Old Mackinac Point Light Station

  
On the northernmost tip of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan is a place that is near and dear to our family…Old Mackinac Point.  On this ground in 1892, my maternal great-grandfather led his crew in building Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse and the barn that stands behind it.  The light station had been established three years before, and the first fog signal building became operational in 1890.  A request for bids for the lighthouse and barn went unanswered, and the second request in March of 1892 solicited three bids, with my great-grandfather’s being the lowest at $13,722.00.  He gathered his work party and boarded the lighthouse tender Amaranth at the Detroit Lighthouse Depot for the journey to Mackinaw City.

  
John Peter Schmitt was born in Germany in 1844.  He and his brother came to the United States in the 1870’s and took up the construction trade in Detroit.  The bell tower on St Joseph Catholic Church in Detroit is his work, as is St Anthony’s Catholic Church, just up Gratiot Avenue.  Both are still in use today. He and my great-grandmother had four girls who all died within a month of each other in a diphtheria epidemic that swept through Detroit in the late 1800’s.  They had and lost a fifth child following that.  They then had three more children, with my grandmother being the middle child.  My great-grandfather was 40 years old when she was born.  He lived until 1904, when his spirited horse took a corner in Detroit too fast and tipped his wagon over.  He cut his hand in the dirt street and developed tetanus, from which he died eight days later.  Another nine years past before my grandmother married. She gave birth to my mother at 38 years old and my mom had me when she was 36.  So while my great-grandfather and I are genetically close, there are 114 years separating our births!

When the crew arrived in Mackinaw City in May of 1892, work began in earnest. By October 25th, the first lighting of the lamp took place in the tower.  Considering the building is a two-story all-brick duplex, complete with basement, that was quite a feat!

  
Here is the crew out in front of the partially completed lighthouse.  John Schmitt is directly below the double set of windows in the castle tower section of the building.  The next person to the right in the white shirt is his brother Tony.  The lens has yet to be installed in the tower in this photo.  If you look to the far left of the image, there is a horse poking its head in.

The lighthouse continued to guide ships through the Straits of Mackinac until 1957, when the Mackinac Bridge was completed.  The bridge’s lights were more than sufficient to provide safe passage after that.  For a short time after, the State of Michigan operated a maritime museum from the building, but no access to the tower was permitted.  Eventually, the museum closed.

In the 1990’s, my Aunt Marge visited the grounds and then wrote to the Mackinac State Historic Parks (MSHP) to inquire on the building’s status.  Diana and I visited not long after that, and we were concerned that this beauty was being left to decay. MSHP’s focus at that time was aimed towards the forts it maintains in both Mackinaw City and on Mackinac Island. Interest in lighthouses was really beginning to take off, and this was one of the most easily accessed lighthouses in Michigan.  It deserved to be opened, and in 1996, I began pressuring MSHP to do something.  It wasn’t long before they suggested I join a fund raising committee to raise the funds to restore the lighthouse. I took them up on that suggestion, and made several trips from Grand Rapids to Mackinaw City over the next few years to work with them.

  
Here is a February photo of mine from one of my trips up there.  Note the red and white lantern room, which was not historically correct.  The radio tower was also not part of the original station, and was moved off the property in later years.

One of the questions I had was the whereabouts of the Fresnel lens.  I was told that it was destroyed when they tossed it off the tower after the lighthouse closed.  Turns out, it had actually been residing in the U.S. Coast Guard Ninth District Admiral’s office in the Federal Building in Cleveland, Ohio.  I contacted that office about being able to see the lens.  With permission granted, Diana and I made the trip to Cleveland.

  
This is my photo from that day. A young Coast Guard officer gave us a special tour of the office.  There were several artifacts, but none as beautiful as our lens.  There was a small ceremonial cannon on the floor next to the lens, and the officer explained to us that the gun was there to signify that it was guarding something of great importance.  It sure was important to us!  To think that my great-grandfather was there to see it lit for the first time was overwhelming, to say the least.  It was obvious that the admiral treasured the lens, but Coast Guard rules stated that he had to return it to its original home, once the lighthouse had a proper place to display it on the first floor in a museum setting.  Senator Carl Levin’s office helped in making sure that happened.

In 2004, after a successful fundraising campaign, the lighthouse reopened.  Diana and I decided to host a family reunion of every descendant we could find of John Peter Schmitt to coincide with the grand opening.  Of the 300 people attending the celebration, 100 were our family.  Some of them travelled up from Marathon, Florida and Missouri to be part of the event. The reason I pushed MSHP so hard was for the family…especially John Peter Schmitt’s grandchildren.  As I write this today, almost all of his grandchildren have passed.  The two of us were thankful that we were able to make it all happen while they were still alive. 

A little magic happened that day.  Not only were the descendants of the builder there, but also of the lighthouse keepers.  One of the keeper’s relatives recognized one of my cousins, as their children attended the same high school north of Detroit.  Both were unaware of each other’s ties to the lighthouse.  That was a special moment.  🙂

At the time of the grand opening, the only structures remaining at the light station were the lighthouse and the 1907 fog signal building. In the ensuing years, MSHP replicated the picket fence and the original fog signal building.  They also returned the barn to the site, which had been moved to the west side of Mackinaw City a number of years before.  Below are photos from our latest visit to the light station, which we toured on our way home from the U.P.

 
Looking north along the west side of the lighthouse, the proximity to the Mackinac Bridge can be seen.  Note the brown grass from the current drought conditions in the area.  The tire tracks in the yard are from the recent construction of the replicated 1890 fog signal building. The lantern room is back to its original black, and the picket fence has been replicated.

  

Standing watch for 123 years, the tower shows the effects of the harsh weather conditions at the Straits of Mackinac.  The bricks that the U.S. Lighthouse Service provided for construction were not the proper quality for the application, and the freeze/thaw cycles in the area began to cause them to deteriorate prematurely.  This has been an ongoing problem and there is no clear solution…short of re-bricking the entire structure.  In the previous photo, note the chimneys.  The original flared chimneys were replaced with straight rectangles at some point during the lighthouses working years, and MSHP has recently replicated one of them to its 1892 form.

  
The 1907 fog signal building, built three years after my great-grandfather passed.  This building now serves as a gift shop and as the entrance to the station grounds. The original 1890 fog signal building was constructed too close to where the lighthouse was intended to sit, and was deemed a fire hazard.  It was moved to the southeast corner of the station as a storage barn, and was eventually torn down.

  
This is the barn John Peter Schmitt’s crew built.  It is in need of a paint job, which appears to be in process.  The building was moved to the west side of Mackinaw City, prior to the construction of I-75 and the Mackinac Bridge.  It was being used as a storage garage by MSHP In that location.  To bring it back, the trailer tires had to be deflated a little to fit the barn (minus the cupola) under the Mackinac Bridge approach.  Even then, there was green bridge paint that ended up on the peak of the barn’s roof.  🙂  Once it was returned to the station grounds, the structure was restored to its original appearance.  It now houses a theater that shows a video about the shipwrecks in the straits.

  
Here is the newly replicated 1890 fog signal building, situated in the location the original structure occupied during its service as a light station warehouse.  The corrugated cladding gives the exterior of the building an authentic feel.

  
The interior of the building houses a beautiful shipwreck museum.  There are several displays with models of the original ships as they appeared on the surface, and the corresponding model of how each shipwreck currently sits at the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac.  This is the display of the 604 foot limestone carrier Cedarville, which was lost in heavy fog off Old Mackinac Point in 1965.  It collided with a Norwegian freighter, killing ten crewmembers.  It lies in two pieces in 110 feet of water.  Kudos to MSHP on this addition to the light station, as it is very well done.

Inside the lighthouse itself, some of the rooms are restored to their 1910 appearance.  Other rooms have interactive displays.  The lens is also displayed behind a glass partition.

  
Tower tours are conducted every 15 minutes.  When I began working with MSHP to reopen the building, the director informed me that the tower would not be opened to the public, for safety reasons.  I knew that the museum’s success was dependent on public access to the tower, and we didn’t see eye-to-eye on the subject. Who wants to visit a lighthouse and not be able to climb the tower?  When that director took a job in Pennsylvania and Phil Porter took over his position, everything changed.  Tower tours became the featured attraction at the lighthouse, and the attendance numbers reflected that.

  
The unique ascending tower windows, as seen from the inside.

  The view from the lantern room looking down at the roof of the lighthouse, and the other structures on the station property.  The only buildings that are missing from the grounds are the cast iron oil house and the privy.  I’m not sure if there are plans for replicas of those in the future, or not.
  
Looking north, the Mackinac Bridge stretches out for 5 miles to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

  
This graceful structure is what rendered the light station obsolete.  When it is lit up at night, it is pretty obvious to passing ships.

  
Needless to say, our family is pretty darn proud to have this lighthouse still standing, and to be open for future generations to discover.  If you find yourselves in Mackinaw City, take an hour and tour this special place.  We think you will enjoy it.   🙂

Kitch-iti-kipi “The Big Spring”

Just west of Indian Lake, near the town of Manistique, Michigan, lies a natural freshwater spring named Kitch-iti-kipi.  The Native American name roughly translates to mean ‘big cold water’.  From it’s porous limestone and sand base, approximately 10,000 gallons of water a minute bubble into the emerald body of water.  From there, the water flows into Indian Lake, which empties through the Indian and Manistique Rivers into Lake Michigan.

It was the early 1920’s when a Manistique dime store owner named John I. Bellaire saw Kitch-iti-kipi for the first time.  Buried beneath a tangle of fallen trees, the spring was adjacent to a dumping area from a nearby logging camp.  Mr. Bellaire recognized the potential of the spring and convinced the owners, the Palms Book Land Company of Detroit, to sell it to the State of Michigan for the hefty sum of $10.  Part of the deal was that the spring would forevermore be kept a public area and be known as Palms Book State Park. The Civilian Conservation Corps constructed a hand propelled raft on a cable in the 1930’s.

  
But that was not the first raft at the spring.  In the late 1800’s, this vessel was constructed to take visitors across the 45 foot deep pool. Why it transitioned from a tourist spot to a logging dump prior to Mr. Bellaire’ discovery is unclear.

Once it became a state park, more and more tourists came to Kitch-iti-kipi.  Mr. Bellaire could be seen at the site well into his 70’s, as he was fascinated by the spring.

  
Even though the current raft is much larger, it is still human powered.  There is a large boat davot wheel that passengers takes turns spinning to move the craft along the cable and across the water. The kids on our voyage really had fun acting as the pilot. There is no park ranger present, yet the entire process stays very organized.

  
The cable that runs above the spring can be seen in this photo, as can the bottom of the pool.  That white sand bottom is 45 feet down!

  
The center of the raft is open. With the canopy over the top providing shade, visitors enjoy an excellent view of the spring. There were several large fish, but they refused to pose for my camera.

  
Near the center of the pool, the force of the water could really be seen.  Imagine filling a 25 foot round by 5 foot deep swimming pool every minute.  That’s a LOT of water!  And with it being a constant 45 degrees, it doesn’t freeze in the winter.

That wraps up our current tour of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  Our focus on this trip was the Porcupine Mountains, so we skipped over several points of interest that we have seen in the past.  We could have easily spent the summer here and not seen everything. The U.P. is a wonderful place to explore, and we highly recommend taking the time to discover it for yourselves.

 

Fayette, Michigan – Another Era

Iron – the backbone of industry –  was in increasing demand in the late 19th century, following the U.S. Civil War. Steel mills began appearing in the lower Great Lakes and in Pennsylvania to feed the Industrial Revolution. The Upper Peninsula (U.P.) of Michigan, known for it’s copper deposits, was also rich in iron ore.  In those days, getting the iron to the mills was not as easy as it is today.  The giant ore freighters that ply the Great Lakes didn’t exist back then.  Transporting the ore to the mills prior to extracting the pure iron wasn’t economically feasible.

Enter the Jackson Iron Company. Formed by businessmen in Jackson, Michigan in 1845, this company hoped to mine copper in the western U.P.  Iron was discovered the year before in the central U.P. by surveyors when their compasses began fluctuating.  When the Jackson team arrived and heard of this discovery, their focus switched from copper to iron. By the late 1860’s, the need for a smelting operation became evident, so that pure iron could be shipped south to the mills in Chicago.

An agent for the Jackson Iron Company, Fayette Brown, was sent to scout a location for a smelting blast furnace.  An ample supply of limestone and timber was needed to produce charcoal to fire the furnaces, along with a deep harbor to bring in the sailing schooners that were to carry the iron south. The small natural bay known as Snail Shell Harbor on Lake Michigan’s Big Bay de Noc was chosen, as it met all three requirements. The townsite was named Fayette in honor of Mr. Brown. 

Fayette became a town of some 500 residents.  Churches, a school, hotel, town hall and store all were constructed.  It was the true definition of a ‘company town’, existing solely for the purpose of supporting the smelting operation.  Jackson Iron remained here until 1891, when the local timber reserves were exhausted.  After that, the town became a resort and fishing village, until the State of Michigan acquired it in 1959 to feature it as a state historical park.

  
Our visit to Fayette (our second) was late afternoon on August 7.  The weather was not cooperating, but we are not ones to let that stand in our way.  Our rain gear served us well. However, after viewing our somewhat drab photos, we decided to try to go the ‘historic’ route and convert them to sepia tone.  We hope you enjoy them!

  
 
From inside the blast furnace building, the limestone cliffs on the northern shore of Snail Shell Harbor can be seen.  The pilings from the docks are still protruding from the water, all these years later.

  
The slag at the base of the furnaces remains where it was left in 1891.  These furnaces produced 229,288 tons of pure iron in the 24 years they were in operation.

  
Across the harbor, the superintendent’s house sits high on the hill.  This offered the head of the operation a commanding view of the furnace and the surrounding town.

  
Across from the furnace sat the company store.  In those days, this was your Walmart, Home Depot and Costco…all in one building.  The company owned it, and they were the only retailer for many miles around.  When the furnace was down, lines of credit were extended to the workers until they could work off their debt at a later date.  The term “owe my soul to the company store” comes from these lines of credit that were extended to workers in these towns all across America.

  
The hotel was quite large and opulent for it’s day and location, and it featured a two story outhouse off the back of the building.  Our preference would be a second story room please, as we prefer a better view.  🙂

  
From left to right:  the school, a middle class home, and the town hall.  The second floor has a large performance hall, complete with a raised stage and set curtains.

  
Pretty decent acoustics I might add, as Diana sang “The Sound of Music” just for fun.  🙂

  
Adjacent to the furnace was the machine shop.  I would imagine that this was a place of great importance in Fayette.

  
The barbershop became a popular place, as styles changed from beards to clean shaven.

  
Central to it all was the blast furnace complex.  The building was comprised of two furnaces to produce the iron, along with several kilns to produce the charcoal needed to fire the furnaces.  The State of Michigan has covered the open tops with steel roofing to preserve the walls from moisture.  They have been good stewards of the town, and are maintaining this important piece of history.

If you are traveling along U.S. 2 in Michigan’s U.P., take the detour south to this  piece of the area’s past.  We feel it is worth the effort.  For those interested, the state park also maintains a campground at the location.

We’re still “Falling” for each other after 33 years!

Thursday, August 6 was our 33rd wedding anniversary.  We like to celebrate our anniversaries by going either hiking or kayaking, and this year was no different.  We chose to go for a hike on the North Country Trail south of Ontonagon, Michigan.

  
The hike we chose was O-kun-de-kun Falls and the Baltimore River Bridge.  When we arrived at the trailhead, we saw trail workers hauling aggregate from the parking lot down the trail.  As is seen in the above photo, the trail is level stone between treated lumber.

  
A little ways down the trail, we encountered the four college students who were spending their summer improving the path.  They were doing a fabulous job.   They had only been there three days, and they were making good time!  It is interesting to see how a trail like this is constructed.

 

The trail ahead revealed why they were working to improve it. We were glad that we chose to use our trekking poles. With the path being designated as part of the North Country Trail, the traffic is increasing on it.

  Even still, there were spots that the ferns were covering the planks. It definitely made the hike more of an adventure!  It was about this point that something got between my right hand and my trekking pole and stung the base of my right thumb.  It REALLY hurt, but I wanted to keep going.  This trail was way too cool to stop!
  
Further along, the planks gave way to roots and rocks.  There was a clay base, and the mud had caused people to take alternate routes, causing damage to the surrounding vegetation.  The improved trail will really have a positive impact on this heavily travelled section.

  
When we came to the side of the falls, we could see ahead to the Baltimore River Bridge.  The span is a pedestrian only path, and is part of the North Country Trail.

  
On the side of the bridge is an army surplus ammo box that contains a log book.  If you hike to this point, look for our August 6, 2015 entry!

  
Looking back from the base of the bridge, O-kun-de-kun Falls can be fully appreciated.  The waterfalls are named for an Ojibway chief.  The daring can brave the slippery rocks and venture behind the cascade.  The clay riverbed that gives some of the area’s rivers a chocolate milk appearance can be seen here.  O-kun-de-kun is one of the wilder falls in the U.P., and was well worth the effort to get there.

When we completed the hike, we drove to Bond Falls, a Michigan State Park.

  
Bond Falls is incredible!  It’s part of the Ontonagon River, and the trail below the falls is handicap accessible.  We were impressed at the amount of water cascading across this rocky face.

  
We climbed the stairs along the side of the river, only to find more falls!

  
They even look pretty in black and white!

  
Looks like a good spot for a 33rd anniversary ‘couple-ie’.  🙂

Before heading back to Ontonagon, we stopped at Agate Falls.

  
The easy trail to this set of falls descends from a roadside park.  Actual river access is more difficult.

  
High above the falls, an old train trestle crosses the river.  It is amazing the work that went into this old structure.

All in all, we ended up hiking to 3 falls for our 33rd anniversary!  It was a perfect way to spend our day together.  🙂

Keweenaw Peninsula – Michigan’s Other Thumb


Ask most Michiganders where they are from and watch them pull up their trusty maps attached to the ends of their arms.  Pardon the pun, but it can be quite handy at times!

On Wednesday, we visited Michigan’s left thumb, the Keweenaw Peninsula.


Jutting halfway across Lake Superior, the peninsula is home to one of the oldest known lava flows on the planet.  Copper is king here, as those flows deposited easily recoverable ore and pure veins of the metal.  Before the mining boom in the 18th century, pure copper could readily be found on the surface.


About a third of the way north, the peninsula is traversed by the Keweenaw Waterway.  Points north of that are unofficially known as Copper Island by local residents.  The only road across the canal is the Portage Lake Lift Bridge, which carries US 41 northward between Houghton and Hancock.

Climbing the hill out of Hancock, the Quincy Mine hoist comes into view.


Recently restored, the hoist is the centerpiece of the Keweenaw National Historic Park.  Though we chose not to go on one this time, tours of the mine are available.

With the peninsula jutting so far out into Lake Superior, lake effect snow is a force to be reckoned with up here.


Along US 41 to the north of Calumet is the Snomometer.  The area averages 20 feet of snow each winter.  Last year’s total was over 28 feet.  That’s a lot of snow!

While driving along the northwest shore of the peninsula, we spotted a freighter off in the distance.


As best I could tell from that distance, I identified it as the Stewart J. Cort… by it’s stack colors, and also it is only freighter of that length with a forward pilot house.  This ship was the first 1000 foot freighter on the Great Lakes, and it still carries the proud “#1” painted just forward of it’s stack.  I remember the day in 1972 that my paternal grandfather came over and told me he had just watched it glide up the Detroit River on it’s maiden voyage.

Farther north, we came to Eagle Harbor.  The bay has a small entrance in the rocky outcroppings extending from each side.


The Eagle Harbor Lighthouse stands as a sentinel over the shore here.  The first lighthouse was commissioned here in 1851, and the current building was brought into service in 1871.  The light is still in use today. There is also a set of range lights to guide watercraft into the small port.  The house and the surrounding buildings are open to visitors as a museum.  We visited and enjoyed it, but FYI…the lantern room is not open to the public, as it is a working lighthouse.


The craggy shoreline is reminiscent of Downeast Maine and is very picturesque.

From Eagle Harbor, we had the choice to continue northeast on either US 41 or on Brockway Mountain Drive.  We chose the latter.  Be advised that at the time of our visit, the road was in moderately poor condition.  With that being said, the views were well worth it.

The drive was a CCC project in the 1930’s that was undertaken to keep unemployed copper miners working during the Great Depression.  Climbing along the ridge of Brockway Mountain, the road offers outstanding views of Copper Harbor, Eagle Harbor, Lake Superior and (on a clear day) Isle Royale.


Here is the view from  the Copper Harbor Overlook.  Copper Harbor is to the left, Lake Fanny Hooe is to the right and the village of Copper Harbor is in the foreground.


At the Far East end of the harbor is the  Copper Harbor Lighthouse.  The lighthouse…the second at this site…was pressed into service in 1866.  It was deactivated in 1933, when the automated light on the steel tower was commissioned.  The lighthouse is open as a museum, accessible by ferry from town.

Beyond the village of Copper Harbor lies Lake Fanny Hooe.  The lake was named for Lucy Frances Hooe, who legend says drowned in it’s waters in 1844.


It is a very peaceful setting in August.  Let it be noted that we have been here in the past when the biting black flies were active, and it wasn’t so pleasant. The flies are usually at their worst in spring and early summer.


It is on this shore that Fort Wilkins stands, a restored U.S. Army post, built in 1844 as a security measure to protect the national copper interests.  Many of the original buildings still stand today.  The fort is now a Michigan State Park.

Just beyond Fort Wilkins, US 41 comes to an end…or a beginning, depending on your point of view.


The point is marked with this sign, surrounded by a cul-de-sac.  Follow the road to it’s southern terminus and you will end up in Miami, Florida.  Yes, this is the same road that the Allman Brothers referred to in ‘Ramblin’ Man’ when Dickey Betts wrote “And I was born in the back seat of a Greyhound bus, rollin’ down Highway 41”.  In reality, he wasn’t.  🙂

So if you ever wonder where the copper in your pennies comes from, hold your hands like the mittens at the beginning of this post and look at your left thumb.  Just don’t be surprised if someone asks you “Are you from Michigan?”

To the Top of Michigan We Go

Up until the late 1950’s, Summit Peak in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park was thought to be the tallest peak in Michigan.  Back then, it was known as ” the peak one mile south of Mirror Lake”.  Thinking it was the highest point in Michigan at 1958 feet above sea level, the name ‘State Summit’ was decided upon.  It was discovered shortly after that Mt. Curwood, 100 miles to the east, was 20 feet taller.  At that point, the name ‘State Summit’ was changed to Summit Peak.  It was then discovered in 1982 that Mt. Curwood’s neighbor, Mt. Arvon, was 11 inches taller.  Granted, these two peaks are in some fairly remote wilderness, but it is still remarkable that those numbers were not officially surveyed until the year we were married!  With that being said, neither Mt. Curwood or Mt. Arvon has any sort of structure at the top of them.  Summit Peak has a 40 foot tower, which puts an observer at the top of Michigan! The only people possibly getting above that point are radio tower workers.  🙂

After exploring the Presque Isle River on Tuesday, we decide to check out Summit Peak on our way back to camp.

  
The trail to the top of Summit Peak begins at a paved parking area at the end of Summit Peak Road.  It is a fairly easy 1/2 mile climb through an old growth hardwood forest to the top via a gravel pathway, wooden boardwalk and stairs.

  
Two thirds of the way up, we came to the Lake Superior Overlook.

  
To offer some perspective, this photo is looking northwest.  Lake of the Clouds and the Escarpment Overlook are hidden by the ridge a few miles away. Lake Superior can be seen in the distance.

Heading back into the woods, we came to this sign.

  
1958…hey, that’s the year we were born!  🙂

  
After climbing quite a few stairs, the tower came into view.

  
With the tower being 40 feet high, the climber’s eye level ends up to be higher than 2000 feet above sea level.

  
What a view!  If you pull in the horizon on the above panorama, you can see Wisconsin’s Apostle Islands in the distance.

  
Back towards the east are the Huron Mountains.  Somewhere out there are Mt. Curwood and Mt. Arvon.

Below us, we could see a preview of what is coming soon.

  
It won’t be long before the entire area is ablaze with fall colors!

On the way back down, Diana spotted this beauty.

  
This is Indian Pipe, known also as Corpse Plant of Ghost Plant.  It lacks chlorophyll, therefore it has no color to it.  With the forest being old growth, the floor was fairly wide open and easy to see across.  That made it easy for us to not only see wildflowers, but to also keep an eye out for bears!

  
We also spotted this Downy Woodpecker working away on a tree.

So while Summit Peak may not officially be the highest peak in Michigan, it’s tower does offer the highest mountaintop vista available in the state.  Make sure to take the time to check it out if you are in the area!

Presque Isle River

When the word ‘pothole’ is mentioned, the thought of a crater in a late winter road comes to mind.  At the western end of the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, there is a very different kind of pothole to be explored.

Tuesday morning, we headed to the Presque Isle River.  The name is of French origin, meaning “almost an island”, and refers to the peninsula/island at the mouth of the river. On the way to our destination for the day, we were treated to a very healthy black bear bounding across South Boundary Road in front of us.  The Porkies have a large population of black bears, which are seldom seen by humans. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a picture, as the bear didn’t stick around to pose for the blog. 🙂

  

We arrived at the river a short time later. From the parking area, the North Country Trail heads towards the river.  The river runs through a mixed old growth forest, which leaves the forest floor fairly wide open.

  

And some of the trees are huge!  This giant is an Eastern Hemlock.

  

The riverbed is comprised primarily of sedimentary rock, referred to as Nonesuch Shale.  The uplift of the shale has created numerous waterfalls along the way.  The water itself is stained with tannins from decaying vegetation upstream, giving it a tea coloring and creating foam in the eddies below the falls.

  

And there are those potholes we were talking about!

  

They are created as the water swirls smaller rocks in a low point in the riverbed, resulting in a circular hole.  It is amazing how razor sharp and perfect the edges are!

  

The river continues it’s march toward Lake Superior.  Boardwalk and stairs follow the western shore, making access for visitors fairly easy.

   

 

Near the mouth of the river, a suspension bridge crosses the active channel to the ‘presque’ isle.  This bridge is actually part of the North Country Trail.

  

On the far side of the island, the trail crosses the dry riverbed.  In the springtime, the flow of the river is high enough to cover this portion of the riverbed.

  

Below that point, the river water is ponded until the next spring.

  

A young girl pointed out this turtle in one of the small pools.  It appears to be a baby snapping turtle. There were also tadpoles swimming around.

  

Where the pool meets Lake Superior, there is a sandbar between the east riverbank and the presque isle. In the springtime, that bar is breached, thereby creating a true island.  The sandbar is a great place for rock hunting.

  

I kept handing rocks to Diana, saying “Look at this one!”  She finally set them all down and took a picture of them. 🙂 

  

There were also several varieties of wildflowers to be found along the riverbank.  Here are a bunch of Common Tansy.

  
 

The Presque Isle River is definitely a great place to spend an afternoon!  Just remember one thing…

  
Watch out for the potholes!  🙂

 

West Across the Upper Peninsula 

The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is definitely different than it’s southern counterpart.  Only 3% of the state’s population lives up here.  They actually have their own state fair, as they are so far removed from Detroit. The weather in the U.P. Is sometimes referred to as 9 months of winter, followed by 3 months of bad sledding. Ontonagon averages 200 inches of snow each year!

After spending the night at the KOA in St. Ignace, we set our course west for the Porcupine Mountains.  The Porkies, as they are affectionately called, have been a draw for Diana and I for years.  We both were there as teenagers, and were there together one time during the 1990’s.

We left the KOA in a thunderstorm, which was the first rain we had seen in quite awhile.  Behind us, a little drama was unfolding on the Mackinac Bridge.

  
A wind gust had blown this RV onto it’s side, closing the bridge.  There is a very good reason they want high profile vehicles to go 20 miles an hour!

As we made our way west on US 2, our weather cleared up.  We stopped at the Cut River bridge, a favorite place to explore.

  
Michigan’s Department of Transportation maintains parks on both sides of the bridge.  From the roadway, the beauty of the structure and the gorge below can’t be seen.  It is definitely worth stopping to take a look.

  
Here is Diana checking out the superstructure under the roadway.

  
This doorway was immediately behind her. We found the nameplate on it to be amusing. 🙂

On our way west along U.S. 2, we were able to look south over the northern shore of Lake Michigan.  What we saw in the distance was disturbing.  The sky was as black as night, and the radar on our iPhones was indicating that a major storm was headed straight for the Leelanau Peninsula, about 100 miles south of us.  All of our friends at Wild Cherry were in for some nasty weather.  It wasn’t long, and the photos started rolling in on Facebook:

  
This is what they saw coming at them at Sleeping Bear. Glen Arbor and the national lakeshore took the brunt of it.

  
Latest reports indicate that Glen Arbor sustained straight line winds of over 90 miles an hour!  M-22 coming in from the south is still impassable, 2 days later.  Fortunately, no one was killed.  Wild Cherry never lost power, and just had a few branches down.  The photo above is on what was a heavily forested stretch coming into Glen Arbor along Glen Lake.  It was a gorgeous drive.  So sad…..

Back to our trip:  We continued west to Marquette for the night.  Going on a tip from Cherie and Chris at Technomadia about casino camping, we stopped at Ojibwa Casino, east of Marquette.  The casino actually paid us to camp there!

  
They gave us each $15 in free slot play, a free mixed drink (or beer), and $10 in match play for blackjack.  We passed on the blackjack, and we came away with almost $10 total from the slots.

  
Oh, and this wooded campsite was free!  It even included 50 amp electric!  For anyone thinking about staying here, make sure you come with a full fresh water tank and empty holding tanks.  They don’t have a dump station or water available.  We ended up dumping farther west on Monday at Van Riper State Park, which was free with our Michigan Recreation Passport.  Thanks to the Ojibwa nation for the hospitality!

Our next stop was River Road RV Park in Ontonagon, Michigan, which is the eastern gateway to the Porcupine Mountains.  We set up camp for a few days of fun in the area.  We were given a nice full hookup site, just a few yards away from the Ontonagon River.

Late Monday afternoon, we headed up to the visitor center at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.  We discovered that the state park was established in 1945 in response to the U.S. National Park Sevice contemplating making it a national park.  Michigan wanted it for their own.  Diana first came here with her family in the early 1970’s and I came with a buddy in 1975 at 17 years old, just after getting my driver’s license.  

After we left the visitors center, we headed up to Lake of the Clouds.

  
The lake is accessible by foot trail only, and is totally surrounded by wilderness.  There are no boats to be seen on this beautiful body of water. The surrounding hardwood forest in the park is the largest stand of virgin, old growth hardwoods west of the Adirondack Mountains.  The fall colors here are outstanding in late September.

  
The viewing area is on an escarpment high above and adjacent to the creek that feeds the west end of the lake.

  
This gentleman was playing a Native American flute on the boardwalk at the edge of the cliff.

  
To the west, I was able to zoom in on the Copper Peak Ski Flying Hill about 30 miles away.  It is the only ski flying hill in the Western Hemisphere.  Ski flying covers greater distances than normal ski jumping.  Anyone care to try it?  🙂

  
Zooming back out shows just how vast this wilderness is.

  
We have more of the park to explore, and we look forward to passing along our discoveries.  The Upper Peninsula is definitely a unique place to visit!

Vacation from our vacation!

One of the benefits of our work camping job at Wild Cherry RV Resort is a chance to take a break and head out for a bit.  Sort of a ‘vacation from our vacation’, so to speak.  Thank you JoAnn and Paul for covering for us!  

We are headed to Michigan’s Upper Penninsula for a week and a few days.  First destination for last night was slated to be Mackinaw City and an overnight at Mill Creek Campground. Well….our normally trusty Ford pickup Henry had other plans.  :). Remember our post ‘South to Florida’?  You may recall that we had a front caliper lock up on us, so Bass Auto in Talahassee, Florida replaced both front calipers and pads.  This go around, we made it to Elk Rapids, Michigan and Diana noticed a smoking rear wheel.  Yep…same issue.  So we did a quick Google search and found Uncle Rod’s Auto Repair.  Rated very well, we gave them a call.  Mark told us to bring it in, and he assured us we would be able to get the trailer into the lot.  Seeing as it was 4 PM on a Friday, there was no way they were going to be able to get parts AND fix it before they closed.  Mark said we were able to stay in the lot overnight, so we were all set. Uncle Rod’s is a Uhaul facility also, so we did have the option of renting a truck, if we needed to run to the grocery store or check out the town. It was nice knowing we weren’t totally stuck!

  

What a beautiful campground, Mark!  Clara looks so cozy nestled in next to the tiger and day lilies!  Uncle Rod’s is about a quarter mile from the east arm of Grand Traverse Bay, so we had a nice lake breeze.  Knowing we were going to be running fairly flat terrain, I luckily put about 2/3 of a tank of fresh water in the tank before we left Wild Cherry.  Mark let us plug into their 20 amp electrical outlet, and he even fixed us up with a couple of quarts of Brita drinking water.  Now that’s service!

  
They do have guest wifi, which was spotty out in our trailer, but there was also a Verizon tower right next door.  5 bars of smokin’ hot 4G LTE!

Uncle Rod’s is far enough from US-31 that we didn’t notice the highway noise.  That was a big plus, as we couldn’t run the A/C with 20 amp.

  
And they back up to a cherry orchard. The trees had already been shaken, so we grabbed a few stragglers.  Stone Hardy Gold cherries….Yum!

In the morning, Taylor (our mechanic) was there at 8 AM…well before the rest of the crew.  We asked him for a recommendation for a good breakfast, and he pointed us towards downtown Elk Rapids…about a mile and a half walk.  Since the work was going to take a few hours, we decided to hoof it into town.

This is where good travel karma comes into play.  We had travelled through Elk Rapids on US-31 before, but never stopped to really check out the town.  In fact we were PAST town this time when Diana noticed the brakes smoking.  Our little detour to Uncle Rod’s allowed us to stop and smell the Elk Rapids roses!  With the town being about an hour from Wild Cherry, we will come back and do some more exploring in the near future.

  
First place we saw was a cool art store called Twisted Fish Gallery.

  
Next up was this funky old motor court called Paradise Pines Motel.  Now closed, this was once a viable business, back when Bayshore Drive was US-31.  When the highway was realigned, these cool little cabins closed up shop.

  
Next up was this cool old Gulf station.  Somebody enclosed the overhang where the cars would pull in to get gas, but it was still fun to see nonetheless.

  
Further up the road, the east arm of Grand Traverse Bay came into view.  That is the tip of Old Mission Peninsula, which divides the east and west arms of the bay.

  
Still further, the road turned into town, and the open waters of Lake Michigan came into view.

 
Coming into downtown, we saw several interesting places, which we will check out in detail on a future visit.  The town itself is quite charming.

  
Taylor’s recommendation, Harbor Cafe, was a home run.   The place was hopping! 

  
Tip the cook and ring the bell!   Thanks, Taylor…for the recommendation AND the great service on our truck!  
Once we got back to the shop, Mark even shot some grease into our Bearing Buddies on our trailer…no charge.  Thank you, Mark, for everything you did to help us out and make the best of what could have been a bad situation.

So, even though life handed us a lemon, we made delicious lemonade out of it.  We actually had a great time, and we met some new faces that we will never forget.  By all means… If you find yourselves in Elk Rapids and need auto repair or a Uhaul, call Mark at Uncle Rod’s.  They do great work at fair prices!

Tonight, we are in St. Ignace at the KOA.  We crossed the Mackinac Bridge in high crosswinds, so we were limited to 20 miles an hour.  Seeing the bridge is 5 miles across, it took us 15 minutes to get from one end to the other.  I was a tad ‘white knuckled’ going over…so that we literally didn’t go over the side…but Diana had all the confidence in the world with my driving,  She fell asleep.  🙂

More from our adventure soon!