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Sunday, September 30, 2018

Edmund Fitzgerald and Whitefish Bay

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
of the big lake they called "Gitche Gumee."
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
when the skies of November turn gloomy.
With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more
than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty,
that good ship and true was a bone to be chewed
when the "Gales of November" came early.

The ship was the pride of the American side
coming back from some mill in Wisconsin.
As the big freighters go, it was bigger than most
with a crew and good captain well seasoned,
concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms
when they left fully loaded for Cleveland.
And later that night when the ship's bell rang,
could it be the north wind they'd been feelin'?

The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound
and a wave broke over the railing.
And ev'ry man knew, as the captain did too
'twas the witch of November come stealin'.
The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
when the Gales of November came slashin'.
When afternoon came it was freezin' rain
in the face of a hurricane west wind.

When suppertime came the old cook came on deck
Sayin' "Fellas, it's too rough t'feed ya."
At seven P.M. a main hatchway caved in; he said,
"Fellas, it's bin good t'know ya!"
The captain wired in he had water comin' in
and the good ship and crew was in peril.
And later that night when 'is lights went outta sight
came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Does any one know where the love of God goes
when the waves turn the minutes to hours?
The searchers all say they'd have made Whitefish Bay
if they'd put fifteen more miles behind 'er.
They might have split up or they might have capsized;
they may have broke deep and took water.
And all that remains is the faces and the names
of the wives and the sons and the daughters.

Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings
in the rooms of her ice-water mansion.
Old Michigan steams like a young man's dreams;
the islands and bays are for sportsmen.
And farther below Lake Ontario
takes in what Lake Erie can send her,
And the iron boats go as the mariners all know
with the Gales of November remembered.

In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed,
in the "Maritime Sailors' Cathedral."
The church bell chimed 'til it rang twenty-nine times
for each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald.
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
of the big lake they call "Gitche Gumee."
"Superior," they said, "never gives up her dead
when the gales of November come early!"

     --Gordon Lightfoot,                               
"The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald"

Today we explored the eastern end of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan -- primarily the area around Whitefish Bay.  We knew that Whitefish Point houses the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, where exhibits and memorials about the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald, is located at Whitefish Point, but little did we know when we started our day's journey how powerful the museum and exhibits would be.

We started from our campground in Newberry, Michigan.  Only about 25 miles northeast of Newberry you can find the Tahquamenon Falls.  There are actually two sets of falls, the Upper and Lower falls.  The Lower Tahquamenon Falls consist of two separate falls on branches of the Tahquamenon River.  While they are gorgeous, they pale in comparison to the Upper Falls, which we visited:

We took our walk to the falls after having lunch at the Tahquamenon Falls Brewery, which is located adjacent to the parking lot for the falls.  This juxtaposition has an interesting history.  The grandparents of the current owners, who had lived in Newberry, where we are camped, loved taking canoe trips up the Tahquamenon River.  Eventually, they hit the falls, where they had to portage.  But their trips gave them access to these beautiful falls, which, at that time in the mid-20th Century, were only accessible by paddling the river.

At that time, the land around the falls was owned by a logging company, which had constructed Camp 33 at the Upper Falls.  After the area had been logged, the grandparents, being taken with the falls, purchased a large piece of land including the falls and the logging campThey rebuilt the camp and donated the land around the falls to the State of Michigan for a state park.  On the adjoining land they built a restaurant, which has occupied the site since 1950.  In recent years, their grandchildren added the brewery, and we can attest that they brew some very tasty beers.

After a hearty lunch and beer, we hiked out to the Upper Falls. The water flows over the precipice in brown, yellow and white bands, as you can see in this video of Upper Tahquamenon Falls.  The brown and yellow color derives from the tannins leached from the cedar swamps which the river drains. The Upper Falls are more than 200 feet across and with a drop of approximately 48 feet.  The upper falls are the third most voluminous vertical waterfall east of the Mississippi River, after Niagara Falls and Cohoes Falls.  As you can hear in the video linked above, the Upper Falls have a roar that is much louder than you would expect, because the volume of water flowing over it is so huge.

Before driving to Whitefish Point, which was our main goal, we took a side trip to Iroquois Point, where we wanted to see the Point Iroquois Lighthouse.

On our way to Iroquois Point, we discovered the Dancing Crane Coffee Shop in Brimley, part of the Bay Mills Indian Community of the Ojibwa tribe.  It is known to them as Gnoozhekaaning (Place of the Pike), and is an Indian reservation southwest of Sault Ste. Marie, forming the land base of one of the many Sault Ste. Marie bands of Chippewa (aka Ojibwa) Indians.  Dancing Crane Coffee Shop appears to be owned and managed by local tribal members.  In addition to roasting and serving its own very excellent coffee, it sells crafts made by members of the local community.

We would have liked to pause longer to get to know the community better, because it seems to be so thriving and positive.  However, we still had two lighthouses and a shipwreck museum to visit.

Just beyond Brimley, we came to the Point Iroquois Light:

The museum was closed, but we could take a self-guided tour through the lighthousekeeper's residence and climb the stairs of the lighthouse, from which we had an expansive view of Whitefish Bay:

We drove further along Whitefish Bay, traveling along the Whitefish Bay National Forest Scenic Byway.  Periodically, we came across roadside parks with paths out to the lakeshore offering views of the Bay and shoreline:

Turning north out Whitefish Point, we made our way toward the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum.  Along the way, we found that nearly every little lakeside cottage between the road and the lake had it own unique little identifying signs.  Some had named that were variations on the name, "Paradise," which is the local town.  Others used interesting flotsam and jetsam to create artistic house signs.  Yet others simply emphasized the quirky.

At the end of the road we came to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, which includes the Whitefish Point Light.  The Whitefish Point Light is the oldest operating light on Lake Superior. It is arguably the most important light on Lake Superior. All vessels entering and leaving Lake Superior must pass the light. It stands on the treacherous southern shoreline of Lake Superior known as the "Graveyard of the Great Lakes" in an area with more shipwrecks than any other area of the lake.

 The current structure, while modern looking, is a Civil War relic. Built in 1861 and commissioned by the authority of President Abraham Lincoln because of the importance of the Great Lakes iron ore trade to the Union cause in the Civil War, the lighthouse was state of the art at its time.  Its iron skeletal steel framework was designed to relieve stress caused by high winds.

The Great Lakes have seen over 6,000 shipwrecks in the years of European occupation, and many have been near Whitefish Point, which has dangerous shoals.  The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum memorializes a number of shipwrecks, but gives special emphasis to the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald and the loss of its 29 crew members.

Gordon Lightfoot's song, quoted above, is unexpectedly accurate in its description of the tragedy.  Experts still do not know why the vessel sank.  It was the largest and most modern of the ships plying the Great Lakes of the time.  An analogy to the Titanic comes to mind, but in this case there is no evidence of negligence on the part of the shipbuilders or crew.  All that is known is that the ship broke in two on the surface after enduring some of the heaviest gale winds in memory at the time.  Some suspect that two rogue waves may have stressed the fully loaded ship to its breaking point.

In any event, in 1995, 20 years after the 1975 tragedy, Canadian dive ships undertook an expedition to retrieve the ship's bell, and the Province of Ontario gifted the bell to the State of Michigan for display at the museum.  In its place, the divers installed a brass bell on the lakebed at the wreck site, bearing the names of the deceased sailors.

Canada handled the recovery of the bell because the ship sank in Canadian waters.  Afterward, Canada paid for a memorial to the crew and ship, which can be seen on the museum site:

Beyond the museum at Whitefish Point, visitors can walk to the beach, imagine the many ships that foundered in the area, rockhound along the stony beach, or simply admire the beauty of the lighthouse:

The remnants of piers still stand in the waters at the point.  They almost seem to be standing in remembrance of the many souls that have died in shipwrecks on Lake Superior:

We left the museum and headed home, sobered by what we learned of the dangers facing those who have sailed the Great LakesWe have learned to appreciate how significant a role fishing and sailing on the Great Lakes has played in the lives of people on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, as well as along both the U.S. and Canadian shores of the Great Lakes.  This seemed like a fitting way to cap off our visit to the eastern end of the Upper Peninsula.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Hi Blog!

On Friday, September 28, 2018, we left St. Ignace and drove into the heart of the UP. We positioned ourselves halfway between Whitefish Point and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. We have a few days in the area and hope to get out and about to explore both locations.

On Saturday, we decided to visit Pictured Rocks National Seashore. Our first stop was the resort town of Munising on the shores of Lake Superior. After procuring lattes and information from Falling Rock Cafe and Bookstore, we crossed the street and made a stop at the Pictured Rocks Interpretive Center. Run by the Forest Service, the center provided us not only with information on Pictured Rocks, but also on the Seney National Wildlife Refuge and the Hiawatha National Forest. The Ranger was kind enough to highlight a map for us giving us great ideas for hikes and scenic stops. We particularly appreciated the brochure on waterfalls and lighthouses.

Before leaving Munising, we had to backtrack slightly to see the two waterfalls we drove right past on the way into town. First up was Wagner Falls. While this waterfall is only 20 feet, the way the rocks step out to create a perfect curtain of water makes this one of the most photographed waterfalls in the area. In fact, we watched as two photographers, complete with tripods and rubber boots, stood in the middle of the icy cold stream to get their shot. We, however, stayed high and dry when we took our photo.

Just around the corner is Alger Falls. This is just a little cascade by comparison, but it is easily viewed from the side of the road making for a quick photo stop.

As we proceeded back through Munising, signs of Fall were all around us.

We stopped at Munising Falls Visitor Center only to learn that we learned all there was from the first ranger at the Interpretive Center. Oh well, at least the falls were pretty.

Pictured Rocks derives its name from the 15 miles of colorful sandstone cliffs northeast of Munising. The cliffs reach up to 200 feet above lake level. They have been naturally sculptured into a variety of shallow caves, arches, and formations resembling castle turrets and human profiles. The Miners Castle overlook is the only place on land to see the cliffs. The majority of tourists take a scenic boat tour in order to see them. Here is our best shot of Miners Castle.

After the lumbering era ended around 1910, much of the land making up the current National Lakeshore reverted to the State of Michigan for unpaid property taxes. Eager for federal help and recognition, the state cooperated with the federal government in the region's redevelopment. In October 1966, Congress passed a bill authorizing the establishment of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Pictured Rocks was America's first National Lakeshore. This is our view from high atop Miner's Castle.

After climbing the Castle, we drove around to Miners Beach. We were amazed at the force of the waves crashing on the beach. Lake Superior may be a fresh water lake, but hearing the surf pound the beach, you would swear it was an ocean.

After our beach walk, we had one more waterfall on our list - Miners Falls. The Miners River drops 50 feet into a sandstone canyon.

After Miners Falls, it was time to head to the eastern end of the park. The middle section of the park contains the Beaver Basin Wilderness Area. Road access is limited. We decided to bypass this area and save it for next time when we have more time for Jeep roads, longer hikes and kayak trips. However, we did stop to admire all the fall colors.

We've been seeing signs all over the park for the North Country Trail.  The N.C.T., is a national scenic trail. It is a footpath stretching approximately 4,600 miles from Crown Point in eastern New York to Lake Sakakawea State Park in central North Dakota. Passing through the seven states of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota, it is the longest of the eleven National Scenic Trails authorized by Congress. As of early 2017, 3,009 miles of the trail is in place. The remaining 1,600 miles is still being developed. The North Country Trail runs through the entire length of Pictured Rocks National Seashore. The section we are hiking will take us to the Au Sable Light Station. Dave points the way.

The Au Sable Light Station was built in 1874 on Au Sable Point, a well known hazard on Lake Superior's "shipwreck coast." The Au Sable Point reef is a shallow ridge of sandstone that in places is only 6 feet below the surface and extends nearly 1 mile into Lake Superior. The Au Sable Point reef was one of the greatest dangers facing ships coasting along the south shore of Lake Superior during the early shipping days when keeping land in sight was the main navigational method. The Au Sable Point reef was known as a "ship trap" that ensnared at least 10 ships. The light is fully automated now, using solar panels to generate electricity which is then used to create light!

After our three mile walk on the North Country Trail, we drove over to the Log Slide Overlook. Back in the day, loggers would drag trees out of the forest and slide them down the sand dunes. There were a number of footprints marching down the slide, but we decided to enjoy our views from the top rather than the bottom - mainly because it would have been a very long, hard slog to climb back up!  Just over Kathy's shoulder in the photo below is Au Sable Point, which we had just visited. If you look really closely, you can see the top of the light station.

Just around the corner from the log slide, we got our best view of the Grand Sable Dunes. The dunes cover a 5-mile stretch along the southern shore of Lake Superior in the eastern portion of the Pictured Rocks. Glacial melt during the last major advance/retreat created the conditions for the formation of the Grand Sable Banks. Dominant northwesterly winds eventually caused blowing sand to become perched on the banks. Today, the Grand Sable Banks rise to heights of up to 300 feet at a 35 degree angle from the shore. The dunes perched on top of these banks offers a desolate sandscape with jack pine forest near the edges.

After shaking the sand out of our boots, we finish our tour of Pictures Rocks in the town of Grand Marais. While rock collecting is verboten in the National Lakeshore, Grand Marais welcomes visitors to its beaches. Not much chance of running out of rocks here.

A few volunteers jumped into Kathy's jacket pocket. 

While the weather was cold and drizzly at times, we still had a great introduction to Pictured Rocks National Seashore. We have lots of ideas on what to do next time. In the meantime, we have a trip to Whitefish Point to prepare for. Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Fort Michilimackinac

When we visited Mackinac Island yesterday, we learned that Fort Mackinac had been relocated by the British to the Island from its site at the present Mackinaw City in order to make it more defensible.  We also learned that the British had won the original fort from the French as a result of the French & Indian War (also known as the Seven Years' War).  This made us curious about the original fort.

Today, we had a chance to visit the site of the original fort.  While the British had burned what remained of the fort when they moved it to Mackinac Island, and most of it was buried by sand over time, archaeologists began to investigate the site in 1959.  Eventually, the State of Michigan provided for the reconstruction of the fort on its original site based on historic records and the information uncovered by the archaeologists.  The fort was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1960.

The site was impressive as we approached it.  A re-enactor dressed as a French voyageur, his canoes behind him, greeted us as we approached the entrance to the fort:

The fort was as much a stockaded village as it was a military outpost.  The community consisted of a number of houses, and St. Anne's Church.  It was the center of fur trading and other commerce in the Great Lakes Region throughout the late 18th Century and early 19th Century.

One of the most interesting features in the fort is the site of the powder magazine.  Because the magazine's roof caved in while it was being burned, the structure of the magazine actually survived the burning by the British, and much of it still remains.  It has been preserved and is displayed for visitors to see, as if they were standing in the original powder magazine itself:

Many of the residences have been furnished just as they might have been during the time that the fort was active:

There is even a bread oven that could have been used in the original community:

We climbed the steps to the palisades and walked around the circumference of the fort.  On the north wall, we could get a good view of the Mackinaw Bridge, crossing the Straits of Mackinaw to the Upper Peninsula:

We got another look at the "Mighty Mac" bridge from one of the bastions, where a cannon stands guard:

The setting of the fort is gorgeous, and the weather was spectacular, which lent brilliant color to the scene:

From the ramparts, we could get a good view of the rowhouses and their gardens:

Not far from Fort Michilimackinac, we could walk to the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse.  Built on Mackinaw Point, it marks the junction of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.  The tower and attached keeper’s dwelling were both constructed of Cream City brick, trimmed with Indiana Limestone.  We found it to be one of the most unique lighthouses we've seen:

After exploring some of the history of this area, we found a great brewpub for lunch.  Bière De Mac Brew Works provides a wonderful cuisine along with original beers that are excellent examples of their styles.  We particularly liked the Mackinac Platter, which we shared.  It boasted cured meat, smoked fish dip, tavern cheese, beer mustard, strawberries, grapes, olives, pita, crackers and warm flatbread.  These delicacies went well with our beers and left us happy and ready to take on our next challenge --

Touring the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw Icebreaker!

She is known as the “Queen of the Great Lakes” and “The Largest Icebreaker on the Great Lakes.”  She was built as part of the war effort during World War II to meet the heavy demands of war materials and transportation during the winter months.  Decommissioned in 2006, she now resides at her namesake home of Mackinaw City, Michigan.

The icebreaker is open to touring by the public.  We had a chance to walk throughout the ship, including crew berthing quarters --

-- the engine room --

-- and other areas such as the mess hall, the captain's quarters, and the open decks.  We had a look over the bow --

-- and over the stern:

Many stops along our self-guided tour had video explaining the ship, her duties and the experience of serving aboard her. 

The Icebreaker Mackinaw was decommissioned in 2006 and moved to her current berth, where she now serves as a museum.  The crew that we spoke with insist that she is still seaworthy and could do the job today, but is too expensive for the Coast Guard to operate cost-efficiently.

We felt grateful that the icebreaker has been preserved to help us learn about the work of U.S. Coast Guard icebreakers and the importance they have to Great Lakes commerce.  Now it's time to move on, deeper into the Michigan U.P. to learn more about the Great Lakes and this beautiful northern boreal environment.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Mackinac Island

Hi Blog!

On Monday, September 24, 2018, we bid our friends, Dick and Gaila, a fond farewell and began our journey to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. To get to the UP, we had to cross the Mackinac Bridge. We are staying just north of the bridge in St. Ignace. We hope to get a closer look at the bridge and some better pictures in the next day or so. But first, we had to plan our day trip to Mackinac Island.  On our ferry ride to Mackinac Island, we had a chance to get this view of the bridge, which bears an unsettling similarity to the Golden Gate Bridge:

The weather during our stay here is "iffy." We decided the "best" weather (and I use that term loosely) for a bike ride on Mackinac Island was Tuesday, September 25, 2018. We booked our tickets on the Shepler's Ferry. Star Line also runs a ferry service, but their boats are considered slower. Ultimately, we took a recommendation for Shepler's from our friends.  Shepler's and Star Line entertained us with a race to the dock.

Mackinac {MAK-in-aw) Island is an island and resort area covering 3.8 square miles in land area, in Michigan. It is located in Lake Huron, at the eastern end of the Straits of Mackinac, between Michigan's Upper and Lower Peninsulas. The island was home to an Odawa Indian settlement before European exploration began in the 17th century. It was a strategic position as a center on the commerce of the Great Lakes fur trade. This led to the establishment of Fort Mackinac on the island by the British during the American Revolutionary War.

Here we are cruising through the Straits of Mackinac.

As the ferry pulled into Haldimand Bay, we got our first look at the downtown business district. I am not sure what we were expecting, but it wasn't Disney World on the Great Lakes, which is what we found. We were under the impression that Mackinac Island was a Michigan State Park. We later learned that only 80% of the island is a park, the other 20% is mostly commercial with a few really expensive residences.  Here is a view of the town from our ferry:

Main Street in the City of Mackinac Island is lined with all things a tourist needs. Since the turn of the century, motor vehicles have been prohibited on the island. Everyone gets around by bike, horse or electric cart. We decided to bring our bikes with us for a small fee of $11.00 per bike. Bike rental on the island is a big business. While the ferry was full with two bus loads of tourists, we're pretty sure not a one rented a bike.

We started our bike ride with a stop at the State Park Visitor's Center to watch the park video. From the Visitor's Center, we had a great view of Fort Mackinac. Since the entire loop around the island is only nine miles, we decided to ride our bikes first and then visit the fort after lunch.

Mile "0" of Michigan Highway M-185 starts just past the Visitor Center. M-185, also known as Lake Shore Road, is the only highway in Michigan that prohibits motor vehicles! This narrow paved road offers scenic views of the Mackinac Strait that divide the Upper and the Lower peninsulas of Michigan and Lakes Huron and Michigan. It passed by several scenic sites within Mackinac Island State Park, including Fort Mackinac, Arch Rock, British Landing, and Devil's Kitchen. Also on the list of scenic sites is Saint Anne's Church. Founded in 1670.  The first church was constructed in 1708. This church was constructed in 1874 and restored in 1996.

Lake Shore Road carries the highway right next to the Lake Huron shoreline, running between the water's edge and woodlands. And, yes, when the waves hit the rocks you can get splashed!

Rising 146 feet above the water, Arch Rock is a natural arch which spans 50 feet at its widest point. The rock was formed over thousands of years by wind and water eroding soft rock below, leaving only the hard breccia rock which forms the arch.

The Michigan area is know for Petoskey stones. A Petoskey stone is a rock containing a fossil, often pebble-shaped.  The fossil is a fossilized coral. These stones were formed as a result of glaciation, in which sheets of ice plucked stones from the bedrock, grinding off their rough edges and depositing them in the northwestern portion of Michigan's lower peninsula. In those same areas of Michigan, complete fossilized coral colony heads can be found in the source rocks for the Petoskey stones.

In the photo below, Kathy tries her luck in search of the elusive Petoskey stone.

With a fine mist falling, we decided not to spend too much time on the beach. It wasn't long before we reached the halfway point at British Landing. You guessed it! This is where the British landed during the War of 1812 and captured Fort Mackinac.

Another roadside attraction is the Devil's Kitchen. This gouged-out breccia formation was eroded at some prehistoric time when the lake levels were much higher. Over the years, a number of visitors used this area as a camp kitchen.

Fort Mackinac is a former British and American military outpost garrisoned from the late 18th century to the late 19th century in the City of Mackinac Island. The British built the fort during the American Revolutionary War to control the strategic Straits of Mackinac, and by extension the fur trade on the Great Lakes. The British did not relinquish the fort until fifteen years after American independence. Fort Mackinac later became the scene of two strategic battles for control of the Great Lakes during the War of 1812. Click the link to see an animated scene of the moment the Americans decided to surrender Fort Mackinac.

 At the fort, we had a chance to view the parade grounds:

During most of the 19th century, the fort served as an outpost of the United States Army.  Mackinac Island was dedicated as a U.S. National Park, second only to Yellowstone.  It was dedicated as a national park in response to the growing popularity of the island as a summer resort. In 1895, the fort was decommissioned and, at the request of the Michigan Governor, the park and fort were decommissioned as a national park and were turned over to the State of Michigan, becoming Mackinac Island State Park, the first state park in Michigan.

Several of the park buildings display artifacts from that era.

Situated on 150-foot bluffs above the Straits of Mackinac, it is one of the few surviving American Revolutionary War forts and one of the most complete early forts in the country.

In 2015, Fort Mackinac celebrated 235 years standing guard over Mackinac Island.

From the bluff we could look down on the island's "cottages." Off in the distance in the right background of the photo below is the Grand Hotel.

The Grand Hotel is a historic hotel and coastal resort on Mackinac Island. Constructed in the late 19th century, the facility advertises itself as having the world's largest porch. The Grand Hotel is well known for a number of notable visitors, including five U.S. presidents, inventor Thomas Edison, and author Mark Twain.

We finished our tour with a stop at MOOmers Homemade Ice Cream. According to our friends Dick and Gaila, Moomers has the best ice cream in Michigan. After sharing a scoop, we would have to agree!

We made our way back to the ferry with time to spare. On the ride back to St. Ignace, we passed the Round Island Light, which is a painted brick lighthouse located on the west shore of Round Island in the shipping lanes of the Straits of Mackinac. Because of its color scheme and form — red stone base and wood tower — it has been likened to an old-fashioned schoolhouse.

We enjoyed our bike tour of Mackinac Island, and could imagine ourselves spending a leisurely summer on the veranda of one of the historic hotels or mansions that have been refurbished as B&B's.  We can understand how people have flocked here every year to escape the heat of U.S. summers.

We hope to explore more of the U.P. during the coming week or two.  Stay tuned!