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Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Miner's Castle, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Copyright 2007 Andy Richards

Most of us are familiar with America’s National Park System (NPS), and many of the more famous Parks. Many are also familiar with the National Forests which are ubiquitous throughout our country. But there are some lesser known components of the NPS, including the National Wild and Scenic Rivers, and—in Michigan—our Sand Dunes systems and Lakeshores. One particular gem in the system is Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, which occupies about a third of the Northern border of the Michigan Upper Peninsula (U.P.), along the Southern shore of Lake Superior; the largest and coldest of the Great Lakes. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore stretches from Grand Marais at its Eastern border, to Munising; its Western border. While there are numerous interesting sandstone formations all around the U.P., these are the most notable.

Sandstone Ledges, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

What makes the shoreline along the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore unique is its cliffs and underwater ledges that were formed over many years from sediment deposits of sand. The sandstone layers create colorful graphic striations that, particularly when wet, and lit by nice sunlight make very photogenic subjects. Along the shoreline in many areas there are sandstone reefs that run out into Lake Superior, in at least one case, as far as a mile. Hiking along the beach, one can walk in sand for a mile and suddenly come upon a series of ledges and reefs that, while creating treacherous conditions for boaters, are very picturesque (giving the region its name).

Elliot Falls, Miner's Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Munising, MI
Copyright 2009 Andy Richards

One remarkable formation, near Munising, Michigan, is “Miner’s Castle.” Through the natural process of accumulation, and then erosion, this formation at one time had 2 “turrets” which resembled a castle, jutting out over the lake. In late 2006, one of the turrets, due to erosion and high winds, fell into the lake. It is still a remarkable and photogenic subject. I have been to this area to photograph it many times and never fail to find something new to shoot. The park is very accessible with a large parking area above Miner’s Castle, and easy access and parking on the beach below the upper lot and the castle formation.

Sandstone Reef; Lake Superior Shoreline, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

Last weekend, I made a quick overnight trip up to the Munising area, to scout some locations for a Fall outing. These were areas I had not photographed previously. Almost to Grand Marais, Sable Point marks a massive sandstone reef that runs North into Lake Superior nearly a mile. Back in the days of shore-based navigation, the reef was known to have claimed many a commercial ship and there are still timbers from the wreckage along the shore in that area. The AuSable Lighthouse was placed to warn ships of this dangerous reef. Out of commission today, it is maintained by the NPS and is a popular site for visiting tourists. Access to the light requires a non-strenuous 1.6 mile hike out a two track road which begins at the NPS “Hurricane River Campground.” There is a nice beach here, where the Hurricane River empties into Lake Superior at the West end of the beach. On the East end there are timbers from a shipwreck. I photographed these timbers during the sunset.

Shipwreck Timbers; Hurricane River Campground Beach
Pictured Rocks National Lakshore
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

The lighthouse cannot be reached by hiking along the beach, as there are several sections where sandstone formations jut out into the water and it would require scrambling up over them. You can access the beach about ¾ of the way out to the light, where there is another shipwreck, and it is worth climbing down these stairs to finish the hike along the beach. From what I could see, the best photographic approach to the light for an afternoon shot is from this beach. I did not make it over to the East side, but I believe there may be a long view shot from the log slide (an area that loggers used to roll logs down to the beach to be loaded onto ships and shipped down to the lower peninsula and points South (through the Soo Locks).

AuSable Point Light; Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

Perhaps the most logical staging point for this area is Munising. From the middle of Munising, you can reach Marquette in less than an hour, the lighthouse parking lot in about 40 minutes, the Miner’s Castle points of interest in about 10 minutes, and the Hiawatha National Forest in about 10 minutes. There are a number of motels and hotels in Munising, all of them small. In certain seasons (especially late summer and during foliage times) early reservations are important. There are a smaller number of motels in Grand Marais, and it is an alternative, for the Pictured Rocks area.

Shipwreck Near Sable Point; Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

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4 Responses

  1. Nice write up Andy. This area is among my favorites in Michigan, yet I meet so few people that have actually been there. Anyone from Michigan who hasn’t been is really missing out on one of our great treasures.

    • Thanks Mark. I am always flattered to know that you read my blog from time to time. For any of my readers here who have not done so, do yourself a favor and read Mark’s own blog and look at his impressive imagery.

  2. Beautiful pictures, Andy. Very talented. I enjoy your blog 🙂 Plus, your adventures!

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