Seward, Alaska is a charming city that has so many great things to offer that are quintessentially Alaskan. The city of Seward was named for President Lincoln’s Secretary of State, William Henry Seward, the man who negotiated the purchase of the state of Alaska from Russia in 1867. Seward signed a treaty with Russia for the purchase of Alaska for $7 million. Despite the bargain price of roughly two cents an acre, the Alaskan purchase was ridiculed in Congress and by many of the American public as “Seward’s folly,” or “Seward’s icebox,”. After the Civil War, Seward saw the potential in the land and was an advocate of territorial expansion. He was eager to acquire the tremendous landmass of Alaska, an area roughly one-fifth the size of the rest of the United States. The city of Seward’s official motto is: “Alaska starts Here” and certainly showcases so many of the things that Alaska has to offer. So you may have been ridiculed at the time Mr. Seward, but you knew a good thing when you saw it…..and what a beautiful land it is!
Relatively easy to get to, Seward is only a 2 1/2 hour drive from Anchorage on the scenic Seward Highway. The city is nestled between the mountains and the sea and has the beautiful Resurrection Bay as it’s playground. Surrounded by glaciers and landscapes that support an abundance of wildlife and fauna, the Resurrection Bay was formed by millions of years of glacial activity and is now a deep fjord 35 miles long on the southeastern coast of the Kenai Peninsula.
Also found stemming from Seward is The Kenai Fjords National Park. This park was originally established as a National Monument in 1978, and became a National Park under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980. Most access to the park is via tour boats out of Seward. Several wildlife and glacial cruises are available. Out on the water traveling along the coastline, it is a great way to see glaciers, marine mammals and seabirds. A view of the Harding Icefield, which covers over half of the acreage in the Park, is an amazing relic from the last ice age and truly takes one’s breath away. The huge fields of ice advancing between the mountain caverns and a calving glacier are amazing and can sometimes make a person feel relatively small, in the scheme of things. Nearly 40 glaciers flow from the Harding Icefield. The boat tours are worth taking the time when visiting Seward. Exit Glacier is the only portion of the park that may be accessed by road. There are two Visitor Center’s available: one at Exit Glacier and one on Resurrection Bay in Seward. The park itself is open year round, but it’s important to note that both Visitor’s Centers, and many boat tours, have only summer operations: from May to early September.
It’s a fisherman’s paradise here and many charters are available. A good start would be a visit to The Fish House at 1303 4th Ave. They have lots of information on charters, equipment and anything and everything you need for fishing. Not only is it for fishing, it’s a pretty cool hardware store, too with a few little souvenir items. For more information check out their web site at: https://www.thefishhouse.net/ Sport Fishing in the area includes Halibut, Salmon and Rockfish. Seward is known as one of the top five ports in Alaska for commercial fisheries.
The Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward is celebrating their 20th year of operation. It opened in 1998 as an educational aquarium and rehabilitative center for marine animals. It is a wonderful place to get up close and personal with marine life creatures that you normally would not have access to. They have a wonderful aviary with an array of seabirds to view. In the lower level viewing area there is an amazing tank that you can view sea lions swimming and diving right in front of you! In addition to the various fish displayed there is an octopus, who always seems to be a big hit with the spectators. Also at the Center is a “touch tank” where you can gently touch and feel what sea cucumbers and starfish actually feel like. An amazing experience, but that arctic water is REALLY cold; touch tank experiences are usually brief! Of course there is a gift shop for obtaining a souvenir of your visit. It is good to know that your purchase goes to help support the Center as both a public aquarium and the stewardship of Alaska’s marine ecosystems. I think I would be remiss, if I did not include in this discussion about the Alaska Sea Life Center, the devastating event in history that in some ways spawned the creation of this wonderful center: the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989. On March 24, 1989 the Exxon Valdez supertanker spilled 10.8 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound. I remember that devastating event and even today some consider it the worst man-made environmental disaster. After this disaster, years of litigation and civil settlements helped to create new wildlife rehabilitation programs in addition, of course, better regulations regarding the transportation of crude oil. The Alaska Sea Life center was also created by collaborative efforts of local marine scientists and also Alaska legislature appropriations. For more information on this must see destination in Seward, see their site at: http://www.alaskasealife.org
Walking around the streets of Seward you see wonderful examples of the rich heritage and artistic influence as depicted in all the murals around town. In 2008, Seward was voted the “Mural Capitol of Alaska” and an organization has been established to promote and maintain the artwork. The murals cover a diversity of topics including the history of Seward, commercial fishing in the area, the Iditarod trail, the natural world and the heritage of the Native Alaskans. So when taking a walking tour of Seward, have your camera ready and your eyes open…you will see murals just about every 2 blocks. There are several murals that I missed, guess I better go back! Also, there are at least 6 art galleries/gift shops that display wonderful artwork by Native Alaskans and art that is reflecting the Alaskan spirit.
So head down the Seward Highway and Put your traveling shoes on. JES
The name Alaska is derived from the Aleut word “Alyeska”, meaning “great land”. Very fitting for this land in terms of size but also the majestic mountains, glacial streams and miles of forested hills. Any time you set foot on this land, you can truly get swept away with the beauty here. Almost every Alaskan adventure starts with a flight to Anchorage. Anchorage is the most populous city in Alaska: of the approximately 710,000 Alaska inhabitants, half live in Anchorage and the surrounding areas.
So the minute you land at the Anchorage Airport, you know you are not in any typical airport. The airport is filled with examples of animals that are readily seen throughout the state: bear, moose, wolves and a variety of water birds. Also on display is a variety of beautiful Native Alaskan artwork. Of course, included are several shops you can purchase the “usual” souvenirs from mugs to t-shirts and gourmet chocolates. However, I want to emphasize again…this is not your typical airport. I happen to see a vending machine that sells mittens and gloves. (Are you prepared for being “up North”?) That alone is unique, but it was pretty cool that they were made from Bison hair. I just thought it was pretty amazing to see gloves sold in a vending machine. Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.
After descending the escalator to go to luggage claim, on display you will see another characteristic example highlighting the fishing industry in the state (both commercial and recreational) : a HUGE Halibut. This is the record holding Halibut at 9′ 5″ long and weighing in at 459 lbs. That must have been an exhilarating catch to watch them bring it in. (perhaps he was thinking: My name is Ishmael) Our family did go Halibut fishing a few years ago in Homer and had a very successful trip with several impressive catches. Then we had them fillet, frozen and shipped back home. It was exciting to have a whole freezer overflowing with Halibut. Halibut are sooooo delicious even though most people will admit, they are pretty creepy looking.
Once arriving, a very good start to getting familiar with the area and what’s available for the type of adventure you want to pursue, stop in at the Visitor’s Center. In the heart of downtown Anchorage, amidst the office buildings is a little log cabin with grass growing on the roof. This is the Anchorage Visitors Center. The building itself is so quaint and photo worthy and very easy to find: at the corner of Fourth Ave. and F street. The staff is so helpful there and can fill in the details of any questions you may have and they are also able to provide several different brochures about anything and everything within the state of Alaska. A definite place to stop by when in Anchorage and also a good starting point. The growing season in Alaska may be a little shorter, but they make up for it with beautiful displays of flowers all over the city. From block to block in Anchorage there are hanging pots with cascades of flowers. One of my favorite flowers, the Fireweed, gets its name because it is the first vegetation to appear after newly cleaned and burned areas. It is a perennial wildflower that is found in Canada, parts of Minnesota and of course Alaska. The purple and pink flowers light up the hillsides with color. Then in the autumn, they change to a soft, white fluff looking like lambs wool.
Depending on the time of year you are visiting Anchorage, there are a few summer time activities you really should check out. Alaska is known for its abundance of wild salmon. Near the heart of downtown Anchorage is Ship Creek: an amazing place to watch the “salmon runs” and watch the anglers try their luck. There is also a nearby fish hatchery. Not only do the local fisherman go to the shores, but the shorebird viewing in this area is amazing. When the locals say “the Kings are in”, you know the King Salmon have started to run. King Salmon are present in late May, then Coho Salmon run from August to mid- September. The best place for information is found on this link: http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=viewinglocations.shipcreek
Another fun summer festival and Farmers Market that includes great food, music and an abundance of arts and crafts is the Saturday Market, held on Saturdays outside near 3rd Ave. by Buttress Park. (summer months only) The craftsmen there provide many authentic Alaskan made products that are very unique and provide a wonderful remembrance of your Alaska trip. I remember when my boys were young we found some wooden toy frogs with washboard backs that made a “Ribbitt…Ribbitt” sound when the small dowel was racked across them. So cool! I believe they still have those. Also, at Saturday Market was the first time ever I had eaten a reindeer corn dog….Yum! Don’t knock it till you try it, and I actually like them better than the traditional Frankfurter dog.
Of course there is a whole diversity of fantastic dining in Anchorage besides corn dogs, with a diversity of price ranges. Simon & Seaforts boasts a beautiful view of Cook inlet and a great selection of Alaskan seafood. Beautiful restaurant with wonderful food, a bit pricey but worth it as a treat. For a little less formal restaurant, and a place that is known for their wood -fired pizza try the Fat Ptarmigan. They are located in downtown Anchorage at W. 5th Ave. Great food in a casual, but very nice atmosphere. The Ptarmigan is Alaska’s state bird. Whenever I hear that, I think of a funny quip about the town of Chicken, Alaska (SE Alaska near the Canadian border). The founders wanted to name it after the state bird, but remembering how to spell Ptarmigan was a pain so they settled on Chicken…Ha. Probably not true, but a cute story. Last restaurant I want to mention is NOT known for Alaskan seafood, but surprisingly enough is a fantastic Mexican restaurant: Hacienda. I guess when I think of good Mexican cuisine, I thought one needed to head south (not north to Alaska?),…but this particular restaurant is really good and most of the locals are familiar with it. Not really on the beaten path of the tourists. And the Margaritas were perfect! Highly recommended fantastic Mexican food.
I know it’s “touristy” but one of my favorite places to go in Anchorage is the Alaska Wild Berry Products store. Not only does it have a wonderful array of “wild berry” products like jellies, candies and specialty teas…they have jewelry, clothing and just about any type of sought after souvenir you might like. AND….they have the World’s Largest Chocolate “waterfall”!(but it’s chocolate….Mmmmmm) It is a 20 foot fall with 3,400 pounds of real liquid chocolate cascading down several buckets and ending up in a glistening pool of chocolate. Wow, you gotta love that. Here’s a picture, it really is neat and makes you crave a trip to the candy counter. Just for show, it’s really chocolate, but you can’t dip your pinkies in for a sample.
Well, this just scratches the surface of all the experiences that await in Anchorage. There are also two awesome museums that really warrant looking into: the Alaska Native Heritage Center and the Anchorage Museum. Additionally, exploring nature is easily accessible to the city with fantastic wildlife and bird watching at Potter Marsh. A hike up Flattop Mountain, in Chugach State Park, brings you to a dramatic, skyline view of Anchorage. For more information on these features and much more about Anchorage, be sure to check out this helpful site: http://www.VisitAnchorage.com
So I hope I have whet your appetite for an Alaskan Adventure and don’t forget: Put your traveling shoes on. JES
We Americans frequently adhere to the adage: “You get what you pay for.” Sometimes in certain circumstances this is true, no denying that. Yet I am here to lift up the virtues of seeking out and enjoying FREE STUFF! Of course there are the many free things in life like love, friendships, holding a soft puppy, enjoying the sounds of soft spring rain and….well you get the idea. These things are all well and good, but I’m talking about less esoteric things, like entrance to a free museum.
So many people have the impression that things can’t be very good, or worth taking the time to look into, unless you have to pay an admission fee. I am here to strongly denounce that misconception. I have seen so many interesting museums and “freebies”, yet have also seen ones that were indeed lame. It’s always a gamble, but look at it this way, you haven’t paid money up front so you are not out anything. Yet, if it turns out to be an interesting and worthwhile place, you can almost always donate money on your way out the door. Museums and centers need donations to keep places running and also appreciate positive feedback….tell your friends, they might enjoy the place too!
In my area, there is a county museum that has an amazing collection of stories, artifacts and documentation on the settlement and growth of several communities within our county. The Polk County Museum in Balsam Lake, Wisconsin is housed in a majestic, red brick courthouse. The building itself is quite a sight to behold. Originally built in 1899, it was used as a courthouse until 1975 when it was converted to a museum and is operated by volunteers. It has been included in the National Register of Historic Places. Inside the museum, there are three floors of galleries with some of the exhibits dating back to the Revolutionary War. There is an impressive exhibit about the logging industry and its impact on the area. Logging and lumbering were the primary attractions that brought early settlers to the area in as early as 1837. I never knew that the logs were “branded” (just like cattle) before being sent down the river…neat.
The building also has unique and beautiful stained glass and interesting architectural details on every floor. Here is a stained glass window that is beautiful, but also informative: it shows a map designating the townships within Polk County. I thought this was so beautiful and I bet it looks very different depending on the time of day.
Not only do they have an impressive permanent collection, the museum also hosts traveling exhibits. Late summer, they hosted a fantastic exhibit about John Muir, the conservationist and one of the men instrumental in founding the National Park Service. John Muir spent much of his youth in Wisconsin. The Museum has limited hours in the summer time, and frequently hosts private and school tours the rest of the year. The museum is at 120 Main Street Balsam Lake. For more information you can contact them at: (715) 485-9269
Another free and very interesting museum that I had the pleasure of visiting is the Bayfield Maritime Museum. Located in Bayfield, Wisconsin near the Apostle Islands, it is a treasure trove of cool stuff all related to the maritime industry, the history of the area and the wonders of Lake Superior. Many topics are covered including boat making and the development of the maritime industry, shipwrecks on Lake Superior, lighthouses, and an impressive collection of historical photographs and artifacts related to the area. It is staffed by very helpful and knowledgeable volunteers, who are happy to answer any questions.
They also have a small amount of books and souvenirs about the area and the Apostle Islands. I purchased a nautical print of Bayfield and the Apostle Islands and another print showing all the Lighthouses of the Apostles. Both prints were very suitable for framing and it made me feel good knowing that my purchases went towards helping to operate the museum. This museum is only open during the summertime and is staffed by volunteers. For more information, check out their website at: www.bayfieldmaritimemuseum.org
Some FREE museums, like the SPAM museum in Austin Minnesota, have an ulterior motive like promoting and extra marketing of their product. But so what?!….if it provides an entertainment value and a diversion for weary highway travelers, more power to them. Many people react with the comment: “There’s a SPAM Museum, seriously?” Yes, seriously. If you are passing through southern Minnesota, don’t forget to go. However…I’m kind of embarrassed to say I have been to the SPAM museum three times, with various family members so they too can enjoy that fun place. I’m not even a big fan of SPAM (except with mac&cheese), but it really is a fun place and a lovely gift shop too! (One can never have too many SPAM refrigerator magnets.) For more details about the SPAM museum, their website is: www.spam.com/museum
So next time you are out and about, or even in need of a local excursion, don’t forget the local small museum. You may be surprised of what new wonders await within.
So we are just on the brink of Fall and the beauty of the season is just beginning. Many of the trees in my neighborhood are still mostly green, but there are splashes of amber and dark red here and there. Like it or not, the cooler nights and the changing of the leaves are coming. If you live in an area that Mother Nature presents to you all four seasons, the trees are just starting to show a little color and all the pumpkins in the fields are being gathered up and making their way to the grocers and people’s porches. The sunny days are making way to cooler nights as we ease into Fall. As the summer flowers are also saying their last hurrahs, the petunias, lilies and geraniums are making way for the golden tones of mums and purple asters.
Living in the Midwest, the colors of autumn can put on quite a display. Sometimes right in your own backyard. However, sometimes a weekend trip this time of year is not only a great way to get away for a “mini vacation” but also a great time to soak up the splendor of the colors before the snowflakes fly. There are so many great places in the Midwest to visit that have the perfect backdrop to display fall foliage. Residents in the northeastern states also have a bounty of colorful landscapes this time of year. Living in the heart of the Midwest, there is always an array of colors to enjoy as the season gets underway. The Ash and Locust trees start the transition followed by various fruit trees and the spectacular displays put on by the Maples. The mighty Oaks are usually the last to go and generally not as vivid a display as the Maples.
It is amazing that there is even a web site dedicated to fall foliage: www.foliagenetwork.com/ It is a delightful diversion to visit this site and even if you can’t have a fall trip away, the photos on the site are beautiful. It covers all areas of the United States and separates it by region. The site also provides information for travel planning for viewing the colors of autumn with information such as lodging and suggested routes for scenic drives in the area you have selected. They even have web cams of the various locations. It is a great place to be inspired by the changing of the seasons and saying good-bye to summer with a smile. Check out this interesting site at: www.foliagenetwork.com/
My home state of Wisconsin, full of beautiful Maples I might add…..has a terrific site to plan those leaf viewing travels in the state. Check out the site at: https: http://www.travelwisconsin.com/fall-color-report
The beauty of the Fall season is an inspiration to photographers and artists as well. Yet, also an inspiration for poets. Here is an ode to Autumn penned in 1896 by Emily Dickinson:
So embrace the beauty of the changing season, enjoy the palette of colors and say good-bye to summer with a smile. No Regrets. She will return again.
Traveling about this beautiful country by car, camper or motorcycle is a fantastic way to see the sights of this gorgeous country of ours. Yet sometimes the convenience and timely efficiency (and I use that term loosely) of airplane travel is a great way to get where you need to go in a WHOLE lot less time than if you were to drive. However, there are a few caveats that I would like to throw out there for anyone about to embark on the fun adventure of air travel.
I was prompted to write this essay based on a recent trip to upstate NY to visit family. My visit with them was wonderful and that surely made up for the craziness of the getting to and fro nature of the trip. Anything that could go wrong, did go wrong. Murphy’s Law. Both coming and going, my connections were missed (through no fault of my own…flight delays) forcing me to stay in a hotel in a city that was not my final destination. On the return trip out of Charlotte, after spending the night in a hotel, rushing to the airport the next morning, changing gates 3 times and waiting patiently to board….the unbelievable happened: a message on the board appeared: FLIGHT CANCELLED. Unbelievable. My fellow weary travelers and I went into shock. Those of us who were in more of a stupor, hung out by the gate. Yet, the seasoned travelers who knew JUST what to do, had disappeared in the blink of an eye, or whipped out their cell phones to immediately book a flight out of there. This was approximately 60 people…all looking for flights. It was heavy competition. The first and foremost thing to do is to get in line at the customer service desk for your particular airline. More than likely you will be automatically booked on another flight (I was) but you have to go to get a new boarding pass. Also while waiting in line, many travelers called the airlines customer service to choose other flights that might be better. They were booking up fast! Now please refer to my previous indication about Murphy’s Law…right about this time that law kicked in: my cell phone started acting up and before I got on the plane, it had completely died. No, it wasn’t the battery, another problem.
But travelers sharing the same agony frequently bond and we helped each other on a quest to get out of Charlotte. A very sweet older couple graciously allowed the use of their phone so I could contact my husband with an update. I was on standby for a flight with 22 other people and I was #12 in line. I wasn’t too hopeful, and a few tears of exasperation and exhaustion rolled down my cheeks. I went through a lot of Kleenex that day, trying to keep my composure. Well, by some little miracle I made the flight. I sat next to a lovely couple from Charlotte who were exactly in the right place at the right time. (Hi Ronda and Irv!) God’s little helpers who were sent to help me retain my sanity. She lent me her cell phone to call my husband right away to let him know I made the flight. What wonderful people who helped to make a tense situation more bearable. Things like that help to restore one’s faith in humanity. Even after I landed, they stayed with me to get my luggage (which was delayed, of course) and I was able to call hubby again on Ronda’s phone. When we parted ways, they even reached out for a big hug and wished me well. If I am ever in Charlotte again, under more favorable circumstances I will have to look them up. You guys are the best!
Now some delays like this are weather conditions and of course they can’t do a thing about that, I want to fly safely. Yet, some delays are “crew availability”. I had heard there is a shortage of pilots these days, perhaps that is a big part of the problem.
Air travel was never the same after the horrific terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. In response to those events, the Transportation Security Administration was formed to help battle security threats that sadly lurk in our world today. Most everyone is familiar with what is expected from passengers as to what they can and cannot have when boarding an airplane. If you need a refresher course, the TSA website is very helpful and spells out the specifics of the “3-1-1” rule for transportation of liquids,etc. The site can be found at: http://www.tsa.gov
Nevertheless, even being familiar with these regulations confusion still arises. Take for example the time I was bringing back from Alaska a delightful collection of jellies made from a variety of fresh berries locally produced there. It was a gift for my Mom, who appreciates jams and jellies on her English Muffins. They were small sealed jars, in a gift pack, that apparently exceeded the 3.4 oz. limit and the TSA perceived them as “liquid”. The only way I could get them home was to put them in a “checked” bag, as opposed to a carry on and pay an additional $25.00. Well, you can pretty much guess what happened: I paid the $25, didn’t want to give up my jelly. It’s the principle of the thing. It did make it safely home, and the TSA agents were not able to enjoy muffins and jelly that day. Now that was some expensive jelly. Luckily is was worth the trip and a great souvenir.
So put your traveling shoes on. (and remove them for the TSA) JES
Whenever I visit a place operated by the National Park Service, it never fails….there is confusion among my fellow park goers as to if this is a “Park” or not. A recent visit to the Apostle Islands, a “national lakeshore”, prompted me to find out just where the distinctions lie in the park service classifications. It is understandable that there would be some confusion in this arena, because our National Park service manages 417 parks and sites with areas covering 84 million acres. Within the 417 sites, there are 58 of those that are classified as a “National Park”. When people think of the National Park Service, they usually think of just the “biggies”: Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, The Great Smokey Mountains. These are fantastic places to visit, but there is so much more to the NPS than just the 58 parks. Whenever you see the arrowhead logo, you know you are in for a treat. There are just so many things to discover and experience. So for clarification, the National Park Service website (www.nps.gov) has provided a few guidelines to help us understand the classifications:
“–Generally, a national park contains a variety of resources and encompasses large land or water areas to help provide adequate protection of the resources.
–A national monument is intended to preserve at least one nationally significant resource. It is usually smaller than a national park and lacks its diversity of attractions.
–In 1974, Big Cypress and Big Thicket were authorized as the first national preserves. This category is established primarily for the protection of certain resources. Preserving shoreline areas and offshore islands, the national lakeshores and national seashores focus on the preservation of natural values while at the same time providing water-oriented recreation.
–National rivers and wild and scenic riverways preserve freeflowing streams and their immediate environment with at least one outstandingly remarkable natural, cultural, or recreational value.
–National scenic trails are generally long distance footpaths winding through areas of natural beauty. National historic trails recognize original trails or routes of travel of national historical significance.
Although best known for its great scenic parks, over half the areas of the National Park System preserve places and commemorate persons, events, and activities important in the nation’s history.
–In recent years, national historic site has been the title most commonly applied by Congress in authorizing the addition of such areas to the National Park System. A wide variety of titles—national military park, national battlefield park, national battlefield site, and national battlefield—has been used for areas associated with American military history.
–The title national memorial is most often used for areas that are primarily commemorative.”
So there you have it…just goes to show you that the NPS is involved in so many ways of preservation, education and recreation for many visitors at a diversity of sites. Another reason, the park or monument designations are so important is because policies, funding legislation and land usage can and ARE profoundly affected by the designation. For more commentary how that is currently affecting the parks in the recent administration, see my blog entitled: “Parks and Politics: Trying (so very hard) to keep politics out of the discussion.” Published 12/5/2017Link:https://travelingamericablog.com/2017/12/05/parks-politics-trying-so-very-hard-to-keep-politics-out-of-the-discussion/
So look for that arrowhead in your travels and Put your traveling shoes on. JES
Sea Caves, Lighthouses, Shipwrecks and breathtaking Sunsets…..all these amazing attributes are found among the 22 islands above the northern tip of Wisconsin in the chilly waters of Lake Superior. These unique islands were sculpted out of sandstone and formed towards the end of the glacial period 10,000 years ago. The amazing colored agates and rocks found in the area were deposited as the glaciers melted.
Many stories surround how the Apostle Islands got their names, but the commonly agreed upon one, involves the biblical parallel to the 12 Apostles. Early explorers to the area were missionaries and tended to name new areas based on Biblical names. Counting the islands loosely, many believed that there were only 12, so the name: the Twelve Apostle Islands seemed appropriate. Even though there are 22, the name Apostle Islands remained.
It’s interesting that there are only four areas protected by the National Park Service as “national lakeshores” and the Apostle Islands is one of them. President Nixon signed the bill establishing the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in 1970. There are 22 islands in the Apostle Islands, but one is omitted from the inclusion in the National Park protection: Madeline Island. This island is the largest of the islands and was omitted due to extensive residential and commercial development already existing on the island.
When visiting a National Park, my mantra has always been: “Let’s go to the Visitor’s Center first!” A visit to these islands is no exception to that rule. The Visitors Center is in an old courthouse; a historic building in it’s own right, but gives you a real overview of the islands and any information you my need while visiting. The Visitors Center Park Headquarters is found at 415 Washington Ave. in Bayfield, north from WI. 13 near 5th street. It resides in an old courthouse building that has been beautifully restored. It was constructed from Brownstone mined from the Apostle Islands. Inside the center, are numerous displays of historical and also present day features of the park. The folks that work at the information desk have an abundance of information to help with any questions and suggestions about the surrounding area and lakeshore. There is also a terrific film, 20 minutes long, explaining both the geology and human history of the area surrounding the Apostles entitled: “On the edge of Gichi Gami, Voices of the Apostle Islands.” Most people are familiar with Longfellow’s spelling of Gitche Gumee from his Hiawatha poem (1855). However, today in Ojibwe language class, you are more likely to see gichi-gami, gitchi-gami or kitchi-gami for Lake Superior. Loosely, it does indeed mean “Big Sea” or “Huge Water,” but just about always refers to Lake Superior.
Bayfield Wisconsin is a lovely town right on the south shore of Lake Superior and hails itself as the gateway to the Apostle Islands. Bayfield is the smallest incorporated city in Wisconsin, but it is brimming over with activity near the beauty of Lake Superior and the surrounding hillsides. The area is known for an abundance of recreational pursuits like hiking, kayaking and of course sailing. When we were there, the town was host to a sailing race. Many of the sailing teams congregating at the local restaurants…you could just tell by the snippets of overheard conversations. Some of the sailing terminology that was bantered about is completely foreign to me, but the great thing is you could tell they were having a terrific time sailing among these beautiful islands. Also, fruit and apple crops are abundant in this climate and area restaurants highlight locally grown produce. The Bayfield Apple Festival, always starting on the first Friday in October, is a weekend filled with farmers markets, fish fry and culminating with a parade. It’s quite the event in Bayfield. For more info. about Bayfield, check out: http://Bayfield.org
Having an interest in lighthouses, I really came to the right place: The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore has a larger concentration of lighthouses than any other National Park Service site. There are six lighthouses within the Apostle Islands, but there are even more in that area of Lake Superior, including Ashland Harbor. On the map here, you can see how the lighthouses are positioned among the islands. We only viewed the Raspberry and Devil’s Island lights, so perhaps another trip would be warranted. After speaking with boat tour personnel and others, I found out that those two lighthouses are perhaps the most photographed and visited of all the lights. Perhaps due in part to their easier accessibility to the mainland, but they are also possess their own unique characteristics. The building of the lighthouses between 1857 and 1915 ushered in the rise of modern shipping on Lake Superior.
Devil’s Island light opened in 1901 and sits atop the island that is the northernmost point of land in Wisconsin. I thought that alone was an interesting bit of trivia! This lighthouse is an impressive 80 feet high and is found above the beautiful sea caves that undercut the shoreline. The sandstone cliffs make a picturesque view with hardwood forests as the back drop. The incredibly rocky and treacherous shorelines, especially by Devil’s Island, make one realize why the lighthouses marking the way were so very important to the early mariners.
The Raspberry Island Lighthouse opened in 1862 with a height of 42 feet. The light was installed to mark the west channel in the islands. It is said to be one of the few remaining wood framed lighthouses on Lake Superior. Even though it is rather large, by lighthouses standards, it has a certain charm to it and has been lovingly restored in recent years. The property includes the attached lighthouse keeper quarters, a fog signal building, barn, brick oil house, two boathouses, two outhouses and a dock. When we were there, we saw a few people ascending the huge staircase from the shoreline and dock to the top landing: wow there’s your workout for the day.
There is so much beauty in the Apostle Islands to experience that one visit there will not suffice…looking forward to my next trip there. Put your traveling shoes on. JES