Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Miner's Castle
 It's been an odd summer, one that's kept me from blogging about certain topics in a timely fashion. I should have said something about Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (aka PIRO) right after we were there in June, but I never quite got around to it. Oh well, better late than never.

PIRO is located on the south shore of Lake Superior between Munising and Grand Marais, Michigan. It's a typical water park -- long but narrow. The enabling legislation for the lakeshore and river parks usually limited just how far away from the water a park could go. End result can be a park that's many, many miles long but only a quarter of a mile wide.The National Park Service as an agency is 100 years old this year; PIRO is exactly half that age -- it was created in 1966. The park includes some spectacular shoreline (sandstone cliffs, sea caves carved by wave action, giant sand dunes) as well as lovely beaches and numerous waterfalls. The area is a favorite with sea kayakers, and tour boat operators do a pretty good business in the summer. One tour operator has glass bottom boats and cruises over a number of shipwrecks, which I'm told are quite interesting.
Pileated woodpecker.

We did not do any boat tours; we stuck to the land and visited places relatively easy to get to, like Munising Falls, the Log Slide, and Miner's Castle (shown above). Although it's not obvious in the photo, there is a paved path leading to Miner's Castle where there's an overlook hiding behind those trees to the right of the rock formation. Miner's Castle used to have a third "turret," but it came tumbling down during a bad storm a number of years ago. Miner's Castle is one of those typical NPS sites: lots of signs up warning people to stay behind the fence and lots of footprints in the dirt providing ample evidence people cannot read. I'm not sure if anyone's managed to kill themselves by clambering around on those rocks for the fun of it, but I do know a guy was convicted of murder a few years ago for shoving his wife off a cliff at PIRO.
The Pickle Barrel house.
In any case, our almost-a-windshield tour consisted of driving from Munising to Grand Marais, having lunch in Grand Marais, and ambling back. Grand Marais, of course, is noted for the Pickle Barrel house, which is now a museum. It wasn't open -- I don't believe I've ever seen it open, come to think of it. I have no idea what its hours are, but they're apparently pretty limited. There are sites within Grand Marais that are part of PIRO, like the old Coast Guard lifesaving station, but the Pickle Barrel isn't one them. We looked at the lifesaving station from the road, said, yep, definitely looks like a Coast Guard facility, and headed for something more interesting: lunch off a food truck.
Sable Falls

I repeat. A food truck. In Grand Marais. Apparently hipster Meals on Wheels are now everywhere. It was not a bad burger. A tad overpriced, but when you've got a food truck in the middle of nowhere your profit margin has to be extremely thin. I was willing to pay a little extra just to support the novelty factor -- although using that logic I should have gone running out to buy a frozen treat when the ice cream cart bicycled through the campground on Saturday. For a brief moment, it was like being back in Atlanta, except there the Mexican entrepreneurs had push carts. I used to wonder just how many miles those guys walked every day. . . but I digress.

Anyway, ambling back to Munising we stopped at Sable Falls. Lots of steps down to the river to admire water running over rocks, and then lots of steps back up to the parking lot. I'm going to say it was worth it. It did actually look like a waterfall, unlike some of the others that were suffering from the dry spring. Munising Falls, for example, looked more like someone had maybe left a garden hose trickling over the edge of the bluff. It was, to be blunt, a tad underwhelming.
Munising Falls
As part of my personal trip down Nostalgia Lane, as we headed west, I pointed out a couple NPS structures I had Determined Ineligible back in 2006. They still look Ineligible, although maybe if they continue standing long enough (they are being used and maintained and are in Good condition) they'll slide into National Register eligibility based on their association with the park's history. One never knows. . .

Nifty resource education
Next stop was the Log Slide. It was interesting on multiple levels. First, there's an open field adjacent to the parking lot. Hiding in a clump of spectacularly overgrown lilac bushes is the remnant of a log cabin. If you look hard, you can spot one corner of the ruin sticking out of the bushes. There is a really nice little wayside explaining the cabin ruin. I was impressed: a structure left to moulder in place and integrated into resource education. The usual approach to an unwanted cabin would have been to remove every trace of it and pretend people never lived there, do the usual creating untrammeled wilderness fantasy. Not this time.

Logging high wheels and a logging sled
On the way to the Log Slide, we passed a set of logging high wheels on static display. They look to be in reasonably good shape, no doubt because they're sheltered under a roof. They're about the size of the set the museum owns. In looking at them and at the set at Hartwick Pines SP I've realized that the museum's set might be missing a part or two, but odds are no one will ever notice when they're reconstructed and on static display, too.

The Log Slide itself is an area at the edge of the Grand Sable dunes where supposedly logs were once rolled on to a flume and slid down to Lake Superior to be transported to the mills. Idiots Visitors can now experience the thrill (?) of sliding several hundred feet down a giant dune and then hiking back up. Why anyone would want to do it is a mystery to me, but people do. There were half a dozen pairs of shoes and sandals sitting by the sign warning people that it was a quick trip down and a long hot hike back up -- once again, evidence that people either can't read or are stupid.
Note the graphic that accompanies all the cautions. People ignore it, of course. Accidents are what happen to other people.
Personally, after seeing a warning that although you might reach the bottom in under 5 minutes it was going to take you at least an hour to climb back up, I'd be content to just walk to an overlook and admire the view of the Lake. Which is what we did. From the overlook we could see the Au Sable Light Station. I toyed with the idea of doing the hike to it, but the S.O. didn't seem too enthused.
Au Sable Light Station as seen from the Log Slide overlook
And, to be honest, it is a typical Light Station for its time: a clone of the Outer Island Light Station at Apostle Islands and a whole bunch of others with a dime-a-dozen Poe tower and the keeper's quarters with the clipped gable roof line. See one, you've seen them all. And I should know, having seen a bunch of them: 1870's government cookie cutter construction in action. The Log Slide is a nice day use area; there are restrooms and multiple picnic tables which are dispersed in a pattern that prevents it from feeling crowded. It's a good stop for anyone visiting the park.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore headquarters building.

We hit a few overlooks along the way, concluded that Lake Superior is indeed a large lake and on that particular day a really amazing color, and eventually wound up at Miner's Castle and then in Munising. Our last stop was at Sand Point, which is another former Coast Guard lifesaving station now being used by the National Park Service. It's the Park headquarters. If I was still doing the List of Classified Structures, I'd ding it for maintenance issues. The paint is starting to flake and, you know, I could be wrong but I don't think trees are supposed to grow out of chimneys.

Yes, the tree is growing out of the chimney.
The beach along there is really nice, though, and popular with the locals. It doesn't get quite as much tourist traffic as some of the others in the area. The parking lot was pretty full, but we managed to find a slot. Next time we'll bring lawn chairs like the regulars.
I think I may have figured out what to do with the ruin of a boat the museum owns. Fence it off and let it rot.

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