Wildside: October beach bumsI’m not a fan of weddings and funerals, but to maintain domestic tranquillity, we traveled to northern Michigan to attend a wedding of Carol’s niece. When we left home last week most of the leaves had blown off the trees. Following Wisconsin Highway 64 to the northeast corner of the state, we reached the Lake Michigan shore at Marinette.
By: Dan Wilcox, outdoor columnist, Pierce County Herald
I’m not a fan of weddings and funerals, but to maintain domestic tranquillity, we traveled to northern Michigan to attend a wedding of Carol’s niece. When we left home last week most of the leaves had blown off the trees. Following Wisconsin Highway 64 to the northeast corner of the state, we reached the Lake Michigan shore at Marinette.
Fall colors were still beautiful along the lake with yellow aspen, tamaracks, red maples and oaks contrasting with the dark green white pines, cedars, and hemlocks. The thermal flywheel effect of all the water in the Great Lakes keeps the frost at bay near the shores, extending the fall colors into late October.
We entered the UP (Upper Peninsula of Michigan), the vast expanse of forest, lakes, rivers, and bogs between Lakes Michigan and Superior that’s inhabited by Hodags, Jack Pine Savages and Yoopers. Hodags are mythical beasts. The Jack Pine Savages and Yoopers are distinct northern varieties of people tolerant of nine months of winter. The first clue was at the gas station in Menomonie Michigan where tons - not just a few bags, but TONS - of monster carrots, sugar beets and corn were stacked for sale to deer hunters.
The intrepid deer hunters in the UP have a long-standing tradition of not standing when deer hunting. The sit in plywood tree stands and shoot deer that are scarfing down at nearby bait piles.
Traveling along the Lake Michigan shore of the UP, we noted that most of the tacky beach-front tourist developments were deserted. Many of the “Party Stores” advertising beer and fudge pasties (who eats that stuff?) were closed. All the summer people who stream into the UP from Milwaukee, Chicago and Detroit were gone. Gone were the hoards of bikers and the convoys of giant road-pig RVs. Gone were most of the white-haired leaf-peekers, although we fall into that category of tourists. The few out-of-state vehicles we saw were mostly duck hunters towing camouflaged boats behind their trucks laden with decoys and dogs.
The beaches were deserted. The water was warmer than the air temperature, but there weren’t any kids frolicking in the surf. Lakes Michigan and Huron are on the same level and are currently about 15 inches below their long-term average. The lake level has exposed rocks and sand bars along the coast and has dried out many of the estuaries at river confluences and wetlands behind bay-mouth bars. The fixed docks at the marinas were high over the water.
Crossing the long Mackinac Bridge, we got a good look at Mackinac, Round and Bois Blanc Islands out in Lake Huron to the north.
After the wedding in Harbor Springs Michigan and a nice reception in the grand old Perry Hotel overlooking Little Traverse Bay in Petoskey, we hiked the beach and through the forested sand dunes at Petoskey State Park. There were more zebra mussel shells on the beach than the curious limestone fossil Petoskey stones.
The next day we drove through light fog back across the Mackinac Bridge. It’s a bit spooky to drive across that bridge knowing how high you are above the water and not being able to see beyond the guard rail. Driving through miles and miles of bog in the fog in the UP is not recommended as a fun tourist thing to do especially in the area near Baraga where there are “moose crossing” signs.
We decided to visit the Keweenaw Peninsula north of Houghton. After checking out the giant industrial relics at the old copper mining towns of Hancock, Calumet, and Copper City, we drove through the cedar trees along the rocky north coast of the peninsula between Eagle River and Copper Harbor. We stayed for the night in Copper Harbor in an old motel looking out over the water. A strong northwest wind the next morning sent waves crashing over the rocky islands across the harbor.
We checked out the state-owned marina at Copper Harbor as a future sailing destination, hiked through the stately old-growth white pines in the Estivant Pines reserve, and drove along the Brockway Mountain Drive. Brockway Mountain is a high ridge along the northern part of the Keweenaw Peninsula. The road was built during the Great Depression as a CCC project. The views from the crest of Brockway Mountain are grand and on a clear day you can see Isle Royale 45 miles across the lake to the northwest.
After a stop in Washburn Wisconsin to visit our boat now that she’s hauled out for the winter, we hiked in the Chequamegon Forest before heading home. Old Badger’s nose still can find grouse.
An October tour of the northern Great Lakes is highly recommended. The scenery is beautiful, the summer crowds are gone, and the locals are relaxed and happy to accommodate late-season tourists. Just bring a dry suit if you want to go swimming.
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