Lake Superior Stones: A Collector’s Lament

I love rocks. I like looking at them, feeling them, collecting them, putting them in jars.


But here’s the problem with being a rock collector at a National Park–you can’t collect the rocks.


All these lovely rocks and you have to leave them be.


And anyway, when you’re backpacking, you can’t really start socking away a bunch of rocks in your pack. Every ounce counts.


So while I would have liked to bring home a bunch of stone souvenirs, I mostly left them alone and took pictures (though I have to admit, I brought a few little ones home…they were tiny, really…no one will miss them).


I generally like stones for how they look and I don’t get deep into their composition, rarity, or how they formed (although, that does interest me).


And there are people far better qualified to identify all of these beauties than I.


I can tell you that I saw sedimentary rocks, like sandstone and the great conglomerate above.


And that I saw igneous rocks, like strips of granite, through metamorphic rocks, like gneiss, which you can see in a couple of these photos. And I wonder just how that granite found its way in there.

And I saw this great little scene of erosion and shaping by the waves and wind on the beach, like Pictured Rocks in miniature.

But I left them all there. For your trip.

Sometimes, What You Seek Finds You

For most of my 33 years on the planet, as soon as I learned of the existence of Michigan’s state stone, the Petoskey stone, I have been searching for one. You can buy them all over up north in stores, pre-polished and sometimes cut into the shape of the state or a bear or some such thing. But I wanted to find one. And so, every trip I’ve taken up north to areas that potentially have Petoskey stones, I have walked, hunched, eyes peeled in the hopes that I might find one. Just one. That’s all I would need to be satisfied.

The Petoskey stone can only be found in certain parts of the state because it’s not just any rock. It’s a fossil. Fossilized coral from the long ago days when Michigan was beneath a sea. Now, any visit to just about any natural lake in the state can yield marine fossils. I have scads of them. But Petoskey stones are one particular type of coral and are found, unsurprisingly, in the Petoskey, Michigan, area.

Devonian fossils like the Petoskey stone can be found in the blue regions.

In their rough state they look like pockmarked gray rocks, unremarkable and, compared to the lovely igneous rocks you can find in all colors, pretty forgettable. But shined up they reveal their true beauty.

As I said, I have never found one of these myself. But suddenly this week at Camp Lake Louise (an area to which Petoskey stones are not indigenous) six—yes, six—of these stones found me. (This is the spot I’d insert a photo, but I forgot my camera cord at home and my laptop refuses to read my xD card. Curses! I’ll share them with you at a later date.)

The funny thing is, they’ve been right under my feet the whole time. I’ve been up here probably fifteen times, once for an entire summer, and have walked over these rocks every time I’ve been here. And for the past five years I’ve stayed in a cabin mere paces from where I found the stones. In fact, two of them I found right up against and under the deck.

How did they get here? The ninety-year-old craft shop guru Wilma tells me that some time ago when they were doing some sort of construction project they brought in fill from another area of the state. After that, people started finding Petoskey stones a lot. My stones have apparently been working their way to the surface for a while.

It’s funny how you can look for something for so long you almost feel that you were destined never to find it. And then suddenly, without warning and without much effort on your part beyond keeping your eyes open, you can be overwhelmed with success.

And now I must get back to work here at camp, feeling the breeze off the lake, listening to loons, watching the bald eagles fish, and scanning the ground for treasures.