National Geographic : 1931 Dec
WINTER SKY ROADS TO ISLE ROYAL BY BEN EAST IN UPPER Lake Superior, fifty miles north of the tip of the Keweenaw Pen insula, northernmost point on the main land of Michigan, lies a long finger of rocky and rugged land that lifts from the gray waters of the lake in a series of towering ridges and long, steep-walled valleys. Narrow, fjordlike bays and channels in dent its coast, winding back for miles like rivers between the timbered ridges. Bright lakes, flanked with dark forests of spruce and fir, lie cradled in the valleys. Jutting headlands and frowning cliffs guard the harbors, and countless small islets and reefs lie around it like sentinels around a rocky fortress. This narrow finger of land, fifty miles long and a tenth as wide-its shape has been likened to that of a giant schooner set forever on a northeast course-is Isle Royal, the site of the newest authorized unit in our system of national parks. SOME OF THE FIRST LAKE SUPERIOR COPPER MINES WERE OPENED HERE The island is historically interesting, for here some of the first copper mines to be opened by white men in the Lake Superior region were put into operation about the middle of the last century. Homes were built for the miners, vil lages established, and for a time man was near to breaking this wild island to his fashioning. But Isle Royal fought back at the intruders with isolation and cruel win ters and the lashing gales of Lake Su perior, and some thirty years later the mines were abandoned as no longer profit able. For the most part, the cabins and mine buildings have fallen or burned and the forest is gradually creeping over the rock dumps, the wilderness reclaiming its own. Long before the white miners came, per haps centuries before white men touched the shores of North America, aboriginal people were crossing Lake Superior to take copper from the rocks of Isle Royal. This island was the source of much of the cop per used by primitive man in this part of the globe, and science has yet to unravel the secret of the race that hollowed out the first open pits where the red metal out cropped from the rock. Whoever they were, however, those an cient miners left indelible and dramatic record of their labors. They built fires on the ridges and cracked the heated rock with water. Then, with crude stone mallets brought from the distant mainland-there is no stone of that type on Isle Royal they battered the broken rock away and took the nuggets of native copper, ready for fashioning into various objects. At the bottom of those open pits the rude stone hammers are still lying, their battered ends bespeaking the use to which they were put by hands that have been dust these long centuries. To-day Isle Royal is the home, in sum mer, of a scattered handful of commercial fishermen who come out in spring from the north shore of Lake Superior. Their homes, built usually of logs, stand on the sheltered harbors, nestling at the foot of towering cliffs that give refuge from the battering gales of the lake. The fisherfolk remain through the sum mer, getting their mail three times a week from Duluth, nearly two hundred miles to the west and south, shipping their catch back by the boat that brings the mail. They have no other contact with the out side world, but live contentedly and hap pily on their isolated, lake-girt frontier. In addition to the homes of the fisher folk, there are four resort hotels, built on the shore of Isle Royal, which operate in summer. There is nowhere a clearing or a home in the interior. AN ISLAND LEFT TO THE STORMS OF wINTER Early in the fall the hotels close for the year. A little later the fisherfolk lift the last of their nets from the water, hang them in the fish houses to dry, and make ready to leave for the mainland. As the au tumn gales roar down over Lake Superior and the harbors begin to skim with ice, they depart, either in their own tugs or aboard the Duluth boat, leaving an unpeo pled island to the brooding silence, inter rupted only by the screaming storms of winter.