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.
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.
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.
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.