BAYFIELD, Wis. - At Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, the cruelest of winters has delivered the kindest of views.
For the first time in five years, ice conditions on Lake Superior are suitable for foot traffic to the sea caves along Lake Superior's south shore.
More than 75,000 people have visited the caves since mid-January, among them Jo Zimmel, a teacher from St. Paul. "This is the blessing of the polar vortex," she said. "Mother Nature does the best artwork and she's done a beautiful job."
Remnants of lake waves created the base of the ice display, while seepage through porous sandstone cliffs produced galleries of icicles.
"It's hard to get the scale of it," said Deb Hutson of Golden Valley as she stood with her camera beneath ice columns that would dwarf a southern mansion. "I finally had to take some pictures with people in it because you just can't get the scale of it."
The National Park Service estimates more than 10,000 people have viewed the caves on the busiest weekend days, five times more visitors than the park had experienced on any single day in its history.
Neil Howk, a park spokesman, says there's no way of knowing how long good ice conditions will last. He suggests checking the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore website before departing for the ice caves.
Visitors can also check ice conditions by calling the park's ice line at 715-779-3397 - extension 3.