July, 2018 – Munising, Michigan

For the coming week we traveled further east along the shore of Lake Superior from Marquette to just west of Munising to a brand new RV Park named Pictured Rocks RV Park and Campground.  As the name implies it is close to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, which I had been looking forward to all year.  Before I get into that, I need to talk about the RV Park.  It had only been opened for two weeks, so it was brand new and still a work in progress.  I got lucky to find it on a websearch of the area a month ago as there are no Good Sam rated RV parks anywhere near Pictured Rocks.  Since it is brand new there were also no reviews to look at.  Our first impression was a disappointment as they literally cleared ALL the trees from the campground in order to level the area and install the sites.  They do have a large number of large level sites for big rigs laid out in a very regular arrangement.  In fact, with all the electric and water hookups lined up in rows it had more the look of a drive-in theatre, minus the big screen.  Our site was so long that I had a little trouble backing in the RV and keeping it straight.  It was so big that we could have easily fit another 40 foot RV on the site with us.  You would have thought they would have done a better job of designing the sites, but all the hookups are at the extreme back end of the sites making me use the extension on the sewer.  The bathrooms are also brand new, which is a nice change from all those needing some improvements, however, they were still installing things such as toilet paper and soap dispensers.  In addition, the office itself was still under construction.  While TV reception was terrible with no channels we could pick up during the day, their free WiFi was the best we have ever seen.  Kal got used to streaming the audio of Morning Joe each morning so we could get some news.  If they had some trees on the site, I would recommend it.  In any case, we got set up quickly and enjoyed the sunny evening, although it was very windy with a secondary front blowing through the area.  This lowered the temperatures to the point that we needed light jackets in the mornings most of the week.

Campsite

The first thing on Tuesday we went in search of the Munising Visitor Center of the Painted Rocks National Lakeshore.  Our campground is 5 miles west of Munsing and the Visitor Center is just outside of town to the east, so you would think it would be a quick drive.  However, the floods earlier in the summer had washed out the road between the town and Visitor Center, so we had a 15 mile detour to get to it.  Once we got there I learned of the fallacy I had about the park.  I figured since it was at the extreme northern edge of the Upper Peninsula and centered east to west, that it would be the maximum distance from any metropolitan center and therefore be wild and lightly attended.  While the distance from major cities is correct, my assumption of attendance was wrong!!  The second growth forests are wild and you can find trails that are not heavily traveled, the major attractions are heavily used.  There were more people at this park then we have seen since the Great Smokies.  Parking was a challenge everywhere we went.  It was obviously a very popular location, especially for young families, and has been since it was established in 1966 with over 500,000 visitors a year.  Even early on a Tuesday morning the parking lot at the Visitor Center was nearly full.  Only part of this was due to the Visitor Center, since it is also the location to the closest waterfall, Munising Falls.  After we gathered the information we needed to plan our week, we walked the 800 feet to the base of the falls and also circled around to an viewing platform near the top of the 50 foot falls.

After taking in our first of many waterfalls, we continued up the road to Sand Point which is a popular sandy beach close to Munising.  We were not that interested in the beach, but instead to a 0.5 mile loop trail through the marsh.  This trail was entirely up on a boardwalk and had a number of informative signs about the marsh.  This marsh is actually the remnants of the beach as the accumulation of sand over thousands of years have been extending the beach out into the lake.  Thus it was a mosaic of swamps, bogs, and sandy ridges.  I got my first close up look at some large tamarack trees, as well as, black spruce, which can be hard to get to without a raised walkway.  Much of the marsh itself was a sea of cattails and rushes everywhere you looked.  It is suppose to be an active beaver area, although I did not see any obvious sign of beaver activity.  It was a nice relaxing walk with no crowds followed by a nice lunch on the Lake Superior beach.

After lunch we first drove back to town to make reservations for a boat cruise at the Painted Rocks Cruises in Munising.  This would have been a quick sidetrip except for the detour to get to town.  We wanted to get reservations for their Sunset Cruise since we had been advised by the Park Ranger that this was the best way to see the Painted Rocks.  After talking to the ticket seller at the cruise line we decided to wait until Wednesday since there were still 4-5 foot seas on Lake Superior that were predicted to persist all day.  The wind had died down considerably since Monday, but I guess the waves were still high.  Once we had our tickets we drove back to the National Lakeshore to another popular location, Miners Castle.  This is a rock formation that extends out into the lake with originally two spires, making it look like a castle crenelation.  However, back in 2006 one of these spires collapsed, so now it is just a single spire.  Still it quite impressive jutting out from the 100 foot sandstone cliffs.  It is not known how long it will last, as it is already being undercut with holes that go clear through it at the water level.   Kal got some good pictures of the water shooting through one of the holes.

From there we drove a little bit further to a dirt road back into the forest to the trail head down to Miners Falls.  This is a 1.2 mile round trip down a wide path to the falls.  It is an easy path with benches along the way of this heavily traveled path.  Even during the middle of the week there were a lot of families on the trail.  At the end of the trail we were treated to another 50 foot cascade of water over a sandstone outcrop.  After viewing it from a distance from above, we descended 77 steps to a lower viewing platform with a much better view of the falls.  Then it was 77 steps back up and a slow walk back to the truck making liberal use of the benches along the way.  It is obvious that steps are no longer our best friends on a hike.  Still the falls were worth the walk and the stroll through the pine/spruce forests on a cool afternoon was great.  By this point we had had a full day and headed back to the campsite for dinner.

Wednesday was another full day hiking in the Painted Rocks National Lakeshore beginning with the drive down a winding dirt road to Chapel Falls.  Before I go any further I should give a short overview of the Painted Rocks National Lakeshore.  Geologically speaking this entire area was an ocean bed 500 million years ago when the Munising sandstone formation was created.  In most locations it is covered by a much younger and harder sandstone layer named Au Train sandstone formation which was then covered by layers of glacier rock.  Along this section of Lake Superior these sandstone layers have been exposed and the harder Au Train layer cut through into the softer and more porous Munising sandstone, thus creating 50+ foot waterfalls.  The lake has also been undercutting this sandstone causing it to calf off into the lake mostly during the fall and spring frost/thaw cycles.  This has created sheer sandstone cliffs where the water leeches out carrying iron, manganese, copper, and other minerals giving the cliffs streaks of color.  The Painted Rocks National Lakeshore consists of 42 miles of Lake Superior shoreline that includes these sheer cliffs, some over 200 feet tall, but extends interior only a couple of miles.  From there State and National Forests along with other conservationists protect most of the interior of the entire Upper Peninsula.  Except for mining interests around Marquette and the Keewenah Peninsula, the only historical industry in the northern part of the UP was logging.  When this ran out in the early 1900s, the northern part of the UP has become essentially wilderness. There are few roads and access to the Pictured Rocks is primarily by dirt roads along old logging trails that head towards the many interior waterfalls.  So you drive into one trailhead, visit the waterfall, and then drive back out and down the highway to the next road to a trailhead.  Even though there are great trail through the woods, nearly all of the cliffs can only be seen from the water.   From the trailhead parking lot for Chapel Falls it was a 3 mile round trip to the falls and back.  The trail was an easy hike along an old logging road that stayed fairly level well back from the cliffs, which are some of the best in the park.  We were early enough in the morning that we were one of the first to the falls, but by the time we left there were a lot of people on the trail.  These falls are probably the nicest falls we saw with viewing platforms on both sides of the creek accessed across a bridge at the top of the falls.  Unlike the cascades at Miners Fall, this was a shear drop of 60 feet.

Once we made it back to the parking lot it was back in the car to drive back out to the highway to head further east to travel back in on a dirt road to the Little Beaver Lake Campground.  There were signs posted about this being a steep, narrow road and we were a little concerned about taking our large truck.  However, the restrictions were more for RVs or people pulling trailers (it amazed me how many campers drag their RVs and trailers into these areas), since we had no problem with the truck.  The road was narrow in spots, so you had to be careful going by oncoming traffic of which there was more than we would have expected.  The trail here is not as well known as it does not go to a waterfall.  Rather it is a 0.7 mile interpretive nature trail that was suppose to include old growth white pine.  The actual start of the trail is in the campground itself, so from the parking area you enter the loop trail at near the end of the loop.  We walked down a bunch of steps to the beginning of the loop where I hiked to the campground where I found a brochure for the nature trail with explanations about each of the markers on the trail.  It was a nice trail as it covered a number of habitats from a rocky hillside, the edge of a swamp, along a stream, and on top of a rocky ridge.  This also meant there was some steep climbs and descents along the trail.  I was disappointed to find out that their old growth White Pine consisted of just a couple of old pine trees that were missed for some reason when they logged the area over a hundred years ago.  It was still a worthwhile hike for the variety of the habitats we explored along the trail.

We headed back to the campgrounds for the late afternoon and headed into Munising for dinner before the cruise.  Wanting to try out the local fare we went to a well advertised local resturant called “Dogpatch”.  Unfortunately their menu consisted of white fish, burgers, and fried chicken.   So much for local fare, especially since I don’t like fish.  Once we finished dinner we headed over to the boat and stood in line for 45 minutes while we waited on the 7:30 departure hoping to get good seats on top of the boat.  It turned out they took two boats so there were plenty of prime seats and we even got an entire bench to ourselves on the left side of the boat.  We were disappointed that this the cliffs would be off to the right until we realized that they would be on our side coming back when the sun would be setting inflaming the streaks of color in the rocks.  We were also glad that we waited a day before going on the cruise as Lake Superior was absolutely calm without a wave to be seen.  This meant they were able to get VERY close to the rocks, sometimes just a few feet.  It does take a while to clear Grand Island into Lake Superior proper to see the best and tallest cliffs, but it is worth the wait!  This is certainly the highpoint of the summer so far.  Besides the spectacular cliffs that sparkled in the setting sunlight with brilliant colors, some looking like specks of gold, but the rock formations were surprising.  We got a better look at Miners Castle then you can see from the shore.  There were a couple of archways big enough to take a small boat through, except for Lovers Leap where the ceiling had collapsed down into the water blocking access. The water was calm enough that they took the boat into a cove with the rock walls on both sides nearly close enough to touch until the entire boat was inside the cove.  An amazing and unsettling experience with rock walls on three sides.  There was even a rock spire cut off from the shore with a huge lone pine tree growing on top.  It was amazing to think there would be enough soil on top of this spire which was hardly bigger then the tree itself, until you realize there is a massive root system tailing from the tree back at least 10 feet to the shore!!  How this came about amazes me.  The entire trip took 3 hours and the only the last 15 minutes as we tucked back inside Grand Island and approached the dock in the dark was even slightly boring.  If you ever go to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore be sure to put enough money away to take a boat cruise, it is worth every penny.

Thursday was one more day of hikes in Pictured Rocks before the weather turned back into rain showers.  This was our day for the eastern end of the park, so it was over an hour drive to our first location.  We skipped the trail at Twelvemill Beach in favor of the 3 mile round trip hike along the shore of Lake Superior to the Au Sable Light Station.  This trail is a level road along the shores of the lake set back just enough that you are not walking on sand.  Consequently it was a very pleasant walk in the cool morning air to the light station.  The Au Sable Light Station is an old lighthouse from the 1870s constructed to warn boats away from the shallow waters at the point and along the Grand Sable Dunes to the east.  Over the years there have been numerous shipwrecks along the lakeshore, some of which are highlighted at the light station.  You can take tours of the lighthouse, which includes climbing to the top, which we both decided was not going to happen.

After walking back to the truck we continued on to the east to the Grand Sable Dunes.  Like the other Great Lakes, there are sand dunes along the western shores where the prevailing winds pile up and push the sands up into great dunes.  This is a truly huge dune extending miles along the lake.  While not as spectacular as the cliffs to the southwest, they are still worth exploring.  The trail to the location of a log slide that dates back to the logging days of the late 1800s is only about a 0.5 mile and easy.  However, the side trip up to the top of the dune was a struggle in deep sands.  All along the way are signs warning people not to attempt the 300 slide down to the lake as it would take hours to struggle back up.  We both kept far enough away from the edge of the dune to make this impossible!  We also stopped at the Grand Sable Lake Overlook and to the trailhead to Sable Falls.  Kal had already had enough hiking for the day and once I hiked to the first set of 199 steps down to the falls, I decided against it.  I am certain I would have made it down, but making it back up was debatable.  Thus having traveled the entire length of Painted Rocks National Lakeshore, we said goodbye to an amazing experience over the last three days.

As predicted, we had periods of rain on Friday, although most of it was in the evening.  Regardless, we drove all the way to the closest casino, Kewadin Casino, in Christmas about 0.5 mile by truck.  The outside of the casino looks like a huge ski chalet and they have it all decked out with Christmas decorations including a 50 foot tall Santa Claus.  We expected a very large casino, however, most of the interior is taken up with a gift shop and restaurant.  The gaming floor was actually very small.  However we found sufficient slot machines on a Friday morning to entertain us for a couple of hours.  We both managed to pocket some money so we lost only about $30 for the morning.  Not bad for us and it is a fun way to recover from all the hiking we did this week.  Saturday and Sunday were also very relaxing hanging out in the campground, although Kal did do laundry while I cleaned the RV on Sunday.

Entrance

July, 2018 – Marquette, Michigan

Reluctantly we headed back south off of the Keweenah Peninsula to continue our travels east in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  However, we did not go very far, stopping for the week west of Marquette along the shores of Lake Michigamme, a trip of about 1.5 hours.  We found our next campground, Michigamme Shores Campground, with no problem as it is right alongside US 41.  There was a sign along the highway warning of moose crossing for the next 35 miles, so we were hopeful we would get to see a moose.  I can tell you now that we never did, although Kal spotted something brown crossing the road in the campground, but it was too far away to be sure it was a moose.  We will have to keep looking, but unless we are willing to get out before sunup, we are not likely to see one.  The weather for the week was certainly warmer then the Keweenah with highs in the low 80s for most of the week.  I will state that this was one of the better private campgrounds we have stayed in since they completely separated the seasonal sites from the transient.  It certainly had more the feel of a state park, even though all the really nice sites along the lake were for seasonal campers.  Since we really don’t care that much about a view of the lake, we were happy where we were.  I also liked the fact that all of the sites headed back off of a small circle, which meant every site was easy to get into with an open circle in front of you.  We got set up quickly and settled in for the week.

After the very busy week in Houghton, we really did not have any definite plans for the week and we really needed to do some laundry.  Therefore, Kal spent a couple of hours on Tuesday at a laundramat in Ishpeming and I got the RV cleaned up again.

On Wednesday we decided to check out the hiking trails in the Van Ripper State Park just a couple of miles up the road on Lake Michigamme.  While the park is mostly for campers and the 1.5 miles of lakeshore frontage, they do have about 4 miles of trails.  For our hike we chose a 1 mile loop titled the Overlook Trail.  We should have paid more attention to the name of the trail, as it should have been obvious it was going to climb up to an overlook.  The trail started out along the Peshekee River, which is very nice slow moving river with lots of sandbars and vegetation along its length.  It was certainly typical of the pictures you see of the rivers in the north country.  The trail was kind of rough in places, especially when it disappeared up a creek.  Thankfully, the creek was dry at the time and after climbing over the rocks for 100 yards, the trail became obvious again as it left the creek.  Strange place for a hiking trail?  From their we had a climb up to a nice overlook of the surrounding valley of trees.  I was glad we choose to go around the loop clockwise, as the other direction would have been a very steep climb up some rough steps to the overlook.  Thankfully, it was only a mile in length.  This left us plenty of time to do some more exploring so we drove up the county road alongside the river for a few miles to see more of this very nice river.

Thursday was rainy with a cold front coming down out of Canada, so we drove over to Marquette to check out the other Ojibwa Casino.  It was certainly no larger than the casino in Baraga and if anything not as nice on the outside.  Especially with the condition of the parking lot and construction vehicles it was not very appealing on the outside.  The inside, however, was quite nice if very small.  However, during the middle of the week we had our choice of slot machines, which was good since the selection of cheap penny slots was limited.  We found enough to keep as playing for a couple of hours.  Especially since I was unable to bank any winnings, we ended to day out most of our stake.  Well, it happens sometimes.

It turned out that the cold front really came through on Friday, as it rain lightly most of the day.  Since we had already gone to the casino, we just relaxed in the campgrounds where I spent a good bit of time mapping out the next few months and making reservations through August.

Saturday was cooler and clear so we headed out to a museum we saw along US 41 on our way to Marquette.  Of course, this was after the consolation game in the World Cup where we watched England loose to Belgium for third place.  Outside the small town of Nagaunee is the Michigan Iron Industry Museum.  Last week we learned about the history of copper mining on the Keweenah, but that is not the only mining done in the UP.  Over time the mining of iron has actually produced more money and jobs then copper in three regions in the UP.  The first of these are the iron deposits at Nagaunee, which were first discovered by the land surveyors in 1844 when their compasses starting giving them problems.  The next year, the Jackson Mining Co came into the area on their way to prospect for copper further west.  When the local indians showed them the “Iron Mountain” they decided to mine iron instead and opened the Jackson Mine.  In 1849 they constructed the first iron forge to produce pig iron rather than shipping the raw ore.  This was the preferred method until around 1900 when iron forges that could only be fired up in the summer was more expensive then shipping the ore to locations near Detroit once the Soo Locks were opened in 1855.  The mining process has changed a lot over the years and this museum does a very good job of detailing the changes through a series of excellent exhibits.  I would also recommend spending the $1 to view the documentary about the life of a miner and how that has changed over the years as well.  Outside the museum they also have two short hiking trails.  The first provides overlooks of the Carp River where the first iron forge was located and has interpretive signs about the local vegetation and how the local Indians used them.  The second trail winds over to an overlook of the Carp River with interpretive signs about the geology that formed the iron deposits found today.  All but one of the mines is now closed, but you can still see this strip mine on top of the hill overlooking Ishpeming.

On Sunday we watched the final game of the World Cup between France and Croatia.  We were both disappointed that France won the game in the way they did it.  Their first two goals were flukes, the first being a free kick after a penalty where it was obvious from the replay was a dive on the part of the French player.  He went down without being touched.  There should not have been a free kick in the first place and then the goal was scored by a Croatian player who was unable to head the ball over the goal.  The second French goal came from a hand ball in the box that was very controversial.  Being up two goals certainly changed the game in France’s favor. France did manage to score two legitimate goals and Croatia embarrassed the French goal keeper for being sloppy with the ball, thereby getting their own fluke goal.  Over the entire game I thought Croatia was the better team that day, but France won the cup.  The rest of the day was spent relaxing in the campgrounds.  Certainly not a bad way to spend an afternoon in the UP.

 

July, 2018 – Houghton, Michigan

While we have not spent nearly as much time in Wisconsin as I would like, it will have to wait.  For the next month and a half we are going to explore the upper peninsula of Michigan which we did not get to last summer.  The highlight of the summer will be meeting the family at Mackinaw Island in August, but the adventure began in the extreme western end of the UP on the Keweenah Peninsula.  Years ago, I had been through Houghton and Copper Harbor on the peninsula on my way to and from an extended hiking trip on Isle Royale.  At that time we spent no time on the peninsula itself, so I was looking forward to the extended experience.  Our base of operation was going to be the City of Houghton RV Park which was the only RV park I could find on the entire peninsula that could accommodate large RVs.  A month ago I felt very lucky to get a reservation for the week of July 4 in this very small RV park of only 25 sites.  We were also looking forward to being able to view the Independence Day fireworks from our RV since the park overlooks the canal the cuts through the peninsula.  On this we were disappointed as the cities of Houghton and Hancock, which is just across the canal, had their displays the over Fathers Day weekend as part of their bridge celebrations.  It was probably a spectacular show, but we would have to find somewhere else to celebrate Independence Day.  The drive north through the Northwoods was very nice, even if the highways were all two lane as we wound between the many lakes in the region.  As we got close to Houghton we found a parking lot to pull into and called the campground for directions.   We had been warned that our GPS would not guide us the correct way and they were correct since our GPS would have tried to bring us in the back way which would have meant traveling miles to circle around.  Their directions were clear and we found the RV park with no problem.  As I said before, this is a very small park and had the initial feel of a parking lot.  However, each site came with a picnic table and wooden bench set under a wooden canopy overlooking the canal.  We both fell in love with the location especially after dark with the lights of Hancock just across the canal.  We were both very happy with the location and hated to leave.  For supper that first night in Houghton we decided to try out the local brewery in town, the Keweenah Brewing Company, that along with the next door Pizza Works, is the first stop of returning Michigan Tech graduates, at least according to the manager of the RV Park.  They had some very good beer, great atmosphere, especially since they delivered the pizza right to the bar.

Our main goal for the week, besides Independence Day, was the Keweenah National Historical Park that has a Visitor Center in the middle of Calumet, Michigan about 20 miles further north.  This is a very unusual National Park as it covers the entire Keweenah Peninsula through over 20 National Heritage Sites scattered all through the peninsula.  The NPS owns about 1500 acres around two units at Calumet and the Quincy Mines outside of Hancock.  The rest of the sites are a coordination between the NPS and private, local, and state owned properties.  Obviously, we did not have enough time to visit all of them, so we had to be selective.  A good place to start was at the Visitor Center in Calumet.  There we learned a lot about the copper mining industry on the peninsula where the first boom and bust mining bonanza in the US began in 1844.  A few years earlier the state geologist, Douglas Houghton, had published a survey of the upper peninsula noting the rich copper deposits on the Keweenah Peninsula.  Beginning along the shores of Lake Superior and eventually moving inland to the rich vein running down the center of the peninsula, the next forty years was the first mining boom financed by mostly Boston investors.  While nearly all of these mines failed to turn profits and quickly came and went there were a few highly successful mines.  The first was the Cliff Mine at Eagle Harbor on the west coast of the peninsula and later the Calumet and Hecla Mine and Quincy Mine, located at Calumet and Hancock, respectively.  While the initial shaft would continue to descend, horizontal drifts along the copper seam would eventually lead to additional vertical shafts to access them.  Thus new towns would continue to spring along with the new shafts and you get a string of small towns interspersed with wild terrain down the center of the peninsula.  With the closing of the mines following World War II, most of these small towns are just memories today, but it is still strange to travel through one small town center after another along US 41.  It was also interesting that most of the miners were new immigrants and each wave of immigrants were mostly from different European countries.  By 1900, over 40 languages were spoken in the different small ethnic communities, each with their own town center, schools, and churches.  The number of churches in this small area was staggering, but each ethnic group wanted their own place of worship.  The mining companies would provide cheap housing, free medical services, schools, and materials for churches, etc but this was often in lieu of wages since there was an endless supply of new immigrants.  We learned a lot about the history of copper mining and how it changed from 1840 to 1920 becoming more mechanized and requiring fewer miners.  The Cooper Country Strike of 1912-1913 began the decline of mining in the area as many mines were closed and workers sought better jobs in the automobile industry or western mines.  We also learned a lot about the immigrant communities and the life of a miner and his family.  We especially enjoyed talking with the Park Ranger who pulled out a community map of the Calumet area with all the small ethnic enclaves at the turn of the century.  Very fascinating.  After spending a couple of hours in the museum and eating lunch in the city park, we walked around the downtown area of Calumet which they are still trying to preserve and restore.  There are a number of very large churches in the town and even a fancy theater from the turn of the century.  It is still a very depressed area and needs a lot more tourist activity to revive the center of town.  The NPS is doing all they can to assist in this preservation of an important chapter in our history.

Once we got back to the RV Park we only had a couple of hours before meeting up with Dave Reed and his wife, Beth, who we had not seen since graduate school over 30 years ago.  They grilled some burgers and we had a great time spending the evening catching up on all the years since graduate school.  Dave is still the VP for Research at Michigan Tech in Houghton and has had a lot of experience with research projects in Scandinavia and Russia over the years.  While our college experiences have been very different we found we could still relate through our teaching, research, and administrative experiences.  Kal and Beth had a great time comparing our three kids with their three daughters.  Beth was also a graduate student in Forest Biometrics at Virginia Tech along with Dave and I.  She is still teaching Mathematics and Statistics at Michigan Tech and had a lot of interesting stories to tell.  Thankfully, the next day was Independence Day as we were there until nearly midnight and were reluctant to leave.  It was great to be able to catch up after all of the these years and wished our paths had crossed before now.

Wednesday was July the 4th, so we decided to check out some of the local celebrations instead of any of the historic sites on the peninsula.  There were a couple of Independence Day parades scheduled in small towns not so far away and instead of attending the “Gay Parade” in Gay, Michigan to the north, we headed south to the small town of South Range for their parade.  It was not only closer, but we wanted to enjoy the festivities of a small town celebration instead of the touristy experience of a well attended Gay Parade.  We certainly found what we were looking for in South Range.  At 2:00 the parade headed down Main Street, which is only a couple of blocks, with the storm warning sirens blaring out of the firehouse we were standing in front of to announce the start of the parade.  It would have been a good idea not to be so close to these sirens!!  However, the high school band also stopped at our location to play the National Anthem, so our choice of locations also had its advantages.  Next came all the young kids on bicycles which was a lot of fun to watch.  There were a number of floats from local organizations, including a float from the NPS which was a big styrofoam black rock with two miners.  Kind of strange!!  Mostly the parade was firetrucks from all the communities in the area and a lot of antique cars.  Unlike the Mardis Gras parades where they threw plastic beads and moon pies, this parade featured candy.  All the kids watching had plastic bags to collect as much candy as they could and we were glad to help those near us to get a good collection of candy.  It was certainly a lot of fun.

We returned to the RV Park for the afternoon, but came back to South Range for their fireworks display.  We got there a good hour before the show and found a good parking place right on the side of highway through town.  We were right across the street from their Veterans Park where the show was to be staged.  As it got dark we got to watch all of the individual displays going in different locations within South Range.  It turned out we had prime seats for the show as it was obvious once it began that the launch site was just across the road.  In fact, a lot of the fireworks were directly overhead!!  Except for the fact that they seemed to really like the BIG bangs that shook us and the truck, it was pretty neat.  Especially the ending display which was directly overhead and made you feel like you were inside the show!!  I am just glad all of the fireworks went off as intended and stayed far up in the air!  Except for it being another late night, it was a great show.  It should be noted that this far north means it does not get dark until nearly 10:30, especially since the Boston investors insisted the area be Eastern Time Zone dragging the boundary far to the west to include the peninsula.  Finally, I should note that on the peninsula there is only the main highway through town.  Side streets run only a couple of blocks, so the only way in and out of town is the main highway.  The traffic jam after the fireworks display was probably a once a year occurrence!

Thursday it was back to exploring the peninsula.  We knew there was no way to see all of the historical sites on the peninsula, so we decided to head north to Copper Harbor to the Fort Wilkins Historic State Park.  However, on the way we would check out a couple of other sites first.  Instead of staying on US 41 to Copper Harbor, we headed west on 9 mile road which cuts over to Lake Superior to Eagle Harbor.  While most of the road stays within the woods, there are a couple of nice pull-outs where you can see the lake as you approach Eagle Harbor.  It was certainly windy and cool on Thursday which was a great break from the 80 degree weather of the previous couple of weeks.  Eagle Harbor is a natural harbor near the site of Cliff Mine, which was the first successful mine on the peninsula.  Unlike the deep mines inland, this mine was not much more than a surface mine into the hillside following a copper fissure.  The small town grew up in support of this mine and a lighthouse was built to guide ships into the harbor.  The original lighthouse was built in 1851 but was replaced with the current lighthouse in 1871.  Along with the lighthouse which was also the home of the lighthouse manager, there are exhibits about the Life-Saving Service and a couple of famous shipwrecks in the area.  The most famous of these was the wreck of the City of Bangor in 1926.  The City of Bangor was going from Detroit to Duluth with a load of brand new Chryslers.  While those on deck were lost, those in the hold were eventually salvaged.  When the water froze solid enough they built a ramp to drive the cars off the wreck.  Of course, this meant they had to snow plow the road south to Houghton for the very first time!

From Eagle Harbor we headed across the peninsula on the Brockway Mountain Road, which wound our way up to the peak of Brockway Mountain.  The “peak” is a rock outcropping that gives some GREAT views of Lake Superior and the surrounding forests.  Of course, this assumes you can stand against the stiff wind that was trying to blow you off the peak.  On the way down we crossed a number of mountain bike trials.  It turns out this is a favorite and well known location for mountain biking with a large selection of trails to choose from.

From there we descended into the town of Copper Harbor, the natural harbor that was the beginning of the copper rush in the 1840s.  In 1844, the federal government constructed Fort Wilkins for two companies of soldiers to protect the miners and financial interests of the Boston investors from any problems from the local Ojibwa tribes.  It turned out to be unnecessary as there was never any problem with the Indians.  The fort was manned for only two years before the outbreak of the Mexican-American War when they were pulled out.  The fort remained abandoned until after the Civil War when it was used as one of the locations for Union soldiers to complete their terms of enlistment.  After three years it was again abandoned.  Surprisingly, many of the structures survived until it became a state park in 1923.  Beginning with the WPA in the 1930s they have worked to restore and rebuild most of the structures of the original fort.  Within most of the buildings there are nice exhibits about life and living conditions during both periods of use and the volunteers in period dress were a lot of fun to talk with.  While not the most interesting fort we have seen, it is still well worth the visit to learn about life on the frontier of the northwoods.

On Friday we had a day that was the highlight of the week, at least for me.  We traveled to the top of the hill above Hancock to the Shaft #2 of the Quincy Mine.  This was the main shaft of one of the most successful copper mines on the Keweenah and extended down nearly two miles in depth with side drifts extending outward about every 10 feet.  The biggest problem with these mines was water that seeped in everywhere, so much that they maintained a sump at the bottom of each shaft and used Sunday every week to haul out water from the sump.  To help with this problem a drift on level 7 was extended to an exit on the side of the hill with a slight downward slope to drain the water out.  By now every level below level 7 is filled with water.  More recently they have increased the size of this side drift to accommodate an electric tram and to serve as an outside classroom for mining classes at Michigan Tech, sort of like our Forestry Summer Camp.  Along the passage they have opened up classrooms and demonstration areas.  They also use this side shaft to provide mine tours.  The tour starts in the last of four ever larger hoist houses that use steam engines and cables to raise and lower the buckets and mancars.  Built in 1908 this hoist house is the home of the largest Nordberg Steam-powered hoist, which is a massive rotating drum turned either direction by massive steam driven pistons.  The building itself was also a show piece to impress potential investors with Italian tile on the floor and marble on the exterior.  It certainly looked out of place at a mine site.  The tour then continues into the mine which begins with a ride down the hillside on a cog-rail tramcar which was built for this purpose.  Miners would not have entered this way as they would ride mancars straight down into the shaft.  From the tramcar you get on an electric tram that they drive into the mine shaft which is a constant 45 degrees.  They do provide coats and hard hats for everyone as it is quite cold in the mine.  Although it was 45 degrees at level 7, the temperatures would rise as you descended and was likely over 100 degrees at the bottom of the shaft.  After a 15 minute ride into the mine you exit and continue on foot.  They have demonstrations set up of the one man power drill that was used to drill the holes for explosives, a mine car full of ore on a short track, and some views further into the mine.  Even though these demonstrations were interesting, they would have been used at the much deeper levels.  The upper levels are much older and the miners would not have power tools.  Two men with sledge hammers and a third holding an iron spike would have drilled the holes by candlelight.  Ore would be carted to the main shaft using wheelbarrows.  Mining technology changed a lot over the 40 years this mine was in operation.  Once you return to the surface you can take a look at a typical miners house with exhibits inside and the ground portion of Shaft House #2.  Of course the actual shaft has been sealed, but inside the shaft house you can see the buckets and mancars used to transport ore and men, respectively.  The entire tour took the better part of two hours, but it was well worth the time and expense.

After a full week of activities we took Saturday off and watched some of the World Cup.  After the soccer games on Sunday, we decided to get in the truck and drive south to Baraga to check out one of two Ojibwa Casinos.  While it is a much smaller casino then most we have visited, it had all the slot machines we needed to have a fun afternoon.  Of course, coming out with most of our stake didn’t hurt.  Anytime we spend less than $20 we figure we broke even for the day.

 

June, 2018 – Eagle River, Wisconsin

Out next trip north was one of the longest so far this year being nearly 3 hours.  The good side is that we were finally far enough north that the temperature was noticeably cooler.   Of course, part of this was due to a cold front from Canada, but we were thankful for the cooler weather.  We left the farms and ranches behind as we headed in to the northwoods with hemlock, red and white pine, maple, and spruce.  Northeast Wisconsin is a land of forests and small glacial lakes, of which there are a lot.  Our next stop was just east of Eagle River, Wisconsin in a private RV park, Chain O’ Lakes Campground.  It is only 4 miles from WI 70 outside of Eagle River, but then it is 5 miles on winding back country roads off of the highway ending with a 0.5 mile dirt road to the campground.  Just a few miles to the east from the campgrounds is the 600,000 acre Nicolet National Forest, so the campground is very secluded except for all the cabins surrounding the many small lakes.  Chain O’ Lakes Campground is an old KOA campground, although most KOA campgrounds are much better organized.  I don’t know what drunken fool laid out the campground, but it is a sprawling mess with a confusing mess of narrow winding roads.  In some places you can’t tell the road from the pull through sites.  Nearly all of the campground is filled with seasonal campers, so there are just a few campsites for transients scattered among the seasonal rigs.  The campground looks to be full, except most of the seasonal campers aren’t there during the week.  We had a pull through site and thankfully the owners had us swing around the campground since the direct route would have had trees at the corner of the site making this direction impossible to pull into the site.  The direction we came in was much better and we soon were set up for the week.  Except for all the seasonal rigs all over the place, some nicely kept up and others not so much, it was a nice campground and very conveniently located for what we wanted to do for the week.

Campsite

Our main goal for the week was to explore the northwoods so on Tuesday we headed into Eagle River to the National Forest office to find out about hiking trails.  If you are ever in the area I strongly recommend this as we got a wealth of information from trail guides, a huge road map, and brochures about each of the trails we might be interested in including a driving tour of the area.  We certainly had more than we needed for the week.  From there we went in search for the Wildwood Outdoor Adventure company to sign up for a kayak trip down the Wisconsin River.  We booked a 2.5 hour trip for Wednesday morning and went back to the campground for lunch.  After lunch we had time for a short hike so we headed over to a nature trail at Franklin Lake in the National Forest.  We had been given a brochure about the trail that gave some information at each of the numbered posts on the hike.  This was a great hike to get a good overview of the habitats you find in the northwoods.  The 1.5 mile loop trail winds through a red pine plantation from the CCC work in the 1930s, an old growth hemlock stand, the shoreline community on Franklin Lake, a peat bog full of mosquitoes, and a glacial till sandy ridge overlooking the campgrounds.  Except for the mosquitoes that followed us out of the bog, it was a great hike on a cool summer afternoon.

We got an early start on Wednesday for a float trip down the Wisconsin River.  We had our choice of going upstream and floating down to Eagle River or to start at Eagle River and float south on the river.  The upstream trip was narrow with swift water due to all the recent rains and would have challenging rocks and possible downed trees to contend with.  Therefore, we decided to float the downstream portion that should be calmer with fewer hazards.  Unfortunately, most of this trip was alongside of the highway so there was constant noise from the traffic that was a bit distracting.  Since we were traveling in the middle of the week and starting early in the morning, we had the river to ourselves and we likely the first kayaks since the weekend.  We were rewarded for our decision by seeing a couple of hawks and 7-8 bald eagles over the next 3 hours.  We even had the pleasure of watching a bald eagle dive into the water after a fish and then pinwheel back to shore with a fish in tow, I assume since he never left the water.  We suspect the fish must have gotten away as we again saw the same eagle in a tree without a fish as we drew closer.  The river current was fairly strong during the first 1.5 hours so we had to do very little paddling except around a few rocks and a couple of rocky shoals.  When we got the first takeout we decided to extend the trip another 45 minutes and after a quick phone call to check in we were back on the river.  This river over this next section was wider and slower so we had to work a little bit more, but the river got far enough away from the highway that we could no longer hear it.  The next takeout came up much faster then we anticipated, so we decided to do the final section of the river which would add another 45 minutes.  Unfortunately, the river continued to widen until it became a lake with no current.  We finally saw a couple of people out fishing in the lake, which are the only people we saw the entire trip.  The exit from the lake was not obvious, so we spent a little time paddling into a couple of small coves looking for the river.  When we finally found the river again we were thankfully close to the take out since we now had gotten our workout with the paddles getting across the lake.  Our ride showed up a half hour later and we were taken back to the outfitters where we had to pay a little extra for the two extensions to the trip.  We both agreed the money was well worth it.   The scenery was outstanding, the eagles were inspiring, and all together the trip was a great way to experience the northwoods.  I highly recommend it and we look forward to our next opportunity.

Thursday, it was back for another hike in the Nicolet National Forest. We choose another 1.5 mile loop trail that was close by, this time the trail circles a small glacial lake called Deer Lake.  The trail hugs the shoreline all the way around the lake, which means we had plenty of opportunity to appreciate the beauty of the crystal clear blue lakes of the northwoods.  We even saw and heard our first loon and even got some nice pictures at one point.  I was surprised to see how low loons sit in the water, unlike a duck that floats on top of the water.  At least half of the loon’s body was underwater.  The trail was easy to follow and except for a couple of swampy areas that nearly turned us around, it was an easy hike.  Unlike many of these lakes in the area, even those within the National Forest, have cabins on them, this lake was undeveloped and wild.  It was a real treat.

Friday threatened rain and although it was late afternoon before we saw any, we decided to spend the better part of the day at the nearby casino called Northern Waters Casino Resort in Watersmeet, Michigan.  Since we are only about 20 miles south of the stateline, this was less than an hour from the campground.  Both Kal and I did fairly well, especially a $50 payout, and we even came away earning $5.  While this is unexpected when we go to a casino, it is nice to once in a while come out ahead.  Except for the construction at the main casino entrance as they upgrade the front, it was a very nice casino and well maintained.  This was kind of surprising since Watersmeet is a long way from and reasonable size town except for Eagle River which is more of a tourist town.  Maybe this is the reason as it could draw in a lot of summer tourists.

Saturday was spent doing laundry, cleaning, watching the World Cup, and just relaxing in the campgrounds.  Sunday was essentially a repeat, except for the laundry and cleaning.

June, 2018 – Waupaca, Wisconsin

To get to our next location, we traveled due north on WI 22 the entire way.  We did find a nice truck stop at the half way point for a break, but otherwise it was a 2.5 hour trip through a mix of farms and forests.  Our next stop was just outside the town of Waupaca at the Waupaca S’more Fun Campground.  It is located just off US 10 which is a four lane highway running between Stevens Point and Green Bay and just outside of town which meant we had grocery stores, etc within 5 miles.  The campground also had the best free WiFi we have ever seen and so we put away the hotspot for a rest.  TV reception was also pretty good, so we were able to watch all the World Cup soccer that Fox showed in the mornings and weekend.  The campground itself was very nice since they set aside the best sites along the lake for transient campers.  Most private RV parks rent out the best sites to permanent seasonal campers and transients get the left overs.  However, the campground was laid out strangely.  Their dump station was right in front of the bathrooms and office instead of being tucked away from everything.  In addition, it was positioned for people coming into the campground instead of exiting.  This meant that we had to travel around the campgrounds to get lined up to dump when we left and then around the entire campground again in order to exit.  Thus there was considerable traffic through the campgrounds on Sunday with everyone circling twice through the campgrounds.  In addition, our campsite was laid out strangely since it was angled in the wrong direction.  In order to back the RV into the site I had to turn the whole rig around first.  Thankfully this corner of the campground had a large turnaround area, so I was able to back the RV once and then pull forward to get in the correct position.  Once we got into the site we discovered we had a very nice site.  It had 50 amp electrical hookups and a large concrete porch and RV pad.  The back end of the RV looked over their lake and we very much enjoyed it all week.

Campsite

Tuesday was our day for laundry and cleaning the RV, so we did not do anything except watch some soccer on TV.  On Wednesday we headed southwest from Waupaca to the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Necedah, Wisconsin.  This refuge is located on the bed of a large glacial lake and became essentially a large peat bog and swamp after the glaciers melted.  After the trees were in the area were logged in the late 1800s, settlers attempted to drain the swamp and plant crops.  However, peat bogs do not make good farmland being nutrient poor and very sandy.  Along with the short growing season the farms were abandoned by the 1930s.  The 14,000 acre refuge was established in 1939 for migratory birds and has become a very important refuge for the recovery of the whooping crane.  I must say that the Visitor Center on the refuge is likely the best visitor center we have ever seen on a National Wildlife Refuge.  Not only because it is new, but also the design and construction.  It is as environmentally friendly as they can make it using mostly recycled materials, solar panels, and rainwater cisterns.  It by itself is well worth seeing and learning about.  However, we were there for some hikes and a chance to view some wildlife.  The best trail they have is right behind the Visitor Center, which is a one mile loop through some signature wetlands and along the shore of one of their many lakes.  We had the privilege of spotting a pair of whooping cranes in the distance probably raising some young chicks as they stayed fairly close to one spot and did not move much.   Unfortunately we were not close enough, even with the binoculars, to be sure.  Kal also saw a furry animal disappear under the boardwalk that extended out along the shore of the lake.  She was not sure if it was a river otter or beaver and was not quick enough to get a picture.  After this short walk we drove over to another trail head to eat lunch and then hike to their 3 story observation tower.  From the top of the tower you could see a lot of the surrounding wetlands.  From their we are able to see the same whooping cranes again, but they were even further away this time.  After leaving the tower we continued on the trail which was another loop trail through the forests.  However, the wind had died down and the mosquitoes got so bad that we turned around after about a third of a mile.  While the wind was blowing in the morning we did not notice any bugs, but now they were all over us.  Still it was a very good experience and this is certainly a wildlife refuge I would recommend.

On Thursday, I thought we would drive over to Green Bay and check out some of the state parks on the peninsula on the east side of the bay in Lake Michigan.  However, once we got started the GPS said it would take nearly 2 hours to get there and we quickly decided it was not worth it.  However, we needed to get an annual sticker for the car as every state park required it and at $11 a day for non-residents, an annual sticker was much cheaper.  So we went back to the RV to figure out where we could get a sticker and the only office closer than Green Bay was not open on Thursdays.  Hartman Creek State Park was only 5 miles from Waupaca, so we decided to try there in the hope they sold the stickers.  Since there was a campground in the park, there was a good chance.  Thankfully, this paid off as we were able to buy an annual sticker which at $40 for non-residents will more than pay for itself.  We checked on some available trails and selected a one mile loop through the forests with some nice views of one of the lakes in the park.  This trail meandered through a red pine plantation that I suspect was planted by the CCC in the 1930s.  The pine trees certainly looked to be over 80 years old and we know the CCC did a lot of work to establish the park.  We were able to finish the hike before lunch, so we drove over to a picnic area to eat.

This left us the entire afternoon to do something else, however, Kal was more interested in driving to the nearby casino for the afternoon rather than taking in another hike.  So we drove north to Wittenberg to another of the Ho-Chunk Gaming establishments.  While not as nice as the Ho-Chunk casino at Wisconsin Dells, it was still quite nice except for the construction that was going on at the main entrance.  We had a very nice afternoon with both of us winning a little bit here and there, managing to lose only about $10 for the afternoon.  For us, this is doing very good.

I should mention that the weather continued to be very pleasant with temperatures only in the mid to upper 70s and no rain.  So on Friday we decided to take in another hike on the Hartman Creek State Park, since we now had a sticker that got us in for free.  We did another relatively short hike of just over a mile around Hartman Lake.  This time the trail was right along the shore so we got to see a lot of water plants, flowers, and dragonflies.  We even chased three families of Canadian Geese down the path until they decided to enter the water with their young chicks.  Since we were so close to the campgrounds we went back for lunch and spent the afternoon relaxing in the campgrounds.

Over the weekend the campground got very busy with kids and families everywhere, so we decided to just stay put and enjoy the show.  We watched the World Cup group play on Fox and I found time to work on this blog.  We have found out that we enjoy being busy during the week when most families are working and the places we go are not busy.  For instance, we only saw one family and a couple at the wildlife refuge earlier in the week.  Then during the weekend we relax in the campground avoiding the crowds.