Tuesday, August 31, 2010 Sunny, windy, and 86; thick clouds, afternoon
NEI: My teacher-friends will recognize this as "not enough information" usually when solving a math word problem. Today it had to do with our visit to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Although we had read the NPS website, we did not know 1.) the best views of the rocks are from the water, meaning by boat. Since I did not have my motion sickness patch, we decided not to venture out onto Lake Superior with the winds as strong as they were; 2.) the rocks are at their best with the sun shining on them, in this case from the west since that is the direction they face. If we had known either of these facts, we would have adjusted our schedule accordingly.
The name pictured rocks comes from the streaks of mineral stain that decorate the face of the sculptured cliffs. They are composed of various types and colors of sandstone, layered one on top of the other. Streaks on the cliffs occur when groundwater oozes out of cracks. The dripping water contains iron, manganese, limonite, copper, and other minerals that leave behind a colorful stain as water trickles down the cliff face. From our vantage point above them and with morning sun casting shadows on the cliffs, we saw them with their true colors greatly muted.
But there are other activities and sights in the park. We chose hiking to two of the many waterfalls in the park. Both were hidden deep in the dense woods. The sound of the falling cascades had that familiar hypnotizing sensation so soothing and relaxing that it is hard to walk back out. We also hiked to Castle Rock which is the most recognizable feature along in Pictured Rocks NL. As its name suggests, it looks like a castle perched on a high point suspended over the lake. On our visit to a nearby beach we saw a few people wading in the chilly waters while kayakers were challenging the waves. We ran some of the sand through our fingers and found that while it is almost pure white, the grains feel very sharp. No wonder it bites when the wind blows it against the skin. We enjoyed our visit, but we were disappointed that we didn't see the rocks "dressed in their best."
As we were leaving the motel this morning, we met two bikers (of the Harley type), and we were chatting about where we had been and where we were going. They told us that we shouldn't miss Copper Harbor. We had never heard of it so it needed some explanation. Turns out that it is the northernmost point in Michigan. (Take a look at it on the map.) We were sold on the idea and decided to head in that direction tomorrow instead of Apostles National Lakeshore. To get more information we stopped at a visitors center just outside of Marquette. I'm still trying to decide if that was a good move or not. This was the opposite of the morning's experience. We now had TMI (in math speak, too much information). The woman manning the center effervesced with information about the U.P. We left there with a bag filled with maps, brochures, and a year's worth of ideas. That's why we ended up driving Lakeshore Drive in Marquette.
MARQUETTE: The home of Northern Michigan University also has the world's largest wooden dome. An unusual structure, it towers over a large portion of the campus. We passed a maritime museum and two tiny, but functional, lighthouses on our way to the Ore Dock where freighters are loaded with iron ore, etc. It was fascinating show. Rail hopper cars line up on an elevated trestle. The ore is dumped into the dock building and then released into the hull of the freighter via large chutes. As one chute is emptied, it is raised, another is lowered. Five were in use at all times and choreographed as so not to cause the ship to list. It was a short, but interesting side trip.
Tonight we are in Houghton. It and its neighbor on the other side of the Portage Ship Canal, Hancock, are homes to Michigan Technological University and Finlandia University. We took a short drive around both, and it's easy to see that they are definitely college towns. I am amazed that in the past two days we have seen four universities sitting on prime lake front property. I don't believe that would happen in the Finger Lakes or NC.
Tomorrow we head onto Copper Harbor. It sounds remote and unique. Also, since we're in mining country, we may get into a mine. (How claustrophobic might that be?) Should be an unusual day.