Friday, September 11, 2015

A Visit to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks
Michigan's Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on Lake Superior stretches from Grand Marais in the east to Munising in the west. My family and I spent two nights in the beautiful town of Grand Marais and used the town as our home base to explore the area. Since we have two young children, my wife and I knew we would not be able to cover as much ground as we would've liked. We realized we wouldn't be able to hike or kayak, but our goal was to see the Pictured Rocks, the Grand Sable Dunes, and at least one waterfall.

When we first arrived in Grand Marais, we spent some time in town and on the beach before venturing into the national lakeshore. We drove on Alger County Highway 58. H-58 is a meandering road that runs along the lakeshore. It leads to parking lots along the park's hiking trail, allowing people without the time or luxury to hike the whole lakeshore to stop and see its highlights.

Since we were weary from a long drive from Metro Detroit, we only stopped at Sable Falls and the Log Slide Overlook on our first foray into the national lakeshore. We picked these spots because they are the two closest landmarks to Grand Marais, and they both have fairly short trails that we could handle with two tired girls.

Sable Falls
The falls were easily accessible for us, but reaching them requires descending a long set of steps built into the side of a steep hill. Our three-year-old could handle the steps, though we did carry her a little bit to speed things up.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Grand Marais: A Superior Vacation Spot

Grand Marais beach with the giant dunes on the horizon
During my recent visit to Michigan's Upper Peninsula, I repeatedly asked myself, "Why did it take you so long to come back here?" and "Why don't more people visit this place?" I try to live my life without regret, but I found myself regretting my failure to visit the U.P. since the last time I visited as a boy. I suppose I thought that I eventually would visit because the U.P. would always be there.

Fortunately, it was there, and it was better than I remembered. And I will be returning as soon as I possibly can.

My family and I stayed in only two places in the U.P. Our first two nights were in Grand Marais, a small but beautiful coastal town on the eastern end of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

The Mackinac Bridge
The only way to reach Grand Marais and the U.P. from the Lower Peninsula by car is across the majestic Mackinac Bridge. Crossing the Mighty Mac was always one of my favorite parts of my childhood U.P. trips, but I did not remember how breathtaking the view from the bridge was. We were surrounded by beautiful blue water spotted with green, tree-covered islands as we soared 200 feet above the straits. I turned to my wife and said, "I keep telling myself, 'This is so beautiful!' over and over again." As a kid, I was more impressed by the bridge. Now, I still appreciated the bridge, but I was most impressed by the view of the straits the bridge provides.

Driving along Lake Michigan on US-2
After crossing the bridge, we headed west along US-2 instead of heading east, as my family always did. The highway runs along the Lake Michigan coast and provides gorgeous views of Lake Michigan. We stopped at a couple of scenic overlooks and marveled at the tremendous body of water before us. We thought of stopping to swim, but I had the opportunity on the way back from Grand Marais toward Lake Huron to take a dip in Lake Michigan from a rest area on US-2 (so I could swim in all of the U.P.'s Great Lakes during our trip). We eventually turned inland and headed north along M-77, which took us over rolling hills through forests and farmland.

As we approached Grand Marais, we reached the crest of large hill and saw miles of blue water ahead of us. Lake Superior!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

An Apology Letter to the Great Lakes

Dear Great Lakes, 

I underestimated you.

Lake Superior
I grew up loving the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. I lived in a little beach town in Massachusetts for part of my childhood, and my family spent a lot of time at and in the water. No matter how cold the water was or how huge the waves were, my brother and I loved bodysurfing. The waves could slam us down onto the sand and drag us, and we’d go right back in. I loved everything about the beach: the salty smell, the sound of the waves, and the feel of the sand, the rocks, and floating in the water. I loved exploring and swimming but could also just sit there and let all my senses take it in. I have always been in love with the beach.

So when I moved to Michigan in high school and people said lake beaches were great beaches, I scoffed. A lake can’t be a beach beach, I said. A few years later, I saw the Chicago side of Lake Michigan, and the lake itself was beautiful, with the shiny city skyline perched alongside it. But the beach area I saw—just a stretch of sand and water--was unimpressive. So I still wasn’t convinced. I didn’t doubt that the Great Lakes were gorgeous, but I doubted that lake beaches could have the feel of beach beaches.