Our Great Lakes Yooperlite (Mis)Adventure

By Laura Deering

lake superior beach

Hopes were high and we were determined to find the mysterious Yooperlite stone along the shores of Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We had gleeful visions of moonlight treasure, hoping to reverse the disappointment of the previous year’s Yooperlite hunt tally of zero.

Armed with the equipment to search them out, I researched Yooperlites like a student preparing for their most important exam. The stone’s roaming zone is the Great Lakes, with Lake Superior having the highest yield.

lake superior beach shore

What is a Yooperlite?

Yooperlites were identified in 2018 by rockhound Erik Rintamaki one night when he brought along a blacklight flashlight and made his “eureka” discovery. The stone has fluorescent sodalite captured in an unassuming grey rock that glows like a hot, smoldering ember under an ultraviolet light. History was made—identifying Yooperlite was a first for this Michigan rockhound. Erik fondly named the stone Yooperlite in honor of his Upper Peninsula roots and of the locals known as “Yoopers.” The news media picked up the story, including the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. The secret was out, and I was not the only one trying to get in on the modern-day gold rush thrill.

Joining me were two friends, who thankfully were game for walking in the dark in bear country to look for a stone. Family and other friends politely declined our invitation to come, with concerning looks on their faces, like maybe it was time for me to seek help with my beachcombing obsession.

waves on great lakes

How Not to Find a Yooperlite

Relying on my Girl Scout upbringing, I came prepared—or so I thought. The UV flashlight that was specially rated to find Yooperlites decided to be fussy. It flickered on and off, likely due to the batteries being drained from sub-freezing nights while packed in the car. The chill in the air felt even colder because it was late May. Bluntly put, it was freezing! My friends and I wore everything we packed. Even my fashionable friend sported the latest Yooperlite safari style: blue jeans and leggings topped off by a Michigan-made lumberjack plaid hat.

As we started down to the remote beach near Grand Marais, Michigan, two SUV trucks roared on the scene. Had we unwittingly wandered into the local hangout or were there swashbucklers seeking to plunder our soon-to-be-found treasure?

Pistol-Packing Pete

Thankfully, when children spilled out of the vehicles with the adults, a wave of relief came over us. There were two delightful families from lower Michigan and their glee was evident as they hoped to repeat their previous-year find of 74 Yooperlites. Immediately it was apparent they knew what the word “prepared” meant. They were dressed in winter coats, mittens, and waterproof boots, with one of them even sporting chest-high waders.

Each person down to the youngest child had a special UV flashlight and clutched their bags like trick-or-treaters eagerly waiting for Lake Superior to chuck a rock into their bag. They also had protective eyewear, as UV wave lengths can be harmful to the eyes.

After we complimented them on their preparedness, one of the adults slapped his thigh (where he presumably also had some firepower) and declared “Yep, I am ready for anything, including bear!”

While my brain was taking this in, I thought of Beachcombing magazine articles, and for the life of me I could not square “gun” and “bear” with my image of sun-dappled, sapphire beaches with birds hovering overhead. We later referred to our protector with the nickname “Pistol-Packing Pete.” While heading down to the pitch-black beach, I had to admit having him in the party might be wise, as I once was charged by a grizzly bear while backpacking in Glacier Park, Montana.

beachcombing lake superior

Starry Starry Night

Once we reached the shores of Lake Superior, the majesty of it all commanded our attention. The roar of the water brought back the memory of the storm on the previous day that produced nine-foot waves. The stars peered through the black-velvet firmament. We took this moment to place a glow-stick marking where we came upon the beach, a bread-crumb trail to get back to our car. We were grateful for our mini-lighthouse beam to guide us safely back.

Using two low-rated UV flashlights, we walked the beach, expecting Yooperlites to pop up before our eyes. Except they did not.

We met up in mini huddles to strategize, our breaths visible in the chilly air. Maybe we should walk further apart? Maybe we should kick stones? Maybe we should walk closer to the shore, or further away? Finally, finally one of us found a small Yooperlite and our numb fingers and toes were revitalized by the surge of adrenaline.

Over the next three hours, we found two more, and then called it a night. On the way back to the car, we came across three young men. They gave us more tips, including the most important advice we heard so far: walk slowly and have the proper type of UV flashlight for sodalite. By the way, they were kicking stones!

Back at the nearby B&B, the house was dark, and we felt like teenagers sneaking in past curfew. Quietly giggling, we made our way up the stairs, not wanting to wake the other guests. If hunting for Yooperlites knocks off years from one’s age, the midnight jaunt was worth it.

Yooperlite II: The Sequel

The next day, rounding home, we slotted in one more night of hunting along Lake Superior, this time near Houghton, Michigan. Being new to the area, and not knowing the best places to search, it took some interpersonal skills at which my friend excels. She missed her calling as a secret agent, able to get information out of anyone, anywhere, and under any circumstance. In fact, her charms and skills should be another component of successful Yooperlite hunting. The hotel check-in attendant turned red when I asked about local Yooperlites sites, not seeming to know what I was talking about. Only 30 minutes later, my friend appeared with a handwritten list of five local treasure spots from them.

Yar, the crew was off again and re-pledged to bring home the plunder.

Upon arriving on the beach we noticed it was different from the other Lake Superior waterfronts. Its sand was blackish, with rocks mostly of deep browns. We had our doubts until we spied wee children appearing like fireflies, gripping their tell-tale UV flashlights with their parents and grandparents in tow. As it was near the summer equinox—which meant it was light past 10 pm—we admired another magnificent sunset.

glowing yooperlite stone

The Day Hunter

On the beach we met a Michigander whose knowledge was that of a wise sage. She shared that she had been studying Yooperlite patterns for several years, and now she can find them during the daylight. No need to stumble in the dark waving a UV light.

Like a military commander, she asked us to “present arms,” and was clearly disappointed. Enduring a “tsk-tsk” moment over our weak UV flashlights, she took pity on us. Acknowledging the nearly thousand miles we traveled, and the malfunction of our special flashlight, she offered her cache of Yooperlites to us.

The three of us were amazed by her generosity. We thanked her for her kindness. Any pride remaining was quickly extinguished with relief over dodging another night in the freezing temperatures. Back at the hotel, we gave the desk attendant the best Yooperlite stone in gratitude.

The real finds were the friendly people willing to help and share, their generosity eclipsing the images of sun dappled sapphire beaches with hovering birds, or of any rock, glowing or otherwise.

Learn more about beach rocks

This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine November/December 2021 issue.

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