Grand Island N.R.A. & Beaver Lake
July 2011

Day 5

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It was 6:30 a.m. when my squinting eyes rebelled against the bright, early morning sunshine already infiltrating the forest. I also noticed several mosquitoes lying in wait for us to emerge and 10-12 ants scurrying around on the exterior of our tent. In addition to being situated at mosquito ground zero, our site must also have been directly on top of a large ant colony because no matter the time of day, it didn't take long to find at least a couple ants crawling around in the grass or on the tents or all over whatever gear was left lying around. Since I was not in the mood to be up for the day I closed my eyes and fell back to sleep.

Ken and I made our way down to the lake around 7:45 a.m. where we encountered the two guys from site #1 as they were admiring the serene, sun-drenched morning and nursing down their morning cups of java. We talked with them for a little over an hour before Derek appeared and we went back to eat breakfast. A short time later the two guys walked into our site and said they were heading out and wished us well for the remainder of our trip.

When Gabe woke up a few minutes later he detailed for us his lack of sleep due to the all-night assault by mosquitoes. His tormenters ate him alive in his hammock, so at some point he attempted to find some relief by borrowing some of the extra room in Derek's tent. His reprieve only lasted about ten minutes before the muggy air inside the tent drove him back to his hammock where he just "sucked it up" and did his best to hold closed the top of the hammock as the mosquitoes continued to swarm and seek out the slightest gap for them to squeeze through.

After breakfast we waded into the lake near the stream's outlet and topped off our water bottles. As we stood in the shallows we saw a bald eagle skimming the treetops near the shore a short distance east from where we were standing. We watched the majestic bird parallel the shoreline with large, powerful flaps of its wings until it disappeared over the tree tops at the far east end of the lake. What a cool experience!

The plan for the day was to visit a couple of the more interesting, easily accessible landmarks in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Pictured Rocks became the United States' first National Lakeshore in 1966 and occupies 42 miles of Lake Superior coastline between Munising and Grand Marais, Michigan. The lakeshore derives its name from the colorful, banded, sandstone cliffs which tower 200 feet over the lake's surface and from the leeching, mineral-soaked water which has stained the exposed rock various shades of orange, yellow, black and red. There are several popular landmarks along the lakeshore, but probably the most recognized is Miners Castle and that was going to be our first stop for the day.

Miners Castle is roughly 6.5 miles northeast of Munising and sits right on the Lake Superior shoreline. It apparently was named by a group of miners in 1771 when they were exploring the area for minerals. The "castle" moniker likely came from the fact that its two sandstone protrusions resembled the turrets of a castle. Sandstone is a very soft rock which is constantly being shaped and eroded by the forces of nature, and on April 13, 2006, one of the turrets collapsed [#1, #2] into Lake Superior, leaving only one turret remaining. I feel fortunate to have seen the "Castle" before the collapse since this was not my first excursion to the Lakeshore. Upon leaving our vehicle we located the short paved trail to the upper observation area. From this location visitors have an awesome birds-eye view of the formation and the vibrant blue water of the lake. We were obviously in the right place at the right time because we topped off this amazing view by watching an eagle flying wide, lazy loops over the formation. We snapped a few photos and then hiked down to the lower observation area via a steep paved trail and several sections of stairs. At the lower observation deck visitors are at eye level with the remaining sandstone pillar and have wide open views of Grand Portal Point and others areas of the shoreline to the east.

Miners Beach, our next stop, would have been a nice place to spend an afternoon, but it was pretty crowded and we were not in the mood to spend it with the hundreds of people who already occupied the area. Miners Beach is roughly .8 mile long and is covered in soft, yellow sand for its entire length. A path from the parking lot led down to shoreline just about in the middle of the sandy expanse. We walked down to the western end of the beach near the Miners Castle formation, looked around and then headed back to the vehicle. From here we drove a couple miles east to the Miners Falls Nature Trail. Are you sensing a theme here with the word, miners? The interpretive trail began at the parking lot and ended 1.2 miles later at Miners Falls. Near the end of the trail the gravel path morphed into 77 wooden steps that transported us to a small observation platform. From this vantage point we had a great view of the Miners River as it emerged from the forest and cascaded over the edge of a sandstone precipice before crashing onto the rocky base 50 feet below. We took a few more pictures and then made our way back to Little Beaver Lake around 6:15 p.m.

We put the canoe and kayaks back in the water and paddled across the lake. Gabe said he was going to head back to camp to clean up and take a nap while Ken and Derek and I went fishing on Little Beaver Lake. We fished until 8:50 p.m. and in that time we all managed to catch something. Ken had a pike that took a fairly solid bite on his lure, but it managed to flip around and cut his line before swimming away with the lure still in its mouth. Ken followed up with a second pike, but it obviously didn't have had a solid bite on the lure because once he got it into the canoe it slipped off the lure, flopped a couple times and managed to jump out of the boat. Repeated casting finally paid off when Ken landed a nice-sized pike and was able to keep it in the boat. Derek, who had fished hard during this trip and came up with nothing, finally reeled in a 24" pike which turned out to be the largest one of the trip. I managed to hook two pike and had a third that managed to get off the lure before I got it into the boat.

We eventually made our way over to Beaver Lake and paddled around for a while; exploring almost the entire body of water. By 9:30 p.m. we were roughly ¾ of the way across the lake and dusk was quickly choking out the last traces of daylight. We realized we had better start heading back because if we lingered much longer we would be traversing the lake in the dark. Gabe was obviously looking out for us because he had the forethought to light one of our candle lanterns and perch it at the tip of his beached kayak. We were easily able to see the tiny beacon, even from across the lake, and it served as a reference point to guide us back to camp. Great thinking, Gabe!

As we neared the shore we expected to encounter the same conditions as the previous night, and we had reasoned correctly. The mosquitoes were out in force again and were swarming and biting like we were the last meal they would ever have. The four of us exchanged Cliff's Notes versions of our evening as we made quick work of putting away our gear for the night. The constant buzzing sound of millions upon millions of mosquitoes - at least that's what it seemed like - grew a little less annoying as the tent was zipped closed and we were safely away from their biting frenzy. There were so many bugs outside that even in the almost non-existent light I was able to see clouds of winged creatures hovering in the air. It was crazy!

Even though I had not seen a bear for this entire trip, and never had a "bear encounter" dream, that didn't keep me from being awakened by one in the woods near the tent on our last night. "That's great!" I thought to myself, "The night I leave my pepper spray outside the tent is the night there is a bear in camp!" At least, that's what I initially thought when I was awakened from a deep sleep at 2:30 a.m. by something big walking through the nearby vegetation. O.k., as my mind gradually stirred from its comatose state I realized that whatever was lurking in the woods was probably not a large animal, hungry only for the taste of human flesh and blood, but there definitely was something out there. Within a minute or so, Gabe was standing next to my side of the tent, talking in a hushed tone of voice, "Brian! Brian! There's something out here right behind my hammock. Can I borrow your light?" I fumbled through the darkness, passed my headlamp out to Gabe and then crawled out of the tent. Gabe was standing near his hammock in a crouched position, directing the dim beam of light in various directions, like a fighter throwing disorienting jabs at an opponent. The faint light had a difficult time penetrating the thick vegetation, but as time went by we realized we would not be doing battle with a vicious, man-eating beast of the forest and began to venture further into the woods. Eventually, the light landed on the culprits - five raccoons out for an evening stroll. We could now rest comfortably knowing we were not going to be the late night snack for a savage, carnivorous beast.

Before heading back to bed, Gabe and I walked out to the beach. The lake was eerily quiet and our three watercraft stood guard at the water's edge near the entrance to our campsite. The waning crescent moon did not have enough juice to illuminate anything, but there was still enough ambient light for the surrounding treeline to frame in the lake with its silhouette. The obsidian-like surface of the lake provided enough reflective properties to display a couple of the more prominent stars and constellations on its surface, while the soft glow of the Milky Way smeared across the celestial expanse above. It was an awesome sight. If I had a tripod and a couple hours to experiment, I could have walked away with at least one or two stunning photographs.

I got back into my sleeping bag around 3:00 a.m. just as the wind began to pick up. A muffled whooshing sound filled my ears as the wind raced through distant trees, followed soon thereafter by the louder sound of rustling leaves as the wind overtook our site. Those soothing sounds repeated themselves in an infinite loop and helped to quickly ease me back to sleep. Later in the morning I learned that Ken had been awakened sometime after 3:00 a.m. by a strange sniffing sound. At first he thought I was breathing weird, but quickly realized it was coming from ear-level outside the tent and figured it must have been one of the raccoons right next to his head on the other side of the nylon. They must have been curious after their encounter with us and came to check out the new people in town.

When morning finally broke we ate breakfast and packed up our gear. We made a final sweep of the site, loaded everything into the kayaks and canoe and paddled back over to the Little Beaver Lake boat launch. The week had flown by quickly, but not before the mutually shared experiences implanted a lifetime of memories and great one-liners in our minds. Afterall, that is the hallmark of a great time in the outdoors.

Final count for the day: Two bald eagles, a deer drinking water along the northeast shore of Beaver Lake, thousands of freshwater clams, one loon, a chipmunk, a single blue jay and an unconscionable number of stars.

Miles Covered Today: About 6.5
Total trip miles: 34.1

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