Friday, September 11, 2015

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.

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