We visited Isle Royale July 10-16. After five years, it was great to get back to Isle Royale. Some things have changed, probably due to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. But the island is still as beautiful and peaceful as ever. This was my fifth time to the island, and it won’t be my last.
We took the Isle Royale Queen ferry. Copper Harbor seems to be feeling the effects of the pandemic. Pre-departure breakfast options are pretty much limited to the coffee and doughnut stand by the dock. I missed having a hearty breakfast, but the Pines restaurant doesn’t open until 9:00, an hour after the ferry departs. Maybe next year?
The crossing was the smoothest I’ve ever experienced. The lake was as flat as a freshly-made bed.
The number of passengers on the ferry was reduced to allow for social distancing, and masks were required.
Some people had told us that they wanted to go to the island, but they couldn’t get boat tickets. Lucky for me, I had bought tickets back in February. Planning and preparation are a must when going to Isle Royale! 🙂
When checking in with the rangers on the island, I realized I had over-paid my park usage fee. I paid online (pay.gov) for seven days, two people, $98. I could have/should have bought a season pass for $60, which would have gotten both of us in for the whole week. Oh well. Live and learn. I wasn’t going to let a little thing like money spoil my vacation!
We stayed in Rock Harbor the first night, because we wanted to check out Scoville Point, which is on the east tip of the island. It was a nice day hike, good trail, pretty scenery.
Trail conditions throughout our trip were excellent. It obviously hadn’t rained for a while. There was a little mud in some places, but it was not squishy, we could walk right on it. My feet hadn’t been that dry on the previous trips.
After a night in Rock Harbor, we hiked to Lane Cove. The trail was plagued with a lot of downed trees blocking the trail. We stopped counting after climbing over, under, and 20 windfalls. That trail is also challenging, a lot of up-and-down over hills. We both fell on our butts on steep slopes.
Lane Cove was peaceful. We met a couple of hikers leaving as we were approaching. They said it was beautiful but buggy. We didn’t notice that the mosquitoes were especially bad. They said they were using natural repellant, which didn’t work. I chalked that up to a rookie mistake. I don’t mess around when I go to Isle Royale. I use the 99% DEET spray.
If I could do it again, I think I’d skip Lane Cove. It’s pretty, but no prettier than other parts of the island. It’s hard to get to. There are also no shelters, so you have to use your tent. There’s easy access to the water, but there are a lot of trees right down to the water’s edge which obscures the view of the water. The lake is shallow there, we could walk pretty far out, and splash some water on our sweaty bodies. Word to the wise: Lake Superior is COLD.
The next day we hiked back to Rock Harbor and spent another night in a shelter there. The following morning, a hungry resident woke us up. Two young bull moose were foraging right outside our shelter.
We took a water taxi to Moskey basin and stayed there for two nights. The ride wasn’t cheap ($160) but it only took 40 minutes (hiking would take us 5-6 hours). Moskey is still our favorite place on the island. The sunrises are really stunning, and access to the water from the shelters is convenient.
From Moskey, we did a day hike to Chippewa Harbor, which was about 12 miles round-trip. The trail was in excellent shape, and the scenery was really pretty.
We like to treat ourselves to a night in the Rock Harbor Lodge on our last night, to take a shower, use a flush toilet, and have a hot meal in the restaurant. The lodge was full to capacity, I was glad that I booked a room five months ago.
The Lighthouse restaurant is closed, probably for the whole season. The store is open, and has the same food items they usually stock. The only dining options are the Greenstone Grill, which is open from 7:00 am – 7:30 pm. Here’s the menu:
These dining options will probably not change for the rest of the season. A ranger told us that they make staffing and logistical arrangements before the season starts. They can’t ramp up in the middle of the season, even though the restrictions have been eased and the number of tourists is almost at the same level as previous years. So if you’re planning a trip, plan accordingly.
On the trail, we ate a lot of Mountain House freeze-dried food. It’s more pricey than some DIY options, but it’s very convenient. The pouches are labeled as two servings, but a hungry hiker could probably eat a whole package on his own. My two favorite entrees are beef stroganoff and the adobo chicken. The teriyaki chicken was a little too sweet for me.
The morning after our return to the mainland, we skipped breakfast in town and headed up to Mohawk to eat at Slim’s Cafe. Excellent food, great service, highly recommended.
In total, we saw three moose, two snakes, several loons, too many ducks to count, several squirrels and rabbits, one otter,, and approximately three billion mosquitoes. No wolves, of course. The rangers estimate there are 12-14 wolves on the island now. We think we might have heard some howling one night (wolves, not rangers) when we were in Moskey Basin, but I can’t be sure. As I mentioned, the mosquitoes the biting black flies were out, but DEET kept them at bay.
All in all it was a good trip. The weather was perfect: sunny every day, some haze, high in the mid 70s and lows in the low 60s. It seems like the whole tourism industry in northern Michigan is still recovering from the pandemic shutdown. Some services aren’t quite back to normal. But it’s the high season for Michigan: people want to travel and hotels are full and restaurants are crowded.
This “home leave” is over. Today I leave for my “onward post” in Dhaka, Bangladesh. I left Vietnam in July, more than two months ago. After a few good training courses in DC, and some quality time with family, I feel re-energized and ready for the next challenge.
The Department requires us to stay in America at least 20 days between posts, so that we can get re-acquainted with America. I suspect that this requirement was more meaningful before the Internet allowed us to keep in touch with the news and with family back home so easily. Home leave is a real hardship for officers who don’t have a permanent house in the U.S., especially for people with big families. Either they have to impose on relatives, or else spend a fortune on a short-term rental. “Hemorrhaging money” is a common phrase on our Facebook group.
I wasn’t able to do as much as I wanted this time, unfortunately, but we did get to do some traveling. A cross-country train trip on Amtrak showed us some really beautiful parts of the country.
And of course we really enjoyed Michigan’s summer weather.
All good things must come to a end. Today I’m on an airplane to my next post. This time, I’m really putting myself out of my comfort zone. I know almost nothing about Bangladesh, I don’t speak Bengali, and I’m going to be in a supervisory position for the first time in my State Department career. All of that means that I will make a fool out of myself and get myself into ridiculous situations even more than in my previous tours.
Buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride!
So there’s a protocol for this, too, I learned this week.
As we received the news of John McCain’s death, we began preparing for condolences. It’s human nature for people to want to pay their respects, and we were not surprised that so many Vietnamese people were saddened by Senator McCain’s death. He is remembered here in Vietnam as a soldier turned statesman, who worked hard to normalize relations with the United States. They are especially impressed by the fact that he was treated so harshly as a POW here, and yet put aside his personal pain in the interest of a greater good. He was the embodiment of their country’s resolve to overcome the painful past and work toward a better future.
There is a specific State Department protocol for a book of condolences. We set up a signing station in our American Center, and publicized times for the public to come in and sign.
The pages of the condolence book will be sent to Washington, D.C. and added to the international collection from our embassies and consulates around the world.
Regardless of whether one agrees with his political party’s policies and agenda, his reputation as a man who put country first is universally admirable. The Vietnamese people held him in great regard. All the press coverage here, and social media, wrote moving eulogies. Even the social media trolls on our Facebook page were silent. It seems that Vietnam is unified in its respect for John McCain.
Not everyone in the world just lost an hour of sleep.
We just enjoyed a week at home in Michigan, before leaving for post. We’ll fly out of Dulles Airport in DC for our “Permanent Change of Station” trip to Vietnam. (The trip is neither to a station, nor is it permanent. Just another quirky term in the State Department.)
Summer in Michigan is great. Warm but not hot weather, cool evenings, low Midwest prices, no traffic, laid-back people. And my house.
I love my house, neighborhood and home town.
We spent time with our kids and family, got together with some old friends, did some last minute shopping, and enjoyed the chance to relax before the madness starts again.
And now vacation is over, and the crazy resumes. Goodbye for now, East Lansing, thanks for a nice time. Next stop: Ho Chi Minh City, aka Saigon, Vietnam.
Time lapse of the storm that rolled through tonight.