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Wilderness Tripping: Backpacking
   Grand Island National Recreation Area
   Alger County
   Munising, Michigan
   July 30 to Aug 3, 2004


Grand Island Re-visited:

Sea Caves,
Archaeological History,
and More

By Gail Staisil
    Midland, Michigan
   Copyright 2004

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July 29, Thursday


I arrived in Munising just in time for dinner with the group. I checked in with everyone, and we headed over to Sydney's for dinner. Dan and Mary, Mary Ann and Dave, Cathy, and Michael were all ready to enjoy the evening. Milton would be joining us tomorrow, for our adventure to Grand Island. I left the restaurant and drove west on M28. A bright orange globe of sun was sinking into the horizon fast.

I found a spot to bivy on the west side of Munising Bay. I walked down the shore to see if I could find Milton, but it was getting dark and I had no luck. The moon shone brightly throughout the night. I slept in my Trail Blazer in a secluded spot surrounded by trees.


July 30, Friday

Archeology Dig and The Pine Marten

Partly cloudy skies greeted the morning. The sun finally rose above the clouds as I walked the beach. I had plenty of time, before I would have to meet the others for breakfast. We met at the Dog Patch Restaurant and then headed over to catch the 10 AM ferry to Grand Island.

Today we would hike east towards Murray Bay. A group of college students from the University of Illinois, were finishing their archeology project on the island. They had started on July 5, on several different digs near the old cemetery at Murray Bay. I had observed them less than two weeks before, when I also had been on the island with my sister, for a few days of backpacking. The students invited us to tour their excavation pits.

They found evidence or a cache of tools in primitive form...these were tools that were never completed and were found in a vertical position...this led them to believe that they had found a tool-making site from the Late Woodland Indians during the period of 800-1200 AD. Other finds included a hatchet and massive shards of chert and quartzite. They had probably obtained the quartzite from deposits around Trout Bay.

Deposits of quartzite attracted many Native Americans. It was a hard, shiny, crystalline rock that could be found in many colors: purple, gray, tan and red. It could be chipped to making scraping and cutting tools.

We stopped for another break shortly after. Milton took a lengthy swim in Lake Superior. While we were hanging out at the shore, we noticed an odd occurrence in the water. At first we thought it was a stick floating but then we noticed a bushy tail. We couldn't figure out what it was, and then a student archaeologist told us they thought it was a Pine Marten, as some had been hanging around their sites. It sure made sense, as we didn't think a squirrel would be swimming long distances like that.

Pine Martens are a small rare member of the weasel family. They kind of have a long skinny body but their bushy tail is about one third of their length. Usually we think of them as being arboreal but they also hunt on the ground and feed on frogs and fish that they find in shallow water areas. The bay that we saw the marten in was very shallow.

The students also told us of recent bear activity. There were three different bears that have been hanging around them. One of them was so pesty, that they nicknamed it "Murray." I did see one of them last week when I was here with my sister.

We hiked off to Trout Bay and then walked the beach to the far end where we would have lunch. We then tracked into the thumb on old roads that were no longer in service. After two right turns, we ended up in the Muskrat Point area directly opposite of the Murray Bay Campground. This camp area is normally only accessible by boaters, as there are no trails to it. We had done a short bushwhack from the old road to the camp site. Milton went swimming again but the rest of us decided not to join in at the time. I later walked the point area and entered the shallow waters there for a small bit to rinse off.

We celebrated Dave's birthday with brownies that Mary made pre-trip. We gathered to sing the traditional song in a chorus of blended voices.


July 31, Saturday

Rocky Point

A very wet morning. It started raining last night about 3:30 AM. Lightening flashed around us throughout the rest of the night - it continued raining heavily at times. I got up at 7 AM and headed down to the beach for breakfast. It soon started raining again so I moved back under my tarp to have breakfast.

The rain subsided and we left camp at 10 AM. Fog set in but was not long lasting. We took the old road back taking a left turn and another left at the old trailer [now gone]. From there we cut over on a very overgrown road to the Cobble Cove campsite, a rocky point and cove normally only accessible to sea kayakers.

It was still cool but very humid - still cloudy when we arrived some time after noon. We ate lunch in camp and later headed out to the platters of rock to relax.

The sun came out by mid-afternoon...I wanted to get in the water. The others suggested that I check it out :) and report back. I was very happy and reported to everyone how nice it was. Eventually Mary Ann and Dave came down followed by Milton, Mary and Cathy. After swimming, we stayed down at the small cobble beach quite awhile to dry and talk.

We had dinner out on the rocks and stayed there quite late into the evening. Everyone retired but I decided to stay out on the rocks. I eventually went up to my hammock but I couldn't sleep, so I returned to the rocks alone.


August 1, Sunday

Invasion of the Flies

Morning arrived and I hadn't slept much. We left about 9 AM to go back to Trout Bay via the overgrown roads. Mary departed from us there, as she had some things to take care of on the mainland.

We left for the North East Point. Along the way, we stopped at Promontory Point, a point Michael re-conned, named and returned to often. Everyone enjoyed it but we headed back shortly after lunch due to the influx of stable flies. The flies became a huge issue the rest of the day.

We arrived at the North Light Beach and noticed huge swarms of stable flies, but we needed to go swimming as we were so hot. I jumped in with my clothes on, and then wrapped my neat sheet around me as soon as I left the water to keep the flies from biting me.

Everyone deserted me for camp back in the forest, where the flies were fewer. I ate supper alone and walked the beach to take pictures. It is such a pretty beach to miss the opportunity to enjoy it...flies or not.

Stable flies are often found along the shores of Lake Superior. They look much like a house fly but are more vicious as they are an aggressive biting fly. Both sexes need to get a blood meal a couple times of day. They like to attack the legs of an animal or human, especially ankles. Unfortunately these flies can be carried by winds up to 150 miles so they are often associated with northerly winds and high pressure systems. Their only redeeming factor is that they are inactive at night giving us some relief.

When I returned to camp, I took a zillion flies with me, you couldn't shake the swarms was like being surrounded by bees but not deadly. Everyone else had the same problem and some of our group were encased in netting.

I returned to the beach after sunset to take a dip to cool off again...the flies were gone :) and I had the beach to myself...everyone else was already retired for the night.


August 2, Monday

Mather Beach

It had been a warm night, so the flies returned shortly after sunrise. The first couple of miles were rather unpleasant but as we headed to Gull Point, the flies became fewer in quantity. We were hiking towards Mather Beach where I planned to depart for the ferry later in the afternoon. With much on my schedule, I was happy to have joined the others for as long as I could.

Mather Beach is named after William Mather who was a conservationist who preserved forests and restored historic Fur Trader Era buildings on the island. He also built summer homes and resort facilities but he left much of the island protected. After he died, his company (CCI) decided to log the larger trees off the island. Luckily, later Congress approved federal purchase of the island in 1990 protecting it from further destruction.

I went for another swim at Mather Beach, had some hot chai and chatted until it became time for me to depart for the last ferry. It only took about 70 minutes to walk so I had plenty of time (45 minutes) before the last ferry arrived. I reflected on my time on the island and pondered when I would be back again.

(The rest of the gang would stay at Mather Beach and return to the mainland tomorrow, August 3)




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In God's wilderness lies the hope of the world,
the great, fresh, unblighted, unredeemed wilderness.
 — John Muir 1838-1914, Alaska Wilderness, 1890

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