Outer Banks, North Carolina – Late Fall 2016 Road Trip – Day 6

We were once again up before dawn, where we had an interesting site from our 12th floor room overlooking the bay. You could see the lights of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge with gaps in the lights where they drop down into the tunnels.

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As we left the Tidewater area in the morning we drove through Virginia Beach, stopping at the Naval Aviation Memorial and briefly looked at the boardwalk. There are actually three bronze statues here with the intent to show three eras of naval aviation, starting in the early 20th century, progressing to World War II and then to modern times.

The first statue is of Eugene Ely, who was the first aviator to fly off a ship’s deck. Next, is a WWII pilot and his crewmen who are leaving their hatch. Finally, there are two modern-day pilots, a maintenance man, and a woman with her foot on an empty cart. The memorial is tucked between hotels on the boardwalk near the ocean.

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Monster trucks, anyone?  Well then Poplar Branch, North Carolina on Caratoke Highway is the place. This is the home of Grave Digger, supposedly the most famous monster truck. Its wheels are at least three feet high and the truck is painted with a gray ghost and haunted house on it. The monster truck stood upright on its front tires with raised rear tires at the front of the property.

Here is where anyone can check out these giant trucks up close and buy a souvenir at its gift shop. The establishment named Digger’s Dungeon offers rides to visitors and sells Diggers merchandise. A number of monster trucks were scattered on the property and I made the most of it taking photos.

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The Wright Brothers National Memorial, located in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, commemorates the first successful, sustained, powered flights in a heavier-than-air machine. From 1900 to 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright came here from Dayton, Ohio, based on information from the U.S. Weather Bureau about the area’s steady winds and privacy. We took the sidewalk up the dune reading small signs warning of cacti in the grass. Thorns of the cacti are harmful to people and pets; but Bermuda grass was planted on the dune to stabilize it.  The tall monument had carved stone heads of Orville and Wilbur Wright and an inscription dedicated to the Wright brothers genius, perseverance and risk.

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A 60-foot granite monument, dedicated in 1932, is perched atop 90-foot-tall Kill Devil Hill, commemorating the achievement of the Wright brothers. They conducted many of their glider tests on the massive shifting dune that was later stabilized to form Kill Devil Hill. Inscribed in capital letters along the base of the memorial tower is the phrase “In commemoration of the conquest of the air by the brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright conceived by genius achieved by dauntless resolution and unconquerable faith.”

Atop the tower is a marine beacon, similar to one found in a lighthouse. The monument was erected by Congress in 1932. In the end, 1,200 tons of granite, more than 2,000 tons of gravel, more than 800 tons of sand and almost 400 tons of cement were used to build the structure, along with numerous other materials.

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Beyond the dune stands a bronze sculpture of the bi-wing plane, Orville, Wilbur, the First Safety Security Team and photographers, a tribute to those who participated in the first flight. The First Safety Security Team is now known at the U.S. Coast Guard and the sculpture captures the historic first flight by the Wright Brothers and their witnesses.

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A park ranger informed us at the test site that the Wright Brothers made four flights from level ground near the base of the hill following three years of gliding experiments from atop nearby sand dunes. On December 17, 1903 the brothers made four flights. A white blanket hung on the hangar door alerting the First Safety Security Team that the brothers needed help to move the plane onto the launch rail and were ready to fly.

A bit of history notes that John Glenn, another Ohioan took a small piece of this white blanket with him in his historic moment into space.  Another interesting fact is that a man of the Wright Brother’s team who witnessed their first flight also witnessed the first landing on the moon in July, 1969, an accomplishment within less than a century.

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The park ranger went on to say that at 10:35 a.m. on December 17, 1903 with a 27 mph wind, Orville released a wire that held the flying machine to the track, and the contraption chugged slowly forward into the stiff wind. Wilbur trotted alongside, holding the wing to keep the flyer level. Then the flying machine lifted off the track, and Wilbur let go. The flyer left the ground as John Daniels squeezed the shutter bulb on the camera to capture a black-and-white photograph that will be forever engraved in human history.

Flight 1 flown by Orville lifted 12 seconds and went 60 feet into the air for a length of 120 feet. Flight 2 flown by Wilbur lifted 40 feet at the launch rail and flew 12 seconds for 175 feet. Flight 3 commanded by Orville flew 26 seconds for 200 feet. Around noon, Wilbur made a flight of 852 feet that lasted 59 seconds—the longest of the day but the flying machine was slightly damaged by Wilbur’s landing, and the group hauled it back to the hangar for repairs.

We walked along the actual routes of the four flights, with small monuments marking their four finishes. The original launch rail is still there. Two wooden sheds at the test site, based on historic photographs, were recreated as the world’s first airplane hangar and the brothers’ living quarters.

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The visitor center in its modern design at Kitty Hawk is home to a museum featuring models and actual tools and machines used by the Wright brothers during their flight experiments including a reproduction of the wind tunnel used to test wing shapes and a portion of the engine used in the first flight.

We saw articles of the history of flight and the patch of the white blanket that John Glenn took with him on his orbit of the earth.  A life-size replica of the Wright brothers’ 1903 Flyer was there. The 1903 Flyer is the first powered aircraft in history to achieve controlled flight (the original is displayed at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.).  A full-scale model of the Brothers’ 1902 glider is also present, having been constructed under the direction of Orville Wright himself.

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Lunch found us at Rooster’s Southern Kitchen, for some vinegary BBQ sandwich and chicken and dumplings. Now nourished, we we headed off to Jockey’s Ridge State Park.

Jockey’s Ridge State Park located in Nags Head, North Carolina includes the tallest active sand dune system in the eastern United States. The tall dune area of Jockey’s Ridge is known as a medano—a massive, shifting hill of sand lacking vegetation. Scientists estimate that there are 30 million tons of sand in the park.

The sand dunes now have eight ponds scattered in the sand from Hurricane Matthew that blew through but have not dried yet. The ponds are not uncommon, often when it rains; water collects near the bottom of the dunes creating temporary ponds known as vernal pools.

A forest of trees lined the edge of the pool. This maritime forest is the home to most plant and animal life in the park. The forest help to stabilize the dune and in return the dune protects the forest from strong winds and harsh salt spray.

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We hiked through sand as we did thirty years earlier, when we were last here. From the top of the sand dune, we could see the ocean and the bay. Hiking through sand is difficult; it seems like you take one step forward and two steps back but we made it to the top of the next dune where boys were rolling down the side of the dune. We trudged through the sand making our way around the vernal pool until we got back to the Visitor Center.

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Our return trip to the hotel was along the road next to the ocean until we reached construction blocking our way to our hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn at Kitty Hawk. We managed to maneuver around it, so after check-in, we went out to explore the Outer Banks by car.

We traveled a bit up to the time of a traffic jam that blocked our way. The jam was caused by a tow motor loaded with lumber partially jutted into the roadway. The police stopped traffic in both directions due to the construction while we waited at least fifteen minutes. So we turned the car around and went into the town of Duck to shop for something to do. Later in Kitty Hawk, we bought a kite, a sweatshirt, and a t-shirt.

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The Kitty Hawk Pier is behind our hotel where we hung out to find two surfers on the waves. We walked on the beach as the tide ebbed although at times the waves chased us close to the protective dune that separated the beach from the beach homes. It was nice as we walked in the cool, cloudy, and drizzly weather, we collected some interesting seashells.

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We are in North Carolina, right, so time for more BBQ. The High Cotton BBQ restaurant was across the street from our hotel so we skipped over there for dinner, it was excellent.

Indiana – October 2016 – Weekend to the Dunes

Located in the Indiana Dunes town of Beverly Shores exist five 1933 World’s Fair houses, where once a year they have tours during an open house. I managed to get tickets to one of the Saturday afternoon tours, but to make the 300 mile trip interesting we made a number of stops.

We left early enough on Friday to make it to Knightstown, Indiana around 4:30 PM, in time to visit the Hoosier Gym. Built in 1922 it served the local high school until the 1960s, but is most famous for being the home gym of the Hickory team in the movie Hoosiers. Restored to it’s 1952 look, they have retained that look ever since.

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The great thing is the gym is a rec center and anyone can come in and shoot some hoops, which we did. The older gentleman who worked there gave us a brief tour, then tossed us a ball and said ‘have fun’. It was great, but also a reminder I haven’t shot a basketball in many years.

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We made our way to Indianapolis where we went directly to the State Fairgrounds where there is a 1939 arena, recently refurbished with the naming rights sold to Indiana Farmers Insurance. We were there for a minor league hockey game, the Indianapolis Fuel. The arena currently seats a little over 6000, with the seating bowl pitched fairly steep, offering good views throughout.

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The game against Cincinnati was competitive, with the teams competing in the ECHL, with quite a bit of checking.

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As with most minor league teams their events during breaks were amusing. First up was a couple of competitors shooting for a small opening in a board in front of the goal, which a young boy managed to do, thrilling the crowd. The other event was the chuck a puck, only this time they had a washer set up on the ice, which took a beating, even from the soft rubber pucks.

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We arrived at our hotel to find it packed with University of Iowa football fans, as they had a game the next day in nearby Lafayette against Purdue. Also staying in the hotel was a sports team from Transylvania, Kentucky, the Transylvania Pioneers. The following morning we had breakfast amongst the Iowa fans, as well as seeing them on the freeway as we were going past Lafayette as well.

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We had a few stops planned on the way to the dunes, the first being a train themed restaurant called the Whistle Stop in Monon, Indiana. The grounds outside had a number of restored train cars, as well as an old train depot. Inside they had a display of lanterns but wanted $10 to view a small room, so we passed.

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Next up was Kerstings Cycles outside the small Indiana town of Winemac. The elderly owner, Jim, had just arrived as we did. While he may move slowly he was passionate about his collection of more than 100 vintage motorcycles. He boasts there are no duplicates, and that he has everything from an Ariel to a Zundapp.

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He has the bikes grouped together, American bikes, German bikes, British bikes, and others. In addition in the back room he has a number of old cars, including an old Rolls Royce.

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Along with the bikes and cars, there is a large collection of posters, mannequins in motorcycle clothing and toys.

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Finally we arrived at Indiana Dunes State Park, which is next door to the Dunes National Lakehore. I am not sure why they don’t combine the parks, but you end up paying for the state park, and would pay a second time for the National Lakeshore, except we had our pass.

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Since we had a couple of hours to kill before our tour we went to the State Park and took a hike up and down the dunes until we reached the lakeshore. The dunes themselves are mostly covered in trees and underbrush, which surprised us as we were expecting giant open dunes like at Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan.

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Once at the shore you have a great view out over the greenish blue waters of Lake Michigan, but you also had the industrial view just to the west of the steel mills of Gary. The day was somewhat hazy so you could barely make out the Chicago skyline 30 miles away across the southwest corner of the lake.

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After we returned to our car we made our way to the National Lakeshore visitor center to sign in and catch the bus for our tour of the homes. Over 70 years of wind, sand, and surf have battered the five World’s Fair houses located along Lake Front Drive in Beverly Shores, but their uniqueness has weathered the elements. With the theme of a Century of Progress, the houses were built for the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair to demonstrate modern architectural design, experimental materials, and new technologies such as central air conditioning and dishwashers.

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Four of the houses were brought to the dunes by barge in 1935 by real estate developer Robert Bartlett. The Cypress Log Cabin was dismantled at the fair and moved by truck. Bartlett hoped that the high profile houses would entice buyers to his new resort community of Beverly Shores. Today the houses are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The houses have been leased to the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana. Through this organization, private individuals or families have leased the homes for 30 years with the agreement they must rehabilitate them, normally at a costs over a million dollars.

The first home we went into was the Armco Ferro home, which is noted as the only one of the houses to meet the criteria set by the Fair Committee of building an affordable and mass producible home. This house was made out of Cleveland steel using corrugated steel panels for walls.

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Next door is the House of Tomorrow, which was designed with its own airplane hangar. It’s orgininal design had glass walls throughout, however this home is the only one still not refurbished. When we were there it was definitely a construction zone, and it appeared they have a long ways to go.

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The last home on the dune side of the street is the Cypress Log Cabin, sponsored by the Southern Cypress Manufacturers Association, to promote the use of cypress in construction. Today the harvesting of cypress trees is prohibited, so when the owners were doing their rehab work, they had to locate old cypress wood and reuse it on their project.

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Across the street is the Florida Tropical House. Designed for the southern Florida tropics, the house combines the indoors and outdoors into the living space. Large open terraces and a flamingo pink paint scheme stand out. The owners were home, and took great joy in describing their rehab effort, bringing it back to it’s original beauty. Situated on the lakefront the view both inside and out are fantastic.

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The final house was framed in steel and originally clad with an artificial stone called Rostone (Limestone, shale and alkali). Its Rostone exterior was billed as never needing repairs, but it only lasted until the 1950s. The exterior of this home was completed, but the interior was still being worked on by an eccentric old guy who chain smoked the entire time we were there.

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The highlight of this house was the Ferrari in the garage. Our tours done, with sunset coming, we made our way to Valparaiso where we spent the night.

The next morning was rainy and cool, and we had the long drive back to Columbus. The plans for this day were to hit some Roadside America sites along the way.

First up was a restored Mobil Gas Station in Plymouth, Indiana

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Next up – Mentone, Indiana and the worlds largest egg – or more appropriately a concrete model of an egg

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Continuing across Indiana we stopped in Huntington to see some college professors collection of outdoor toilets….

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Ossian, Indiana gave us a silo painted like a minion.

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Finally we stopped at the Allen County Museum in Lima Ohio, where they had a hearse collection, some beautiful wooden model houses, a locomotive, and a collection of items a doctor pulled out of peoples throats over the years.

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Also here was a mock up of the jail cell that John Dillinger spent time in.

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Of note is their collection of quartz and other stones and minerals.

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All in all a great weekend.

Southern Colorado & New Mexico – National Parks Road Trip – Day 17 – Great Sand Dunes National Park, Hot Air Balloons & Santa Fe

Our morning in Pagosa Springs, Colorado started out with a beautiful sunny morning, perfect for the dozen hot air balloons to take flight to the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains. We spent a couple of hours running around the town and surrounding countryside for the best views.

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Nearly all the balloons had come up from New Mexico, which is famous for hot air ballooning. Our best views came from a small neighborhood park with a view across a pond with the aforementioned mountains in the background.

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Leaving town to the east you quickly start to ascend Wolf Creek Pass, eventually reaching the pass summit at 10,870 feet, our highest altitude of the road trip. In addition to the usual collection of impressive switchbacks, and far mountain views U.S. 160 has an impressive ‘S’ curve tunnel. Once you drop down the eastern side and arrive in Del Norte, Colorado, you have reached an extensive, perfectly flat prairie that is the San Luis Valley.

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As you leave Del Norte and start across the flatland you see the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the distance, seemingly just a short distance away, but in reality they are 50 miles off. While the valley was filled with farms on this Sunday morning there was nobody out on the roads, so we were able to blast across the small country roads in rapid fashion, arriving at our destination in about 40 minutes.

The Great Sand Dunes National Park has dunes reach as high as 700 feet high, with the mountains behind them rising 3000′ and more up from the valley floor. As mentioned we could see the mountains from 50 miles away, and started seeing the white of the sand dunes from 30 miles away. The dunes were created by loose soil from nearby flat farm land carried by the wind and deposited at the foot of the mountains creating a wide tall dune with many ridges.

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Finally reaching the visitor center, we once again received some excellent guidance from the rangers and set off on a walk up to the first ridge of dunes. There was a scene of young men sand boarding down the dune just beyond us, children trying to sled, and people trekking the high dunes. The dunes were so high that people at the top looked like specks on a giant wall. The sand was difficult to walk in because we sunk with each step. Without a doubt walking in sand feels 10 times harder than walking on a dirt path, the pain in my knees noticeable.

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While there are options for going into the mountainous portion of the park, it is restricted to 4 wheel high clearance vehicles, so we opted to continue on our trip. About an hour south we arrived in Manassas, Colorado to see the statue of Jack Dempsey, a famous boxer, which the small town exploits to the fullest with a bronze statue and a museum of Jack Dempsey.

We quickly moved on toward New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment. The landscape of southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico is desert, exemplified by a group of tumbleweeds barely missed our car as we drove. Travelling down the road exposed us to pastures and hills but no towns or homes for a long time. Just north of Taos we stopped to experience the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, part of the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument, that spans over a very deep 650 foot gorge. Since the area just off the bridge is on state land, and not in the National Park Service land, we found a number of vendors selling trinkets and jewelry. Sadly since this bridge does not have extremely high railing, it is a popular spot for people committing suicide, as a result there are telephone hotlines to suicide prevention on each of the observation points on the bridge.

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We passed briefly through Taos, a ski and artist colony as we continued through the canyon to Santa Fe, stopping at our first Roadside America type place in days, the Classical Gas Museum along the way. We did not go into the museum but we did see old gas pumps and other weird items outside the building such as a pole of stacked tricycles as art.

We arrived at our hotel in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the Drury Inn, giving the dusty car over to the valet. Santa Fe is a very walkable town, so we headed off to tour the old town, taking in the sights of Spanish Puebloan style architecture and the abundance of art throughout the city. Since the early 1900s Santa Fe has been very strict with architecture laws controlling the look of all the houses, buildings and public works resulting in what is generally thought of as one of the best towns in America.

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Even the bridges and underpasses are decorated with art and more bronze statues dotting gardens and nooks for everyone to enjoy.

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Nearly every building and street had an artistic touch to it. Large churches, many galleries and a governor’s palace built in the 17th century when Spain controlled this area of North America were here. We walked through the town square as an artist fair was wrapping up and a Christian band played on stage.

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Our dinner in Santa Fe was in a courtyard of the Palace Restaurant and Saloon on Palace Street, which specialized in Italian and Mexican cuisine. While waiting for dinner we decided to name the coolest person from each state. We thought Dean Martin was the coolest personality for Ohio trumping Paul Newman. Arnie Palmer was crowned coolest person for Pennsylvania. James Dean coolest for Indiana and so on. It was fun to find a cool famous personality for nearly every state before the arrival of dinner. After dinner we strolled the streets of town admiring the clean contemporary native style of Santa Fe.

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We got cups of gelato and walked a while longer through the city on a very pleasant night taking photos. Soon after getting back to the hotel, the fire alarm sounded but soon shut off. There did not seem to be a problem or it necessary for us to leave. We enjoyed our day and looked forward to seeing more tomorrow.

Michigan Upper Peninsula – National Parks Road Trip – Day 2 – Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore & Tahquameon Falls State Park

After an early start we left St Ignace at the break of dawn, continuing north across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Our first destination was Tahquamenon Falls State Park. There are very few towns on the UP though the last one before the park was called Paradise. The centerpiece of Paradise, Michigan is a mini mart/gas station with a 12′ high wooden carving of a bear with a rifle.

The park is just west of Paradise. This park follows the Tahquamenon River over the Tahquamenon Falls, and eventually into Whitefish Bay on Lake Superior. The upper falls has a single 50′ drop, while the lower falls has more of a cascade. Both are very scenic and impressive, as in the springtime the river drains as much as 50,000 gallons of water per second, second only to Niagara Falls in the eastern United States.

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Tahquamenon Falls is also called “Rootbeer Falls” because of its golden-brown color, caused by tannins from cedar swamps that drain into the river. In winter, the ice that accumulates around and in the falls is often colored in shades of green and blue. The waterfalls were impressive and had a nice boardwalk trail. Climbing down 94 steps to the falls and also 116 steps down to the gorge offered a bit of exercise for us. We asked a park ranger how to pronounce the name of the falls and he said the way to remember is that it rhymes with phenomenon. So now Tah qua me non, is easy to say.

Next stop on the trip was the small town of Grand Marais, at the eastern end of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Once we arrived we stopped for lunch at Breakwall Bakery & Cafe in Grand Marais, where the local specialty is an olive burger made with a special green olives and mayonnaise sauce. It was tasty and strictly an upper peninsula thing!

The first highlight of the National Park is Sable Falls. The waterfalls were very pretty but the dunes were closed due to erosion from that point. We drove to the log slide overlook at Sable Falls Park, towering 300′ above the lake. People walked down the steep sand dune and trekked back up. The view was beautiful along the coastline of Lake Superior but we are too familiar with how hard it is to climb dunes and passed on the climb.

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Arriving closer to Munising, and the park headquarters, we hiked the trail to Miners Castle. The cliffs here are gorgeous with 200′ + drops to Lake Superior. Divers dove off the cliff as kayaks floated below. Caves at the bottom of the cliffs attracted swimmers into the clean and clear water.

The small town of Munising (population 2500) is the center of activity for Pictured Rocks. In addition to being the park headquarters it is the harbor that all of the tour boats leave from. Before our cruise however we attempted to find dinner, eventually settling on sandwiches at the Falling Rock Cafe and Bookstore. It was literally a counter in a bookstore with tables scattered throughout.

We took the 6 pm Sunset cruise, which is so popular they sent out two boats at the same time. As we left the harbor we first passed Grand Island, and the historic lighthouse on the southern end. Continuing further out we passed Miner’s Castle, this time on water which provided a very different view than that from the cliffs. It is strongly recommended that if you are going to Pictured Rocks you take the cruise as it is difficult to get a true view of the cliffs from land.

The cliffs and coves of the park are amazing as they seem to change based on the sunlight. They were created from groundwater and springs rich in minerals such as iron, copper and lime that leak out of the cracks and down the face of the cliffs.

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There are a few rock arches that extend from the shoreline to an outcropping in the lake. One of the more famous arches is Lover Leap, as with all places named that for the lore that two lovers jumped when they couldn’t be together. In addition to the arches there are numerous caves, including Rainbow Cave, which has significant mineral stained walls with the forest just above the top of the cave.

Another of the arches, Grand Portal, gives you a sense on how massive they are as our boat looks tiny when going past. Just beyond we reached Chapel Cove – a tight cove that the boat went into far enough you felt you could reach out on 3 sides and touch the cliff walls. Finally we went past Chapel Rock, the most photographed location in the park. It’s towering cliffs punctuated by a single tree from the rocky top. The sun setting and casting light on the rocks and sandstone cliffs throughout the trip provided many different effects. Shades of white, purple, blue and black were seen. The narrated boat tour lasted about 2-1/2 long and traveled nearly 40 miles round trip, returning to harbor in the dark.

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As we returned to our hotel we concluded this was one of the best days we have had in many years, not knowing how much more was to come on this trip.

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