August, 2017 – Tawas, Michigan

It is now time to begin our slow trip back to the Alabama Gulf Coast for the winter, although we still have a few more weeks in Michigan before we leave the Great Lakes region again.  Since for the past few weeks we have been enjoying Lake Michigan, it was now time to head to the east side of the state to the shores of Lake Huron.  I always find it surprising to be reminded that Lake Huron is actually the second largest Great Lake, since most of the shore line is in Canada.  Only the state of Michigan along the “thumb” of the state borders on Lake Huron.  Our first stop was to the north of the thumb as we headed southeast to Tawas, Michigan on the shores of Lake Huron.  Most of the trip was along I-75 so it went very quickly and we soon pulled into our next campgrounds, Tawas RV Park.  I was a little concerned about this park from the internet reviews and I was very pleased to see that they did not know what they were talking about.  Tawas RV Park is a beautiful RV Park with luscious green grass and tall stately trees throughout.  Most of the sites are for “permanent” seasonal campers, but all the sites were beautifully maintained lending to the atmosphere of the park.  They do maintain about a dozen choice sites near the front the park for transient campers such as ourselves.  We were also surprised to find out they offered cable TV, which made Kal happy with the opening weekend of the English Premier League to look forward to, and the WiFi was the best we have ever seen with their repeater less than 2 feet from the back of the RV.  We were in heaven!!  Initially we had a problem with the site they put us on as the RV had to be placed on two concrete strips which put us too close to a tree for the slide on the left side.  I was concerned that putting the RV forward enough to miss the tree would make it impossible to reach the electrical hookup that was located at the extreme back of the site.  Thankfully, they had another site available that did not have any of these problems, although it also had no shade either.  I easily put the RV into the site, which was a bit short meaning we had to park the truck at an angle into their very nice grass.  They were okay with this so we were good to go.  The only complaint Kal had with the site, which had a concrete porch, was the use of the cable TV.  With the way our RV is wired we have to place their cable box in between the outside feed and the TV in the front room inside the RV.  This means the TV in the bedroom did not get cable, so we had to turn off the cable at night so she could receive the limited selections over the air to go to sleep.


Using the internet to find local attractions, Kal found a Lumberman Monument on the Huron-Manistee National Forest less than 30 miles from the campground.  It sounded interesting so we decided to check it out on Tuesday and I am glad we did.  Of course, I have known about the lumber industry in Michigan since I was an undergraduate forestry student.  During the later half of the 19th century, the lumber industry in Michigan was HUGE supplying most of the building material for the farms and cities in the mid-west boom following the Civil War.  The practice was to buy the land cheap, clearcut all of the old growth white pine, and move on with no efforts to reforest the land.  Once Michigan was cut out, this same practice moved to the southeast, however, it was not to long before replanting became a standard practice.  This was not done in Michigan, however.  It was not until the Great Depression in the 1930s that major replanting was done by the CCC, so this land remained non-forested for nearly 50 years.  While a lot of the land was cleared of the stumps and turned into farm land, not nearly all of it was suitable for farming.  Thus there was a LOT of erosion and devastating fires!!  This Lumberman Monument pays tribute to this hundred year period with a nice bronze statue, small exhibits of a log jam on the river and how the logs were piled along the steep banks of the river during the winter.  When the thawing ice and spring rains, the rivers would run deep enough to drop these stored logs into the river creating huge log runs down to the sawmills.  Loggers would ride these floating log islands keeping the logs moving and freeing up multiple log jams along the way at the risk of their own lives.  It must have been an exciting life, however, I don’t think I would have enjoyed living in the still freezing rivers for days on end.  There was also an exhibit within a log cabin dedicated to the many CCC camps in Michigan during the Great Depression.  By planting millions of young seedlings (mostly red pine) they created the National Forests of today, which being no more than 80 years old would still be considered young forests.  Even today you see only a few white pine trees regenerating underneath the red pine and yellow birch overstory, which is next successional stage along with hemlock and spruce.  It will be hundreds of years yet before you see any stands approaching the old-growth condition of these extensive white pine forests.  Although Kal was not interested, I also hiked down the over 400 steps to the bank of the AuSable River where they had an example of the “floating kitchen” that would have been in use during the logging days to supply meals to the loggers on the river.  Finally there was a short hike to an overlook of a 200 foot sandy bluff that would have been covered with logs during the winter to be released into the river in the spring.  There was also a short nature hike through an mature red pine stand that is being actively managed on the National Forest.

After exploring the Lumberman Monument, we decided to check out the 22 mile long River National Scenic Byway of which the monument is just one stop.  Along the byway are a number of other stops of natural and historical significance.  For example, there were a total of 5 hydroelectric plants constructed along the AuSable River to supply electricity initially to Flint Michigan in the early 1900s.  These old brick plants are themselves historical landmarks and they are still in use today, although they provide power for only about 45,000 people in the immediate area.  There is also the Canoers Monument which celebrates the longest non-stop canoe marathon in North America that has been held nearly every year since 1947.  This is a 14-19 hour marathon that covers 120 miles of the AuSable River with portages around each of the hydroelectric dams.  Unfortunately the marathon is held in July, so we had missed it be a few weeks.  There are also a number of overlooks of the river to be enjoyed and a couple of more opportunities to hike down a long staircase to the river bank.  However, after the hard climb I had earlier, even I was not interested in doing it again.  What we thought would be an hour looking at a statue of a logger turned into a full day event along the AuSable River in the Huron-Manistee National Forest.

Wednesday was another beautiful day so we decided to explore the nearby state park, the Tawas Point State Park.  From the parking lot of the Walmart in East Tawas the day before, you can easily see the spit of land that extends out into Lake Huron creating Tawas Bay, which is actually the beginning of the much larger Saginaw Bay.  It is a short drive along the land jutting into the lake to the tip where you find the state park.  The major attractions of the park are the tent campground and sandy beach along Lake Huron.  The waters are supposed to be shallow and warm during the summer, but we were not there to swim.  We found out that there was a hiking loop that circled the point about 1.5 miles in length.  However, the trail is not very well maintained.  It begins along the crest of the sand dune on the north side of the point, but much of the trail has been overgrown with the beach grasses and difficult to follow.  As you approach the tip you are forced back to the woods road used by the Coast Guard to maintain a small weather station at the tip.  The trail back on the side of Tawas Bay is often underwater depending upon the water levels in the lake, which I would guess was fairly high as much of the trail was underwater.  However, we still enjoyed our walk which ended at the lighthouse on the point.  The lighthouse is supposed to be the last of the Victorian style lighthouses remaining on the Great Lakes, however, it was currently closed for renovations and closed to the public.  All total we spent just a few hours in the park and headed back to the campgrounds for lunch and an early afternoon.

Since the weather was suppose to be stormy on Thursday, we decided to spend the day in doors out of the weather and headed north along Lake Huron to Alpena on Thunder Bay.  For a century Thunder Bay was a major highway of ship traffic traveling from the iron and copper mines along Lake Superior to the industries in Detroit and Cleveland.  Hundreds of ships a day would pass by Alpena on this journey and pass each other.  This level of traffic and the storms, fog, ice, etc made for a lot of shipwrecks, mostly from collisions between ships.  There are hundreds of shipwrecks extending all the way south to Lake Erie.  To provide a level of federal protection of these shipwrecks, NOAA designated Thunder Bay a National Marine Sanctuary in 2000, the first in the Great Lakes.   A relatively new museum was built in Alpeena and it was there that we headed.  Once we got there we learned of the boat tours in a glass bottom boat to a few of the shipwrecks, however, due to the impending weather they were canceled for the day.  This made the decision easy as to whether we wanted to pay for a tour.  However, the museum was well worth the trip.  It begins with an explanation of the process used to restore and preserved artifacts removed from the shipwrecks including a peek into their working lab, although nobody was working while we were there.  There is a large scale reconstruction of a typical steamer of the day along with the sounds as it is being sunk by the storm tossed lake.  This was very well done.   This empties into an example of what you would see if you dove on a wreck, that was also very well done.  There is also a large room full of artifacts removed by the SS Petumba that includes everything from eating utensils to cabinet doors.  Quite an impressive collection, although since it has become a National Sanctuary any removal of artifacts is a serious crime.  Along with a number of small exhibits about the different kinds of ships that have wrecked and some short movies about shipwrecks and the history of the sanctuary, it was a very informative couple of hours.  Out the backdoor of the museum is a riverwalk along the banks of the river that empties into Lake Huron.  Along this very nice walk are a number of interpretive signs about the shipping industries and murals on the back side of the old pulp mill that is falling apart today.  After the walk we even managed to eat a picnic lunch at a nice city park before the weather moved in with rain and wind the rest of the afternoon.

Not trusting the weather on Friday we decided to stay in the campground to do laundry and clean the RV.  Saturday morning was spent with Kal watching the opening of the English Premier League on TV, which pretty much shot the morning.  Therefore, we decided to spend the afternoon at a nearby casino, the Saganing Eagle Landing Casino at the western end of Saginaw Bay.  Once again we found plenty of slot machines in our price range ($0.30 or less) to keep us busy for a couple of hours.  For a change, we even managed to do fairly well.  I came out a winner for the afternoon with a couple of moderate jack pots and Kal managed to pocket about half of her stake.  While we did not come out ahead overall, it was a fun way to spend about $20.  I did manage to force Kal into getting a late lunch at Arby’s, so it was a pretty good day.

Sunday was once again spent in the campground where I spent time getting caught up on this blog and getting ready to move out on Monday.

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