Monday, July 15, 2013

Day 9: Boat Rides And Bullwinkle

Friday, June 21, 2013

Breakfast was at the casino.  Natalie and I basically never spoke. All we could do was listen in horror (and chuckle) at the fellow the next table over who droned on and on about nothing and everything at the same time. His dining partner (a work buddy perhaps?) said almost nothing in the 30 minutes we were there.  There was the occasional “Oh yeah….” Or “Uh-huh….” That was it.  If you see me trapped in conversation with such an individual, please just shoot me. 

At the posted time, Natalie and I had the car parked and the gear on the dock for the boat ride to Isle Royale National Park! While only 15 -20 miles from Canada or Minnesota, it is officially a part of Michigan, believe it or not.  Obviously used by Native Americans for centuries, the island has seen its share of mining and recreation (in the form of lodges and retreats).  It became a National Park in 1940 and was officially designated as a Biosphere Reserve on February 17, 1981. Folks, this place is for real.

But first, you have to get there. Two choices.  Take a boat from Minnesota or Copper Harbor, Michigan.  If you like planes, you can fly in.  It’s a float plane, by the way. There are no airports. 

Then you spend 50 gillion dollars a night and stay at the lodge on the island’s east end.  Or, commit to multiple days of back packing and live out of a tent.  Transportation does not run seven days a week.  In the end, it is two extremes, neither of which suited Natalie and I. 

This year, however, marks the first year where one could rent a cabin. Based at Windigo, the cabins sleep six people, have a gas grill in the front yard and showers are a short walk down trail.  Price, you ask?  50 bucks.  You can’t beat that. Bring your own meal or buy them from the store at the boat dock and you are set.  Our plan?  One night and two near full days.  A grill while camping? Enjoying a steak or turkey burgers with sage andpears? How can you beat that? 

Of course, this was all in the planning. We had to ride the boat first. Let me be very clear here. This.  Boat. Ride. Absolutely.  Sucked.  I mean sucked bad. 

Considering it was not even raining, it was a mess.  High winds created the chop and spray. The spray flew over the boat and just rained down the poopdeck were many people were hanging out.  While some people retreated into the cabin, I did not.  Despite the fog, I still knew my horizon.  I did not want to lose it. I would rather stay outside and get soaked then soak someone (Natalie?) in my vomit when I blew chunks all over the place in the cabin.  No, I was not certain to get sick, but I just didn’t want to risk it.

So I stayed outside.  The pitch. The roll.  The spray.  The grief. With no birds to distract you (I was waiting for storm petrel!), all you could think about was how much longer the boat ride was going to be.  Sadly, the weather and waves prevented us from seeing the lighthouse or the 1928shipwreck as we approached the island.  I was soaked from mid-thighs to my toes. I don’t say that lightly – I was soaked.  Standing in a river would have had the same end result.

After about an hour (maybe more?) we reached Windigo.  A tiny man in a white suit with a funny accent was jumping up and down as he pointed at us.  I couldn’t hear what he was saying.  A different employee, functioning in part as a bellhop, greeted us and took our bags to our cabin. That, ladies and gentlemen, is camping.  While they were doing that, we attended an interpretive walk with other folks from the boat.  Cool stuff.

After the failure of finding Pink Lady’s Slippers on the Keweenaw Peninsula, the interpreter showed them to us.  What a slick flower. The audible gasp in the group was Natalie. Textbook stuff here, people. The “gasp with the open hand on the chest” just like you see in the movies.  She was diggin’ it. 

The leftover pizza from the Casino (minus the ticks) made for a super lunch before we set off on our 4 miles hike to Grace’s Overlook.  A moose had been observed swimming the harbor. Double-timing down the trail, we arrived just in time to Bullwinkle the final leg of his swim before he made land fall and thundered off down the trail.

This is key stuff, by the way.  One of the key reasons for this entire trip was for Natalie to see a moose.  It doesn’t get much better than this!

The hike took us to the overlook were we munched pistachios on rocks that are literally over two and half billion years old – I don’t care what these clowns say! A Wilson's Snipe was winnowing the distance.  CanadaDogwood, Canada Mayflower, and Baneberry carpeted the forest floor. Natalie, sweet thing that she is, attracted a handsome devil. No, not me. It was a moth called a Spear-backed Black Moth. We estimate it stayed on her hand for at least a full mile. No joke. 

After a quick dinner (with some beer bought at the camp store (the Lift Bridge Brown Ale (#1461) from the Keweenaw Brewing Company)) , we hustled off to another interpretive program conducted by one of the island’s many researchers.

Wanna see wolves on Isle Royale? Ya better hurry….

Isle Royale is home to one of the world’s longest predator-prey studies on the planet.   For over 50 years, researchers have been studying moose and wolves and how they interact.  Moose populations have gone up and down over the decades for various reasons. Fine.  Wolves? Sorta of the same story. Up and down.  However, in the last decade, it has been more down than up.  In fact, they are disappearing.

Two reasons. One. Some dufous brought their dog to the island. It was infected with parvo-virus.  Since a wolf is a dog, a number of them were wiped out.  Two, the island is isolated from other wolf populations. The Isle Royale wolves have been in-breeding for a long time and are starting to suffer the consequences. Big time. With only EIGHT wolves left on the island, their days could easily be numbered.    Perhaps in the next three or four years, they will be gone.  That’s it.

They faced this situation a few years back. Using DNA studies of poops and watching the animals, researchers identified a new comer.  Apparently, this monster-sized wolf walked across the ice from Canada and rejuvenated the gene pool. A positive impact was noted in the numbers, but that effect has worn off. 

Time is running out.

Speaking of time, it was time to see some stars. With summer solstice upon us, it would have been nice to star-gaze from the middle of Lake Superior.  Sure, it means the day is the longest of the year, but it sounds cool, right?  Maybe we could even the Northern Lights?  Nah.  The island had been socked in with fog from the minute we landed….

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