Munising is a year-round destination for nature lovers. It is uniquely located between the Hiawatha National Forest and the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and has a wealth of recreational activities for diverse interests and abilities. Wintertime is a great season to visit Munising. It is famous for skiing, ice-fishing, snowmobiling and of course the gorgeous ice columns, or curtains, that form over unique geology.
The bedrock geology, exposed in Munising, is sedimentary and part of the shallow sea environment that formed the Michigan basin dating back to the Cambrian and Early Ordovician periods (approximately 500-800 million years before present). The exposed rocks you will encounter on Sand Point Road belong to the Munising and the AuTrain Formations. The AuTrain Formation is a capstone and is made up of a hard dolomitic sandstone and forms the top of the rock outcrops around Munising. Underlying the AuTrain Formation is the Munising Formation which has three members: the Miners Castle sandstone which is very light colored and crumbly; the Chapel Rock sandstone which is comprised of well-cemented rock with defined cross bedding; and a basal conglomerate. As indicated on the map above, there is a lot of topographic relief along Sand Point Road. This area has been been dissected by the wetlands perched above.
The bedrock makes for very interesting drainage patterns for upland wetlands and especially fascinating ice formations over the course of a winter. The upland wetlands form both seeps and small streams that drain down the face of the escarpment. This creates a unique environment for rare plants and beautiful ice curtains. The more water that drains over the rocks edge in the winter, the more the ice columns expand and grow into spectacular ice curtains over time. These magnificent displays of unique ice outcrop in several places along the Munising Formation escarpment but none as accessible perhaps as those along Sand Point Road.
The ice curtains along Sand Point Road can be accessed by parking either at Munising Falls, Sand Point, or at a small parking area located between the Prelude and Opening Curtain ice formations. Visitors typically walk Sand Point Road to the trails that lead up the bluff. These steep trails are not marked but are rather packed snow from foot traffic and very slippery. Be sure to wear appropriate footwear and take your time when climbing the slope. After you ascend the first trail you encounter, there should be a connecting trail, formed by fellow visitors walking in the snow, that follows the base of the escarpment. There are nine ice curtains noted by the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore along Sand Point Road. I visited four of them with my husband. Here is our photographic journal along with a few observations.
Walking up the steep slope to the "Opening Curtain" ice formation was a thrilling experience. We did not really know what to expect when we headed uphill toward the base of the escarpment. When we broke out of the cedar forest, a little breathless with anticipation, we came into view of our first ice curtain it was a moment of true awe. These ice sculptures truly are unique and beautiful. They are ever changing with the angle of light, new ice, and position of the observer. A closer look behind the ice and we found more things of interest.
We noted that where the ice met the escarpment there were lovely "frost flowers" blooming on the rock wall. It was dark behind the ice, so the picture did not turn out great but you can see how the ice grows. Also found at the "Opening Curtain" ice formation is a rare plant called the Curly Grass fern. It is easily identified by the grass-like vegetation that remains evergreen throughout the year. The Curly Grass fern was growing at the base of the Munising Formation.
This ice curtain is simply called "Curtains" and it is stunning. It is comprised of clear ice, blue ice, and some fine gray particulate suspended in ice. The fine crenelations of the ice flows are really something to see in this ice curtain. In some places they almost resemble corkscrews descending the ice wall.
The fascinating ice formations at the base of "Curtains" resembled Travertine deposits that you find in caves such as Mammoth Cave, KY or perhaps ever the deposits at Pemukelle, Turkey. Ice, not unlike a mineral, is solidifying out of a solution and forming into a shape. It is really interesting to see how these things happen in nature. It is great fun to always be looking to see what is hiding in plain sight.
The "Dryer Hose" location is an incredibly intricate ice curtain that also forms a gorgeous ice cave. A series of small seeps/streams flows over the face of the rock from the perched wetlands above. This water source has enough energy to transport sediments and creates a lovely reddish-brown striped effect to the ice below. Upon close inspection, you can see the sand grains suspended in the ice. This ice curtain is a lovely mix of white ice, reddish-brown ice, and blue-green ice. The hues change with the time of day and the angle of the light. We went behind the ice curtain and were amazed at the incredible beauty surrounding us. This was just like an actual cave with ice stalactites and ice stalagmites. The blues and greens of the ice behind the curtain were so intense, it could be captured with an iPhone camera. The colors, textures, and sounds of water all seemed more intense inside this ice cave than outside. Perhaps because you are surrounded by such beauty, your senses are piqued and a true sense of wonder besets you.
The ice curtain called "Amphitheater" is a hotspot for ice climbers. It has a sizable stream that flows down the rock face from the wetland above and the ice is an incredible shade of blue. Since there is water flowing at a stronger rate, this location also has the sand grains suspended in areas as well. This gives the ice that lovely reddish-brown, striped effect.
The sun was getting lower in the sky when we visited the "Amphitheater" ice curtain. The resulting hue of blue was stunning and dapples of light on the ice through the trees was simply gorgeous. Visiting these ice formations and interacting with the ice, at different times of the day will yield different experiences. I suggest mixing it up if you can, visit multiple times morning and evening, just to see how the running water, snow, light and trees change the way you experience the ice. This is a magical place and one to be visited over and over.