Camping with Canines: Super Yoopers by the Shores of Gitche Gumee

13 07 2018

By this time, we had fallen into a routine.  On travel days, we would get up, feed the dogs, take them for a short walk, and put them on a long lead while we broke camp.  In an hour or less, we would be on the road and eating breakfast as we went.  On this day, we followed this procedure to a tee, with the exception being that we left both leads tied to a tree at the campsite.  At least we remembered the dogs.

We had been advised that while in Michigan, we were to eat everything cherry: pies, tarts, cobblers, etc.  Unfortunately, we never had the opportunity to do this, although we did pass through some cherry orchards just outside of Traverse City.  The trip to Grand Marais in the Upper Peninsula was uneventful.  Passing over the Mackinac Bridge (pronounced Mac-in-awe) with Lake Michigan on one side and Lake Huron on the other was fun.  At five miles, the “Mighty Mac” is the longest suspension bridge in the Western Hemisphere and connects the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with the Lower Peninsula.  Fun fact: residents of the U.P. are called Yoopers, and those in the Lower Peninsula are called Trolls…because they live under the Bridge!  Isn’t travel broadening?

6.24.18 Mackinaw Bridge, MI

Superior to the left of me, Huron to the right, here I am…

We arrived in Grand Marais, population 350, by early afternoon.  Because our rental house didn’t allow dogs and there were no kennels nearby, we set up camp at Woodland Park Campground.  With dual residences, we were able to enjoy the conveniences of a house while the dogs spent their evenings in the camper with Brian.  And just so we’re clear, I offered to sleep with the dogs, but Brian insisted.  Although the campground was wall-to-wall RVs, it was just blocks away from the house and we were able to snag a campsite overlooking Lake Superior that afforded views of gorgeous sunsets.

6.25.18 Grand Marais, Mi, near Pictured Rock (15)

A Superior Sunset

Lake Superior lives up to its name.  The largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area, 160 miles wide and 1300 feet deep, Superior holds enough water to cover the lower 48 states to a depth of five feet.  And it is cold.  Tristan, used to chilly California beach water, decided to go for a swim but only got up to his ankles before he changed his mind.  Frigid water temps, rapidly changing conditions, and warnings put out by the National Park Service made Deborah and I change our minds about going on a kayak tour!  We contented ourselves with scouring the beaches for interesting rocks.  And there were plenty; the beach by the campground was known as an agate beach, and although we wouldn’t know an agate if it bit us on the toe, we did find plenty of beautiful stones.  Just a few might have found a new home back in Aiken.

6.25.18 agate beach Grand Marais, Mi, near Pictured Rock (12)

The next day we began our exploration of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  Sable Falls was our warm-up hike: only 169 steps down the wooden stairs, then a couple thousand back up.  But the Falls were beautiful, and the smell of the fir trees brought you all the way to Christmas.

6.25.18 Pictured Rock Sable Falls (3)

From there we stopped at the Log Slide Overlook. Lumbermen in the late 1800s/early 1900s would cut trees during the winter months, sledding them along roads of ice created by water wagons to the edge of the dune before sending them down chutes some 300 feet into Lake Superior for transport to the mills.  Human ingenuity at its coldest!

6.25.18 Log Slide Pictured Rock (38)

Next up, a hike to the Au Sable Light Station.  As with many places in Pictured Rocks, dogs were not allowed on this trail, so our only entertainment on this three-mile round trip was a ‘tween named Tristan and a couple hundred biting flies. Views of three shipwrecks were promised by trail signs.  We saw none.  And we arrived at the light station only to find out that there were no tours that day.  Guess we should have done our homework.  This hike did give Brian, Deborah and the dogs a chance to nap in their cars as they waited for John, Tristan, and me to return.

After a picnic lunch at Kingston Lake, where we again battled biting flies, we headed for Munising Falls, the town on the western side of Pictured Rocks where we had tickets for a boat cruise.  Since the best way to see the cliffs at Pictured Rocks was from the water and this cruise had free kennels, this was a no-brainer.  However, the kennels turned out to be just a room lined with large dog crates.  Shoving our confused and anxious mutts into a crate and locking them in left lumps in our throats that didn’t disappear until we were able to free them three hours later and shower them with hugs and doggy biscuits.  I consoled myself with the knowledge that had we left them back at home, they would have been kenneled for much longer.

Still and all, the cruise was wonderful, in a gorgeous-scenery-at-the-cost-of-stressed-canines sort of way.  Called Pictured Rocks for the colorful cliffs streaked with mineral stains, the geology of this area defies my comprehension: layers of sandstone from late-Precambrian, Cambrian, and Ordovician periods hundreds of millions of years old.  I should have paid more attention in my college geology class.  Much easier to understand were the stains left by dripping water that contained iron, manganese, limonite, and copper. The artwork of Mother Nature is beyond compare!

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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow recognized the wonder of this place, writing in his poem, The Song of Hiawatha:

On the shores of Gitche Gumee,
Westward by the Big-Sea-Water,
Came unto the rocky headlands,
To the Pictured Rocks of sandstone,
Looking over lake and landscape.

Dinner was whitefish sandwiches served out of a food truck called the Fish Basket, followed by an after-dinner hike to the Miners’ Castle formation that we had seen from the water.  Add to that a winding hour-long drive back home and we were more than ready to go to bed.

After the frenetic activity of yesterday, our next-and-last day in Grand Marais was spent in relative sloth.  We went on a walking tour of the town, admiring the Pickle Barrel House, touring the old Post Office, and stopping at an artists’ co-op for handmade gifts to take home.  While there, I mentioned to the cashier that it looked like another beautiful day, to which she replied, “Yes, it’s supposed to get all the way up to 66° today!”  She also mentioned that she had a couple of bears in her backyard last night, which partially explains why dogs were not allowed on many of the trails.

6.26.18 Pickle House

Every town needs one of these!

One advantage to taking dogs on your travels is that they provide a starting point for conversations with locals.  As we crossed the street, a woman stopped us to admire our cute pups.  Of course, we think our dogs are special, but it always surprises us when others think so too.  They are, after all, just your run-of-the-mill mixed breed mutts.

6.25.18 Grand Marais, Mi, near Pictured Rock (22)

At the Point in Grand Marais: one of the few times our run-of-the-mill pups were able to run free.

But this woman loved dogs and soon we were engaged in a conversation about life in this neck of the woods.  A life-long resident, she extolled the virtues of raising a family here, pointing out the K-12 school now serving 26 students.  (I’ll admit, the summers are indeed beautiful, but I’m not ready to give up our warm Southern winters.  As I mentioned more than once on our travels through the northern states, you don’t have to shovel heat.)

Having exhausted our knowledge of interesting places to see nearby, we asked for suggestions.  Our local dog-loving resident recommended Muskallonge State Park just east of Grand Marais, so that’s where we headed.  We soon found that the 20-mile drive was made much more interesting by the gravel-covered corduroy road that simultaneously provided us with a deep body massage while coating us in a fine white powder.  And while the State Park was nice enough, what was even better was the beach on Lake Superior just across the road.  We had the beach practically to ourselves, and the dogs were able to run off leash while I busied myself searching for more beautiful stones and building useless structures out of driftwood.

6.26.18 Grand Marais near Pictured Rock (24)6.26.18 Grand Marais near Pictured Rock (29)

And to make the afternoon even more perfect, on the way back we saw a heron-like bird with a red crown on its head stepping through a marsh—a sandhill crane!

6.26.18 sandhill crane near Pictured Rock (37)

So, thanks to a uber-friendly Yooper, we had another (dare I say it?) super-duper day by the shores of Gitche Gumee, by this shining Big-Sea-Water, this lake they call Superior.  Tomorrow would bring us to the legendary land of Minocqua, Wisconsin, but tonight we slept the deep sleep of relaxed and  contented sojourners.

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