Ice and Rock at Presque Isle Park
Presque Isle is one of those delightful city parks with some neat and unique spots that I usually avoid on my adventures. While it is a bit removed from the hustle of Marquette, perched on the north shoulder far from the main byways, the sounds and smells of city still float through the park like an unwelcome visitor. Easy access and popularity keep plenty of visitors rolling through the meandering trails, some sticking to the main drives and others following more adventurous paths along the rocky shoreline. I prefer the wild, the quiet, the removed. Yet, today I found myself standing on the icy edge of Lake Superior within the park, a light breeze skipping over the waters to scour my cheeks.
Today's UP adventures had been rough so far. The fog and deep snow had turned a thorough exploration of Wewe Hills into a clumsy trudge, falling miles short of my attended route. I skipped the next destination, Migisy Bluff, fearing that the hike I had planned for months would be ruined as well. Presque Isle was easy, below the fog, and would serve as a great break from the deep snow.
I parked on the west side of the island, the farthest I could get from Marquette Bay and still have access to the park. After a quick look northwest over Middle Bay to rocks and islands and the power plant I turned and headed north along a path through the woods. It was tempting to venture close to the water, over the slick rises and past the ice volcanoes, but the risk of tweaking my knee didn't seem worth it. Besides, I was a lone hiker in a park full of groups and didn't want to attract too much attention.
Three years ago I was here and not alone. Emily and I had retreated to this park after a rough hike up to Lake 8 through chest-deep snow. The Peshekee Highlands had worn us down to nothing and Presque Isle seemed like an easy stop to finish up the day. We had a blast climbing up and down the icy rocks, skimming down to the water's edge, and just enjoying the mild melting temperatures. Those pictures were among the ones I lost and, thus, part of the stories from 2010 that I did not share on this blog. Now I was here, alone, trying to recapture a few images of that past trip.
The shoreline slowly bent to the right, away from Middle Bay, and the view began to shift to focus to a lonely grey Lake Superior. Peter White drive encompasses the entire island and offers an easy route all the way around, with a few trails snaking between the drive and shore. I stuck to these hard-packed trails that weaved through the woods and only bumped into two large groups of college kids on the west side.
Once the island curves around the shoreline begins to change. It starts as a fairly level beach and picks up as steep little bays with gravelly beaches then completely degrades into a rugged cluster of dark black rocks near Sunset Point. Black rocks crop up in a few different areas between Marquette and Big Bay (and beyond), often forming stubborn points against the pounding waves. Winter had coated the rocks with layers and layers of treacherous white ice. I slowly crept from the hard-packed trail, which was slick in its own right, onto the ice and rocks. This was not an area to explore carelessly.
Sunset Point, the northernmost tip of the park, is formed like a blunt triangle with one rounded edge facing northeast to the open lake. The other edges face the two shorelines, the west one offering great views of the setting sun and the south bordering a sudden, narrow box harbor too small for anything larger than a rowboat. I crept over to the crest of the rocks and peered over the edge of the harbor, looking down at the ice and over to the rocks and ice across the way.
I had held a small amount of hope that there would be enough ice clinging on the edge of the rocks that would let me walk below them. That wasn't an option. I stuck to the top instead, creeping and sliding along the uneven ground, often bracing myself with a free arm. When I finally reached the base of the harbor I had to choose between sliding down six feet onto uneven ground or climbing back up into the woods. I went to the woods and looped back a few dozen yards later to check out the inside of the harbor.
The black rocks continue down the east shore. I looked around half-heartedly to see if there was an easy way up the right side of the harbor, not really excited about more slick ice. There wasn't. I turned inland and headed up to the drive, content to follow the wide path under the woods even if it meant running into more traffic.
Passing several groups, including one enamored couple who was more interested in talking to one other than the park around them, I began to get a better idea of the trail layout. There are multiple paths that crisscross the inside of the park, each one blocked off with a few posts to deter vehicular traffic. I'm not sure where they go or if any of them lead to particularly cool spots within the woods. As far as I know the main attraction of Presque Isle Park is the rugged shoreline and Lake Superior beyond, with a few old trees scattered about.
When a path led back down to the shore beyond what I assumed was the end of the jagged black rocks I followed. I was hoping to avoid some of the traffic of the main drive and get a few good views of Marquette from across the bay. The wind was blocked on this side, allowing thin ice to form on the water below broken only by larger floating chunks of snow.
My nice view of the lake was broken before I was able to venture far enough south for a view of Marquette. The woods marched down and over the cliffs and blocked any view of the bay. I wandered along the bucking trail, up and down many small rises, wondering when if I should cut back across the island to my parking spot (which was almost due west from here) or make a full circle. When the wooded path cut back to the circular drive right where a skier was coming from the inside trails of the park I made up my mind. I gave up on the shoreline and started heading back.
Walking through the woods was more complicated than I hoped it would be. The paths merged and split, leading me through a maze before dumping me on a high ridge overlooking the parking lot. I had to weave around a bit and finally resort to just plunging down the steep snowy bank to get back to my car. It was a surprisingly difficult end to an otherwise easy and relaxing break, and I left Presque Isle refreshed and ready for my next hike: Echo Lake.