Cranes, Cliffs, and the CCC

The highlight of our week?  Hands down, this is it.    I didn’t shoot this video – it was taken by our neighbor, and emailed to me.   Hers was much better than mine!

In a full-out windstorm (blowing 25-40mph, gusting 45-55mph), we headed to Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, hoping to see the thousands of migrating Sandhill Cranes that winter there.  It was a spectacular success.

But, let’s back up a wee bit.  Facing a short travel day, we actually elected to take the long route to Whitewater Draw.  This would take us through Tombstone, AZ, home of the famous Boot Hill Cemetery, and also the location of the Shootout at the OK Corral.20150302_110440 This town has more kitschy western-y stuff going on than all the rest of Arizona put together.  Tombstone may have been the center of the Wild Wild West back in the 1880s.  To wander through the cemetery, it sure would reinforce that idea.  Many of the tombstones have a name, followed by the designation ‘murdered’, ‘hanged’, or ‘shot’.  20150302_110842My favorite is the grave marker of the famous Lester Moore.20150302_111308Howling wind made it uncomfortable to stay out too long, even though the temperatures were in the low 60s.  How windy was it?  Ask Jezzy.20150302_130908We sought shelter in Big Nose Kate’s Saloon.  BNK was the girlfriend of Doc Holliday, one of the infamous participants in the Shootout.  John was persuaded to step behind the bar and pretend to draw a beer for me.  “Put your hand on the tap, but DON’T PULL!”, were his instructions.20150302_123910Maybe you had to be there to appreciate this, but the funniest thing was the stagecoach which could be hired for a brief tour.  The driver, in full stagecoach regalia, was pointing out places of interest to his four passengers.  But, it was a recorded presentation.  That didn’t stop this driver from giving it his all – he was waving his arms, and giving a full theatrical presentation, as if he was performing at the Met.  His passengers were most likely oblivious to this, being sheltered inside the stagecoach.  As he passed by, John and I looked at each other and burst out laughing.  But, maybe you had to be there……20150302_123514The Courthouse Museum was our next stop, where we learned everything one could possibly want to know about the Shootout at the OK Corral, starring Sheriff Wyatt Earp, his two brothers, and Doc Holliday against the bad guys, who were all killed.  Wyatt Earp was the only one not wounded or killed that day.  As I said, Tombstone was a tough place to live in the 1880s!

We rolled into Whitewater Draw around 2:30, and established our spot in the ‘campground’.  This is actually a small circular parking lot, with a vault toilet in the center, and about six parking spaces surrounding it.  Other cars can pull in and park for a few hours, but this is the only overnight spot.  Our neighbors were from Switzerland – halfway through a two year tour of the US.  Nice folks!20150302_144058We knew this was a Sandhill paradise, as we follow the excellent blog of Ingrid, who describes herself as a ‘non-birder’, but who takes the most fabulous bird photos.  Check out her post by clicking the link above.

We quickly set up, turning the Fireball around, so that our door would be downwind.  If not, we would not have been able to open it from the inside – that’s how violent the wind was.  But, where are the Sandhills?  We saw ZERO CRANES!  Ah, we remembered that Ingrid mentioned that they depart at first light in the morning to feed in area fields, and return to the water at dusk.  The flock here is estimated at times to be nearly 30,000 birds, although we didn’t expect to see that many.

Around 5:30, we wandered down to the water, binoculars and cell phone cameras at the ready.  We quickly met our Swiss neighbors, and our California neighbors in the huge RV directly across the parking lot.  Soon, we could hear the racket of Sandhill Cranes, coming in for a landing.  20150302_17522620150302_182138They were in packs of 100-200, flying directly into the fierce south wind. Wave after wave landed, taking spots in the water, where they stay for the night.  There must have been 10,000-12,000.  We speculated that they stay in the water as protection from predators – there were lots of coyotes hanging around, and we dreaded hearing any confrontations.20150302_175226 Unfortunately, the very dark clouds and late hour of the day precluded any decent photos.  But, we (and our new neighbors) kept murmuring ohmygawd as another batch landed.  The noise was incredible!!  I downloaded an app for my phone to record sound, which I did.  It’s magnificent.  BUT, it doesn’t allow me to share the sound files.  So, if you see me sometime, ask to listen.  It’s a wonderful raucous symphony.

We set our alarm for 5:30 am to be sure to be out at first light.  It was in the 40s and raining.  But, we stuck it out, and were rewarded with liftoffs of several hundred Cranes every minute or so, heading out to feed.  It poured all morning, finally clearing up around noon.  Jezzy and I headed out to explore.  Check out these feet – would you want them in YOUR camper?20150303_103725We decided to stay one more night to see if we could get a better view, hoping that the dark clouds of the storm would have passed.  We were rewarded, in spades!  The Cranes were all huddled along the far shore when apparently a sprinkler went on in the massive field, causing the uprising that you see in the opening video.  It was unbelievable.  Thousands and thousands of Sandhills.  wpid-wp-1425749304050.jpegAgain at 5:30 the next day, we stood on the water’s edge.  Cranes flew away in huge numbers, with the entire 10K (or so) leaving within a space of 10 minutes.20150303_183511 We could see the in the dim light through our binoculars, but there wasn’t enough light for photos.  I will never forget this sight.

We have to move on.  Leaving Arizona in our rearview mirror, we head to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument in New Mexico.  This area’s most famous inhabitant was probably Geronimo.20150304_13105020150304_161306It’s my day to drive.  Unfortunately (for John), this involved one of the most hair-raising 40 miles of road we hope to ever travel.  Twisty, turny, up and down…..it took us two hours to climb and descend into the Park area.  They sure didn’t build these cliff dwellings downtown!    Had to pry my sweaty, cramped hands off the steering wheel.  What we didn’t realize was that the ‘campground’ was (again) a parking lot with some walk-in tent sites.  There was only one other camper here, so we hogged an entire corner of the parking lot and set up camp.20150304_172403The Cliff Dwellings here are accessible on foot from a pathway about 1/2 mile from our campsite.  After spending a very chilly night (the temperature was 14), we set off to explore. 20150305_102603 The natural caves in this area had been inhabited over several thousand years, but were only built up inside the caves and inhabited for a very short period – perhaps as little as one generation.  The mystery of why the Puebloan people of the Mogollon era left this area is unresolved.  The site is spectacular, and we were fortunate to have a volunteer docent walk us through the area.20150305_110804 He explored lots of questions, persuading us to think about scenarios that may have affected the inhabitants.  Although this is a difficult area to reach, and one with limited facilities once you finally DO get there, it’s a worthwhile trip.  Here are several different views from the dwellings.20150305_10325520150305_10510920150305_10552720150305_10564420150305_11043420150305_11061020150305_110834 It’s interesting to note that the remnants of several thousand years of habitation in this area were destroyed by the building of the current road that leads to the cliff dwellings.  Knowingly.  Only in America….

Cold again at night.  Minus 14.  John is wishing that I would relax my prohibition on running the heater at night.  It’s only 35 inside the Fireball in the morning.  Fine, until our feet hit the floor!

The week is beginning to blur on me.  Our “3 Night Minimum Stay” policy is in the toilet after our first week.  We’ve had three locations of two nights each so far, and it’s getting worse.  We press on to Fort Davis State Park, in the middle of West Texas.  For those who haven’t visited this area, West Texas is the largest area of nothing one might ever hope not to visit.  Mile after mile of……nothing.  Our site is unremarkable enough, that (perhaps for the first time), we neglect to take even one photograph of our campsite.  The park is very clean, but very old.  Sites are small.  It’s packed!  Why does everyone DRIVE to the bathroom?  We’ve never been in a park with so much truck traffic!  omg!

This early Texas State Park has many CCC buildings and features.  We decide to explore the Trail that leads to a lookout over Fort Davis.  It’s an uneven, uphill trek.20150307_105914 At the peak is a stone lookout shelter, with a great 360 degree view.  There’s also an old CCC era stone water storage tank.20150307_132134 Instead of taking the 4.5 mile (long-way) return, we decide to hike out to the Fort Davis overlook.  What a smart decision that turned out to be!  The trail led through a lava field, with enormous black boulders squeezing a narrow trail.  After 3/4 mile, we came to the edge of a cliff, overlooking the historic Fort, a frontier post during the Indian Wars. 20150307_121905 From our high vantage point, we can see the entire complex, and learn one very interesting fact.  The officer’s quarters (red brick buildings in the lower right corner) were built pointing to magnetic north, while the enlisted men’s barracks (the foundations to the right of them) were lined up to true north.20150307_122056 We loved this big view.  The Fort was also briefly occupied by the Confederate Army, an was decommissioned shortly after that.

We’re trying to figure out how to push on to Texas Hill Country, where John wants to search for BBQ nirvana.  Brisket!  Bummer for us, we badly need to find a laundromat.  One of the pitfalls of having a tiny camper is the equally small amount of clothes we can pack.  We’re good for about a week between laundry stops.  Out here in West Texas, there are few towns large enough to support a laundromat, so we find ourselves camped for the night in Fort Stockton at the RV Park.  Yikes!  A couple hundred large rigs and us.  The RV three slots away has painted on the side, “Private Coach Not For Hire”.  We think we’re going to hand-letter a candy wrapper with this, and tape it to our door.  Ha!

Headed toward Austin for a couple of days.  We’re in the middle of an endless TX Spring Break.  There isn’t a State Park campsite available for the next two weeks (and we purchased a TX State Park pass for $70!)  We can get one night here, and one night there, but we’re exhausted with the effort of driving and moving.  Hope we can figure this out!

 

 

 

26 Miles Across the Road

Well, it’s been interesting, to say the least, since we left Lost Dutchman State Park on Thursday.

We were delighted to find that the best route to Catalina State Park in Tucson would keep us off the Interstate.  That always makes for a good day.  After a decent breakfast at the Hoosier Cafe, we hit the road.  Our route took us through Florence, AZ, which must be the Prison Capitol of the state!  Razor wire everywhere.  Interestingly enough, this was where John’s dad spent a good portion of his WWII military service.  German POWs were held at the base in Florence, where Frank was a truck driver.

Just a ways down the road, we saw a sign for the Tom Mix memorial.  Check it out?  Of course!  Turns out that this famous film cowboy was killed in a car accident here in October, 1940.20150128_122828 His horse, Tony the Wonder Horse, died exactly two years later.  What I liked most about this whole tale was the fact that Mix had been playing poker with Scotty (of Scotty’s Castle, Death Valley fame) earlier on the day of the crash.  Some reports said his car was filled with cash and jewelry, other reports said that was untrue.  Interesting spot for a ten-minute break.20150128_123227We’ve got a pretty good spot at Catalina, although we’re dismayed by the unkempt appearance of the Park.  Perhaps we’ve just been spoiled by the immaculate conditions at Dutchman, but all we see are weeds grown too high, dirt and sand. 20150128_142444 Disappointed to see no fire pits here at all.  Hard to sit outside in the cold, dark without fire.  Storms are predicted for the next couple of days, so we deploy our big awning.  It’s nice to be able to sit outside in the rain.

Thursday looks to be the only dry day, so we decide to hike to Romero Pools, roughly a six mile round trip.  Of course, it starts off uphill, which tests our still-tender Flatiron muscles.20150129_11265320150129_131801This is a gorgeous trail, with many beautiful views.20150129_13445420150129_134941  A steady stream of downhill hikers gives us a bit of encouragement that we may have the Pools area to ourselves.  Turns out to be nearly so.20150129_123150Our friend Vern invited us to dinner at his Tucson home.  Such a treat not to cook our own food after a tiring hike.  We feasted on carne asada, with some terrific tortillas, chips and guacamole.  It was wonderful to be in a home, with all that comfort and warmth.  The patio fire pit was perfect.

Weather trouble began brewing later that night.  Rain, sometimes really pounding, battered us.  Knowing that we’d be spending lots of time inside the Fireball, we decided to do some much needed grocery shopping.20150130_143938Once we got back to camp, the pounding began.  Yikes!  By 6pm, we had received nearly an inch of rain.  Doesn’t sound like much, but this hard desert surface in a mountain valley has nowhere to put all that water.  Late Friday night, we could hear it pouring downdown the mountains into the wash.

Saturday, we awoke to find ourselves marooned in Catalina SP.  The only road out was covered with about a foot of water, over the top of a couple feet of sand, which totally obliterated the road.20150131_085731The water was really rushing past.  It was fascinating.  We hiked to the Trailhead, to find it nearly unrecognizable.20150131_09272520150131_091612Anyway……long story short….heavy equipment was brought in, and tons of sand were scraped off the path.  A few vehicles escaped, mostly 4wd.  One incoming vehicle got stuck (much to the delight of the many spectators), but eventually got himself and his rig across.  We stood in the rain for three hours, watching the spectacle of the earth movers and trucks trying to unbury our road.20150131_123954High drama + high comedy with the impatient drivers thrown in.

In any case, we believe well be able to leave Sunday, as planned.  lt finally stopped raining around 6pm, so the water should recede.  The road crew will start work early to scrape all the new sand off to open one lane.

If you never see this blog again, we didn’t make it.  Otherwise, I’ll check in sometime next week.

Oh, one more thing.  As we pulled into the campground here, we see a campsite with two tents, and an EZ Up, with numerous flags aflutter – an American flag, an Ohio Stare Flag,  Harley Davidson flag of some kind, and a custom-made one that says “One Year In a Tent”.  2014 – 2015.  Interesting, I think.20150130_142446While walking Jezzy, I encounter OYIAT guy.  We have a conversation like this…

Me:  Are you the  One Year in a Tent guy?

OYIAT Guy:  Yep, that’s me!

Me:  So, what’s that all about?

OYIAT Guy:  Well, I started on a very appropriate day last year.  Want to guess when that was?

Me:  Independence Day?

OYIAT Guy:  Nope, April Fool’s Day!

Me:  Wow. Then you’re almost done.

OYIAT Guy:  Last night was Day 227.  I only count the days we actually sleep in the tent.

Me:  Open mouth, stupid look.

OYIAT Guy:  Yeah, we’ve traveled thru 28 states, blahblahblah……

Am I out of line here? Doesn’t One Year In A Tent mean 365 consecutive days?  PLUS, he’s running a generator in his tent!!!!  Get out, OYIAT Guy.  You are a fraud.  I am so done with you.

End of rant.

It’s 10:30pm, and is has started to rain again!  Damn!  That wasn’t supposed to happen.  Hope it’s just a gentle shower.  We’ll see…..

 

 

 

Trifecta Complete

Heading east, we come to the spot on the highway where we have to make a choice – turn south to head across the Mackinaw Bridge, or continue east toward the unknown.  The steering wheel tugs briefly in John’s hands, but he wrestles it away from the southern turn.  We’re still in the UP, baby!

We press on, stopping for supplies.  Exiting the store, I notice clouds building up on the horizon. 20141019_122311 Oh, this can’t be good.  They look like snow clouds to my experienced eyes!

We pause at one of the many roadside parks to get our first good glimpse of Lake Huron – the last of the Great Lakes we’ll see on this trip.  Looks cold – no surprise.20141019_133224Our goal is Detour, the easternmost spot in the UP, unless you count Drummond Island (which I’m not).  We find an excellent campsite in the Detour State Forest Campground, about six miles west of Detour. 20141019_165748 As usual, the campground is deserted.  Clean vault toilets, water pumps, but no trash collection.  The dumpsters have been removed (or, perhaps they were never even there).  We’ve got our own private lake shoreline.  Beautiful.20141019_16113820141019_165529 We even find two big boxes of cut-up wood to augment our dwindling campfire supply.  We relax, get a great fire going, and actually get dinner made before the rain begins.

By noon the following day, things have cleared up to a mere drizzle, so we head off on our bikes to explore Detour.  There’s a beautiful State Harbor,20141020_134927 a view with a shipwreck, 20141020_150913and a very unusual project gone wrong.

While riding along a street with homes that afforded an occasional glimpse of the shoreline, we spot a driveway with an enormous chopped-off freighter backed into it. 20141020_141610 This is actually between two other (normal) homes.  Most curious.  We find out later that the owner purchased this, with the intention of turning it into his home.  After paying $80,000 to have it towed and moored to its site, he began sanding the hull.  That, apparently, is when he ran out of money.  So, there it sits, awaiting for the owner to refresh his cash flow so he can continue working.  I can hardly imagine the horror his neighbors experience every time they drive by.  Yikes!

We stop in to the Detour Village Inn, looking for a munchie and a beer to fortify ourselves for the ride back to camp.  We see a fat ol’ yellow lab sitting outside the bar.  Inside are a young female bartender, one customer, and the elderly owner.  Betty, the lab, is the owner’s dog.  She comes in for a game of fetch – inside the bar.  The bartender is making our french fries, and playing fetch by throwing an old tennis ball across the bar for Betty, taking it from her mouth, and throwing it again!  Pretty gross, actually, but we’re dog folks so we don’t remark on the impropriety of this whole scene.  Betty apparently is an institution in the bar – the owner told me that he thought she was having a stroke a few weeks ago.  Rolling her eyes, and stretching her tongue out in a very awkward way.  Turns out that one of the bar’s breakfast customers had given her a pancake off their plate, and she had maple syrup on her whiskers that she was trying to lick off.  That’s the UP for ya!

On the way back to camp, we cycled through the Detour Botanical Garden, a lovely spot where individuals and groups have staked out small plots and planted them as they wish. 20141020_15072620141020_151008 It was charming.  John fell in love with this new Bell helmet.20141020_150639We’re in no hurry the next morning to leave.  We want to check out the International Dark Sky Park in Emmet County, then roll into Wilderness State Park for a few nights.  We cross the Bridge, with me driving.  I’m sweating bullets – the metal grid beneath the tires is swaying the Firetruck/Fireball slightly side to side, and I’m nervous as a cat.  When we finally reach the southern end of the Bridge, my fingers are clenched around the steering wheel in a death grip.  Bridge driving – check!

Not much to see at the Dark Sky Park.  A motor pathway has info on our solar system.20141021_12004020141021_120505 We make a mental note to schedule a return trip with a friend who owns a powerful telescope.  There’s a terrific viewing area out into the darkness of Lake Michigan.

Wilderness State Park, however, was a huge disappointment.  The campground road was so rutted that the Fireball lurched back and forth perilously.  We found the bathrooms locked up for the season, and the water spigots all shut off.  Although we can deal with the closed bathrooms, the lack of fresh water is a big deal for us.  We’re about 300 miles from home.

So, after a quick stop at our favorite Petoskey brewery, we find ourselves home. 20141021_140719 Our neighbors are stunned to see us a week early.  In addition to mowing the grass, they edged the yard!  We may have to leave more often, and put them in charge of the Crankshaw abode.  As I write this, the washing machine is chugging, sunshine is streaming through the window, and the temps are climbing.  Going to be in the 60s this weekend.  Maybe (just maybe), it’s good to be home.

This is Why People Don’t Like Michigan

Back in Michigan, and back in the Eastern Time Zone, we find ourselves nearly drowning, then freezing to death.  Grim weather is sparking discussion of whether we should just point the Fireball toward the Bridge, then home.

We left Wisconsin in the pouring rain, and headed to FW Wells State Park in Michigan.  Two days of rain had left many of the sites there submerged. 20141015_142956 Luckily, the park was deserted, so finding a spot above the waterline wasn’t a problem.  The view would have been great – we were 40′ from Lake Michigan, but gray/rain/wind doesn’t make for many great photos.20141015_144029On to Fayette State Park, a spot we designated as a ‘must’ when planning our trip.  We snagged a campsite elevated from most of the mud, and put up our awnings, hoping for a dryout during our two-day stay.  Again, we had the park to ourselves. 20141017_152949 The last of the yellow maple leaves were falling in earnest, pushed by gusty winds.  A hundred yards away, Big Bay de Noc was roaring – smallish waves very close together smashing on shore.

Fayette was a mining town from 1867 to 1890, when the smelter ran for its last day on December 1.  For the next 50 years, there was a bit of hunting/fishing tourism business, before the State purchased the entire area and designated it a Historical State Park.  What a treasure! 20141017_132702 The entire town is there to wander – the gorgeous house of the mine Superintendent, homes of the foremen, businesses and community buildings, and one reconstructed home of a laborer.  Rather than spit out a history lesson, I’ll just show the photos.

The heart of the operation was the smelter.20141017_121849The smelter was fed by huge kilns which held 35 cords of wood each, producing charcoal to run the blast furnaces.  The wood was loaded into the kiln, set afire, then left to heat for 6-8 days, producing charcoal.  Here’s the outside of a kiln.20141017_122852And the inside….20141017_122926The Superintendent’s home from across Snail Shell Harbor.20141017_123407The town center included a music hall, community buildings, and company stores.20141017_120501As well as an enormous hotel.20141017_113732Here are a few other random shots from the day.20141017_11550820141017_12363420141017_12522420141017_13153520141017_12040920141017_12374820141017_11371720141017_110559Along the Trail to the Park, we found this ancient cedar, which has obviously been the setting for many a photo.20141017_115605We were lucky to get there when we did.  At the Visitor Center, we learned that the Park would close for the season the next day.

Of course, I had to wander down to the St. Peter The Fisherman cemetery.  Set at the end of a muddy trail, it was a serene, if somewhat decrepit resting spot.20141017_15153820141017_151301We left Fayette after five straight days of rain.  Luckily (I guess we have to look at it this way….), when the rain stopped, the wind picked up, and dried out our awnings before we had to pack them up.  But, oh did the wind ever howl!  The temperature as we packed up was in the low 40s.  Winds were 10-20mph, gusting to 30.  Top that off with gray, overcast skies, and you’ve got yourself a day when you really want to just cover up and stay in.

But, no……off we go to Palms Book State Park, home of the Big Spring, Kitch-iti-kipi, a 200 foot wide, 40 feet deep freshwater spring. 20141018_115437 The cool thing here?  You see the spring from a big square barge-like raft with a viewing hole in the middle.  It runs across the spring on a huge cable which is powered by turning a large captain’s wheel.20141018_115605 Out in the middle of the spring, the bright green clear water is teeming with huge trout. 20141018_121138 The circles on the bottom are the spring boiling up through the silt.  It’s eerie.20141018_120636 This would have been the perfect spot for me to shoot a brief video, but leaning over the water with a death grip on my camera, it didn’t seem like such a good idea at the time.  (That’s the bad thing about a cell phone camera – no strap to hook it to your wrist for these situations!).20141018_120524Captain John drives the barge back to the dock.  Interesting group of passengers…20141018_121550There’s nothing else at this State Park to see or do, so we head to nearby Indian Lake State Park to camp for a night.  The wind is howling, and it’s bitterly cold outside.  Once again, we find ourselves a day ahead of the Park closing for the season.  We hope somebody appears at this cool Alta camper, so that we can get a peek inside.  The black parts are all smoked plexiglass, so the entire inside of the camper is a panoramic view.  This would be a gorgeous camper to have in some of the big National Parks in the Southwest.  As it was, these folks just have a view of a gray day through black windows.  20141018_174723 Like idiots, we had planned a Dutch oven dinner, so we sheltered the oven as best we could from the winds blast and cooked dinner.  Great dinner, but a really unpleasant cooking experience.  This morning, it’s 26 degrees outside, as I write this.  But, sunshine….we are encouraged.

We’re finding that many of the State Forest and National Forest campgrounds are closed for the season.  Our plans had been to skip along the Lake Michigan shoreline, as we did Lake Superior, checking out the changing views, finding a hike or two, then moving on.  Now, we’re uncertain.  We are tugged toward throwing in the towel and heading home, but hesitant to do so.  Hoping that a day or two with decent temperatures and a bit of sunshine will keep us on the road.  We’ll see….

 

Moving Slowly Westward

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.  20140908_141927Right 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.  20140908_144120wpid-20140908_142124.jpgTuesday 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.wpid-20140909_131639.jpg 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.20140909_125921 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.  20140909_132026 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.20140910_11542120140910_11484120140910_115531 We hiked up and down a couple hundred steps to see them from all vantage points.  20140910_121019We 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”.  wpid-20140910_120246.jpgBy 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.20140910_114015Absolutely 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!wpid-20140911_094337.jpgBut 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.  wpid-20140911_120626.jpgThere’s also a natural spring here which runs continuously.  Curious.wpid-20140911_120935.jpgAnd most unusual, what appears to be some kind of tunnel….wpid-20140911_120238.jpgwpid-20140911_120642.jpgThere 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.

Here are a few shots of lovely Grand Marais.wpid-20140911_164823.jpgwpid-20140911_164722.jpgwpid-20140911_170931.jpg

Agates found in the area have been fashioned into 'stained glass' type of panels.  They were fantastic!

Agates found in the area have been sliced, polished, and incorporated into ‘stained glass’ type of panels. They were fantastic!

This Pickel Barrel House was used as a summer cottage from 1926-1937.  It's on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Pickel Barrel House was actually a summer cottage from 1926-1937. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places.