A few weeks ago I spent half a day at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore east of Munising, Michigan. At over 71,000 acres, this long stretch of land on the south shore of Lake Superior harbors a wide variety of natural features. Rivers, lakes, waterfalls, meadows, sand dunes, and forests filled with a variety of northwoods vegetation cover the area. The best-known features, however, are the spectacularly-colored sandstone cliffs. My first stop here was at Miners Castle:
The exposed sediments were deposited intermittently from about 800 million to 480 million years ago, from the late Precambrian through the early Ordovician Period. During that time this area was situated near the equator, bordering a shallow sea. Erosion worked away at nearby mountains, and streams carried sand and gravel to the ocean here. The different rock beds are the result of shifting depositional environments over time. Dunes, shores, riverbeds, deltas, and stream channels are all preserved in the rocks. Each environment deposited different sediments containing different minerals, leading to the multi-colored bedding.
Over time these beds were subsequently buried by younger sediment, only to be exposed again by uplift and erosion. In the last few hundred thousand years, repeated glaciation sculpted the surface here. As the glaciers retreated and melted, they left behind the crystal-clear lakes and colorful cliffs along the shores.
While the views near Miners Castle were great, I heard the Chapel Rock area was even better. I headed out on the eight mile round-trip hike which lead me through a stretch of scenic northwoods. Before I left a ranger warned me about falling American beech trees (Fagus grandifolia, Fagaceae). Apparently they’ve been decimated by a fungus and an insect, and in the high wind that day they were likely to come crashing down. Sure enough I did see many on the ground, and even saw one fall not far in front of me. Every time I heard one creak in the wind I’d glance up, uneasy, to make sure it wasn’t going to fall on me.
Amid the howling wind in the trees I could still hear the scurrying of this eastern chipmunk (Tamias striatus, Sciuridae):
Insects were also common on this warm, sunny day:
About halfway to Chapel Rock I came across Chapel Falls, which provided a serene spot to rest for a few minutes:
Further down the trail I kept coming across mountain maples (Acer spicatum, Aceraceae). These shrubby trees only occur in the northern reaches of North America and some parts of the Appalachians. I had never seen one before:
Paper birch (Betula papyrifera, Betulaceae) was another common northwoods tree:
Before long I arrived at Chapel Rock. The intricately-carved sandstone was pretty impressive:
Here I was also able to get up close to the worn cliff faces:
The striking cliffs abruptly transitioned into the white sand of Chapel Beach along Lake Superior:
The tall cliffs of Grand Portal Point were also amazing here, but in the late afternoon sun they were cast in shadows. It would have been even better to see them in the mid-day sun. Regardless, I can’t complain. It was a great hike and a great way to spend half a day.