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COVID Camping

Michigan Week One

 

AUG 24 BLACK RIVER HARBOR RECREATION AREA

 

Packing was relatively straight forward. We are getting more efficient with the process. Clear Lake Park was on our way, so we stopped to fill our water tanks and all of our extra jugs. Filling up with water before settting out to new camps is now a standard operating procedure, as we later learned.

I was nervous during the whole drive. What if the campground was full? We had one or two back-up plans, but what if everything is full? Our venture into extended living on wheels begins.

Our arrival at the Black River Harbor Campground in the Ottowa National Forest around 1 pm came with a few surprises - some good and some not so good.  

First, the campground was already 2/3rds full. Although there were many spots open, we usually own the campgrounds on Mondays.

Second, we noticed half of the sites were reserved, which is normal, but all sites were reserved for the upcoming weekend. I have resisted placing reservations for two reasons: 1) Many reservable sites are unsuitable for our needs. They may be swampy, not level enough, not sunny enough for boondocking, etc. You can't reliably know what condition the site is before you get to the campground. 2) The reservation system firmly locks you into a set schedule. I prefer to be more spontaneous. Maybe we will stay longer or shorter than initially planned.

The biggest surprise? All of the appreciated and conveniently-placed water spigots around the campsite were out-of-service for the season. Why? COVID? There wasn't any explanation, just a sign apologizing for the inconvenience. Hmm? There will be no electricity, however, we expected that. But no water at all—true boondocking?  OK, for $8 a night with our senior pass, the price was right, and at least there was one very-clean vault toilet available.

Our new camp site at Black River Harbor Campground is all green, sunny and quiet. Nestled in our very private, but primitive camp site, we still have a sizable opening in the trees over our solar panel. Most sites were completely covered with trees.
 

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The park is the trailhead for a popular trail that follows the Black River, which is also part of the 4,000 mile North Country Trail. (I wonder if anyone has through-hiked that baby?) This stretch of river carved out a deep narrow gorge loaded with waterfalls. The Black River Harbor trail is at least 7 miles long, with lots of elevation changes. We'll be tripling the hiking mileage in our minds. To our relief, the bugs are nonexistent. That hike will be tomorrow's activity.

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After checking the Lake Superior beach within our campsite's walking distance, we took off to find a water source. The nearest little municipal campground was in Ironwood, Michigan - a good 20 miles away. It was a well maintained little town park, and jealousy guarded by the campground host who quickly checked us out to make sure we weren't using the shower facilities.

 

Next, we went to the city campground in Wakefield, another 10 miles away. This park was huge and jammed full of big-rig RVs. The dump station and potable water source were available by non-campers for $5. OK, that is at least a possibility if nothing else comes up.

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We stopped and walked each of the little towns: Wakefield, Bessemer, and Ironwood. All three were lined up, one right after the other along Hwy 2. None were nearly as prosperous as the little towns and villages we saw in Western Wisconsin, southern Minnesota, and northeast Iowa. But they were way better off than the boarded-up near ghost towns we saw in the Ozarks. Mining iron was the economic driver during these town's heyday, around the last turn-of-the-century. Now it's downhill skiing and snowmobiling in the winter, and a tourism. BC (before COVID), tourism supported more than 214,000 Michigan jobs. Compared to huge glossy murals painted on the sides of buildings depicting iron mining, tt looked like an extremely grim enterprise.

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Our last stop was Walmart between Ironwood and Bessemer, Michigan. We left Walmart with a rotisserie chicken, very hearty buns, and lots of extra sandwich fixin's. It was going to be Dagwood chicken sandwiches and chicken soup for the next three days at camp.

 

AUG 25 BLACK RIVER HIKING TRAIL

 

What an amazing and glorious day at Black River in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Perfect hiking weather: low 70s, full sun, no bugs whatsoever, and spectacular views hidden away in old-growth cedar and hemlock forest. Wow! Even steep terrain didn’t take away from our enthusiasm.

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AUG 26 COPPER PEAK SKI JUMP and PRESQUE ISLE VISIT

 

A strange day. It stormed all night furiously. The morning broke still angry and threatening. We took our time having coffee and cereal before hitting the road.

Our first stop was the Copper Peak Ski Flying Hill. The jump structure is impressive as you drive by it, and there is an inviting sign beckoning tourists to come by and check it out. We bit. Sure enough, they have a gondola ride up to the ski jump and then an elevator ride to the top of the jump structure. All the mechanics were down. Workers were frantically working on it. In the meantime, they opened up a maintenance road for people to drive up to the jump. Instructed to ignore the no trespassing signs, we crawled up the potholed gravel road.

 

Once at the top, we were allowed to walk up the ski jump structure since the elevator was out. I did.

Here is the disconnect. The structure is world-class gigantic, and impressive from the ground looking up. But once on the structure, you notice the wooden floorboards are weathered and dry-rotted and it creaked something fierce when walked on. (Believe me, it looked rougher In real life.)

Halfway up, I just lost confidence in the integrity of the beast. I wanted to continue climbing but, as I looked through the weather-beaten and rotten cracks in the boards, I just shot some photos and returned to terra firma.

Here is the disconnect. The structure is world-class gigantic, and impressive from the ground looking up. But once on the structure, you notice the wooden floorboards are weathered and dry-rotted and it creaked something fierce when walked on. (Believe me, it looked rougher In real life.

The view from the top was incredible, though.

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We pushed on to Presque Isle, the western gateway to the Porcupine Mountains State Park. We bought a Michigan State Park sticker to add to our Wisconsin State Park sticker. {Before long, we won't be able to see out of the windshield.)

 

In Michigan, the park stickers are called passports - funny name, I thought. Even more amusing was the young yupper-ranger that sold us the sticker. He jokingly told us to make out the check to him for $300, called our big van, the beast, and employed his best-exaggerated yupper-accent. It was a great shtick, and we enjoyed it.

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The falls on the Presque Isle River are different than the Black River. Although the river runs parallel to the Black River and is just 20 miles east, it seems to cut through different rock including Nonsuch Shale. It looked more volcanic and without the infusion of gravel, which they call conglomerate rock at Black River. The resulting waterfalls, however, were just as stunning.

The skies considerably cleared up while we were at the falls. The Presque Isle State Park provided impressive stairways, boardwalks, and footbridges. It seemed like the feds at Black River, and the state rangers at Presque Isle had a stairway competition. I'd call it a draw.

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It was late, so we cut our visit short with the idea of returning for a more thorough hike. We did check out the campground at Presque Isle. It was primitive, like our site, but less elbow room. We couldn't find other water outlets before returning to camp, so we initiated our backup plan to return to Eddy Park in Wakefield, Michigan to buy water for $5. We filled up all our water jugs, and our Lavario clothes washer (24 gallons worth) then plunked down $5 at the host's camp table.

Next, it was off to Walmart to get a second propane tank. We already have over three weeks on the little 15-pound tank presently in use. Since our refrigerator depends on propane, we didn't want to run out suddenly. Walmart sells the Blue Rhino propane brand, an easy-to-find luxury at many gas stations and Walmart.

 

 

AUG 27 & 28 ONTONAGON and 2-days of rain

 

The poor folks in tents at the camp got soaked with all the rain while we remained dry and toasty in V-Jer, our Tab400 Teardrop.

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We did manage to drive over to Ontonagon for pasties and discovered pasties are mainly served in bakeries, not restaurants, as I would have thought. We found our pasties at Syl’s Bakery in downtown Ontonagon. It was hefty and full of meat, potatoes, and some carrots (we think). Pasties are supposed to include rutabaga, which is what I thought the orange bits were. Wanda thought they were bits of carrots. Oh well, the pasties were still quite satisfying.

The outdoor seats were soaked, so we ordered take-out and impulsively ate them as soon as we sat in the van. We should have taken them back to camp and in our Tab400 to access all the proper condiments. Sadly, the little bit of ketchup that came with the pasties was not enough. I needed Tabasco, jalapeno peppers, and extra ketchup. Wanda pined for her garlic salt and Maggi hot, freshly imported from Germany, thanks to my sister and brother-in-law, Diane and Heinrich.

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Later, we checked out the campground at the Lake of the Clouds, the eastern gateway to Porcupine Mountain State Park. This was the flagship campground of the Porkies, but today it was very full, cramped, and muddy.

Our next campground will be Fort Wilkins Historic State Park up in Copper Harbor. So far, we have not been impressed with Michigan State campgrounds. I hope for better at Fort Wilkins.

 

 

AUG 29 PRESQUE ISLE RIVER WATERFALLS LOOP

 

The rain finally worked its way to the east. That meant hiking the Presque Isle waterfalls loop was on the schedule. The magnificent 3-mile waterfalls loop trail starts at the Presque Isle River's mouth that feeds into Lake Superior. The trail runs along the west bank following the river's spectacular gorge for a mile and a half. Crossing the river on the south boundary road bridge, the hiking trail retraces the river's east bank back to Lake Superior, where it once again crosses the river on a picturesque swinging footbridge.

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The waterfalls loop trail is breathtaking. Although many stairs and boardwalks are provided to help get up and down the gorge walls, there are many spots where you must use tree roots to step up. No matter how you get to the falls and rapids, the falls' view makes the challenging navigation worth the effort. We spent three hours on this most magnificent 3-mile waterfalls loop.

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The temperature on this partly-cloudy day couldn't have been more perfect. The wind was howling, but only a slight cooling breeze reached us in the deep old-growth hemlock forest. The hemlocks, reported to be up to 400 years old, were 6 to 10 feet in diameter and impressive. Tall as rockets, with deep craggy bark, these mammoths were lucky to have escaped the ax.

When we re-emerged on the Lake Superior shore, the wind had whipped up a thoroughly angry surf. For just a moment, the crashing waves carried me back to the Mexican beaches we love so much. Then the biting cold wind sobered me up from the warmth of my revelry.

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There were some small backwoods primitive drive-in campsites along the road. We checked them out. Again, Michigan State campgrounds, of any size, haven't impressed us yet. Stuck way out in nowheresville, with all the elbow room surrounding the campsite, the state provides only a handful of cramped sites. So far, the federal sites are the best for spacious campgrounds. But Michigan does waterfalls right!

Later we drove along the tree-covered south boundary road (red line on map). This beautiful twisting road connects the western Porkies at Presque Isle to the eastern Porkies, at Lake of the Clouds. We stopped at Overlooked Falls, a small but picturesque falls deep in the forest where two branches of the Little Carp Creek converge. Even while hiking in the darkest and deepest part of the trail to the Overlooked Falls, we experienced zilch bugs. Awesome!

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AUG 29 PRESQUE ISLE RIVER WATERFALLS LOOP

 

The rain finally worked its way to the east. That meant hiking the Presque Isle waterfalls loop was on the schedule. The magnificent 3-mile waterfalls loop trail starts at the Presque Isle River's mouth that feeds into Lake Superior. The trail runs along the west bank following the river's spectacular gorge for a mile and a half. Crossing the river on the south boundary road bridge, the hiking trail retraces the river's east bank back to Lake Superior, where it once again crosses the river on a picturesque swinging footbridge.

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There were some small backwoods primitive drive-in campsites along the road. We checked them out. Again, Michigan State campgrounds, of any size, haven't impressed us yet. Stuck way out in nowheresville, with all the elbow room surrounding the campsite, the state provides only a handful of cramped sites. So far, the federal sites are the best for spacious campgrounds. But Michigan does waterfalls right!

Later we drove along the tree-covered south boundary road (red line on map). This beautiful twisting road connects the western Porkies at Presque Isle to the eastern Porkies, at Lake of the Clouds. We stopped at Overlooked Falls, a small but picturesque falls deep in the forest where two branches of the Little Carp Creek converge. Even while hiking in the darkest and deepest part of the trail to the Overlooked Falls, we experienced zilch bugs. Awesome!