produced for The Marquette County Visitor’s Bureau, that beautifully showcases the lake.

Sailing on the Coaster II (featured in the above video) is a spectacular way to see Lake Superior, but there are other cruises available, too. Below I’ll list a few of the most popular ways to see “the big lake” by boat.

Marquette

Superior Odyssey
(906) 361-3668

As you can see in this video, Superior Odyssey’s historic Coaster II is definitely one of the most unique ways to see Lake Superior, and a great way to see a side of Marquette many never do (ie. from the water). From a two hour sightseeing trip to full day and even overnight trips, you’re sure to find something in their schedule that fits your schedule!

Marquette Harbor Cruise
(906) 225-9000

Glide along Marquette’s beaches, the Blackrocks rock formation and the cliff’s of Presque Isle Park on the Isle Royale Queen III. Snacks and beverages are available, and the sights are unbeatable. And just like a cruise with Superior Odyssey, you’ll have the opportunity to see the beautiful, but often missed view of Marquette from the water.

Munising

Pictured Rocks Cruises
(906) 387-2379

Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Vedua

Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Vedua

Explore the stories in stone (as their website says) with a Pictured Rocks cruise. For most folks, the Pictured Rocks cruise is the best way for them to see these regionally famous rock formations. Hop on one of their cruise ships and in just a few hours you’ll see rock formations, beaches and waterfalls that would take days to explore on foot. And even if you have the time to hike, many sections of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore are best viewed from the water.

Riptide Ride
(906) 387-8888

Riptide Ride is the Munising area’s adventure cruise. Promising “360 degree spins and amazing speed” all while touring Pictured Rocks, this boat tour is perfect for those looking to spice things up a little. But bring your camera, there are plenty of pauses for sightseeing opportunities, too!

Houghton

The Ranger III
(800) 949-2026

If you ever plan to visit Isle Royale, the two ferry’s that travel from the Upper Peninsula to Lake Superior’s largest island are also a terrific way to see the expansive waters of Superior. Operating out of Houghton, the Ranger III is the largest piece of moving equipment owned by the National Park Service. It’s 165 feet long, 34 feet wide and can carry 128 passengers. (It can also carry private boats up to 20 feet long!) The “leisurely ride” to Rock Harbor takes about six hours.

Copper Harbor

The Isle Royale Queen IV
(800) 949-2026

The other Isle Royale ferry is the Isle Royale Queen IV. Departing from Copper Harbor, the Isle Roayle Queen IV will get you to Rock Harbor in about 3 hours and fifteen minutes. And while you’re there, make a night of it by staying at the Rock Harbor Lodge.

As you can see, you’ve got options when it comes to seeing Lake Superior up close and personal. Have you taken any of the boat cruises mentioned here?

Written by Jesse Land, publisher of Things to do in the U.P. on behalf of the Marquette County Visitor’s Bureau. Find more information about the Marquette area at TravelMarquetteMichigan.com.