Posted by: bkivey | 29 September 2016

2016 Vacation Pt. 5

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down

‘Bout the big lake they call Gitche-Gumee


By the shore of Gitche Gumee,

By the shining Big-Sea-Water,


As the words of Lightfoot and Longfellow suggest, it was Lake Superior today. It was also my birthday; so something fun to do. The hotel offered an actual breakfast bar. Not the usual Continental breakfast; the food offered would power you through the day. The first order of business was to find I-75N. There’s a bridge here:


I’ve wanted to see the Mackinaw Bridge since I was a child. I was born after it was built but I had this fascination with a massive structure in the North Woods. Not disappointed. The toll is $4, and much griping from residents. If you look at the numbers, the increase looks a little suspect. The Bridge has some driving quirks. Speed is 40, which seems a little slow, and loaded trucks are limited to 20 while  maintaining a 500′ distance. I wondered about the structural soundness of the bridge. There’s at least one tow truck with a crane in a pocket.  There are no shoulders, so clearing traffic would be Priority 1.

I had a ticket for the 1200 sailing of the tour boat to the Pictured Rocks National Seashore out of Munising on the Superior coast and wanted to meet it. After shooting the bridge, I headed west on US 2 skirting Lake Michigan. Then north on MI 77 to catch MI 28 west to Munising. Until just outside Munising the terrain ranges from pretty flat to low hills. Lots of trees. As a child I’d read stories about the North Woods and noticed that I’d been living with forests in the Northwest where trees often top 120′. While heavily wooded, UP forests are populated with Eastern trees. 80′ trees look a little small.

Arrived in Munising and realized I’d left the ticket printout at the hotel. I had a sheet with the information, so wasn’t too worried. I apologized to the ticket agent by noting she probably saw this problem four times daily. She didn’t argue.

Munising harbor:


Nice weather after the front moved through. A bit of a breeze, and I didn’t need the sweater I’d brought.

Although a National Lakeshore, the tours are run by a private company. While in line to board three announcements were made regarding the sea conditions: 3 – 4 foot waves and choppy. The company offered a full refund to anyone opting out. No one did. Some people later would probably wish they had. I’ve never had motion sickness, so wasn’t concerned.

Our boat had a capacity of 345 and an announced attendance of 199. I took a seat on the lower deck. Munising harbor is well-protected by Grand Island sitting to the north. There were hundreds of seagulls sitting on the water and three bald eagles circling overhead. The transition from harbor to lake was as advertised. A 4′ chop with wind quartering over the bow in a 70′ boat with a relatively high center of gravity made for a lively ride. It was the type of  corkscrewing up-and-down motion that messes with your inner ear. A few folks were lining the stern rail but I don’t think anyone actually got sick. I was feeling a little queasy.

There is some scenery.

Castle Rock on the way out of the harbor:



Bridal Veil Falls. The fourth such-named falls I’ve seen. The story is that the falls were more robust until some beavers dammed the stream.


The rocks are colored by mineral leaching. The cliffs themselves are 500 million year-old sandstone capped with a younger layer of harder sandstone. More scenery:




Battleship Rock:




There are several places where recent erosion is evident. The cliffs don’t appear to slowly wear away, but to come down in big chunks. I’d venture the cliffs are significantly different now compared to the first sighting.

On the way back to port we stopped at a former lighthouse on Grand Isle. The building is in private hands who have preserved it:


The town of Munising:


I’d seen these signs, and figured all of the Lakes had their own ‘Circle Tour’. To circumnavigate Lake Superior would take at least a week with its 2900 miles of shoreline.


While researching the trip I’d come across Tahquamenon State Park (or as I call it: The park no one can pronounce). It was east of Munising and in the direction of Mackinaw City. It was now mid-afternoon and I wasn’t sure about time, but several people had recommended the park, so I set course.



  1. Blair– most excellent stuff! Highly enjoy it all! (I’ve been everywhere you have but not recently.)
    Ref the Bridge– it’s rock-solid. I’ve done the Bridge Walk, and looked at the whole structure up close & personal.
    It was engineered to withstand something like “150%” of the all time wind speed encountered in the straits.
    They were well aware of the Tacoma Narrows bridge collapse, and anything like that, is practically impossible.
    There were 2-3 workers killed during construction. (They expected 1 death per $1 million construction-cost & came out way better than that.)
    There is an urban myth that one worker is entombed in a cement pier, but I believe all the death’s were caused by falls into the straits.
    Speed limits are designed to prevent, –and I don’t know the precise word/phrase,– stuff like “sympathetic vibrations.”

    (There’s a great Dirty-Job’s episode with Mike Rowe, where he climbs the suspension cables & replaces lights. And there are a few excellent documentaries covering construction.)

    Majority of the UP is State Forest, with private land interspersed.
    Logging is not a huge thing in Michigan anymore but still exists. We used to make a lot of paper-products, and those pine trees in neat rows, are ideal for that purpose.
    Our beach sand– is some of the most excellent sand in the world for making metal casting’s. There used to be major-league Foundry’s producing auto, diesel, and tank engines, on the west coast of Michigan, and then shipped by rail to Detroit for final assembly.
    (Huge amounts of Tank engines were cast in WW-2 in my area, as well as straight automobile engines, into the early 70’s.)

    “Every acre” in Michigan, was essentially clear cut during our Lumber Era.
    There is however, a 40 acre parcel near Ann Arbor, that contains 100% “original growth” virgin trees.
    Any time you see a tree older than 150 years or so, that’s old-growth. Practically everything else is replanted, and in the northern lower peninsula the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) was responsible for replanting (reforestation) in the 1930’s. (hence the nice neat rows of Pine Trees.)

    Good deal on visiting Tahquamenon Falls! (“Leave nothing but your footprints!”) That part of Michigan is remarkably similar to a lot of geography in Wisconsin. (I’m thinking the Wisconsin Dell’s area, as an example.)

    Again, good stuff! I’m going to have to re-read all your posts, more than once!

  2. The live “Bridge Cam” is at

  3. Blair, if you come back to Michigan, make time to go back to the U.P. and see Sault St. Marie (also known as the Sue) and the very large locks operation split between the U.S. and Canada, there you will find the best Pasties, I think the pastie is a northern Michigan staple.

    • Hi Joe,

      Sault Ste. Marie was on my list of places to see for a long time as I planned the trip, but as with most things, I had to make choices. In hindsight it wouldn’t have killed me to take an extra day of vacation and spend time in that area.

      I do want to spend some more time in the Detroit area, and it’s a good days drive to the UP from there. You almost have to get there from somewhere else, because the car rental agencies in the Sue only allow 100 miles/day. For me, that’s barely getting started.

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