Thursday, August 29, 2013


The Bermuda in happier days
On October 14, 1870 the 134 foot, two masted schooner Bermuda left Marquette, Michigan loaded with 488 tons of high grade iron ore. The Bermuda was a typical lake schooner launched in 1860 and after 10 years of work on the Great Lakes was becoming somewhat leaky… it was said that she already had 2 feet of water in her hold when she left Marquette which was not a good sign. She was quickly overtaken by a storm whose waves, combined with the weight of her cargo, widened her seams and worsened the leaking. Her captain sought refuge in Munising Bay where he managed to get off most of his crew and moor her to some trees near the mouth of the Anna River. However, as the leakage continued the weight of the ship tore the trees out by their roots and she drifted out into the middle of the bay and sank in about 100 feet of water.
The bow of the Bermuda

This was too deep for the salvage technology of that era, but 13 years later a salvage crew was able to partially raise the Bermuda and tow her to Murray Bay near Grand Island where they let her settle again in 25 feet of water, which was a workable depth. They recovered as much of her iron ore cargo as they could and then left her there with what was left of her main deck only 12 feet below the surface and her wooden structure largely intact. These days the ship is a favorite site for divers to explore, but how are the rest of the population to satisfy their morbid curiosity? In the early 1990s Captain Pete
Tourists gaze into the viewing well.
Lindquist started taking tourists out to view the Bermuda and a half-dozen other shallow wrecked vessels in Munising Bay (Lake Superior alone has over 350 wrecked ships scattered around her bottom). The first year the customers just leaned out over the sides of the boat with polarized sunglasses but the reflection and irregularities of the water surface made the viewing less than ideal, so Capt. Lindquist acquired a tour boat and installed two 4′ x 10′ Lexan viewing wells in the bottom, which greatly improved the viewing experience.

Remains of an unidentified cargo skow.
On Monday, we succumbed to our own morbid curiosity and took the two hour tour viewing three wrecked vessels through the Lexan. They would bring the boat over a wreck site and then slowly drift along pointing out the salient features of the sunken ships. You could get a pretty good idea of a wreck's structure this way, but at any given moment you're only looking at a few square feet so it's hard to get a photograph that makes much sense. I should have tried to take a cell phone video, but I didn't think about it. The cold water and minimal wave action below the surface of the lake has kept these wrecks remarkably well preserved. They figure they will be there largely unchanged for a few thousand years. Trees that grew at the end of the last Ice Age when the water level in the lake was much lower now stand at the bottom of Lake Superior completely intact. These have carbon dates of about 7900 years old.
We passed the east bay lighthouse again

Whitefish Point lighthouse
Two days later we were staying in Sault Ste. Marie at a campground right along the St. Mary's River where Lake Superior empties into Lake Huron. About 30 miles east of Sault Ste. Marie is Whitefish Point, home of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society and their Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum where we spent another educational shipwreck afternoon. The museum tells the stories of another dozen wrecks in the local area. It was surprising how many of them involved collisions between ships. I assumed it was mostly storms that took the ships down but I guess you should always allow for the consequences of human incompetence. The society does a lot of research on these wrecked ships both through deep diving and with robotic submersibles. In 1995 they brought up the ship's bell from the Edmund Fitzgerald which sank in Lake Superior in 1975 and was the subject of Gordon Lightfoot's hit song in 1976. The families of the survivors requested some sort of memorial be placed, so they actually cast a
The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum
new bell and inscribed it with the names of the 29 crew members, then placed it on the deck of the bow in place of the bell they had removed. Given that remains of the ship are sitting in over 530 feet of ice cold water, it's unlikely that very many tourists are ever going to see the memorial bell, but the families were apparently happy about it. The original bell was cleaned and polished and now sits in the Shipwreck Museum as the first thing you bump into when you walk through the door. I thought the bell was nice but I particularly liked the two large lighthouse lenses they had on display.
Fresnel lighthouse lens
The bell

While in Sault Ste. Marie we also took a boat tour of the Soo Locks. This was a two hour trip through the American lock going
The Soo Locks, American side
upstream and then back down through the small Canadian lock on the north side. In the process, you pass under the international bridge and pass the various segments of the railroad bridge. The latter is interesting because it's composed of three segments that all operate differently. On the American side there is a drawbridge where the two segments pivot upward, and also an elevator bridge where the entire roadbed lifts straight up about 100 feet. Then on the Canadian side is a rotating bridge where the railroad bed pivots on a central turntable. Why they did not make all three of the bridge segments operate the same way I have no idea.
Railroad drawbridge and elevator bridge over the St. Marys River

The Sault in Sault Ste. Marie, by the way, is an archaic French word for rapids. The water level drops 21 feet from Lake Superior down to Lake Huron through the sault and this is what the locks are designed to go around. Prior to their construction in 1855, a ship destined for service in Lake
Border marker
Superior had to actually be hauled out of the water and portaged over land for about 3 miles, a process which could take 2-3 months. Cargo was generally unloaded from Lake Huron and then loaded back onto different boats in Lake Superior, a time-consuming and expensive pain in the tush.

On the way back to the dock, the captain of the tour boat pointed out a pile of boulders sitting out in the middle of the St. Mary River. This marked the border between the United States and Canada. And if you look closely, there sits
the symbol of our country, vigilantly guarding us against the never-ending onslaught of wet-back Canucks who are constantly trying to invade our native land.

While in the area, we also visited Tahquamenon Falls, a 200 foot wide waterfall near Paradise, Michigan. This is the third largest waterfall east of the Mississippi River, passing as much is 50,000 gallons per second. The water displays an extreme version of the brown discoloration we first ran into in Minnesota. It is attributed to tannic acid leaching out of the cedar swamps that feed the Tahquamenon River, so basically what you're seeing go over the falls is iced tea. Almost unique in our journeys so far, dogs were allowed on the trail to the falls, so the schnoodles got a pleasant walk along the way. Other than the headwaters of the Mississippi, this is probably the most crowded place we have been so far. We could hardly believe the number of people that came to look at this waterfall. I mean, it was nice but not THAT nice. Ah well, Labor Day is coming soon and hopefully the tourists will be thinning out.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Pictured Rocks

Greetings from Munising, Michigan. We're staying in this little town on the southern shore of Lake Superior which bills itself as "the Upper Peninsula's best kept secret". I'm not sure how secret it is- we managed to find it without any difficulty.

Eagle Harbor lighthouse on the Keweenaw Peninsula
After leaving Sturgeon Bay we spent a few days in Hancock, Michigan on the  Keweenaw Peninsula which were uneventful. It is a nice area but seemed like a case of déjà vu having just left the Door Peninsula in Wisconsin.  On the way to Hancock, a friendly passing truck kicked up a rock and put a ding in our windshield, so we had to invest a half day getting that fixed (rather than wait and risk having to replace the windshield somewhere down the road for a grand or two). More of the joy of life on the road.  We were also treated to another severe thunderstorm watch in Hancock but other than some gusty winds, nothing came of it. Most of the serious action passed south of us.
Sunset from our Munising campground

Both in Hancock and here in Munising we are staying in campgrounds owned and operated by the cities in order to bring in the tourists. These are surprisingly nice camping facilities in surprisingly nice places. Both campgrounds are right on Lake Superior and have spacious, grassy campsites. The only drawback is the lack of sewer hookups, but for a stay of only two or three days at a time, we can live with that. Our current campground has its own sandy beach about 100 yards from our front door. The sun heats up the water near the shoreline so that it is reasonably swimmable and we have taken advantage of this. It is cold getting in, but certainly no colder than the Pacific Ocean at Newport or Huntington Beaches. But on a sunny summer day in California you compete with thousands of people for beach space. Here, we were practically by ourselves.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Munising's primary claim to fame is its proximity to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, 114 square miles of scenic land and shoreline between Munising and Grand Marais, Michigan (not to be confused with Grand Marais, Minnesota which we discussed previously). Exactly what the difference is between a National Park and a National Lakeshore was not entirely made clear to me. Most of the land that is currently part of the National Lakeshore was confiscated by Alger County for nonpayment of property taxes after the lumber ran out in about 1910. While they considered this highly valuable real estate for tax purposes, in real life they realized that without trees it had no economic value and was a burden around their necks, so the county council worked out a deal with the federal government and it became federal land. The land part of the lakeshore contains half a dozen viewable waterfalls, streams, small lakes and what is currently considered scenic forest land (now that it has had a century to recover). But by far the most attractive part is the coastline, which is hard to see if you're standing on top of it, so it is best toured by boat.

Fourteen miles of the coastline consists of sandstone cliffs rising up to 200 feet above the water line. Most of the sandstone is the Munising Formation which is about 500 million years old and soft, but the top layer, the Au Train formation, is younger and, most importantly, harder and forms a protective cap over the softer rock below. The erosive action of the lake cuts back into the softer stone until an overhang gets too heavy and a section will come crashing down. This keeps the cliff faces nearly vertical. Groundwater seeps down through the sandstone carrying minerals with it and some of this seeps out through the cliff faces where the water evaporates, leaving behind mineral deposits. This creates colored streaks on the rock that people think makes them look painted. The colors depend on which minerals predominate in a given area, iron (red), manganese (black-white), limonite (yellow-brown) or copper (pink-green). Close to the water line the wave action of the lake, particularly during winter storms, gouges out numerous small and a few large sea caves and some natural arches. Overall, this creates a shoreline of breathtaking beauty.

Obviously not us
The best way to see it is in a kayak, but you know we're not paddling 40 miles anytime soon. You can rent a small pontoon boat for about $400 a day and have a nice survey of the coast on your own schedule or, for $36, you can take a tour boat and see the sites on their schedule, which is what we opted for since you will recall that we have no actual income.  The tour boat was about 60 feet long with open-air seats on top and an enclosed area underneath. By the time we got on the boat the top level was full, so we ended up stuck inside. The weather was beautiful and the water was pretty smooth, good picture taking conditions. You just had to figure out a way to get near an open window when you needed to, which was somewhat frustrating but doable. The ride lasted about three hours and covered essentially the same territory going and coming, so if you missed something on the way out you had another chance at it on the way back.
About 60 feet long with two observation levels.
There was only one sad aspect to the tour. We ran into our old friend, Bridal Veil Falls. You will recall that we first saw this waterfall back in May at Yosemite National Park where it was a mighty cascade over sheer drop into the canyon. We next ran into it along the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon where it had apparently recently moved and gotten broken into two sections in the process. This never really healed right and the waterfall was let go from its job in Oregon and took employment in a small park in the Black Hills of South Dakota where we saw it again in July.

Look at it now, barely a trickle coming down the cliff side here in Michigan. Oh how the mighty have fallen. We could barely stand looking at it from embarrassment. Hopefully Bridal Veil Falls will now quietly retire and avoid further deterioration.

Bridal Veil Falls

Overall, we really enjoyed the tour. If you're ever in this area you should absolutely not miss seeing the National Lakeshore one way or another. We thought if we ever came back we might invest the extra bucks and rent a boat but there is no telling when that might be.

Bonus Pictured Rocks pictures:

Miners Castle
What most of the trip looked like from my seat
Paint stripes

Numerous small caves near the water line
Lovers Leap Arch going out
Lovers Leap Arch coming back
Rainbow Cave

The Ojibwa saw the face of The Great Spirit in this cliff face
Battleship Row
Flower Vase
Chapel Rock
Spray Falls
Happy Tourist
Tour boat by the partially restored East Bay Lighthouse

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Door County

We spent several more days in Door County sightseeing with my sister and her family. I have been trying to put it all together into some kind of coherent story but failing miserably so I'm just going to post some pictures with brief explanations and leave it go at that.

Egg Harbor
Egg Harbor is a small town on the west side of the Door Peninsula, population of 201 permanent residents. According to the town webpage, the name derives from an incident in 1825 recorded in the journal of Elizabeth Baird, an alleged witness:

"She wrote that the battle began when men among a six-boat trading flotilla began throwing hardtack at each other while approaching a spot of land. This first bout ceased due to their continuing need of the staple. Shortly thereafter the young Mrs. Baird saw eggs flying in the air, some of which occasionally struck her in the head. The leader tried to stop the battle, but the fun was "too fierce to be readily given up." When they camped on that spot of land, she wrote that a storm was brewing ... another egg storm!

The great egg battle stopped only for want of ammunition, and the men "laughed until exhausted." The next morning the battlefield was so strewn with egg shells that before leaving shore, speeches befitting the occasion were made, and the spot was formally christened Egg Harbor."

Exercise for the kids
I found this story fairly unlikely. If you decide to stop throwing hardtack around as being too valuable a form of ammunition, what are the chances you are instead going to squander a month's supply of eggs? But if that's the story they want to tell the tourists, who am I to argue?

The harbor itself lies just east of the town and has a nice looking beach park where the "boys" amused themselves at the playground while Vicki dipped her toes in the water of Lake Michigan. None of us had thought to bring any kind of swimming gear, so that was all of the water sports we engaged in.

Vicki wets her footies
The Eagle Bluff Light
Further up the coast we stopped at the Eagle Bluff lighthouse. The coast of Oregon has 11 lighthouses, most of which we have seen. I thought that was plenty. The Great Lakes apparently have 344 lighthouses of which we will probably see some tiny fraction. The lighthouse at Eagle Bluff was built in 1868 out of cream colored brick which was brought in from Milwaukee. It has been in more or less constant operation since its construction but was automated in 1924 at which point the lighthouse keeper's residence was allowed to fall into disrepair. In the 1960s it was restored and has been converted into a museum. Unfortunately, we arrived late in the day, just as the docent was leaving, so we only saw it from the outside.

The next day, most of our group went to visit another lighthouse at Cana Island. Not me. I sat in my comfy folding chair on the beach with a pair of dogs in my lap and was perfectly happy to do so. But Vicki went and took her camera with her so that you, as well as I, could enjoy some pictures of the structure.
The Cana Island Light
Members of our group enjoy the view from the top of the tower.
On Saturday we went to Washington Island, off the north tip of the peninsula. This requires a ferry ride. We considered going over without our cars and taking a tram tour of the island but David and Daniel vetoed that idea. Back when we lived in Tacoma we took ferry rides fairly frequently but haven't really done so in ages, so it was kind of fun. Daniel complained bitterly because he gets seasick but the ride was smooth and he did fine, complaining and all.

Leaving the Garrett Bay ferry dock.
Daniel survives the boat ride.

Tom waves from the conning tower

Arriving at Washington Island
Swimming in Lake Michigan
After our experience at egg Harbor, I had suggested that everybody bring along bathing suits and towels. Everyone took my advice except for Vicki and Laura. And Daniel. And David and Tom. Actually, I was the only one with a bathing suit and towel. So when we arrived at the beach park at the northern tip of the island, I went into the water while everyone else watched. It was cold but not freezing and, given that the outside temperatures had been steadily rising all week, it was really quite pleasant, however my travel companions soon let me know that they were tired of watching me paddle around and I had to get out.  Spoilsports.

Aww... do we hafta leave already?

Scandinavian church on Washington Island