It’s kind of ironic. I first heard about frozen Lake Superior and the Apostle Island Ice Caves while stuck in an ice storm last month along the Gulf Coast. I remember sitting in a mall parking lot full of semis and stranded wayward travelers, scanning different radio stations hoping for word on the chance of Interstate 10 opening back up. A little blurb of a story came across the air talking about the Great Lakes phenomenon; and how for the first time in several years Superior had frozen to the point where visitors were able to hike out and explore some of the Apostle Island National Lakeshore sea caves, or “ice caves” as they are known in their glazed winter form. I was immediately mesmerized trying to imagine the scene, and I’m willing to bet of the many frustrated souls that had been forced off the highways of Louisiana that day, I might have been the only wishing I was about fifteen hundred miles north.
Even after returning home and trying to put another stint on the road behind me, I couldn’t get the prospect out of my mind. I stared at maps, I calculated mileage; I tried to convince myself to just let it go. But thoughts of the ice caves kept haunting me, and every few days I’d succumb to temptation and Google search for images. Those I found were astounding. Giant icicles hung like stalactites from red sandstone, shimmering in the sunlight to create a winter wonderland like none I had ever seen. I tried to tell myself no. I wanted to do the economically, and more importantly ecologically responsible thing. How could I justify driving nine hours from my home in Iowa to take a bunch of photographs? I mean, as a nature photographer that’s kind of what I do, but I always try to make a conscious effort to pair photo excursions with other reasons for travel; preferably on extended tours that allow me to visit multiple locations. I’d never driven such a distance to shoot a single subject.
But on the flip side, when might I have this opportunity again? My wife and I only plan to be in Iowa for about three more years; after she finishes school we could end up anywhere. That nine hour drive might not look so bad then. And besides, who knows how climate change is going to affect future weather patterns? This could soon become a much more infrequent event, happening once every ten, twenty, fifty years. (Yes, contrary to the opening paragraph I do realize this would be the more apt juncture to point out irony. Using climate change to rationalize my own personal burning of fossil fuels… jeez. It’s something I do struggle with quite a bit, and a topic I plan to elaborate on in a near future blog post.)
Ultimately, my curiosity and wanderlust got the better of me. I knew that this might not only be a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the ice caves for myself, but also a chance to photograph something historic. Maybe even the chance to capture photos that my children or grandchildren will one day look at with awe as I tell stories of what winter used to be. And while I hope this doesn’t sound too arrogant, I also know, or at least hope, that with a growing audience my photography gives others a chance to see things they might not otherwise get to experience. So I went ahead and booked a room for a couple of nights in the cheapest motel I could find, researched the area for some other photo locations to add to the trip, and promised to increase my bicycle commutes considerably to make partial amends. A few days later, I was off for Wisconsin.
I ended up spending about eight hours at the ice caves, split between an afternoon and the following morning. It was quite the experience, and at least on a personal level, a fulfilling trip. I’ll have summaries of each posted in the coming days, but I’m off to work for the evening and for now just wanted to write a quick intro and share a few photos.
You can see more on my Facebook page by clicking HERE; and again, stay tuned as I’ll be adding images and will have some in-depth accounts of each day’s excursion posted to the blog soon.