The view ahead looked as though someone was spinning the road in a kaleidoscope of colors that changed from green to red to orange to yellow and back again.
We were not hallucinating, we were just in Michigan.
“It is one of the prettiest places in the world”.
—Henry Ford, 1920’s—
“Nowhere, probably on the continent, is the fall foliage more beautiful in brilliancy or contrasting colors”.
—George Shiras, National Geographic, August 1921
We had finally arrived. After our lengthy road trip south from Alaska and then east across the Canadian Prairies (see our last post) we were now ready to investigate Lake Superior.
Our plan was to explore the nearly 500 miles of the southern shoreline hoping to experience what fall means in Minnesota, Wisconsin and especially Michigan and to learn what being a “Yooper” really means.
Yooper- A native or inhabitant of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Yoopers are known to be extremely friendly and welcoming people and make anyone feel at ease.
It was time to slow down. For the next month we tasked ourselves to wander the back roads, to meet new friends, to visit cheese factories, eat new foods and to enjoy the colorful wilderness of the great north woods.
It didn’t take us long to meet this goal.
Slowly we headed east following the southern half of the Great Circle Route around this massive lake. The total distance around Lake Superior is about 1300 miles.
Some interesting facts – Amazingly there is enough water within Lake Superior to flood all of North and South America to a depth of one foot. It looked like an ocean to us.
Lake Superior is so large and so deep that its retention time – about how long an average drop of water remains in the Lake – is 191 years. (not sure who figured that fact out)
Whenever possible we camped along the shore so we could enjoy the sunsets and listen to the lapping waters. Shore camping also allowed Denise to look for agates and other beautiful rocks along the waters edge, a passion for her.
While following the local logging roads it was easy to get lost in the dense hardwood forests.
But these misadventures allowed the big dogs a chance to run free and when we did eventually return to civilization sometimes we would find unusual and interesting out of the way places.
We regularly stopped at local fruit and farm stands purchasing fresh veggies, fresh corn, crisp apples and sampling their outstanding ciders.
In the historic town of Ironwood Michigan we visited Jim Decur, a good friend that we had worked with in Denali. After spending 30 years in Alaska he now lives in the town where he was born.
Visiting the Porcupine Mountains also known as the “Porkies” we saw large stands of old growth forest and intense fall colors. These mountains are home to many black bears.
This is also where we found the stunning Lake Of The Clouds located in the heart of these mountains.
Running low on specific and important provisions we decide to make a quick trip south to Minneapolis and the closest Trader Joe’s. It was our first visit to our favorite store since last winter.
During this side trip we witnessed one of the most spectacular and dramatic lightning storms we have ever seen in a city.
Heading north again we came across the gorgeous Bond Lake and the nearby Bond falls. Campsites were remotely scattered around the lake making for a very private experience. The fall colors around the lake were outstanding.
Bond Lake and Falls are located on the middle branch of the Ontonagon River.
The lake holds muskies, smallmouth bass, yellow perch and black crappies, but its best known for its walleyes and northern pike, according to biologist Brian Gunderman.
Visiting the Keewanau Peninsula and Copper Harbor, we camp at Fort Wilkins, an 1844 U.S. Army post built to keep peace between the unruly copper miners and the unhappy Indians.
The drive down the center of the Keewanau peninsula following Hwy 41 was one of most colorful drives we encountered.
After stopping in the lakeside college town of Marquette for a new windshield we moved east to Munising, Denise’s birthplace.
We spend a week in Munising while Denise researched her family’s history in the local library and talking with some of the old timers. We wander the back roads photographing, visiting antique shops and buying firewood.
Just east of Munising is the spectacular Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. The park offers towering multicolored sandstone cliffs, mile-long sparkling beach strands, miles of trails, dazzling waterfalls and a huge area of sand dunes.
In Grand Marais we stayed at Woodland Park Campground located on the sandy shores of the great lake.
It is an end of the road town with beautiful summer homes and where the weekends are busy with ORV’s and Harley riders. Most of the action is centered around its brewery which serves outstanding craft beers and whitefish tacos.
We had a great time talking with new found friends Harry and Patty from Alpena MI. They schooled us on all things Michigan.
On our way to Sault Ste. Marie we camp at Tahquamenon Falls State Park. The Upper Falls, one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi, has a drop of nearly 50 feet and is more than 200 feet across. It is spectacular.
At Whitefish Point Lighthouse we learn about the amazing history of the Coast Guard’s roll in saving lives during the hundreds of ship wrecks off this point.
At the shipwreck museum located nearby, we read the tragic story behind the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Denise climbs to to the top of the lighthouse and is rewarded with outstanding views of Whitefish Point.
Ending our Superior adventure in Sault Ste. Marie, we watch the giant iron ore freighters slowly move through the historic Soo Locks.
Every day and night for 160 years freighters, barges and tugboats have traversed the 21-foot drop between Lake Superior and Lake Huron. It is a sight to see.
Just before crossing the Mackinac Bridge and departing the UP we cross paths with another good friend and neighbor from Denali, Ron.
Final Thoughts: Spending almost 4 weeks chasing fall colors along Lake Superior’s southern coast was a wonderful experience and one we will not soon forget.
Not only were we able to witness the famous fall color change first hand but we also got to meet the friendly “Yoopers” and better understand why they choose to live there.
But we also came to the realization that for us, traveling through this part of the country in the off season was an important point. The word boondocking has no meaning here and we couldn’t imagine this trip during the busy summer months.
Many of our Alaskan friends had migrated north from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. We now have a better understanding why they are so friendly and why they have adapted so well to the Alaskan environment.
Slip in the ear buds, crank up the surround sound, if you can watch it in 1080 HD but don’t miss our latest video “Superior Colors”
Next we follow the warm weather south, destination unknown….keep you posted!