John L's Old Maps / Supplementary Pages:
Views of the Apostle Islands
Page VII: TAKING THE ICE ROAD
Photos 1-5: Riding the Windsled.
Photos 1 and 2 show the ice road as seen from the upper west tip of Madeline Island, as one looks northwesterly toward Bayfield on the mainland about two miles away. Most years – generally January through mid-March – the ice road acts as a bridge, allowing commerce to proceed efficiently. It officially becomes an extension of Ashland County Highway H which otherwise loops through Madeline Island like the number 6. Used Christmas trees mark the median strip of this multi-lane freeway.
There are those awkward times (as Photo 2 would suggest) when the ice is forming or breaking up – and when the ferries are iced in – when island residents and visitors depend on a particularly unique and efficient means of transportation to haul themselves and their stuff back and forth. On March 15, 2004, when these photos were taken, the ice could still support snowmobiles, the occasional hardy pedestrian and very lucky small-truck drivers. But the time was nigh for "normal" driving to cease and that large, propeller-driven, amphibious snowmobile – the windsled – to rule the frozen waves.
In Photos 3 and 4, the windsled, a new Windmark Ice Angel IV that can hold at least 25 passengers, loads up in Bayfield for an afternoon run to Madeline Island. It probably only took 5-6 minutes to get there; one can lose track of time when experiencing such a thing for the first time. Photo 5 shows the windsled's approach (with the landing gear about to be deployed) to Griggs Landing on the northwest tip of the island. A close-up of the front is seen here. More about the windsled experience can be seen in the video here! Also note the reference below.
Photos 6-18: Driving the Ice Road.
Driving one's car to Madeline Island on the ice road can be as unique and thrilling an experience as riding the windsled. Particularly unique is the fact that such a transit is free! My opportunity to take my car for such a spin came on March 8, 2008 when the ice was plenty thick (after a spell of sub-zero temperatures) and the freshly-plowed road was wide enough to accomodate three lanes in each direction. Photos 9-14 were taken from the car on the trip from Bayfield to Grigg's Landing on the island. My tiny dashcam (seen in Photo 10) caught the entire nine minute ride in the movie presented below. Photo 11 shows an especially blue stretch of ice.
My initial objective in traveling to Madeline Island on this day was actually to satisfy my desire for one of the Mission Hill Coffee House's legendary gyros sandwiches. This had to wait till another day when I could get there before closing. So after a few hours at Big Bay Beach and around La Pointe which consisted of the usual picture-taking (below) and getting into people's way, it was time to head back to the mainland on the ice road once again as chronicled in Photos 15-18.
Photos 19-32: Some Late-Winter Photos Taken around La Pointe and Big Bay.
After being deposited on the island by the windsled on March 15, 2004, I walked around La Pointe and took a number of snapshots including those shown in Photos 19-23.
Having wheels on March 8, 2008 I took some more wintertime shots of La Pointe (Photos 24-28) and then headed out to Big Bay beach (Photos 29-32) where you can dependably count on having a truly unique experience – something that holds true no matter what time of year along the shoreline as might be hinted at here. The waves had deposited thin slabs of ice in piles along the shore to be rearranged by visiting artisans into the "icehenges" seen here. As the lake ice warmed up in the sun and was pressed from underneath by currents, the constant cracking and groaning was most audible and almost sounded like a school of whales.
More photos of Madeline Island in the Winter are on Page X.
To learn about winter travel among the islands and the evolution of windsleds from a primary authority, read On Thin Ice – Windsleds at Madeline Island by Charles R. Nelson (2001), available from the Windsled Museum website. This unique book is loaded with interesting photos, historical accounts and mechanical details. It also drives home the fact that the windsled is the ultimate all-season emergency vehicle on the lake, blowing away probably anything the Coast Guard can throw at whatever situation. A word of advice if you plan on riding the windsled: Wear some hearing protection! Bring along a couple big wads of cotton if nothing else.
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All photos on these pages are by myself unless noted otherwise.
This page was last modified on 5/5/20 at 2:30 PM, MDT.
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University of Wisconsin – Madison
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