Unique among the national parks, the mere facts of Isle Royale create an evocative and compelling portrait:
Forty-five miles long, it is the largest island in the largest freshwater lake (by surface area) on earth. Its backbone, the Greenstone Ridge, was formed by the largest single lava flow on the planet, exposed by the glacier that melted to form Lake Superior.
With 16,000 annual visitors, the sixty-one year-old national park is the least-visited in the contiguous United States, and the fourth-least visited in the entire system. The only parks that see fewer annual visitors lie above the Arctic Circle or on American Samoa. An oft-quoted figure is that fewer people visit Isle Royale in an entire year than visit Yosemite or Grand Canyon in a day. It is only accessible via ferry or sea plane. It shuts down completely between October and April.
Designated a United Nations Biosphere Reserve, ninety-eight percent of the park is wilderness area.
Famous for its moose (which swam to Isle Royale from the mainland in the early years of the twentieth century) and for its wolves (which crossed an ice bridge from Ontario in the late 1940s), it boasts only a handful of mammal species: snowshoe hares, red squirrels, river otters, beavers, deer mice, bats, foxes. It is either inhospitable or inaccessible to deer, caribou, rats, and bears.
As a native Michigander, I felt that Isle Royale was the ideal park to launch this ambitious project. I spent six days in the park with my partner, Sean, and buddies, Adam and Phil.
This is the first in a series of posts about the trip.