Inside the Apostle Islands Ice Caves


My oldest son went on a school trip a few weeks ago.  The main purpose was to participate in the Barnebirkie, the children’s version of the largest cross-country ski race in North America.  It takes place in northern Wisconsin every February.   This is the twentieth year that the school has done this trip with middle grade students, so they have become experts at making it an enriching experience.  In addition to skiing in the race with more than 1,000 other kids, they spend some time doing joint educational programming at the local middle school (this year, there was some kind of amazing science theme) and have a traditional meal with a Native American tribe.  They also somehow fit swimming at the local community center into the packed agenda.

A week before the trip, a note came home in my son’s backpack that there would be a slight alternation to the schedule.  The group would be able to visit the ice caves on Lake Superior’s Apostle Islands.  For those not familiar with the Upper Midwest, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in northern Wisconsin is a true gem of a national park.   There are 21 islands, windswept beaches, rocky cliffs, and lighthouses.  In the summer, you can hike the 12 miles of lakeshore wilderness and paddle or boat around the islands. You can even camp on 18 of the islands, which are only accessible by water.    You can even explore by kayak the  amazing sea caves at the western end of the mainland part of the park.

In winter, the sea caves become ice caves.  And in extremely cold winters, when Lake Superior freezes over, the national park service allows people to walk out over the ice and experience the ice caves from the inside.


As I have never been to the Apostle Island ice caves, I was excited that my son had this opportunity to visit them.   It has been five years since the ice caves were last open to the public.  One of the impacts of climate change has been that Lake Superior hasn’t been frozen enough to make access possible.   Since the ice caves opened to the public on January 15, more than 125,000 people have made the two mile roundtrip trek over frozen Lake Superior to experience the  ice caves.

My son sent took these pictures of his visit and texted them to me.


It’s an odd feeling – usually I’m the one who is traveling and sending the pictures back home to the rest of the family. But I really appreciated his willingness to share the experience of being inside the Apostle Islands ice caves with me.


With warmer weather, the ice is degrading and it is becoming unsafe to be on the lake.   The National Park Service plans to close the Apostle Island ice caves to the public by 12:01 am on Monday, March 17.



With special thanks to my son Sevrin for the photos!

For more responses to the Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside, click here.

If You Build It …

Conventional wisdom holds that to survive in Minnesota,  you must embrace winter.  Perhaps that explains the view from my kitchen:

In case you are wondering: that is a hockey rink. That’s right – a backyard rink.  This winter, we decided to build a hockey rink in our backyard.

You might ask why anyone in their right mind would turn their entire backyard into a hockey rink?  Well, we’ve got a couple of reasons:

The rationale for the backyard rink is that the kids will be able to just go right out the back door and skate anytime.  Fresh air is better than screentime and all that.  Ten minutes of skating is better than fighting with your brother, yada yada yada.  We thought it might be nice to have a project that the family could work on together over winter break.  Kind of like Swiss Family Robinson but with fewer pirates and more cocoa.

But what about the grass, you ask?  Well, we aren’t fancy here.  We’ve never really bonded with our “Freedom Lawn” of broadleaf and dandelions.  We don’t, frankly, have a very good record on lawncare.  This was the view from our front porch last summer:

By now, you are probably on pins and needles, waiting to hear about the logistics of  building a backyard rink.  You can buy a rink-in-a-box or you can google “how to build your own rink”, which is what we did. Here is how we (and by “we”, I mean my husband) built ours.

First, you build the boards. (Allow extra time for extra trips to Home Depot.)

Next you cover your backyard with a giant sheet of plastic.  This one was custom-made to fit  our backyard from the patio to the apple tree. Yes, there are companies that specialize in this sort of thing.  AND they survived the recession!

Then you add water. Freeze.

Add more water. Freeze.

Then you wait.

And wait.

And wait some more.

Are we crazy?  No, definitely not. If we were crazy, we would also be building one of these suckers:

Instead, we’ve got one of these:

It is customary in Minnesota to greet people in the winter with a cheerful: “Cold enough for ya?”  But it has been unseasonably warm this year and all the people who claim to “just LOVE the change of seasons!” are freaking out.  The record-breaking warmth has also thrown a meteorological monkeywrench into our backyard rink plans.   The whole “water freezing” part has not been working so well in 40 degree weather.

Now that we’ve got our backyard rink built, we believe that Old Man Winter will come. The low tonight is predicted to be in the single digits.  Promising signs this morning that he is on his way:



I’m hopeful that very soon – maybe even by the time you read this – the view from my kitchen window will be my kids and their friends, skating around in our own backyard rink.  I’ll be inside, making the cocoa.