MUSKEGON, MI. -- It was back in early winter 2015 when we had just recorded the coldest February on record in West Michigan. The ice on Lake Michigan at/near the shore was about 12 to 18 inches thick and was rock solid like a fortress. So why run a story about these fabulous Lake Michigan (and rare) ice caves in the spring? Simple...we didn't want thousands of people flocking to the ice to check them out no matter how safe it is/was. So enjoy what we shot!
As a scientist and Meteorologist...I made sure to venture out on the lake with people that do it all the time, plus we had safety equipment in the event we needed it. As I said, the lake was solid, but I realize there is still water moving beneath the ice. Hundreds of others were also on hand to see this rare spectacle, but we didn't want to send even more people out by running the story at that time.
While ice caves in the Great Lakes are generally not rare, here in West Michigan on Lake Michigan they are...especially when they are large enough to walk in to and walk around inside like a seven-room mansion. The real hazard I faced with a camera and tripod was the ice being so polished (as if it were actually buffed) that it was very slippery in spots. The beauty, scope, and magnitude of these caves at Pere Marquette beach were absolutely amazing and incredible. Stalactites, long icicles that form and hang from the ceiling, and stalagmites, long icicles that grow upwards from the cave floor appear like rock formations similar to ones found in the Carlsbad, New Mexico caverns in the United States.
To think that mother nature along with Lake Michigan sculpted this beauty and awe in just a matter of days or a week or two is unbelievable. The caves we were in were huge and there was more than one. Along with us was lakeshore photographer Jeremy Church. He's been a regular contributor to FOX 17 of some fabulous photos all year round, so what better person to lead us through the caves than someone that has been along the lakeshore in all conditions and seasons. Click here to get to Jeremy's Facebook page.
The caves are formed by wave and wind action. Strong winds tend to push ice higher and higher as ice piles build to five, ten, even 20 feet or more. Waves then carve out spectacular crevices and the freezing spray creates icicle-like formations. Once the wind calms, more sheet ice is formed on the water. So the floor of the caves is actually the surface of Lake Michigan completely frozen over. On the day we visited it was solid ice as far as the eye could see. The other thing? The Muskegon caves were NOT visible from the shore at all. What appeared to be small snow or ice mounds could be seen from shore, but in order to really grasp a view and see the magnitude of the caves one would have had to venture several yards on the ice.
This was the first time I had ever experienced anything like this. To see Lake Michigan in its summer beauty with rolling waves, sandy beaches, beautiful sunsets is one thing, but these enormous ice crusted caves that rise 20 to 30 feet above the surface of the frozen lake and tower over everything was certainly a site to remember. My hope is that everyone enjoys the beauty and awe we were able to capture in this piece and mark a special 100th anniversary edition of West Michigan Stories.
Got any future story ideas or suggestions? Perhaps something historical....a building, a museum, or a company that produces something special or unusual...or maybe they supply something to the rest of the world? Even a personal profile on a special or unique person...someone that would be interesting or exciting. Drop me an email at Kevin@fox17online.com. If you'd like to see any of our other West Michigan Stories, click here to get to the web page.