Saturday, August 11, 2012

Madeline Island and the Apostle Islands

My husband took me away for a (too) short vacation to Madeline Island this past weekend.  Madeline Island is one of the Apostle Islands up on Lake Superior, just north of Bayfield, Wisconsin.  I have no idea why they are named the Apostle Islands, as there are 22 of them, but what's cool is that--except for Madeline--the islands are all part of the National Park Service's protected Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

View from our balcony on Madeline Island
[Photo: Peggy Williams]
Who knew there is such an idyllic vacation spot right in my own state?  A lot of people, apparently.  Turns out Madeline Island is quite popular and you have to plan ahead to get affordable accommodations--at times any accommodations.  We managed a two night stay at the Inn on Madeline Island, which offers a variety of housing options. We paid way more than we should have for a condo unit on the lake that could have accommodated my entire extended family if we'd been inclined to invite them. But this was our private weekend getaway.

Madeline is small, as vacation islands go.  It's just fourteen miles long, and from two to four miles wide.  So we were able to drive around the entire island during an afternoon's outing. However, very little of the drive included lake views; the roadway is mostly wooded, and a significant portion of the drive was on gravel.  Our question of whether there is much wildlife on the island was answered when a deer ambled out and crossed right at the exact spot where there was a deer crossing sign. Guess the wildlife there is pretty intelligent.  We also spotted a bald eagle, sandhill cranes, and a little weasel who had made his home, for better or worse, on the ferry dock. 
The highlight of our drive was Big Bay Beach at Town Park.  The beach is located on a spit of land--the thinnest of peninsulas jutting out from land on which Big Bay State Park is located.  That narrow peninsula creates a natural lagoon between it and the main island that is fed by the waters of Lake Superior.  The lagoon is lovely and quiet, a perfect place for kayakers. To cross the lagoon to the beach, you have to traverse a series of wooden foot bridges. The sandy beach, while narrow, is quite long and lovely for walking. We were there on a Sunday afternoon in August and there were surprisingly few people scattered along its edge.

The Town of La Pointe on Madeline Island is small, only about 230 people in the off season.  But it hosts a wonderful historical museum, a golf course, bike, moped, and kayak rentals, shops, and some good restaurants.  We especially enjoyed the Pub restaurant, associated with the Inn on Madeline Island, for dinner and late night pizza, and Grandpa Tony's for cheeseburgers for lunch.  The specialty in the area, of course, is whitefish.    

An old Ojibwe Indian cemetery across from the harbor gives an intriguing glimpse into the effects of Father (later Bishop) Baraga who created missions along much of the Lake Superior area.

What I thought was especially cool is that there is a Yoga retreat on the island, and besides all the local artists endemic to any peninsula/island life, the public is invited to participate in the Madeline Island School of the Arts, which offers weeklong seminars in writing, photography, painting and quilting.

The highlight of our weekend was the three hour sunset cruise around the Apostle Islands.  It's amazing to see so many islands of different sizes gathered all in one location and to think about the geologic forces that formed and shaped them and to hear the stories of the human forces that interacted with them for better or worse.  Devil's island is probably the most intriguing because of its many sea caves. Kayakers were exploring the watery caves as we motored by. 

Bayfield, the community on the mainland that hosts the ferry dock, is a fun little community in its own right, and easily twice the size, if not more, than La Pointe. There are quite a few more choices in Bayfield for dining, but our favorite restaurant there was Greunke's First Street Inn. The walls are filled with pictures of people who've eaten there (including John Kennedy, Jr.) and other memorabilia. And the food was fantastic, especially the in-season blueberry pie! 

Bayfield, Wisconsin [Photo: Peggy Williams]
There are no less than three bookstores in this little town.  For a little shop, Apostle Island Booksellers had an amazing choice of local and regional fiction and non-fiction, along with the usual popular and best sellers (I even saw Fifty Shades of Grey on their front table!).  And of course there are plenty of pottery and art galleries and studios. 

Bayfield is where you catch the lake cruises, both the bigger boats and the privately skippered sailboats, as well as much of the kayaking rentals.  For those who like musical performances, the Big Top Chautauqua is very popular.

Me…I'm happy to sit on the balcony or out on the pier looking out over the water and daydreaming, or just strolling the beaches.

Sunset from ferry dock in Bayfield, WI
[Photo: Peggy Williams]
I did find out that the little ferry that runs every half hour between Bayfield and Madeline Island can haul RV's.  So…guess where book number three of the On the Road mystery series will take place…! 

Happy travels!

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