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Wisconsin's Best

Wednesday, 13 September 2023, Bayfield WI

I scored the co-pilot seat on the seaplane back to Houghton - the final planned small plane trip of my challenge. It gave me one last chance for aerial photography. Once again, I could see the parallel alignment of the islands

and ridges. Looking closely near the center of this photo, I could make out the white walls of the Rock Harbor Light I'd visited yesterday.

Our flight angled directly away from the isle to cross the Great Lake. Several minutes into the flight, I noticed a tiny boat inching its way across the lake - it's The Sandy! Another few minutes and we also passed the much-larger Ranger III.

Our crossing took much less time than theirs. Back on the Keweenaw Peninsula, I now faced the big grind for this trip: a 7½ hour drive to International Falls MN, outside Voyageurs NP. But I could break it into halves: 3+ hours to Bayfield WI today, then visiting Apostle Islands National Lakeshore tomorrow morning before tackling the rest.

And as long as I'm in Houghton, Keweenaw National Historic Park (NHP) was close by. Well, 'close' was a relative term - and this park was NOT a typical NHP, with acres of parkland and nature trails surrounding historic buildings or ruins. Instead, it consisted of many independent cultural sites - museums, old buildings, historical societies, theatres, mines, and more - spread out on the peninsula commemorating the copper mining history of the area.

The Quincy Mine site (owned by a copper company, not the NPS)

did qualify as close by. This site - still operating as a working mine - offers a two-hour tour featuring a cog-rail tram, the hoist house, and visiting a mine. Unfortunately, I missed the morning tour, so I only got to walk around a few ruins. Strike one.

Ah, but the map shows NPS property across the highway containing the ruins of company housing. Of course, no signs showed how to actually get there. Once I figured it out, I found an unmaintained ruin with an interpretive sign.

No trails on which to stretch my legs. Strike two.

Okay, the map shows a restored mining office building, with directions. Easy to find, easy to reach. But the building now housed business offices, and was not open to the public.

Okay, time to move on. I headed west, passing by fast food options galore before stopping for lunch at an old tavern with an awesome burger. The rest of the drive provided no highlights. Woods filled the terrain with slight early glimmers of fall foliage, and the road passed several lakes, but nowhere did a simple wide spot in the road encourage a photography stop. Oh, wait, I forgot - there were two major viewpoints with signs talking glowingly about the vista overlooking the Keweenaw Canal or the Apostle Islands, but a mass of fully leafed trees blocked ALL views to those features. Gee, thanks for teasing me, MI DOT.

With no reason to stop, I sped to Bayfield, reaching the Apostle Islands Visitor Center at 4:20, ready to get suggestions for tomorrow's visit. Why did it not surprise me to find out the center closed at 4:15?

That's the best thing about days like this: you know tomorrow will be much better!

Thursday, 14 September 2023, International Falls MN

Choices, choices. How to spend half a day at Apostle Islands? Door number one (a boat tour), number two (guided kayak paddle), or number three (a coastal hike)? While walking through Bayfield after dinner last night (and collecting brochures from the CoC), I surmised that some outfitters had already curtailed their tours in this shoulder season. The coastal hike, though got high marks...

Little Sand Bay beckoned for a first stop.

The spot offered a kayak launch - but also warned paddlers to take caution. One sign mentioned how a group of four kayakers with inadequate equipment and even less sense launched one afternoon even though officials had warned of a brewing storm. Two of them capsized, one died, the other three needed a rescue. The lake is a harsh mistress.

Next to the launch, I learned about the fishing history of this area. Signs (and buildings such as the twine shed, pile driver, and dock)

told the story of the Hokenson brothers, who ran a commercial fishing company from the 20s to the 50s. I poked around for a bit, taking note of the Twilite, the boat the brothers used while at sea.

One more stop, at Meyers Beach for the coastal trail. The trail started as a boardwalk, planks placed on level ground.

I quickly discovered that this was no normal easy boardwalk stroll. The terrain dipped and climbed, and the boards turned to steps, then leveled off before undulating again.

Not until I'd gone ¾ miles did the trail turn to dirt, though a few more steps would eventually spice up the trek. Sometimes the inclines reverted to dirt, also.

The trail wound through the woodlands, occasional hinting of imminent fall color.

The lush greenery hid views of the coast, though, until well after a mile of walking. Then, I reached the feature called the Crevasse.

A narrow defile in the cliffs allowed water to spread inland, many feet below the land on which I stood.

That land ended abruptly only a few steps away, with red cliffs

dropping straight into the lake. One promontory jutted into the lake, with people walking on it above a hole carved over by stormy waters.

That started a veritable parade of scenery. Many of the features sported names such as the Keyhole;

the Garage;

or the Bowl;

others had no name that I noticed.

I dawdled in the area, framing photos, gaping at the scenery, talking to other hikers. The time finally came to put this behind me, to return to the car and tackle another four-hour drive north. My hike back was interrupted by frantic calls from Sue, worried about a virus that had taken over her laptop; when my long-distance suggestions didn't work, I had to direct her to call Geek Squad to solve the issue.

Then I stepped out of the woods at the trailhead only to suffer a massive, full-on attack of jealousy. Two trailers full of kayaks had just pulled up,

with people milling about ready to see those magnificent cliffs from water level. Arrghhh! Why hadn't I chosen door number two??!?

I can't do everything. At least this gives me a goal to get back here to really explore this park. After all, I heard that even more spectacular sea caves delight people kayaking the offshore islands...

The long drive ... I survived the traffic in Duluth MN as I rounded the western edge of Lake Superior and headed due north. At least I ended the day with a nice sunset...

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