August, 2018 – Iron Mountain, Michigan

For our last stop in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, we headed west from Manistique to Iron Mountain.  As the name suggests this is in the heart of the Menominee Iron Range from which millions of tons of iron ore was mined from the 1870s to the 1930s.  After seeing the iron mines on Lake Superior earlier in the summer, I thought it would be interesting to explore the more productive iron mining region in Michigan.  Although the iron deposits were discovered before the Civil War, the war delayed construction of the railroads needed to transport the ore to Escanaba on Lake Michigan.  As the railroads pushed into the Menonimee Iron Range, mines and towns sprang up along the way and Iron Mountain was one of the largest.   The Chapin Mine in Iron Mountain was the most productive mine in the region.  Our stop for the half week was just north of Iron Mountain, Summer Breeze Campground.  This is a nice, medium sized campground, with full hookup sites, of which more than half are pull-through sites.  Therefore, we were able to easily park the RV in the site and get set up on Thursday.

Campsite

I was interested in exploring the history of iron mining in the region, so on Friday we headed into Iron Mountain to check out the Cornish Pumping Engine and Mining Museum.  At the same location was another museum devoted to the World War II Gliders made in the Ford Motor Plant in Kingsford, Michigan.  Kal was really more interested in this museum and we weren’t really sure we wanted to spend the extra fee to see a huge water pump.  Since we had plenty of time, we decided to do both museums and I am glad we did.  While without a doubt the Cornish Pump Engine was HUGE, spanning 54 feet from the floor and 75 feet in length.  The steam powered flywheel is 40 feet in diameter and weighs 160 tons!!  While the flywheel would only turn at about 10 rpm, it would still pump over 4.5 million gallons a water a day from the Chapin Mine.  Obviously the Chapin Mine was one of the wettest iron mines ever, but it was also the most productive so I guess it was worth it.  While this engine does dominate the museum, after a couple of pictures to capture its size. there was little else of interest.  However, once you turn your attention to the other exhibits you find a treasure trove of information about iron mining.  There are displays about the early history including discovery and attempts to extract ore before the Civil War, as well as, separate history of every mining company in the area.  Scattered through these displays are everyday artifacts of the miners lives and personal equipment.  Finally, they have an extensive collection of mining equipment ranging from ore cars, electric engines, jackhammers, scrappers, etc.  It you are interested in iron mining, this museum is a must see.

Directly behind the Cornish Pump Museum is the World War II Glider and Military Museum.  Part of this history is the purchase of 313,000 acres of timberland by Henry Ford in the 1920s.  As this was during the decline of the iron mining industry, it was a welcome source of employment for the area.  Ford purchased the land in order to build a self-sufficient automobile manufacturing plant.  In addition to the a huge automobile factory to produce the old Woody Wagons, there was also a huge sawmill complex and hydroelectric plant to provide the wooden frames, floorboards, siding, and wheels for the cars.  An interesting sideline at the time was the development of charcoal briquets from the sawdust leading to the formation of Kingsford Charcoal that is still the leading charcoal manufacturer.  As with many industries during World War II, the automobile factory was retooled to produce war materiel.  In this case, it was to produce the Model CG-4A gliders, taking advantage of the huge sawmill.  From 1942-1945 they built 4,190 wooden gliders, nearly as many as all the other producers of gliders combined.  These gliders were a single use aircraft landing silently at night behind enemy lines to deliver troops, jeeps, and other supplies.  They were used in nearly all theaters of the war from Europe to China and the Philippines.  Within the museum is one of only seven gliders to have survived the war and you can learn about the construction and operational techniques from the well done exhibits.  There were also exhibits with war memorabilia and even the vehicles made by the plant before the war, including the Woody Wagon.  However, the glider was definitely the main attraction.

On Saturday, we were in the mood for a hike along the Menominee River, so we headed to Peirs Gorge which was recommended by the campground owners.  It was a good recommendation as the hike upstream along the Menominee River was an easy to moderate hike with nice views of the river.  Along this 5 mile stretch of the river it cuts through the lower reaches of the Menominee Iron Range creating a nice Class II and possibly a Class III cascade.  Since we were there Saturday morning we had the path to ourselves except for a small group of wedding planners setting up for an afternoon wedding ceremony with the cascade as a backdrop.  He was placing a series of small rocks with arrows painted on them to direct the wedding party to the location for the ceremony.  There were suppose to be 4 cascades on the river, however, after hiking a half mile from the third cascade, we gave up and turned around.  On the way back we saw the first of many white water rafts coming down the river.  For some reason they were each towing a second raft.  Just upstream of the Class III cascade they pulled in and dropped off this second raft before proceeding over the falls.  The reason for the second raft became obvious when we saw them disembarking from the rafts to hike back up to ride the cascade a second time!!  While unusual, I suppose it makes sense since the entire gorge is only about 5 miles long and would take less than 20 minutes to come down in a raft.  Being able to ride the best part of the trip a second time would make the overall trip worthwhile, I suppose.  In any case they seemed to be having a great time and we got some nice pictures of them going over the small waterfall.  We got back to the truck just in time to watch the wedding party preparing to hike up to the ceremony which more than filled the small parking lot at the trailhead.

We spent Sunday relaxing in the campground, while I put some time in on this catching up with this blog.

August, 2018 – Manistique, Michigan

After saying goodbye to the family at St Ignace, we set out to continue our journey through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, this time staying to the southern edge along Lake Michigan.  We traveled for about 1.5 hours along US 2 with many sights of Lake Michigan to the south.  Thus we saw three of the Great Lakes this summer as we circumnavigated the peninsula.  Since it was already the middle of August, we decided to pick up the pace so we would have more time to explore the western part of Wisconsin as we began our journey south for the winter.  Thus our stay in Manistique was going to be only for 3 nights on the first part of two split weeks.  Our next location is about 6 miles north of Manistique on the shores of Indian Lake, which is the fourth largest lake in the U.P.  Appropriately named, the Indian Lake Travel Resort, is a relatively small campground with less than 100 sites tightly packed around a single loop.  Most of the sites along the outside of the loop had seasonal campers leaving less than half the sites for transient campers on the interior of the loop.  In addition, there were 4 pull through sites lined up at the office as you entered the campgrounds and we got one of these spots.  It made it very easy to get in and out of, however, it eliminated any view of the lake.  We were also parked right next to the their propane filling tank which made me very nervous.  All of the sites were very small and tightly packed together with barely enough room for a picnic table.  As we were there for only three nights it was adequate even if it would not make my list of favorite campgrounds.

Campsite

Since we had spent the last week with the family using our linens and towels for their beds, we had a LOT of laundry to do!!  Thus Kal spent a major part of Tuesday doing laundry while I got the RV cleaned up and working on catching up with this blog, as I was now two weeks behind.

Now that we were all caught up, we went to explore a state park we had been hearing about on the TV for the past month: Palms Book State Park.  This is the home of Kitch-iti-kipi, the largest underground spring in the U.P.  The spring is 400 feet across and 40 feet deep with an impressive outflow of over 10,000 gallons per minute.  The water quickly empties into Indian Lake so fish have free access to the pool and there are a large number of very large trout in the pool.  The water is absolutely clear, even if it has a slight sulpher smell from the underground minerals it picks up, and the fish can be easily seen swimming around in the pool.  There is a history of rafts and boats for tourists since the late 1800s and today they have a self-propelled raft with a glass bottom.  We crowded onto the raft with the surprising number of people at the park on a Wednesday morning and the kids kept themselves busy propelling the raft.  This meant they turned a large wheel attached to a cable that spanned the pool.  As the raft slowly made its way across the pool you can either look out over the edge of the raft or through the enclosed glass bottom in the center.  We got a lot of good pictures of the trout in the pool and even a short video of the rippling sands on the bottom as the water gushed in.  It was really cool, especially for being less than 10 miles from the campground.

While the spring was really neat, it takes less than an hour to explore everything this park has to offer.  Therefore, we went in search of a hiking trail in the Indian Lake Stat Park on the south shore of the lake.  In a very nice picnic area with shelters and bathrooms constructed by the CCC and WPA in the 1930s, they have a one mile loop trail.  The trail runs along the shore of the lake and then up into the forests between the lake and highway.  I was surprised to see the very young condition of the forest, which was mostly scrub and small trees, after knowing the CCC and WPA established the state park.  Part of this was due to the swampy nature of most of the trail, but still I was disappointed not seeing a more mature forest.  In addition, the trail is heavily used by mountain bikers, which meant you had to watch your step since it was muddy and torn up for most of the mile.  They have attempted to fix some of the worst areas by putting down small logs across the trail, but this made it even more treacherous to walk on.  In any case, we had a quick hike in the woods before heading back to the campsite for lunch.

August, 2018 – St Ignace, Michigan

WOW!!!  This was the kind of week with the family you dream about.  While it is always good to see the family, to be in a position to bring the entire family together in a great location, such as Mackinac Island, is simply GREAT!  It is especially great when everyone in the family truly enjoys each other’s company.  I personally did not see a single disagreement all week, which either means there was perfect harmony or they hid it well from me.  The addition of 1-year old Liam to the family gathering was a constant source of amusement for everyone, especially Kal and Jenny.  The family came from all directions, with Jenny flying in from Florida, William and Kristin driving from Maryland, and Nikki and Chris driving south from Canada after spending a few days camping there.  As I mentioned in the previous blog, we picked up Jenny at the Sault St Marie airport on Sunday, which meant we had an entire day with her before William’s family showed up Monday afternoon.  Nikki and Chris drove in on Thursday giving us a great weekend.  We only had a 1 hour trip from Bay Mills to St Ignace, so we arrived just after lunch and pulled into a nice pull-through site right next to the office.  While we could not see Lake Huron from our campsite, we did have a sewer hookups which was essential to handle all the showers all week.  Even though the sites are close to each other there is a nice screen of trees providing some privacy.  Since the road next to our site was the main exit from the campground and also the way to the dump station, there was a good bit of traffic all week.  However, this turned out to be a plus as it provided Liam with something to watch when he was outside.  The location was also very easy to get the RV in and out of.  I would not want to attempt to back the RV into most of the back-in sites in the campground.  In summary, it was a very nice campground and absolutely perfect for the family.  William, Kristin, and Liam arrived late in the afternoon and we got them set up in our tent in the area of the campground for tents.  This was a bit of a walk from our campsite, but they had a view of Lake Huron from their site and drove the car up each day to bring Liam.  Since they only used the site to sleep, it worked out well.  I should mention that having five adults was perfect, since this always left at least one adult to watch and play with Liam, but also left 4 adults to play spades whenever we had some free time.  Even meals were relatively easy as there were plenty of hands to pitch in.  For the most part meals were kept simple so the time spent cooking was kept to a minimum.

Especially after two days spent on the road for William, they were perfectly happy to relax in the campground on Tuesday, although we did discuss preliminary plans for the week.  Jenny and Kal were very happy playing with Liam, which gave William and Kristin as much of a break as they could get.  Especially since Kal and I visited the area last summer, we were also perfectly happy to just spend the time with our family.  We had already seen everything in the area we were interested in.  Thus Tuesday was spent relaxing, playing spades, playing with Liam, making meals, and drinking beer.  It was GREAT!!

Wednesday started out much the same in the morning with a communal breakfast.  The main plan for the day was for William and Kristin to head over to Mackinac Island to celebrate their 9th wedding anniversary with a nice dinner and carriage ride on the island.  This meant they were going to leave Liam with the three of us for about 4-5 hours as this was the maximum Kristin could go without breast feeding him.  This is a good point to talk a bit about our grandson, Liam.  He is all but one year old with his birthday later this month and is just about ready to walk.  He has got crawling down to a science employing three different techniques on his knees, toes, and a combination.  He is also learning to climb and come down stairs and the three steps we have in the RV was perfect for him.  While inside the RV he had the run of the living room and bedroom if someone was with him.  He is not yet strong enough to open any of the cabinets so just keeping things out of reach was sufficient to “baby proof” the RV this year.  Future visits will be more of a challenge.  When outside he was confined to someone’s lap or to our collapsible wagon, which worked great for this purpose.  We don’t own a rug to go on the ground since it is so hard on the grass and the ground around our RV was dirt and rocks.  Not easy to get around on your knees.  Liam is a very happy baby, laughing at all the funny sounds and faces of his aunts, uncles, and grandparents.  He is perfectly happy playing by himself on the floor or sitting in someone’s lap.  He and I had an enjoyable time playing with small rocks, of which there was an abundant supply outside.  I could keep a constant supply of rocks in the cupholders of our chairs for him to pull out and examine before dropping them.  I even filled up his pockets with small rocks for his mother to discover when she returned from Mackinac Island.  That made for a good laugh although we were still picking up rocks inside the RV for the next couple of days.  We had a great time playing with Liam all evening and he made it just fine for nearly 7 hours since they missed their ferry from the Island and did not get back until after 9.  Let me just say that Liam has the personality and smile to just light up a room.  Although I am just a little bit biased.

Thursday morning was again spent relaxing around the RV which means playing with Liam and playing spades.  If you are getting the idea that this family plays a lot of spades, you are correct.  There is usually a game going on with people replacing each other as needed.  Even Kristin and Chris have become very good spade players and are always ready to play.  Bryna (Nikki) and Chris pulled in early in the afternoon from their vacation in Canada.  After getting them set up in their brand new conversion van, we had to take a look and find out about their trip so far.  Nikki certainly has caught the “camping bug” and Chris seemed excited about the experience as well.  I hope they find many opportunities in the future to get out for at least a weekend every now and then.  Once again their site was a short distance from the RV as they wanted to have a view of Lake Huron and it was a great view with the beach right outside their camper.  Once again they were perfectly happy to relax at the RV for the rest of the day, playing cards and drinking beer.  We had bought a case of beer in Wisconsin to try and had a half case of the Hi-Wire brown ale.  Chris had brought a cooler full of Canadian, Pennsyvania and Vermont beer he had purchased along the way.  So we had plenty of new beers to try and we sampled them all.  We now had two more adults for spades which meant everyone had a chance to play or not as they desired.  I wonder how long it will be before Liam joins us to make two games possible?  After dinner we had our now “traditional” toast with tequila shots and then celebrated Liam’s first birthday.  Kristin had bought a chocolate cream pie for the occasion and after some encouragement he proceeded to smear chocolate cream pie all over his face.  Once he understood that we wanted him to make a mess, he really got into it!!  A lot of pictures and videos were taken.

Friday was our day to explore Mackinac Island, so we had made arrangements with Sheplers Ferry to pick us up at the campground at 9:00.  We had a quick breakfast mostly fixed the night before and caught the shuttle with time to spare.  However, William and Kristin drove their own car the 5 miles to the ferry since it was easier transporting Liam that way.  The shuttle also carried our four bikes for the kids to ride on the island.  We caught one of the special ferrys that traveled under the Mackinac Bridge which was a treat for everyone, especially since it was not raining as it did last year when we did the same thing.  Just like last year, we bought the combination ticket for everyone which included the carriage ride through town and the state park which makes up 80% of the island and entrance into Fort Mackinac.  As I mentioned this was exactly what Kal and I did last summer, which was great, since now we could both concentrate on watching everyone else enjoy the experience.  We saw the same sites and even heard many of the same stories from the carriage drivers and it was all brand new seen through the eyes of our family!!  Just like last year, the timing was perfect at the Fort since everyone was hungry and we caught lunch at the Tea Room in the Fort.  Unlike last year, the weather was beautiful and we enjoyed eating on the veranda overlooking the town and harbor.  After lunch we spent an hour looking at the Fort and then descended down to the grassy park in front of the Fort.  If you are interested in the the sights of either the carriage ride or the fort I refer you to the blog and pages from last year, as everything is the same except for the weather.  While Kal, Jenny, Liam, and I played and relaxed in the park, the two couples retrieved their bikes and rode the 8.2 miles around the island.  Surprisingly, this took them only an hour and everyone was ready for some shopping and dinner.  We leisurely shopped along the main street of town until we came to a nice restaurant for dinner.  We ate a long meal beginning with multiple appetizers and ending with some very good entrees, although Kal and I just split a meat and cheese plate as we were already full from the appetizers.  We also sampled some Michigan craft beers they had on tap.  Except for some mix ups with their taps that led to some interesting reactions when the beer was not what we expected, it was a very enjoyable meal.  From there we found some great ice cream for dessert and caught the ferry back to St Ignace.

After breakfast on Saturday morning we discussed what everyone wanted to do for the day which included Fort Michilimackinac across the bridge in Mackinac City.  If we had not explored it last summer, I probably would have pushed to go.  However, nobody was all the interested and were more interested in just relaxing in the campground.  Following lunch we decided to pack up the beer and chairs and head down to Nikki and Chris’s campsite for an afternoon on the beach.  Chris had brought along two collapsible kayaks which I had never seen the like.  Each was a flimsy plastic shell that would fold up completely for storage inside the van.  Once put together with straps it was a serviceable kayak, although not made for anything but flat water.  William and Chris took the kayak across the small bay on Lake Huron which was absolutely calm that day.  Even then they said it was a challenge to keep from tipping the kayak over.  Kal and Chris then took them out to explore the marshes close to shore.  After this it was time to introduce Liam to Lake Huron.  The water was very shallow a long ways out from the beach and everyone but me went wading.  While not sure at first, Liam quickly got the hang of sitting and crawling in the water although splashing was only fun until he splashed himself.  Along with some beer and spades, it was a VERY enjoyable afternoon on Lake Huron.  In the evening we finally pulled out the firewood I had purchased earlier in the week and had a fire to melt some marshmallows for smores.

Sunday was a somewhat sad since we had to say goodbye to Jenny who had to catch her flight back to Florida in the middle of the afternoon.  To brighten everyone’s spirits William talked us into going to the Garlyn Zoo, about an hour away along the coast of Lake Michigan.  It is a small family owned zoo, with a surprising number of animals from around the world.  Many of the animals could be fed using the food you could purchase and Kristin and Liam had a great time doing just that.  They even had some animals I never seen before such as reindeer and asian bear.  There were free ranging chickens, ducks, and peacocks running around everywhere which led to some fun as they snatched food from unsuspecting children.  After spending about an hour and a half at the zoo, it was time for Kal and I to take Jenny to the airport.  After saying goodbye we left and the rest of them went in search of a restaurant in St. Ignace for lunch.  Although the party was coming to an end, we still found plenty of time for more spades and beer in the evening.  Since Jenny was no longer in with us, William and his family packed up our tent and moved into the RV for the night in order to get an early start in the morning.

Monday was time for everyone to pack up to head home, starting with William, Kristen, and Liam who got an early start right after breakfast.  They had the farthest to go and wanted to make at least Cleveland before stopping.  After they left we took our time getting packed up and it was nice that Nikki and Chris hung around until we were ready at about 11:00.  There was quite a lot to do to get packed up as we had pulled nearly everything out of the RV for the week.  With their assistance, the loading with smoothly and easily and we pulled out at the same time.  Nikki and Chris heading to Holland, Michigan for the night and we headed west along Lake Michigan to our next stop in the Upper Peninsula.SomersClan

 

August, 2018 – Sault St Marie, Michigan

The trip to Sault St Marie was straight east along Michigan 28 through deep forests of the spruce-pine forests that we have learned are typical of the Upper Peninsula.  As has been the case for the last three weeks, there are very few small towns along the highway, so there is little to break up the drive.  It was not far to our next location on the shores of Lake Superior which took just over an hour to drive.  Our new location was Bay Mills Resort and Casino, which has a nice RV Park just across the highway from the casino, restaurant, and hotel.  This was our first time actually camping at a casino, so, as expected, we visited there more than once during the week.  There is not much good to say about the campground as it was essentially a large grassy field that was little better than a parking lot in terms of room.  However, all of the sites are pull through making access very easy and had full hookups.  In fact, the free WiFi and cable TV were amazing with over 100 channels which made Kal very happy since we have not had reliable TV for the past two weeks. No trees in our part of the campground, so there was no shade but since we got more clouds and rain during the week then sunshine that was no real problem.  We choose a site that was away from the casino and since the sites on either side were out of service, we had plenty of room and a nice view of Lake Superior.  Since most of the week was spent on getting ready for our family to join us in St. Ignace, we had very little else planned for the week.

On Tuesday we headed into Sault St Marie to make an appointment at the Soo Ford Dealership to get the oil changed.  Since they could not do the work until first thing Thursday morning, we had the whole day to explore Sault St Marie.  After going to the store and setting up our medication at Walgreens, we headed to the Soo Locks.  Once there we found a neat museum on the Lake Huron side of the locks.  The Museum Ship Valley Camp is an actually 525 foot freighter that transported many products, most primarily iron ore and coal, from the mines on Lake Superior to Detroit from 1917 to 1966.  It is the best preserved example of the heyday of shipping on the Great Lakes and is essentially unmodified since it was built.  All of the cabins are laid out as if the crew still lived in them and the coal fired steam engines are worth looking at, even if I don’t understand what I am seeing.  The massive cargo holds have been converted into extensive museum space that covers a number of topics relating to the Great Lakes freighting industry.  This includes artifacts from numerous ships showing the history of changing technology in ships and instrumentation, some of the hundreds of shipwrecks over the years, and the history of the Soo Locks.  The most notable exhibit is the last days of the Edmund Fitzgerald, which sank with all hands during a storm in November, 1975.  This was the last of the major shipwrecks on the Great Lakes and inspired many songs and art work including the iconic song by Gordon Lightfoot.  They have one of the two recovered lifeboats that washed up on the beach near the wreck.  While this was all interesting, I enjoyed the history of the Soo Locks, which began as a 1.6 mile canal that bypassed the rapids on the St Marys River with two locks to raise and lower ships a total of 11 feet.  Today the locks are a series of 4 locks ranging in length from 800 feet to 1350 feet, which were built in 1896, 1914, 1919, and 1943 to accommodate the increasing size and frequency of the freighters.  Freighter traffic has greatly reduced with the closing of most of the copper and iron mines on Lake Superior and today only two of the locks are being used.  For anyone interested in the freighting history this is a must see museum.

The rest of the week we spent essentially at the campground.  I did take the truck in early Thursday morning to get the oil changed and Kal did go to the store a couple of times.  Other than that, we stayed put.  We spent the week cleaning the RV and getting ready for the family to come together next week.  Of course this left us a lot of free time, which Kal spent the majority enjoying old movies on TCM.  We did go the casino multiple times starting on Tuesday afternoon.  We did very well to begin with winning over $50 the first day.  We went back on Thursday afternoon and came out another $20 ahead.  Encouraged by this we went again on Friday and came out $2 ahead.  This was not as exciting, but since we had yet to spend anything at the casino we went back on Saturday once again.  This proved to be one time too many as we lost nearly $40.  However, this still meant we came out ahead for the week, which is very unusual for us.

On Sunday afternoon, we headed to the airport south of Sault St Marie to pick up our daughter Jenny, who was flying in from Orlando.  We had a very enjoyable evening with her before packing up the RV and heading south to St Ignace to meet up with the rest of the family.

July, 2018 – Newberry, Michigan

Kal woke me up Monday morning stating she needed to see a doctor as she was feeling very dizzy.  I quickly got dressed and we headed into Munising to the local Urgent Care/Hospital.  There was only one other patient there around 8:00 Monday morning, so Kal was able to see the doctor fairly quickly.  They ran a series of tests to rule out the most serious causes and inserted an IV in case it was dehydration.  By this point, Kal was feeling much better and thankfully all the tests can back negative.  So she was prescribed some medication for dizziness and we went on our way to get her script filled and Subway for lunch since I had left without eating breakfast!  There has been no relapse of the dizzy spells, so we are hoping she was just dehydrated.  In any case it was nearly 3:00 before we got packed and on the road to our next location.  Of course, Kal could not doing any driving so I got to pull the RV to Newberry, Michigan, about 1.5 hours to the east.  For those of you not familiar with the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the very small towns are few and far between so most of the trip was through forests owned by the state and federal government.  On top of this, the road was flat and absolutely straight.  So while Kal took a nap, I got to travel down a straight highway with trees up close to the highway on both sides with not even a house to break the scene.  And I thought traveling straight flat roads in the plains was bad.  At least there you can see more than 10 feet to either side.  Along this part of Michigan highway 28, Lake Superior turns away to the north, so we are over 30 miles from the lake by the time we got to Newberry.  Newberry Campground is an old KOA campground and it certainly has the KOA look to it still.  It is a nice campground with a heated outdoor swimming pool and a 9-hole mini-golf course.  Fortunately, we had a pull-through site, although it did not have a sewer hookup, which is not a problem.  The only downside was that the site was not very level front to back.  I had to put the front of the RV all the way down on the pedestals and it was still not perfectly level.  However, we found that it was close enough except for the fact that the bathroom door would swing open if it was not latched.

Campsite

Kal was still feeling fine on Tuesday so we went in search of a nice hike in the Seney National Wildlife Refuge.  This is a huge refuge of over 95,000 acres so there was no way we were going to see even a small fraction of it.  They had a very nice 1-mile Nature trail loop at the Visitor Center that circled around one of the smaller pools.  There was some interpretive signs along the way that helped to identify some of the understory plants we were seeing.  I think I have the main overstory trees figured out, although I am still a bit confused between balsam fir and hemlock as the needles can look very similar and there are no cones this time of year.  After eating lunch on a bench at the Visitor Center we went to explore the 8-mile driving tour they have of some of their larger pools.  We really enjoyed the next 3 hours as we slowly made our way around the pools, stopping multiple times for photos.  We saw three pairs of loons, two of which had baby chicks in tow.  From interpretive signs along the drive we learned that this is relatively rare, except on the refuge.  On many lakes they are not successful in rearing their young due to being disturbed by boats, both kayaks and motorboats.  Consequently, the loon population is still in a decline making locations like the refuge critical to their survival.  We also saw a bald eagle, Osprey, Canadian geese, and either a muskrat or a beaver.  He disappeared so quickly we had trouble making it out and our photos were not very good.  The driving tour was a lot of fun and just what we both needed after being very busy last week.

The weather was still great on Wednesday with showers predicted for later in the week, so we decided to head north to the Tahquamenon Falls State Park.  This can be quite a mouthful until you realize it rhymes with phenomenon.  These falls were recommended by the doctor that treated Kal on Monday, so we had to check them out.  Obviously, these falls are well known because the crowds at the falls were larger than any we saw at the Pictured Rocks last week.  We had to sit in line for 15 minutes before we could find a parking space.  Thankfully, we were there mid-morning so was able to find a space, unlike those that showed up in the afternoon when we left.  The state park is the second largest state park in the state because it follows the Tahquamenon River which goes over a series of falls, cascades and rapids for over 13 miles.  The most spectacular falls is the Upper Falls which is a 50-foot fall and more than 200 feet across.  This fall is also called Rootbeer Falls due to the brownish water from all the tannins it picks up in the slow moving cedar swamps upstream.  There are a number of viewing platforms along the edge of the gorge that give a number of good views of the falls.  However, the best view is from near the bottom of the falls which is accessed by 77 steps leading down into the gorge.  They have done a great job with the stairs and boardwalk near the base of the cliff to a perfect spot to view the falls.  However, the climb back up all these stairs was a bit of a challenge.  To make a loop out of the hike we then hiked back to the parking lot along a dirt “Nature” trail instead of the paved walkway.  Since we were the only tourists on this trail, it was a nice way to return to the truck.  Rather then leaving we decided to eat lunch at the on-site brewery.  I got a sampler of their four house beers while we ate a very good lunch.

Following lunch we got back in the truck and traveled the four miles north to the Lower Falls.  Rather than one big fall, this location consists of five much smaller falls of only a few feet each where the river is split by a large island.  Tourists are allowed to access the river at this point to play in the cascades and rapids between the small falls.  You can either walk along the river on a very nice boardwalk to a point where you can wade out into the river or rent a canoe to paddle yourself across to the lake in the pool at the base of the falls.  It was obvious that a lot of people choose this option as there were a lot of tourists enjoying the beautiful warm summer day wading the in the river!!  However, we did not partake, being satisfied with watching them stumble about on the rocks as we set on the shore.  As we hiked along the nice boardwalk back to the truck we both commented on the fact that we much preferred the Lower Falls.  While the Upper Falls is more spectacular, the Lower Falls is more picturesque with the river going over the cascades on both sides of the island.  If you ever visit the central part of the Upper Peninsula I strongly recommend you include Tahquamenon Falls, even though you will not be alone.

After dinner that evening Kal got concerned while taking her blood pressure when it continued to go up over 180.  So we headed into the hospital in Newberry, where she saw the same doctor as she did on Monday in Munising!!  They monitored her for a while and ran a few more test, again finding nothing to be concerned about.  Since we had been taking our blood pressure medicine before going to bed, this was likely the cause and the doctor told her that we don’t need to be overly concerned unless it goes over 200.  So once again we erred on the side of caution and learned something in the process.

After the last two days, we had essentially exhausted the local “attractions”, even though there were a number of hiking trails at both the refuge and state park if we wanted to get out.  However, we decided against this and just relaxed in the campgrounds over the weekend.  It did rain on Thursday and threatened again on Friday, so it was not a bad decision.  It would have been nice for Kal to have something to watch on TV, however, we were finally far enough away from civilization that there was absolutely nothing we could pick up over the airways.  Our internet was fine using our hotspot, so we did listen to some streamed the evening news and listened to Morning Joe in the mornings.  I had my games on the playstation and “Quantum Leap” to watch on DVD’s in the evenings, so I was quite happy.