We were looking for something cool to do for the girls’ birthday, something along the lines of last year’s train ride, when we stumbled across a billboard for a glass bottom boat shipwreck tour. Perfect. We checked the weather and made reservations for the next warm sunny day.

Shipwreck tour, near pictured rocks national seashore photographed by luxagraf
There is no reason for that line behind Corrinne. She just projects that former schoolteacher kind of authority that most people have been conditioned to respond to. So when she stood there, people queued up. Got us the best seats on the boat anyway.

Somewhat surprisingly the weather was actually correct and we had sun, blue skies and just enough breeze to keep things from getting too hot.

As I’ve written before, I generally eschew guided tours because most of them suck. In this case, however, it did not suck at all. The tour guide knew her stuff and we learned a ton of stuff about Lake Superior navigation and some of its less successful practitioners. The details are mostly unimportant if you’re not actually here, but there’s one important detail that makes this place unique, perhaps in the world — the water temperature.

On average Lake Superior is 42 degrees, the day we were there it was about 55. That makes for cold swims, but it also means that most of the organisms that eat wood don’t live in Superior. That has two major side effects — the water is insanely clear, and wood lasts a really, really long time underwater because there are no organisms the eat. Lake Superior is, I’d guess, one of the very few places in the world in intact wrecks of wooden ships from the mid 19th century.

The first wreck we floated over in the glass bottom boat sunk in 1870 and was almost completely intact until a couple of years ago when one of the harshest winters on record froze the water all the way down to the wreck (7 feet of ice) and snapped off the stern railing.

Glass bottom boat, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, MI photographed by luxagraf
Stern of The Bermuda, sunk in 1870
Shipwreck tour, near pictured rocks national seashore photographed by luxagraf
Shipwreck tour, near pictured rocks national seashore photographed by luxagraf
The toilet from the captain’s quarters aboard the Herman Hettler, sunk 1926.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, MI photographed by luxagraf

I found the first wreck to be the most interesting because it was a canal boat, a little reminder reaching across time to remind us that the only renewable kinds of energy on the planet are wind, water and animals. All three would have been used to moved this boat from Superior down to Lake Erie, across that, and then down the Erie canal to New York. Before interstate highways and fossil fuels good moved by water. After interstate highways and fossil fuels are gone I suspect the waterways will return to their former glory and boatmen will once again be able to make a living. We happen to be living in a brief span of history in which we don’t have to navigate rivers.

We didn’t do the tour out to the cliffs that give Pictured Rocks its name, but we did come up alongside some smaller ones that line the coast of Grand Island.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, MI photographed by luxagraf
Cottages on Grand Island, still no power, no running water, just like in the good old days.

One afternoon I took the kids on a hike up through the Sable Dunes, a large dune area that’s about half way to being not dune. Come back in a couple thousand, maybe even a few hundred years and you won’t even notice there are dunes here. Like almost no one notices that the entire midwest is a giant dune, temporary held down by about ten feet of soil. At the moment though there’s still a good bit of sand.

The trail was closed in some fashion, though the only clue at to which parts were closed were some tiny, faded pieces of paper printed out and nailed to trees inside plastic baggies. Apparently, that’s a real thing in Michigan. But closing an area by typing out a physical description is, well, hell if I know where they were talking about. Possibly we walked right through the closed area, possibly we did not. It was a nice hike anyway, and took us about as high above Lake Superior as you can get.

The last few days we spent down by the lake, where the river comes in. I’ve noticed an increasing number of rock stacks in the world. Up here they’re everywhere, including in the middle of the river where the kids were playing. Apparently people like to stack rocks. We like to knock down stacks of rocks. Win-win.


Gwen June 19, 2022 at 10:18 a.m.

We are camping at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. It’s the first time we have been to Lake Superior, and we love it here. So beautiful. I enjoyed reading your series of posts from this area.

Scott June 29, 2022 at 7:56 a.m.


That’s awesome. We love it up there, we were going to try to get back this year, but it’s all booked up unfortunately.


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