Our Morning At The Ice Caves

01. 17. 2014

Meyers BeachSea CavesGeorge at the sea caves

Always in the big woods when you leave familiar ground and step off alone into a new place there will be, along with the feelings of curiosity and excitement, a little nagging of dread. It is the ancient fear of the unknown, and it is your first bond with the wilderness you are going into. What you are doing is exploring. You are undertaking the first experience, not of the place, but of yourself in that place. It is an experience of essential loneliness, for nobody can discover the world for anyone else. It is only after we have discovered it for ourselves that it becomes a common ground and a common bond, and we cease to be alone.

 Wendell Berry

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Jack leaves tomorrow— back to Madison to complete the second half of his freshman year. I wanted to do something epic to recognize his leave-taking; some collection of experiences he can bring to Madison, package away in his dorm room and pull out when he needs to remember why Lake Superior will always be home. A morning walk to the sea caves in a foot of fresh powder and more falling from the sky was, quite possibly, the most epic adventure we’ve had since he came home in December.

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The sea caves have been inaccessible since 2009 and while I’ve been out to them twice in the past (in the company of 75 – 100 other travelers), this was the first time we’ve traveled the mile or so alone. The walk was a mixture of apprehension (how do I know if the ice is thick enough), wonder (the snow, wind and ice enveloped my eyes and ears) and excitement (Ted, Jack and I were alone, walking across a frozen lake towards one of the wonders in this world).

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There was a single track along the shore and out across the lake.  The snow was a pristine white blanket, it was quiet enough to hear the ice creak and pop with unseen swells from the lake and it was solitary enough to feel the ancient energy radiating from the rocks that ringed the shore. Words can’t begin to describe what it felt like to witness the wild and ephemeral beauty of ice and sandstone.

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The different colors, shapes and textures of the ice was mind-blowing. It was a work of art, created by wind and water— magical in its perfection.

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The silence was remarkable. I’ve spent hours on the lake and there’s always noise— seagulls, waves, wind, voices carried across the water but today was the kind of muffled quiet that accompanies a snowfall. Perfect for a photo safari with two of my favorite men and George.

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Each ice formation was different but equally majestic.

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Sharing the experience of sacred wisdom, imagined in ice and stone, with Jack and Ted was more than I hoped for when we set out in the morning. I know Jack carries that wisdom in his spirit and a morning spent deepening his connection to this mystical place will serve him well as he moves into the world.

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The lateral lines and warm colors of the sandstone were a stunning contrast to the stark white, vertical ice formations.

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Deep in this cave, I found a bit of greenery— frozen in its climb towards the light.

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The last cave reminded me of a cathedral. The sandstone cliffs soared straight up and the path through the crevasse led me about 150 feet back to the sound of running water. As I stopped and listened to the water deep in the belly of a sandstone cliff, I said a fervent prayer of gratitude. Grateful for a spirit that recognizes the divine in the sound of running water, for the unending blessings I’ve received over the course of my life, for the wisdom of wild places, for our children with open hearts and a sense of wonder, for a partner who is my ‘ever-fixed mark’ and for sandstone canvases painted with ice on the shores of my favorite Lake.

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The eyes of the future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time. They are kneeling with hands clasped that we might act with restraint, that we might leave room for the life that is destined to come. To protect what is wild is to protect what is gentle. Perhaps the wilderness we fear is the pause between our own heartbeats, the silent space that says we live only by grace. Wilderness lives by this same grace. Wild mercy is in our hands.

Terry Tempest Williams, Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place

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{ 77 comments… read them below or add one }

Ted January 17, 2014 at 11:04 pm

A cathedral. Yes. Walk into the immense caves and you find yourself holding your breath and becoming still with awe in much the same way you do in a beautiful silent church. What a place! What a day!

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Sjana January 18, 2014 at 12:31 am

So beautiful. How I love those caves.

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Joanne Collins January 18, 2014 at 4:21 am

Awesome, amazing, beautiful, breathtaking…(etc.).

Thanks for sharing!

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Nancy Sandstrom January 18, 2014 at 5:37 am

Mary, thank you for your words and photos. We are all so blessed to be surrounded by such beauty. You remind us well.

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Liz Woodworth January 18, 2014 at 8:17 am

Just lovely, Mary! Profound, poignant and really, really lovely.

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Jeff Rennicke January 18, 2014 at 8:20 am

Very nice. Thank you for sharing this.

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Joan Cybela January 18, 2014 at 9:13 am

Mary, what a richly woven journey this is through photos and words. Thanks so much!

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Gary Sherman January 18, 2014 at 9:35 am

Stunning pictures, Mary. You really rock a camera. Hope to go to the caves next weekend, weather permitting.

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Sue Larson February 3, 2014 at 9:58 pm

Gary – Is this the Gary Sherman that I know from Danbury days? Gary – did you make it to the caves? I’m thinking about coming up within the next week or so – any advice? Sue

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Patricia Hammel January 18, 2014 at 10:31 am

This is a side of Superior I hadn’t seen before (I’m in Madison and only visit occasionally). Thank you for showing it to me. If you ever do a book or calendar, let me know.

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themaven January 18, 2014 at 3:35 pm

There is an incredible amount of natural beauty up here but the sea caves are near the top for me. Thanks for your kind words.

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Beth Fischlowitz January 18, 2014 at 12:20 pm

Mary, since I cannot walk this myself, you have given me a real treat, likely the highlight of winter! Thank you so much.

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themaven January 18, 2014 at 3:33 pm

Beth, I’m glad you were able to see them through the blog. Take care!

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Mary Jo Martin January 18, 2014 at 6:03 pm

where exactly do you leave the mainland and are you on the mainland or what island did you walk to. I can’t figure out where these caves are.

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themaven January 18, 2014 at 11:21 pm

Hi Mary Jo, the sea caves are accessible from the mainland near Meyer’s beach road, about 2 miles outside of Cornucopia, towards Bayfield. It’s about a mile hike out on a rough path…

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Jack Hardy January 18, 2014 at 6:59 pm

My wife and I camp there during summer months and have been to some of those caves,, words cannot describe them either in the summer or especially in the winter, beautiful beyond words!!!

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Kathy De Mars January 19, 2014 at 9:28 pm

Thank you so very much for your awesome prose and photos! I have not had the experience of the caves since my Dad used to tour them with my brother, Mom and me during the summers of the late fifties. We cruised around them in a 16 foot wooden runabout with an Evenrude motor which only seemed to run if it’s covers were removed. The boat was never big enough to handle the rougher water out near Hermit Island where my grandparents owned a small cabin near the natural landing . I was never able to visit that place before it became a part of the Apostle Island Lakeshore Park system. But, thanks to the Island Cruise Service tours I finally caught my first glimpse of Hermit which brought to life all the stories my grandparents had shared of their escapades traveling there by wind- sled and the time my grandma was lost at night skiing the ice in a sudden snow squall and used the lights of Bayfield and Madeline Island as landmarks to guide herself safely back to the cabin. The “Big Lake” continues to nurture generations with it’s beauty and mysteries. Thank you once more for providing an opportunity to your own son and all of us who love Lake Superior.

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themaven January 21, 2014 at 4:26 pm

Hey Kathy,
We have spent a lot of time on Hermit Island and would be interested in learning more about where your grandparents cabin was and if you have any pictures. My husband collects old photos and postcards of Bayfield and the Apostle Islands. There is an incredible amount of history up here and I especially love it when the history is framed by individual family stories. Thank you for sharing your stories with me!

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Mr. Lorin D. Johnson January 20, 2014 at 3:19 pm

How lucky you are to be in such a wonderful place. I have spent many a trip to the Two Harbors area. My parents lived in Larsmont. You are blessed to be in such a beautiful area no matter what the season. Thank you for sharing one of many places God has made for all of us.

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themaven January 21, 2014 at 4:27 pm

Thanks Lorin, I truly feel very fortunate to live amidst such amazing natural beauty.

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Donna Callahan January 24, 2014 at 1:10 pm

Absolutely beautiful pictures. We walked out there about 5 years ago. Quite a hike but so well worth it.
Thanks for sharing your pictures. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing them again.

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Vicky Babcock January 25, 2014 at 11:05 am

You did a beautiful job on these photos and descriptions. Thank you for sharing them!

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Karen Rae January 25, 2014 at 2:29 pm

Mahalo nui loa for sharing your amazing photos, and inspiring word…for t hose of us who cannot be there to witness this inspiring natural event . I have been to the islands in Wisconsin which are filled with natural beauty, but “this” is really an incredible display of the unexpected magic of nature at its best. I am in awe.
In 2006 there was a freeze on Lake Superior I was in Duluth at my daughters, there was not snow just ice and a frozen Lake. It was beautiful and what a experience to walk on that clear frozen lake and see thru the ice the water swirling, the ice making cracking sounds as we were walking, clearly fearful. As I look at your photos and words I am again reminded of that past adventure, with my daughter,and granddaughters. Oh, how we need to take the measures to preserve, protect these most sacred places. Here in Hawaii we share the ongoing efforts to make certain that sacred pure natural environment prevails …….Aloha ‘oe

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themaven January 25, 2014 at 5:03 pm

Thanks for your kind words, Karen. It’s true, resources are not endless and it’s time we start to protect these ‘last places’ for our children and grandchildren who will be here long after we move on. It gives me hope when I read your note- there’s an awakening and I sincerely hope we will start to preserve the amazing sacred places we have been entrusted with.

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Rose Marie Lemke January 25, 2014 at 3:20 pm

These are professional quality photos. Wow!!!!

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themaven January 25, 2014 at 5:04 pm

Thanks Rose- it was such a beautiful day on the ice.

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Rozlyn Adams January 26, 2014 at 12:17 am

Absolutely breathtaking , thank you.

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Susan Currie January 26, 2014 at 12:20 am

Thank you for sharing these beautiful pictures. Smithsonian Magazine’s website has what they call some of the best from Instagram, but they don’t even come close to showing the beauty your pictures do. I especially enjoyed the ones that show what it looks like to see them from down below, looking up. As I was looking at the ones on Smithsonian’s website, I thought about how I’d lay on my back on the ice in one of those caves and take a picture looking up so people could get a sense of what it looks like to see them from down below. You give me that sense in several pictures. I also like the shapes and colors you share, as well as the sense of perspective your pictures give me. I’ve known that type of quiet, and although it’s been too many years since I lived in Michigsn, or visited Wisconsin in the winter at Christmastime, I still love it and the thought of it. Again, thank you.

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Mark January 26, 2014 at 6:22 am

Beautifully written post and stunning photographs. So glad I stumbled upon your site.
Being a photographer in SE Michigan, I have heard now and them about this spot but haven’t taken the journey to get up there. From your reference, I take it that it can be very crowded? I can see how that would make some photography difficult.

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themaven January 26, 2014 at 7:34 am

Hi Mark, the caves are getting a ton of media attention this year and it’s incredibly crowded- up to 2000 people a day hike out there. How strange to think of a frozen piece of lake as ‘crowded’, Bayfield is town of 400! I feel so fortunate to have been able to experience the sea caves when we did but I imagine it would still be jaw droppingly beautiful, even with a few thousand people.

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Marie Farmer January 26, 2014 at 5:57 pm

Thank you so much for sharing your day trip. Your photos are awesome. I had heard about this on the news but it is unlikely that I will be able to make it up there to see it in person. Your photos allowed me to show my 11 year old daughter the wonder that is there. She is now insisting that we kayak out there this summer. Thank you again!

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Holly Hanson January 27, 2014 at 12:28 pm

Thank you for sharing your wonderful experience through your pictures and descriptions. What a memorable trip for you, your husband, but especially your son. Our children need to be reminded of the essence and fleeting beauty of the natural world that surrounds us. In it is the greatness and power of Earth at her most innocent and her most vulnerable. Our children are the future caretakers of these majestic resources. Let’s hope that they do a better job than our generation has. Thanks again for sharing.

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themaven January 27, 2014 at 4:01 pm

Baba Dioum said, ‘In the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught’. If we are awake enough to understand what we’ve been entrusted with, it’s our responsibility to pass that awareness on. Terry Tempest Williams summed it perfectly, ‘wild mercy is in our hands’ and when I visit these sacred places, I feel it so strongly. Thanks for your insightful words, I appreciate them.

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Gregg (with 3 g's) January 27, 2014 at 1:40 pm

Thanks for sharing so many photos. Beautiful. I planned to see the Sea Caves before winter is done, but after seeing your photos I am inspired to cancel all the “have to’s” next weekend and go to the Caves. Thanks.

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themaven January 27, 2014 at 4:02 pm

Gregg- you won’t regret it, it’s truly stunning.

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Paula January 27, 2014 at 5:24 pm

All I can say about the canvas is, I’m sure these photo’s as wonderfully beautiful as they are, do not do the reality of this place justice. The writing, very well said and touching! Thank you for both.

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Perri Cooper January 27, 2014 at 5:39 pm

Completely Awesome!!!

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Krissy January 27, 2014 at 7:51 pm

Wow! Your photographs are remarkable! National Geographic would love to see these! Absolutely stunning, from the close ups to the perspective quality with you all and your precious dog! Blew me away!!

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themaven January 27, 2014 at 9:26 pm

Thanks, Krissy!

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Joy M January 27, 2014 at 10:41 pm

Beautiful pics! I live just north of Minneapolis, but due to arthritic joints and other health issues, I could never walk that far over the ice to see them. Thank you for sharing!

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Steve Beno January 28, 2014 at 11:16 am

Beautiful. Thinking of driving up from Green Bay. Where’s best hotels at?

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themaven January 28, 2014 at 1:31 pm

Hi Steve- I’d check out Bayfield Inn (for hotel rooms) or the Winfield Inn (for condos). Both places are in Bayfield, about 10 miles from the sea caves.

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Jan Esposito January 28, 2014 at 12:49 pm

Mary – gorgeous shots of the ice caves! I love seeing your photos now that I’m too far away in CO to still just go there. And I wanted to go last year but I don’t think there were ever good conditions…..ice one day and gone the next. Thanks for sharing…..hi to the fam!

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themaven January 28, 2014 at 1:30 pm

Hey Jan- so glad you can keep abreast of what’s shaking in your old home town!

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Dennis January 28, 2014 at 5:51 pm

Breathtaking Is the Only Word that Comes to Mind, Thank You for Sharing this wonder of Nature!

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michael s. dornan January 28, 2014 at 5:58 pm

the ice waterfalls in Starved Rock state park in Utica, Il are pretty cool. But these photos are awesomely breathtaking. i wish i had the time to go see this event.check out Starved Rock’s website they have pics of the waterfalls. really enjoyed these pictures.beautiful shots. one of the best things about it being so cold. peace

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themaven January 28, 2014 at 6:00 pm

I’ll check it out, I have a thing for waterfalls!

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terri kent January 28, 2014 at 7:36 pm

Beautiful pictures… now my husband and I are driving up next week to see them! I see it says that Myers beach is a recreational fee area? Where do you pay the fee? We want to get an early start to some good sunrise pictures…
thanks!

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themaven January 28, 2014 at 9:35 pm

There is fee box in the parking lot in the Meyers Beach parking lot. It’s 3.00 and there isn’t an attendant on duty so you need exact change.

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Nari January 29, 2014 at 6:45 am

Beautifully written and presented. Felt like we walked along with you guys. I have seen a lot of frozen waterfalls this season (near Ithaca NY) and to see these ice caves via this picture blog was a fun experience. Thank you.

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Carolyn Williams January 30, 2014 at 2:38 pm

Thank you so much for sharing these incredible images! What a truly amazing sight!

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Natalie February 3, 2014 at 2:54 pm

We are heading up in a few weeks. Loved your pictures. Just wondering what camera you used. We snowshoe and I know if my iphone or pocket camera get too cold they will not work. I would hate to get there and not have any pictures to show. Any hints for me. Would you suggest just boots or snowshoes?

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themaven February 3, 2014 at 9:06 pm

Hi Natalie, I used a Nikon D700 with a 24 – 70 on it. If you slip a hand warmer in your pocket (or wherever you keep you camera) it should keep it warm enough to prevent the battery from dying right away. It’s supposed to be a little warmer up here in the next 10 days so you might get lucky! I think boots with Yaktrax would be the best bet- the trail is packed down. Don’t forget to call the Ice Line at the National Park Service to check on the ice conditions- have fun!

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track February 4, 2014 at 5:24 pm

Glad you enjoyed the caves, we’ve been a few times since they’ve been accessible. What a grand natural resource we have here on the Bayfield peninsula. Living just down the road makes it all the more special for us as newcomers to the area. Now you need to come by in the summer and kayak through the caves!

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themaven February 5, 2014 at 10:30 am

It’s on my list for this summer. I’ve only explored the Devil’s Island sea caves in the summer and they are a lot smaller than the mainland caves….now I just need to wait for the lake to warm up!

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Iris McWilliams February 5, 2014 at 7:05 pm

Beautiful and inspiring…thank you for sharing…

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MEK February 5, 2014 at 7:16 pm

Thank you for sharing these amazing pictures! I used to live up there and the sea/ice caves are some of the most magical and inspirational places to visit on this earth. Wish I were there now!

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Jean February 7, 2014 at 1:30 pm

we were there on the 17th saw you there.

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themaven February 7, 2014 at 1:52 pm

Were you part of the couple that snowshoed out before us? Wasn’t it an amazing experience? My son, the one who went with us, just came home for the weekend and said he doesn’t want to go back, it would ruin his memory of being out there alone. Have you been back?

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Barbara Heinonen Klimas February 10, 2014 at 2:22 pm

I grew up in Cornucopia and my Dad was a commercial fisherman on this grandest of lakes, mainly around Sand Island. Thank you for renewing such wonderful memories. Your pictures and words are poetic and beautiful and I can’t wait for my children and grandchildren to experience them.

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Bonnie Baker February 11, 2014 at 8:36 pm

We’ve had a cabin on Blueberry Lane in Cornucopia which my parents built in 1958 where we spend 2 mos. in the summer. I’ve been in the caves many times by boat but never seen them like this. Absolutely the best pictures I’ve seen. Have heard from friends there about the thousands of people coming to see the ice caves. Definitely good for our little town of Cornucopia. We spend the winters in AZ and have our home in CO now so won’t make it up. But thanks so much for sharing your great artistic show. I love that area of WI.

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themaven February 11, 2014 at 11:29 pm

Thanks so much Bonnie. The Washburn high school is headed out there tomorrow- the phenomenon continues! I read somewhere that they estimate the tourist revenue from the caves will be 5 – 7 million dollars for Northern Bayfield county…pretty amazing.

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Liz Ehrhardt February 16, 2014 at 12:37 pm

Amazing photographs; thank you for sharing and piquing my interest.

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Lorraine February 16, 2014 at 6:09 pm

Thanks for sharing your wonderful story and pictures. Your dog is a beauty also, as I am a dog lover.
I saw the story on the news of these wonderful caves and I was amazed to see all the people on their trek to see this work of God and nature. Your beautiful story and pictures surely took the Americans minds off of all their troubles and sorrows and let them see what beauty is right before their eyes. “Thank You!”

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Amber February 16, 2014 at 6:42 pm

Thanks so much for the lovely photos and a taste of the beauty. Would you mind sharing what kind of camera you used and any direction on how to take the best photos in this type of setting? Thanks!

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themaven February 17, 2014 at 5:59 pm

Hi Amber, I used a Nikon D700 with a 24 – 70 lens. The light was perfect that morning- lake effect snow showers with an overcast sky. I’d try and avoid mid day, too much sun, but the evening/sunset pictures I’ve seen are gorgeous (and maybe less people will be out there??). Even with all the people, it’s still spectacular.

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Judy Ditmer February 17, 2014 at 8:05 am

I know I’ll never see this in person. Thank you, more than I can express in words, for sharing this.

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Jerry February 17, 2014 at 8:48 am

Wonderful pics. I have been into the cave by small boat and even in summer it is a wonder. No graffiti either. Thanks for sharing.

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Cathie February 17, 2014 at 9:30 am

Thank you for sharing these awesome photos!

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martha February 17, 2014 at 3:52 pm

Your pictures are so beautiful. This is truly a magnificent feat of nature. Thank you so much for sharing you photos and the experience.

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Bill Rosen February 19, 2014 at 4:50 am

I lived in Cedar Rapids for a year and visited Lake Superior once but I never saw anything remotely close to this! These photos are fantastic. Thank you for posting them. I really appreciate this.

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DavidB February 19, 2014 at 7:16 am

Thank you for the amazing photographs. I’m a southwesterner — never been to the Great Lakes — so this was an eye-opener for me. Interestingly enough, some of those images remind me of the sandstone canyons covered with ice we sometimes get here in northern Arizona (not to be confused with the deserts of southern Arizona!).

http://www.dblanchard.net/blog/2013/01/a-winter-walk-along-west-fork-oak-creek/
http://www.dblanchard.net/blog/2013/12/winter-returns-to-west-fork-oak-creek/

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themaven February 19, 2014 at 2:04 pm

Hi David, Thanks for sharing you pictures, you’re right…they do look similar. I wonder if there is a geological connection? Looks like you enjoy being outside as much as do!

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Patty February 20, 2014 at 7:52 pm

So enjoyed your acquainting me with this awesome area–WOW! From your pictures it seems like such a pristine and phenomenal experience. Thank you for sharing it with this Midwestern person from K.C..

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R.G, Dryden February 26, 2014 at 11:08 am

Thank you for your words, love of what you have seen and the photos. We have our own natural beauty here in Washington State, but no ice caves like yours. At 78, there is little hope I’ll ever see them, so thank you again.

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Gerry Perdue March 1, 2014 at 2:18 am

Thank you for the great pictures. I am 62 and not in very good health. I would not be able to make the treck to see the most wonderous of natures beauty. By sharing your adventure you have allowed me to take part in this. I cannot thank you enough, for this has touched my heart and filled me with wonder and awe.

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themaven March 1, 2014 at 6:38 am

Hi Gerry, Im so happy you were able to see thenice caves through my eyes. That morning was as much about experiencing the divine through nature as it was about spending time with my oldest son before he left for school. It was a morning I’ll never forget….I treasure these memories and am honored to share them with you.

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