August 25, 2016. As The Bearded Man stepped off the Voyageur II transportation ferry and walked toward the Windigo Visitor Center on the southwestern corner of Isle Royale, he felt the weight of his journey. Fifty eight National Parks in a little less than three months. A remarkable accomplishment. "The experience of a lifetime. So many beautiful parks, so many gracious and warm people along the way", he says before sitting down. "I think of all the nights spent under a blanket of stars, the sounds of nature my lullaby. I remember every stop and every meal. Some of those meals still remember me".
Isle Royale sits in the cold northern waters of Lake Superior, just south of the Canadian border. The National Park consists of 45 small islands and the larger Isle Royale. At 45 miles in length and 9 miles in width, it is the largest island in Lake Superior and the second largest in the Great Lakes, after Manitoulin Island. Given to the United States by Britain in 1783, the Ojibwa peoples considered the island their home until 1844. Shortly afterward, copper veins were discovered, logging began and both continued for almost 100 years, until the island was made a National Park in 1940. Since logging ceased, the forests have returned to their former magnificence, even as traces of the mining past can be found all around the island.
The National Park Service brochure describes Isle Royale perfectly. "A warm breeze blows through the maples and birches, a splash echoes across the water as a cow moose wades into the protected harbor, an osprey circles overhead. This is the edge of Wilderness". As The Bearded Man stuffed the brochure into his backpack and set up his tent at Windigo Campground, he muttered, "perfect". After a quick meal of gorp and water, The Bearded Man set off on the 9.4 mile Huginnin Cove Loop. "My last hike of the trip. I'm kinda sad". We love this big lug.
The Huginnin Cove Loop leads The Bearded Man along several ridge-lines and through wetlands, while offering beautiful views of Lake Superior and Canada in the distance. At the trail junction beyond the bridge over Washington Creek, the remnants of a historic mine exploration site are clearly visible. As the trail winds upward, beaver ponds and rocky beaches below provide amble evidence of the glory and power of mother nature's gifts and TBM stops to have a bite of his PB&J and take in the view. "Look at that majestic view. Not a human in sight. Even after all I've seen, it still takes my breath away". And with that thought tumbling across his mind, he promptly fell asleep and disturbed his friend Mother Nature with his snoring for the next hour.
As with all National Parks, the rangers of Isle Royale are the backbone and glue of the park. "I wanted a ranger led program to be the last thing I did on this trip. I wish I could say thank you to all of the rangers that have guided and educated me at each park. I admire the work they do and quite frankly am jealous as hell of many of them. You know who you are ranger Bob in Yellowstone. And ranger Lin of Grand Canyon". So as the sun began to drift down behind the mighty pines, The Bearded Man sat quietly and listened as ranger Charlie eloquently spoke about the cultural and historical uniqueness of the island, his words gliding over the grass and rough wooden benches where only a few sat. "And we would like to thank The Bearded Man for spending The National Park Service's 100th birthday with us. We trust you've enjoyed our park and we look forward to seeing you again in the near future". The few people present clapped in soft appreciative agreement as The Bearded Man rose, nodded and wiped a tear.
Tomorrow, The Bearded Man heads back to the mainland. His plan is to take several days driving from Thunder Bay, across the Canadian northern shore of Lake Superior, catch I-75 south and wind down to Detroit. He has a few buddies that live just north of the city and on September 1st they have a flight booked to the island of St. John to visit Virgin Islands National Park. "You didn't really think I was going to leave our 59th National Park off my itinerary did you? I still love you dear reader. Stay golden Pony Boy".