The "surreal, magical" allure of Isle Royale National Park

Isle Royale National Park
Isle Royale National Park 05:32

Isle Royale National Park is so remote, the only way to get there is by sea plane or boat.

There are no grands in this tranquil setting - no Grand Tetons or Grand Canyons. What there is is an unparalleled, unplugged peacefulness, with no internet, no cell phones and few people.

On average, Isle Royale National Park gets 17,000 visitors a year, less than Yellowstone sees in a day.

Phyllis Green, the park's superintendent, said while Isle Royale may not be one of the big names, he is proud that many who come here once, yearn to return, reports CBS News correspondent John Blackstone.

"I think we have one of the highest repeat-visitor rates," Green said.

Growing up, Susanna Ausema, now an employee at the park, spent summers here. Her dad was a park ranger. Years later, she returned and met her husband, Mike, who is also a park ranger.

"We used to make a family trip down here and take a chance to go up in the lighthouse and lookout over the surrounding area," Susanna said.

Right here was where she also had her first date with her husband.

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"I followed him down a trail, and there was this cow moose and she had her ears back and she was mad," Susanna recalled, laughing. "Mike looked at me and said, 'Susanna, you've got to run!'"

Now, the couple is raising their four-year-old son, Jasper, here.

"We're disconnected from the rest of society in a lot of ways," Mike said. "It's one of those places that people just get into their blood and they feel a deep connection to this place."

Kare and Laura Goodness feel that connection. They are preparing to return to Isle Royale, this time with the kids. Last summer, they visited one of the big names - Rocky Mountains National Park. But "the solitude, the quietness" drew them to Isle Royale.

Three years ago, the couple went backpacking on the island with friends to celebrate their 10th anniversary.

"It's addictive, it's phenomenal. You just crave having more of it," Kare said.

From wild berries to wildlife, it's all here. When they spotted a moose, their adventure seemed complete. But they didn't see one of Isle Royale's other inhabitants - a wolf. Wolves, long a vital part of the ecosystem here, are disappearing.

"They're right on the cusp of extinction," said biologist John Vucetich of Michigan Tech University.

Vucetich blames climate change. He said wolves used to be able to reach the island by crossing an ice bridge, but now, the lake water is warmed and ice is rare. As the wolves die off, Vucetich warns the moose population is exploding.

"A moose population is like a freight train. Once it gets going, it doesn't stop very easily," Vucetich said.

Because moose feed on trees, he warns they threaten the forest. "It's very clear that the right thing to do is to restore wolf predation and to do it as promptly as possible," Vucetich said.

"Why not just bring in some more wolves?" Blackstone asked.

"The question is when and where can the Park Service save species and for what purposes, as climate change really roles out nationally?" Green said.

Isle Royale has gone through changes before. In the 1800s, fishing families made the island their home, pulling whitefish and trout from Lake Superior to be sold in cities as far away as Chicago.

Visitors willing to dive can also see reminders of the past under the water. Dozens of shipwrecks ring the park, including century-old victims of Isle Royale's rocky shoals and frequent fog.

"You're descending on through the dark and then all of a sudden you come across this link to the past," Ausema said. "It's a very surreal, magical type of environment."

The average visit to most national parks is about three to four hours. At Isle Royale, it's three to four days, but the isolation is not for everybody.

"We've had some employees come out and not last 24 hours. We've had some visitors not last 24 hours," Green said, laughing.

Among the treasures of the national park system, Isle Royale remains a largely hidden treasure.

But here is where "the fast track of life goes away," Kare said.

"It kind of seeps into your soul. It's just a special, special place," Susanna said.