Sometimes in life you only have one chance to get things right. So you do the best you can and in the end you wind up disappointed.
That's what I thought had happened to me after my first visit to the Mainland Sea Caves in January. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, but after editing the photos it seemed like I had missed an opportunity. The pictures just didn't seem that great.
The caves and ice formations are located a few miles east of Cornucopia Wisconsin along the shore of Lake Superior. They are part of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore which is administered by the National Park Service.
Lucky for me, yesterday I got the chance to try again. The weather report said Saturday would be sunny, so I drove six hours from my house to the parking area and arrived at 5am. Sunrise would be about 6:30am.
I took a camera, tripod, several lenses, and headed out in the dark. I hoped to be at some beautiful ice formations when the sun got up.
The best laid plans and all of that. I walked the three miles from the parking area to the end of the caves, looking at various ice formations, caves, and scenery to find a good location to shoot sunrise. The above photo shows what sunrise turned out to be. It was cancelled. No sunrise.
Needless to say, I was a little disappointed. I prefer to photograph with natural light and am not a fan of flash photography. So with no sun to be found, I needed a new plan.
I decided to hold out hope that the meteorologists knew what they were talking about (this was the only day I could actually be at the sea caves) and stay out on the ice until sunset. Hopefully the clouds would break and the sun would make an appearance. I spent a little time photographing monochromatic stuff like the images above, before I put my camera away and put the rest of my warm clothes on.
I think these nests are built by cliff swallows and they will use them again this spring. I spotted them high on a sandstone cliff as I searched for a comfortable place to sit out of the wind. Eventually I found a gap in the rocks, though not really a cave, with some dry driftwood. I used the wood to make a seat and settled in to wait.
After about an hour I worked my way back towards the other end of the caves and ice. Still no sun. Until a couple of hours later........... when the clouds began to break, and sunlight hit the snow covering Lake Superior. That little piece of land in the middle of the frame is Eagle Island.
I spent the next couple of hours photographing things like this sunburst above a huge column of ice which formed around a natural spring.
Some people walking past a curtain of ice hanging all the way to ground. And other amazing ice formations and shapes that seemed to be endless in number.
Everywhere I looked there were beautiful forms and colors. This year the Sea Caves had received a lot of media attention which meant there were a lot of people out there, especially in the middle of the day.
The caves had become quite a happening. I think it's cool that so many people are spending their time and money to see this. The Park Service estimated that more than 20,000 people are there on some weekends. Though the crowds are large, I found the people to be friendly, happy, and considerate.
Lots of ooohs, and aahhhs, and happy kids and dogs. Like this one someone posed on a ice formation for a neat photo op.
As the light got better and sunset grew near it was just a matter of choosing a subject and making some images.
I had to remind myself to look up every once in awhile, and when I did I found scenes like these white birches against the blue sky.
There were so many choices and so many beautiful landscapes to choose from.
By the time the sun actually set I was tired from my day on the ice. But, I was still smiling and determined to make the most of the opportunity and light.
This 3 foot piece of an icicle stands like a sentinel on Lake Superior as the sun drops below the horizon.
After walking part of the way back, I paused and pulled out the camera one last time to capture this silhouette of a big pine tree. I finally got off of the ice and back to my car at 7pm. I had been out there for fourteen hours and it was a day well spent. I haven't edited many of the photos yet, but I like what I see so far. I guess sometimes in life, you really do get a second chance.