Picture This: A Most Superior Conclusion

The final leg of our recent road trip crossed back into the U.S. from Canada at Sault Ste Marie. We stopped that night at a forest service campground at Monocle Lake, where we were some of the only campers and had a lovely beach in front of our site entirely to ourselves. Early the next morning we continued our journey across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, heading for Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Here, the namesake cliffs line the shores of Lake Superior, but there are also inland wilderness areas, endless beaches, and surprisingly impressive waterfalls. The park contains three small primitive campgrounds, and we chose Twelvemile Beach, where we sprang an extra $2 for a lakefront site.

2015-06-24_20-01-23_909As soon as we locked down our site we hopped back in the car for the 40-minute drive to Munising, where we set sail on a 3-hour boat tour to see the famous cliffs. Neither of us is a huge fan of organized tours, but they definitely have their place and this was one of them. Although it would be stunning to see the cliffs by kayak it would take an entire day, which we did not have. The tour boat also gave us the luxury of multiple points of view, both near and far. The cliffs are dramatic and go on for miles of stunning formations and colors. My photography skills are not adequate to do them justice, so if you are interested a Google image search may be in order. Here is a shot from out on the water:

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And another from one of the few vantage points on the hiking trails above that afford a bird’s eye view:

2015-06-24_17-29-16_13After the tour a dense fog rolled rapidly into town, followed by a downpour. We took this opportunity to hit a laundromat (the car was getting rather aromatic at this point in the trip), and soon enough the storm cleared and we were able to check out a few local waterfalls. The most impressive by far was Miners Falls, reached by way of a delightful hike through a pine forest, the floor of which was carpeted with bright blue forget-me-nots.

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We headed back to camp for a very welcome fire (it is still quite chilly on the Upper Peninsula in June), and an early morning the next day, on which we planned to continue our pursuit of the elusive beaver with a hike in the Beaver Basin Wilderness.

If you are at all inclined to hiking, the words “Beaver Basin Wilderness” will likely summon one very specific mental image: mosquitoes—and lots of ’em. We were prepared, covered up from head to toe, and we re-deployed our can of extra-strength mosquito repellent frequently throughout the day. These precautions rendered our bloodsucking companions just barely bearable. We pushed through swamps and woods, hiked the shore of Little Beaver Lake, and eventually climbed the ridge between Little Beaver Lake and Lake Superior, following its spine for several hours. Here, the wind and the elevation kept the mosquitoes at bay as we moved up the sandy trail:

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Eventually we descended the ridge and resumed a path along Little Beaver Lake. Alas, the wily beavers kept their secrets on that day. After an 11-mile exploration we hiked up out of the basin and back to our car. With a few hours left in the afternoon we drove east to take a short hike to the Grand Sable Dunes:

2015-06-25_13-34-47_642As we contemplated a return to camp, we stopped at the Visitors’ Center to use the extremely civilized restroom. In a chance encounter, a ranger, upon hearing of our beaverless plight, advised that there was a beaver pond a short way from the main road where sightings were highly reliable. Hope springs eternal, and we made the short hike off the road to a small dam in a picturesque spot:

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We crept quietly toward the pond and waited for several minutes, when suddenly the beaver appeared. For the next 10 minutes it showed us its best descending spins, side layouts, and twists (yes, Dear Reader, I lettered in synchronized swimming at high school). This was my first wild beaver sighting, and I was mesmerized. Three dramatic tail slaps later, and it was gone. Absorbed by the scene, the photos I took were poor, though I did manage one that showed it swimming away:

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With beaver, moose, and loon sightings (see previous installment for the latter two), we had achieved our North Country triumvirate just in time, as the next day’s itinerary had us heading back toward civilization. By the next afternoon we were in the greater Detroit area for one night there with family, and the dreamy Upper Peninsula was far, far away.

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