Seeing Rain from Mount Franklin

A great Isle Royale hike is the one up to Mount Franklin on the Greenstone Ridge, as I have mentioned on this blog before. The view at the overlook is superb in just about any conditions. The July night that my son Logan and I hiked up there (Logan is pictured), it was after 9:00 when we reached the overlook. Rain was approaching, we could feel and see (when we got to Franklin). The forecast was bad, and we had felt some light rain drops on the way up the ridge. We took a chance to hike up to Franklin without rain gear, but I was confident that we would be fine. The only important matter was keeping the camera dry. The shot shows that even on a cloudy, somewhat dreary night, the view can still be very nice. There were showers in the distance, but none of them came our way until the middle of the night. We ended up having a very nice time on the hike and during our stay on Franklin that night. It was almost fully dark when we got back to Three Mile campground and started getting our beds ready. Light lasts a long, long time on Isle Royale in July, even with heavy cloud-cover.

A Small But Solid Evergreen

Out on Raspberry Island in Rock Harbor I made a fascinating discovery one day this past summer. That little dead tree in the foreground of the photo is about 3 feet tall and has been encrusted in lichens probably over many, many years. Somehow this little spruce or fir (I'm not sure which) has hung on in death, standing fairly straight and strong, despite the wind and wave and snow and ice that the northeast end of Raspberry is exposed to all year long. The tree is a little gem on one of the most rugged shores of the national park. It stands on a mound of solid rock about 10 feet above the surface of Lake Superior and only about 5 to 10 feet from the edge of the mound above the channel between Raspberry and Bat Island. How long can it last standing there? I'll be checking in on this little snag from to time to time.

Tall Aspens

A favorite spot of mine on the island is about half way up the trail to Mount Franklin from the Rock Harbor Trail. The trail there passes through some very tall and now very old big-tooth aspens (old for aspens, which do not last long) on the side of one of the ridges you pass over on your way up to the escarpment. This forest has changed very slowly, but noticeably, over the many years since I was a teenager making my first treks through the interior of Isle Royale. The aspens are so much taller and stouter now than they were back 35 years ago or so. I love the spot now even more than when I was a kid. My son Logan took the photo in the very dim light (he shook the camera a little bit). Rain threatened al during our hike up to the mountain very late in the evening in July. Aspens are somewhat wimpy trees. They don't live long and are easily blown down (as trees go). This forest has lasted long because of the common shelter the aspens themselves provide each other and because this forest is on the south side of the ridge, which means it has a bit more protection from the strongest fall and winter winds. The storms come out of the west and northwest and even the north at the most turbulent times of year. But every time I visit this neck of the IR woods, I find one or two more trees fallen or blown down. Slowly, ever so slowly, things keep changing. I hope you enjoyed this shot. I know I tend to emphasize the coastline of the island in my photography, but this photo was taken in the interior a good mile from any coast (as the crow flies).

Scoville Point on a Gorgeous Summer Day

I took a nephew from Housdton, Texas, out to the island for an afternoon visit in midsummer, on a day when I was captain of the Queen IV. Brian had never been this far north on the North American continent, and so it was all new to him, to be in the north country and so far out on Lake Superior. We had a good day tooling around Rock Harbor as I showed him some of the many sights. At the end of our time toruing in my runabout, we visited Scoville Point, where Brian and I walked up and down the rocky slopes and explored Scoville's endless nooks and crannies. This is a shot of my Texan nephew walking along one of the ridges that make up Scoville Point, one of the most beautiful places in Isle Royale National Park. This area is an easy hike from the Rock Harbor Lodge and for backpackers as well. Also, moose are frequently seen along the trail leading to the point.

On Conglomerate's Cliffs

My son Drew, now 12 years old, and my wife Marsha up on the cliffs on the north side of Conglomerate Bay near Rock Harbor, Isle Royale. This is one of the places we visited during our family trip to the island a couple weeks back. What a calm day it was, as you can see in the distance, open Lake Superior as flat as the bottom of the frying pan. It was warm, too -- a perfect day for exploring the wilderness along the cliffs and coves and forests of Isle Royale. Conglomerate Bay is inaccessible by trail and has no campground, even in the general vicinity. So it is seldom visited except by canoeists and kayakers. That makes it a special spot for water travelers in the national park. There is little conglomerate rock in the bay, however. That kind of rock is found west of Point Houghton on the south shore of the island and on the Keweenaw Peninsula far across the Big Lake. The bedrock Drew and Marsh are standing on is basalt, ancient lava flows about one billion years old, which make up the heart of Isle Royale's geological form.

Dinner at a Shelter

Three Mile Camp and one of the Adirondack shelters found in many campgrounds across Isle Royale. That's my wife Marsha and my eldest son Logan, now 15, getting dinner ready during our night at the island a couple weeks back. The rain was threatening, as I have written of my family's visit earlier on my blog, but we ate without much trouble, except for the ever-circling skeeters. It finally rained overnight while we were snug in our sleeping bags in the shelter. Three Mile is a busy campgound, since it's only 3 miles from the main entry to Isle Royale, at Rock Harbor, where the Queen IV docks each day. But it's a very nice campground, situated right on the shores of gorgeous Rock Harbor. It has beautiful camp sites and shelters. We had a great night there, listening to loons calling and raindrops falling.

In the Dogdays of Summer the Wolves Attack

There have been big doings this week on the island, in fact unprecedented. There was a wolf kill of a moose in Moskey Basin Campground on Monday night, according to reports flying about the whole island. Apparently, the wolves pursued a wounded moose into the campground, near one of the shoreline shelters there. That's never happened in my memory or in my reading. The moose went into the water, but was too far gone to save itself. After the moose died, the wolves dragged it ashore. Other wolves of the Chippewa Harbor pack then came into the camp. This was discovered by a ranger. The camp was then evacuated in order to protect both the wolves and backpackers, though I don't believe there was any immediate danger. Lots of rumors about what happened have been zooming all around the island, but it seems the situation was not quite so dramatic as the rumor-embellished stories had it. All is back to normal now, and the NPS has reopened the Moskey Basin camp as of Sunday. The photo has nothing to do with any of this, except that the wolf kill occured in good weather, the kind of July conditions that are just plain perfect, the halcyon days of summer. This photo was actually taken last year when I was canoeing along the outer islands of Rock Harbor south of Scoville Point. We've had more than a week of similar perfect days lately. I'll try to get more information on the moose attack and deliver it on to you soon.

Sea Tunnel

The family made a trip over to the island for an overnight camp-out this past week. My wife Marsha and my boys, Logan and Drew, agreed to camp, which is not something Marsh has done a lot of. But she had a fine time, proof that anyone can enjoy Isle Royale. I kept telling her that my new advertsing campaign would be: "If Marsha can do it and have fun, anyone can." The skeeters were abundant and busy and aggressive, but we survived well with bug dope of sufficient strength. The night was cool, but not too bad. We camped at Three Mile in Rock Harbor. The loons were calling along Rock Harbor almost all night. That was wonderful. It rained overnight, but the rain caused us no problems. The photo is of my older son Logan, now 15, scooting through a sea tunnel on the edge of Conglomerate Bay down the coast from the Middle Island Passage entrance to Rock Harbor. There are some high cliffs on the north side of Conglomerate, and Lake Superior has carved a number into the cliffs many interesting formations. I hadn't noticed this sea cave before. It was lined with moss. Logan was trrying to go through it and then along the base of the very high cliff on the far side of the tunnel. But the water was too deep on the far side of the tunnel for him to walk in; so he had to come back through the tunnel, which was a challenge because of the moss. I gave it a try, too, but also failed to make it to the far side.

A Rain Shower Passes By

We had a very bouncy crossing last Sunday, an unusual occurence for July on Lake Superior. The best marine weather is always in July, and yet gale warnings were posted and came to fruition earlier on this day I took this photo of the coast outside Rock Harbor from the Isle Royale Queen IV at a distance of about 8 miles. Those are some of the islands that form the south side of Rock Harbor in the distance. The Greenstone Ridge is lost to sight behind the brief rain shower that was passing over Middle Island Passage as the Queen IV approached the island (I was captain of the Queen on that day). The rain shower stopped just 5 minutes after I took the photo. It turned out to be another beautiful evening on Isle Royale for its visitors. The winds settled down and the rains moved on east to open Lake Superior.

Boardwalks on Isle Royale

This photo was taken along the Rock Harbr Trail near Three Mile Campground about a week ago. A group of backpackers heading out into the backcountry for 4 or 5 days was coming down the trail toward me. I was standing on the edge of a swamp that the broadwalk bridges. You can see that the ferns in the swamp have only recently emgered -- and in late June! It is summer, but late spring would be a better description of the some of the micro-climates that are near the shores of harbors and lakes in the national park. The many boardwalks on the island are important in protecting the swampy areas of the island, which have there own partucular charms, especially concerning the varieties of flowers and plants that do best in low-lying damp areas.

An Easygoing Squirrel

I have certainly been striking out on the big wildlife lately on the island, but our customers, the folks we transport to Isle Royale on the Isle Royale Queen IV, have reported seeing moose, both cows and calves, regularly. I just had one sighting so far this summer, and it happened so quickly that I couldn't even get a photo, as I explained in a previous post. Here's a shot of te best of my wildlife encounters so far, a placid red squirrel on the Tobin Harbor trail a few days ago. Usually, these fellows are cackling at you as soon as they see you coming up the trail toward their nests. But this little fellow was standing on a downed log just a few feet to the side of the trail and showed no anxiety or anger or any desire to get away. He was nibbling busily on a spruce nut of some sort. I left him to his business. But if you're coming to IR this summer, don't despair. From all reports, it seems that the wildlife viewing could be excellent this year. There have been a couple of wolf sightings in the Rock Harbor area as well.

A Stream Re-Emerges from the Forest

There are many signs that 2008 has been better to the island with much-needed rain than 2007, which was, according to the wolf-moose researchers, the driest in many decades. Here's some evidence. The photo is a shot of the edge of the big, tangled swamp at Starvation Point, about 5 miles down Rock Harbor from the main entrance at Snug Harbor, where the Isle Royale Queen IV docks each day we sail. The little stream has not been present from a couple years in this location. But now the swamp has a lot of water in it, where it had been very dry, though damp, for years on end. I could hear water moving through the swamp all around me when I went deep into it. And then I found the little stream emptying into the harbor on the beach beside the point. A good sign for the dry island all in all. But the mosquitoes were certainly up a bit and busy trying to get me.

Shreds of Fog Tumble Up Rock Harbor

I made my first trip to Isle Royale as Captain of the Isle Royale Queen IV on Friday last week. It was an endlessly interesting and beautiful day, because it changed just about 180 degrees in the afternoon. We had heavy fog patches, sea smoke, and large rollers from the southeast on the way to the island. Then conditions changed dramatically. The wind came up out of the southwest. The fog was torn apart on the 20 mile-an-hour and was pushed northeast. Suddenly it seemed, within a half hour, Rock Harbor was clear. Here's a photo of the fog rolling northeast up Rock as I walked along the Scoville Point Trail. I later saw a moose near Scoville Point, but it was a very brief glimpse. It was yearling, it appeared, and it was a little mangy already, from the wood ticks that harry the moose so relentlessly. I spooked it; so I assume that it is not yet accustomed to people after the long winter and very cool spring. I tracked it for a while along a couple of densely forested moose trails, but never got a another glimpse or a photo.

Foggy Night in Copper Harbor

It has been cool on Lake Superior and all across the Midwest this spring. We've had a bit of fog on the Big Lake on our first few crossings to the island, though I would say that fog has not been as prevalent as it was in decades past. Here is a photo of my brother Captain John on the dock of the Isle Royale Queen IV in Copper Harbor as the Queen comes in from a crossing to the island in May. On nights like these the captain first has to find the dock before we can get her moored. We've taken quite a few passangers this May, and people have reported finding good hiking across the island. The Lodge is now open along with the Lodge Dining Room and Greenstone Grill.

A Wild Story Arises in Winter on Isle Royale

I have finished Nevada Barr’s new murder mystery set on Isle Royale, entitled Winter Study. Now, what can I tell you about it that you might not get from the reviews at First, if you love Isle Royale, it’s worth reading. Barr brings the island in winter to life reasonably well, at least as winter happens on the west end, the areas around Washington Harbor and the Feldman Ridge. Her descriptions of place and setting are often not all they could be, but she has never been all that good at description anyway. Her first mystery set on the island, Superior Death, lacked in its descriptions of the island, too. Barr also makes a variety of geographic mistakes and exaggerations, though they are not so important as to be ruinous. (The photo is a satellite image of Isle Royale in later winter, 2008.) Nor does the famed scientific study of moose and wolves itself get much attention from her. Barr does a quick sketch of the moose-wolf research effort and quickly leaves its nature and purpose behind for her far-fetched plot of rape and murder. That plot is a dark, wild one, even darker and more outlandish than her first mystery set on Isle Royale. A number of readers at have noted how violent and disturbing some of the scenes and plot elements are. Yet, though I might be getting callous, I found them standard fare for the modern murder mystery.

The story concerns the deaths of two people out of six involved in one of the recent annual winter studies of the moose and wolf populations, a research effort which has become famous worldwide. Is it as famous as Barr excitedly proclaims several times in the book? Probably not. But it’s somehow nice to delude ourselves that everyone knows about and loves Isle Royale as we who know her do, which is far from true, even in Michigan. The plot turns on the premise that the Department of Homeland Security is considering opening the park in winter for reasons of state security. The consideration of this question brings a couple of newcomers to the winter study, in addition to the wildlife biologists who conduct it annually, and puts in motion the elements of the weird and elaborate revenge-murder story.

As usual, Barr writes with her finger-snapping jauntiness. But she tries to be so witty, so hip, so knowing, that she can become tedious -- and even confusing. As typical with her work, she delves deeply into the psychology of her main character, Anna Pigeon, but, strangely, she does not portray her evil-doers or her secondary characters to any great depth. A boatload of highly implausible events take place on the island during the few days that our heroine is present. They could happen, I suppose, but you know they wouldn’t -- and the chances of all of them occurring within the space of a week are nil. But readers of murder mysteries accept outlandish events as a matter of course. Nonetheless, the book begins to read like a soap opera and actually starts to lurch headlong toward the ridiculous. Yet Barr manages to keep most of it entertaining and keep it from falling off the cliff into complete absurdity. The idea of Isle Royale being the subject of security concerns is not something I am well versed in. So I don’t know how plausible it might be that the island and the wolf-moose study could face the sort of problems that Barr imagines they might.

In sum, if you like Nevada Barr’s jaunty style and psycho-probing, you’ll surely like Winter Study, assuming you can take the dark nature of the crimes committed on and off the island. If you don’t know her work, get ready for a wild ride with a lot of intent study of Anna’s mind and moods, and of small words and gestures among the six characters. But don’t look for some sort of engaging overview of the natural world of Isle Royale in winter. Barr seems little interested in that.

2008 Season Begins

The season has begun. The Isle Royale Queen IV made its first trip of 2008 this morning at 8:00. There was a period of windiness yesterday, but the nor'easter that kicked up its heels for a time settled down in the evening. This morning dawned fair and cold, with a light breeze out of the north. Waves were running only at one foot out on the open lake. A lot of people made the journey to the island on the first day this year. No doubt they'll be spreading out. This is a nice time to be on Isle Royale. It is only early spring right now. The leaves are not out; so the view through the forests is excellent. You are able to study the terrain to a great distance much better than in summer. Tonight will be very cool, I'm certain. The temperature along the lakeshore should at freezing, inland below freezing. The hiking during the day should be great, however. Some of the Lodge managers went out to the island today as well. They'll be getting ready for the opening of the Lodger in early June. Start making your plans. The photo is of one of the Lodge's very popular Housekeeping Cottages. Make your reservations for those units quickly.
By the way, I've been reading the new Nevada Barr mystery Winter Study, which is set during the winter wolf-moose study out on the island. I'll post a review shortly. I'm already hooked. The events are a little over-the-top, in the way of popular mysteries, but it's been a good read so far.

Encouraging Results from the Annual Study of Moose and Wolves

The Wolves and Moose of Isle Royale annual winter study has finished, and the preliminary results have been published in the press. It was a good winter for wolves and moose, according to the Associated Press story, which I have attached as a comment to this post. Moose were up substantially, by about 40%. Wolves were up slightly. There are very few old moose left on the island nowadays, which means that the wolf population should decline -- it perhaps should have declined this past winter. But not so. You can read the blog of the research study at The magazine cover on display here shows that Lake Superior featured the 50th anniversary of the study in a recent issue. There have been a number of other magazine articles published about the anniversary lately, many of which can be found on the web by using a search engine.

Nevada Barr Returns

Have you heard about the new Isle Royale mystery that will hit bookstore shelves next week? It's Nevada Barr, returning with another book about the island. She is the author of a mystery series set in national parks around the U.S. One of her earlier novels in the series was Superior Death, which concerned Anna Pidgeon's investigation of murders on the Kamloops shipwreck on the north shore of Isle Royale. I've read that book a couple times. It wasn't bad. We still sell it at the Harborside Shop in the offices of the Queen IV. The story is rather far-fetched, but fetching things a little far is typical in mystery novels. But it isn't a bad read. I've got to admit that I found Barr's first IR book weakest in its descriptions of Isle Royale itself. The island comes off as pretty bland, in my judgment. I'm hoping for better in Winter Study, which, as you can guess, will be set during the annual winter study on the island, which is conducted by the MTU moose-wolf researchers. Reportedly, the new novel will be "heart-pounding," naturally, and "brilliantly crafted." Well, we'll see. The story will concern Anna Pidgeon pitted against a predator -- a human coward with a sadistic violent streak. I look forward to it. We'll have it on sale for sure this summer. I'll post a review soon.

Audubon Looks at Isle Royale

I just heard about Audubon magazine's article about the Isle Royale moose-wolf research study, "The Long View." The occasion is the 50th anniversary of the moose-wolf study, which some have called the longest continuing study of prey and predator in the world. The article came out in the March issue and is available online. It was a good read. The article can be found at:

The photo is a thumbnail of the first two pages of the article. Les Line is the author. Audubon has covered Isle Royale very well over the past 30 years or so. Line has written about moose and wolves and Isle Royale for a number of publications and knew several of the famous researchers who have led the study in its first five decades. His overview of the study during its first 50 years is brisk and enlightening. Rolf Peterson, who has retired as head of the project, gives a rather bleak outlook for moose and wolves on the island at the end of the article. I might offer another post on this article once I've had a chance to digest it. There are a number of shorter articles that commemorate the anniversary of the study on the web, by the way. You can find many of them through a search engine.

Lake Superior Water Levels Go Up

Recent reports from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have made the news: Lake Superior water levels last month were 8 inches higher than they were in February of last year. According to many that's a sign the lake is beginning to rebound from its record lows of last summer, which hurt recreational boating and the Great Lakes shipping industry. The news came from Detroit District Meteorologist Keith Kompoltowicz, who said that the lake is expected to be 7 to 15 inches above last year's levels through August. The level of the lake has risen because of a very rainy fall and a winter with plenty of snow in the Lake Superior watershed. The lake remains 10 inches below normal, nonetheless. There are a couple of photos illustrating the low water levels in my 2007 Isle Royale slide show. My photo in this post is a shot from near the end of Tobin Harbor. That's Edwards island on the left in the distance. The shot shows a broad reef that has been exposed in recent years by the low lake levels. This photograph is available for sale if you like black-and-white photos, as I do, because they are often the best.

Family Time

Here's a shot of Isle Royale from a long time ago, the summer of 1970 to be exact. I was 14 years old. I'm the curly blonde-headed kid standing in the middle of the crowd. We had taken the well-known hike up to Lookout Louise, which is on the Greenstone Ridge on the northeast end of the island. Nixon was president. He had recently ordered the bombing of Cambodia. Kent State had just happened, Woodstock a year before. The two families, the Ben and Eva Lassila clan of Farmington, MI, and the Don and Betty Kilpela clan of Livionia, MI (both Finnish-American families), were close friends and spent time on the island a couple times way back in the late 60s. We had great times together. The Lassilas had four kids, my parents' had six, for a total of ten. We always stayed at the Rock Harbor Lodge (in the Housekeeping Cottages) back in those days. My parents weren't much for camping, though I became a wilderness-loving guy in no time because of my exposure to Isle Royale. My folks bought the Isle Royale Queen II in 1971, just a year after this photo was taken, which is when or family's connection to the island began. Is it time to begin your own family tradition on Isle Royale? If it has already begun, send me a photo and I'll be happy to post it on this blog. It can be a great way to stay together and form lasting memories.

Rock Harbor Lodge 2008 Opening Dates

We've heard from our friends at the Rock Harbor Lodge about their opening dates for the 2008 season. The Lodge will open its very popular Housekeeping Cottages on May 23. The Lodge buildings, which contain the motel-style rooms and and the Lodge Dining Room and Greenstone Grill will open on June 3. The wintertime number at the Rock Harbor Lodge is 866-644-2003. Also, you can visit the web site, which is posted in the right column of this blog. The photo is a shot of one of the decks on the four main Lodge buildings, which are located smack-dab on the shores of Rock Harbor. What a spectacular view in the morning -- any time of day, for that matter. It was just about perfect on this morning a few years ago when I snapped this shot of my wife Marsha watching the harbor and enjoying her morning cup of coffee. May and early June are superb times to be on the island, when it is actually still spring. The nights are wonderfully cool, the days gently warm. Long hikes at that time of the summer are great because you can get a deep, wide view of the terrain through the trees, which are not yet in full leaf. The Queen IV and the Lodge both offer Off-Peak rates, too, so it's cheaper to go and stay.

2008 Season Approaches

Just a short note to let everyone know that we are taking reservations at the office of the Isle Royale Queen IV for passage to the island in summer, 2008. Rates have remained almost steady, with just one small increase in one category. The Queen IV keeps getting better and better as the years go by and we keep working on her. Look for more improvements in 2008. The photo is of a cove along the Scoville Point Trail on Rock Harbor that I took a few years ago. It is one of my Isle Royale notecard shots. You can always order notecards by writing me on email, and we can make some arrangement for payment. I plan on getting some kind of web ordering system for our Isle Royale merchandise some time this year.

Captain Ben