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Week Four of Seven Weeks
SEP 7 BARAGA STATE PARK . SILVER MOUNTAIN
Fortunately, it cleared overnight, and the wind dried everything out. Packing was efficient and quick. We reluctantly said goodby to the Keweenaw Peninsula and headed south along the next stretch of Highway 41. We now have the first 100 miles of the historic Highway 41 under our belts.
Yesterday, as it poured outside, I poured over maps and decided to set up at Baraga State Park, located between the towns of Baraga and L’Anse. Baraga State Park put us in striking distance of the Sturgeon River gorges. Initially, I looked at boondocking at either of two primitive campgrounds a bit closer to the Sturgeon River, but the electrical hookups at Baraga State Park seduced me.
We pulled into a terrific site at Baraga State Park just before noon, plunked down our credit card, and paid for two nights.
Within one hour, we were set up and on our way to explore the Sturgeon River Gorge Wilderness. I planned to find FR2200 (FR is Forest Road on the map), a north-south running National forest gravel road that accesses Silver Mountain and the Sturgeon River Gorge. We found the road, but it was closed. Under the big road-closed-sign was a small paper sign with fine print. I stopped, got out of the car, and walked to the sign. I practically needed a magnifying glass to read it, but it explained that the road was open as far as Silver Mountain. The gorge had to be accessed from the south, requiring a detour using Highway 41.
(Silver Mountain is located approximately 20 miles West of Baraga, Michigan in Baraga County. (From Baraga State Park head West on Plains Cut-Off Road to Baraga Plains Road to Clear Creek FR2200. Silver Mountain stands tall in the area at 1,312 feet above sea level.)
FR2200 took us deep into a thickly forested wilderness for ten miles. The road was barricaded at the Silver Mountain Trailhead. The Silver Mountain trail wrapped around the base of the mountain for a half-mile. It went past a sheer rock face where a couple of rock climbers were set up with their web of climbing ropes already pounded into the rock face. The rock wall was the most beautiful colored rock. It was as if a prehistoric caveman started dabbling in impressionistic art using the giant canvass that the rock face offered.
After passing the rock face, the trail started its upward slope. Being under a forest canopy, we couldn’t see much until the path ultimately spilled out to a rock dome overlooking what seemed like the rest of the world. That is where we thought the trail ended as we ambled around the prominent dome poking around.
After some roaming, we came across two climbers and discovered that there was more mountain to climb. The friendly climber gave us directions to reach the actual summit, which involved scrambling up heaps of rock dumped by some crazy tectonic force. And scramble we did. The real summit gave us another spectacular overlook view.
This was when I discovered that I had left my iPad in the camper. No iPad meant no pictures. No photos of beautiful vistas to be recorded. I was devastated. Oh well, roll with the punch. We spent over an hour on top between admiring the strange rock formations that formed the big dome summit and enjoying the distant vistas.
About a quarter-mile from the Silver Mountain Trailhead, I noticed that a stretch of the North Country Trail crossed FR2200. A tiny sign reported that the Sturgeon River was only .8 miles away. We thought we’d take a quick 1.6-mile round trip hike to add to our daily mileage.
The trail started down a narrow ridge that dropped straight down on both sides. The ridge kept getting narrower and narrower until it, too, quit. The trail then plunged downward for what seemed like forever. That was bad enough, but we knew we had to return using this cliff.
When we reached the Sturgeon River, it was at a road bridge. I guessed that the road was FR2200. But, I had also guessed that FR2200 was closed due to a bridge being out, and this bridge was fine. The road, if it was FR2200, should take us back to the van, thus detouring the dreaded climb back up the trail. We took a chance and took the road.
All of these gravel forest roads look alike, so when it came to a couple of intersections, we had to guess which way to go. Naturally, there weren’t any signs anywhere. About a mile up, and I mean “up” the road, we discovered the real reason why FR2200 was closed. A giant washout had gashed the entire road and threw that portion of the road down a deep ravine. A backhoe was sitting by the big hole, waiting to play in the dirt. I shook my head. One little backhoe was not going to make a dent in that mess.
By now, it was too late to swing down to the south end of FR2200 to explore the Sturgeon River Gorge. We saved exploring the gorge for tomorrow when I will be sure to take my iPad for photos.
SEP 8 CANYON FALLS & STURGEON RIVER GORGE
The small towns of Baraga and L'Anse both sit at the base of beautiful Lake Superior bay. Although the cities are only three miles apart they seem to be in different worlds. Baraga's small downtown is run down and boarded up, while L'Anse is vibrant and new. However, both had $1.94 gas, and since L'Anse was on our way to the Sturgeon River, we filled up at L'Anse.
Canyon Falls isn't the Sturgeon River gorge on FR2200 (Forest Road) that we were ultimately heading. Still, I read about Canyon Falls, referred to as The Grand Canyon of the Upper Peninsula. I don't know about that, but it is a canyon, and it is grand, so I guess it is the Grand Canyon of the Upper Peninsula.
We followed the trail on top of the canyon for a mile. Along the way, we scrambled up and down all of the areas that weren't sheer cliffs. Tilted in all kinds of crazy ways, time created the most colorful rock layers for the canyon walls.
Next, we doubled back to catch the southern access to FR2200 (Forest Road), to the Sturgeon River Gorge. The road, although gravel, was surprisingly smooth and graded. Within the pristine Ottawa National Forest, we came across a nine-site primitive campground.The woods were gorgeous, the sites were well laid out, and each site was spacious and green. Only 3 of the nine sites were occupied. At $7.50 a night for seniors, it was a bargain. This campsite passed our inspection with flying colors.
The actual Sturgeon River Gorge was stunning. Even the half-mile trail down into the steep valley was beautiful. The trail's well-designed switchbacks make the steep descent, and later the ascent, quite manageable.
The gorge was a different and larger branch of the Sturgeon River that flows through the Canyon Falls. One huge section of the gorge wall was bright rust-red with tilted layers and giant boulders haphazardly strewn everywhere. The water roared as it forged through the narrow passage that still took a millennium to carve out.
We climbed every nook we could. Each angle gave us another wonderful picture to remember and another wonderful picture for our cameras to capture. The gorge stretched for a third of a mile before the river found more erodible ground and sculpted a broader river valley.
Two spectacular gorges in one day - Michigan knows how to do waterfalls. We drove back to V-Jer (our T@B 400 Camper), thoroughly impressed.
SEP 9 VAN RIPER STATE PARK
Today was moving day again. We were hoping to go to Marquette's Municipal Campground for four days, then move on to Munising, Michigan, near Pictured Rocks. At $30 a day, Marquette's campground is very expensive, but it is in the Upper Peninsula's big metro area. We called for openings, and out of 100 sites, none were open.
Van Riper State Park, 30 miles west of Marquette, was our next choice and turned out to the best option. The park has two sections, a primitive loop and an electric hookup loop with showers and indoor toilets. The campground's modern loop was full because it was a holiday weekend. For three weekends in October, Michigan state parks hold three Halloween-themed weekends for the RVers and campers. These Harvest Weekends featuring a variety of fiendish family festivities including trick or treating, hayrides, spooky walks, face painting, and ghostly decorations are a popular family draw. Unfortunately, because of COVID, the state park canceled the Halloween activities, however, families still flocked to the campgrounds to decorate their trailers and sites.
The primitive loop of the campground was wide open. At $17 per day, we jumped on it. The site we pick out was huge for a Michigan State Park site with enough open space and sunlight to charge up our solar panels.
Wanda's beaten up and ancient Samsung 7 cell phone was in its final death throes. She nursed it along for a couple of weeks with hospice protocol until the screen flickered one last time three days ago—Goodbye, old friend.
Hello, new friend. Marquette had a Best Buy's, and Wanda made her first iPhone buy. She's back stirring up political trouble on Facebook, using my Facebook site, getting all my right-winger acquaintances riled up. That cracks me up.
The weather was crappy, so we just drove around Marquette. Yesterday, the low-tire pressure gauge lit up on the van's instrument panel. I needed a tire gauge. Another quick stop at Maquette's Walmart for just a tire gauge turned into a shopping marathon. What's with that place?
Along with a zillion things that we probably could have survived without, I did get an excellent tire gauge - one with a dial readout (the AirXwills Portable Tire Inflator Air Compressor with Digital Pressure Gauge). I quickly found the bad tire showing 50 psi from the recommended 64 psi. (I was amazed at how much pressure the tires were supposed to have. I guess I'm still back in the 32 psi days.) Finding a gas station with an air pump was not easy, but eventually learned Holiday Gas Stations provide that service. Great, I found a Holiday Station and filled up the offending tire. The low-pressure light went off - if only I could solve all of life's issues so easily.
When we got back to our campsite at Van Riper State Park, our camping buddies, Babs and Tom, were set up across the road. They were ready to join us as we explore our way around the Lake Superior shores. Welcome aboard Babs and Tom. The evening was pleasantly spent over an awesome fired-up meal, a campfire and, my guitar and planning our tour of the Lake Superior shores together.
SEP 10 MARQUETTE
Today dawned bright, the first of two promised days of back-to-back gorgeous weather. The plan is to explore Marquette, a handsome city of 20,000, then hike the Presque Isle Park Trail. (There are an awful lot of Presque Isles in Northern Wisconsin and the UP.)
Oh, oh, that low-pressure tire light is rearing its ugly little noggin again. I checked the naughty tire. It was reading low again at 50 psi. OK, life's little issues are never easy.
With her new phone, bought in the nick of time, Wanda located Pomp's Tire Service in Marquette. We needed to address the tire issue. Our first stop in Marquette was Pomp's Tire Service.
Of course, they were the only real tire shop in town, and of course, they were all booked up for weeks - but if we left the van for the afternoon, they might be able to squeeze it in. However, one mechanic was out sick, and there were two people ahead of us on the wait-and-see list.
With little choice, we left the van and walked to Marquette's historic downtown. Two things: 1) Everything in the UP is labeled historical, especially if it's more than 30 years old. Europeans would get a good snicker out of that. 2) It was only .7 miles to town. That is barely a walk for our, now-seasoned, legs.
We met up with Babs and Tom in town and together zig-zagged our way around in our standard exploration grid. The historical red stone buildings are impressive. The waterfront, like in Houghton, is beautifully gentrified. The downtown is thriving.
We stumbled across several downtown "pot" shops. Marijuana is legal in Michigan. However, you might have to be a Michigan resident. A young 20-something approached us just outside one of the pot shops who approached us, asking: "Excuse me, we are from Tennessee. My family was robbed, and we have no money. Could you buy us an eighth? I'll just stand here and wait."
My guess is, he thought we were Michigan residents and needed our help to buy an eighth ounce of pot. He didn't ask for food, spare change, or anything someone should need in a real fiscal emergency. Still, did we look like pot buyers?
Around 3 pm, we stopped at an upscale Mexican restaurant with outdoor dining on a veranda overlooking the lakefront. The seating and spacing were COVID conscious. This would be our first restaurant experience since COVID arrived in the US in February.
Wanda and I split a giant fajita plate with chicken, steak, and shrimp. Although not as authentic Mexican as I would have liked, it was all scrumptious nonetheless. The margaritas were authentic, big, delicious, and powerful. It was a fun experience that we miss.
Around 3 pm, we stopped at an upscale Mexican restaurant with outdoor dining on a veranda overlooking the lakefront. The seating and spacing were COVID conscious. This would be our first eating out experience since COVID arrived in the US in February.
Wanda and I split a giant fajita plate with chicken, steak, and shrimp. Although it not as authentic Mexican as I would have liked, it was all scrumptious nonetheless. The margaritas were authentic, big, delicious, and powerful.
During dinner, I got a call from Pomp's Tire Service. I like Wanda's new phone, but I didn't like my options from Pomp's. The leaking tire picked up a nail in its sidewall was unfixable. The only tire they had rated for our van was a $215 winter tire. They could get an original tire, but we'd have to wait a day or two. With the old tire being unfixable, how could we drive? Babs and Tom's car was so loaded; they would have to bungee us to their front bumper.
Well, let's just put on the spare tire - no-go on that idea. In some engineering acts of stupidity, Ford put the spare in a mechanism that requires a special key to unlock. We didn't know about this, and didn't have any such key, and were never told about it when we bought the van. We will need to get the dealer to order our special key, and they will need our VIN to do so. Jeez, that's just insane.
So, we now have one winter tire. It drives the same, but it won't last as long as a standard tire. But hey, if I run into snow on the passenger side of the van, I'll be covered.
After picking up the van, we did have enough time to walk the 3 mile Presque Isle trail. It was a pleasant come-down after all the tire excitement.
We witnessed an ore dock boat being loaded. This ore dock is over 100 years old and located a mile or so above Marquette’s downtown. A line of ore RR cars is taken out on the top of the structure. In a cacophony of racket, they dump their rock-haul down shoots into the waiting boat.
SEP 11 VAN RIPER PARK TRAILS . LAKE MICHIGAMMA
Today was supposed to be our bike riding day. The Iron Ore Heritage Bike Trail runs through Marquette and travels both east and west. For two days, we have been unsuccessfully looking for a trailhead. There are many excellent paved hike/bike trails around the park, but they weren’t the Iron Ore Trail, so we didn’t know if they tied into the trail or were just short, self-contained trails. We couldn’t find a map, and every time we googled the Iron Ore Trail, all we got was iron ore mining references.
Then there are the Van Riper hiking trails around Van Riper Campground. These park trails are usually short nature trails. Tom heard from a park ranger that the Overlook Trail was of the “can’t miss” variety. Wanda and I thought we’d bang out a quick hike on the Van Riper trails and then look, once again, for the Iron Ore trailhead.
Fall colors are peeking through the brilliant sunshine yellows and forest greens.
The morning was as glorious as predicted. The woods were as majestic as heralded by the park ranger. However, the trail went on and on and on, for a 6.5-mile loop. It was well into the afternoon when we returned to camp—too late to hunt for the Iron Ore Heritage Bike trailhead.
The air was warm and still. The park is next to Lake Michigamma, a nice looking large lake with lots of islands. Wanda and I spontaneously switched gears and launched the kayaks into the lake. We played around the islands for two hours until the air cooled as the sun drifted toward the west. It was a great day.
SEP 12 A RAINY DAY AT VAN RIPER PARK
Today was a total washout and became one of those rare throw-away days. We wanted to break down camp in the evening to prepare for our morning move to the next campground near Munising and the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. We went to bed with the rain still drenching everything.