Friday, September 11, 2015

Lake Superior Circle (Part 7)

We woke to another blue sky morning and the sound of prospective campers prowling the full campground looking for an open site in advance of the Labor Day weekend. The cards on the campsite posts alerted them to which campsites were being vacated that day. We were approached almost immediately on exiting the camper by a young woman looking to secure our site once we left. Others from her group found a site more to their liking and they left. That group was quickly replaced by another group wanting our site. We ate breakfast and packed up under their watchful eyes. Our site was immediately occupied upon our exit.

We drove to Marquette hoping to stay at the Tourist campground. It was nice but it was full. The manager looked at us like we were crazy asking if he had a vacancy on the Labor Day weekend.

We fueled up and drove on to our next objective- the mouth of the Huron River where it meets Lake Superior. Tips from Tom and the UP Overland forum took us over some back roads to a great sand beach and informal camping area where we explored a bit and set up camp. The wind was quite strong off the lake but we found a nice protected spot.

Parked near the mouth of the Huron River.

The mouth of the Huron River.

Walking on the nice sand beach.

Found a sheltered campsite.

Nicest campsite of the trip.
We noticed a fair bit of trash strewn about and decided to do a bit of campground cleanup. 

We picked up some trash around the area.

After our good deed, we had a relaxing happy hour and a good dinner.

Another campsite pic.
We took a walk after dinner down the beach, sat for a while, enjoyed another stellar sunset and went to bed.

Walking on the beach after dinner.

Sunset silouette.

Beach sunset.

I woke up before dawn and got up to watch the sun rise. I took some photos while Kathy caught up on sleep. I decided to take a shower. I heated water, filled up the shower sprayer, found a handy tree on which to hang my dopp kit and towel, pumped up the sprayer and had a nice hot shower. It was a bit brisk at 60° air temp but it felt great to be clean. I made burritos again for breakfast- hash browns, eggs, sausage and cheese wrapped in a tortilla. Remember, it is the plate you can eat! A liberal dash of hot sauce on mine. The consensus was this had been our best campsite of the trip.

Dawn at the mouth of the Huron River.

The sun also rises.

We packed up to head to the Porcupine Mountains State Park. We cut across from Baraga to Ontonagon, skipping the famed Keweenaw Peninsula. We had a memorable vacation with our kids there years ago and decided not to repeat that area this trip. We arrived at Porcupine and found hot, humid weather, biting flies and a woefully poor camping situation at the Union Bay campground- crowded, small sites with no privacy, no trees, big RVs packed in, people everywhere. The Labor Day holiday crowd was in full swing. The draw of hot showers could not overcome the camping conditions. We talked to the ranger and reserved a much better sounding rustic site at the Presque Isle unit on the other end of the park 25 miles away.

We decided to sight-see on our way to the campground so we would not have to back track. We drove to the trailhead at Lake of the Clouds- the main draw of the park and very scenic. The landscape is knock-your-socks-off beautiful. There are many hiking trails to follow in the park but we didn't do any hiking on this visit. We will return someday that is not a holiday weekend- this Labor Day holiday visit was too crowded for our taste.

Lake of the Clouds.

Another view.

We drove to the Presque Isle unit, presented our earlier purchased campsite permit at the gate house and discovered they had given our nice, wooded campsite away due to park staff miscommunication. Other sites were available but not attractive- small, open and close to neighbors, lots of people. After some deliberation, we got a refund and decided to push on to the nearby Chequamegon National Forest in Wisconsin and look for a forest service campground.

Heading for Wisconsin.

 We found one on the map- followed a few signs but never found the campground. Back to the highway- soon saw another USFS campgound sign. Followed more signs and ended up on in a nice USFS campground on Lake Namekagon. Unfortunately, campers with a big trailer showed up, set up next door and promptly turned on their generator and let their dog loose. I returned the dog to them and confirmed that they would turn the generator off at 10 PM. They were pleasant about it.

It was a very hot and humid night. We took a walk to the lake, let Rocky wade in the water and enjoyed the cool breeze off the lake. We decided to get up early and head home, stopping for breakfast on the way. It rained overnight- we were glad we had packed up before heading to bed. We had a great breakfast at the Brick House Café in Cable, Wisconsin while it poured rain. More rain during the ride home cleaned the dirt and bugs off the truck nicely. We arrived home about 1 pm- tired, glad to be home, appreciative of another completed adventure, our understanding and respect of Lake Superior and its landscapes and its people deepened. And I have finally been all around the big lake.

Camp at Lake Namekagon

Impressions: You could spend a lifetime exploring around Lake Superior. The variety of landscapes is endlessly entertaining. We will return to Canada and Michigan. Lake Nipigon has been added to the list of places to visit. Ontario Provincial Parks are some of the nicest we have stayed in anywhere. With the exception of a couple of challenging days (and what adventure doesn't have challenges?), the trip was everything I hoped it would be.

2173 miles. 135 gallons of gas- ave. price $2.91/gal. $386 total fuel cost.
Ave mileage- 16 mpg. Range between fills 15-18 mpg.
14 days, 2 countries, 10 different campsites.

Lake Superior Circle (Part 6)

We woke early broke camp and left in the dark and thick fog. We had planned to drive through Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and see the sights as we went. The fog had other plans. We stopped along the way but could see virtually nothing in the fog. We missed the big dunes. We enjoyed the walks we took through fog-misted woods- we were the only people in the areas we were visiting. I had fun trying to take interesting photos in the fog.

Sable Falls
Sable Falls

At the Grand Sable Dunes.

Cool spider web in the fog.

 We read the interpretive signs and saw exhibits of old logging equipment. This was at the site of an old log slide, used to get logs down the dunes to the lake where they could be rafted up and towed to the mill.

Some big wheels used to move logs with horses.
Another view of a big wheel.

Another fog picture and the Grand Sable Dunes.

We decided we would tour the campgrounds along the way and if we saw a nice site we would take it. We were early and most campsites were still occupied. But we noticed that as sites were vacated, they were taken by new campers almost immediately. Prime sites were snapped up before the current occupants even left. We realized we would have to choose quickly if we saw an open site. At the time, we didn't know we would be on the other end of this system in a couple of days. We ended up at Twelvemile Campground on the shore of Lake Superior in a pleasant interior site with a view to the lake.

Another nice campsite.

A view to the lake.

Rocky showing admirable restraint (or possibly indifference).

We made a late breakfast/early lunch and set up camp. Soon after it started to rain. We took a short walk through the campground with Rocky in the rain. It is always fun to see other people's setups- we saw an interesting homemade camper.

The owner of this camper was a wood carver.
 We returned to the camper for naps and to wait out the rain. After the rain, I collected some firewood and sawed it up for the night’s campfire. We made dinner of leftovers, I cleaned up the dishes while Kathy walked Rocky around the campground.

The evening stayed foggy and chilly. We attended a talk on Ravens and Crows at the campground amphitheater given by an earnest young park ranger. The talk was engaging and interesting although we already knew most of the information. The summary: crows and ravens are very smart.

After the talk we had a campfire, discussed the plans for the next few days and retired to bed.

A nice campfire on a chilly evening.

It rained overnight. We woke to a wet camp but blue skies and sunshine. We could see the water of Lake Superior without fog for the first time in Michigan. We decided to extend our stay at Twelve Mile Beach campground. We made oatmeal for breakfast. We cleaned up and headed to the Chapel Rock hike. The road to the trailhead was unexpectedly primitive- narrow, rough and muddy. We figured it would keep the riff-raff out but the parking lot at the trailhead contained a few cars as well as trucks. The road is undergoing improvement for obvious reasons. The hike turned out to be a serene and quiet walk mostly by ourselves, through the woods to a beautiful beach. 6.5 miles round-trip, it took us just under 3 hours with stops for photos and some time on the beach with a few other people. We saw the Chapel Falls on the way in and Chapel Lake on the way back.  It was a great hike. There is a 4-mile extension around Mosquito Lake that we did not do but sounds very nice too.

A walk in the woods.
Ferns covered the ground in the openings.

The soil was pure sand near the beach.

Stream meets lake.
The stream flowing over rock to the lake.

Chapel Rock.
Another view of Chapel Rock.

Chapel Lake.

Since pets are not allowed on National Park trails, Rocky had to wait in the truck. This was a source of some concern which overlayed our hike. We were able to park in the shade, the camper further shades the cab and with a foil cover over the open windows, it stayed comfortable for him. I think there is a business opportunity for someone to dog-sit for National Park visitors.

We drove to Munising to get some groceries and camping advice for the trip west. We looked up Tom from Roam Auto to meet him and get more camping advice. Tom is a successful entrepeneur and a founder of the UP Overland Forum, where I had joined and solicited advice before we left. A very nice guy- interrupted a busy day to chat and look at maps. After meeting Tom, we went to Muldoon's for some pasties to have for dinner back at camp- best in the U.P. according to the sign. We wouldn't argue.

On the way back to camp, we stopped at Miners Rock overlook and took some photos. Then back to camp for an excellent Yooper dinner of pasties and beer. A walk on the beach with Rocky, a beautiful sunset and a nice campfire wound up the day. A top 10 day overall. Tomorrow we head for Marquette.

Miner's Rock

Yooper dinner- yum!

Another fine sunset.

Twelvemile beach at sunset.

The woods at sunset.

Twelvemile beach.

Canoe and folks watching the sunset.


Lake Superior Circle (Part 5)

We packed up and said our goodbyes. We left the beautiful cabin in the woods and drove to Sault Ste. Marie. It was a cloudy, foggy drive. We had breakfast at Frank’s Family Restaurant in Sault Ste Marie- recommended by Yelp. Lots of food- blueberry pancakes for Kathy and a sausage scramble for me. We drove to the border crossing and crossed with no problems but a bit of a backup due to construction. The crossing took about a half hour. The morning was foggy so I didn't take pics of the bridge or locks. We stopped for gas. We also stopped at a Verizon shop we passed to cancel the international phone service we had added for Canada. This was after failing to navigate an impenetrable interface on the phone. We drove to Tahquamenon Falls State Park with a couple of stops for scenery. It was a nice drive through the Hiawatha National Forest along the shore of Lake Superior. We picked a nice campsite, registered and then went to visit the High Falls before making camp. Tahquamenon Falls State Park has a private brewery and pub inside the park due to the existence of a private land inholding and an enterprising owner. The brewery development was well done and made for a unique situation- hike to the falls and have a beer after. We set up camp and made a dinner of leftovers. We hiked to the lower falls after dinner. The next day we would head for Whitefish Point and then west along the lake shore.

Tahquamenon Falls

Another view of the falls.

The sign at the brewery.

The lower falls.

Chillin in camp.

It was a nice morning. We had a cold breakfast with hot tea and broke camp- on the road by 9 AM. We drove to Whitefish Point to the Lighthouse and Shipwreck Museum and arrived just as the museum opened.

Whitefish Point Light

We had a very interesting visit with knowledgeable and passionate tour guides. We learned about shipwrecks on Lake Superior- over 550 known, surprisingly many from collisions with other ships. We saw relics of the Edmund Fitzgerald, the last significant wreck made famous by Gordon Lightfoot, and many others. An early diving suit on display required two men to crank an air pump for the guy in the water and pull him out when he wanted out. Not sure I would jump in the lake with a big lead weight around my neck. The pump machine came with operating directions printed in the box cover.

One of the first diving suits.

A modern diving suit used to recover artifacts from the Edmund Fitzgerald wreck.

The Edmund Fitzgerald bell.

The Whitefish light was the first light on the lake and marked the narrow entrance to Sault Ste. Marie. Whitefish Point is called the "Graveyard of the Great Lakes," being where many ships collided in the congestion. An impressive system was developed to watch for shipwrecks and rescue victims, which eventually became the U.S. Coast Guard. Extraordinary and dangerous rescues were routinely made. Over 55,000 lives were saved and only 98 lost over the life of the Whitefish facility. At one point, there were over 3000 ships operating daily on the lake. Now the number is closer to 200. According to Robert Carlson, a keeper who served at the light from 1903 to 1939, it was lonely but honorable work- perhaps an understatement.

Lego model of the Edmund Fitzgerald- 12,000 lego pieces.

Detail of the lego model.
After the Museum, our next stop was to be the campground at the mouth of the Two-hearted River. The Two-hearted was made famous by an Ernest Hemmingway short story (The Big Two-hearted River) and is revered along with the Au Sable, another Michigan stream, considered the holy water by the founders of Trout Unlimited.

The day was warming up fast and it was very muggy. We wanted to explore and get off the highway. Looking at our maps, we devised a route through the undeveloped woods and plain west of Whitefish Point. We expected to encounter sand and backwoods trails. We did not anticipate the depth of the sand or the profusion of ATV and snowmobile routes that were not located on our maps. We were turned back from the coast road by deep sand- being alone and not yet confident of our trucks capability in sand. We headed inland. We did have GPS so we always knew where we were but the maps were relatively useless. The maze of roads went in every direction and did not match our maps. We quickly got lost, even though the GPS kept us located on the ground and we knew where we were. With the help of the GPS and compass, we selected trails that led generally the direction we wanted to go. Eventually we were able to figure out a way out of the maze, after driving some very narrow and challenging trails.

Heading out for adventure from Whitefish Point.

The Tacoma performed well in the deep sand and we did not get stuck. We had to cross some deep washouts and shallow water pockets, bouncing off the skid plate at least once. Kathy was a champion navigator and didn’t yell at me too much. I didn’t yell at her too much either. We worked as a team. At one point we flushed a small flock of sandhill cranes right in front of us- that was cool. Unfortunately, once we got lost, I was so focused on the driving and map-reading that I didn't take any photos. And at one point after a big bump, the computer crashed, wiping out our GPS track of where we had been. There was a moment of panic until we got the computer booted up again and found the GPS still worked. So I can't go back over the maps to see where we went. I know we made some circles but I don't have to admit to them now. Old lesson learned again- always have tested and trusted maps. You can't rely on technology.

The challenging day was not over yet.

Eventually we emerged from the woods into a flat landscape that had burned some years earlier, had been clearcut and now was mostly ferns with the odd dead tree left standing (2012 Duck Lake fire- 21,000 acres, 3rd largest in Michigan history). We had never seen a landscape like it. There was very little regeneration after 3 years but there might be good news for the endangered Kirtland's Warbler. You can follow the link if you are interested to know more.

We found the Two-hearted River and the campground. Unfortunately, the campground was full- very disheartening after our challenging morning. It was hot and humid and after the mornings adventure we were tired and running short of patience. We located some alternate campgrounds on our map and went in search of a place to spend the night. We rejected several campgrounds (including Muskelunge State Park) as not meeting our standards, eventually settling on the pleasant Lake Superior State Forest Campground on the shore of Lake Superior.

Duck Lake fire landscape.

Kind of a barren wasteland. But that might end up being good for the Kirtland's warbler (see the link above).

Two-hearted River.

View of the big lake from the state forest campground.

The campground was mostly full but we found a nice site on the shore with one neighbor- a lady who looked like she was just stopping for a short while- no tent or camping equipment was visible. Biting flies were buzzing about but we thought they would likely leave as the sun set. We settled in and prepared to make dinner- a chicken and vegetable stir fry. In short order the lady came over to inform me that she had stopped briefly on a road trip, had lost a cat out of her car and was waiting for it to return so she could continue her journey. It turns out she had been waiting for 4 days so far!

The cat lady, as she came to be known, also explained that she would be calling the cats name periodically day and night. We commiserated with her and went about making our dinner, suspecting the cat would not likely be returning. We were startled a couple of times, with the cat lady loudly shouting her cat's name. “HERE SUNNY! HERE SUNNY!” I HEAR YOU SUNNY! COME SUNNY!” We ate dinner and Kathy offered our neighbor some leftovers, not knowing if she had food. She turned down the food but latched on to Kathy in a one-sided conversation. Kathy eventually extricated herself and returned to our campsite. Soon the lady came over, sat down at our picnic table and started to tell stories. She talked non-stop and the stories did not follow a course. It didn't seem to matter if we were listening or not- something about being a federal agent in Washington D.C. and other tales. We began to suspect the missing cat might be imaginary. Then she excused herself to take an imaginary call on her cell phone. We figured we had better make plans to pack up. Sleep in this camp was not likely.

While the cat lady was engrossed in her imaginary cell phone call, another camper stopped by and told us she had bothered several campers and the authorities had been called and had spoken to the woman but had not done anything more. Other campers had simply left the campground. It was beginning to be clear why our site had been open.

The cell phone call was done. Again, loudly, “HERE SUNNY! HERE SUNNY!” I HEAR YOU SUNNY! COME SUNNY!”  There were no other vacant sites in the campground so we made a difficult decision to pack up and leave at 7:30 PM. Some other pleasant campers- local people- advised us of a town campground in Grand Marais that usually had space, so we resolved to drive there.

Rocky: "Are we there yet?"

We arrived at Woodland Park as it was getting dark. There was no one in the office but a sign with a supply of maps of the campground explained the usual self-registration process. We could take any vacant site. Fees were $40 per night for full hookups, $30 for electricity only and $20 for “primitive sites” (no water, no sewer and no electricity- basically a parking spot). The campground was full of large RVs and trailers, most looked like long term residents. We couldn’t find any primitive sites.

Some friendly campers making s’mores with the biggest marshmallows I had ever seen- like baseballs- pointed us to a small area alongside the road under a streetlight. No site numbers were visible but it was late and we proceeded to set up. A fellow parked down the way a bit came over and pointed out a sign we had not seen saying all the primitive sites were closed because the road adjacent was going to be paved in the morning. He was from Iowa on his way to Petosky, MI. He said he was in the same boat as us and was going to stay put and leave early. We decided to do the same.

We discovered that showers were not included in the $20 fee- $2 extra- quarters required. The showers were not particularly clean- we passed. Besides, we didn't have any quarters. The night cooled off nicely and we had a good but short sleep. Once again- no photos. Just as well- the next day promised to be better. We would reach Pictured Rocks National Park.