Wednesday, we made a much needed laundry and grocery run. Grocery stores in this area are scarce, have limited stock, and are very expensive. The nearest market of any size is in Newberry, 30 miles away. While there, we visited the Logging Museum, a collection of restored buildings in tribute to the industry that has been the lifeblood of the UP. The displays are not well labeled but interesting. The best was the CCC building, complete with a video about the camps in the area that fought forest fires.
When we returned, we opted for supper at Camp 33, a brew pub/restaurant near the Upper Falls. The land around the falls was purchased mid-twentieth century by Jack and Mimi Barrett and later given to the state of Michigan with the stipulation that roads and parking lots would end no closer than 3/4 of a mile from the falls and visitors would approach on foot. Jack's family retained concession rights and built Camp 33 in honor of the logging camps. Great food!
We had been told a couple of nights before by a couple camped near us that their favorite activity in the park was a boat trip to and hike around the island that separates the Lower Falls. That would be a rowboat--not an excursion boat. Visitors rent a boat below the falls and row across the river to the island where a boardwalk and trail circle the island with views of all five lower falls.
It is a beautiful, easy hike and the only way to view the larger east falls. The copper color comes from the tannins in the nearby cedar and pine forests. The views are spectacular and human intrusion on the island is kept to a minimum--no concessions, small viewing platforms and not even a bench! Fall color is just beginning and we have been very lucky to have wonderful weather to see it all.
We postponed groceries and laundry yesterday to visit the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point. This is an extremely worthwhile stop. The museum highlights several of the better known wrecks out of the 200 or so near the point, including the Edmund Fitzgerald, which lies about 15 miles northwest of the point. The museum includes the original bell from 'Big Fitz' which was raised and replaced with a bell engraved with the names of the 29 crew members lost.
The focus of the Shipwreck Society is to record and map as many of the wrecks as possible. There is a display replicating divers reaching one of of the wrecks, as well as artifacts retrieved from a number of the shipwrecks. Most of the sinkings were caused by collisions due to weather and misread signals.
But the most impressive displays to me were about the lifesaving process and safety at sea. Maritime safety was so important to the young United States that one of the earliest agencies set up was the United States Light House Establishment (USLHE) in 1789. Light houses and their keepers became a crucial part of shipping on the Great Lakes. A light that was retired in 1983, replaced by more modern technology, is the centerpiece display in the museum.
There are also exhibits of the beach carts and lifeboats similar to the ones we saw in Glen Haven. In one twenty year period, almost 7000 people were rescued! In another twenty-five year period, 177 surfmen lost their lives due to rescues. Coast watchers would walk out each night and on days with bad weather and meet a watcher from the next station. They exchanged tokens to confirm to the light house keepers that they had completed their duty. It was a lonesome and perilous existence. GPS technology has made much of this no longer necessary, but it's quite a story.
We ended our day with a trip to the Upper Tahquanemon Falls. We didn't get as close as we did to the lower falls because there were 94 steps--down and back up to the viewing platform. The winds on Monday prevented having supper outside, but last night was much calmer and there was a beautiful sunset over the river. An excellent day!
There’s a bit of irony in the idea of a bear with a gun welcoming you to Paradise, don’t you think? I couldn’t resist a shot of this carving at a gas station as we came into town. I had never heard of Tahquamenon Falls until we started planning this trip and someone from Michigan told me it was a must see. They were right, and we are so glad for the suggestion--this place is awesome in the original sense of the word.
It is near the shore of Lake Superior and the campground is very nice. Once we got set up, we returned to a couple of ‘convenience’ stores about a mile from the park entrance. We succeeded in getting milk (in one store; in the other it was quite expired), carrots, and ice. The produce section advertised on the sign consisted of two bags of baby carrots, three heads of lettuce and a couple of green peppers. We have been told that the nearest laundry is 30 miles away in Newberry--and it’s time-- so we will check a grocery store there for more necessities. On the way, we will take in the Lumberjack Museum.
Meanwhile, back at the falls. There is a Lower Falls (actually two on either side of an island) and an Upper Falls. After our so-called grocery trip yesterday, we had time to take the short trail to the Lower Falls. A boardwalk takes visitors through a very swampy woodsy area to a platform overlooking the west section of the Lower Falls. The tannin color of the falls is due to water draining from the cedar swamps all along the river. Fall color is starting, so there are bright splashes throughout the walk. These are touted as the third largest falls east of the Mississippi by volume and they are impressive. We also plan to visit the Upper Falls on our way to Newberry today.
We are deep enough in the wilderness that internet is spotty and, according to the park literature, cell service is ‘minimal.’ I think that’s a euphenism like Iowa roads that have ‘Level B Maintenance.’ It neans none. Probably that big body of water nearby.
Straits State Park sits on the lower shore of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan just east of the Mackinac Bridge. We arrived yesterday afternoon and found our spot close to the water. We hoped to see some shipping passing through, but it was pretty quiet--perhaps because it was Sunday? Anyway, more sun than we had at the last two places, which were heavily wooded, and a very enjoyable spot.
There seem to be lots of young families here, several with toddlers. Our site is pretty level and just down the hill from a very nice shower house--two hooks in each shower. Because we are only here for one night, we didn't get much out and warmed up a simple supper. Afterwards, we walked on the shore to see the sunset and back again later to see the bridge lit up. Today we will continue to the north shore of the UP to Tahquamenon Falls for four nights. We plan to explore the falls and perhaps take a sunset cruise at nearby Pictured Rocks. Maybe even find a laundromat and grocery store!
Herman Melville said There is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself. That is so evident in areas of the country where heavily forested land suddenly breaks out into sparse, rolling, and open sand dunes. And it's especially true here in Western Michigan along the lakeshore. We are currently staying at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and yesterday took the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive to view the area. Most of the road winds through the pine and hardwood forest, but breaks out at two points to spectacular vistas of the dunes and the lake. At the Lake Michigan Overlook, you walk up a wooded trail to a point 450 feet above the water for a breathtaking view.
We continued on up to the historic town of Glen Haven and visited the nearby United States Life Saving Service post. This is a fascinating bit of history. The buildings were constructed not only to withstand the lake storms but also so that they could be easily moved as the shoreline changed. Excellent displays explain how the beach cart is used for rescue if foundered ships are less than 400 feet off shore and the constant drills that keep the crews prepared for any eventuality.
We then stopped for lunch in the town of Empire before returning to the campground. This is the quietest campground we've ever been in, in spite of the fact that there are over 400 sites and it is full. We can only see three or four campers from our site. There are warnings about bears but so far we have had no sightings.
A much shorter post today and no photos because yesterday it rained. No wind and not continuous, but enough to discourage hiking the dune trails (apparently all uphill) and encourage recliner time. We did make a small grocery run (okay, we forgot to bring ice cream--so there) but otherwise stuck pretty close to our campsite. We were able to grill pork chops over the fire during a brief dry window.
I know many of my readers are in suspense about the shower houses so I must report. Michigan state parks are very expensive compared to Iowa. The sites and reservation fees are twice as much plus a daily or annual "recreation passport" is required for vehicles. The annual passport is cheaper if one is staying more than three nights and we will be. The sites here all small, not very level, and have no gravel or paving. But the shower house is glorious. Very new, all tile, and roomy. And--wait for it--the showers have three hooks! Pure luxury.
Today we will head north to Sleeping Bear Dunes, a national seashore on Lake Michigan. We will meet one of the students from my very first class of eighth graders for lunch at Ludington along the way. Always a thrill for me, but also a reality check. I think of them as teenagers but many are actually retiring. The forecast for the weekend is clear and cool so we should be able to spend more time outdoors.
I will not complain at all if it does rain in the face of the hurricanes in Texas and Florida and the wildfires in the West. My heart breaks for what so many are going through. It is heartening to see posts on camping and RV pages offering free stays in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and other states to evacuees from Florida. Yesterday, I got notice that Audible.com that they are waiving the subscription fees for the next few months for people in the Houston area--a small comfort, perhaps, but helping to brighten a bleak situation.
Of course, I do that often in my imagination when working on my books. But yesterday we visited the RV Museum in Elkhart Indiana and enjoyed examining how recreational travel had changed in the last 100 years. Over sixty vehicles are on display beginning with the earliest 'truck campers' from the 1900s. My main goal in demanding this detour on a fall trip through Michigan and Wisconsin was to see the 1935 Covered Wagon. The camper I used in The Time Travel Trailer is a 1937 Covered Wagon, slightly larger because it included a bathroom, but with similar interior decor and furnishings and the same "leatherette" exterior. I couldn't go in but managed to snap some photos--the last through a window. The table arrangement is interesting. A canvas cot appears to serve as seating, whereas the 1937 larger model had two bench seats, similar to the dinettes in many modern campers. But I love the wood interior and icebox style latches on the cabinets. The Covered Wagon Company was the largest manufacturer of campers in the 1930s, producing 45 to 50 a day.
Every exhibit was unique in some way. The earliest Airstream and Fleetwood models, for example. Others were custom or homemade efforts. The first photo below is a 1916 "Automobile Telescope Apartment" made in San Francisco. The second and third photos are of a custom built trailer belonging to the Charles Lindbergh family, who according to the guide, camped with the Edisons, Fords, and Firestones. The last picture is of a Star Streak II--a custom aluminum motorhome built using a 1976 Cadillac Eldorado chassis and an engine from a 1976 Olds Toronado and designed to fit in a standard garage.
By noon, we had reached our amazement quota, got some lunch and headed north to Holland State Park near Holland, Michigan. The forecast for the day included a 60% chance of rain so we were anxious to get set up before that occurred. So we passed up a number of enticing stops on our journey, such as the Pie Pantry and the best car wash in Western Michigan. Another time perhaps.
Holland State Park is one of those that is divided into two units with private property separating the units. When we made reservations, we debated whether to choose the 'beach campground' in the Lake Michigan unit, or the 'lake campground' in the Lake Macatawa unit. We were tempted by the beach and what we assumed were views of Lake Michigan, but the sites were quite small and we opted for the Macatawa campground. We were glad we did because the 'beach' campground is actually a parking lot surrounded by dunes and no view of the lake anyway. Our site is small and a bit of a challenge to get into but nestled in the woods with a nice firepit and picnic table. After supper we drove down to check out the beach and the Big Red Lighthouse, and stopped to watch sailboats playing Follow the Leader--a beautiful evening. The rain never materialized until the middle of the night.
I am a girl for all seasons--using the term girl loosely. I have always enjoyed every time of the year, at least for a while. But fall is my favorite. Yesterday we began a short fall journey through Michigan and Wisconsin and the first leg took us across the prairies of Iowa and Illinois. Because of the dry year, some foliage and crops are beginning to turn, and on a beautiful, cool, sunny day the landscape was so rich, it took my breath away. Goldenrod and sunflowers, interspersed with sumac and dried grasses to make a carpet incredible to see.
We are in an 'urban' campground for overnight in Elkhart, Indiana. It's huge, since Elkhart is the 'RV Capital of the World' but lots of grass and trees unlike the gravel parking lots you find in most cities. Today we are going to RV Museum. They have a 1935 Covered Wagon trailer like the one I used in The Time Travel Trailer. I wrote the book based entirely on photos so I'm very excited to see the real thing.
Then we will head north a few hours to Holland State Park on the shores of Lake Michigan and be there until Friday. They are predicting rain for today and tomorrow but seem to need it so I'll keep complaints to a minimum.
Some random thoughts about writing, camping, and eating.