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Two Days at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Two Days at (1)

Two Days at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore


H. Bradford


One of my 2020 bucket list items was to visit a national park and a new state. I certainly won’t accomplish most of my 2020 bucket list due to Covid-19. Although there are many things I can’t do this year, I thought that one small thing I could do is visited Pictured Rock National Lakeshore in Michigan.  Michigan is not a “new” state on my list of states, but it is “new” for 2020.  Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is operated by the National Park Service, so, it is a part of the national park system even if it is not one of the 62 designed national parks.   Pictured Rocks is one of only three National Lakeshores, which makes it special, even if it isn’t a national park.  The rocks get their name from the minerals such as iron, copper, and manganese in the groundwater that have dripped down the rock face.  Located only five and a half hours from Duluth, it made for the perfect quick getaway.  The following are some highlights of my two day visit.


Chapel Loop:

This was my favorite part of the trip.  It was a ten mile loop of trail which followed the cliffs of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, while weaving through the forests as well. The trails were very muddy in many areas, which made the hiking slow and added more distance as muddy areas often had to be circumvented.  The trail brings hikers past Chapel Falls to Chapel Rock. Chapel Rock is an interesting looking sandstone formation. The outcropping is straddled by the roots of a large white pine.  Near Chapel Rock is Chapel Beach. This is the part of the trail which marks the beginning of following the Pictured Rocks cliffs. The trail offers stunning views of Lake Superior and the cliffs.  By the end of the hike, I felt worn out, but accomplished!

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Pictured Rocks Boat Tour:

A less arduous way to see the Pictured Rocks is with a boat tour. Boat tours are very popular and were booked until the late afternoon on the second day of the trip.  I had also tried to book a shipwreck themed glass bottom boat tour, but these were booked for both days. I managed to snag a 3pm boat tour for the Pictured Rock boat.  The boat tour costs $38 and lasted about two and a half hours. Due to Covid-19, the occupancy of the boat is half of what is typical and everyone was required to wear a mask. There are two seating levels, so for the most part, people could space out.  There was some crowding in the line and when it started to rain, which sent upstairs passengers to the bottom of the boat.  The great thing about doing the boat tour after the hike was that it is an opportunity to see the places you’ve been!  It also is was an opportunity to see some of the landmarks that I did not have time to visit, such as Miner’s Castle and Miner’s Beach.  The boat tour also offers views of Grand Island, including the Grand Island East Channel Light.  The gray wooden lighthouse began operations in 1868.  The boat tour is a leisurely way to soak in the astonishing cliffs and learn more about their history.  The boat was very stable, so there seemed to be little risk of seasickness.

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Grand Sable Dunes:

Grand Sable Dunes are located about an hour away from Munising, Michigan. The dunes are located on the far east end of the Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore.  Whereas Pictured Rocks is most famous for its fifteen miles of colorful cliffs, it also has a five stretch of impressive dunes called Grand Sable Dunes. The tallest of the dunes is 275 feet above the lake. A short, quarter mile long trail takes visitors to the dunes. I expected a sprawling, Sahara like landscape.  Instead, the trail ended with a few dunes which could be climbed and a view of other dunes which was partially obscured by jack pines. It was hard to appreciate the size and expanse of dunes from that vantage point.  The Log Slide offers a better overview of the dune landscape. Although the view does not offer a full account of the landscape, it is a first hand experience to hike up some smaller dunes.  I think my visit to Grand Sable Dunes was another example of my imagination imposing unrealistic expectations upon reality.  To be fair, my imagination has been informed by dunes in Namibia, including a hike up Dune 45 and an attempt to hike up Big Daddy (ran out of time…and it was hot).  The Grand Sable Dunes are an example of perched dunes, or dunes which occur on cliffs.  They were formed when sand was blown up and deposited upon a glacial moraine. According to the National Park Service, Ojibwe called the dunes Gitchi Nagow or Great Sands, and used them for religious fasting.  I know next to nothing about dune ecosystems, but the Grand Sable Dunes is orchid rich and home to some unique plant species.  I didn’t know that the dunes were home to rare orchids!  The only noteworthy plant that I saw during my hike was a gauntlet of poison ivy.  Grand Sable Dunes is definitely worth a visit!

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   Grand Sable Waterfall:

There are dozens of waterfalls to visit in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and the surrounding area.  But with only two days to take in the sights of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, there wasn’t time to visit many. One very easy to visit waterfall is Grand Sable Waterfall.  It is located right by the Grand Sable Dunes, making it easy to visit both at the same time. There are several viewing platforms from which visitors can view the 75 foot falls. There are 168 steps on the stairs that lead to the lowest viewing platform.

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Log Slide Overlook:

The Log Slide Overlook is located about five miles west of Grand Sable Dunes. The overlook was used to roll logs down the dune into Lake Superior, hence the name.  A short trail (.25 miles round trip) leads visitors to the overlook.  The overlook is 175 feet above Lake Superior and offers views of the perched dune landscape as well as Au Sable Lighthouse in the distance.  Visitors can hike down the side of the dune, but this is a steep five minute journey down and a long, grueling, sandy hike back up.  There have been emergencies wherein tourists who could not make it back up the steep dune and had to be rescued. I was not inclined to tackle the sandy incline and enjoyed the views from above.


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Image may contain: sky, plant, outdoor and nature


Sable Lake: 

This is close to Grand Sable Dunes on the other side of the highway.  There isn’t much to say about this stop, but that it only takes a minute or two to pull off and visit the lake.  There was a small bear near the lake when I stopped there.

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Grand Marais:

Since Grand Sable Dunes are only a mile away from Grand Marais, there is no reason not to stop by this small town at the far east end of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  There are a few attractions in the town, such as the Pickle Barrel House, which is a barrel shaped house on the National Register of Historic Places.  There is a museum inside of the house, but it was closed due to Covid-19.  Another attraction is the Gitchi Gummee Agate Museum. This had limited due to Covid-19, with evening hours on the day that I visited.  There is also a memorial monument to commercial fishers, Lighthouse Keeper’s House Museum, and Old Post Office Museum.  I did not visit any of these museums. However, I made a brief visit to the public beach near the Lighthouse Keeper’s Museum, where visitors can view again the dune landscape. The area is also a breeding ground for rare Piping Plovers.

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Image may contain: sky, house, tree, plant and outdoor, text that says 'GITCHE GUMEE MUSEUM'


Christmas, MI:

Although this is not part of the Pictured Rocks, Christmas is an unusual stop right outside of Munising, Michigan.  The tiny town is definitely past its heyday, but tourists can still stop to take a photo of a giant Santa sign or the giant Santa outside of a casino. There is also a motel called the Christmas Motel and several streets with Christmas themed names.

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Overall, I had a good but brief visit to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  If I visited again, I would like to do more hiking and see a few more waterfalls.  I also wouldn’t mind going on the shipwreck tour and perhaps trying kayaking (I am not sure if I am confident enough to kayak on Lake Superior.) Otherwise, I felt that I made pretty good use of my time.  It is a popular tourist destination, so there were many people around.  The trails allowed enough area for social distancing and the tourist were less plentiful closer to Grand Marais. That seemed to be a quieter end of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  With plenty of things to do and see, it was definitely worth the visit!

Christmas In Hawaii

The holidays are over, which gives me more time to reflect.  As such, I thought about my favorite Christmas ever… which was the Christmas I spent in Hawaii with my brother.  In 2014, back when I was doing Americorps service at the Boys and Girls Club as the learning center coordinator (i.e. I was living in extreme poverty), my brother kindly paid for my mother and I to visit him in Oahu.  So, these are some highlights of that memory.


Cheap Flight:  We flew Spirit Air, which was an adventure in itself.  We had to pay more to have a checked bag, so my mother and I pinched pennies by stuffing our clothes and everything else into small carry on bags.  Even their carry on requirements were pretty strict.  Everything on the flight required money and there was an eight hour layover in Los Vegas.  Nevertheless, it was memorable if only for the challenge of packing less and not becoming too grouchy during the layover and long flight.


Polynesian Center:  My brother and I went to the pricey Polynesian Center, which was pretty fascinating.  It was fascinating because it was run by Mormons and many of the performers and workers were recruited from various islands by missionaries and are students at Brigham Young University.  The Mormon influence was subtle, but includes more modest dress and a free shuttle to the LDS church.  The center consisted of various villages representing an array of Pacific islands.  At these villages were performances, displays, and lessons.  I tried a Polynesian dance lesson, watched a coconut uses demonstration, listened to a lecture about Polynesian navigation, and observed several dance/musical performances.  One highlight was a floating parade of boats featuring dancers from each island.  My mother opted to go to the beach that day.
Bishop Museum:  No one seemed enthused to go to the Bishop Museum, as it seemed a little spendy and we had already done quite a lot.  But, I love museums.  The Bishop museum was excellent, with a giant Nene to sit on, magnificent cloaks made of red, black, and yellow feathers, a Planetarium, scientific and cultural artifacts, and lectures.  We went to a presentation on volcanoes and another on Polynesian ethnobotany.


Botanical Gardens:  I feel that we went to three botanical gardens while visiting my brother.  Some people like going to beaches and relaxing with drinks.  I like learning.  ALL THE TIME.  But, what a wonderful opportunity!  Because of its isolation, Hawaii has many unique plants and birds.  Of course, the endemic plants and animals have been challenged by the many exotic, introduced species that continue to bombard the islands.  The botanical gardens showcased non-native plants, such as those used for commercial use and interesting plants from throughout the Pacific.  We visited the Lyon Arboretum, where we saw a small waterfall and went on a hike…only to get rained on. We also visited the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden, where we fed some ducks and geese at a small pond.  Another garden was Koko Head’s Crater, which was massive, dry, and featured a large collection of African plants and cacti.  I feel that we probably visited another garden as well, but I can’t remember off the top of my head.  The best thing about the botanical gardens was that they were actually very empty.  We were among the few people to visit them- perhaps because other tourists aren’t as in to plants?
(Note: I don’t think this particular hibiscus is native to Hawaii)

Pearl Harbor:  I don’t have a patriotic bone in my body.  I am somewhat indifferent to both the victory and defeat of imperialist Japan against imperialist U.S.   How can I defend the US?  During World War II, we imprisoned socialists…in my own state of Minnesota, no less…and sent Japanese citizens to concentration camps.  We bombed civilians with ATOMIC WEAPONS.  Of course, I don’t want 2000 people of any nationality to die, but the death of Americans is never uniquely tragic to me (as compared to the deaths of any other nation).  But, Pearl Harbor is a place where tourists go.  So we ritualistically lined up early in the morning, waited, and visited Pearl Harbor.  The visit was memorable in that it was a good study of sociological phenomenon such as “feeling rules” and presentation of self.  The American tourists at the site behaved in sober, quiet, reflective, ways…as these are the feeling rules of visiting such a place.  Like church, children were expected to behave, not climb on things, not shout, and “be good.”  Some Asian tourists broke the unspoken feeling rules by smiling, laughing, and taking fun photos.  This is no offense to Asians, but perhaps the don’t feel as compelled to follow the rules.  However, once the Americans were back in the parking lot, everyone was loud, rowdy, and energetic again.  They had left the public space and were backstage, to use Goffman’s metaphor.  It was interesting to watch the performance of reflective patriotism give way to more everyday expressions of self.  I also saw the USS Arizona burp oil into the ocean.  Is that good for the environment?

Byodo-in:  My brother lived right across the street from a Buddhist temple.  We visited the temple on Christmas Day, which was not only enormously fun and beautiful…it was vaguely sacrilegious.  The temple had a bell, a few nice trails, bamboo patches of forest, koi ponds, and a Buddha statue.  My mother was awkward about the Buddha statue, which I suppose seemed like idolatry to her.  I was also a little awkward about the Buddha statue since I never know the right etiquette and it is a bit of a hassle to take off my shoes.  Still, it was a lovely place and a great way to walk off Christmas dinner.
Christmas Hike:  Christmas morning, my brother and I went on a hike on a nearby hill/mountain.  The trail was impossibly muddy, making the journey dangerously slippery and messy. It was fun to spend my time doing something active with my brother.  Christmas should be for hiking and enjoying nature…not sitting around, eating, and watching TV.
Taro Pies and Sushi:  My brother lived walking distance from a McDonalds and a sushi place.  So, several days involved visits to the sushi restaurant for really cheap sushi.  The sushi in Duluth tends to be a little expensive.  On Oahu, it was as cheap as fast food (at least it seemed this way to me).  I also ate taro pies from McDonalds.  I enjoyed the novelty of eating a pie filled with a gelatinous, sweet, purple tuber.

(Taro, before Ronald McDonald turns it into a pie.)

Diamond head State Park:  My mother, Tiffany, and I hiked up the Diamond head crater for a lovely view of Honolulu.  I am proud of my mother for making it all the way up the almost two mile trail (which included a tunnel and a lot of steps).  It was pretty hot that day too.  My mother was pretty good sport and went on a couple hikes.


(My mother and Tiffany, not enjoying the hike)


Whale Watching:  We all went on a whale watching boat excursion and had a few sightings of humpback whales.  Layton, who was probably only about 2 then, searched the water for whales (looking over the side of the boat).  It was a whale of a good time.


(My mother and the sunset)

Crabby Brother:  My brother was memorably crabby during the trip.  I suppose he did pay for the trip and the activities, as well as drove us around.  This is pretty stressful and underlines the lack of public transportation/traffic nightmare that is Oahu.  I had enough fun for four people, so too bad I couldn’t redistribute my good mood to the less fortunate.

Stray cats and chickens:  My brother and I went out to feed stray cats and chickens on the day after Christmas.  We fed them the remains of the Christmas ham.  Oddly, the cats were at the bottom of the pecking order…cowering from the fierce flock of feral chickens.  I think we might have seen another botanical garden after this, but I don’t remember.
This was a truly magical Christmas.  It was the way Christmas should be.  Christmas often stresses me out with its social obligations, financial burden, cold, and oppressive presence through trees, songs, sales, traffic, consumerism, religious battles, etc. But that Christmas seemed like a nice escape from it all.  Instead of cold, it was tropical.  Instead of tons of gifts, it was a few things we could fit in our carry-on.  There was a Christmas dinner, but this was a minor event compared to the Christmas hike and Christmas temple visit.  There was family time, but instead of the familiar setting of Minnesota and home, it was far away and exotic. And, it was far less stressful as it was only a few immediate family members. There was learning, botany, volcanoes, hikes, stray cats, Mormons, taro pies, whales, and sushi.  The trip sparked an interest in Polynesian history.  Of course, my wonderful Christmas was only possible because of crushing U.S. imperialism which put Hawaii under its yoke and a tourist industry that commodities Hawaiian nature and culture while at the same time destroying both.  But, politics aside, it was enjoyable.


I will probably never have a Christmas as fun as the one spent in Hawaii in 2014.  But, life is long!

Another Marxmas



As a socialist, it is hard to get into the holiday season.   The holiday season kicks off with Thanksgiving, which seems like it could be alright.  I mean, being thankful sounds like a good thing.  Only, it is quite hard to be a Thanksgiving enthusiast when you care about indigenous people and don’t think that a holiday marking their genocide should be celebrated.   It is hard to give up Thanksgiving-cold turkey- when there are some minor familial expectations that you will participate.  Also, for most Americans (i.e. white Americans) Thanksgiving doesn’t really have much historical meaning.  It is a routine.  It is a time to get together, eat turkey, watch a parade of floating cartoon characters on television or a dog show, and (I think) football.    While lip service may be given to thankfulness- this too is a routine- as much as stuffing and turkey.   I don’t think that much thought is actually given to Pilgrims or Native Americans.  Now, Thanksgiving is all the weirder because…as an accident of patriarchy, as I like to say….my last name is Bradford.  I’m really not at all English.  Maybe some droplet of blood….but really, I am mostly Finnish with some Czech and Slovene.  I like to point this out because William Bradford was the governor of Plymouth colony for 30 years and generally viewed Native Americans as primitive and that white people had Divine favor.  Besides forcing a peace treaty on already disease decimated  and beleaguered Native Americans, apparently he raided a more communal settlement that was distributing guns to Native Americans (Merrymount).   Well, in any event, Thanksgiving can really only be enjoyed if you don’t think too much about it.

Thanksgiving is followed by Black Friday.  I don’t even want to go there.  I can see how this semi-holiday may be a bonding experience between friends or family members, who go through the ritual of an early morning, large lines, and crowds.  People look down at long lines and crowds- in the context of queuing for things in the Soviet Union- but in capitalism, this is somehow a blissful experience.     Beyond the consumerism feeding frenzy is racism as well!  Black Friday was coined by the Philadelphia police to negatively describe the demographics of mass of shoppers/pedestrians.   Retailers have appropriated the meaning to be “in the black” financially, but it certainly isn’t a just  event- as underpaid workers hustle in the pre-dawn hours or night before to provide services to the mob of shoppers.

Really, I worked on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.  I slept on New Year’s eve.  The harsh schedule of school and internship, as well as anxiety over the rampaging diseases at my workplace, left me tired and stressed for the month of December.  So, once finals were done, I mostly slept and worked.   I did do some leisure reading, but I mostly hibernated and hid.

However, with the holidays behind me, I feel more energized.  Once I made it through New Year’s, I was ready to celebrate.  As others put their trees and lights away, it was time to decorate and put lights up!

This brings me to Marxmas.   I’ve celebrated Marxmas for over a decade now.  Really, it rips off a lot of Christmas traditions.  Instead of a Christmas tree, we have a red plastic Marxmas tree.  It is hard to invent an entirely new holiday.  I don’t blame Christians for ripping off paganism in this respect.  You work with what you know!  Yes, Marxmas involves some level of consumerism.  However, as it is often AFTER the other holidays, it takes advantage of post-holiday clearance sales.   In the ten years of celebrating, a few traditions have remained staples.  Usually, there is a skit or a song.  Often, there is trivia and “Proletarian Pictionary.”  Food and guests are obvious parts of any party.  Most years there has been a red elephant gift exchange.  In recent years, this exchange occurs during a rendition of the history of Trotskyism.  Often The International is sung.   Pinatas are often a part of this celebration, which are accompanied by a special piñata song.  Finally, in recent years, there has been a theme.  These themes include Cuba, Space Race, 1980 Moscow Olympics, and …this year…Northlandia.



Northlandia was a departure from the degenerated worker state themes of year’s past.  It was based on the TV show Portlandia.  As such, we had pickle jar decorations, a huge tray of interesting pickles, bird decorations, and a “put a bird on it” game.  Beyond this theme, there was a general hipster theme.  This meant that I tried to made hipster-ish foods, appealing to vegan, gluten free, and local food trends.  There were mustache decorations, cupcakes, and gingerbread cookies.  The trivia was generally geared towards hipster trends.  This was not meant to poke fun at the idea of hipsters or even to acknowledge their existence (anything vaguely progressive and alternative seems to get labelled hipster).  Finally, there were prizes for everyone!  Really, that is pretty socialist- as winners and losers in the competitions all came home with a prize and a gift bag.  Not that we don’t believe in competition- but at least I like the idea that we all win together through learning, experiencing, and participation.


Of course, like any celebration, Marxmas could be critiqued.  It is silly, for one thing.  How can we be silly or have fun when there is so much suffering in the world?  Well, I think politics are a part of the celebration.  It is a break from more serious matters, but the serious matters play a role in the celebration.   Pictionary included words like “cultural appropriation” “genetically modified organism” and “rape culture.”   Like Christmas, there is some waste and consumerism.  I buy things for the party.  But, we also make a lot of food and decorations.  It is a matter of time versus money.  Making the prizes or every element of the party from scratch would be quite time consuming.  It could be critiqued as borrowing too heavily from Christmas, but singing, trees, and gifts are not exclusively Christmas elements.  Like anything fun, it is easier to enjoy it if you don’t think too much.

As a whole, it was fun.  I love hosting parties.  I love seeing people having a good time because of something I planned.  I am terribly socially awkward.  I have a hard time with small talk or even big talk.  But, when I host a party- I feel in control.  I have a role to play.  I know what to say and do.  It feels great when there are more people than chairs!  (We had 21 people show up to the party).



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