Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

A Mighty Fine 4th

Friday July 4, 2014
Apostle Islands Area Campground
Bayfield, Wisconsin


There are 21 islands and 12 acres of mainland that make up the Apostle Islands National Seashore. 


The Apostle Islands encompasses more than 500 square miles in Lake Superior.  The only way to see it is by boat and even then you can only sample unless you have your own boat, preferably powered, and a lot of time.


But there are ways to get a feel for this place and space.  Apostle Island Cruises will take you on a “Grand Tour”  which is what we took, or drop you off on either Oak or Stockton for an overnight back packing trip or for a day hike of 2 hours.   BUT, it takes a long time to get to any of these.  For us to take the route shown on this map took 3.25 hours.

  To get to Stockton for a day hike takes 2 hours so it’s 4 hours on the boat to do a two hour hike.  Better to backpack and spend the night I think. 

Our boat goes 20mph when it can given the winds.  I’

The farthest island we go to is Devil’s but the Twins and Outer Island look even further away.   I think there are some books written by folks who have kayaked around and about the islands.  You’d have to be very experienced and know really well how to read the lake.   She has the last word that’s for sure.




Different boat, similar seat.




We do a little better on this trip than our Pictured Rocks tour in terms of how long the line is when we get here an hour early.  The first person in line was here at 3:30 for the 5:30 sailing.  Glad I don’t care about being first.  

Then they tell us they are taking two boats.  I choose the newer of the two totally because I feel the upper deck has fewer obstacles to the camera.



Our ship                                                                                           The red and white other ship




This time we both sit on the top deck in the last row of the main seating.  But this time the ship is configured differently and there are 3 more short rows after the walkway.   Being in the first one of those seats would have been best spot but they are already taken by the time we get there by the folks you see in the picture of the rear of the boat as we pull away from Bayfield.






Madeline is the closest to Bayfield but not part of the park.

Apostle Island Cruises gives us each a small brochure that contains information about each of the islands.  The captain provides additional information and stories over the speaker system as he drives the route.

As we leave shore the theme from Gilligan’s island is playing.  Those of us of an age laugh at the humor.  Remember Gilligan and group were just out for an evening cruise.

The largest of the islands is on our right as we head out into the lake.  This is Madeline (mad-a-leen).  While technically a part of the group of islands, she is not in the National Seashore.  When the islands were purchased for protection, there were simply too many owners on Madeline.  Most of the other islands were owned by individuals or private companies and acquiring them was somewhat easier.



Here’s where all those “brownstones” came from,



Opposite Madeline and on our left are Basswood and Hermit islands.  From 1865 to 1923 Basswood was home to a farm.  I can’t imagine farming out here even though the island is a mere 1 mile off the coast of Bayfield.  Basswood was also the site of a quarry from 1868 into the 1890’s.  The brownstone from this and other quarries on the other islands was in great demand for building those “brownstones” all over the East Coast. 

Logging activity took place on almost all of the Apostle Islands between 1850 and 1970.  At one point in the early 1900’s there were 100 men living in two bunkhouses on Stockton Island’s Trout Point.  White pines went first, then hemlocks, yellow birch, sugar maple and Basswood.  Tracts of ancient forest persist  mostly in reserves near several lighthouses. 

Basswood Island was named for what was originally the predominant type of wood on the island.  Now most of the Basswood is gone and the island is covered by a northern hardwood/hemlock forest.  An isolated sandstone rock called “honeymoon rock” lies off the island’s northern coast.








Hermit Island is just beyond Basswood and has a great story about a man named Wilson who lived there alone in the 1840’s with a gun to ward off intruders.  It’s less than half the size of Basswood at 778 acres, 2 miles long and 3/4 mile wide. 

It too was used to quarry brown stone.  The Great Chicago Fire of 1870 spurred demand for sandstone building material quarried here first on Basswood, then later on Hermit and Stockton.  Buildings of Apostle Islands brownstone were constructed in Milwaukee, Detroit, Toledo, Chicago, Cincinnati, St. Paul, Kansas City and Omaha.  When the 1893 financial crash happened, demand stopped.  By the time the quarry recovered  architectural styles had changed and to this day there are brownstones stacked and numbered waiting for pick up.




So far, great weather although hazy.  Rain is predicted for the evening. 






The shores of all the islands are unique and beautiful.



Some seem to be covered with individual rocks, others with small cliffs.   We pass between Oak and Stockton Islands on our way to Manitou.  Oak is the tallest of the islands and has sand beaches on the southwest and northwest corners of the island.

Stockton is a large island, 10, 054 acres.  Because of its proximity to the larger Madeline island it has been a seasonal camp for more than 3000 years.  Artifacts from early Woodland Indians have been found.  Both Oak and Stockton have hikeable trails and shuttle service for hikers.  Of course you can get a water taxi to take you to any of the islands if you are willing to pay the price.






Now this is a NICE summer job, or at least I think so.


As we approach one end of 1,363 acre Manitou Island our captain sounds his horn 3 short toots and tells us that we are in sight of one of the most complete fish camps on the Apostle Islands. The camp began in the late 1800’s and has been in use until very recently.

He explains that a ranger is stationed out there all summer long and she lives a subsistence life growing her own food, canning and drying just as the families who lived on these islands once did.  I think, THIS is her summer job.  She’s a park ranger who has a whole island to herself except for occasional boating visitors come to see the fish camp?   Now this is a job I could like and after my years at the farm, I could do.



I should mention here that many of the islands have black bears.  Apparently they swim between  islands

There are no scheduled tours or boat runs to the camp but I assume she is there to provide a presence to keep the buildings safe.  What a great job.

At his horn, the ranger comes out and waves.  As the captain talks about each of the buildings and the net drying racks she points to them.  Clearly they have done this before.   This cruise runs twice a day so they must have a routine.  Still it is great fun to see her and wave back.   I wonder if my friend Gaelyn who is a park ranger at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon would like this gig.



Here is her cabin for the summer.


She waves good bye to us and we wave back.




We can only pass by 10 of the 21 islands.

We pass Otter and Rocky Islands on our way to Devil’s Island, the farthest point of our trip. The other islands are too far away for a half day trip.  It would take a lot of time and effort to get around to all of the islands.  This makes me wonder, how did the people who lived out here get their mail?






I have a hard time not taking pictures of every gorgeous rock.




Unlike on our Pictured Rocks boat, we are allowed to walk around on the top deck of this one.  That’s David standing in the red coat talking to one of the crew while I’m taking pictures.






Devil’s Island is the northernmost point in Wisconsin .




  It rises about 60 feet above water level and is a rounded island.  With the lake 8’ over normal much of its coast doesn’t look so tall.  Most notable about the island, other than its remoteness, are the sea caves which under cut the shoreline and wrap around the northern shore near the lighthouse.  I didn’t realize we would be seeing more sea caves.  What a treat!  





















What an amazing place to have lived. Would the noise drive you crazy?



When surf on the lake is heavy, waves thunder and boom in the extensive sea caves.  The rumbling can be heard well away from shoreline and I can imagine how loud it must have been for the light keepers whose homes were right there.

The Devil’s Island Light is staffed by a volunteer ranger during the summer.  Accompanied by the ranger visitor’s may climb the82’  tower and go inside the Queen Anne’s style keeper’s quarters, built in 1894.  The lighthouse contains a 3rd order Fresnel lens, the only Apostle Island Lighthouse to have its own original lens. We are told that under close examination the lens shows multiple cracks and damage that occurred when the US Coast Guard removed the lens in 1989.  After local outcry and legal action, the park service was able to return the lens to the lighthouse in 1992.






There is a lot to see if you can manage to get here.



Visitors are free to wander the island and hike the three trails on this small 318 acre island. Starting at the light station, they include a short trails to the east "landing", a loop trail to the west "landing" as well as a longer trail down the center of the island to the boathouse and dock at the south end.

Our cruise company does not show any service to Devil’s Island so I assume you’d have to have your own boat or hire a water taxi to visit.  Although in early September you can visit 5 of the 8 lighthouses on Apostle Islands as part of the 19th Annual Apostle Islands Lighthouse Celebration.  Only problem here is that they are individual cruises to each lighthouse and coast approximately $42 each and take between 4 and 7 hours each depending on which light house you are visiting.







The captain goes by the caves and the light back and forth so that both sides of the boat have great views.   Here comes the other boat so our time here is up and we are on our way.  It’s starting to cool off and spit rain so we go down below for a while.








And now for the finale.



We’re on our way to Raspberry Island to see the most photographed of the 7 lighthouses in the Apostles.  These lighthouses are the largest number of lighthouses found in any unit of the National Park system.    The first Lighthouse in the Apostles was built in 1857 but eventually advances in technology overtook the lights and they and the island homes were locked up and largely left to the ravages of time and nature.

Raspberry Island Light was restored in 2005-2007 and in 2013 the National Park Service embarked on a $3.5M project to restore the light stations on 5 additional islands.  We saw one of those at Devil’s Island. The goal is to preserve the structures for the next 100 years.

Here we come around the point at Raspberry Island.









Here comes the rain.





We’re headed back to Bayfield when the dark clouds amass and the rain starts so back inside we go.   We don’t get much of a sunset on this evening cruise but that’s OK, we’ve had a fine time.







The fireworks crowd is gathering.



As we near the Bayfield dock we see the fireworks barges in the bay.  Folks a staking out their places in the park overlooking the water even though it is over an hour until the fireworks start.  We find a seat in the gazebo out of the drizzle and wait for a while but after 20 minutes, we look at each other and say…nah.  We’re tired and if we stay it will be 11:00 before we get to bed.   We are certifiably old fogies for sure.








We think we’ve already hade a terrific birthday celebration for our country.  We have spent the evening seeing some of her magnificent wonders.  We may not agree with our politicians or a lot of our fellow countrymen on what’s best for her.  But none of that is her fault.  She began a noble effort 238 years ago and it's still a work in progress.




Even without fireworks I can still sing.

This is My Country
Land of my Birth
This is My Country
Grandest on Earth

I pledge thee my allegiance
America the Bold
For this is my country
To have and to hold


Hope your 4th was as fine as ours


  1. Wow! That was quite a beautiful boat ride and full day. Thanks.

  2. Yes, I would like to have the job of living on an island for the summer. The sea caves remind me of similar caves and arches about 10 miles from where I lived in Ireland. I used to walk out there periodically and renew my spirit!

  3. What a wonderful July 4th celebration you had!!! Love Raspberry Lighthouse...it looks like a house that just happened to at a light;o)) We spent the 4th looking at some beautiful rock formations here at Natural Bridge. Not quite as grand as those sea caves, but think you would enjoy it:o))

  4. Opps, that should have said add a light, not at a light ;o((

  5. Happy Birthday USA is right. What a great day. Loved the lighthouses, caves and color of the water. Neat ranger job! Definitely would allow for self reflection. Thanks for a great tour by pictures :)

  6. Hate to say it after such a lovely post, but all I can think about is how that ranger gets no escape from the mosquitoes. Nope. You couldn't give me her job. We only saw the islands from the shore, but it is a dream to return there.

  7. ok you've sold me on the need to visit the Apostle Islands. It is now on the list :-)!

  8. Wonderful boat trip! Devil's Island and those sea caves are magnificent!! It looks like one day you may actually be able to travel under the island from one side to the other. In places only small columns are holding up the place...very cool!! The houses with the lighthouse structure are huge.

    I am not sure spending the summer alone on that island would be real inviting after a week or two. Sure is a lot of alone time. Brave woman!

    This boat tour reminds me of the Thousand Islands in the St. Lawrence River, where we are presently. However, the islands here are all inhabited and a little easier to get to but they are heavily treed and rocky, like the Apostle Islands. Also, one of the islands has rock that was also used for building many places in the area, as well as , shipped out.

    Thanks for sharing the boat tour. Sounded like a perfect way to celebrate 4th!

  9. Can't picture a happy honeymoon on that rock. Maybe people up there are hardier than I am.

    Love your thoughts on our country, I'm there with you! :c)

  10. What a glorious day! Those surprise sea caves were spectacular.

  11. I think that young ranger will have some grand memories to relive in her old age. What an assignment that would be.

  12. I thought the same thing about the honeymoon rock :-). Those sea caves and arches are beautiful, and the contrast of the rock with the blue-green water is breath-taking. It's wonderful to hear that citizens were able to get the lens (damaged as it was) returned to its proper home. Sometimes we forget that we can make a difference when the spirit is willing and the cause is just. So where are you guys hiding out now?

  13. What great caves! We spent our 1st days of retirement just fine. A, A and Arya were here for the wkend and the weather was so perfect! We spent the whole day outside, eating on the porch and swimming in the neighbor's new pool and in our pond. Then we ate red raspberries growing all along our fields. Arya loves to eat and eats everything. She is now 9 months and so cute! Ah retirement!

  14. Another great trip! Wouldn't it be a great thing to volunteer at the Raspberry lighthouse?

  15. What a wonderful boat tour and a GREAT way to spend the fourth of July! I love your positive attitude -- that we are still a work in progress. You are contributing to the appreciation of our gorgeous country with your blog and your photos. I would really like to hear the waves thundering in the sea caves -- perhaps you should think about shooting some video with your camera? We've been experimenting with some video, and our cameras (which as you know, are just like yours) do a pretty good job. :-)

  16. Happy 4th of July! I love traveling with you guys - thank you for sharing it all!!

  17. Yet another great tour. And yes, I'd take a job on an island but maybe not with the noises of the sea caves.


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