Saturday, our final day of exploring, we wake up before the alarm goes off and before the sky has completely brightened. We soon have our gear packed and loaded in the car. It is another chilly morning, but we have had no rain during the three days we have been here meaning we have been able to keep our car at the cabin without fear of getting stuck in mud. Otherwise, we would have had to walk the distance carrying heavy items twice a day.
We are soon on the way north on M31 and I75 towards Sault Ste. Marie just across from the Canadian border. Our goal this morning is to stop at Castle Rock, a rock outcropping high above the landscape just a short distance north of the Mackinaw Bridge. Like everything else it seems these days, it is commercialized, and the sign says $1 per person to climb. We are early as the entry doesn’t open until 9 a.m. so we have about forty minutes to wait. Finally, after collecting our two dollars, the proprietor directs us towards a set of concrete steps at the far end of the fenced in enclosure. We climb and stumble and climb the multitude of ill proportioned steps that we never count. I am guessing there are about 200 steps followed by a narrow ramp and concrete walkway that leads to the edge of the rock. We are 183 feet above I75. Visible in the distance is Lake Huron, downtown St. Ignace, and acres of trees. After a few pictures, Dave and I clomp our way carefully back down to the bottom.
Our next destination is to be the Soo Locks at Sault Ste Marie. We plug the address into the GPS and are able to locate the locks with no trouble. Our end goal is the observation deck that overlooks the locks. Amazingly, we are hardly situated along the observation deck rail before a huge Canadian freighter, the Captain Henry Jack, approaches the lock. She slowly inches into the lock until the gates can be closed and then the water, and the ship, rises slowly from the level of the St Mary’s River to meet the level of Lake Superior. Within an hour, she is slowly sliding out of the lock and is continuing on her way. We managed to hit it just right today.
We were told by the entry gate attendant that a mile down the road is the Tower of History. This structure is about 186 feet tall and provides a view of the city, the locks, and the Canadian shoreline. There does not seem to be massive crowds of people today and we find a parking spot there easily. This time, we take the elevator most of the way up. There are just a few steps to the top two tiers of the structure which sports an outdoor observation area. It does offer a spectacular view of the surrounding area and the trans-international bridge to Canada. We even spy a picnic table just a block away below us. We know exactly where we will have our picnic lunch on this warm sunny day.
All too soon, it is time to head for Escanaba, Michigan where we plan to spend our last night at a hotel. There we spend an enjoyable evening visiting the Sandy Point Lighthouse and splurging on Kentucky Fried Chicken in the park by Lake Michigan. All good things much come to an end and our Sunday is occupied with driving home to Minnesota.
We set the alarm for 5 a.m. on Thursday, July 14. The GPS says it will take almost an hour to get to Mackinaw City and our boat for the “Western Lighthouses Cruise” leaves at 7:30. The sky is just beginning to lighten, and a full moon shines its beams over our little cabin. I slept very little last night as I never do when I have to get up early to meet some appointment. The jitters about getting there on time is just enough to chase away the sleepy man. We have our breakfast in the car as we drive; Dave spooning the yogurt into my mouth so I can keep my hands on the wheel and my eyes on the road. Our GPS guides us expertly this time and we soon pull into a mostly empty parking lot. A shuttle awaits to take us to the dock where we will board the boat.
The sky is clear and bright, and the early morning sun is just ascending over the lake. It is a chilly morning, about fifty degrees and the sun struggles to apply warmth to our backs. By, 7 a.m., we are stepping onto the boarding platform and climbing the stairs to the upper outside deck. We have worn all of our meager amount of winter gear we have brought along. Both of us wonder if this choice is a mistake. Soon we are skimming over the totally calm surface of Lake Huron headed toward the 5-mile-long Mackinac Bridge. It is the longest suspension bridge in the Western Hemisphere with 1.4 miles of it suspended in the air over the straits of Mackinac. Even without a wind, the breeze created by the boat is bone numbing cold. Our first slow down is to view the Old Mackinaw Point Lighthouse that sits just at the south end of the bridge. Then we swing around and head under the magnificent bridge for a splendid view from beneath. We tuck our coats around ourselves as we then cruise west on Lake Michigan at 35 miles per hour to St Helena Island Lighthouse near St. Ignace. This lighthouse sits on a small island and is currently being renovated and restored. One can camp on the island if so desired. Our last three lighthouses are built in the middle of Lake Michigan. A wooded platform was built on land and once floated out to the chosen spot, was filled with concrete and rocks for the bases. The white shoal lighthouse, north of Beaver Island, is being restored to be used as a bed and breakfast. It will only be accessible by boat. A team of workers are busy and stop long enough to wave to us. After the captain spins around the light for all to take pictures, we are off across the lake to Gray’s Reef Lighthouse. It sits alone in this massive expanse of water. In the distance, we spot a freighter steaming towards Mackinaw Bridge and a port beyond for loading. Our last stop is Waugoshance Point Lighthouse. It stands forlorn and alone, having been abandoned to the elements.
Soon we are blowing a huge wake as we speed back towards Mackinaw. The wind has warmed somewhat but it is still quite chilly, and the cold has reached deep into our bones. Most people have gone below by now. The sun warms our backs as we debark at the dock.
I plug the address for Mackinaw Point Lighthouse into the GPS and we cruise a few blocks to a park complete with a beach on Lake Huron and sporting shaded picnic tables. Here we enjoy our lunch before walking to the lighthouse for a tour. Climbing the 51 steps to the light chamber is the highlight. The platform offers a spectacular view of Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, and the Mackinaw Bridge. By now, it is 2 p.m. and we are both tired from getting up early so we head back down M31 to our cabin in the woods. A couple of stops are made to buy ice, a camera card, some drinks, and chips. That is followed by a slow drive along the winding path to the cabin. Time for some naps before supper and a lazy evening by the campfire.
Tuesday morning, July 12, the clouds hang heavy and light rain sprinkles our yurt dome as we open our eyes to a new day. It looks like it will be a rainy chilly day. A high of 60 is predicted. I make my all-too-common trip to the office to heat some water for a breakfast of scrambles eggs in the yurt. Then we are ready to head out. We decide to head toward Whitefish Point, MI to visit a lighthouse and shipwreck museum there. Along the way, we plan to stop at Tahquamenon Falls State Park close to Paradise, MI. By the time we get close to the falls area, the clouds have wisp away, the sun has appeared and is shining brightly. The air is still cool, but it is a beautiful day for a stroll through the woods. The path is easy and only requires a short walk. Of course, there are 87 steps to the mid-level area of the upper falls but well worth the effort. Tahquamenon Falls is the largest falls in Michigan. It is 200 feet wide with a fifty-foot drop. I take in a deep breath and inhale the magnificence of this day. I relax while Dave spends some time with his camera. Then we mosey back to the car for a short drive to the lower falls area. Here there are several different falls, a couple split by an island, and a couple of more upstream. A boardwalk has been built for our trek along the river and a newly constructed metal bridge allows access to the island where another boardwalk encircles the small island in the middle of the river. The air is crisp but perfect for our .6-mile stroll to view the water tumbling on its journey to the big lake. We spend 2 to 3 hours enjoying this bliss before moving on in search of a picnic spot.
In the town of Paradise, we find a secluded park to devour our lunch before heading to Whitefish Point. The Whitefish Point Road ends at the lighthouse and museum on Whitefish Point which apparently, was a dangerous spot for ship traffic as it traversed into Lake Superior from Lake Huron. Therefore, Whitefish Point Lighthouse was the first lighthouse built on Lake Superior and now houses the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. The day has turned dark, cloudy and sports a cold breeze off the lake making one shiver while pulling the inadequate outer garments more tightly around oneself. By 3 p.m., we are ready to begin the 2 ½ hour drive back to our yurt at Au Train. A stop in Paradise to buy gas for $5.50 per gallon is a shock to the wallet. Gas is about a dollar a gallon more here than in Minnesota, but it is the only gas station around so unless we want to push, I guess we have to pay it.
Back “home,” we build a roaring fire, cook super, and relax in the glow and warmth of the flames.
There is no set time on Monday, July 11 for getting up. It is so nice to just relax. Amazingly, the constant road traffic ceases during the night and all is quiet. We arise around 7 a.m. after a fairly comfortable night. Our first task is making breakfast. The plan is to have pancakes made over the tiny camp stove. We now have fuel to put in it but realize it will be a challenge to pour fuel from a 12×6 can into a ½” diameter hole without pouring most of it on the ground. Dave fashions a makeshift funnel out of tin foil. Even with our fabricated tool, we spill a good portion into the fire pit before we get the stove full. But the next challenge, in spite of the stove working for us last evening, is that it will not hold pressure. The only “oil” we have is butter so Dave tries lubricating the plunger with our “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.” But in spite of pumping and pumping, it will not maintain a seal. As a last resort, he is forced to build a fire with wood in the cooking grill to crispy burn our pancakes. They are rubbery on the outside and not quite done on the inside. It turns out to be a very meager sad breakfast.
A search of the hardware store later that morning for 3-in-1 oil for the stove plunger yields, “We haven’t been able to get that for over six months.” What is this shortage of strange and random things here lately? We resort to 10W30 car oil which I carry around in my trunk. Dave is able to light the stove one more time after returning to the campground but then it again refuses to hold any pressure. Time to hold a memorial service for this 20 + year old piece of camping equipment.
Our next item on the itinerary today is to drive to three separate falls around Munising. The Munising Falls is right in town just a short distance off H58 so our plan is to stop there first. I need to spy Washington Ave and have Dave follow it to the hospital and the parking lot should be right across from the hospital. I do catch a glimpse of Washington Ave but the sign runs parallel with the road we are on, so I assume that H58 switched over to Washington Ave there. But we drive and drive with no sign of a hospital or Munising Falls. After many miles have passed, I realize we are almost to Chapel Falls which was to be our last stop of the day. Oh well, might as well start backwards.
Chapel Falls are a 1.4-mile hike in along a wide, well kept, obviously well-traveled trail. The path slowly winds through the heavily tree populated forest. The breeze is cool on this cloudy day making for a pleasant walk. Here there are no steps to the base of the falls but a viewing area above which allows a visual through the trees. Just a little further upstream, a bridge crosses over the rocky river above the cascading water.
Yesterday, I had said that I was surprised at the lack of people at these sites. Today is a different story. The crowds have appeared and the peaceful stride through the forest alone is gone. Dave is starting to limp on the way back due to his knee, but we take it slow on this easy path.
We decide to see if we can find a picnic table for a lunch of chicken salad on sandwiches and chips before we tackle the next falls. We drive down the road to Miner’s Falls and beach thinking that certainly there will be a table somewhere near the beach. There is not a table to be found. I had seen a spot in passing where there were five huge rocks marking the boundary to a parking area. That, I decide will be our picnic banquet spot. One large rock becomes our table for the spread. Soon we are revived and ready to attempt the walk to Miner’s Falls.
The parking lot to the falls area is jammed with cars and people but we are able to secure an unmarked spot for ourselves. We set off down the slightly sloping path. Our pace is slow, and we sidestep frequently to allow others to pass. It is soon evident that a “herd” is following us. They seem to be young college students together in a group accompanied by a priest in robes. They laugh and talk, and one plays a boombox loudly. It is almost impossible to get any pictures at the falls that are devoid of humans. We rest on a bench waiting for all the students to come back up the 77 steps from the viewing platform. But they never come back. Eventually, I leave Dave on the bench and walk down the steps to the viewing platform. That’s weird, I think, the students have all vanished. There is no trail, but they have descended by sliding 50 feet further down the side of the cliff to the base of the falls. I can tell Dave is exhausted by the time we get back to the parking lot, but we decide to make the one last stop at Munising Falls anyway as it is just a short walk.
The parking lot to Munising Falls is packed and overflowing when we arrive and there also seems to be a charge to visit here. Too many people and needing to pay finalizes our decision to head back to the campground and the yurt. We never do make a trip to this fall.
Once we are relaxing back at the yurt, I decide to look up the ferry schedule from Muskegon to Milwaukee for our return trip on Sunday, July 17. Our plan is to drive to Traverse City on Saturday to visit a friend from my younger Mennonite days and then take the ferry on Sunday morning to get back to Wisconsin. I have brought along my computer for such a purpose, and we do have WiFi access here. The ferry website now offers a place to book a spot. When I booked this trip in February, the ferry wasn’t even running and therefore, I didn’t make any reservations. I thought we could just drive up at 10 a.m. on Sunday and get a birth. But now, when I click on “Reserve a Ticket,” the only choice I am offered is 11 p. m. Sunday night. That won’t work at all. I suspect that the other times are all booked but I call the phone number listed just in case.
“Do you have a vehicle,” the answering lady enquires.
“We have no more room for vehicles, but you can buy a ticket.”
Well, that’s not a help if we have to leave our car behind. Dave and I are in a panic. Now what do we do? And how many hours does it take to drive around Lake Michigan. Google and MapQuest both say the shortest way home from Traverse City, MI is south around Lake Michigan through Chicago. Who wants to drive through Chicago? Not us. And even then, it is a 10-hour drive home. Going north around that end of Lake Michigan does not seem to be much different. After an hour of analyzing every angle, we decide we will have to leave early around 5 a.m. on Sunday taking the northern route with the hopes we will be home in 12 hours.
I then text my friend to make sure she is still expecting us on Saturday.
“Oh, I have to work until 8 p.m. on Saturday evening,” she says, “But you guys are welcome to hang out here if you like or visit some of Traverse City.”
Well, that is a frickin bummer! Why do we want to drive to Traverse City with the just discovered travel issue if the person we want to see isn’t going to be home anyway? I am totally frustrated and disappointed. I thought we had this planned months ago. I wonder if we could go down there on Friday.
“Do you work on Friday?” I question.
“I work Thursday thru Saturday,” is the response. “Would it work if I would meet you in Petoskey on Wednesday? We could at least get to visit for a bit.
That might actually work, I think. We will need to figure out something different for Saturday night but that solves our problem of how to get around Lake Michigan for the drive home.
After all this brain racking, it is time for supper before our sunset cruise along the Pictured Rocks National shoreline tonight. Our little cooking stove continues to be uncooperative, so we finally resort to asking again to boil a cup of water in the campground office microwave in order to rehydrate our dehydrated meal. One cup of boiling water is all we need. These Mountain House dehydrated food packets are actually working quite well in our situation, and they are even pretty tasty.
The sun has peeked out and is shining brightly by the time we park in Munising and take our spot in the growing queue for the boat ride at 8 p.m. Maybe there will be a nice sunset after all. We have brought our coats as the air contains a chill. Two busloads of Amish people soon unload and join the waiting throng. Shortly before 7:45, the boat steams toward the dock and ties up. It is a triple decker with just enough room to accommodate the passenger count of 300 tonight, the captain informs us. Dave and I choose the upper open deck in the chairs along the rail hoping to get some good pictures.
As we start across the bay, the wind blasts our faces and insists we put our jackets on. Brrr… It is going to be chilly on the water. Our journey is to take us 15 miles out into Lake Superior along the shoreline and back, a two-hour trip. We see a couple of waterfalls, Spray Falls and Bridal Falls. Much of the cliff line along the shore is covered with colored rocks from the minerals contained in the water as it runs into the lake. It makes them look like someone has reached down and painted them with a huge paintbrush. Also, evident are sandstone arches that have developed over time. At one point, as a unique treat, the captain pulls the boat up into a rock encircled bay that is just big enough to accommodate his boat. All too soon, it is time to head back. The sunset we were hoping to see is soon obscured by clouds. In the distance, the sky grows dark and angry. A few flashes of lightning streak across the sky. Just as we are about to return into the harbor bay, a bright full moon peeks out and throws its reflection for a few minutes on the calm surface of the lake. Then it is gone.
Sunday morning, July 10, we wake up at 7:30 a.m. in our room at the bed and breakfast after a restful night. The proprietor had predicted a 40-degree temperature this morning, but we are hit with a blast of warm breeze when we step out into the garden for a morning explore before breakfast. I am guessing it is closer to seventy. The world is peaceful, and we lounge in the strategically placed lawn chairs while we gaze out at the waveless blue expanse of Lake Superior. Breakfast is to be served at 8:30 so we head back in to see what delicacies await us. The tray is embellished with fruit in yogurt, blueberry sconces, egg muffins, sausages, and a cup of cereal. We take our tray back outside to enjoy the beautiful sunny morning while we dine on the treats. After our leisurely meal, we gather our possessions together and set out on the next leg of our journey.
Our plan is to drive south on County Road 510 along which we are searching for two waterfalls. Yellow Dog River Falls is supposed to come first followed by Big Pup Creek Falls about 2 miles further on. Following the map, we turn directly south where County AA divides from County 510 and continue driving. It shouldn’t be far from here. We look intently for the signs we are sure we should be seeing soon. But we drive and drive and there are no signs anywhere. Could we have missed them?
“But there were no signs,” we alternately declare to each other.
“Well, I guess we are taking a drive through the enchanted forest if nothing else.” The potholed gravel road is enclosed by trees that reach for each other above.
We finally come to a road marked 310 but 510 seems to have disappeared. There is no 310 on the map we have but we have to go one way or the other, so we turn to the right. It soon becomes a “road less traveled” and I insist that we turn around.
“I think 310 is a snowmobile trail marker and not a route number,” Dave declares.
Maybe he is right. This is getting really frustrating. We go back to the main track and continue south on the dirt path we previously were following. We ask the GPS for help, but she directs us to turn several times where there are no roads in this vast no man’s land. No wonder people end up on railroad tracks and in lakes. After driving for miles, we finally come out on US 41 just west of Marquette. Apparently, finding waterfalls is supposed to be intuitive for Michigan folks. They don’t believe in marking them. We give up on the waterfall hunt and head to our next destination, the Marquette Maritime Museum.
It is 11:30 a.m. when we park in the lot outside the museum. We have just missed the 11:30 lighthouse tour group. Oh well… We buy combined tickets for the museum and the lighthouse. Senior citizens are cheaper here.
“What is a senior citizen,” I ask
“65,” she replies.
“I just signed up for Medicare….?” I hint. “Is that good enough? I’m just a couple of months short.” I am thinking she might give me the discount, but she doesn’t.
Dave and I tour the museum, but our lighthouse tour is not until 1:30 p.m. so we go looking for a picnic spot to enjoy our lunch while we wait. Down the road by the marina, we spot some picnic tables. As we park and gather our food, an older man gloms onto the one and just stands there. As we head for the second table, a family stops and sits down to enjoy their meal. We finally secure a table 100 feet away that rests in the sun. We haul it into the shade. There we enjoy tuna salad sandwiches with chips and a trail mix while a light breeze blows off the lake. Soon, it is back to the museum for our tour. The temperature has climbed into the mid-eighties and the sun is beating down with vigor. We hike about 1/3 of a mile to Marquette Harbor Lighthouse and climb the 45 steps to the entrance. I am hot and my legs are protesting from the many steps we have climbed in the last two days. The building does provide a spectacular view of Lake Superior. We end the tour with a stroll along the catwalk to the steps that used to run to the fog house. It is high above the cliffs and only about three feet wide. Off in the distance, the Coast Guard boat plies the waves. Before we leave the site, we walk out onto the rocks and sit on one that teeters back and forth with our weight.
We head out around 2:30 p.m. on the drive to Au Train Beach Campground where a yurt awaits us for the next three nights. We don’t understand this lack of signage in upper Michigan as we fly by our destination. Even the GPS doesn’t recognize the address. I see some Teepees out of the corner of my eye.
“I bet that is the place,” I announce.
We swing around for the hundredth time this trip.
The check-in lady at the campground greets me with some good news, “The yurt you reserved has been wired since you signed up and now has electricity. It is also $20 more per night now so you got a good deal.”
That solves our problem for the first 3 nights of our vacation on how to run Dave’s CPAP machine on two batteries. Each one only lasts about 2 ½ nights and needs 8 hours of charging before using again.
The yurt is fairly new and very clean. However, we soon discover that there are no cooking facilities in it like the one we used in northern MN. I really was counting on some. So now we have two choices: cook the old-fashioned way over a campfire or dig out the small gas cookstove somewhere in the bottom of our camping gear bag that I brought along. It hasn’t been used in ten years or more, I am guessing. And we brought along no fuel for it. After much effort, Dave gets it started and is able to heat the water to reconstitute our supper. Then it is off to Munising to look for camping fuel. We finish out the day with a stroll along the Lake Superior beach and a campfire outside our yurt. The raindrops that threatened the evening fad away and the evening slips into night without drenching us.
Today, we embark on our trip through the upper peninsula of Michigan. We left home yesterday on Dave’s 67th birthday, July 8, and spent the first night in a hotel in Ladysmith, Wisconsin. Neither of us slept well so we decide to crawl out of bed at 6 a.m. and get moving. Our goal for today is to reach Big Bay, Michigan between 4 and 6 p.m. “eastern time.” My brain is struggling to calculate that. Is that Eastern Standard Time? Or Eastern Daylight Savings Time? And how does that correlate to our Central Time? I have determined that it should take us about 2 ½ hours to drive to Bessemer, MI where I am hoping to deviate off toward the Black River Recreational Area which sports several waterfalls on the Black River’s course to Lake Superior.
We have gassed the car and are cruising north on County Rd 513 by 9:30 a.m. That should give us 2 ½ hours, according to my calculations, to drive fifteen miles, stop and see a few waterfalls and drive back to US 2 by noon. Sandstone Falls is our first stop, and it is only a ½ mile hike in. Within just a few hundred yards, we come upon a staircase that descends the side of the cliff to the river. Apparently, our ½ mile hike is straight down the steps. Dave and I look at each other. Do we really want to do this? Finally, resolve takes over and we begin the downward trek. The view at the bottom is spectacular. The water cascades between two chiseled out outcroppings as it flows toward the lake. The spray creates a mist that rises around us. After enjoying the beauty for a bit, we begin our climb back up the hundreds of steps out of the gorge. Time for a rest as we drive south to our next stop.
Just a few more miles further down the road, we pull into the parking area for the dual falls, Gorge Falls and Potawatomi Falls. Gorge Falls is also “only” a ¼ mile walk but if we thought this would be easier, the steps descending out of view informs us differently. Again, we question, should we do this? But this time, there are fewer steps as we descend all the way to the valley. The river runs between a narrow gorge of volcanic rock at this point. Looking down at the magnificent chasm with the water thundering into it and over the falls is a glorious sight. After spending a few minutes there, we follow the well-worn trail upstream through the woods along and above the river to the Potawatomi Falls. Potawatomi Falls drops over two domes of sloping volcanic rock making it a unique fall. We can only see this waterfall from above from a viewing platform. By now, it is slightly after 11 a.m. and since we have a considerable distance to go with a stated hard stop deadline or we lose our reservation, we continue south back to US 2.
We had turned north on 511 just west of Bessemer and were overjoyed that we had missed the US 2 detour coming up. As we come back into town on 513 further east, we are hoping that we have bypassed the detour. It is soon evident that this is not the case. We run smack into the road closed sign. We turn right onto the only road that seems to run parallel with US 2 but soon realize it is a one-way street going west, the wrong way. Every street we turn on ends up meeting the road closed sign for US 2. Arrrrh! How frustrating!! How are we supposed to get around the closed road? We soon realize that the detour going east is on the other side of US 2 and the detour going west is on our side. Who thought up this scenario? After wasting ten to fifteen minutes of precious time, we finally find a street that takes us east beyond the construction zone and allows us to re-enter the state highway. From there we turn onto MI 28 to Marquette. Maybe, we will have smooth sailing now.
But navigating route 28 becomes our most difficult challenge yet. We are using a GPS (the modern device), Google Maps, and an old-fashioned map and none of them agree as to which direction we should go. GPS lady keeps trying to make us turn left onto obscure and unpaved roads while Google Maps tells me to follow MI 28 to just before Marquette. Unhelpfully, the paper map does not contain any of the roads GPS keeps spouting out. I do not trust the GPS so we keep ignoring it and just keep driving. Finally, about ten miles from Marquette, GPS gives me an instruction that matches Google. Hurrah!!
The matching instructions do finally place us at 3 Lighthouse Road, the address for the Big Bay Lighthouse Bed & Breakfast where we will be staying for the night. It sits high above Lake Superior on a cliff and still watches over ship traffic on the great lake lest they be dashed against the rocks. The building belongs to a private individual, but the light is rented out to the Coast Guard. The gardens are filled with blooming flowers and shrubs. In the quiet of the lawn overlooking Lake Superior, the birds twitter and a chipmunk scurries around. Later, we will climb the winding steps to the top of the tower and look out over God’s creation from its open-air balcony. We finish off the day with a good meal at the Thunder Bay Inn in Big Bay, MI.
I arise at 6:30 a.m. to start the day. We are headed off today for a vacation of camping in a yurt by Hooker Lake in far northern Minnesota. The yurt is located right on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) so our hope is to also make a day trip by canoe into the BWCA. My hubby loves the solitude of the wilderness.
“Moo, moo” is the sound that reaches my ears as I exit the house. “Why, little one, are you standing in that pasture all by yourself?” I question the wayward bovine out loud. I sigh! I am in my pajamas, and this is how the day begins. I scan the fence line but do not see any wire on the ground – just a calf stuck on the wrong side. I shuffle out into the pasture, drop down the fence opening and shoo the wayward animal back to the others. I call to Claire, the dog, to get her to continue on with me to the barn to feed the cattle but she just sits on the sidewalk and gazes after me. Oh well, she will have to do her business at the kennel.
A ping and a plunk echoes through the air as we pull away from the garage, on time, no less. What was that? I step out to investigate. The tennis ball that dangles from a cord and descends when the garage door opens has caught on the bike rack on the back of the car. It has been catapulted across the garage as the cord popped with the tension. This is not the first time this has happened, but all is well otherwise and we are off.
Our drive to Grand Marias up Hwy 52, then I35, and State 61 goes without incident. We arrive around 3 p.m. We turn north on the Gunflint Trail and wind our way 28 miles until we arrive at Lime Grade Drive, a narrow gravel road through the forest. After a couple of miles, the GPS tells us to turn right on Little Ollie Drive. I thought we were already on it. After wandering onward for a few more miles down this shale path, we arrive at Little Ollie Bed & Breakfast tucked back in a pine and birch forest. It reminds me of the enchanted forest with trails coursing through the yard. We approach an enclosed porch that seems unoccupied, and our knock goes unanswered. Since silence is the only response we receive, the front door of the Bed & Breakfast seems like it might be a better choice. At least it has a doorbell. I push the button a couple of times before I hear a soft sound of footsteps.
A slightly bowed elderly lady pushes open the door, “If you had come around to the back it would have been so much easier,” she says.
There wasn’t any sign directing customers to the back and I would never have guessed that I was supposed to go down the hill and around the back of the house but OK. She leads us through the first level of the house and slowly down the basement stairs into the company office.
“I have no help this year,” she shares, “and I can’t afford to hire anyone with Covid shutting us down last year. We have no money, and my husband had a stroke recently. But you don’t need to know all that,” she finishes.
What a bummer! I am perplexed. Why is this elderly woman trying to run a Boundary Waters Canoe outfitting company in this situation especially when the internet advertising seems to indicate a host of services available? It just seems rather sad. It is a good thing we didn’t plan on hiring a guide to accompany us on our adventure into the Boundary Waters. Oh well! Our primary goal is to rent her yurt in the woods by Hooker Lake and we were hoping, maybe, to have her haul a canoe for us – not guide or supply us for a BWCA venture.
After we settle our bill, discuss weather, and plans, we climb back into our Subaru and head out to the yurt. A yurt is a round canvas structure much like a tent but large enough to stand up in and move around comfortably. It was often used as a primary residence by nomads in Mongolia, Russia, and Turkey.
“I don’t know if you can drive to the yurt,” she informs us. “It’s really rocky and muddy since we had lots of rain.”
Hmmm… I really don’t want to walk in and out a ½ mile every time we want to leave.
“I will take you and your things with the pickup, and you can see what you think,” she continues.
We follow the diminutive lady who can hardly see over the steering wheel in her pickup with our car as we turn down a beaten path. It doesn’t look so bad to me – a little rough, a few rocks to dodge – that’s all. Finally, she pulls over at a bend in the path.
“I think we should stop here and see what you think.” As she and I stroll along the barren wheel track path with foot high grass growing in the middle, she points out the mud puddles, the rocks and the rough terrain. It only looks like a normal farm field drive to me, but we agree to ride in with her to test it out. She seems so worried for us. The old battered pickup bounces over the obstacles and we are jerked this way and that. Soon through the trees, we spy a small wood shack that is identified as the sauna. Just a little farther in tucked into the birch and pines is the yurt. And to the southwest just visible in the distance is Hooker Lake.
Our guide gives Dave some instructions on firing the woodstove for heat, lighting the gas cooking stove, and the use of the water and then she roars away in her pickup that has seen better days. I am getting the very distinct feeling that she is not really prepared for us to be using the facilities.
“I’m going to walk out and get the car,” I holler to hubby. My walk provides a chance to survey the rocky route up close. I am pretty confident that I can traverse this with limited difficulty. My car has a smaller wheelbase than her truck allowing for sneaking between some of the rocks that she has been bouncing over. I think I maybe have some better springs and shocks as well as the road is not nearly as rough in my vehicle and soon, I am back at the yurt. That was a piece of cake!
Our temporary home has two sets of bunk beds and a futon with a bunk over it along one circular side. There is a table and chairs in the middle of the structure. The wood cast iron stove, the gas cook stove, and a stainless-steel cart for holding water containers and dishes lines the other ½ circular side. The center top sports a clear dome through which the sky is visible, and the lighting always seems to give the impression that the light is on.
Soon, it is time for supper. The menu is brats and mashed potatoes rehydrated from dry flakes. Neither one of us is into making a fire outside tonight so we decide to heat things on the stove. Dave turns on the gas to the burner marked RF and holds a match over the circle. Several matches burn themselves out or try to burn his fingers without the burner lighting. All of a sudden, there is a huge whoosh and a ball of flame shoots up. Both of us jump back startled.
“Are you OK? The back burner just lit,” I repeat several times to Dave.
“It couldn’t have,” he keeps reiterating.
Finally, he decides to test my theory and turns the handle marked RF but holds the match over the back burner. It lights instantly. He does the reverse with the RR and the front burner lights. Well, that’s a wee bit of a safety hazard.
The wind dies down to a perfect calm by 9 p.m. A loon’s call echoes in the distance. In the stillness, we read by the light of the lantern.
Friday, August 28, 2020, I awaken to the rumble of thunder. The bedroom is still cloaked in darkness. The digital clock blinks out 6:20 a.m. I still have ten minutes until the alarm goes off but maybe if I get up now, I can get the dog pottied and the steers fed before it rains. The weather report last evening was for heavy rain this morning. As I swing my feet over the edge of the bed, the first pitter patter of raindrops sounds on the steel roof. I am too late to stay dry.
I grab the umbrella on the way out the door in my pajamas. Water is now pouring from the sky. Claire, our puppy, shakes her head at the deluge. She finally manages to squat to pee. Forget waiting for #2. We flee to the barn. I haven’t figured out how to carry two pails of feed and hold the umbrella at the same time, so I tuck my head and make a dash for the feed box. No animals are in sight to greet me as is their usual routine. Their food is going to be mash mixed with all the water collecting in the trough if they don’t come soon. Even with the umbrella, my t-shirt top and my hair is soaked as Claire and I make the dash back to the house. I scan the pasture for cattle but see none.
This is how the morning begins of our weekend camping getaway to Grand Marias, Minnesota. The cattle still have not come to eat by the time we head down the drive. The car is put in reverse. We can’t leave if the cattle are missing. That is an ingrained farmer thing. I walk out along the pasture fence looking for those familiar black blobs. There is just a little rise in the landscape so sometimes it is hard to see over it. “Come bossie,” I call, “Come bossie.” Finally, I hear an answering, “Baa!” and as I squint into the morning gloom, a few dark specks emerge from the tree line. Soon, four black creatures are thundering my way. Now we can go. The steers are fine.
We drop Claire off at “doggy daycare” before heading north. We make our usual traveling breakfast stop at Kwik Trip. I select yogurt, a donut, and a “baby” milk while Dave gathers his breakfast choices. We approach the checkout and pay together while the clerk places the purchases in a plastic shopping bag.
As we are eating while we drive, Dave says, “Where’s my diet Dr. Pepper?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t see any Dr. Pepper,” I respond.
“I am sure I put some on the counter at the checkout,” He insists.
“I don’t think so,” I reiterate.
“I must have left it when I picked up my food,” He concludes.
“We can stop at the next Kwik Trip and buy one,” I reassure him.
After a few minutes of thoughtful silence, he says, “Check the sales slip. See if she charged for a Dr. Pepper?”
We are about to take the next Kwik Trip exit as I pull out the receipt and read, “Long John, hash browns, sausage/egg croissant, M&M Peanut butter, skim milk, parfait, and … Dr. Pepper.” There it is. Maybe I should look in the bag at my feet again. I reach in and … sheepishly hold up a bottle of … Dr. Pepper!
“I thought I was becoming senile,” Dave intones.
Oh dear, apparently one of us is losing it but it’s not Dave.
We continue our journey traveling north on Hwy 52. I haven’t set up the GPS as I don’t want it talking to us the whole way. But I have printed out a Google direction sheet just in case. I don’t think we need much help with this part of the trip. We just need to hop onto I35E North until we reach Hwy 61 in Duluth which will take us to Grand Marias, Minnesota. At the last moment, I decide to consult the printed directions to see how to make the connection with 35E. The paper says, “Take the exit on the left to I94 east. Go .7 miles and exit onto 35.” As I look at the road signs coming up, I am confused. The road sign indicates that to catch I35, one needs to go west on I94. This is the right exit, not the left. Should I follow my intuition or the directions in front of me? I foolishly choose to ignore my sixth sense and instruct Hubby to take I94 going east. As soon as we make this turn, I instinctively know we are going the wrong way. I dig through the glove compartment for a real road map while proclaiming, “We are going the wrong way. We need to turn around.” We are old enough to still use those old-fashioned things called roadmaps.
Dave looks at me incredulously, “You know it’s not that easy.”
“I know. But according to the map, I35E is west of where we came into 94 so we NEED to turn around.”
After making a speedy exit and flipping around to the west lanes, we travel just a few miles and there is our correct exit. This experience leads me to one of the strong convictions I hold in life: if you find you are going the wrong way in life, never be afraid to turn around and go the other way.
We make a couple of stops along the way to Grand Marias. Our plan is to first stop in Duluth at the lift bridge and maybe have a picnic lunch in Canal Park around noon. As we drive around the lakeside, the roads and sidewalks are crowded with people milling about and there does not seem to be anywhere to park let alone have a quiet lunch. We might as well move on. As we are leaving the harbor area and stopped at a stop light, we notice that the road ahead is blocked off so that only the right lane is usable. Besides that, we need to turn right to get back onto the I35 entrance ramp.
“Put the turbo on and just pull ahead of the pickup in the right lane when the light turns,” I urge my husband who has it ingrained in himself to yield to others no matter how much of an inconvenience our predicament might leave us in. Surprisingly, today though, he stomps on the accelerator and we have no problem pulling ahead of the truck and getting ourselves into the lane we need to be in. But the pickup truck driver sees our actions as a personal affront. “Beep, Beep, Beep!” he lays on the horn over and over again. He rides our bumper for several miles and then exits off the interstate and up a ramp. As we pull away, I see his left arm extended out the driver’s window and his middle finger pointed skyward. I am not sure why driver’s these days are so ready to kill each other for the smallest infractions or actions of others. Oh well, we need to take a deep breath and move on. We stop instead for a quiet picnic lunch at a secluded rest area just off of Hwy 61 north of Duluth.
We are ready for another leg stretch stop by the time we arrive in Silver Bay. There is a sign for an overlook. We wind uphill and around and around until we arrive at the top of a cliff. After parking, we wind our way around a shady trail through a wooded area. It is a cool, cloudy day and no one else is around. This is how we like it. The trail leads to three separate overlooks. The first one grants a view of Lake Superior and a large iron ore mining company on the shore below. The second overlook provides a view of the layout of Silver Bay. The third overlook gives a different vantage point from the other two. The views are breathtaking in their magnitude.
I decide it is time to plug the address of Hungry Hippie Hostel into the GPS. They are located on a township road about eight miles east of Grand Marias. It has been advertised on the internet as having great views of Lake Superior. As we drive up the road towards the establishment, we seem to get further and further away from the lake. We are somewhat disappointed as we pull into the driveway around 4:30 p.m. as all we can see is trees.
“There is no way we can see the lake from here,” declares Dave.
The owners are expecting us and direct us to drive around to the back parking lot and haul our stuff with a little wagon to the first “glamping” tent that we come to. I have no idea what “glamping” means so I look it up on the internet. According to Wikipedia, “glamping is a hybrid of ‘glamorous’ and ‘camping’, and describes a style of camping with amenities and, in some cases, resort-style services not usually associated with ‘traditional’ camping.” Our “glamping” tent here is an open front canvas shelter erected on a raised wooden platform. Inside is a mattress and box spring ready for sleeping. When I registered, I thought this would be unique but still be tent camping without the sleeping on the ground. My expectations on this, though, don’t begin to meet the standards of a similar style abode we stayed in in Africa in 2013. That one was a full-scale bedroom with all around mosquito netting. It also had a full bathroom and shower, all inside a large canvas tent. That’s what I call glamorous.
Back here in the real camping world of Minnesota, there are three glamping tents and they are quite close together and out in the open. Inside, there is a mosquito screen and a privacy sheet covering the area where the bed is located. The problem is, they have left no room to stand to dress, undress, or even get into bed in the “bedroom.” How are we supposed to undress and get ready for bed in a 3-sided open room with wide open views of the outdoors? Dave does some moving around of hanging clips and designs a small “dressing room” with the privacy curtain.
As we look out our south tent opening to the horizon way off in the distance, surprise of surprises, is a spectacular view of Lake Superior. This view is tempered by the huge freshly dug unfinished mound septic system in the foreground just 100 feet from the opening of our tent. Seriously?! To say I am disappointed is putting it mildly. I can’t say it makes for photographic delights either, but here we are. We might as well enjoy it the best that we can.
We drive back to Grand Marias in search of supper. What shall we eat in this time of Covid-19? There are few indoor dining places. Most dining out is done by ordering on-line, by phone, or in-person for pickup. We finally decide on tacos from Hungry Hippies Taco, an establishment owned by the same people who own the tenting grounds. We don our masks to order and then enjoy our much too spicy food at a small table out front.
Then it is time to head back to our home-away-from-home. The day has been cloudy and cool throughout. We sit on the wooden steps outside our tent and watch the sky. There are two plastic chairs to use but mine already has a crack and Dave’s weight adds a crack to the other one. Now we are afraid to sit on either of them. As we talk by the light of one solar powered Ball Jar light, rain drops begin to splatter on our heads.
“Let’s make one last trip to the bathroom before it starts pouring,” I suggest.
The rain has picked up as we exit the bathroom. It is a good 400 feet back to our tent.
“I am going to run,” I inform Dave who is slowly limping his way back. My running in the dark over rough ground is more like a slow stumble. I can never be quite sure when the ground might come up to meet me. By the time I hit the wooden steps of our strange home, it has started to pour. We might as well get ready for bed and climb in. At least it will be warm and dry there . . . I hope. This tent leaves much to be desired especially in a rainstorm. There is no flap to let down in front, so water is splashing in. I move the suitcase, our coolers, and clothes as far back in as possible. We hurriedly get ready for bed and tumble our 60 something bodies onto the mattress and skootch down into the sleeping bag. As we lay there in the dark and listen to the continuing of the pouring rain, mist droplets splash on our faces from above. Uh oh! I hope this tent repels water. Oh well, there is not much we can do about it if it doesn’t. Maybe it will stop raining soon. When I get up to traipse to the bathroom at 3 a.m., the sky is sprinkled with a million twinkling stars. We are still relatively dry, and the mattress is actually a pretty comfy bed.
Breakfast is at 7:30 a.m. I have brought along most of our food which was a good decision. The menu consists of hard-boiled eggs and gluten-free coffee cake. We are ready to start our adventures by 8:15 a.m. Judge C.R. Magney State Park is just a few miles east of where we are staying. Our goal at the state park is to hike to the Devil’s Kettle. The Devil’s Kettle contains two waterfalls. One cascades into a deep pothole with what seems like no outlet. The other side splashes fifty feet into a pool before continuing down the Brule River to Lake Superior. The park map shows the Kettle and the falls to be a mile hike. Even though it is still cloudy, the temperature is in the 50s. It is a beautiful morning and perfect for trekking. Most of the path angles upwards with some steep steps along the way. At least it will be all downhill on the way out. Not many people are around yet, so we pretty much have the viewing platforms for drinking in the beauty of the falls to ourselves. It takes us about two hours to make the round trip back to the car.
From there, we follow Hwy 61 further northeast to Grand Portage State Park. Grand Portage State Park straddles the US/Canadian border. I would have liked to go further north into Canada to Thunder Bay where there is another glorious waterfall, but no one is being allowed to cross the border due to the Covid-19 epidemic. The falls here at Grand Portage is only a ½ mile hike. Most of the path is made of blacktop or is a boardwalk so is much easier to traverse. Dave’s left knee and his feet are hurting him, so our hike is rather slow. The viewing platforms here are much more crowded. The waterfall is glorious in all its splendor, but we do not stay long due to the number of people waiting. The sun has begun to peak through the clouds asking me to take off my sweater. It is still quite cool and windy.
My plan was to eat our lunch here at the state park, but we decide instead to seek out a quieter place. We drive just a couple of miles back down Hwy 61 to the Grand Portage overlook. There are several empty picnic tables here. The wind calls for holding down the plates and food with one hand while eating with the other. We enjoy sandwiches and chips for sustenance. The view of Lake Superior from here is fantastic. One can see for miles.
Dave would really like to do some beach combing so I keep my eyes open for a stopping spot that might offer that activity along the shore of Lake Superior. I finally spy the Kadunce River Wayside Rest which seems to offer a pebble covered northern Minnesota kind of beach. There is even still a parking place for us. A fair number of people linger along the shoreline. As Dave does his exploring for unique colored rocks, I find a spot to sprawl out and rest.
Around 3 p.m., we decide to head for Grand Marias to finish our day there. As we walk to the car, Dave pats his shirt pocket and then stops, “I am missing my phone.” A panicked tone takes over his voice, “Where did I lose my phone? All my numbers are in there.”
At this point, I am sure all is not lost. I am sure it can be found. It must be in the car or back at the tent. My confidence is not contagious though as Dave is disturbed and agitated over this loss. The joy of the day is gone for him. But there is nothing we can do about it right now so we might as well continue with our plans.
I do a thorough search of the car when we arrive in Grand Marias but there is no sight of the missing phone. Our plan is to walk out to Artist’s Point and then to the lighthouse on the pier. It is not just a simple walk to either of these places. The path to Artist’s Point switches back and forth from tree-root tripping to rock jumping and traverses in all directions depending on how the multitude of prior travelers wished to go. We eventually come out on the big flat rock that overlooks the lake. Sailboats and smaller watercraft dot the sparkling lake. We retrace our steps over the treelined path and head west to the lighthouse. This is not really a path, but a deteriorating seawall built to protect the Grand Marias harbor. Walking on top of it is how we navigate our way to the lighthouse. We turn away as we pass others going back towards the town. Afterall, we don’t want to breathe on anyone.
Dave’s heart is no longer in exploring as he is too distracted by his phone loss, so we soon head back to the campground. We pick up Subway sandwiches to take back to the tent to eat. My first order of business is to search high and low through the tent and along the path to it but there is no phone to be found. We might as well kiss it good-bye. Dave surmises that it got pushed out of his shirt pocket while accessing his camera bag sometime during our day. It could be just about anywhere. And of course, it is an older flip-phone style and it is turned off so even if someone finds it, they won’t have a clue how to go about contacting us.
The sun has finally chased all the clouds away and a clear sky soon exhibits a climbing moon that is almost full. As dusk deepens, the moon casts long bright shadows on the surface of Lake Superior. Dave sets up his camera and takes some shots. The evening is windless, quiet and peaceful. I sit and read my Kindle while Dave peruses some magazines. The temperature has dropped into the shivering zone. We both begin to put on more clothing – first a sweater, then a coat but we are still cold. We might as well go to bed. Dave climbs in fully clothed. I have added a long-sleeved turtleneck to my winter pajamas. Our night remains restless. Dave is not sleeping well anyway due to not being able to use his CPAP. There is no electricity here and I listen to him wake himself up every few minutes due to obstructing. I continue to be cold and my left hip causes pain all the way to my ankle when I lie on my side. Who ever thought old people should go tent camping? So much for glamorous!
I think I do get in a few hours of sleep because before I know it, it is 6:30 a.m. We might as well get up and get moving. Dave wants to go back to Judge C.R. Magney State Park to see if maybe someone has found his phone. I don’t think the park is staffed and therefore, I think it is a lost cause but since we are here, there is nothing to be lost by checking before leaving.
The dew is heavy this morning and because we have no flap on the front of the tent, everything is wet. I tried to move the coolers as far inside as possible last evening and then laid my phone, hearing aide, and clothes on a towel. Dave also threw a towel over his camera. I thought our possessions would be fine. But everything is completely wet. I am dismayed. I can only hope the electronics still work. I shiver while I get into my damp wet clothes. Amazingly, my phone and the camera work after some drying off but my hearing aid only emits a long continuous screeching. Guess that won’t be of any help. I can only hope that it will dry out and then work. I guess I will be deaf if that is not successful.
We have a short breakfast of the remaining hard-boiled egg, banana, and coffee cake and then hurriedly throw everything in the car. No one is around at the office to Judge Magney SP and we can’t find anyone at the maintenance building. This is an exercise in futility. We might as well go home. At least, my hearing aid has started to work again.
Traveling west and south on Hwy 61, we stop at Temperance State Park. I don’t think we have ever been to this park. A short walk brings us to Hidden Falls. It is a waterfall tucked back into a crevice between two large rock walls. One can hardly see it. The map shows another falls a mile upriver. I don’t think either one of us is up to a two mile walk today so we opt to drive north on Temperance Road and enter the trail closer to the falls. We are alone on the trail which calls for stepping over tree roots, climbing up and down rocks, and balancing over water holes. We question several times if we are going the wrong way but eventually, we actually do find two separate small waterfalls. It is approaching 10 a.m. and time to get moving on our way home. At least we are warmed up now from the activity.
Our chosen route home takes us into Wisconsin at Duluth. We find a park by Superior Bay to eat our lunch then head down Wisconsin Hwy 53. This allows us to avoid the very busy traffic of the twin cities. I take over the driving as Dave is falling asleep from his lack of sleep these last two nights. We end our journey with a Dairy Queen treat in Wabasha, MN. And tomorrow, I need to shop for a new cell phone for Dave.
Monday, I begin my day by visiting the Verizon store in Rochester. I am hoping I can pick up a phone similar to what Dave had. I have picked one out on-line that looks to be of slightly better quality.
“Can I help you?” questions the young man behind the desk without even looking at me.
I explain to him our situation. “Do you have one of these phones?” I point to the one I have on my printed paper.
“No, we don’t carry it here. They might have one at one of the other stores in Rochester.”
He makes no attempt to check if any of the other stores carries this style of cell phone. “Could you call them and see?” I plead.
He shrugs, “I can’t. They don’t have any phones.”
I look at him dumbfounded. Verizon cell phone stores that have no phones to call each other!Such a helpful salesperson. I am becoming more and more frustrated. I am not about to run all over town. I will just go home and order it over the internet.
The new phone arrives in two days. I am able to activate it without a problem and low and behold, it automatically downloads all of Dave’s prior contacts. One couldn’t ask for a better outcome.
Five weeks later, Dave is sorting through his camera bag looking for some accessories that he would like to use in a photography project. He pulls out a small black object.
“Well, I found my cell phone,” he calls up the stairs. “I remember now what happened. I put the phone in my camera bag one evening so it wouldn’t get wet or lost when we were in Grand Marias. I feel so stupid. I never thought of it once until now.”
Seriously?? All that and the phone has been riding in his camera bag the whole time. Oh well, I have done the same thing before as well – put something away securely so it would be safe and then can’t remember where that might be. He likes his new phone better anyway.