Monthly Archives: October 2015
Big snowfall, extreme cold for most of Upper Peninsula of Michigan
The world’s largest lift bridge connects Houghton and Hancock, Michigan.
The Quincy mine near Hancock, MI, is open for tours that goes into the mine to the seventh level.
The highway to Houghton, Michigan followed the shores of Lake Superior most of the way passing through Marquette, the largest city on the Upper Peninsula with just over 21,000 people and Christmas, maybe the smallest and too few to count.
The camping grapevine told us about a little campground in Houghton with only 25 campsites but offered all the trimmings, including waterfront sites.
We were surprised when our campsite was located on the shores of Portage Lake and included a concrete pad with our own private wooden deck, covered picnic table, charcoal grill, ringed fire pit, cable television and free wifi. The roads in the campground were also paved.
The campground is operated by the City of Houghton and stays full most of the summer. Fortunately, we were here in late September, long after Labor Day when kids are back in school and fewer campers on the road.
The spiral staircase going to the top of the lighthouse at Eagle Harbor is so narrow visitors go backwards down the steps.
The lighthouse at Eagle Harbor, Michigan.
Like most cities along Lake Superior and the Upper Peninsula where winters are severe, Houghton holds the distinction of having the third-most days below 32 degrees of any city in the U. S. and an average of 218 inches of annual snowfall. They have 100 days per year when the daytime high failed to reach 32 degrees.
Locals jokingly say Houghton has two seasons: “winters here and winter’s coming.”
It was in the 50’s at night but daytime temperatures were in the upper 60’s and low 70’s during our visit, making it difficult to relate to its winters.
The view from our campsite rivaled any of the 40 or so campgrounds on this Great Lakes trip.
We drove from Houghton across the world’s largest lift bridge over Portage Lake to Hancock then headed mostly north on the Keweenaw Peninsula into the area where copper was industrially mined in the mid 1800’s. The mines were so successful that they employed thousands of people, most of them immigrants from Europe, who came with mining experience near the turn of the century.
Eagle River Falls is a roadside attraction on the Keeweenaw Peninsulal between Hancock and Copper Harbor. During the area’s mining boom, the waters once generated electricity fora nearby plant that served the industry.
The mining boom continued until 1967 and some mines are now preserved and listed as National Historic Sites offering daily underground tours. We drove past the Quincy Mine just outside Hancock as we were driving north to Copper Harbor. This mine operated until the 1970’s when locals made a successful effort to save a few of them for historical purposes. Today’s visitors to the mine are taken underground and down to the 7th level by the Quincy and Torch Lake Cog Railway.
The town of Calumet, which is north of Hancock, also has remnants of its successful mining days. The Boston-based Calumet and Hecia Mining Company produced more than half of the country’s copper from 1871 to 1880.
The entire Downtown Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
We continued north, stopped at a waterfall and took a tour of the Eagle Harbor lighthouse. Eagle Harbor is a small community built around a small harbor on Lake Superior which appeared to be mostly summer vacation cottages.
Several people along the way had told us to take the Brockway Mountain Road to Copper Harbor and we were not disappointed. The scenic road is eight miles long and reaches 1300 feet high at one point with a wide view of Lake Superior and the town of Copper Harbor.
The temperature was 47 degrees when we broke camp at Houghton the following morning and headed home. Weather reports were predicting heavy rains from the Great Lakes to the southern United States. We left Michigan in an effort to get ahead of the storm.
It rained through Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina and parts of South Carolina. Our last night on the road was near Lake Wateree, about 20 miles north of Columbia which a few days later would be severely damaged by heavy rainfall.
Our Great Lakes trip was over.
Getting up close at Pictured Rocks National Seashore, Munising, MI
Morning temperatures were in the low 50’s and trees were showing their fall colors as we left Paradise, MI., on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and headed west 70-miles to Munising.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is located in the waters of Lake Superior about a half-hour boat ride from Munising but high winds the past two days have cancelled the tour boat trips to see the massive shoreline rocks.
Miners Falls is located near Munising, MI., inside the Pictured Rocks National Shore Park.
Our campground is on the shores of Lake Superior and through advanced reservations, managed to secure a site on the waterfront.
“It’s windy and cold but the view from our campground is gorgeous,” writes Martha in her journal.
We took care of some housekeeping duties (cleaned the RV and went to a local laundromat to wash clothes) and visited a couple nearby waterfalls. Seems there are waterfalls at every stop on the Upper Peninsula. Later in the day we took the tow car and drove up the coast for a view of Pictured Rocks from the shoreline. We stopped at Miner’s Castle and walked to an overlook for a closer look. We were several hundred feet above the shoreline standing on a cliff overlooking Miners Castle.
Miners Castle is a huge sandstone cliff shaped into the form of a castle by wind and rain. We would see this again tomorrow from a boat on Lake Superior if the winds cooperate.
Back at the campground from Martha’s Journal, “Ron built a fire which we enjoyed for about an hour before the combination of cold temperatures and 30 mile an hour winds forced us inside. It rained and the wind blew hard during the night. The seasons are changing. It is warm one day, cool the next. Will rain for two or three days, then sunshine and nice cool temperatures.”
Finally, on the third day, winds calmed and we boarded one of three double-decker boats for the half-hour ride to the Pictured Rocks. Temperatures were in the low 50’s when we left the RV this morning.
While many hearty tourists selected open-air seats on top of the double-decker boat, we opted to sit inside with other warm weather visitors. Those outside were afforded the best view but we were warmer and could see the cliffs through windows.
The captain of the tour boat drove up close to the sandstone cliffs and the hilly shoreline, some reaching 200-feet above the shore level and many naturally sculptured into shallow caves, arches and in some cases, human profiles.
Following a short walk on a gravel path to the viewing platform, Wagner Creek flows over numerous rock ledges to create a beautiful waterfall.
Martha wrote in her Journal that it was “hard to describe the rocks. They were huge, pink sandstone cliffs with brown, white and green stripes that the cruise boat captain said were caused by the minerals and water seepage in the rocks.
There are only four National Lakeshores in the National Park system and all four are located on Lakes Michigan and Superior.
Wind sailing on a blustery day on Lake Superior near Munising, Michigan.
NEXT: Houghton and Copper Harbor, our last stops on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Whitefish Point museum and memories of Lake Superior shipwrecks
“The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down of the big lake they call Gitchegumee. The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead when the skies of November turn gloomy…” From the song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot.
Martha put a pot roast loaded with vegetables (my favorite dinner) in a slow cooker and we took off for the 20-mile drive from Tahquamenon Falls to Whitefish Point.
She says in her journal that the landscape looks so much like Alaska where we lived in another life some 20-years ago.
“We had some views of Lake Superior on the drive. Superior is so big it’s like looking at the ocean.”
At 160 miles wide and over 350 miles long, Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world.
“We are headed for Whitefish Point,” she wrote, “ to see the lighthouse and museum that honors the many shipwrecks that happened off Whitefish Point over the last 100 years, including the Edmund Fitzgerald.”
The museum/lighthouse complex at Whitefish Point on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
The lighthouse at Whitefish Point is the oldest active lighthouse on Lake Superior and dates back to 1849.
Three hundred shipwrecks have been documented by the non-profit organization “The Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society” which also operates the museum and lighthouse complex. All shipping traffic passes by the Whitefish Point lighthouse, going or coming on Lake Superior.
Despite the 350 recorded shipwrecks there may be another thousand wrecks lying on the bottom of Lake Superior. The Edmund Fitzgerald, which was immortalized by the singer/songwriter Gordon Lightfoot, is by far the most widely known.
Our golden retriever takes a stroll along the Lake Superior shoreline.
On November 9, 1975 the S. S. Edmund Fitzgerald and its’ 29 man crew, heavily loaded with iron ore, was lost just 17-miles from Whitefish Point during a massive storm with wind gusts approaching 90-miles-per hour and possibly 30-foot seas.
The non-profit organization sponsored a recovery effort and with a remotely operated underwater recovery vehicle found the ship and its ship’s bell which is now on display in the Whitefish Point Museum. An identical bell was engraved with the names of all 29 crewmen to replace the original bell.
An observation desk at Whitefish Point as seen from the top of the lighthouse.
During the visit to Whitefish Point we climbed to the top of the lighthouse and looked across Lake Superior—trying to imagine how something so spectacular could be so deadly. The guide mentioned there could be 6,000 ships lying at the bottom of all five Great Lakes.
I took Heidi dog for a walk along the now calm Lake Superior shoreline, the fifth and final great lake visited on this trip.
Colorful Tahquamenon Falls is another Michigan natural attraction
The Tahquamenon River cuts through the state park of the same name and sports two huge waterfalls on its way to Whitefish Bay which is part of big Lake Superior.
We are camped in the state park near the tiny town of Paradise, MI., and within walking distance of the lower falls but it’s the upper falls about four miles away that grabs most of the attention. Over 50,000 gallons per second goes over the falls, second only in volume to Niagara Falls east of the Mississippi. The falls are impressive and very loud.
Tannins from cedar swamps that drain into the river give it a golden-brown color which can be seen in photographs and accounts for the name “Rootbeer Falls” as referred to by locals. Shades of green and blue appear along with the brown color in late fall.
There are five campgrounds in the 46,179 acre park. We stayed at Hemlock at the lower falls on gravel campsites with plenty of room between campers. Many of the people here are from other parts of Michigan and vacation in the U.P. during late September when most of the tourists have gone elsewhere.
Heidi, our golden retriever traveling companion is puzzled by the chipmunks which venture within a few feet looking for a handout. She is on a leash and still as a mouse knowing any movement will send them scurrying back into the trees.
The campground and area around nearby Paradise, MI., reminded us of Alaska scenery without the mountains.
Weather in late September on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula remains cool at night—sometimes in the mid-40’s—and upper 60’s or low 70’s during the daytime. Leaves are just starting to welcome fall with a few trees showing bright colors. It’s easy to pick out locals who stay here year round and brave the harsh winters. They have multiple loads of firewood stacked or dumped in the front yard ready to ward off the freezing temperatures and to survive several hundred inches of snowfall. Those without firewood are just here for the summer and head to warmer climate when the winds of November start to blow.
NEXT: Whitefish Point and the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald.