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Hunting Yooperlites®

Photos by Tamara Graham

Prior to about this time last year, I had never heard the term Yooperlite® and had no clue they even existed. The instant I was introduced to them through photos, I knew I had to have one on the cover of LIVE. LOVE. LOCAL. MICHIGAN™. 

The initial images I saw were mesmerizing. It was hard to process that they were your average run-of-the-mill gray (mostly) rocks in the daylight but glowed like hot lava in the darkness of night under a UV light. My curiosity instantly peaked. I began to learn about them, fully knowing without even thinking about it that I would soon find my own.

Rock hunting on the surface doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun to the average Joe. You walk the beach scouring for the elusive find amongst a literal sea of average-looking rocks that don’t look too dissimilar to those you find in your driveway. But if you know even a little about geology, it’s far more interesting than one would think. Geology class was one of my favorite elective classes in undergrad. Rocks hold so much of Mother Earth’s history. Something that looks average on the surface can be billions of years old and hold a treasure of history beneath its surface. 

I’ve spent some time hunting Petoskey stones in my day, but it was never for very long or as exciting as the thought of hunting down a fiery Yooperlite.  I planned for months to travel to the UP to hunt for Yooperlites. It didn’t happen until the first weekend of November. Turns out, launching a magazine is not such an easy endeavor and things don’t always go as planned. But the day finally arrived, because I forced it to. It was late in the season – snow was already falling in the UP – but I was determined to make it happen. It was my planned December cover. I had to make it happen! 

Two weeks prior to heading north, I finally got around to ordering our UV lights from yooperlites.com. We ordered one Mack Daddy of a flashlight called UV Max, and one of the minis. I wasn’t sure what to expect, so I wanted to be prepared with a larger flashlight – or maybe Erik just knows how to market well. I chose not to purchase UV lights from the local hardware store because as I’ve also learned – not all UV lights are the same. To hunt Yooperlites you’ll need one with a 365nm wavelength (yooperlites.com says an easy way to remember this is that it’s the number of days in a year). 

Erik Rintamaki (isn’t his last name fun to say?), the owner of yooperlites.com, is the man himself.  And by that, I mean he is the man who discovered Yooperlites in 2017 along the shores of Lake Superior near Brimley. He’s also the man who named them Yooperlites and trademarked the name. The shores of Lake Superior haven’t been the same since. Since then, countless hunters have graced her shores on the hunt for the elusive (or not so elusive) Yooperlite. 

What Makes Yooperlites So Special?

Yooperlite without the UV light.

What makes Yooperlites so special is that they are made up of fluorescent sodalite.  From what I’ve learned, sodalite is pretty common around the world, but fluorescent sodalite is another story. What makes the Yooperlites type of sodalite so special is that they are “polluted” with disulfide, which is a type of sulfur that glows orange and yellow under UV light. The glow of the rocks only lasts as long as you shine a UV light on it, however. They don’t magically glow in the dark all on their own. They are magical, but not unicorn magical. But if they were, the hunt for them wouldn’t be nearly as much fun. 

What makes Yooperlites even way cooler, is the fact that they were formed over 1 BILLION years ago. The scientific name for what makes Yooperlites magic is fluorescent sodalite syenite. As legend has it, they were formed about 1.1 billion years ago in what we now know as Ontario, Canada. 

Apparently, there were huge volcanic eruptions in the area back in the day. During these violent eruptions, one large body of magma never made it to the surface. That magma cooled and crystallized into syenite granite with sodalite impurities. Over the ages, erosion and the might of the Great Lakes exposed these rocks and deposited them along the shoreline. In fact, the best time to hunt for Yooperlites is right after a raging storm that moves rocks around and deposits new ones along the shoreline. 

Isn’t geology fun?! 

Now for the adventure part of the story: On November 4, Taran and I packed up the car and headed north. Destination: Grand Marias. We initially wanted to go to Whitefish Point, but I learned that we are not allowed to collect rocks from the shores within Seney National Wildlife Refuge at Whitefish Point, and the beach is only open during the day. Since I’m not too familiar with the UP and her many rules, we opted for the safe route and headed to Grand Marias. We would hunt from the public beach there. Why I didn’t think of Brimley is beyond me at this point, but I digress. 

Before we headed across the Mighty Mac, we stopped to gas up at a local gas station at the foot of the bridge. To my absolute astonishment, a gentleman came out to pump my gas for me. I thought that level of customer service died way back in the 20th Century. I struck up a conversation with the two attendants (contrary to popular belief, I’m very friendly!) when I went into the store to see if they sold glow sticks to mark our path along the dark beach – I forgot about this detail until well after it was too late. Erik recommends leaving a trail of them during your hunt to find your way back in the dark.  I later learned; this is a very smart move. 

I told the men that we were headed up to Grand Marias to find some Yooperlites and if they knew the best beach to go to. Silly me, thinking that everyone “up north” knows about everything “up north.” I was immediately told that I could find them all along the shoreline right there in Mackinaw City. One of the men even told me he had them in his driveway. I was skeptical and curious at the same time. I didn’t think Yooperlites were so common that you could find them in driveways. 

I gave him the benefit of the doubt. He gave us directions to the beach, and I thanked him for saving us another two-hour drive north. 

When he told me he easily finds Yooperlites in his driveway, that should have been my first clue that he wasn’t clear what a Yooperlite is. The second clue was when he came running up to the car as we were about to leave, and he brought me a “Yooperlite” that he just found in the driveway of the gas station with a UV light. It was a pretty rock that looked like it had red dust on it that glowed brightly under the UV light. I didn’t think it was a Yooperlite – not like any I had seen in pictures anyway – but he was sure it was. He told me I could keep it and I thanked him, and we were on our way. 

I soon learned; he truly wasn’t clear on what a Yooperlite is. We spent about one and a half hours walking along the shoreline along the Lake Michigan side of the bridge. The beach is covered with rocks that glowed red under the UV light, just like the smaller rock the gentlemen at the gas station gave me and called a Yooperlite. I knew that Yooperlites were not so abundant that you find them in piles at every step. The rocks are beautiful, almost resembling the hot embers of a campfire when the UV light is shown on them. I don’t know what type of rock they are, but they are not Yooperlites. We didn’t find one along the beach.  

We decided to continue our journey north to Grand Marias. When we ventured into Grand Marias, there was snow covering the ground and it was about 12:00am, incredibly windy and cold. T was already asleep in the passenger seat, and I decided to take a nap until about 3:00 am. I awoke at 4:45 am a little annoyed. Daylight was only a couple of hours away.  I drove all this way to oversleep….We bundled up and headed to the beach. 

I used the mini flashlight and T used the Mack Daddy UV Max. We weren’t sure what to expect, but had read that when you find one, you will know. No rocks were glowing red in the night on this beach. I did find one that was shaped like an oval and was orange with gray swirls. It was beautiful under the UV light, but it was not a Yooperlite. I kept it anyway. Next to her was a cool fossilized rock. I kept her, too. 

When I say that finding your first Yooperlite is akin to the excitement of waking up on Christmas morning when you’re a kid, I do not exaggerate. 

I was the first to find one. I was walking close to the shoreline scanning back and forth, and there she was, right below the shoreline under the water. When the UV light was shown on her she lit up beautifully and brightly, just like hot lava in the black night. The rumors are true, when you find one, you will know.  

I screeched with excitement and called Taran. T was ahead of me about 100 feet. It took a few moments for him to hear me through the roar of the waves. He thought the sound was a seagull…in the dark of the night. Then realized seagulls are not out in the dark of the night. 

He fetched the fiery beauty from the clutches of Lake Superior, and she was ours. Our first Yooperlite. We ogled and awed at how beautiful she was – at least I did. She was small but mighty. The excitement of the find was the push we needed to find more. 

The second and third finds were just as exciting. The rocks were smaller and not as brilliant as the first, but it was just as exciting to see the glow in the black of the night. 

Hunting Yooperlites

Our fourth find was sitting on top of a pile of rocks just above the shoreline. The way the rock was sitting made it look like she was crescent moon-shaped and she was fully alive with an orange fiery glow. She looked like a mini-moon had fallen from the sky and landed right at my feet. She was brilliant. The fourth find was just as exciting as the first. Each one was like waking up on Christmas Morning. 

Daylight was breaking when we found our fifth just like we did the first, underwater on the shoreline, and it was just as exciting. I noticed her frolicking in the waves. This one was the most brilliant. The entire rock was aglow like hot lava under the UV light. She too is small, but mighty. 

Daylight forced us to stop our hunt, or I would have spent the entire day hunting Yooperlites. 

I found all five of our rocks. The first four finds were with the mini-UV light. The last was with the UV Max, only because the mini ran out of battery. I’m sure that it would have been just as easy to find with the mini. The UV Max covers more surface area, so it does speed up the hunt a bit. With the mini, you must move a little more deliberately. 

None of our finds were huge as far as the size of rocks go, but they are mighty in their brilliance. I love them all equally. And now I’m hooked and cannot wait to find more.

Hunting Yooperlites is no small feat. It takes preparation, a plan, and a lot of determination. 

Here are a few pointers to make your Yooperlite adventure a bit less stressful and far more exciting. 

Needs

• You’re going to need a UV light that has a 365nm wavelength. The best place to purchase them is Yooperlites.com. You know they are going to work. 

• Sunglasses – even at night. The UV lights do strain the eyes, even in the dark. It’s best to wear sunglasses when hunting. You’re hunting in the dark anyway, so it’s not going to make things any “darker.” You will feel the strain on your eyes if you don’t. And never flash the UV light into your own eyes or the eyes of others. 

Prepare for the Dark

You’re in the dark when hunting Yooperlites. Prepare for it. 

• Purchase glow sticks to use to create a path back to your car/camp. I forgot this part until it was too late. When we were out hunting on the beach, I did pass our entry point at one point on my way back to the car to charge up my batteries. 

• Bring a larger flashlight to help light your way back to your entry point. You are in the pitch black of night, and it helps guide your way. 

Helpful Supplies

• Extra Batteries or a battery pack. You’re going to need them. The UV lights are powerful, but they don’t last very long when you’re out hunting for hours at a time. We had to go back to the car to charge our batteries at one point. This took away critical hunting time for us. 

• Bring a bag to place your rocks in. Trust me here. Don’t simply place them in your pockets. We did and one was lost – I thought forever – until I found her a few days later lying on my bedroom floor. She had tucked inside a pocket somewhere and found her way out. Thankfully, in the right location. I thought I lost her forever and was a bit sad about it. 

Research Hunting Location

• Along the shores of Lake Superior has been the best location to find Yooperlites to date. They have been found in a few other locations on the Great Lakes, but Superior’s shoreline has been proven to be the best location. The first Yooperlite was discovered around Brimley. We found our five in Grand Marias. They have also been found on the Keweenaw Peninsula. My take: when you’re walking along the shoreline of any Great Lakes area at night, take a UV light with you and maybe you’ll get lucky. 

• There are locations – such as Whitefish Point – where you are not allowed to carry rocks away from the area or walk on the beach at night. Be sure to research before you go and respect the rules. They are there for a reason. 

Erik Rintamaki has made a business out of hunting Yooperlites. On his website, Yooperlites.com, he provides a wealth of information regarding hunting these beauties, including the sale of a variety of UV lights, along with Yooperlite hunting tours. See page 43 where you will find our SPEND LOCAL MICHIGAN™ profile. We highlight Erik’s flashlights for your Yooperlite treasure hunt adventure. And once you find your first one, you’ll agree that it truly is a treasure. 

Visit Yooperlites for information on equipment and more tips.

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Tamara Graham
Tamara Grahamhttps://livelovelocalmi.com
With an adventurous spirit and a burning desire to make the world work for all of us, Tamara encourages others to embrace self-love, compassion, empathy, understanding, and an ever important sense of humor. With over 30 years of diverse marketing experience, including a decade in publishing, she brings a fresh and innovative perspective to the industry. Her concept revolves around experiential magazines that captivate both online and in print. Tamara's visionary project, LIVE. LOVE. LOCAL. MICHIGAN™, unveils the wonders of our breathtaking home state, igniting love and admiration among Michiganders for where they live. By fostering this deep connection, she inspires a genuine appreciation and love for where we live!
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