MNA Hike at Grinnell Memorial Sanctuary at Bare Bluff, Keweenaw County

By Nancy Leonard, MNA Stewardship Contractor

July 30, twenty-four of us gathered at the Grinnell Memorial Nature Sanctuary, known to the locals as Bare Bluff. The soaring pink rhyolite cliff is a familiar landmark for those who approach by water on the big lake and a popular destination for hikers looking for a challenge.

The plan was to approach the loop trail via the steep side, work our way up the cliff and then picnic on the very top of the bluff. When the group was given the option to take the gentler slope up and work our way down the steep side, the vote is unanimous, “No, let’s go up the steep route!” The youngest hiker was in his early thirties and the oldest just turned eighty. The first section of the trail was an old two-track and on private land.

The hikers stop for a much needed break along the trail.

We all discussed the overwhelming presence of spotted knapweed but thoroughly enjoyed the ripening thimbleberries and wild raspberries also in abundance. At the trailhead, now in the forest, hikers were given one last chance to opt for the “easy” way up. Once again there were no takers. As the trail wound its way to the base of the cliff wall, hikers were reminded to “Look up!”

Exclamations of amazement served as indicators when someone actually did look up at the soaring pink wall looming over us. Overhead we heard raptor’s screams and we were thrilled to watch two immature peregrine falcons glide along the cliff face. The birders among us debated, but the call of the birds settled the question.

As the trail began to work its way upward, the group easily divided into three. The folks out for a vigorous walk surged forward; some approached the upward climb with a bit of trepidation; and a third of us spent time searching out and identifying northern ferns that make their home here. We were rewarded with not only a ledge to rest upon but a lovely miniature garden of the delicate rock-loving Asplenium trichomanes. The more common Rock Polypody fern greeted us often along the way.

We made our way slowly upward through the steep cleft in the rock face. Each hiker chose his or her own rock or log to sit upon and rest a bit. All around us were northern lichens, mosses, and an almost tropical looking holly fern named Polystichumlonchitis. By the time everyone met at the top of the bluff, the most vigorous hikers found a picnic site with some shade and an incredible view of Lake Superior. It was a warm summer day and the view was clear for miles and miles toward the horizon. Old and new acquaintances alike shared food and conversation.

The hike had great views of Lake Superior

We finally agreed that it was time for the return trek that took us along the crest for a little while longer and then onto the gently sloping forest trail. Goodyear oblongifolia, one of the more common of the northern wild orchids, was beginning to bloom. The strange parasitic American Cancer Root was still in bloom. Reluctant to part ways, even after four hours of being together on the trail, many in the group met at a nearby resort for refreshment and the sharing of trail stories.