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 both slept much better last night but were awake by 5:30 on this Friday morning, July 15, 2022. We decide we might as well get up and start the day. We are hoping to get to Mackinac Island before the crowds hit. The air is crisp and cool. My phone says the temperature is 51 degrees. The wind, though, is calm making for a peaceful enjoyable morning. Since we have an LP burner stove here, Dave makes the last of the pancake mix even though it takes longer than our dehydrated meals to make. We eat our pancakes while the sun is awakening.
We leave the little cabin at 7 a.m. for the drive to Mackinaw City where we hope to catch the 8:30 a.m. boat shuttle to the island. After a pleasant drive, we are there in plenty of time. “All Aboard” is soon sounded and today, we choose the indoor seats for the 16-minute ride across the straits. Round Island lighthouse greets us off to the right just before we enter the dock area. Even though we are fairly early, the crowds are already arriving. People are pressed together with luggage, dogs in backpacks, bicycles, and every manner of items potentially needed for a day trip, or an overnight stay, on the island. On Mackinac Island, no cars are allowed so one has to walk, ride a bike, or take a horse (or horse drawn wagon). We find out later that several motorized vehicles are allowed – an ambulance and firetrucks. The main street is clogged with horses, and bicycles going all different directions. Dave shocks me by saying that he is willing to try riding a bicycle on this island. Therefore, we stop and rent two- two wheelers. They are wide-tired, large seated, multispeed vehicles. Dave has not ridden for at least five to ten years or more and he is worried about balance most of all but also about a butt ache, knee aches, and a neck ache. The trail around the island is 8.2 miles. It turns out to be fairly easy riding, though, with only one area where we need to work at pedaling. I let Dave take the lead and I think I can honestly say, I never am really working. We make frequent rest stops.
Our first stop is at The Arch, a section of limestone rock that has worn away in the middle leaving a huge arch. Two hundred seven steps greet us on our way to the top of the arch which stands 146 feet above the waters of Lake Huron. After slowly puffing our way up and spending a few minutes enjoying the view, it is time to test the knees and legs for the journey back down. We peddle a way further along this shoreside road and stop by the beach. It is then that Dave realizes that, unfortunately, he has forgotten his spare camera battery in the car. He is hugely disappointed because the current one has taken its last snapshot. We can’t just run back to the car so there will be no more picture taking on this venture. I do press my cell phone into service, but its pictures are not nearly of the quality of the camera. As we ride on, we ride past some bicycles parked along the side of the road. The humans must be off exploring somewhere. In the basket of one of the bikes is a squirrel who is busily chewing on the crackers the rider has left there for later. He is taking advantage of the situation. The trail follows the coastline for majority of the way and provides a spectacular view of the lake. Our total ride takes about 2 ½ hours and almost results in a stroke when I learn the cost is $75 for that ride.
Once the bikes are returned, we splurge on a goodie each. I have milk and a large chocolate chip cookie covered in chocolate. Dave has a gluten free sugar cookie and some popcorn. A decision is made to walk to the butterfly house on Surrey Hill. As we start up Front Street, the grade increases acutely and by the time we hit Huron Street, it is difficult to walk it without significant huffing and puffing. I am tempted to jump on the back of one of the horse- drawn wagons toting people around. Eventually, we make it to the top and take a short cut through the horse stable and carriage museum to avoid walking around the circle drive.
The butterfly house is populated with many colored butterflies twitting around from place to place. I love the butterfly house, but it is soon time to begin our trek back down the steep street. I have to laugh at the sign at the top of the hill, “Walk your bikes down the hill.” Really? Hills are made for flying down on a bicycle. I think it will be easier, too, to walk downhill than up but it puts a different angle of pressure on Dave’s bad knee. We end up stepping very slowly. We do arrive back at the docks in time for the 3 p.m. ferry and are shuttled back to the mainland.
On our drive back to Petosky, we stop at the fish hatchery in Oden that we discovered by accident the other day while waiting for our guest to meet us at the restaurant. The evening has grown cloudy, and the air is heavy with moisture. We don’t walk to the actual hatchery because of the distance involved but do make the trek to the big fishpond about .3 miles in. Large trout frolic in the waters and leap into the air when I throw in food I had purchased at the entrance for such purposes. Finally, we return to the car for the final drive back to the cabin. We prepare and eat our supper outdoors, then read by the evening light. We do not light a fire on this last night as we have run out of wood and have no ax or hatchet to cut anymore into burnable lengths. The wind is calm, and in the distance, I hear a rooster crowing, some dogs barking, and a multitude of speeding cars and motorcycles on the nearby hardtop road. It is never really quiet anywhere, it seems.
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.
Wednesday morning, July 13, we awaken to a bright sunny clear day. It is time to pack up and move on. Our breakfast is made with boiling hot water, again done in the campground office microwave. Then we head east on M28, south on 66, and east again on US 2 towards Mackinaw and the small town of Oden. There is where we are to meet our friend at a restaurant around 1:30 p.m. While we dine on delicious food, we spend 2 ½ hours catching up on our lives. All too soon, it is time to move on and say Good-bye.
We need to travel just a few more miles to Petoskey to locate our home for the next three days. It is to be a rustic cabin deep in the Michigan woods complete with an outhouse. The proprietor is waiting with a gator to haul our possessions back a minimally maintained field drive through the woods. To me, it looks a lot like the trail we took back to the yurt in northern Minnesota last year. A sign at the opening declares, “Emergency Camp vehicles only beyond this point.” The lady tells us that it is just a five-minute walk back to the cabin, but Dave and I really are not interested in walking in and out each day with supplies and other items. My car will become a “Emergency camp vehicle” once we are alone.
The little cabin sits amongst shady trees with the Bear River meandering by. It has a king size bed, a wood stove for heat if needed, and an outdoor cooking area replete with a gas cooking grill and all the utensils needed to cook. But where is the water? There is no running water and no coolers or receptacles storing water ready for our use like at our prior summer yurt. I am a little confused as to why you would supply every other necessary essential but no water. We certainly aren’t going to drink water out of the river. The situation calls for some planning. We finally decide to make a trip to town to purchase gas, water, and cold items that can be eaten on our drive to Mackinaw City tomorrow for the 7:30 a.m. lighthouse boat tour we have scheduled. It is a good thing I have an “EV” for delivering the jugs of water through the woods to our little home. The evening is filled with a quiet supper and reading by a crackling fire.
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.
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.
My traveling partner, Dawn and I arrived in Moab, Utah around 5:30 p.m. local time on Monday, July 12, 2021. The temperature is 105 degrees. “At least, it’s a dry heat,” people often say but it is still hot. Red rock rises into the sky on both sides of the highway and the landscape is dry and barren. Nothing grows green. Moab is a sprawling western tourist town with probably more motels than anything else. We check into our accommodations at Bowen Motel and then decide to walk across the street to Wendy’s to get supper. Apparently, Utah is still hanging onto the Covid 19 restrictions yet regardless of whether one is vaccinated or not. Wendy’s lobby is locked up tight but there appears to be cars going through the drive thru. We turn away and stroll south along the sidewalk. There has to be something open within walking distance. However, each place we pass has a “closed” sign on the door. I am getting hot and frustrated. Dawn wants one thing and I want another. We are like two old married people who can’t agree. We finally decide to walk back to the motel, get the car, and drive through Wendy’s drive thru. We are the fourth car in line. Our hopes rise that we will soon be chowing down and filling our bellies. Unfortunately, the minutes tick by while we chomp at the bit. They finally take one order and fifteen minutes later, another. The gas idles away as we wait. Fifteen more minutes goes by.
“Let’s go somewhere else,” I finally say, “This is ridiculous.”
I quickly check the GPS for suggestions of other nearby fast-food places since the ones unique to Moab all seem to be closed or not open for dine-in. I am so glad I brought my GPS along. It has provided useful information on restaurants, gas stations, and rest stops along our route. McDonald’s is just .6 mile down the street. We are met with the same drive through line only there but at least it is moving. We soon have some sandwiches, fries, and a milkshake to satisfy our growling stomachs. We have made it safely to our destination.
The sun is peaking over the cliff just to the east of our motel when I enter the warm morning air. The temperature has not dropped below 80 degrees during the night. Orientation is scheduled for 10 a.m. at the Mild and Wild Rafting office in Moab. Dawn has brought along an electric skillet, and she whips up some French toast. This along with grapes is our breakfast meal.
A little before 9:30, we head out for the rafting headquarters. It only takes a few minutes to make the drive. A young lady sits at a picnic table under a shady canvas canopy. There is a light breeze which wafts away the feeling of overwhelming heat.
“Can I help you?” she greets us.
“We are here for the orientation,” we respond.
“You are early,” she says, “but I will go see if I can find one of the guys to do your orientation.”
Soon she is back with a young man, Haden, who is to be one of our guides on our adventure. “You are the only two that will be here for orientation so I will just do it now,” he declares, “The other family is not flying in until this evening.”
He gives us each a waterproof sack twice as big as a pillow. Into this, which already includes our tent, we each are to stuff a sleeping bag, a mattress, and a duffel bag of personal clothes and necessities. With a little creative stuffing, I finally get the task accomplished. And that is the extent of our orientation. We are ready to leave and go about our day by ten. So why did we come a day early?
We make a decision to drive the short distance to Arches National Park. After reading on-line about the overcrowding of our national parks and the high chance of being turned away if one is not there by 7:30 in the morning, I have grave doubts that we will be able to get in. But there is no line, and we easily zip through the ticketing process. Motoring around the park in our vehicle is mostly our means of sightseeing. Large red rock formations rise against the sky. Many of them have acquired names for their shapes. This national park is known for its sandstone arches of which there are many. We swing into a parking pullout every so often to snap a photo. Even a couple of very short hikes are in order, but the heat soon chases us back to the car. Before we know it, our stomach is calling us to head back to Moab for some food. We discover at Denny’s the same issue we had the night before at Wendy’s. They are extremely short of help with only one man seating patrons, cleaning tables, taking orders and delivering food. In spite of this, we are back out the door within an hour.
After an afternoon siesta time, we head downtown on foot to scope out the various shops and enjoy an ice cream treat. Our final task of the day is to deliver our electronics to the rafting company office for safekeeping. Leaving them in a 200-degree car for four days does not seem like a prudent idea.
Sunday, June 20 is Father’s Day. We stay snuggled in our sleeping bag until 8 a.m. We have no where to be. Because it is supposed to rain today, we left the car last evening out at the end of the ½ mile trail to the yurt. I was able to walk back in ten minutes – not bad. That should be a doable hike on Monday morning carrying the rest of our belongings.
The day breaks with the sun shining before slowly sliding into cloudiness. After a light breakfast, we decide to go for a slow meander along the prairie path and down another track that ends at a stagnant marsh. Budding spring flowers line our path and stopping to photograph them is required. Mosquitos swarm us every time we stop moving. A wet splop lands on my nose. What was that?
“I just felt a rain drop,” I report, “Time to start back.”
We spy some moose tracks in the beaten path close to the yurt. That is probably as close to a moose as we will get. One last visit to the lakeshore and we head indoors.
A steady pitter patter on the canvas roof and sides of our abode meets our ears not more than fifteen minutes after getting back from our journey.
“It’s chilly in here. Can you see if you can start a fire in the stove?” is my next proposal.
Soon the fire is slowly burning emanating a toasty warmth. It has become a day for me to write and to read and for Dave to play solitaire while the rain pounds a steady rhythm of song on the canvas roof.
The wind howls in waves throughout the night while the rain continues its steady drumming. Just after midnight, I am awakened by an “Oh, no!” by Dave. His portable CPAP machine which I have bought for trips like this has died. I had bought a lithium battery to power it here due to no electricity but really had no idea how long it would last. We tried to do some recharging using the car cigarette lighter during the day on Saturday when we were driving around but apparently, it was not enough. The whole concept has worked beautifully up until now. But now I spend the rest of the night dozing off and on listening to my hubby stop breathing and then wake himself up over and over gasping.
By 6 a.m. on Monday, we decide it is time to get up and get ourselves together since we aren’t sleeping anyway. The temperature on the thermometer on the pole outside is 42 degrees. Time to hustle if one does not want to freeze while dressing. As I pack up our stuff and put away the rest of the food in the cooler, I notice that the trail mix bag has a semi-circular cut out of it and the mix is scattered all over the metal cart top. I think we had a visitor during the night.
The sleeping bag is rolled up and tied with rope so Dave can sling it over his shoulders while also carrying a small leather bag and a medium sized duffel bag. I throw a small backpack on my back and hoist up the cooler. We are ready. The ground is soggy with puddles which require skirting. My hands are freezing so I call for a stop to roll down the sleeves on Dave’s quilted shirt which I am wearing. Fifteen minutes of strolling through the cool morning sunshine brings us to our car. We are soon headed homeward. That planning ahead managed to work out splendidly for us. We have survived one more daring trip into the wilderness.
As daylight filters into the globe of the yurt on Saturday morning, the sky is heavy with clouds. Snuggled into our sleeping bag against the 52-degree chill, anxious thoughts flit though my mind. Is it going to rain today? How are we going to get out of here if it does? What about our plans for today? With my stomach all in a tizzy, we finally roll out. We can’t sleep anymore anyway. A quick visit to the car at 7 a.m. allows for listening to the weather forecast. It is the only way we have of knowing what is being predicted.
“Cloudy today,” says the announcer, “with a high of 65 and 90% chance of steady rain tomorrow, Sunday, with a high in the fifties.”
Ugh! That means today is probably going to be OK but what are we going to do about tomorrow. Will we be able to get out of here after it rains for a full day? Hubby and I make a decision to rearrange all of our belongings so that we are keeping only the bare essentials. The rest we will load in the car this evening and leave it at the beginning of this bumpy, rut and rock filled path so when it rains, we are not stranded in mud. I think I could probably mud my way out but don’t really want to do that to my car. What is left of our belongings we will hike the .5 mile with on Monday morning. As we begin reallocation of our belongings, it begins to rain. But it’s not supposed to rain today!! So should we go on our BWCA daytrip or forget it?
The plan for today has been to go pick up a Kevlar canoe from the yurt proprietor and haul it to the Duncan Lake BWCA entry put in site. Our car does not have a canoe rack, but our original plan was to pay the outfitter to haul it for us to the site entrance. But she was very hesitant when we requested this.
“You will have to help me lift the canoe and tie it on my car,” she said, “I don’t have any help this summer and my husband recently had a stroke.”
Feeling sorry for this lady and her unfortunate set of circumstances, our objective is to figure out a way to haul the canoe ourselves rather than burden her with our need. We wrack our brains for ideas. We have front to back bars on my Subaru but no crossbars to take the weight of the canoe. How do we prevent damage to the sunroof? By Friday evening, we still had no real good answer. Then after arriving back at the yurt on Friday, I glanced at the front tire on the driver’s side of the car. The tire appeared low. We do not need a flat tire out here in the middle of nowhere. I wondered if we have any kind of a spare. To calm my apprehensions, I decided to check the trunk to see if we had an acceptable spare should that become necessary. As I pulled up the carpet board covering the “trunk” and spare tire, I discovered a treasure. The “trunk” is fitted with three pieces of molded foam. Wow! Just what is needed to place on each side of the canoe and support it. We had brought along ratchet straps, so we are all set. It struck me as amazing how one potential problem has led to the solution to another.
By 9:30 a.m. on this Saturday, it has stopped raining and we set out for the home of the outfitter to pick up our canoe. Our devised plan for canoe transport works like a charm and by 10:30 a.m., we have set our canoe in the water at the Duncan and Daniel’s Lake entry portage. I have also come up with a plan to wear sandals for launching the canoe and then change to tennis shoes and socks for hiking and portaging. That way, I can wade out into the water without worrying about getting my shoes and socks wet. Getting into the canoe without capsizing is always the first struggle for Dave and I as we age. Canoes are notoriously tippy anyway and we are stiff and not very nimble anymore. Dave struggles to get his feet up and over the side when entering the canoe and even more so when exiting.
Finally, we make it safely into the canoe and we are off and paddling across Bearskin Lake toward the Duncan Lake BWCA entry point. The wind is steady making slightly rolling waves that are at an angle to our direction of travel. This makes for a vessel that wants to rock back and forth. Maybe it is the operators and not the conditions. It has been a long time since we last paddled a canoe. It is still cloudy but not an unpleasant day. The personal flotation devices add just the right amount of warmth to a mildly chilly day. Before we know it, we have paddled across the lake and glided into a shallow smooth rock-covered-bottom portage. There are quite a few people backed up at the portage, so we move our canoe off to the side to rest and catch our breath. Because of neck and back issues for Dave, we agree that I will carry the canoe and Dave will bring the rest of our gear. After a few minutes, Dave helps me hoist the 17.5-foot Kevlar canoe to my shoulders and I am off. The trail begins with a steep upward climb before heading back down onto a more level area. I am puffing with the exertion, but the load is easy to handle. Watching my stumbling feet is the challenge with roots and rocks and gullies to traverse. Slow and steady I trod the 81 rods or about ¼ mile. The last portion of the trail heads steeply downhill again to Duncan Lake. It is not that far of a distance, but it seems like miles. I need a breather and a drink before putting into the water again. Our final destination is Staircase Portage that leads to Rose Lake. Along this portage is a spectacular fall, Staircase Falls, that we wish to see.
All of the portage landings today have been what I call “nice” landings. They all have a fairly shallow water level with a rock or hard sand base. There is no need to worry about disappearing into the mud or drowning if one falls in.
Paddling is a little tricky in Duncan Lake but once we adjust our direction to face the swells, the canoe is more stable. Methodically we make our way over the lake. Three or four canoes are ahead of us making it easy to spot the portage opening. As we glide into the small cove leading to the portage, two swans glide silently along just a few feet from us. Paddling behind the leading swan are two little signets. They seem unperturbed by our presence. I count four or five canoes stacked side by side at various locations around the portage opening. We plan to do the same thing as all these other people – leave our canoe and hike the portage only to see the falls.
We decide to first spread out the lunch we have brought along on a large rock. We will relax and eat until some of the people return to lessen the congestion in the area at the falls. Bread, a salmon spread, chips and trail mix make up our luncheon while we wait.
It is a fairly short trek to the falls once we get started. Staircase Falls tumbles and turns several times on its way to Rose Lake. We descend a set of fifty or so steps to the base of the main falls and then decide to explore the portage a little further. Soon we come to another set of steps that disappears into the foliage on its way down to the lake shore. It is time to turn back. I can see why one would not want to portage this particular crossing. It looks like the portage from hell especially carrying a canoe.
After spending fifteen minutes or so photographing this hidden beauty and enjoying its splendor of cascading water, it is time to head back. By now, it is around 2:30 in the afternoon and the sun has appeared to add its warmth to the day. We wonder aloud if this trek might be our last canoe adventure into the BWCAW. Our stiffness and waning balance have become a safety hazard. Not only that, rowing and portaging is physical torture for these aging bodies.
“It starts to get more fun,” declares Dave, “after I have forgotten all the pain.”