The polar vortex that has gripped the northern part of the country in record temperatures has also allowed National Park Service officials to escort visitors to ice caves off Lake Superior's shore in Wisconsin shore for the first time in five years.
The park service monitors the conditions along the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and told Smithsonian magazine
that ice is solid enough to support tourists on the one-mile walk from the mainland to the caves.
Bob Krumanaker, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore superintendent, told Wisconsin Public Radio
that more than 1,000 people visited the caves over a recent weekend. He said he hopes visitors will be able to see the caves for another six weeks.
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"For most people, walking on a frozen Great Lake is just a remarkable experience psychologically, let alone physically," Krumanaker told Wisconsin Public Radio. "It's pretty solid generally and depending on the visibility it could be white as far as you can see. But you know the lake is under it and sometimes you can even feel the ice move a little bit."
"The caves' beauty varies dramatically with the season," says the National Parks Service on its website
. "In summer the red sandstone is sandwiched between sapphire blue lake and emerald green forests that grow right up to the brink of the cliffs. . . . By February, an ice bridge might connect Sand Island to the mainland. The lake surface is usually a frozen white expanse.
"Frozen lake water encrusts the base of the cliffs. Inside the caves awaits a fairyland of needlelike icicles. The formations change from chamber to chamber and from day to day," says the park service's website.
Krumanaker told Wisconsin Public Radio that visitors found the natural frozen sculpture created in the caves a visually pleasing experience.
"You're looking at these beautiful rock formations, but they’re covered by stalactites and stalagmites made of ice," said Krumanaker. "And then if you carefully crawl under some of that ... the ice is completely smooth and generally completely clear underneath it. So it's like there’s a glass floor that you can see the bottom of the lake."
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