A welcomed mid-April burst of summer weather stirred us into thinking of a Rock hounding opportunity that we had not done before. It was projected to be in the upper 70’s and the Sportsman in me learned that the spring smelting run was in full stream on Lake Superior. So with the ice was off the Great Lake and with the unusually early weather, it was unlikely any tourism had yet begun.
This meant that the beaches would be uninhabited and we might be the first to walk them after the long frozen winter. The opportunity I was curious about was in the fact that the wave and movement of the subsurface currents continuously churn up the gravel, rock and roll the boulders on the bottom back and forth breaking them up and continually wash the remnants up on the shore. There is no means to explain the violent strength of nature’s force that has eroded the depths of the oceans and lakes for billions of years! Rocks and the underwater mountains unseen on the surface, and largely unexplored by man, have been carved up and eroded by water and glaciers for millions of years. As a result and the source of millions of years’ worth the beautiful rock, mineral and geological specimens to admire from the deep unseen gallery of mineralogy. When the viscous churning of the under tows and currents bring rock material from the bottom near the shoreline, the surface waves then pummel the material into the shoreline and bash the material against each other and wash it back and forth battering it into smaller washed and polished pieces and allowing every spring a fresh new array of specimens to be collected. As the tourist season befalls the area, this material is picked and removed from the beaches and shorelines, bringing pleasure and smiles in a most natural way nature could allow.
The early spring weather and the lack of ice so early; was an opportunity too good to pass up! Mary and I packed up the van, threw I our boots, beach rakes, buckets and “Zowie” her dog and set out in search of rock and gem stone material to add to our collection and enjoy. We drove north to the very top of the state near the Michigan Upper Peninsula and Wisconsin border to a place called Saxon Harbor Beach. The remote port was home for a dozen or so yachts and fishing boats, not near any metropolitan area other than the tiny town of Saxon.
Upon arrival we parked next to some boats still in storage, still protectively buttoned up and tarped from the winter storage. Only two appeared to have been attended too and other than pickup truck with a couple of fishermen we had the quaint harbor and beaches to ourselves. We changed our shoes to boots grabbed our gear and set out for the shoreline. The river that emptied into the lake has a picturesque wooden foot-bridge spanning a hundred feet or so across it to a remote campground.
Once we reached the far end of the campground, we had reached the end of the county property. The boundary was still another stream about fifteen feet across. The depth varies from six inches to two feet deep, but with casual knee boots; there were enough surface exposed rocks to hop scotch or wade across with ease.
A short hundred yard walk through the woods on a well-worn deer trail led us to the rocky beach heaped with trillions of millions of billions of tons of rock, pebbles and driftwood washed to a glossy sheen after being tumbled smooth by the relentless waves of the greatest of the Great Lakes. Walking a mile is a process of two steps forward; slipping back a half step in each stride, while slipping sideways a half step in the process. The process is invigorating, tiring and far more a workout than a simple walk on the beach. The striated slabs of ore the size of whole buildings lining the Great Lake pushed aside like pebbles in a brook by the unfathomable forces of the mighty Lake Superior, are a constant reminder of the immense power and strength of the forces of nature. It is a humbling experience when you realize that we as humans are powerless against nature.
Upon returning to the van; exhausted from carrying buckets filled with rock specimens, we arrived just as dark was setting in. The parking lot was now empty, and with a warm weather, absence of mosquito’s and time of day, we decided to “Road-camp” next to the yachts still in dry dock. We simply put the seats into a reclining position, feasted on bananas, string cheese and hot dogs from our cooler, pulled out or pillows and blankets and settled in for the night. In the wee hours of the night “Zowie” jumped to attention and growled an alert as she spotted a deer outside the window of the van. The wary nocturnal ghost was nibbling on the tender green sprouts a mere twelve feet from the van. After a few minutes of watching her, she casually walked off and across the wooden bridge to the forest. Morning was incredible! At 6:00 am we walked onto the Breakwater to admire the sunrise along the beachfront and it was nothing short of inspiring! The warm 65 degree breeze with just a bit of nip off the lake, was enough to keep the bugs and mosquito’s away and the calm near spiritual quiet was a perfect way to start the day.
We drove east towards “Little Girl Point”. While nearby it offered a different, yet familiar topography and environment. The rock shores offered an interesting array of gravely mosaic to choose specimens from. The forty foot high iron ore laden red clay bluffs that separated the secluded beaches from the rest of the world, were heavily eroded. The fallen trees, eroded cliffs and occasional land slide that washed the earth back to the great lake from where it began was a constant reminder that the lake was relentless in attacking the shorelines with a fury we can only imagine. High above the soft sand beach precariously perched on the eroded edge was a guard rail from a parking area teetering for its life to avoid succumbing to the eventual collapse form the weakened said it once firmly was placed upon. It would only be weeks, months or at best a few years before the weather, elements and the lake would reclaim a few more inches or feet of the bluff and the evolutionary geological transformation that has been occurring for billions of years would continue.
Every stone has a story, every pebble has a tale; and the atoms which make them up, and as is with everything we know in life; has a history of how it came to be and why. Walking along a beach and seeing the trillions of tons in individual inanimate objects, life forms and biological specimens is a marvel of the mystery of life. The beauty, mastery and intricate delicate individualism combined with the vast magnitude of the expanse and enormity of the scale, brings out the mystique surrounding nature’s creations. There is an astounding and mesmerizing emotion that comes with the solitude that brings a peace and comfort as we reconnect with the earth we are surrounded by.
We returned to the van and drove off to Ironwood, Michigan for breakfast and then headed north again towards Presque Isle Falls State Park. It is s still another natural landmark worth viewing. While not a rock hounding destination, and not a place we would go too specifically, but when nearby, certainly worth going to add to the trip. After the relaxing walk along the well-marked paths, the swinging suspended wooden footbridge across the raging falls and the seemingly endless sets of wooden stairs to the beach, we returned to the van and turned towards home.
Knowing that there is another impending Iron Ore Harvest being explored and planned in the area; we passed through historic Ironwood and a quick drive through Norway and Vulcan, Michigan to see the remains of the last Iron Ore Harvest. It was a reminder of the geology related industry of the past; that along with the timber industry, that built the Midwest and surround states into the powerhouse economy that made the Midwest industry, manufacturing, society and lifestyle; what it evolved into today. The drive home was pleasurable with no shortage of area related topic to stir conversation. The time flew by and it was a pleasant reminder of the geology, history and abundance of mineralogical wonders that still abound just a few hours from home. A weekend drive can provide real-life experience and education that would take years of reading and classroom instruction to provide a hint of what nature has to offer. It was a wonderful weekend trip that brought fun and education on every turn, and we highly recommend it to all.