[landscapephotograph description=”Apostle Islands Ice Caves” photoname=”Apostle Islands Ice Caves” photo=”http://www.timmulholland.com/wordpress1/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Ice-Cave-Pan-2.jpg” photourl=”http://illuminataphoto.zenfolio.com/ice_caves/h3ED90403#h3ed90403″][/landscapephotograph]
A few weeks ago, some notices were going around the Internet that the Apostle Islands Ice Caves were accessible for the first time since 2009. My first thought was, “gee, that’s still on my bucket list; I’ll have to get up there someday.” My second thought was someday is today!
It’s a long drive from southern Wisconsin to the farthest reaches of northern Wisconsin. It’s also a bit cooler there, too. But, we put on our warm clothes and brave faces and safely made it.
I’ve been to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore area a few times, but only in the summer. Still on my bucket list is to go there in the summer and paddle around in a sea kayak with a tent and sleeping bag. Northern Wisconsin and the Bayfield area are very pretty and relaxing, even in the winter. The area where the ice caves are located is a stretch of sandstone cliffs on the northwest side of the Bayfield Peninsula. During most of the year, these cliffs are pounded by the wind and waves of Lake Superior. In the winter, the crashing waves can coat the sandstone cliffs with freezing water that forms into beautiful stalactites, stalagmites and columns. There also are groundwater seeps that add there frozen flows to the beauty. What’s different this year is that it has been cold enough that Lake Superior has frozen over relatively closely to the ice caves area so that the caves are accessible by walking over the lake, as well as closer to the beach.
When we checked the website, the National Park Service’s notes said that maybe a thousand people might visit the ice caves on a weekend. As we got close to the parking area – Meyer’s Beach Road – we encountered a traffic jam – in Northern Wisconsin, practically in the middle of nowhere! I was not in a good mood seeing this, with thoughts that the ice caves might be overrun with other visitors. Cars and trucks were parked on the north side of Highway 13 at least a mile before the turn to Meyer’s Beach and people were walking that direction. Not looking too good. As we approached the Meyer’s Beach Road intersection, there was a Bayfield County Deputy Sheriff directing traffic! Looking even worse. Just before we got to the intersection, there were a few cars leaving Meyer’s Beach Road and the sheriff signaled the car ahead of us, as well as us, to turn in. Lookin’ up! Cars were parked on both sides of Meyer’s Beach Road, and the parking lot was full. Fortunately, there were a few spots left and I wasn’t greedy about getting too close after watching all of the people who had parked on Highway 13 and were walking an extra couple of miles to see the ice caves.
We bundled up, I strapped on my camera backpack and we headed for the great white expanse of Lake Superior. When we got onto the ice sheet we could see two mile-long conga lines stretching from where were to the area where we expected the ice caves to be located. There were two lines because some people were walking to (and from) the caves on the beach, while a second line was taking the more direct straight-line approach over the ice. We opted for the direct path over the ice and struck out. It was slow going because the snow on the ice cover was maybe six to eight inches deep and most of the time we were falling through the snow, picking up our boots and falling again. Half way to the ice caves, we were all tired and sweaty. It may have been about 12 degrees F, but yes, we were sweating.
After about a half-hour walk, we made it. The ice caves and ice formations are not spectacular in the way of Grand Canyon spectacular, but they are other worldly and ethereal. The ice formations are temporary which adds to their intrigue. It’s one thing to see icicles hanging off of your eaves in the winter, but it’s another thing to see how the water has splashed and flowed over the rocks and been stopped in its tracks – and this goes on for a mile or more. Yes, there were literally thousands of people there with us, but everyone was spread out quite a bit and oohing and aahing at the myriad different formations so it didn’t really feel that crowded – until you turned around and saw the throngs of crowds milling behind you. People were climbing into the few caves and onto the ice flows. My kids had a blast! Kids were sliding past us on patches of open black ice. Parents were pulling kids on sleds. Some intelligent people had shooshed out to the caves on their cross-country skis. There were even people who were treating this as tail-gating party – they’ve dragged their coolers and chairs, and one group even brought a gas camping stove and made soup. Some of the ice caves are small and only children were wriggling into them, while there were large caves and canyons that were filled with people.
Visiting the ice caves was a wonderful, beautiful winter diversion and I hope that you’ll have the opportunity to do so – soon! It’s like a winter carnival that pops up in the middle of nowhere and invitations are only issued when it’s really, really cold! My only other advice is to dress appropriately and take hand warmers with you. I hope that you enjoy the gallery, but don’t feel like you have to enjoy the whole thing…
43 N MSN signing off…