Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Faded history in an Upper Peninsula mining town

Getting off a main highway has its rewards, the scenery is often better, but it also offers a glimpse into the past. While driving toward Marquette the other day I stopped by to see the town of Republic, which is off the main road, and I was able to get a look into the not to distant past of this mining region. Most the small towns in the central and western Upper Peninsula are organized around an old mine, now not in use. Some how some of these places hang on, God knows how. Republic is one of them, but the old iron miner homes are sagging, along with most buildings in town. The place, above, is an antique store that wasn't opened on the day I stopped by. There's a faint set of lettering for Bosch beer above the doorway, which was made in Houghton/Hancock and was still sold in the 1980s. A look at the building makes me wonder what it was. There are living quarters upstairs, and a garage door in front, along with a store from. I'm stumped as to what it was. But the folks here are hanging on to the town, even though iron mining is long gone. In a  way it reminds me of Detroit, which hangs on to it's rusty relics of the auto industry, even though everybody knows the good old days aren't going to come back. In 30 or 40 years, is some travel writer like me going to drive through Detroit and see it as I did Republic?

Da Yoopers Tourst Trap catches me

For some reason, I can't pass this place without stopping. It's the lack of any pretention that draws me to stop at the Tourist Trap on M 28, just west of Marquette. Big Gus, the world's largest firing rifle, or so they say sits out in front, along with old cars and other junk. There's an oversize rocking chair that people love to have their pictures taken in. Inside there are joke items, many related to farts, such as farts in a can. The poor Finns are the brunt of many of the jokes, and there's a Finnish two-seater outhouse, only trouble is that it's a two-story one, with one hole sitting on top of another. There's nothing educational about this place, and that's why I find it a relief to stop at. No lessons on the envirnment or social causes, just outhouse humor.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Loon on lake in the Sylvania Wilderness Area

For years, I've been trying to get a good picture of a loon on a lake in the Upper Peninsula, and I finally did it the other night in the Sylvania Wilderness Area near Watersmeet. It was a matter of taking my time, and doing some soft paddling in my kayak, so as not to scare the bird. Loons are ground nesting birds and this time of year, a lone male loon in the lake means there is a female on a nest not too far away. The job of the male is to attract the attention of possible preditors to keep them away from the nest, so the mother isn't disturbed. Male loons will dive underwater to get away from you, and this one did seconds after the picture was taken. I feel lucky to have seen this one this close.

Calm day on Lake Superior

The weather has finally cleared in the Upper Peninsula and the winds have settled down, making it a good day for paddling on Lake Superior and elsewhere. Spent Monday in the Sylvania Wilderness Area near Watersmeet in the western U.P. paddling Clark Lake. The area is a great place for familes to canoe camp, gentle paddles, warm inland waters for swimming and fishing.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Paddling the Sea Caves

The Sea Caves in the Apostle Islands National Park are very accessible to paddlers. The trip along the coast starts at Meyers Beach on the western shore of the Bayfield Peninsula and takes you for several miles along the caves area. The trip takes several hours or longer, depending on how long you want to linger. The caves are entrancing, so I took my time paddling into them and looking up at the sandstone rock arches. Watch out for paddling here, the water is cold, I wore my wet suit, and the winds can change quickly. By the time I turned around to head back to the parking lot, I was fighting brisk head winds and was paddling into the waves.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Misty beach

These are the best times when you have a good paddle, sitting on the beach and watching the misty rain move in just after you got off the water. The photo was taken in the Keewenaw Peninsula, which I think is one of the best paddling destinations in Michigan. The scenery is wonderful, rocky shore lines and mountains to see. The access is good, and there are many protected bays to paddle when Lake Superior kicks up. There are also inland lakes worth paddling.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

In the Apostle Islands

A stop in Bayfield, Wis., to kayak in the Apostle Islands is making me home sick for Michigan. Guess it was the sticker shock on motel rooms, $150 a night or so, but there are lots of yachts around here, so they can jack up their prices. Even the low key motels are so upscale that one even had flowers planted in all their eve troughs.
Having just been in t he Keweenaw Peninsula where the rooms were about $60, and the paddling acutally better, I was tempted to turn around and head back, but I've got a paddling book to write and need to check out the Apostle Island.
There's a lot of boat traffic and inter-island kayaking is discourged by the National Park Service, so you're pretty much stuck going with a tour group, or a larger group of your own. Recreational paddlers can do much better at the Keweenaw.

Paddling Copper Harbor

The Keweenaw Peninsula can almost exhaust a paddler with at the possibilities. I spent the last two days paddling in and around the Copper Harbor area and haven't even scratched the surface. Lake Superior has been kind, there's been some rain, but the waters have been calm and I've put a lot of time in on the water.
Evening is my best time. It's light up here until nearly 10 p.m., and a four-hour night paddle is very possible.
Last night two of us did Copper Harbor Bay. The water was like glass and the rocks shrouded with mist. We explored the rocky outer islands via kayak, and found small opening of water to paddle through. You could spend an entire day in the harbor.
Eagle Harbor is anaother sheltered bay along the coast that has may possibilities, but there's one place I didn't have time for that I want to get back to some time, thats Agate Harbor. Places like that haunt me always. I catch a glimpse of them, but can't get to it that day. Visions of those places come back to me often on cold winter days.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Secret passage way to Lake Superior

We all like to find secret places, or maybe just ones that seem secret to us. I found one today while paddling Beaver Lake in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore between Munising and Grand Marais. It's really not so secret, but I wonder how many people have used it. It was pointed out to me on a kayaking map by a park official, so other do know.
The Beaver Lake campground, with about a dozen sites, is the gateway to Little and Beaver lakes. The sites were filled, but I was the only kayaker on the lakes. Many times I've noticed that you can have a place to yourself, if you get 50 yards away from a campground. I put my boat in the water, and paddled away, w hile most campers were building fires they didn't need, and were just sitting around unaware of the beauty on the two lakes.
Little Beaver flows into the bigger lake on it's east end in a narrow channel. When I saw the bigger lake, I couldn't see the end of it, and thought I'd some how come out on Lake Superior. As I paddled, I realized a mist had settled, obscuring my vision.
I followed the lake shore and found Beaver Creek, a narrow, shallow affair. I aimed my kayak downstream into it and floated for a while. However, at some point I realized I'd need to get our of my craft and pull it further. I was alone, so I abandoned the idea. I'll try it some time.
On Thursday, I'm headed to Copper Harbor in the Keenwenaw Peninsula for a differ view of Lake Superior.

Paddling Lake Superior

I set out last night on my first paddle of Lake Superior as part of my weeklong trip to the Upper Peninsula, doing research on a paddling guide to Michigan to be published next spring by The Countryman Press. The big lake was cooperative and calm, hardly a riffle on Grand Marais Harbor.
Evening paddling is wonderful this time of year, with the sun not setting until nearly 10 p.m., and it's orange glow giving you plently of light to get back to your truck.
I'm headed to the Pictured Rocks today, oops, maybe not, just heard the roll of thunder. The rocks are sheer cliffs that go 50 to 200 feet above lake level, and there's no place to land on shore. It makes for some tense paddling. I'm going with others, as it's not safe to do it yourself.
If it rains, I may just head inland and fo some fly fishing.
It's tough getting good weather reports up here. It seems like the weather forecasters on TV forget the U.P. exists.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Sunday paddle on Lake Erie

Like many folks who live in Metro Detroit, I tend to head Up North for recreation, but this past Father's Day, I headed south on I-75 for a change, and drove about 45 minutes to Sterling State Park near Monroe on Lake Erie.
Although it wasn't planed as a Father's Day event, it turned out that way because our paddle on Brest Bay brought back vivid memories of fishing for perch with my father and grandfather in the 1950s. In those days, especially during October, we would catch boat loads of them, and I remember endlessly scaling them at my grandparents' cottage. There would then be large family dinners. I've priced perch at markets, and figure I probably scaled at least a million dollars worth when I was a kid.
Because much of the Lake Erie shoreline in Michigan is in private hands, we tend to forget about it as a paddling destination, but both Sterling State Park and Lake Erie Metropark near Gibraltar provide access. My day on the lake brought back memories of my first lessons about the environment. As far back as the 1940s, my grandfather, a dedicated fisherman, had started voicing concern about the effects of pollution from a Monroe paper plant on the lake and fish. This was long before Lake Erie was considered "dead."
People knew things like that in the old days, even though they didn't have the expertise in the environment that we now have.
Lake Erie is a poster child for good environmental practices. Fish are now thriving and people can swim and enjoy the beaches.
Our Father's Day paddle took us through some lovely fresh water marshes in the state park and onto the big lake. Paddlers could spent a few hours or the entire day on and around the bay. If the winds are too high, stick to the marshes and near the shoreline.
Check out the paddling map in this blog for the route.

View Lake Erie Paddling Map in a larger map