ExploRVistas – Our First Year

Well, we have our first year in the books…and what an exciting year it has been!  On September 26th, we had just gotten back from the RV-Dreams Fall Rally in Goshen, Indiana and we headed out the door of our house for the last time.

We knew that this was what we wanted to do, but we were unsure how the immediate future was going to play out, as we were (and still are) responsible for Diana’s mom’s care.  We moved the fifth wheel a few miles down the road to Woodchip Campground, as Diana was having to visit her mom often.

In early October, we decided to make a quick run to Florida, so we could deliver Diana’s dad’s tools to her brother.  We left our golden retriever Jenny with my sister. While we were gone, Jenny stopped eating.  She had been losing weight for some time, and a visit to our vet upon our return revealed that she had cancer of the blood vessels, of all things.

With great sadness, we had her put down on November 12.  To say we miss her is an understatement. With that said, we made the choice to be ‘dogless’ for awhile, as we have had dogs every year since 1991.

The day after Jenny left us, the snow arrived in Grand Rapids.

We were well prepared for the cold.  We skirted the entire underside of the trailer with 3/4″ foam board, and we placed an electric heater underneath.  Our biggest challenge was keeping the moisture at bay inside the RV.  We ended up purchasing a couple of small dehumidifiers to help with that issue. Heating costs were high for an RV, but not much different than we were paying to heat our house. In February, when the outside temperature dipped to 25 degrees below zero, I was making daily trips to the propane refilling station.  We kept a good attitude and actually did quite well.  🙂

We kept ourselves entertained throughout the winter.  We went in with the attitude ‘if we have to live here during the cold months, then we may as well embrace it’.  As many of our long time readers know, we did a good job of it.  A few of you even mentioned that our posts were making you cold!  🙂

We made several trips to Lake Michigan, which at times resembled the Arctic Ocean.  Only thing missing were the polar bears!

We also visited the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex.  No, we didn’t try the luge.  

In March, we volunteered for Gilda’s Laughfest.

We worked a couple of shows as ushers, which ended up being a lot of fun.

In early April, a bad case of ‘hitch itch’ overcame me, so we tore off the skirting, hooked up the RV and headed to Florida!

We spent some time with Diana’s brother and our niece and her family near Leesburg, and then we spent the rest of our time in Naples.  It was good to get away after a long winter.  :). We got back to Grand Rapids in mid April.

On April 30, we headed north to begin our work camping job in Lake Leelanau at Wild Cherry Resort.


No leaves on the trees yet, but what a view!  It would only get better as the summer wore on.  🙂

In early June, we hiked a newly opened portion of the North Country Trail near Fife Lake.

It was part of a celebration that designated the village as a ‘trail town’.  Part of the trail we walked on was a section that we used to snowmobile and cross-country ski on.  It was great to see it now under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of the Interior.  🙂 

Also in June, we drove our Escape down to Alton, Illinois to get together with some of our friends from college.


Never a dull moment with this bunch!  We had a fabulous time. 🙂
It was about then that the festivals began around Traverse City.


The first one was the Traverse City Wine and Art Festival.  Lots of food, music, art and wine! 

The crew at Wild Cherry also completed their first ‘paver’ site.

We had a deadline of July 2 (as it was rented), and we made it with a day to spare.

Our next adventure was Paddle for Pints, a pub crawl in Traverse City, involving kayaks.

Diana’s cousins organized our contingent, and we had a marvelous time!

Throughout the summer, the wineries would host music events on their patios.

Here we are with Camilla at Aurora Cellars listening to Drew Hale.

And here we are with Patti & Lane, Grace & George, and Mary & Rod at Shady Lane Cellars.

In August, we hooked up the rig and took a week’s vacation to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Our destination was the Porcupine Mountains.

We did several hikes and toured a lot of areas we hadn’t seen in quite awhile.  A few, like Summit Peak, were new to us.  🙂

Labor Day weekend came and we were visited by our friends Mike and Cindy.

They are also friends we met in college.  They weren’t able to meet up with the rest of us in Alton, so it was really good to see them!  Here we are at Pyramid Point, over 400 feet above Lake Michigan.

In mid-September, we received word that Diana’s mom was taken to the hospital with pneumonia.  We made a quick trip to Grand Rapids and determined that we were going to need to relocate back to be by her for a bit.  There is a good possibility that we will still be able to get back to Wild Cherry for October, as Mom is doing quite well…but we will see what the next week brings.

 So, one year later, we are one site over from where we spent the winter.

Alaine is crusing by with the kiddie train and everybody is having fun.  🙂

All in all, it has been a great year!  Thanks for riding along with us!

Our Favorite Places on the Leelanau Peninsula


With the RV-Dreams Fall Rally happening just down the road from us in October, we thought we would publish a list of some of our favorite places on the Leelanau Peninsula.  Note that these are our favorites, and if a place isn’t listed, it doesn’t mean it isn’t worth visiting. We have yet to find any place we would recommend avoiding.  Anyone else traveling up this way in the future may want to bookmark this list also.  Enjoy!


We have two favorites in this category:  Black Star Farms and Shady Lane Cellars.  Both are outstanding.  Black Star also boasts a beautiful inn.  If you can get in and can afford it, it’s pretty darn nice.  We’ve stayed there several times.  Shady Lane has a beautiful setting and an awesome patio.  As far as the wineries on the peninsula, they are all good.  If you possibly can, try to to get to these two.  A complete list of the area wineries can be found at the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail website.


The best attraction, by far, is Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  Within the park boundaries, don’t miss the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.  When on the drive, make sure to stop at the Lake Michigan Overlook.  Special note this year:  the drive will be closed for repaving from September 29 through October 5, and the weather could push that back.  Go to http://www.nps.gov/slbe/planyourvisit for updates.

To the north of the scenic drive, if you are up to it, climb the Dune Climb.  Just make sure you bring plenty of water, if you decide to go all the way to Lake Michigan…a two to four hour trip!

Another attraction is the Grand Traverse Lighthouse, on the northern tip of the peninsula.  It is within the boundaries of a Michigan State Park, so there is a daily entrance fee for visitors, on top of the lighthouse admission.  If you like lighthouses, this one is very nice.

Kilcherman Orchards is a special treat, if they happen to be open.  It is located just off of County Road 640 on Kilcherman Road.  They have multiple varieties of antique apples….the kind your grandma used to have. And the grower also has an amazing  pop bottle collection.  We are talking thousands of bottles, all in alphabetical order.  He will ask you your name and, in most cases, will show you a bottle with it on it.  🙂

Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor sort of falls into the shopping/ winery/restaurant categories, but it is an attraction in itself.  It is hard to describe and delightfully good.  


There are four towns we would recommend for shopping:  Suttons Bay, Leland, Northport and Glen Arbor.  All have unique shops.  For groceries, we like Hansen Foods in Suttons Bay the best.  There is also NJ’s Grocery in Lake Leelanau, and the Leland Mercantile in Leland.  The IGA in Glen Arbor is a ways away from where we are at, so we’ve never been in it.  


This one is a clear cut winner:  Suttons Bay Laundromat.  Clean as a whistle, and reasonably priced.  I challenge you to find a cleaner restroom in a laundromat.  🙂  Located in the same plaza as Hansen Foods, on the south end of Suttons Bay.

Driving Range

Well, I have to throw this one in here:  Wild Cherry RV Resort.  I know the rally is being held at Lake Leelanau RV Park, but we have a driving range at our place that is perched way up on a hill.  The view is fantastic.  Stop by anytime.  A bucket of balls is $5.  And check out our RV park for future reference.  It is very nice!


For a burger, we recommend either Art’s Tavern in Glen Arbor, or Dick’s Pour House in Lake Leelanau.  Both have good menus, with Art’s being a little more extensive. For something a step up from that, we recommend Hearth and Vine at Black Star Farms. It is Mario Batali’s favorite restaurant when he summers on the peninsula. It is outstanding. Even a little more upscale, Martha’s Leelanau Table in Suttons Bay is very nice.  In the town of Omena, Knot Just a Bar has delicious lake perch and an outstanding view of Grand Traverse Bay. With that being said, the other restaurants in the area are all very good.  People up here take their food seriously.


There are two bike trails on the peninsula.  The Leelanau Trail runs south out of Suttons Bay and connects up to the TART trail, once it gets to Traverse City.  The other trail on the peninsula is the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail.  Parts of this trail are still under construction, but the section between the Dune Climb and Glen Arbor is of special interest this year.  The area suffered tremendous straight line winds on August 2, and we understand that section of the trail really shows off just how much timber came down.  We have yet to ride it, but we are told that it is amazing.


The best bang for your buck is the Pyramid Point trail.  The hike to the overlook and back is 1.2 miles of moderate hiking on a gravel trail.  There is a tremendous view of the Manitou Passage from the overlook.


The beach on the north end of Bohemian Road is really nice.  There is a dog friendly beach at the north end of Good Harbor Road also.  Both of these beaches are within the National Park boundaries.  The waters of northern Lake Michigan are crystal clear, and some of the beaches are perfect for rock hunting.  A good listing of all the area beaches can be found here.


If you like river paddling, we recommend the Lower Platte River.  Riverside Canoe Trips will set you up, if you don’t have your own equipment.  They rent kayaks, canoes, tubes, rafts and stand-up paddle boards. For a nice secluded lake paddle, we recommend School Lake. It is within the National Park boundaries, so you will need a park pass.  You also will have the western shore of Lake Leelanau (the calm side) right at Lake Leelanau RV Park.


Munson Medical Center in Traverse City is a nationally ranked facility.  They will take excellent care of you in an emergency.  There is also Leelanau Urgent Care in Suttons Bay.

Major Services

Most national chains are located in Traverse City.  With that being said, the town is extremely busy.  We try to avoid going there unless we absolutely have to, as it is not what we consider ‘relaxing’.  But there are times that we need to venture into town, and they always seem to have everything we need. Traverse City also has unique shops downtown, along with several craft breweries.

A note about the weather

Early October weather on the Leelanau Peninsula is quite often different than what is found inland.  This is due to the moderating effects of Lake Michigan.  Frosts and freezes tend to come later here. As a result, the trees change color a little later than they do inland.  That being said, come prepared for crisp, cool nights.  Layering is recommended, as is rain gear….not so much for the rain, but for the wind.  More often than not, there is a fresh breeze blowing up here.



We hope this list is helpful to those of you coming to this area for your first visit. Once you are north of Traverse City, slow your pace down and take it all in. Above all, have a wonderful time. The fall colors should be tremendous! In our opinion, Leelanau is a pretty great place to be.  🙂

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!

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