The big ponds of the country
WORTHINGTON -- Last week I shared with you a fishing outing with Casey and Rosa Ingenthron on Lake Michigan. When it comes to my knowledge of the Great Lakes, I was limited to seeing Lake Superior a few times when I made it to Duluth. I have never traveled to any of the other great lakes or spent any time on their shores or waters.
It is hard to grasp the magnitude of these waters from reading or looking at photos. What I became aware of first as we closed in on Lake Michigan by motorcycle from across Wisconsin was the 15 degree temperature drop as we neared the lake. It was 100 degrees and sweltering, but when we stopped on its shores it was much cooler and very pleasant.
It was a great relief for our group of travelers, but I imagine those who live there just take this pleasant benefit for granted. It is the only one of the five Great Lakes that is entirely in the United States. The others share borders with Canada. It was named after an Ojibwa word meaning great water.
Lake Michigan is not the biggest of the Great Lakes, but it is huge in its own right. It is 60 miles wide between Manitowoc, Wis. and Ludington, Mich. Its widest point is 118 miles and it is 308 miles long. It averages 46 feet deep, but has a maximum depth of 942 feet. If you lost something in this lake, it would be lost forever. If you took a drive around this lake you would need 1,600 miles worth of gas. The east shores of Lake Michigan look like those of a Caribbean destination. The beaches are long, wide and covered in white sand. There is a state park which features these dunes.
The folks who live on the shores of Lake Michigan think theirs is the best of the best when it comes to the Great Lakes. All you have to do is head on over to Lake Superior and they will tell you they have the best lake of the group. We headed north and crossed over to the upper peninsula of Michigan. There you will cross the Mackinaw Bridge. It is worth the drive just to see this bridge. It crosses at the connection of Lake Huron and Lake Superior. It is five miles long, which stresses out many travelers. They offer a service where they will drive your car or motorcycle across the bridge for a small fee.
Riding a bike over a bridge is no big deal if the road surface is asphalt. Many, if not most, bridge travel lanes are. I called the bridge authority ahead of time to see what the bridge was like. They said there was one lane of asphalt and one lane of metal grating going both directions. I was good to go. The metal grate lane is so that when they plow the snow, it falls through the spaces in the grate and out of the way, 200 feet down to the lake. As I was making my ascent up the ramp of this five-mile-long bridge with about 200 other cars and pulling a motorcycle trailer, I realized that up ahead, the road construction had the asphalt lane closed off.
I made my way over to the metal grate lane and drove five miles with my front tire trying to go a different direction than where I wanted it to go. I was committed and there was no turning back. Being able to see through the road all the way down to the water was enough to keep my hands very tight to the handle bars. Thankfully it was not windy that day. Cars have been blown completely off the bridge and it is closed occasionally for public safety.
The south side of Lake Superior does have these same dunes as the Lake Michigan east shore, but they also have the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. It was the very first lakeshore to receive national park designation, and 62 others have followed. The pictured rocks are 200- to 300-foot-high cliffs that have been battered by Lake Superior waves for many thousands of years. This has created one of the most unique photo opportunities I have ever had.
We took a 3-hour boat ride to this area and saw sights that are unique only to the Upper Peninsula. I know of no other place like it in North America. It was the destination reason for the trip and was worth every one of the 2,160 miles we traveled round-trip to see it.
When you sit on the edge of these great waters and realize that the huge cargo ship you watched travel out of sight did so, not because it was too far away for you to see, but because it traveled over the curvature of the earth so it was no longer in your line of sight. You realize these Great Lakes are very big ponds.
Lake Superior can hold all of the other Great Lakes combined and two extra Lake Hurons when it comes to water volume. It is also the deepest at 1,062 feet deep. There is no bluer water anywhere on earth, and that includes Hawaii (I visited my Marine son there once before he was deployed). I have not traveled out of the United States more than just a few times to Canada to fish and one trip to Mexico one cold winter. I am forever changed by my new-found appreciation for the biggest fresh water lakes on the planet.
The pictured rocks make you feel really little when you consider just how big they are and how long they have been taking the beating of the 30-foot waves that crash against them. This spot is pretty close to home and everyone that can should see to appreciate them along with North America's greatest really big ponds.
Scott Rall is the Daily Globe's outdoors columnist. His column can also be read weekly at www.dglobe.com.