We’ve seen majestic waterfalls, eaten crescent-shaped meat pies called pasties (pass-tee), camped in rain coming down so hard that we considered digging a moat around the Fireball, and now we’re freezing our asses off! What gives? It’s the UP!
We arrived at Tahquamenon Falls State Park in Paradise (who could not love this place?) on Monday. Scored a choice spot in one of the two campgrounds near the Lower Falls. We picked the less-crowded of the two campgrounds, and were rewarded no neighbors, no nearby kids,and a large shady site. First order of business was to explore the Lower Falls, accessible by a one-mile trail from the campground. Right away, we notice the brown color of the falls, and think yuck! But, it’s actually the result of the tannins leached from the cedar swamps the river drains. These same tannins were used years ago in the leather tanning process. Cedar bark was shipped across Lake Superior to tanneries in Sault Ste Marie back in the early 1900s.
The Lower Falls are actually five separate falls. One way to see them all up close and personal is to rent a boat, row 300′ across the river to a small island, and explore on foot. Wisely, we elected to just see the Falls from our viewpoint along the Trail. Tuesday was bright and sunny, so we decided to pedal the 45-mile round trip to Whitefish Point on our mountain bikes. The flat route made pedaling our heavy (well….heavier) mountain bikes pretty easy. Whitefish Point is the northwestern point of Whitefish Bay, and is the home of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. It’s also the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on Lake Superior. The current structure was built in 1861. There are so many shipwrecks in Lake Superior that it’s amazing a person just can’t walk across the Lake atop the wrecks. Of course, the most famous of these wrecks is the Edmund Fitzgerald, sunk in November 1975, and made famous in the song by Gordon Lightfoot.
Front and center in the museum is a Second-Order Fresnel Lens from a nearby lighthouse. Nine feet in diameter, the 3500 pound lens floats on a liquid mercury bearing, allowing for nearly frictionless rotation. Every two hours, the lighthouse keeper would wind up the mechanism, similar to a grandfather clock, regulated by a 44-foot pendulum. Each lighthouse along the shoreline had its own distinctive light pattern – this one had a 7.5 second pause between beams.
Another part of the Museum are dedicated to the Lifesaving Services placed every 10 miles along the Superior coast. A terrific docent brought these treacherous operations to life for us, detailing the use of various boats, containers, and baskets used in rescue missions. My photos of this section all sucked, so you’ll have to just imagine how interesting this was! The home life of the lighthouse keeper’s family in the 1950s was also a highlight. I was charmed by the tatted curtains in all the windows. But, into every life a little rain must fall. Or, a lot of rain. We knew it was coming. In a light drizzle, we decided to drive to the Upper Falls on Wednesday. We wanted to be able to check out the brewpub (Yea! A brewpub located in a State Park!!) at the Upper Falls, and be able to get back if the weather worsened. The Upper Falls are higher, and gorgeous. We hiked up and down a couple hundred steps to see them from all vantage points. We liked a cedar stump dated at the center by the beginning of the Revolutionary War in 1775. The last notation was “The Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show”. By the time we left the pub, it was raining in earnest. Under the watchful eye of the local gray wolf, we carefully drove back to camp, and prepared to cocoon for the rest of the day.Absolutely torrential rains commenced for the next 14 hours! Our beautiful site turned into a low, muddy mess, with the mud sluicing down onto our outdoor mat. We may never get it clean!But hey! It stopped by morning, and we prepared to break camp and head for Grand Marais. The temperature dropped into the 40s and night, and it was a cold, gray morning putting away soggy, filthy gear.
Along the way, we stopped to investigate the Fox River State Forest Campground, and found a plaque dedicated to Ernest Hemingway. There’s also a natural spring here which runs continuously. Curious.And most unusual, what appears to be some kind of tunnel….There were some fabulous campsites at this little spot, and we hope to get back here some day.
It’s finally time to do a bit of laundry, so we check into the township campground in Grand Marais. Hot showers! Laundry facilities! Around the corner from Lake Superior Brewing! We’ll resupply and head out into rustic camping again tomorrow morning. Our plan is to head to the Lower Hurricane River Campground in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. We got a tip that Site #5 was the one to get, so we’re on a mission. It’s pretty cold here, and we’re hoping that it will reduce competition for these rustic spots.