Don't islands spell romance? It seems to me the very notion of an island visit can conjure up images of beauty, rest, and romance--or in some cases, lurking danger.
Okay, my writer brain is already taking off. Today I want to introduce someone out there to the Apostle Islands. If you live in the upper Midwest, you probably know something about them, or maybe you've visited the Apostles yourself. I suspect that there are a lot of people who don't know about this national treasure.
The Apostle Island National Lakeshore is only fifty years old by designation as a national park, but its beauty and importance in our economy is centuries old. The Apostles sit just off the Bayfield peninsula in northern Wisconsin. The moody waters are home to a host of shipwrecks, some which can be seen from ferry tour boat when the waters are calm. The islands themselves carry the ghosts of past stories in abandoned places such as the schoolhouse on Sand Island once attended by fishermen's children, or in Stockton Island's silent brownstone quarry, or the earthy cabins of the historical fish camp on Manitou Island. All are empty now and slowly returning to the earth.
These "Jewels of Lake Superior" number not twelve apostles, as in the Biblical sense, but twenty-two, and they span 280 square miles. They're mostly sandstone, covered in forests. Over the centuries the islands have been home to European explorers, Native Americans, lighthouse keepers, fishermen, farmers, quarrymen, and loggers. Nowadays, only one of the islands is inhabited, and it is not included in national park status with the rest. Yet Madeline Island, the largest among the islands, is filled with history and pristine beauty. The next several images are a few of Madeline's views taken by my son's wife during their family day trip last summer. Check out the clear blue water. Great swimming, but it's much colder than you'd imagine.
On the southern tip of Madeline Island is a little known cemetery where Michel Cadotte, the area's most established trader is buried. Nearby, where a fort of the French and Indian war stood previously, he had established one of the premier trading posts of the region in the early 19th century. He and his family became well known in the fur trade. His wife Madeline, for whom the island is named, was born Equaysay, an Ojibwe princess, and raised on Wisconsin's nearby shores.
Tourists and locals enjoy visiting the caves by kayak. In the winter, ice formations develop in the sea caves. During the winter of 2014, more than 95% of Lake Superior froze over--a nearly unheard of amount. The ice was 50 inches thick in some places. But that winter the caves were so amazing and accessible that 138,000 people trekked along the frozen shoreline to visit them. Many years the ice isn't safe enough for such a visit. My friend Julie Kramer made the journey and gives us great perspective with this shot.
Local friend and historian Dara Fillmore took these fabulous shots during her trek to the ice caves:
For several months now on Colonial Quills, I've been sharing about the history and beautiful vistas of this region. My novel Song for the Hunter, releasing next January, is set mainly on Madeline Island during Michel Cadotte's reign as fur trader. Readers will become acquainted with the forests, rock ledges, and the historical trading post on Madeline Island.
If visiting this beautiful setting appeals to you, you can reach the island by ferry. You'll find a small but wonderful museum there, campgrounds, beaches, hiking trails, and a couple places to eat and stay. I hope to go back there this summer. If I do, I'll bring back some more photos to share of these historical locations.