History’s Gem of the Month: Lake Superior Editorial

December 2007

This month’s History Gem continues with the Lake Superior information theme. Recently, I received an email from David J. Krause, a geology professor from Ann Arbor, MI. He is a UP enthusiast who wrote the book “The Making of a Mining District” about the history of copper mining in Michigan. David’s wife is from Ontonagon, where her father named a fish tug after her and her cousin: the Sheryl-Dennis. In fact, as David reports, for some years the tug belonged to Grand Marais fisheries.

Through a mutual friend, he found out about the web page and the Gitche Gumee Museum. He sent me an email to tell me about his campaign to have Lake Superior officially designated the lowest point in North America. In his email, David reports: “I am dead serious about getting this information out and the need for correcting the “Death Valley thing” thrown around by national people who should know better. For many years I made sure that everyone who took my geology class understood it. The Death Valley defenders will likely argue that the bottom of Lake Superior is under water, but this is a non-issue for several reasons. Death Valley (Badwater Basin) is itself a lake during part of some years, and the fact that the Lake Superior basin happens to hold fresh water (not marine salt water) is irrelevant to its structure.”

In his campaign effort, David sent the following letter to the National Geographic Magazine:

Editor, National Geographic Magazine:

Your article on Death Valley (Nov 2007) includes a photograph with a caption that states: “At 282 feet below sea level, Badwater Basin is North America’s lowest point.” This is not correct. Lake Superior currently occupies what is by far the lowest structural basin on the North American continent. The surface elevation of Lake Superior is usually cited as about 602 feet above sea level and the depth as about 1333 feet, leaving a bottom elevation of 731 feet below sea level. This point lies about 40 miles north of Munising, Michigan, and therefore falls within the borders of that state. Therefore, the lowest point on the continent of North America is the bottom of the Lake Superior structural basin, being nearly 450 feet lower than the minus 282 feet of Badwater Basin (which itself may be under water or not, depending on local climatic conditions).

One further point I would like to make is that I believe the sign at the Badwater Basin says that it is the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere. Thus, Lake Superior is actually the lowest point in the western hemisphere. The photo below show the deepest point in Lake Superior, which is not very far from Grand Marais. I’ve also included a photo of my hiking friends and I that was taken at Badwater in Death Valley. This was a vacation we took in the early 1990s wherein we hiked Mount Whitney (14,496 feet), which is the highest point in the continental U.S., and went to Badwater (-282 feet) within the same 12-hour period. On that trip, we also went to Las Vegas and stayed a night in the hotel on the Queen Mary. We called it our “vacation of contrasts” trip. In the photo, I am on the left.

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