Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sea Caves

No one could say that Lake Superior isn’t grand. But if you camp on the south shore next to the beach in the hamlet of Herbster, Wisconsin, on a calm night, you can see the lights twinkling on the opposite shore, and it gives that remarkable expanse of open water a more homey feel.

We camped in Herbster for two nights recently; the lake was as calm as it ever gets, the sun was bright, and the berries on the mountain ash were as red as could be. The Canada geese arrived early in the morning, squawking as they descended to land out on the lake. The crows in the spruce tree just outside the tent had already been making a racket for quite a while. Before the clouds had dispersed we canoed out into the Bark Bay Slough, a lovely, quiet, environment of spruce, tamarack, bog laurel and floating muskeg that’s protected from the lake by a long spit of sand. We ran into two sandhill cranes in a back bay and watched four otters playing in the shallows for quite a while.

In the afternoon we took advantage of the unusually calm weather to head out onto the big lake from Meyers Beach to see the sea caves. The lake was rippling with little wavelets, and the sunlight, shining through them, created golden rippling bars of light running at angles to the little ridges on the sandy bottom twenty feet below us. From time to time we’d pass above patches where the elevation of the lake bottom changed abruptly, exposing clusters of pumpkin-sized boulders.

But all of that was mere prelude to the green-aqua water and the golden-red cliffs and caves a mile down the shore—far more beautiful than any photograph could convey. The brilliance of the lake itself, which seemed to have a shiny skin, added to the dazzling effect. Just being out on the big lake in a canoe is exhilarating—it keeps you on your toes, even in the calmest weather—and the sight of passing kayakers, with an island or two off in the distance, completed the picture. Canyon de Chelly meets Cancun, with a touch of the Arctic thrown in for good measure.

The caves go on for miles, and you can paddle into some of them, even in a canoe. The waves that wash into them make a mysterious gurgling sound as they meet up with enclosed spaces deep within the rock—the geological equivalent of wind rustling in the trees, I guess.

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