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Kayaking Pictured Rocks

Kayaking towards Lover's Leap Arch

This past summer I got to do something that has been a dream of mine for over ten years, kayak Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. I have hiked the Lakeshore Trail and seen the rocks from the water on the boat cruise, but I have wanted to get up close and personal with the rocks since my first visit. So, when we were able to score a campsite at the lakeshore, I started doing my research for kayak tours.

Before I get into the tour, I want to talk a bit about Lake Superior and boating safety. Lake Superior is notoriously rough and can be dangerous if you are not in the proper boat. It is not recommended that you take a recreational kayak to see the rock formations. A sea kayak with a spray skirt is the recommended boat for this trip. If you are not a seasoned sea kayaker, it is best to see the rocks on a guided tour.

Pictured Rocks Kayaking Boat

There are many companies that offer tours of Pictured Rocks, but we decided to go with Pictured Rocks Kayaking (paddlepicturedrocks.com) for one main reason: they launch from a boat (left). Most of the tour operators launch from a beach in the park and you paddle from the beach out to the rocks and back. With the boat, Pictured Rocks Kayaking is able to take their guests out farther and allow them to paddle the most impressive rock features. The boat follows the tour and if someone needs to go to the bathroom or gets too tired, they are able to go back to the boat.  Also, if a storm blows in fast, they are able to get everyone back on the boat to safety.

As of 2022, Pictured Rocks Kayaking offers two tours, the shorter (2-3 hour) Miners Castle Tour which gets paddlers up close to the famous Miners Castle rock formation, and the 4-5 hour Ultimate Kayak tour. Being a bucket list experience, of course we chose the Ultimate Kayak Tour.

Paddling through a cave

Our tour started in Munising where we had a quick kayak basics and safety demonstration before getting on the boat for a 40-ish minute ride to the spot where you get in the water right from the boat. The water was unbelievably calm on the day we did the tour. You can see in the pictures, the water was like glass and it was a very easy paddle.

It was amazing how close we were able to get to the rocks. We paddle into caves and felt the water dripping from the rock above (above). We got to paddle under the iconic Lovers Leap arch (top). The tour ends at Chapel Rock where we headed back to the boat to eat our picnic lunch while the boat took us back to town.

Kayaking Pictured Rocks

My only complaint about the tour was the speed it went. As pretty avid kayakers (and experienced tandem kayakers at that) we had a hard time going as slow as the tour dictated. I understand that it is a long time on the water and we didn’t want to tire anyone out, but my back go sore sitting in the seat before my arms were tired.

If you are visiting Pictured Rocks and want to get out on the water, I highly recommend Pictured Rocks Kayaking.  You get to see more than other tours with the comfort and security of knowing the boat is there if you need it. Our guide was friendly and knowledgeable and gave great restaurant recommendations! I would absolutely take the tour again if I was in the area.

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip check out my Planes, Buses, and Boats Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Wordless Wednesday: Jewel Cave

Jewel Cave Stairs

Jewel Cave National Monument

Jewel Cave Header

Jewel Cave was discovered in 1900 when two brothers felt cold air blowing out of a hole in a canyon. They opened the hole with dynamite and found a cave lined with calcite crystals, which is where Jewel Cave gets its name. Word of the cave reached Washington and Theodore Roosevelt named Jewel Cave a National Monument in 1908.

Up until 1956, only about 2 miles of the cave had been explored. Famous rock climbers Herb and Jan Conn explored Jewel Cave for twenty years and mapped out over 65 miles of the cave. Herb Conn wrote a scientific paper about airflow in the cave and based on pressure changes, he estimated that 95% of the cave has never been explored. With 209 miles of cave mapped, Jewel Cave is the 3rd largest cave in the world. Experienced cavers are still exploring the cave and finding new rooms and passageways that no other person is known to have explored.

Calcite Crystals in Jewel CaveIn 2021, Jewel Cave National Monument is undergoing elevator maintenance to resolve chronic problems with the elevators. The elevators are expected to reopen in the late fall. When planning this trip, I didn’t think we would be able to visit Jewel Cave because of this maintenance, but for now, the park service is offering a modified tour. This tour involves walking down (and then back up) a steep hill and the park service describes it as “moderate to strenuous”.

I’m not sure if people were staying away from Jewel Cave because of the elevator repairs or if this park just isn’t as popular as Wind Cave because it doesn’t have the “National Park” designation. Either way, we arrived around 9:30 AM and there were only a handful of other people on the tour with us. It was a much more relaxed experience and even though we only go to see one room of the cave, I enjoyed this tour a lot more than Wind Cave. If you only have time to tour one cave in the Black Hills, I recommend Jewel Cave.

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Wordless Wednesday: Wind Cave

Wind Cave National Park

Wind Cave Sign

Wind Cave National Park is located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, about 10 miles north of the town of Hot Springs. Wind Cave National Park was established in 1903 by Theodore Roosevelt and was the 7th National Park to be created in the United States, and the first cave to be made a National Park. With 149 miles of explored passageways, Wind Cave is the 7th longest cave in the world.

Boxwork in Wind Cave

Wind Cave is a barometric cave, meaning it equalizes the pressure in the cave to the air above which causes the cave to breathe. The cave got its name when two brothers discovered air blowing from a hole in the ground at the natural entrance to the cave. Wind Cave is known for a calcite formation known as boxwork (above). 95% of the boxwork in the world can be found in Wind Cave.

Aboveground,the park is home to the largest remaining mixed-grass prairie in the United States. The grasslands can be explored through 30 miles of hiking trails where bison, elk, pronghorns, prairie dogs, and other animals roam freely.

Wind Cave BoxworkThe park offers several different cave tours each day but they are very popular and can sell out by mid-morning in the peak season. Knowing this, I arrived shortly after the visitor center opened and had to wait an hour and a half in direct sunlight and unseasonable heat to get tickets. I ended up doing the Natural Entrance Tour which is a longer tour but it doesn’t involve crawling through the cave. They sell 40 tickets per tour so it was pretty crowded in the cave. They try to move so many people through that you are kind of herded through it without really being able to appreciate it. The group I was with was not great and they kept talking over the ranger so all-in-all I did not have a great experience.

I don’t understand why they are not selling tickets in advance. Recreation.gov already exists, the other cave parks are using it for this exact thing. They can save some tickets to be sold same day, but it’s ridiculous that you would have to wait in the hot sun to buy tickets for a tour. I wish there was a way to tour the cave with fewer people and be able to actually appreciate it. It’s possible that some of my bad experience was just due to the other people in my group and if I went back it might be better. If you really like caves or you have a goal to visit all 63 National Parks, obviously you should check out Wind Cave. Otherwise, I enjoyed Jewel Cave (which I will talk about next week) much more.

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Wordless Wednesday: Cathedral Room

Cathedral Room at Cascade Caverns

Cascade Caverns

Cave from Above Ground

Cavern from Above Ground

The Texas Hill Country is known for wildflowers, wine, and natural beauty. I was surprised to learn that caves are a very common natural phenomenon in the Hill Country. Many Hill Country towns have their own caves. We decided to do some cave exploration on our drive from San Antonio to Fredericksburg. A few of the caves in the area require reservations and were all booked up because it was a holiday (New Year’s Eve). We ended up at Cascade Caverns because they operate on a first come first serve basis.

Cascade Caverns SignCascade Caverns, located in Boerne (pronounce Bur-nee), has been offering public tours since 1932. Informal tours date all the way back to 1875. The tour lasts 45 minutes to an hour and takes you through a half-mile of winding corridors to the cathedral room, 132 feet belowground. The shining star of the cave tour is the cathedral room which is home to Texas’ only natural in-cavern waterfall. The cave maintains an interior temperature of 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit all year. It was raining when we visited but water seeps through the cave allowing it to grow and change (slowly) all the time. In 1993, part of Father Hood, a Hollywood Pictures Film starring Patrick Swayze and Halle Barry was filmed in the cavern. A giant T-Rex prop from the film is still standing by the gift shop today.

Cave dwelling creatures are very unusual creatures. The rare Cascade Caverns salamander, a brown and white, translucent amphibian was first discovered in this cave and can only be found in Cascade Caverns and the nearby Cave without a Name. Many tricolored bats also make their home in the cave.

Cathedral Room Ceiling

Ceiling in the Cathedral Room

This was my first cave experience (although I have toured a few mines) and I appreciated that the ceiling was high enough that you are able to walk upright through most of the cave. It was surprising to me that you don’t have to wear a hard hat when on the tour, but I guess the ceilings are high enough in most places that it’s not needed.

The tour was very reasonable ($19.95 for adults and $12.95 for children at the time of writing) and the cave is not far out of the way if you are traveling between San Antonio and Fredericksburg. Beware that it can be wet in the cave, so appropriate clothing and shoes are important when you’re exploring a cave. In the summer, the cave does occasionally flood, so it is important that you call ahead to make sure tours are operating. If you are looking to camp nearby, there is a campground on the property. For more information about current tour offerings, visit CascadeCaverns.com.

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Texas Hill Country Road Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Hidden Gems of Mackinac

Mackinac Island is a popular summer destination and the ferries to and from the island each day are bustling with tourists. Its very popular for visitors to rent bikes (or bring your own) and pedal M-185, the car-free state road that circumnavigates the island. This summer, M-185 is under construction near Mission Point Resort and Arch Rock due to record high water levels in the great lakes. This year, visitors will not be able to take the 8.1 mile long journey around the island. Instead, I propose bicyclists head inland, away from the crowds (social distancing, right?) and to some lesser-known spots.

Crack-in-the-Island

Sugar Loaf (top) was something I did not even know existed before this trip. Towering at 75 feet tall, this limestone rock formation is the tallest on the island. Geologists believe it formed this way when the waters of Lake Algonquin began to recede, eroding the surrounding rock. Native American legend is much more verbose and dramatic. You can read about it at MackinacIsland.org. The rock is very easy to see from Point Lookout on Sugarloaf Road. The adventurous can even hike down to the rock, just remember, all the step you go down, you have to climb back up!

Cave in the Woods

Near the Mackinac Island Airport are two more hidden gems of the island, Crack-in-the-Island (left) and Cave in the Woods (right). They are pretty self-explanatory, one is a cave in the woods and the other is a big crack in the island. After biking up hill for a while, it feels good to get off the bike and hike on your own two feet and see these unique geological features. And of course, Crack-in-the-Island makes for a great photo-op like you’re stuck in the crack! Cave in the Woods is one of several caves on the island. It could be a fun journey to try to find them all!

Of course, since the interior of the island is quite hilly, getting to these sites requires more work than just biking the flat road along the water. But, getting away from the people and seeing sites that not everyone sees are definitely worth it! MackinacIsland.org has a great map to help you find these and many other worthy sites on your next trip to the island!

Did I miss your favorite hidden spot on Mackinac? Let me know in the comments! Thanks for stopping by! To read about some of our previous trips, click here. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page, follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my Gear Page. For information about our new Guided Photography Tours, visit GuidedPhoto.com.

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Cave Tubing in Belize

While planning our cruise, I was really torn with what to do with our stop in Belize City. All of the options were very outdoorsy or consisted of laying on the beach. I knew we were planning to relax the next day when we were at Harvest Caye, so I really wanted to get out there and explore the Belizean jungle. Cave tubing seemed like the perfect way to do that, so we booked it through ShoreExcursioneer.com to save a little money.

Belize City is a tender port, meaning there is no dock so to get ashore, people have to take smaller boats, called tenders, to take them from the ship to the cruise terminal. For whatever reason, it took a while to get the tenders started but we followed the directions on our ticket and took the first tender off the ship. Once we made it to land we went inside the shopping area, called the tourism village, to meet our tour. We were only the second group in line for our tour when we headed out to the buses.

After a little bit of drama with broken seats and another bus filling up and heading out, we made the hour long drive to the Nohech Che’en Archeological Preserve. During the drive our guide, Barry, told us a lot about the Belizean culture and the economy.

Once we made it, we got our life jackets and helmets and began a short walk through the jungle with many stops along the way to check out the local flora. I was excited to finally get in the water and begin our journey through the caves. Our other guide, Carlos, was handy with the flashlight, pointing out formations in the caves and telling us about the history. The water was moving very slow and frequently our guides had to get out of their tubes and pull us or swim to keep the group moving. It was kind of a strange experience, almost like being pulled by a human horse.

The ancient Mayans believed that the caves were the entrance to the underworld, called Xibalba or Place of Fright (MyBelizeExperience) and after floating through them, it is understandable why they thought that. It was a little eerie! I was glad I had my headlamp to see the cave formations and several bats.

After we got out of the water, they took us back to their office area where they had lunch of beans and rice, a Belizean specialty, waiting for us. Af this point, we were cutting it close to making it back to the port for the last tender. In the end, we made it back 15 minutes early. We didn’t have time to shop like some people were hoping, but I was just glad we didn’t miss the ship!

Overall, I am very glad we did this excursion. It was unlike anything else I’ve ever done! If you are cruising to Belize City, I highly recommend you check it out! To read more about our cruise, click here. Thanks for stopping by! If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page, follow me on Instagram, and Flickr! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my Gear Page. For information about our new Guided Photography Tours, visit GuidedPhoto.com.

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Hiking Hocking Hills: Old Man’s Cave

 Old Man’s Cave is the most popular area of Hocking Hills State Park. It is the center of the park. The campground is here and of all the trails in the park, Old Man’s Cave had the most to see. Anticipating the crowds, I decided to visit Old Man’s Cave on Monday morning figuring that the weekend visitors would be gone and the crowds would be less. The rain that had been forecasted all weekend, finally came and I think that helped keep the crowds down too. If you were spending the whole week in Hocking Hills, you were not going hiking in the rain.

As you can see in the above photo, there were still people around and I was glad they were there. I used to be afraid of having people in my landscape photos. Now, I feel like the people in that photo add a frame of reference to the landscape. You can’t tell how big the cave is without people in it for perspective. The people also add life to the photos. They show that this is an area that people explore. They give meaning to the bridges and steps in the landscape.

Old Man’s Cave Upper Falls

While the rain kept the crowds down, it also really added to the atmosphere. Walking through the rainy, foggy, gorges felt like walking through another planet. It felt unreal. It reminded me of walking through Disney World, but this was not created by people. Really, words cannot describe this area. It has to be seen to be comprehended.

As I mentioned, the Old Man’s Cave Trail had the most to see of all the trails in Hocking Hills. There are five main sections of the Old Man’s Cave area, making up about one mile of trails: Upper Falls, Upper Gorge, Middle Falls, Lower Falls and Lower Gorge. Of course, one of the features of the trail is Old Man’s Cave (top) where a hermit lived in the late 1700s. The Grandma Gatewood Trail also begins here and continues on to Ash Cave and Cedar Falls.

Read more in my Hiking Hocking Hills Series: Camping & Hiking Hocking Hills, Ash Cave, Cedar Falls, Conkle’s Hollow and Rock House. To plan your trip to Hocking Hills, visit HockingHills.com If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page, follow me on Instagram, and Flickr! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my Gear Page. For information about our new Guided Photography Tours, visit GuidedPhoto.com.

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