Treasure Chasers

January 6, 2011

The Upper Peninsula of Michigan: A Different World

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The Upper Peninsula of Michigan: A Different World

An official welcome to the UP and a hearty hello from all of the Yupers. Go to Paradise, twice. Paradise is at the junction of M123 and the road which goes to Whitefish Point, the Graveyard of the Great Lakes. Many ships, including the great Edmund Fitzgerald, lay at the bottom of Kitchee Gummee, Lake Superior. They sank either from sheer stupidity, i.e., running into each other, or from the gale force storms, which are common on this greatest of all the Great Lakes. Put all of the water from Lake Superior on the USA and you will cover it to a depth of five feet.

At Whitefish Point is the oldest operating lighthouse on Lake Superior. The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum seems to be a reverential memorial to the ships and men who gave their lives to the great waters. A hushed atmosphere surrounds the exhibits depicting the stories of some of the wrecks and some of the salvaged artifacts from the ships. The bell from the Edmund Fitzgerald centers as the place of honor, memorializing the men who lay at the bottom of the lake.. In another building a video shows the fateful tale of this mightiest ship to ever sail the Great Lakes.

The tour also includes the lighthouse keepers quarters, where for ten dollars a month, he and his family lived in total isolation tending the flame of the light and rescuing the sailors shipwrecked on the shores. This area was called the Alcatraz of the Lighthouse Service, because the keepers of the flame were effectively cut off from the rest of the world for much of the year.

Return to Paradise. Doesn’t that sound neat? Off to Tahquamenon Falls: Upper and Lower. The lower falls is really two steep rapids separated by an island. The upper falls, four miles down the road, is two hundred feet wide and fifty feet in height. It is the second highest falls east of the Mississippi.  Guess which one is the largest? Paved trails take you to the falls and ninety-four steps lead to the summit of the upper falls. When you reach your journey back to the parking lot, dripping with perspiration, legs wobbling from exertion, you are greeted by a microbrewery with restaurant. All sing the Hallelujah Chorus. On tap is a stout, an amber ale, and a blueberry ale. The stout is especially memorable.

Take a circle tour to Grand Marais on Lake Superior. Drive along a unpaved road on the shore of Superior, come across the North Country Scenic Hiking Trail, which extends from Vermont to North Dakota, linking up with the Lewis and Clark Trail. Grand Marais is a picturesque fishing village at the Eastern terminus of Pictured Rock State Park. Five miles from town is the Sable Falls. Over one hundred fifty steps take you to the bottom of these falls, which have suffered with an abundance detritus from the harsh spring.

Munising, MI is the port which offers two different boat tours on Lake Superior. One explores the sunken ships in the area via a glass bottomed boat. The other is a two and a half hour cruise along the Pictured Rocks State Park on the northern shore of Lake Superior. On a 90 plus degree day, a rarity in the UP, you will be very comfortable on Lake Superior, which averages a water temperature of between 38 and 44 degrees. The geological formations and variegated colors of the rock strata is the result of both wind and water erosion and the loss of over three hundred feet of water depth over the eons. After the trip on the lake go see one of the formations up close from land. Go to Miner’s Castle. You will not be disappointed by the shore view.

Drive through Marquette, Negaunee and Ishpeming to Van Riper State Park on Lake Michigamme. This is moose country. However, the moose, at this time, were keeping cool in the swampy areas of the region. Smart Moose.

Leave early for Copper Country, the Keweenaw Peninsula of the UP. There is a campground in Hancock, MI, located on a canal which separates part of the peninsula (island) from the mainland.

Tour the Quincy Mine. The Number two shaft building and the hoist house dominate the hillside overlooking Hancock and Houghton. For over one hundred years, this mine produced millions of tons of copper. There are ninety-two levels to the mine reaching the depth of over nine thousand feet. To take the tour of level seven, the only one open to the public, you take a short ride on the only cog wheel tram in the Midwest. This goes down the hillside at a thirty-seven degree incline. It feels like you are on a roller coaster descending the first hill in slow motion.

When you reach the correct level, the temperature drops thirty degrees from the cold air being expelled through the adit (the horizontal mine entrance). You are given coats and hardhats to wear as you board a tractor driven wagon into the mine. From the 1840s through the 1960s there were hundreds of mines stretching from Copper Harbor to Ontonagon. Very few made any money. Most were closed down because of the fall in copper prices after the World Wars. The wages were pitiful, .00 to .00 per day for 10 hour days work. Some of the conditions and wages improved, because of violent strikes in the 1910s and later. Nevertheless, being a copper minor was hard, back breaking,   work, its fringe benefits were outstanding though. There was blindness, deafness, and early death due to the old standbys such as falling down an open mine shaft if you tripped. And another great company perk was free housing as long as you lived–of course if you died your wife and kids had 30 days to ship out or marry someone else. Ah yes, the romance of being a miner.

Imagine working in total darkness with only a candle on your hard hat (felt soaked in resin). From the 1840s up to the invention of the power drill around the beginning of the 20th century. The men worked in three man teams: one held the four foot drill, while the other two hit it with eight pound sledge hammers at a rate of one swing per second. After each swing the holder would make a quarter turn on the drill. If he grew tired he used hand signals to stop the swinging. This was to place his thumb over the edge of the drill; the area being struck. You did not leave the mine for any reason until the end of your shift or else you were not paid for the day. You had to provide your own tools, including candles and drill bits. If your candle went out, which happened frequently because of air currents in the mine or water dripping, you just sat there until found. Only the fool walked in a totally dark mine. There were open shafts, low ceilings, and passages leading to other levels and areas of the mine.

Wen you are in UP, you have to try the pasties.  They are meat pies brought by the Cornish miners to the area.  They can be found anywhere in the UP.  What a great meal!

Drive the spine of copper country. Stop at the Mining museum at Calumet. The Calumet and Hecla Mining Company was one of the largest on the peninsular. Calumet is still a relatively thriving town, even though the mines have long been closed. Many of the old buildings are being used for other purposes, such as education, storage, etc.

On December 24th 1913, a disaster took place at the Italian Society Hall. During a deadlocked and vicious strike a Christmas Party for the wives and children was being held at the hall. Someone yelled “Fire” and panic ensued. Even though this occurred ten years after the infamous Iroquois Theater fire in Chicago, the doors to the upstairs hall sill opened inwards. Over eighty women and children were trampled to death in this incident. There was no fire. The building is long gone and grave locations are unknown, but the memory lingers on. Ironically, there are still many public buildings still with doors which open inward.

Just down the street from Calumet is a small town of Laurium. Some of the wealthy mine owners built their homes in this town. The Laurium Manor is a B & B by night and a museum by day. The mansion has 45 rooms and boasts a 1,300 square foot ballroom on the third floor. Just down the street is the Victorian B & B, an equally impressive mansion. Such wealth amid such poverty.

Continuing North on US 41 are town after town sprung up because of the mining industry. They are reminders of an era long past. At the northern terminus of Rte.41 is Copper Harbor, the ferry dock for Isle Royale National Park, fifty miles in Lake Superior. The State of Michigan also operates Fort Wilkins State Park. Fort Wilkins was built in 1844 to keep the peace among the miners, after the land was ceded by the Chippewa Nation to the USA. Copper was always known to be in the area, but now “we” could get our hands on it legally. The Native Americans had been mining the pretty metal for thousands of years. Everyone knew it existed, but not in such great abundance. In the State Park are numerous shafts going down over 125 feet, dug by the miners who came in the 1840s.

Found out a new word today: sutler. A sutler is a store in a fort which carries nonmilitary articles, such as tobacco, alcohol, playing cards and other amusements, like today’s PX. This was different from the quartermaster’s store where only military supplies could be gotten.

Drive to the top of Brockway Mountain. This is 735 feet above Lake Superior with views on a clear day as far away as Isle Royale. The CCC during the depression erected the stone walls along the road. They are a marvel of engineering.

There are many other side trips to take in Keweenaw County: Delaware Mine Tour, Eagle Harbor and Lighthouse, Copper Harbor Lighthouse, Mandan Ghost town (named after the Mandan Indian tribe who were fair haired and blue eyed—some say descended from the Welsh).

On the way back to Hancock, take the mandatory stop at Gay, MI. A smoke stack is the only remaining symbol of the copper stamping plant which was there. Gay has one bar, appropriately called “Gay Bar”. If it wasn’t for the name, the bar would be just one of the local dives you find in any small town. What makes this so unique is the name and Yuper is spoken there. Yuper is more a frame of mind rather than a language. Sit back and enjoy the atmosphere. It is well worth the .00 for the beer.

Stop at Adventure Mine for an underground tour. This is different than the ones at Quincy or Delaware Mine. What made this interesting is that the mine tour went from one side of the mountain to the other side. On this side was an overlook of the countryside. To the right was a manmade cave. Native Americans mined for copper at this spot. Archeologists date the excavation to be more than 7,000 years old. Lake Superior was six hundred feet higher then and this area was a island. The archeologists found stone hammers under the slag pile. These hammers were rounded and formed to fit the hands of either right or left handed people. The stone is not native to the area, but is found in Northern Canada.

Visit the Restoration Project at the Victoria Mines. This is near Rockland, MI, once the second largest town in the UP. The project consists of five two story houses which bunked twenty four men at a time. They slept in shifts. Wives did the cooking, laundry, etc.

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About the Author:

John Pelley is a Geriatric Gypsy. He is retired from the rat race of working. He is a full-time RVer, who ran away from home. He began our travels on the East Coast and, like the migrating birds, seek the warmth of the seasons He has discovered volunteering with the National Park System. He has a CD he has recorded of Native American flute music., A Day with Kokopelli. For pictures, links, and more information visit http://www.jmpelley.org.

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