Into the Valley of the Giants

South Manitou Island, Sept. 2002

Last weekend I travelled to South Manitou Island in Lake Michigan to visit the Valley of the Giants, a stand of old-growth white cedar.  Some of the trees there date from the time of Columbus.  I am a big fan of old-growth forests, having visited most of the remaining virgin stands in Wisconsin and Michigan.  This was a two day trip and quite an adventure, since I had to drive all the way to Glen Arbor in Lower Michigan (about 3/4 of the way up, just West of Traverse City), then sail across the Manitou passage to land on the Island and make my way to the Valley of the Giants.

To cross the Manitou Passage I used my vetaran sunfish left over from my travels in the Apostle Islands.  I originally purchased this hull for $20 and converted it for heavy-duty use.  All the fittings have been strengthened and the deck seal re-fiberglassed.  In addition, the interior can be used for storage and then sealed with port hole covers.

Here is my landing spot just West of the abandoned light house on South Manitou Island.  The advantage of using a Sunfish for this type of work is that you can land it almost anywhere.  The hull is extremely tough and takes to being pulled over rocks quite nicely.  A heavier boat requires a harbor and a dock to land, which are in short supply in this area of Lake Michigan.

Actually, the approach to the Valley of the Giants was quite nice.  It was only a 3 mile hike or so, but some of the forest was quite old and the weather was very pleasant.  Ideal conditions for playing with the camera!

 Here I am about half way across the passage.  The sail over was very easy, downwind the entire way and very calm.  A little too calm, maybe, it was quite slow (about 3 hours to make the 7-mile crossing), but very pleasant.  I actually managed to lie down and read a magazine for awhile.

There are quite a few buildings left on the island, as recently as WWII there were still 70 people living on the island.  But now I think there are only a few vacation cottages left, most of the buildings have plaques in front of them.  There are also some abandoned farms and at least one cemetary.

After landing I put on my hiking gear and made my way to the Valley of the Giants.  South Manitou Island is inhabited only by a single National Park Ranger, whom I never did find.  So I was alone on the Island for the weekend, very very nice.

Well, this is what I came to see, after 9 hours of driving, 3 hours of sailing, and two hours of hiking. The North American Champion White Cedar.  At least I think it is, this is the only tree there with a fence around it and it is quite large.  But it is also quite dead, as far as I can see.  But I have had this experience before, when visiting the "MacArthur Pine" in Wisconsin, this champion tree also looked quite dead.  I think a tree remains a champion as long as no one mentions anything contrary to the judges.  Here are the specs I found online about this tree and its championship status:

Location: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, MI
Circumference: 216 inches
Height: 113 feet
Spread: 42 feet
Points: 340
Most Recent Measurement: 1978

Nominator/s: Paul W. Thompson


After spending some more time among the giants, it was getting late and I needed to find a campsite.  I hiked out of the valley and made my way to one of the NPS campsites on the South Shore of the Island.  I got to camp on top of a nice bluff overlooking the Manitou Passage.  The stars came out for some time and I ate a nice meal and got plenty of sleep.  I woke up, made my way back to the sunfish, and headed out into the passage.  The wind on Monday was much better than the day before, but unfortunately mostly out of the South.  So I spent three hours beating into chop, a lot of work and water everywhere.  Some water even made it into the camera, some of my photos were trashed.  But it was a great great trip!

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