While this year's bitter winter has created its share of problems, Mother Nature has provided a beautiful and rare treat for those living in the upper Midwest. For the first time in five years, people can visit the mainland sea caves of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore by walking on a frozen Lake Superior. The lake's ice is thick and stable enough so that visitors can trek across it. The round-trip hike can take three hours or more, and yet, since officials declared the ice "low risk" on January 15, there have been more than 35,000 adventurous people who have taken the more than one-mile route.
"We have never had this number of people coming," park spokeswoman Julie Van Stappen told reporters. "It has been a bit overwhelming, but it has been great for the local community, and [the caves] are gorgeous."
Photographer Brian Peterson captured an otherworldly photo of the ice caves (above). You can see more of his photos in this gallery. In addition, photographer Andy Rathbun got his own first-hand look, taking the shots below and writing about his experience in this article. As he states, "Sandstone caves filled with thousands of icicles. Frozen branches hanging over cliffs, clamoring in the breeze like wind chimes. Blue ice, orange ice, white ice.
"Winter is not without its gifts, and this year, it has built a cathedral along the shore of Lake Superior."
He goes on, "Waves have splashed across the cliffs, leaving ice sheets along their faces. Waterfalls, some made by underground springs jutting out from bedrock, have frozen in place before breaking and crumbling like Roman ruins. Consistent cold has kept hoarfrost-covered cave icicles untouched.
"The views of this winter wonderland are spectacular, and people are taking note."