Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - August 21, 2015

Vacation within a vacation

Husband Art and I have been coming to Northern Wisconsin since 1993. While our place is a bit more than 100 miles from Lake Superior, the massive lake still has a major effect on the climate. So when late July arrives and friends in Kansas thank their lucky stars for air conditioning, we head north to sleep with the windows open and blankets on our bed.

But sometimes even with bright sunlit 70-degree days and cool 50-degree nights, it reaches a point where we want even more. So in the middle of our holiday, we just have to get away to a vacation within our vacation!

This year's little diversion grew out of the one from last year. We had gone to Paradise - Michigan, that is - on Lake Superior's southern shore. Michigan also has a place called Hell. Art's brother Tommy once mentioned he saw a weather report that began "Paradise was hotter than Hell today."

En route to Paradise, I saw billboards for Pictured Rocks cruises. Wisconsin is Art's home state, so I asked if he knew anything about them. He said they were boat trips along the sandstone cliffs on the southern edge of Lake Superior. Now, how cool is that!

We decided this year we'd give them a try. The tours begin at Munising, but Marquette, 50 miles away, offered more motel, eating and sight-seeing options in case the weather didn't cooperate.

When we settled on the dates, booking a hotel proved to be a problem. When even the Econo Lodge is full, something must be up.

We arrived in Marquette, population 21,000, and settled into the last room the Ramada Inn had. The unmistakable rumble of Harley-Davidson motorcycles could be heard everywhere. The city was hosting a "hog rally."

We unpacked and then walked the three blocks to the Vierling Restaurant and Marquette Harbor Brewery. While looking out at the harbor, we dined on the area specialty - whitefish.

After eating, we walked to the harbor. Art immediately stretched out on a shady spot in the chigger-free grass.

The "crew" of a three-masted sailboat was preparing to cast off. Some members were young, but some were old. Others looked fit, while some looked very unfit. A small stand of brochures nearby beckoned, "Come sail with me." Now I understood. The "captain" was launching with a wanna-be crew.

I watched as they awkwardly attempted to carry out their captain's instructions. I turned to talk to Art, but found he was "sawing logs."

So I walked to a nearby bench and watched people running, swimming and walking their dogs. When Art finished his 20-minute siesta, we strolled to the nearby marina and watched people bringing their boats out of the water. It wasn't very exciting, but after a meal of great food, it doesn't take much to amuse me.

Despite a prediction of rain, the next day was sunny. So we headed to Munising a little before noon - hey, it was vacation so there was no rush!

I bought tickets for the 1 p.m. cruise and we joined others waiting on the dock. At about 12:45, two boats arrived and we were told we had our pick. We opted for the "Miss Superior."

Art doesn't sunburn, yet he went in the main cabin to avoid the direct sun. My family is from northern latitudes, so I burn easily. Yet I took a seat on the upper deck. After all, my quest for good pictures trumps almost everything else.

The somewhat hazy sky had cleared by the time we arrived at the cliffs. We had some spectacular viewing. Keegan, one of the crew, explained the different colors on the rocks.

"The browns and reds are from iron seepage, the blues and greens from copper seepage, the blacks from manganese seepage and the whites from seagull seepage - er calcium seepage."

Adventurous travelers kayaked the shoreline while others climbed rocks and splashed in a waterfall. The rocks - shaped by wind, ice and waves - have been given names such as Lover's Leap, Rainbow Cave, Indian Head, Grand Portal, Battleship Rock, Flower Vase, Indian Drum and Chapel Cave.

"People see all kinds of things," Keegan added. "Indians on horseback, planes, trains and automobiles. One woman on the last cruise even claimed she saw Hootie ... and three of his blowfish."

Art asked Capt. Chuck Cook how he came to be there since he had mentioned he had operated a tug boat on Lake Erie. Cook said he came for a visit once and found it so beautiful he couldn't go back.

The three hours passed quickly. Soon we were back in our car on our way to Grand Marais, an hour to the east of Munising. There we indulged in a meal of beer-battered whitefish at the Dunes Saloon. We returned to Marquette at about 7 p.m. and immediately headed out to Presque Isle, a wooded park northeast of the city that is really a peninsula that juts into Lake Superior. We passed a "pocket dock" waiting for a ship to arrive to carry away the cargo of pelletized iron ore in the rail cars above the dock. The Lake Superior & Ishpeming railroad that pulled them there has been operating since 1896. Later, we watched the sun set over the water.

The next day, we went to the Marquette Maritime Museum. It had displays related to the mining and maritime industries in Marquette, shipwrecks such as the Edmund Fitzgerald and Henry B. Smith, and submarines USS Darter and Dace. Those subs were instrumental in the United States winning the Battle of Leyte Gulf during World War II. Darter's commander was Marquette native David McClintock.

And then it was back to Wisconsin. The three-day "vacation within a vacation" had been just what we needed. Now we could once again settle into the hard work of picking wild blackberries, watching loons, swimming in clear lake water and taking drives through the forest.

Left: Two views along the coast. The water at times appears to be a bright blue and at others has a greenish appearance; upper-right: Ryan, Chuck, Gloria and Keegan after we returned to the dock; lower-right: The pocket dock. The train cars on top hold iron ore. A ship will moor next to the dock and the top of the chutes - the reddish-brown items below the cars - are lowered into the ship's hold. The ore is then released from the cars to fall into the chutes which direct it outward into the ship.

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