In June, Mikah Meyer left Washington, D.C., for the road trip of a lifetime: to travel across America and visit the more than 400 sites within the U.S. National Park Service. His journey has two purposes: to honor his late father who passed away when Mikah was a teenager, and to celebrate the park service’s 100th birthday and raise awareness about America’s national treasures, especially among millennials.
Mikah cools off by a waterfall in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio.
VOA has been following Mikah’s adventures as he journeys from state to state, posting the stunning photos that he and his companion Andy Waldron have been taking, and sharing the interesting observations he’s been making along the way.
America's Great Lakes
"July has been the month of the Great Lakes,” Mikah noted in a recent phone conversation as he was winding his way along the coastline in his big white van.
Four of America’s largest lakes border the Midwestern state of Michigan, which is home to the world’s longest freshwater coastline and more than 11,000 inland lakes, spread across its lower and upper peninsulas.
Mikah Meyer enjoys the view of Lake Michigan from Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore before heading north along the lakeshore.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park in Glen Arbor, Michigan gave Mikah his first taste of the Great lakes with its many miles of sandy white beaches and towering bluffs.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Heading north, Mikah and Andy drove to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, on the coast of Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
"That’s a place that has to be experienced from the water,” observed Mikah. “It doesn't look like much from the mainland, but then you get out on the boat and you get up close to these rocks that have been ground away by waves and weather over the years, you see these epic archways and large chunks of earth that just fell out.”
“So basically you see up close the way that Mother Nature is still changing the earth without any impact [from] man," he said, "creating this gorgeous landscape full of different colors and different shapes and sizes.”
Chapel Rock was once connected to the mainland by an arch which fell in the 1940s. Today all that remains are roots of the white pine.
One scene in particular stood out in his mind.
“In one instance, there was a little island of land basically sticking out -- a peninsula of land -- and it was a tree on that little island and the dirt underneath the tree fell out into the water but the roots remained and they were hanging suspended in the air attached to the mainland as a way to get minerals.”
Another highlight of his visit there was the beach, which Mikah said reminded him of the tropics.
“The sailboats could have been in the Caribbean,” he said. “The water was as blue as I've seen in pictures of the Caribbean, until you got in the water and it was in the ‘50s.”
Sandy beaches are just one of the unique and diverse features at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan. While the water may look warm and inviting, it is extremely cold.
But that didn't stop people from diving in and swimming, he pointed out. “So it was this weird juxtaposition of feeling like I was in the Caribbean and then touching the water and remembering it’s Lake Superior, the coldest of all the Great Lakes.”
Isle Royale National Park (by boat or plane)
The two friends then drove to Houghton, Michigan, on the Keweenaw Peninsula that juts out from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Mikah alone took a flight in a small plane to Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior.
“It’s one of the least-visited national parks in the country," he pointed out. "It only receives 18,000 visitors a year and one of the reasons I'm guessing is that you have to get there only by boat or by plane.”
Being in untamed wilderness without many visitors is what's truly unique about this park, Mikah said. Without cell phone or Internet service, “It forces you to interact with nature.”
But at $150 for a round trip plane ticket, it made him think about accessibility in the parks, “Since that would be an experience that only people with means can do because of the expense.”
Keweenaw National Historical Park
After an overnight stay in the wilds of Isle Royale, Mikah landed back in Houghton and set out for Keweenaw National Historical Park, the site of the first "copper boom" in the United States.
This wall is one of the few remaining structures at the now-closed Quincy mine in Keweenaw National Historic Park, which was part of the first copper boom in the United States.
From 7,000 years ago until the 1900s, people mined copper here. Native Americans made it into tools and trade items. Investors and immigrants arrived in the 1800s in a great mineral rush, developing thriving industries and cosmopolitan communities.
The park, which is spread out over multiple locations across the Keweenaw Peninsula, was established to preserve and interpret the story of the rise, domination and decline of the region’s copper mining industry.
Though the mines have since closed, their mark is still visible on the land and people.
Apostle Islands - Jewels of Lake Superior
Mikah and Andy left Michigan for the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, which consists of 21 islands and shoreline encompassing 28,000 hectares on the northern tip of Wisconsin on the shore of Lake Superior.
Kayakers get a unique perspective of the sea caves at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin
At first, Mikah wasn’t impressed.
“When Andy and I first got on the boat at Apostle Islands, I joked to him and said, ‘O.K., why is this a park? I’ve seen hundreds of islands that are covered in trees in the middle of the lake.’ But then the boat got to the Northwest side of the island… and then I really jumped out of my seat and saw why this is a National Lakeshore and that's because of something affectionately called the sea caves, even though we’re on a lake.”
The sandstone along the shore has been washed away through years of wave activity and stormy weather, Mikah explained, making the sea caves look a lot like Pictured Rocks. But on this island, he said, “Those amazing sea caves could hypothetically collapse at any moment.”
During some winters, Lake Superior and the sea caves at Wisconsin's Apostle Islands National Lakeshore freeze over, giving visitors a unique opportunity to do some ice climbing.
In winter, those rocks freeze over, creating a spectacular winter wonderland where people can climb the icy surfaces.
“It’s stunning,” Mikah said, and “a totally different visual experience.”
The biggest difference between the two parks, he concluded, was that Pictured Rocks is a single, solid, straight mainland whereas Apostle Islands “is both the mainland and 21 islands that have all been changed in some way by the weather and by the water.”
Mikah is relieved to be spending his summer months up in the northern part of the country. While the nation’s capital - where he launched his trip - bakes in sweltering heat and humidity, Mikah and Andy are happy to be traveling along America’s cooler Great Lakes.
Mikah plans to spend a couple days in the seaport city of Duluth, Minnesota before heading to Grand Portage National Monument on the north shore of Lake Superior in northeastern Minnesota.
To follow Mikah and learn more about the places he’s traveling to, he invites you to visit him on his website.