Monday, June 28, 2010

North Manitou Island, Lake Michigan

Years ago, well before humans were anywhere near Lake Michigan's western coast, a mother bear and her two cubs tried to cross Lake Michigan from the Wisconsin shore to escape a great forest fire. It was a long, difficult journey and only the mother bear made it across. The two cubs got close, just about 6 miles from the Michigan shore, but sadly they drowned. As legend has it, the remains of the two cubs formed North and South Manitou islands, 2 of the larger islands in Lake Michigan. The mother bear still lies waiting for her cubs to reach the shore in the form of the Sleeping Bear Dunes on Michigan's western coast.

The Native American legend above is how the Park and the Islands got their names. In present day, South Manitou Island is a tourist destination. However, North Manitou Island is not much different than it was when the bears tried to swim across the lake. There was briefly a very small population on North Manitou in the 1840s. Initially there were some woodcutters, then some apple growers, and then some wealthy Chicago folks who wanted a secluded place to summer. The lake surrounding the island is very treacherous (there are over 50 shipwrecks surrounding the island!), so some North Manitou citizens got into the business of "saving" wayward sailors.

However, none of these pursuits lasted long on this 8 mile by 4 mile desolate island so now in 2010 Wikipedia states the island "has no population". Which isn't exactly true because there is 1 ranger who lives there. So, population of 1. There are no roads, no electricity, no houses except for the ranger's humble abode. Thus it was a perfect place for Adam and I to do some wilderness camping.

There is a ferry from the mainland to North Manitou once every other day or so during the summer. Adam and I really had no idea what to expect of the island. We knew we could camp essentially anywhere we wanted on the island and we brought plenty of supplies. Immediately upon arriving on the island, the lone ranger gave us and the 15 or so other folks on the ferry with us a quick orientation telling us that we needed to camp "300 feet from any lake shore, creek, or foot path" and that if we had an emergency "get to a high point and try to call 911 on your cell". He helpfully added that we should "turn off your cells when you are not using them or the battery will get drained trying to find a signal- cell service is not so good on the island".

Then, he let us loose! We arrived on the Eastern side of the island and Adam and I decided the best bet would be to head South. We hiked in about 5 miles, dodging some garter snakes on the way, and found the beautiful look-out point you see to the right. Since it was such a great view, we decided to camp there for the night.

Here's another view from near our chosen campsite.

Adam took great joy in the selection of the ideal campsite, and I'll admit, it was kind of fun. We explored various nooks and crannies looking for a nice, flat area in the shade but yet still close to the lake (say about 301 feet away from the shore, if possible). We found a very good spot in the trees, just steps away from a pristine Lake Michigan beach.

Here's our tent, all set up with the rain flap on. Definitely didn't need the rain flap this night- the sun stayed up until about 10:30!

I'm pointing out our tent site. It was literally right behind those trees, but perfectly hidden! No one to bother us except the chipmunks and the garter snakes, and they pretty much left us alone;)

We enjoyed yet another delicious dinner of ramen, tuna, wine and chocolate looking out onto Lake Michigan. (Reading that back to myself, that menu sounds kind of gross, but when eaten in courses, I promise, it's good!)

I would highly recommend North Manitou island for anyone looking for a good, easy, but short wilderness camping experience in the Midwest. And I think Adam and I now feel ready for any camping adventures in the future- maybe a quick trip to Yellowstone before our Alaska adventure? I haven't seen bison in a couple years......

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