Rock Island State Park – Part 2

Part 2 of my visit to Rock Island State Park.  You can view Part 1 here and Part 3 will be coming soon.  Buckle up, this is a long post but worth it (in my opinion).  Here we go!

(Don’t forget to click on photos for a larger view with more detail!)

Thordarson Trail

After setting up camp and a quick lunch snack, I set out on the Thordarson Trail that circles the island perimiter.

Wildflowers are abundant in many open areas.  Not sure what the purple ones are, orange ones seem to be Michigan Lily or maybe Tiger Lily.

The first clearing is labeled Rutabaga Field on the map.  Not sure why – maybe they grew crops here during early settlement times?  South shore beach access is open here but rocky.

Heading around the SE corner of the island you begin to notice how much diversity exits in the forest.  Tightly packed conifers give way to deciduous so thick it would be impassable if they didn’t cut a path.  In the NE corner this again changes and opens up, also revealing numerous tree roots and exposed rock with minimal amounts of dirt below foot.

On the east side you can find the remnants of an old fishing settlement.  I climbed down to the beach and spotted large metal debris that look like parts of a shipwreck but couldn’t really tell for sure.  Standing here I imagined going back to the mid 1800’s and it wasn’t hard to see this must have been a tough existence.

Thordarson built a large stone water tower near this old settlement in the same Scandinavian style as other buildings.

A diverse array of butterfly species can be found here as well.  I spent way too much time trying to get photos of these – shocking how fast they can be to a camera lens!  In order: Monarch (orange), Northern Pearly Eye (brownish), Clouded Sulphur (yellow).

North from the water tower is another cemetery.  Here lie Cecilia Miner and Rosalinda Miner, daughters of Thomas Miner and Minerva Thompson. Both died very young.

Off the NE coast you can climb down the (dolomite?) cliffs to exposed flat rocks that sit just above water level depending on the tides.

Views here, in my opinion, have the potential to rival many others across our state.  The water was eerily still in this small bay – deceiving for how powerful and violent Lake Michigan can get when weather kicks up.

After looping back onto the western trail, the earth below changes to a more sandy composition in areas and feels like a different place than the west shores.

Views back across towards Washington Island.  Clouds looked like rain for a while but nothing materialized.

Here’s the main outhouse for the island.  Looking back in this direction you can see the clouds dissipated and gave way to blue skies over land.

Pottawatomie Lighthouse

While hiking the Thordarson Trail you can visit the Pottawatomie Lighthouse at the north tip of the island.

First build in 1836, this is Wisconsin’s first and oldest lighthouse which pre-dates Wisconsin becoming a state.  Friends of Rock Island have volunteers who give tours and live here for 1 week at a time during summer months.

Atop the lighthouse is a huge replica Fresnel lens that looks like something out of a science-fiction movie.  Actual lighthouse duties are now handled by an automated unit operated by the US Coast Guard.

Misc Exploration

Once back at the docks I modified my loop towards the far SW point of the island with intentions of circling the entire shore.  This area sticks out in a small peninsula and is very rocky.  Several campsites face back this direction with great views of the boathouse.

Here is a view at the tip of the peninsula looking back to Washington Island.  Under the surface there is a land bridge connecting both islands which could sometimes be walked on in years gone by – no longer the case as water levels are too high.

View from the peninsula back along the southern shoreline.  Very rocky here and waters were rough and dangerous.

After getting back to my campsite, I kept moving east to a nearby sandy beach entrance.  While swimming here to wash off my sweat, I noticed a large-ish water snake swimming out from the water onto the beach with a big meal in it’s grasp.  I badly wanted to get video but couldn’t run fast enough back to my camera before the snake slipped back into the waves.

Sunset at Thordarson Boathouse

After taking a dinner break back at camp, I hiked back out to the boathouse area and watched the sunset across the bay.  Here’s the sun above the horizon:

And here is the sun halfway below the horizon.  Not many clouds to reflect colors but I’m not complaining at all.

Another view including part of the boathouse.

And here’s the opposite angle looking back at the boathouse after the sun has fully set.  Love the contrasting colors on this one, and how the windows appear to be on fire.


Short video, too short in fact.  I really need to take more footage in 2019, eh?

Hiking Data

Thordarson Trail loop around the whole island.  Slightly modified to include the far SW point and cover the entire perimeter.

Short hike from my campsite to the nearby beach access to the east.  Slow movement here due to all the powdery sand.

This was my lazy “hike” from my campsite back to the main boathouse area to view the sunset and fill up on water.  Took a different route so I could see the rest of the campground area.

Lat = 45.4095879 , Long = -86.8289871 -- Show at Google Maps

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