Random Musings

After six weeks of being on the road, a few things keep coming to my mind.  Here they are, in no particular order.

  • Coolest town name ever:  Castle Danger, MN.  Nothing else even comes close.
  • Camping in cold rain is not as much fun as camping in warm sun.
  • Many nights by the campfire have been ruined by swirling smoke.  It’s annoying to have to move every couple of minutes.  The solution?  The Campfire Lazy Judy.  I envision this as a large collapsible ring of some type that has a center hole large enough to fit over a 4′ fire ring.  The edges will be wide enough to accommodate a camp chair.  When the smoke swirls your way, simply rotate the Lazy Judy (your foot against the edge of the fire pit) until your chair is no longer in the line of smoke.  No more disruptive getting up and running around!  I need some engineering work, and then a Kickstarter campaign.  Sounds good, right?
  • We have some friends in Arizona who are from Minnesota.  They’ve used the phrase “Minnesota Nice” in conversation.  Now, I know what they’re talking about.  Should be “Minnesota Super Nice”.  People here are amazing.
  • Ashland, Wisconsin has the worst laundromat I’ve ever been in.  Best is the Loads of Fun in Marquette, MI.  There’s one in Beaver Falls, MN called The Mother Load.  That makes me smile.
  • Hope I never get tired of riding my bike.  They are essential for us.  But, I am concerned that we’ve done so much casual riding that I may never be able to hop on my road bike and really roll.  What if my top speed now is 12mph?
  • On the other hand, I see able-bodied folks in campgrounds who DRIVE to the bathrooms.  Seriously?
  • For six weeks, we’ve seen Lake Superior every day.  It has so many faces and shorelines.  Here are a few.  I’m really going to miss this.
    Porcupine Mountain SP, MI

    Porcupine Mountain SP, MI

    Near Bay View Campground

    Near Bay View Campground, MI

    Gooseberry Falls SP, MN

    Gooseberry Falls SP, MN

    Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, MI

    Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, MI

  • Favorite town (so far):  Duluth, MN.  Hands down winner, for me.
  • Favorite campsite:  Bay View Campground in Hiawatha State Forest, MI
  • Worst campsite:  Lakehead Marina, Duluth.  But…location, location…..
  • When you’re traveling, seek out local food purveyors.  Sixth Street Market in Ashland has the best brats I’ve ever had.  Heard their ad on the radio….
  • Don’t think I would mind if I never had TV again.  But, I get really cranky when we’re in a location with no radio stations, and no cell service.
  • The bed in the Fireball is 70″ x 50″ (slightly smaller than a standard double bed).  John is shoehorned into one half.  Jezzy gets about 28% of my half.  My next dog will sleep on the floor!
  • This town has 181 residents, and one is a cop?  A bit of overkill, perhaps?wpid-20141008_130754-1.jpg
  • I get a kick out of sending postcards to John’s folks.
  • John is the Dutch Oven King.

As we sat around the campfire last night, John looked over at me and said, “This really is the life, isn’t it?”  Agreed.

Mistake On the Lake

The phrase “mistake on the lake” has been rolling through my mind for the past couple of days.  It doesn’t apply to Duluth, which seems to be a wonderful place to live (or visit), but to our current campsite.  Yep, we’re camped out on the tarmac, and it’s not a pretty sight.  Here’s a photo of John grilling dinner….20141006_165824The sailboat behind us was moved into position early this morning, blocking our view of the graceful Blatnit Bridge, which connects Duluth to Superior, WI.  (This is not my photo – copied it from a random Google photo file)bridge When it became apparent that this boat was going to stay put, we knew that we had to visit whatever sights we were going to see in Duluth all in one day – we’re going to check out a day early.  I say this with a smile on my face, as we actually laughed out loud when we realized that we had a new sailing neighbor, which will not be sailing away anytime soon.  Mistake On the Lake is our campsite.

So, what to do with just one day?  It’s cool and windy as hell in the morning, so we hang out until 10:30 or so before heading out on bikes.  Minnesota Point was our first destination. This is the very southeastern tip of the little spit of land that lies between Duluth and Superior, WI.  There’s a narrow channel of water between the MN/WI ends.  The total length of 10 miles makes this the longest freshwater sand spit in the world. 20141006_11212320141006_112303 The road to the tip runs through a residential neighborhood, rather plain houses on one side, and spectacular beach homes on the other.

We had a good tailwind heading into town, so we decided to continue cycling along the Lakewalk, a paved path which runs north along the lakeshore from Duluth into the northern communities.  Part of the path runs through town, and past an interesting retaining wall, decorated with photo mosaics.20141006_122027A beautiful Vietnam memorial is also perched along this walkway.  This photo was shot through one of the ‘windows’ in the sculpture.20141006_122547Next up?  A beautiful Lakeside park, with several seating areas.  Brilliant sunshine had many folks out enjoying the day.  We were falling in love with Duluth.20141006_13380020141006_134216We 20141006_133954We traveled out of the City, and into a wooded area, where the paved path ran into several small towns to the north.  After a few more miles, we decided to head back to town.  Hey!  A brewery!  We’ve worked up a real thirst, so into Fitger’s Brewhouse for a quick refreshment.  We loved this place – the bartender had an entertaining crew of regulars gathered ’round, and they took us in as one of their own.  Excellent beer, and pretty good nachos, which we shared.  20141006_142019We liked this so much more than Canal Park Brewery, where we had dinner last night.  Beer there was pretty good, but it was superbusy, and just didn’t have the fun pub feel that we enjoyed so much at Fisger’s.

Now it’s time to visit the Train Museum. On the way there, we see this fabulous pillar beneath the Duluth Library. 20141006_162102 We’re sorry that we didn’t have more time to spend in this fascinating spot.  The first locomotive to be put into service in Duluth in 1862 is here (left).  Isn’t it the perfect Monopoly token?20141006_152938Good photos were at a premium at the Museum, as there was a very strong natural overhead light. 20141006_155617 We examined some of the huge coal-fired locomotives, which required 350 pounds of coal a minute to operate.  Passenger cars from the heyday of rail travel are there, as well as assorted coal cars, mail cars, a caboose (where you can sit up in the high seat and look out the window!).  Many old tools and artifacts from the boom years, as well as the years of decline are there to examine.  One exhibit we both loved was a video of a train equipped with a huge V-snowplow on the front.  It burst through huge drifts along the track.  Guess they need these up here in northern Minnesota, but it was an eye-opener to see.  The Museum is fabulous.

Time to head back to our parking lot campsite.  It’s nearly 5pm, and Jezzy has been patiently waiting for us to come back and entertain her.  We decide that we’ll leave tomorrow, although we had paid for an additional night.  Our original travel plan was to go to International Falls, MN (just because it’s there).  But, now we think that we really want to continue our journey along the Lake Superior shore, stretching northeast of Duluth, up to the Canada border.  Each spot we stopped along this magnificent Lake has its own character.  Some of the borders are white-sand beaches, some high rocky cliffs, some stony beaches.20141006_112523  We can’t wait to see what else is out there.  So, we say goodbye to our porthole view of the Aerial Lift Bridgewpid-20141006_212550-1.jpgand also to our view from the side of the Fireball, which doesn’t look out onto our sailboat neighbor.20141005_204805And hey – just to top things off?  Our refrigerator crapped out again!  Eh, so what?



Michigan’s in the taillights now.  Wisconsin! Cheese!  Green Bay Packers!

Our planned first stop is a short hop to Ashland.  I’ve seen photos of the murals in this small town, and want to check them out.  We find a municipal RV park, right on the shores of Lake Superior, and decide to stay for two nights. 20141001_190250 It’s windy, cold, and very dreary.  The dominant feature of the Ashland landscape is the Ore Dock, built over 100 years ago when Ashland was a main shipping point for the ore and timber extracted from the area.  The ore dock extends nearly a half-mile into the Bay.  The superstructure has been dismantled, leaving the dock base stretching out into the water.20140930_175352 You can walk at least half-way out.  Lake Superior laps at both sides of the huge metal dock.  It’s cool.

The other distinguishing feature of Ashland is the EPA shoreline cleanup site.  There’s the biggest tent you’ll ever see, complete with enormous air-handlers and smokestacks.20141001_190702 Contaminated soil from the area is brought inside the tent by truck, and the debris is sorted.  Soil is baked in an adjoining kiln, heated to 1200 degrees.  After baking, it’s tested and redistributed.  Non-treated debris is hauled off to some other site for disposal.  The entire project is slated to take eight months, after which Ashland will have its harbor back.

Our municipal campground is directly between these two spots.

We establish camp, haul the bikes out of the Firetruck, and hit the road – armed with a brochure of the murals.

Two mural artists have decorated the historic Main Street district of Ashland with murals depicting the history of the community  the first in 1998, and the most recent in 2012.  They’re glorious – colorful and informative.  Some, painted directly on the brick buildings, are a block long.20140930_160923 They are fabulous.  My favorite was probably the Ore Dock, which included many smaller portraits of its significance to the community.20141001_10250320140930_15494820140930_15575320140930_16202120140930_15460320140930_154126Even McDonald’s got into the act, and had a mural painted in their dining room.20140930_163012Hey, guess what?  There’s a brewery in Ashland!  South Shore Brewery.  Beautiful setting.  Beer….so so.  Their claim to fame is their Brown Ale, which is not our favorite, but John enjoyed.  I tried an Apple Ale – good at first, but it got pretty tiring by the bottom of the glass.  John’s whitefish sandwich was good.  My steak salad was ok.  End of review.

We spent a morning wandering around the city, grocery shopping by bicycle.  There’s a wonderful food co-op here, and an old butcher shop with award winning brats.  We stashed away a couple of frozen packages, hoping they will sustain us through the next leg of our trip.

On my afternoon walk with Jezzy, we strolled to the ore dock.  There, sitting on a piling about 50 yards from me sat a bald eagle.  I had my binoculars along, so I just parked myself nearby and watched him watching me for about 10 minutes.  I was hoping he would find himself something for dinner while I was watching, but no.

We’re headed offshore – Apostle Islands.  Taking a ferry to Big Bay State Park, where we’ll camp for three nights.  The weather forecast is miserable.  Oh well.  It’s all about the adventure.20140930_174931


Finally!  Porcupine Mountains State Park is our destination for the next few days. It’s Michigan’s largest (landwise) State Park, and actually has campground in two time zones. Hard to believe that I’ve been a Michigander for over 60 years, and have never been here. Neither has John. We’re excited.

The 45 mile trip from McLain SP to Porcupine Mtn is beautiful. Low traffic. High beauty. Perfect color.  We’re afraid that we’re really getting used to very short travel distances between campgrounds. How are we ever going to make the long trip to Arizona? This is waaay more our style of travel. The fun part of being on the road is definitely NOT the road part, for us.

Since this State Park covers such a big area, we have decided to stay in both campgrounds. Our first stop is Union Bay, on the east end of the park. The campsites there have electric hookups, and there are flush toilets/showers. Some of the most enviable of the campsites are right along the rocky shoreline.  20140927_091439-001But…..ugh. It’s jammed. Small campsites. We are right on top of our neighbors.   But, the tradeoff is that it’s just a short hop to a hike we really want to do – The Escarpment Trail to Lake of the Clouds.20140926_110139This hike travels along a narrow ridge. We love the fact that we can take Jezzy along on the hike. She’s a great hiker, and will cross any bridge or jump any gap at John’s urging. There are many times when I envy her sure-fourfootedness. 20140926_115304We’ve packed a lunch, and find a great vantage point to admire the great views. Scenes of the Lake, and the streams which flow out of it into Lake Superior, were amazing from our heightened vantage point.20140926_133333 It was an easy 4-1/2 mile hike, but so beautiful. We had staged my bike at the hike’s end, so I hopped on and rode back to the Firetruck, parked at the Trailhead. I left my bike there, and drove back to pick up John and Jezzy. We all drove back to the Trailhead, and I jumped back on my bike to ride back to camp. Whew!

Commotion builds to a crescendo in the campground for the weekend, and we formulate plans for the next day. I want to cycle up to Summit Peak and explore that end of the park – John is unenthusiastic. He ultimately opts for a short ride to the Winter Sports complex, where he takes a chair lift ride to the top of the ski hill. Nice views (although no photos). I stick with my plan and head off, uphill and into the wind, to my destination on the opposite end of the park from our campground. It’s beautiful, and a nice ride, but color seems to be a bit past peak, and the views are good, but not jaw-dropping. My photos were all uninspiring.  To call the Porcupines “Mountains” is probably stretching the term a bit, but hey – you gotta work with what you got. We both enjoyed our separate days.

Sunday is our target day to move to the far west end of the Park. It’s 25 miles away, and actually in another Time Zone. There’s a mass exodus of campers, so we lollygag it to our new campground, hoping that more sites will be vacated in the meantime. We pull off the road to explore the Greenstone and Overlooked Falls.20140928_113721 It’s a perfect morning. The Trail and the Falls are beautiful, and we get to see one of the many remote cabins available for rental in this big park. Perched right on the edge of the river near the Greenstone Falls, it’s a rustic but desirable spot for a quiet camping experience.20140928_121909 Remote, pack-in camping is not for everyone, but this sure would be a great place to try it out. We kill a couple of hours on this four-mile hike.20140928_124625Our new campsite in Presque Isle Campground is more to our liking. No facilities, other than a single balky handpump and two sets of pit toilets. Campsites are large, and there are few campers. Peaceful. Quiet. Oh yeah.  We set up our campsite in rain preparation mode, which means setting up our large awning, which provides a bit of additional shelter from storms.20140928_145232 We are perched 100′ above Lake Superior. Curiously, the huge maple trees here are mostly still green. Everywhere else has been full, or slightly-past full color.

Rainy weather moves in, and bring with it a chill.  Chill turns to serious C-O-L-D!  We delay our morning hike to three nearby waterfalls until it’s slowed to a steady drizzle. Jezzy’s unhappy about being left behind. But I stand my ground on this one – what are we going to do with a stinky, wet, muddy dog in a camper? Better she snooze on the bed and wait for us to return. She’s proved to us many times that her memory is very short. No grudges.

We cross the swinging Bainbridge Bridge, and stroll down to the point where the Presque River meets Lake Superior. Big waves crash on the shore, which is strewn with logs and driftwood from years past. It’s beautiful and wild.20140929_13164320140929_131721 We hike the East Trail, the more primitive side, cross back to the West Superior Trail back to our starting point. Three waterfalls are enroute – each spectacular, yet different. My favorite was probably the Manabezho Falls, where water boiling along the edges has carved perfectly round potholes into the rocky sides.20140929_130720 The current water levels enable us to walk directly out into the river path. 20140929_132853 I’m pretty sure this is not the case when the snowmelt is raising the river levels.   My photos, once again, don’t do justice to the magnificent scenery.  We’re amazed at how close to the edge of the falls we can actually get on the Trail.  There’s significant erosion in many spots.  We wonder how much longer it will be before this is blocked off to everyday foot traffic.20140929_13520520140929_14131920140929_13460520140929_134800This entire area is the largest unlogged hardwood forest left in the entire Midwest.  My photo really doesn’t show how huge this tree is.  It was massive!20140929_141930-001 20140929_143655The giant trees, left untouched for centuries provide a clean forest floor.  It’s wonderful, and, best of all, we don’t have to share this area with anyone!

Reluctantly, we pack up on Tuesday morning to leave. This is our last night (for a few weeks) in the UP.  It’s been a wonderful trip so far, but we are looking forward to moving into Wisconsin and Minnesota (hopefully not MinneSNOWta) to  whatever lies ahead.

Wheeling Around the UP

I can hardly remember the last ten days.  I’ve come to depend on having enough signal to produce a blog post every few days, and when that routine is interrupted, my brain jumbles everything together into one big blur.  But, here goes…..

Continuing our navigation around Lake Superior, we land at McLain State Park, about halfway between Calumet and Houghton. wpid-20140921_144350.jpg Once again, our campsite is just yards away from Lake Superior.  We’ve yet to see the big angry lake we expected – this meek body of water barely generates waves most of the time.  Surely this placid surface can’t be responsible for all the freighters that lie on its bottom.  Must be something else, right?

Calumet is a photographer’s dream.  This area was right in the heart of the copper rush, and thus drew residents of all nationalities.  Of course, each had to build their own church, resulting in a skyline dotted with crosses of various shapes and sizes.20140924_15503220140924_155908 Some still function as churches, others have been repurposed into galleries or storefronts. 20140924_160116 A few appear not to have any further use at all.  Banks, government buildings, and other impressive structures have been built of huge red blocks, which have elegantly weathered the last century.20140924_15523320140924_140547 Blocks of working-class, two-family houses reminded me of the Detroit of my childhood, where my grandparents lived for years.20140924_155706 I really wished that I had a different camera (or perhaps more skill/patience to capture better images with the one I have).20140924_155533We decided to tour the Quincy Mine in Hancock.  Perhaps the coolest part of this tour was the cog railway which took us down the ridge to the mine itself.  With a grade of 33%, it would have been a tough hike, without this transport. 20140923_124630 We entered the mine at the 7th level, the lowest currently accessible.  The levels below that (down to the 92nd level, nearly two miles beneath the surface) are all flooded now.20140923_12223320140923_121531 Perhaps the part of the tour with the greatest impact on me was discussion of the miner’s miserable working conditions, which led to a bitter nine-month strike in 1913/14.  Ten hour days, dangerous conditions, and low pay kept miners enslaved to the company, which owned their houses, and the stores from which supplies were purchased.

The community was severely divided by the strike.  On Christmas Eve 1913, a party for strikers’ children was held at the Italian Hall, with hundreds of children and family in attendance.  Someone opened a door, shouted “Fire”, and a stampede for the exit ensued.  60 children and 13 adults were crushed.  There was no fire.  The site of the Hall is now a small park, and a remembrance ceremony is held every year on December 24.

Following the mine tour, we continued our day of mineral exploration with a visit to the Seamon Mineral Museum on the campus of Michigan Technological University in Houghton.  Had to climb one of the steepest hills ever on our bikes to get there – two blocks of it were too steep to pedal.  (Naturally, we found a better route AFTER we got to the top!)  The Mineral Musuem is a Rock Hound’s (or wannabee’s) dream.20140923_14485820140923_14400320140923_143822 My fingers twitched to touch these gorgeous specimens, most of which were in locked cases.  Geodes, gems, phosphorescent minerals…..all so beautiful.

Of course, we had to treat ourselves to a brew at the Keweenaw Brewing Company.  The big attraction of this spot (for us) was the cheap beer – $5 for two pints.  The beer itself, was middling.  But, it was a great day for the 40 mile round trip bike ride, so we were happy.

The rest of the time here is a blur in my mind.  A few more photos to view, then we’re off to Porcupine Mountain State Park.20140924_16073020140924_15152420140924_15143520140924_151711Took a tour of the old (built in 1908) Calumet Theater…..where I was treated to a private concert by the guy tuning the piano.  It was grand.20140924_134535Last, but not least, the troll murals in the bar at the Ambassador Restaurant in Houghton.20140923_15370820140923_153652