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Category Archives: Apostle Islands Ice Caves

It has definitely been a bummer of a winter so far. We had a nice early snowfall in November but nothing since. Northern Wisconsin and the North Shore of Minnesota haven’t seen much snow either. We have not been able to cross country ski around home or in the Duluth Area because of the lack of snow. I suppose the positive is we have been able to do some hiking along the North Shore and there hasn’t been a mosquito in sight.

High Falls Tettegouche State Park

High Falls Tettegouche State Park

My favorite winter photography subject is the Apostle Islands Ice Caves. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like they will open this year. We stopped at Meyers Beach last week when we were up for the Apostle Islands Sled Dog Race. We expected to see some ice but we found open water. A friend said they were close to opening a few weeks ago ice pack was just about frozen solid and the National Park Service was counting down to open them but a strong wind came up and the ice pack broke up and was pushed out into the lake.

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As winter arrived I started thinking of places and events that I wanted to photograph this winter. The events and bird photography require a little more planning than the Landscape Photography locations.

Apostle Islands Ice Caves

Without a doubt the top of my list is the Apostle Islands Ice caves. I discovered them in 2007 and have photographed them every year they have been open. When I first started photographing them I was frequently the only person on the ice that day. What a difference social media makes. This past winter well over a hundred thousand people visited the caves in-spite of the bitterly cold winter. Given the temperatures we have been seeing so far this winter I would expect the ice caves will open again in February. If you haven’t been you should make the trip.

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The Apostle Islands Sled Dog Race

The Apostle Islands Sled Dog Race will be taking place on February 7th and 8th. This is really a fun family event and one of the better sled dog races from a viewers point of view. It is possible to get up close to the dogs at the start of the races. Since it is an out and back race you can also stick around and watch the mushers return. They also have different levels of races from professionals to kids.

Off and Racing

Off and Racing

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If you are really lucky, like we were last year, the Apostle Island Ice Caves will be open that weekend. You also may also be able to drive out to Madeline Island on the ice road while you are in the area.

Bond Falls

Although Bond falls is best known as a fall destination for photographers it provides some exceptional photography in the winter. There are not many waterfalls that are all that interesting to photograph in the winter. Bond Falls in the U.P. of Michigan is an exception. Most waterfalls in the Upper-Midwest are frozen in the winter. If there has been fresh snow they look like all of the other scenery. Bond falls is just below a dam it has water flowing all winter regardless of how cold it is. The flowing water combined with some interesting ice formations makes this one of my favorite winter photography locations.

Bond Falls

Bond Falls

Ice Bond Falls

Ice Bond Falls

Mississippi River

During the winter we make a number of trips over to the Mississippi River looking for eagles. Our first stop is usually Alma, Wisconsin where eagles hang out around the lock and dam. The National Eagle Center provides a weekly report of eagles seen along this section of the Mississippi River. They also provide eagle watching tours.

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We then drive north to Reads Landing, Minnesota. We commonly see 30+ eagles in front of the Reads Landing Brewing Company. You can stop in the Brewery and watch the eagles in comfort while having lunch.

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Our last stop is usually  in Colvill Park  Redwing, Minnesota where the eagles hang out near the open water below the power plant. The catch to watching eagles in the winter is the best time to find them gathered in large numbers is when there is a bitterly cold stretch of weather. This causes the Mississippi to freeze up and reduces access to open water.

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Canadian Hill Farm

I can usually find something to photograph on the farm during the winter but most of my time is spent photographing birds during snow storms. There is nothing like hunkering down in the house with a roaring fire in the fireplace while sitting in my rocking chair and photographing birds.

Northern Cardinal male

Northern Cardinal male

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

Hudson, Wisconsin

Hudson is a great place to watch Trumpeter Swans during the winter. With the successful reintroduction of Trumpeter Swans into the Midwest watching and photographing them has become a year around event. Trumpeter Swans don’t migrate in the winter they just move to the nearest open water. There is a small patch of open water in Hudson where they congregate in large numbers during the winter months. It is easy to get up close and photograph them.

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Hudson is also where the Hudson Hot Air Affair is held every February. This is one of the few hot air balloon rallies in the area. It is well worth the trip to watch the inflation and flight of the balloons.

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Amnicon Falls

Amnicon Falls State Park is a favorite stopping point during the winter. Although in very cold weather the Amnicon River usually freezes there are times when I can find open water. The tannin tainted water car result in some colorful photos.

Amnicon Falls

Amnicon Falls

Horton Covered Bridge

Horton Covered Bridge

Red Cedar State Trail

In the winter most of the Red Cedar State Trail is a cross country ski trail so in order to photograph it you have to be willing to cross country ski. There are some beautiful ice walls along the trail at the 1.5 mile mark. These are the result of water seepage through limestone rock.

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On cold days the trees along the trail can be covered in heavy frost.

Frost

Frost

The southern portion of the trail is a walking trail in the winter and on a sunny day I like to photograph the Dunnville Stone in the late afternoon light.

Dunnville Sandstone

Dunnville Sandstone

Grand Marais, Minnesota

I like to make the trip to Grand Marais at least once every winter. I’m never quite sure what I’ll find. On one trip there were high waves washing over the breakwater and lighthouses.

West Breakwater Light

West Breakwater Light

At other times I love to take intimate shots of the ice formations that are formed when the water washes over the breakwater and then freezes into beautiful patterns.

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Devil’s Punchbowl

I like to photograph at Devil’s Punchbowl near Menomonie, Wisconsin in the winter. Water seeping through limestone rocks creates a massive ice wall in the bowl. There are also opportunities to photograph objects frozen in the ice.

Devil's Punchbowl

Devil’s Punchbowl

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Apostle Islands Ice Caves:

Normally I’m complaining about the lack of a good winter but this year we have had a fantastic winter. Every winter I look forward to photographing the Apostle Island Ice Caves but this is the first year since 2009 that they have been accessible from the ice on Lake Superior. I was very surprised when I checked  the middle of January and found that the ice caves were already open. Normally they don’t open until January but with the cold weather they were early this year.Apostle-Islands-Ice-Caves-14-1-_1471a

We immediately drove up to Cornucopia to visit the caves. This was followed by two other visits to the caves. We weren’t the only ones visiting the caves. Thanks to social media more than 140 thousand people visited the caves before they closed in mid March.Apostle-Islands-Ice-Caves-14-1-_1672

In-spite of the large number of people visiting the caves I was able to get some great photos and, for the first time, my wife was able to visit the caves. As you can see by the number of blogs I wrote on the subject this was my favorite winter activity.Apostle-Islands-Ice-Caves-14-3-_0983

Bald Eagle Watching:

The cold weather has been a boon for Bald Eagle watching since it concentrated the eagles in areas where there was open water. This winter we spent time visiting three locations along the Mississippi River to watch Eagles. Our most productive location was Covill Park in Red Wing, Minnesota where we always saw eagles. There were also a large number of ducks that provided entertainment when the eagle watching slowed down. The water is always open below the heating plant above Covill Park so the eagles and ducks hang out in this area.Bald-Eagle-14-1-_1996

The second best location was Reads Landing in Minnesota. On three occasions we saw large numbers of Eagles at this location. We also saw Trumpeter Swans that were hanging out in this section of the river. Viewing at this location slowed down as the winter progressed.Bald-Eagle-14-1-_0599

Alma, Wisconsin was the least productive area we visited. We only saw a significant number of eagles on one visit. On several other visits we didn’t see any eagles or only saw a few. I found this a difficult area to photograph eagles because you are usually looking into the sun.Bald-Eagle-14-1-_2164

I wrote a number of blogs describing our visits to these locations.

Trumpeter Swans Watching:

We made a number of trips to Hudson, Wisconsin to watch the Trumpeter Swans. Several people had mentioned that Trumpeter Swans hung out on the St. Croix river but didn’t know the exact location. We eventually found them in downtown Hudson.Trumpeter-Swan-Hudson-Wisconsin-14-2-_1125

Because of the very cold weather they were hanging out it a very small area of open water close to shore during the coldest part of the winter. You could walk down along the shore and photograph them and they didn’t seem to be the least concerned with your presence.Trumpeter-Swans-Hudson-Wisconsin-14-2-_1176

These trips resulted in several blogs reporting on our visits.Trumpeter-Swans-14-2-_0592

Lake Superior Ship Watching:

The very cold weather resulted in a lot of ice on Lake Superior. The early ice made for some great opportunities to photograph ships in the cold weather. One of my favorite year around activities is ship watching in Duluth and Superior Harbors so being able to photograph them working in ice was a great adventure.

Baie Cormeau

Baie Cormeau

We were able to watch ships arrive in the harbor during the very cold winter.

Baie Comeau

Baie Comeau

The Coast Guard Cutters were very active this winter and I was able to see them in action as they were breaking the ice and anchored in the harbor.

Coast Guard Cutter Alder

Coast Guard Cutter Alder

Tug Boats were also required to help break the ice when the Coast Guard was not available.

Helen H

Helen H

A large number of ships are in the Duluth/Superior docks either being repaired or for winter layup.

American Spirit

American Spirit

The long winter will continue into spring as the ice breakers are working to free the harbor of ice and the ships in layup are waiting to head out for the 2014 shipping season. The season should start in the next couple of weeks.

Coast Guard Cutter Alder

Coast Guard Cutter Alder

 

Rush River Ice Formations:

I discovered the Rush River Ice Formations this winter. What a wonderful place to visit. A local land owner has run piping around his property tapping into underground springs. At about two dozen locations on the property he has run vertical pipes with holes drilled into them. The result are some spectacular ice formations.Nelson's-On-the-Rush-River-14-1-_1918

Long Ski Season:

For the second year in a row we have been blessed with a lot of snow. The difference this year is that the ski season started at Thanksgiving and has continued into March. With a little luck we should be able squeeze in at least one more ski trip this year.Boulder-Lake-Ski-Trails-14-2-_1375

Our favorite location this year was the ABR Ski Trails because they usually receive early snow and they do the best job of grooming of any ski location. They are usually able to have good skiing even after warm weather because they have equipment to break up the trail in icy conditions and lay a new track.ABR-Ski-Trails-13-2-_1183

We also skied at The After Hours Ski Trails in Brule a number of times this year. This is a great location because of the large number of trails and its close proximity to Duluth.After-Hours-Ski-Trails-13-3-_3674

We discovered the Boulder Lake Ski Trails near Duluth and made sever visits to these trails. There are enough trails to provide a nice day of skiing without skiing the same trail twice.Boulder-Lake-Ski-Trails-14-2-_1378

We only made one visit, to what we consider, the most beautiful ski trails in the Midwest. These are the Swedetown Ski Trails in Calument, Michigan. They get more snow and beautiful light fluffy snow than anyplace else.Swedetown-Ski-Trails-13-2-_1124

 

One of my favorite activities at the Apostle Islands Ice Caves is to take close-up photos of some of the ice and frost formations. With lots of folks walking around the caves it is an approach you can use and not have anyone getting into your photographs. More photos from the Apostle Islands Ice Caves can be found on my website.Apostle-Islands-Ice-Caves-14-3-_0908

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These are a few more photos from my last trip to the Apostle Islands Ice Caves. The National Park Services expects to close the ice caves this coming weekend. More photos from the ice caves can be found on my website.

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This past week we made our third trip to the Apostle Islands Ice Caves. This was our first trip since the caves became so popular. In 2009 when the caves were last open they attracted a little over 8,000 visitors. This year, so far, the caves have attracted over 100,000 visitors. Last weekend when the wind chills were -35 they still had 10,000 visitors.Apostle-Islands-Ice-Caves-14-3-_0871

We noticed a number of changes in the caves. A lot of the beautiful ice that was on the face of the caves has deteriorated over time and appears to be rotten.Apostle-Islands-Ice-Caves-14-3-_0825

On the other hand the ice flows in the caves have become massive as they have continued to build as the season progressed.Apostle-Islands-Ice-Caves-14-3-_0651

The frozen falls that created pillars from the lake to the top of the bluffs have also become massive and some of them have fallen giving the appearance of ancient Roman ruins.Apostle-Islands-Ice-Caves-14-3-_0795

The number of folks visiting the caves has increased. We visited midweek and arrived about 9am. The parking lot was already almost full. I had no problem with folks getting in the way of my photography as we walked several miles along the shore. However, on the way back the crowds were too large to engage in any meaningful photography.Apostle-Islands-Ice-Caves-14-3-_0983

We realized that it was spring break and there were a lot of kids at the caves. It was fun watching them play on the ice. They probably went in every small cave they could find.Apostle-Islands-Ice-Caves-14-3-_0966

I have never seen anyone from the park service around on previous visits but they had a huge presence on this visit. Snowmobiles, a command center was setup and a number of park officials could be seen. One ranger was riding out in the lake on an air boat.14-3-_0992

The small town of Cornucopia has been overrun with visitors. There are no parking and bathrooms are for customers only signs all over town. In spite of the problem this has been a huge boom to the local economy. With all of the people discovering the Apostle Islands bookings are way up for next summer.

More photographs from the Apostle Islands Ice Caves can be found on my website.

After a long day at the Apostle Islands Ice Caves we walked back to the car with beautiful sunset on the horizon.Apostle-Islands-Ice-Caves-14-1-_1471a

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One of the problems of photographing the Apostle Islands Ice Caves is that the caves face north so they don’t receive a lot of sun in the winter. Things do improve a bit as the winter winds down so if the caves are open in March there will be more sun than in January.Apostle-Islands-Ice-Caves-14-1-_1702

When the sun hits the caves the colors of the rocks are spectacular. Unfortunately most of the time they are a dull color because they don’t receive any light. The other problem is photographing from the caves out into the lake particularly on a sunny day. The range of light is too much for the camera to capture.Apostle-Islands-Ice-Caves-14-1-_1620

On my last visit I tried to compensate for the dynamic range by shooting multiple shots of each scene. One to capture the mid range of light, another to capture the dark areas and another to capture the light areas. I then processed the three shots into a single shot. This brings out the dark areas as well as the light areas of the scene.Apostle-Islands-Ice-Caves-14-1-_1728a

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More photos from the Apostle Islands can be found on my website.

This has been an amazing year at the ice caves. I’m still going through my photos from my trip earlier this month. Since my visit things have gone viral regarding the ice caves. This is the first time the caves have been accessible since social media became popular and people from all over the world have been visiting the caves. Over 11,000 people have been visiting the caves on the weekends. The National Park Services had to bring all hands on deck and even call in folks from the Border Patrol to help with the parking and crowd control. They have been hauling folks off of the ice that have been injured or were not able to complete the strenuous hike to the caves. All of the visitors have damaged the caves so they are no longer in there pristine condition. On the other hand in a few weeks it will all melt anyway.Apostle-Islands-Ice-Caves-14-1-_1332a

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More photos from the Apostle Islands can be found on my website.

This past weekend my wife took a road trip to the Bayfield area. Our goal was to take in the Apostle Islands Sled Dog Race, drive the ice road to Madeline Island and walk out to the Apostle Islands Ice Caves.

When we headed out from Duluth it was snowing hard and it snowed all the way to the sled dog races. We stopped at a gas station in Cornucopia. Another customer came in to ask where the sled dog races were and the clerk had never heard of the sled dog races and had no idea where they were. My wife gave directions and we headed off to the race. More on the race in another blog.Apostle-Islands-Sled-Dog-Race-14-2-_0248

After the race we drove over to Bayfield for lunch. The goal was to drive the ice road to Madeline Island. It was still snowing as we drove out to Madeline Island.Madeline-Island-Ice-Road-14-2-_0430

We then headed back to the sled dog races to watch the racers come in. Surprisingly the dogs seemed to have a lot of energy when they returned.Apostle-Islands-Sled-Dog-Race-14-2-_0447

Our next stop was going to be the Apostle Islands Ice Caves. This was the first time the ice caves have been accessible from Lake Superior since 2009.Apostle-Islands-Ice-Caves-14-1-_1215

As we rounded a corner on highway 13 we notice the flashing lights of an emergency vehicle and thought there might have been an accident because of the snowy roads. When we turned the corner there was a long line of cars parked along the road and cars backed up on the road. We were at Mawikwe Road which is 1.7 miles from  Meyers Road. It finally dawned on us that these were people going to the Ice caves. We slowly drove down highway 13. People were walking in the road and cars stopped waiting for someone to leave their parking spot. We finally reached the Meyers Road which goes to the Apostle Islands parking lot. We continued driving toward Cornucopia. The line of cars along the road went another 3 miles.Apostle-Islands-14-2-_0498

Several weeks earlier the National Park Service estimated that 2,000 people visited the caves on a Sunday. Using the park service calculations I figured there must have been 6-8 thousand people visiting the caves on Saturday. An article in the Ashland Daily Press described the long line of people walking to the caves with their head down as reminiscent of the Bataan Death March. Some of the folks had longer to walk on highway 13 than they did from the Meyers Beach parking lot to the ice caves.

This was a sight that I never imagined I would see but it was great that so many people were taking advantage of the ice caves. With global warming it is something that we can no longer take for granted. If you want to avoid the crowds you should visit the caves during the week. If you can’t visit during the week you should arrive at the Meyers Beach parking lot before 9am.

An update in the Duluth News Tribune on 2/8/2014 reported that the Bay Area Rural Transit will be running a 27-passenger shuttle bus continuously to Meyers Beach one Saturday and Sunday because of the large crowds.

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