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).

From Our Fans: 25 Unforgettable Pure Michigan Snow Day Memories

We asked our fans to show us what they’ve been up to this winter, and we had a blast taking a look at the fantastic snow day memories that they’ve made so far. From dog sledding to snowboarding, snowshoe hiking and more, it’s easy to see that there are countless ways to spend the ultimate snow day in Pure Michigan.

There’s still plenty of winter left! Take a look at these 25 unforgettable Pure Michigan snow day memories and make plans to get out and explore for yourself.

What’s your favorite way to spend a snow day? Share your photos enjoying the snow using #PureMichiganSnowDay on Twitter and Instagram! For more on planning a Pure Michigan winter outing, visit michigan.org/snowday.

Exploring the Eben Ice Caves in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Today, featured blogger Jesse Land of Things To Do in the U.P. tells us how to have a fantastic Pure Michigan winter adventure at the Eben Ice Caves in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. 

Photo courtesy of Habibi Photography

Just outside of Marquette County, the Eben Ice Caves are one of Michigan’s prime winter attractions. Each winter, once the ice caves start to freeze up (usually sometime in December), visitor’s flock to the tiny town of Eben Junction to see the ice caves and, while they’re out there, support local businesses like the Eben Ice Caves concession stand, the Rock River Cafe and the New Moon Tavern.

Eben Ice Caves – The Basics

The “Rock River Canyon Ice Caves” better known as the Eben Ice Caves, form when melting snow runs over the edge of a small cliff and freezes, forming “ice caves” Much like the large ice formations along Munising’s Grand Island and parts of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, if you were to visit here in the summer you would see little to no water running over the edge.

It’s the perfect combination of a slow snow melt and frigid temperatures that causes these “caves” of ice to form.

The Hike to the Caves

Photo courtesy of Things to Do in the U.P.

This isn’t an attraction where you can pull up in your car, walk a few feet and be done. It’s not a long hike, but yes, you will have to get out and stretch your legs. And for the pet owners out there, yes, the area is pet friendly. Each time I’ve visited the ice caves I’ve seen more than a few dogs on the trail.

The hike from the parking area to the ice caves is about .75 miles. The first .25 mile stretch is a very flat walk through a farmer’s field. And just a note on that, the farmer allows people like you and me to pass through the field at no charge and if the kind family that owns the land ever stopped allowing this, the hike to the ice caves would be much longer. In addition to that, the land owners now offer portable bathrooms in the parking area at no charge. So, show your thanks by purchasing a hot beverage or a snack at their concession stand if you’re able!

A Word on Snowshoes and Ice Cleats

Photo courtesy of Things to Do in the U.P.

After a foot of snow got dumped on the area just two days before my recent visit, I asked a friend who lives in nearby Chatam if I should bring snowshoes. “It’s never a bad idea to bring the shoes,” he said, “but I”m guessing it’ll be packed down by then.”

He was right. Snowshoes would have only made the hike more difficult. So if you have them, bring them in case you happen to visit right after a big snowstorm. Otherwise, wear ice cleats.

Some form of ice cleats (I like Yaktrax but any of them should help!) can go a long way toward enhancing your Eben Ice Caves experience. Trust me. On any given day, about half the people visiting the caves are wearing cleats, and the other half wish they had them. The main reason is that, with ice cleats, you’re able to walk around inside the ice caves on relatively sure footing. And without them, it’s a little treacherous. The ice inside the caves is very smooth so traditional rubber boots tend to slide around quite a bit.

But another reason to wear cleats is that the trail out to the caves has some steep ups and downs. You’ll see many spots where people slide down hills on their bottoms, and then struggle to get up the other side. In short, if you’re wearing cleats (like myself and my cohorts were on our last outing) you’ll be able to walk right up and down those slippery spots. On my last visit, a college aged girl looked a little stunned as I walked right by her on a slippery hill and said “Oh, so that’s what it’s like when you have traction.”

Okay, enough about the ice cleats. You get the point!

Getting There

Photo courtesy of Habibi Photography

The Eben Ice Caves used to be a little hard to find, but no longer. Just set your GPS for Eben Junction, MI. (Or use Google Maps to find it.) From M-94 in Eben Junction, turn north onto Eben Road and drive about 1.5 miles to Frey Road. Turn right on Frey Road and drive to the end (if you can) or if it’s a busy day just find a spot to park along the road. It’s not unusual to see fifty or more cars parked here on a nice weekend day. Also, Eben Road and Frey Road have yellow signs on them that say “Ice Caves”, so keep an eye out for those.

All in all, though it’s a bit of a drive out to the ice caves, I’d highly recommend checking them out! As far as Michigan ice caves go, these are the most accessible I know of.

Have you been to the Eben Ice Caves? What did you think?

 

Written by Jesse Land of Things to do in the U.P. on behalf of Travel Marquette Michigan.