We’re beginning a big adventure and we hope you will travel with us. Mostly I expect I will be writing, but I hope Jim will chime in from time to time with his own very special point of view.
Marquette had proved a worthy host for our recuperation, but we measured our enjoyment of the stay against the need to head home. With Labor Day weekend, the weather had turned autumnal. The days were partially overcast and chill winds were blowing. It was time to head south.
We planned a slow transit home. We would stop and rest for two days and continue on. Our first stop was at the southern shore of the UP right next to the northern terminus of the Mackinac Bridge.
The afternoon sun was bright and warm when we arrived at the Lakeshore R.V. Park Campground. Our site looked out over the shores of Lake Michigan and it felt awfully good to bask in the sun.
This warmth was short-lived as thunder storms pelted us through the night. Lying in the Airstream in the rain is a delightful syncopated soundtrack. Each raindrop hits the aluminum roof with a bang in a different timbre. It makes for awfully cozy sleeping.
The next day was again rainy and cloudy, but we enjoyed a drive along a dirt road running right along the shore. The water was incredibly high and the waves were rolling in to shore. We had excellent views of the bridge and the windswept grasses.
We enjoyed a brief visit to the shore of Lake Michigan. Jim collected rocks, Dakota ignored the waves.
These were our last days on the UP. Next stop half way down the mitten.
The Michigan Iron Ore Museum dovetailed nicely with our previous local museum visits throughout the UP. The themes of life in the UP and Marquette were all intertwined. Shipping across the Great Lakes, the story of the Edmund Fitzgerald and the increasingly huge freighters carrying taconite iron ore pellets, the great ore docks which still dominate the Marquette harbor, and the discovery by Burt of iron ore in the UP and the struggle to settle this harsh, but breathtaking wilderness and tame it—these themes all converged in the story this museum had to tell.
This museum was created and is run by the DNR as an ode to the iron resources which dominated the economy of the UP for a century from the mid-1800’s to after WWII. There is still some mining going on today, but only two mines remain active.
The museum features exhibits on the now familiar story of William A. Burt and Douglass Houghton’s discovery of the huge mountain of iron just west of Marquette on the shores of Teal Lake. This was the backbreaking four-day trek through woods so dense they had to leave their horses and pack their supplies on their backs as they slogged their way on foot. Suddenly their compasses went haywire and Burt enjoined his men to look around…what they found charted the course of history for the region.
We got to see Burt’s Solar Compass, invented to compensate for the iron ore’s magnetic field disrupting their ability to survey and which proved to be the most accurate surveying tool.
We learned about the Landlookers. These were men who were tasked with backpacking out in search of new iron ore deposits. Struggling through the dense brush and fighting the mosquitoes and black flies so thick they literally could and did drive men insane, the landlookers wrapped their faces in bandanas and flailed with handsfulls of brush to switch the voracious insects away.
The museum also gave a stark accounting of the hardships of mining the iron ore. Six days a week, twelve hours a day, the men hauled ore. At first it was all surface mining and the equipment was primitive and the work absolutely backbreaking.
Later, as the easily reached iron ore gave out, pit mining brought its own set of dangers and hardships. One of my favorite photos was of a miner enjoying his mid-day pastie.
The building of the first locks at Sault Ste Marie to allow iron ore and cargo to be ferried through the dangerous, but beautiful rapids.
And once the locks existed, they needed to build bigger locks which could accommodate larger and larger freighters carrying ever greater cargoes to the insatiable iron ore smelters way down state.
They dug deeper and deeper into the earth to continue to mine the iron ore.
It was a compelling history of the economic imperative to exploit these rich resources and the toll it took on thousands of men over decades to do the backbreaking work which made extraction possible. The miners, the sailors, the men who built the locks and worked the docks, the landlookers who scouted new ore deposits, and the merchants who supplied the goods and food necessary to fuel so much activity–they all had a role to play in this terribly dramatic story.
The museum finished up with a mock mining tunnel. My short walk through the dark and grimy tunnel made me ever so glad not to have been a miner!
At this point Dakota had been on the road camping for over a month. He hadn’t had a bath since before his surgery in mid-July. He desperately needed some cleaning up. That wasn’t in the cards for me so we made an appointment at the local Petsmart for some beautification.
After his bath, he was fluffilicious and his ruff was blindingly white. He seemed very happy about the whole thing even if they did tie a bandana around his neck.
While Dakota was having his spa treatment, Jim and I headed to Presque Isle and the Black Rocks. Sadly, this is not a dog friendly park so Dakota’s beautification was just the time slot we needed.
This is a much beloved park just outside Marquette famous for its black rocks. A local favorite activity is jumping off the rocks into the icy Lake Superior waters. There were two kids jumping when we visited despite the cool and blustery weather.
Note from my spouse: All post-surgical guidelines were followed in researching this blog, and the author was carefully monitored to prevent inappropriate physical over-exertion. (But Jim was freaking out when I clambered over the black rocks).
Wednesday was Staple Removal Day! In the hospital my surgeon had been brusque and distant. He would sweep into my room with his entourage, fire off a few questions and sweep back out again. One on one, he was charming and funny and ready to answer any and all questions. He really did use a staple remover of sorts. I was so beguiled I left my purse in the examining room and had to circle back hours later when I finally noticed it missing.
The Marquette Maritime Museum is housed in the former water works building. The full tour includes the Marquette Harbor Light Station as well. Until fairly recently the Coast Guard was responsible for the water works and the light station. In 2016, the 150th anniversary of the light house, the Coast Guard formally deeded the light station to the museum.
Our tour led us across a parking area to the lighthouse. On our way we passed the former coast guard barracks house and a second house constructed in the 1940’s when the former coast guard commandant could stand bunking with his men no more.
The lighthouse is perched on a hill with a commanding view of harbors on both sides. To the right is the Marquette harbor and the town. To the left in the distance is Presque Isle and closer in a beach with intrepid surfers enjoying the rough waters.
The light house is still an active light house, but, of course, no one lives there anymore. It does, however, have its own ghost—during renovation an overnight visitor left her small footprints on a newly painted floor. There were no recorded deaths of a young girl in the structure, but subsequent visitors report seeing the apparition of a young girl staring out a second floor window.
That’s not the only local ghost story. A woman was staying in the Coast Guard Quarters as a guest. She woke up from a nap and as she lay there she became aware of a man standing next to her bed. He was dressed oddly and sternly ordered her to “lock the door” and disappeared. Still half asleep, but terrified the woman stumbled to the front door and threw the lock. Some time later there was a huge banging at the front door and someone tried to break it in. The police came and took a deranged derelict from town into custody. As the shaken woman told her story, she happened to see an old photo of a former Coast Guard Commander hanging on the wall. “That’s the man! That’s the man who told me to lock the door!”
In 1983 the Coast Guard decided to demolish the fog signal building at the tip of the lighthouse. They blew that fog signal building to smithereens, without a permit, and bricks rained down as far as main street in town. Broken fragments of bricks are still strewn around the grounds. Understandably, the town was pretty upset and a settlement was brokered between the Coast Guard and the town. The initiators of the explosive incident were shipped off to parts unknown.
Explosive is an adjective which works equally well in describing the color of the light house. At one point it was a softer red and one brick is left in the former color. This new red certainly is a zippy color and the light house is visible for miles because of it.
The museum has an excellent collection of shipwreck information and memorabilia.
This includes our old friend, the Edmund Fitzgerald. One new scrap of information was the intimation that perhaps the Edmund Fitzgerald was doomed from the start. Named for the president of the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company, owner of the ship, apparently it took three tries for Mrs. Fitzgerald to break the champagne bottle on its bow during the launch. Subsequently, the ship made such a racket sliding into the water that one bystander had a heart attack and died. Forbidding omens indeed.
The museum has several Fresnel lenses from lighthouses on display. The most famous and largest of the lenses came from the Stannard Rock Light House. This light house was known as the loneliest spot on earth as the closest shore was 24 miles away. Perched high on blocks of stone, it was a formidable structure. Boats were raised or lowered from the rough seas on to the light house foundation, a dangerous exercise on its own. The light house keepers were in residence from March to December during shipping season and woe to anyone falling ill or in need of supplies. It could be weeks until a boat could reach them.
It wasn’t until after WWII that the lighthouse was electrified. Several years later a huge explosion of propane and gas destroyed much of the structure killing one man and stranding three others for days until rescue. In 1962 the Coast Guard dis-assembled the huge 2nd order, 12 bulls-eyed Fresnel lens and automated the light. The lens was packed away in six crates, mis-labeled and disappeared for thirty years until it was finally discovered in New London, CT at a Coast Guard warehouse. It now sits in all its glory at the Marquette Maritime Museum.
Jim was fascinated by a building in town with a bright and shiny cupola. This proved to be the Marquette Regional History Center. This was yet another sweet, well-curated museum laying out the natural and human history of the area on a chronological timeline. The museum may have been “sweet,” but it laid bare the inescapable fact that life in this resource rich land was very tough. It was a harsh land which fought being tamed and exploited.
First up was the natural life of the area with a fine display of beaver life. Beavers were abundant in the UP. They did not mind the 15 feet of snow in the winter and reveled in the marshy tundra. They may indeed have been the first inhabitants. It was fascinating to learn that some hutches have been inhabited by generations of beavers over hundreds of years!
Not to be shortchanged was the area’s dominant feature, Lake Superior. The largest of the great lakes it is also the largest body of freshwater on earth and at points it is more than 1,000 feet in depth. The lake rules the land. The lake effect determines the weather in all seasons. It is the primary conduit for moving iron ore, timber and all the goods needed by those living on its shores, but it does not make it easy. The same breezes which can make the summers cool whip up enormous storms and generate upwards of 146 inches of annual snowfall.
We encountered our friend, William A. Burt, once again with dioramas detailing his surveying forays across northern Michigan and the UP. This was not an easy life. He spent decades battling the wilderness. Indeed, when he made the huge and history-altering discovery of a mountain of iron ore just down the road from where we were staying near Teal Lake and what would become Negaunee, Beginning in Marquette, they had been forced to abandon their horses and spend four days without rations cutting their way through the unforgiving wilderness to reach that iron mountain. Iron ore drove his invention of the solar compass as their magnetic compasses were useless once they found the iron ore.
The living habits of the local Ojibwe were also illustrated and contrasted with the homes of the early white settlers. It is notable that the museum gave equal time and focus to the indigenous people who had been living in this demanding wilderness for thousands of years. Their wigwams were well adapted to the climate. In the winter they stayed warm and cozy with interior fires. In the summer the Ojibwe changed out the walls of their wigwams to allow for air circulation. The first white settlers were hard-pressed to bring civilization to this tough region. Creature comforts were shipped in at great expense and treasured as bulwarks against the harsh environment. Of course, the indigenous Ojibwe and the white settlers would not live in peaceful harmony. As elsewhere, the Ojibwe were pushed out of their lands as the white settlers asserted dominance.
Despite the physical challenges, the potential for wealth and commerce drove development. The second half of the nineteenth century was an all consuming drive to tame the land and extract its riches. Marquette developed as a major port. Constant inventions and improvements expanded the shipping of iron ore. Freighters became gargantuan in size and as the iron ore transited to southern Michigan for processing, ships returned bringing needed goods to the growing city.
One of my favorite parts of the museum was covered both in the permanent exhibit and in a special exhibit of recently executed examples of the indigenous and imported local crafts. The influence of both Finnish and German immigrants was apparent in exhibits of paper cutting and needlework. Beading and embroidery with moose hair and quills were indigenous. The dress below with the red bodice was actually made recently and combines beading techniques of the Ojibwe with embroidery stitches brought to the area by Finnish settlers.
As rich as this area was in natural resources, they were not to be had for the taking. Bringing civilization to this land and extracting the invaluable natural resources was a harsh and demanding enterprise. This museum succeeded in capturing the compelling struggle and ultimate triumph of man asserting control over and taming this most challenging of environments.
So we had a great place to stay and we had a plan. We would remain in Marquette while I convalesced. My staples were set to be removed the next week and there were lots of things to see and do in this city. We would build my strength up while we enjoyed all the town had to offer. We made a list and planned to do one item per day.
Marquette is the largest city on the UP and is known as “the Queen City.” It is a major port city, mostly iron ore, and has been since the mid-1800’s. It has just over 20,000 inhabitants and is also home to Northern Michigan University. It is the third snowiest location in the continuous states. Snow begins in October and does not leave until May.
The town grew up after William A. Burt’s discovery of what would become the Marquette Iron Range just west of the future town’s location. William Burt is the same Burt for whom Burt Lake was named. He was quite a man. He invented the precursor to the typewriter, an equatorial sextant and the solar compass which he used in his own surveying expeditions. He is credited with surveying the Upper Peninsula as well as much of the northern portion of the Mitten.
Marquettians are sports crazy. They engage in all summer and winter sports and the town reflects this. Running all along the lake front are paths and trails. There are numerous signs pointing to yet more trails. Hunting is huge here as is snowmobiling, cross country skiing and snowshoeing. Swimming, boating, fishing, hiking and biking consume the warmer months.
The town is quite pretty. The lake front is a key feature as is the now-defunct, but historically important iron ore packet dock which graces the harbor in town. There are lots and lots of restaurants, wine bars and fun places to congregate. With the university on hand, the culture is young and vibrant.
First up was the Lakenenland Sculpture Garden. We had heard about this from several different people as an absolute must see. Tom Lakenen, an iron worker, started the park about twenty years ago when his wife told him to quit drinking. Instead he began bringing scrap iron home from his jobs and creating fanciful sculptures in his garage.
Eventually, he had a backyard crammed with sculptures. He bought some land and began this amazing place. Gathered along a ½ mile track are his creations. They range from whimsical to social or political commentary. Visitors are heartily welcomed when they arrive at the sculpture garden and can choose to drive or walk the road. In the winter, Tom welcomes snowmobilers with a bonfire and hot coco. While once Tom had a rocky relationship with the local town council, now all is smiles as his sculpture garden has become a major tourist attraction.
After visiting a sculpture garden, one needs sustenance and we knew exactly what to do. Jilbert’s Dairy has been operating since 1937. Marquettians seem to love ice cream and this place is hopping even on a somewhat cool and cloudy day.
The ice cream was excellent and somehow I knew we would be returning again and again before we left Marquette.
We had done a credible job of touristing for our first day, but there was one more stop we just had to make. Along M-41 were posted signs for Da Yoopers Tourist Trap and Gift Shop featuring free batrooms! This demanded immediate inspection.
The gift shop was filled with unspeakable schtick and we poked around, but the best part of the whole thing (besides the free batrooms) was the yard outside filled with crazy things to see.
And one small item did accompany us home–just perfect for our front stoop at Bear Hill.
And now it was time for a little campfire and some knitting. An excellent first day of sightseeing had come to a close.
We woke on Sunday morning a bit tired and decided to spend the morning relaxing at the trailer. Jim had the Sunday crossword to do and I am always happy knitting and reading. It was a delightfully sunny morning and it felt deliciously lazy to just hang out.
After lunch we walked over to the Ranger Station to rent kayaks for the afternoon. We always intend to go kayaking, but on previous trips were hampered by lack of a life vest for Dakota. This time we had brought his and the Tahquamenon River was much too alluring to resist.
Kayaks on order, we decided to walk the rustic campground at Rivermouth. This campground did not loop as most do, but ran alongside the Tahquamenon River. Heavily wooded, the campsites were generously spaced and had views of the river through the trees. I would definitely forego electric hook ups to stay here if we ever were to return.
As we walked, I began to feel an uncommon disturbance in my tummy. When we got back to the trailer, our kayaks were there, but I needed to lay down for a moment. I went back to the bedroom and just kept feeling worse and worse. I was increasingly in distress, sweat began pouring down my face and body and I couldn’t even lie down I was so uncomfortable. Indigestion? Flu? With alarming speed, the pain increased until I finally realized this was something I could not deal with on my own.
Jim headed to the Ranger Station to find out options for medical intervention. The ranger said we could drive to Sault Ste Marie, an hour and a half to the east, or we could head west to Newberry. She recommended Newberry as it was her own home hospital and she thought they were good.
We chose the latter and by the time we got in the truck all I could do was writhe in pain and moan. My thoughts, my whole being was just consumed by pain. Jim made the trip in about 45 minutes and I have only brief recollections of trees flying by and passing many cars as he sped as quickly as possible to the hospital.
Newberry coalesced as a collection of streets and buildings. The blue sign with the H was a beacon. We pulled up and I staggered into the Emergency Room. They rushed me back and I was never so thankful to be anywhere. When the morphine failed to quell the pain, they switched to something called Dilaudid. It took multiple doses and then finally the all-consuming pain was under control. At this point I had no idea what was wrong, but they ordered a CT scan. The CT scan revealed my small intestine was obstructed. They ordered an ambulance to take me to Marquette, which was over two hours away, and where they had the facilities to perform surgery.
Poor Jim had been most of this time in the waiting room, but he was on hand to say goodbye as I was loaded into the ambulance. It would be left to him to head back to the trailer and Dakota and the next day hitch up all by himself and follow me to Marquette. It had to have been a lonely and dismal night.
My surgery was scheduled for the next morning. At the same time, Jim was hitching the trailer. He texted his sister, Linda, to bring her up to speed. Enter the goddess/saint Linda. She called him immediately and said she was jumping in the car. It was about a seven-hour drive, but she would meet Jim in Marquette to provide much needed and desired moral support. Linda would stay with us several days and, while we may have managed without her, it made all the difference in the world to us.
As terrifying as this whole episode had been, we were incredibly fortunate to have been not too distant from care. The Helen Newberry Joy Hospital in Newberry did a great job of stabilizing my pain and diagnosing my problem. We were again fortunate that they have a close working relationship with the UP Health System–Marquette Hospital. The transport they arranged arrived instantaneously and we began the two hours plus trip.
The UP Health System—Marquette Hospital turned out to have just opened in June. It is a gorgeous state-of-the-art facility. I had arrived at the hospital Sunday night and my surgery was scheduled for the next morning. Any concerns I had about who my surgeon would be were irrelevant. I was grateful to be there and hoped for the best outcome.
All went well with the surgery. They removed 19 inches of small intestine, but that’s okay because there is plenty left. The eight inch incision did in all likelihood put an end to my bikini modeling career, but it was a small price to pay.
Jim arrived to visit in the late afternoon. Linda was on hand and they were busy scouring the area for appropriate places for my recovery when I got out. The average stay after my procedure is 5-7 days. My recovery was an upward trajectory. I rejoiced each time a tube was removed and by Thursday, my happiness was transcendent as I surveyed my first meal.
Jim and Linda had found the perfect place for us to recover. The Country Village RV Park in Ishpeming is about 20 minutes up the road from the hospital. Abutting the campground is the pet-friendly, Jasper Ridge Inn. We would have the trailer on hand and the comfort of a hotel room within a few hundred yards.
Linda drove me from the hospital and Jim followed in the truck. It was great to be out and floral tribute greeted me at the hotel. Linda left shortly thereafter having taken incomparable care of both Jim and Dakota. This was the end of the trip we thought we were taking and the beginning of a homeward voyage. We would take our time convalescing and, when it was time, hit the road back east. It was a little sad, but mostly we were grateful that everything worked out so incredibly well.