Midwest National Parks – Part 2

Keweenaw National Historical Park

Keweenaw National Historical Park

The next day we drove to Keweenaw National Historical Park.  A park site that we really knew nothing about, besides a cursory glance at the website when we planned the trip, as always we were pleasantly surprised by how informative and interesting this site was.  We began our trip at the Quincy Unit where we visited the Quincy Mine and Hoist.  There were tours through the mine itself, but we wanted to get to the Calumet Unit, and unfortunately did not have time for both.  We did have time to wander around the grounds of the Quincy Mine.  At the Calumet Unit Visitors Center, there was a great museum that we spent over an hour wandering through.  The rangers have done a wonderful job restoring the building that houses the museum, as well as setting up the exhibits.  There were so many informative pieces of literature to read about the mines, which mainly worked with copper, and the history of the people of the town.  The story of the Italian Hall Disaster was especially striking.  Many of the miners were striking in 1913, and in a room full of protesters, someone falsely yelled “fire”.  In the ensuing melee, 73 people were trampled.  Woody Gutherie even wrote a song about it; “1913 Massacre”.  When the Italian Hall was demolished in 1984, the people of Calumet and the surrounding area, especially those who had a history in mining, decided to band together to preserve the unique history of the area, which led to the creation of the National Historical Park.  It’s always great when a group of citizens are the impetus for the creation of an NPS site.

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

That afternoon we drove to Bayfield, Wisconsin and camped in a town campground right on the shore of Lake Superior.  Bayfield was an adorable small town, set on a hill, with a marina at the base.  The Victorian homes were charming and the downtown area was compact and eclectic.  I’m sure that it doesn’t look so charming in the winter under several feet of snow, but during the warm summer evening, it appeared idyllic.  In the morning, we woke up to go to Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.  Apostle Islands was all over the news this past winter because the lake froze deeply enough to allow access to the ice caves for the first time in years.  As amazing as those would have been to see, I was glad it was much warmer for our visit.  Because almost all of the park is on the islands, and we don’t have kayaks, we were unable to see most of it.  Another for our list to go back to.  We were able to visit both visitors centers and hike a short trail from Meyers Beach to see the sea caves.  Though very cool, I am sure they look so much better from the water, and we will definitely have to go back to explore the islands.  Almost all of them have camping, and trails to trace along the beaches and through inland.

That night we spent in Duluth, Minnesota.  Duluth recently beat out Asheville in Outside Magazine’s Best Places to Live in America Poll.  We couldn’t believe it.  Though we only spent one night in Duluth, we didn’t get the same amazing vibe we get from Asheville.  Granted we didn’t spend enough time there to be fair judges, but we weren’t feeling it.  We did eat out at Pizza Luce, which caters to vegans with vegan cheeses and meats, and was delicious.  The next morning, I went for a quick run on the Duluth Lakewalk.  It was all along the lakeshore and absolutely beautiful.  Early in the morning, there were scores of people out, riding bikes to work, walking and running the paved path, or exercising in groups on the grass.  For the most part, we noticed that this section of the midwest had tons of running/riding trails.  Many of them double as snowmobiling trails in the winter, but there were miles of trails wherever we went.

Grand Portage National Monument

Grand Portage National Monument

Next, we drove even farther north to go to Grand Portage National Monument.  Tucked away in northern Minnesota, almost on the Canadian border, this was another park site that we really enjoyed and really knew nothing about before visiting.  This is where we learned the most about beavers.  The Grand Portage, and the Voyageurs who traveled it, were all based on the fur trade of the late 1700’s.  Apparently, beaver fur hats were all the rage in Europe and the North West Company, owned by Scottish citizens, capitalized on this.  They built the largest trading post in the center of the continent, and traded with the Ojibwe Indians.  The Voyageurs were the men who carried these furs along the trail from the traders to the waterfront post.  Now, there is a recreation of the trading post and interpreter volunteers acting the traditional roles of the trading post – including the Ojibwe Indians.  This site was one of the first that I have been to, that tells a peaceful story of relations between Indians and new Americans.  They traded together and lived in harmony in the area together.  The relationship was mutually successful for both peoples.  Unfortunately, the post was relocated 1803 because the property lines between Canada forced them to go further north onto Canadian soil.  We wandered through the exhibits in the visitor center and walked down to the recreated post – observing interpreters build canoes, manipulate baskets, and make food in the kitchen before watching some brave local children jump into icy Lake Superior.

Voyageurs National Park

Voyageurs National Park

That night we camped out in the Superior National Forest, and weathered an extremely nasty thunder and lightning storm during the night.  The next morning we decided to drive into Ely, Minnesota to wander around.  The town is based on the Boundary Waters nearby, and boasts several outfitters and outdoor stores.  We happily browsed the shops and had a Thai lunch before starting our drive to Voyageurs National Park.  Another park best seen by boat, we did the best we could on foot.  We checked in first at the Kabetogama Lake Visitor Center, disappointed to find out that the canoe trip tour for the following day was already full.  We definitely should have made reservations ahead of time.  After checking out the Ash River area, and getting our stamps at the visitor center, we set up our tent at the Woodenfrog State Forest Campground.  We also took a brief walk to overlook a beaver pond.

The next day we checked out the Rainy Lake area.  We tried to take a hike, but the trail was flooded – as is a lot of the park.  Much of the water is above its usual level.  After lunch in International Falls, we started driving south again.  Our stop for the night was in Iron Mountain, where we eschewed a normal dinner and instead ate popcorn at the movie theater while watching Planes.  Since Anthony is a wildland firefighter, this movie was especially poignant for us.  We both enjoyed it very much.

The following morning I went for a run on the Mesabi Trail, a fantastic paved path which was unfortunately full of biting flies.  They only served to make me run faster, so that we could get on with our packed day.  After driving for some time, our next stop was St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.  Again, if we had boats, we would have been able to enjoy this park site even more.  We visited the visitor center and were able to see the Dalles from the riverbank.  The Dalles were created by water blasting through the rock during the formation of the river, and they rise above the waterline creating a gorge.  While driving through the town of St. Croix Falls, we happened to spot a sign advertising vegan food.  We hadn’t even looked online beforehand because we didn’t expect there to be anything in such a small town.  We were very mistaken.  The Vegetarian, an Indian restaurant, offered up perhaps one of the best meals of our entire trip.  We left completely full and happy.

To be continued…

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Midwest National Parks – Part 1

The theme of our summer vacation was twofold: we need kayaks and beavers changed the path of American history.

For vacation this summer, Anthony and I decided to loop through Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and a little of Missouri.  Our industrious plan covered 18 National Park Sites.  Collecting stamps, magnets, and park brochures, we made our way through some beautiful and depopulated countryside.  Mostly, we were on backroads – the blue highways that William Least Heat-Moon famously enlivened for the American public.  Many of the parks we visited we have placed on a list of “need to return to”, and in these cases, we need a boat to fully enjoy them.

Our trek began in Shepherdstown, WV, where Anthony was attending a class.  Once he was released on Friday afternoon, we made our longest drive of the trip to Detroit.  Anthony lived in Detroit for a short period of time, and our first stop was for some authentic Mediterranean cuisine at Al Ameer.  We feasted on falafel, mujadara, garlic dip, and hummus.  The food was absolutely fantastic, and we left completely stuffed.  Arriving at 9pm, the restaurant was fully packed and echoed with laughter and the frantic movements of the waitstaff.

River Raisin National Battlefield Park

River Raisin National Battlefield Park

The next morning, still kind of full, we backtracked south to visit River Raisin National Battlefield Park.  The site is still being developed, since it was only determined to be an NPS site in 2009.  So far there is an informative visitor center and a short walk to the battlefield.  There are also some monuments in the park.  Until recently, the battlefield was covered by an abandoned paper factory.  Through the efforts of citizens, the city of Monroe, and the state, now River Raisin (Remember the Raisin!) will be protected.  A war of 1812 site, the rangers will be quick to point out, River Raisin demonstrates a time when we were battling against Canada through the British and their Indian allies.  Not only were the Americans ultimately beaten at River Raisin, there were such casualties and fear of retribution, that the dead soldiers remained unburied for months after the battle.  An horrific image to say the least.  So many of these historical sites we visit offer a sobering view of American history, and I feel (as does the National Park Service) that it is immeasurably important to remember and preserve these moments in history.

Afterwards, we met up with friends at Cafe Muse in the Royal Oak neighborhood north of Detroit.  On our way there, we were amazed to see so many burned out and abandoned homes along the freeway through downtown.  Detroit is obviously losing its population in the downtown and southern areas, and I have heard city officials are discussing turning some of that land back into farmland.  Hard to know what can be done, since crime is so high and the city has declared bankruptcy.  Anyway, it was lovely to catch up with friends we hadn’t seen in years and to enjoy a delicious meal.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

We departed Detroit to head up to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the first of all four National Lakeshores that we would visit on this trip.  It was a long drive through rural Michigan, cutting north and west across the state, but we arrived at Sleeping Bear Dunes, just in time to snag one of the last campsites at D.H. Day Campground.  We explored the nearby Glen Haven Historic Village and the small town of Glen Arbor nearby, where we visited Cherry Republic, sampling cherry hummus and cherry root beer.  As rain began to fall we dashed back to our campsite, hoping the storm would break long enough for us to make dinner on our camp stove.  Thankfully it did, and we were able to sleep dry in our tent.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

The next morning we set out to complete the dune climb, a 3.5 mile hike over shifting sand dunes to the shore of Lake Michigan.  It was quite a tough hike, over and through the dry, drifting sand, but the view of the lake at the end was well worth it.  We were right on the shore of the lake, looking out over the pristine (and freezing!) waters of Lake Michigan.  It was a fun hike, though we were both pretty tired by the time we completed it.  We then finally made our way to the visitors center, and eventually to drive the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.  We were rewarded with more great views of the dunes and the lake, this time from the top of a sand dune.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

After stopping for some Thai food in Petoskey, we stayed the night in Mackinaw City, next to the Mackinac Bridge, which took us over to the Upper Peninsula the next morning.  While driving the back roads of the U.P. we continuously saw signs for pasties and wild rice.  The scenery was stunning, and the uncongested roads were a treat.  Our next NPS stop was Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on Lake Superior.  We first stopped in the Grand Sable Visitor Center for information, and our cancellation stamps.  As we chatted with the ranger, she told us there was no longer a ranger at the Lightkeepers House Museum.  We mentioned we were hoping to go there in order to get the lighthouse stamp, and the ranger asked if we’d like her to mail it to us!  So we left our address and when we arrived home, there was our lighthouse stamp with a great note from the ranger.  So sweet of her!  We set up camp that night in the Hurricane River Campground, which was not even half full.  In fact, when we set up our tent, there was no one else on our loop!  We were introduced to the frenetic and persistent mosquitos of the U.P.  They do not quit, and even a layer of Deet does not always keep them away.  Temperatures dropped into the 40’s the night, and didn’t rise much the next day – and still the mosquitos were attacking.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

While there, we also took a short walk to the Log Slide Overlook, where loggers used to slide trees down the dunes into the lake for transport.  The view of the dunes was stunning from the angle of the overlook.  We also visited the Munising Falls Visitor Center, and the Interagency Visitor Center in the town of Munising.  Another short walk took us to Munising Falls, which we observed crowded by senior citizens on a bus tour.  We then walked down to see Miners Castle, which is where you can best see the Pictured Rocks (unless you have a boat).  Miners Castle is a unique rock formation, and the walkway takes you right to the edge of it.  One of my favorite American poets, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, wrote beautifully about this area of the country in The Song of Hiawatha.  The exposed layers of rock in the sandstone and the streaks of minerals along the face are what make the area so notable.  As we walked out onto Miners Beach, the rain that had been threatening throughout the day finally started to fall.  There were other waterfalls we wanted to see, but the chilly temperatures and wet weather kept us from doing so.

To be continued…

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