The Au Sable Light Station
Au Sable Point, United States
The Au Sable Light Station Au Sable Point Reviews
The Au Sable Light Station Jul 22, 2009
The stretch of Lake Superior shoreline between Grand Island off Munising and Whitefish Point to the east was the most feared by early mariners who had to navigate within sight of land. The treacherous stretch was rightfully known as the 'Shipwreck Coast'. Rocky cliffs, shallow reefs, strong north winds, and inclement weather all made the seasonal waters a natural trap for the early schooners and steamers hauling iron ore, lumber, and coal on the largest of the Great Lakes. The Au Sable Light Station went into service on August 19, 1874. Its steady white light warned mariners of a shallow sandstone reef extending a mile off Au Sable Point located about twelve miles west of Grand Marais, Michigan. Besides for the reef, the area is notorious for thick fog created by the mixing of cold air of the lake with warm air rising from the nearby Grand Sable Dunes. Numerous shipwrecks scatter the beach just west of this station.
The light originally burned lard oil, later changing to kerosene which was more efficient. Its three-wicker flame was augmented to 6,750 candlepower by a third order Fresnel Lens manufactured by L. Sauter & Company of Paris, France. The resulting light was visible for 17 miles with a focal plane of 107 feet above the lake.
During summer months the National Park Service offers tours of the Au Sable Light Station for $3. My guides, Gina and Karina, were very informative and explained the construction and early life at the station, its numerous additions and alterations over the years, and its operation. The original duplex keeper's house was closed for renovations at the time of my visit but the 86-foot white painted brick tower was open. Two windowed landings made the spiral climb on grated iron steps surprisingly easy.
A gallery just below the lantern room had four small arched windows facing north, south, east, and west. A slot in the conical wall supported a small table where light keepers noted daily observations. From there we climbed the final spiral stairs into the lantern room. The original bullet-shaped third order Fresnal lens was displayed there. It was easy to see how a flickering kerosene flame reflected 90 degrees was augmented to 6,750 candlepower by the lens' stacked rings of triangular-shaped thick glass, each acting as a prism and magnifier. In daytime, the lantern room was curtained off since the prism works both ways making sunlight a potential fire hazard. Views of unspoiled natural surroundings were spectacular despite strong northwest winds and a fear of heights.
The Au Sable Light Station can be reached by hiking either 1.5 miles east from the Lower Hurricane River Campground or 3.5 miles west from the Log Slide in the Grand Sable Dunes. All three sites fall within the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and can be found by following County Road H-58 west from Grand Marais.
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