A few weeks ago I took a drive through the Painted Rocks National Lakeshore in the Upper Peninsula. During that trip, I walked along a two-mile stretch of beach just past the Painted Rock cliffs. What I found was a colorful beach, full of boulders, rocks and pebbles yet lacking sand.
Most remarkable about this beach was the deep red coloring of the bedrock. At points along the beach, the entire shore was red with only the lightest streaks of tan. Returning home, curious about the red and tan rocks, I did a bit of digging into the geological history of the region. I found that the rock I was intrigued about was sandstone. It receives it colors from mineral stain. It is run off from iron, once the main source of wealth in the UP, that gives provides red and orange coloring. The sandstone can also be colored by copper (blue and green), manganese (brown and block) and limonite (white).
The most fascinating explanation for the coloring of the Painted Rocks, however, comes from the Ojiwbe. They tell the story of a great battle fought over 300 years ago.
The Iroquois sent a war party into the Upper Peninsula to strike at the Ojibwe people settling along the Lake Superior shore. Among the Iroquois was a clan mother. As the war party neared Ojibwe lands, she had a vision of a great massacre. She warned her people, yet her words went unheeded. The Iroquois band landed on a beach just west of Whitefish Point. For four days they prepared for war by drumming and dancing. On the fifth day, they slept.
In the dark of night the Ojibwe struck from the dense forest, slaughtering the Iroquois. The entire war party was butchered, save two warriors who merely lost their hands. These two warriors were sent back to the Iroquois to serve as a warning to their tribe.
The dead Iroquois had their heads lined along the shore, where their blood forever stained the rocks, cliffs and beaches.
The Painted Rocks National Lakeshore is between Munising and Grand Marais. The hour-long drive between the two communities offers scenic views, massive dunes, abundant wildlife, miles of wooded trails, several waterfalls, and unique beach landscapes.