Minneapolis to Mackinac


            August 24 – Dave’s cousin Gregg and his family live in the Minneapolis area and we spent the day with them.  Dave hadn’t seen Gregg and Jan since a family reunion fifteen years ago and a lot had changed – they’d gotten married and had two wonderful daughters.  After a few hours of reminiscing and catching up on things we all went to a beautiful older area of town and walked around one of several interconnected ponds (we’d like to go back and kayak them all someday).  While the pond was scenic, the houses that were built around it were stunning.  From the materials and architecture we guess they must have been built in the 20’s.  After our walk we rewarded ourselves with ice cream at a new (only two days old) ice cream place.  This place had a interesting twist to ice cream – you ordered whatever flavor you wanted and then you added toppings (M&M’s, peanuts, cookie crumbs, etc.).  They then put the ice cream and toppings on a large frozen marble counter and mixed the toppings into your ice cream, giving you a custom made flavor.  To complete the experience you could have it served in a waffle cone that had been dipped in chocolate and rolled in sprinkles (Stacie got the last one but Dave isn’t bitter).  After the ice cream treat we went back to their house and continued to catch up on things.  Gregg fired up the grill and in keeping with the custom made treat theme we all made our own shish kabobs.  After dinner we said our goodbyes and headed back to our campground, arriving just before they locked the gate for the night.

            August 25 – We woke up to an empty campground (funny how places clear out on Sunday) and after a leisurely breakfast we packed up camp and hit the road.  We headed northeast out of the Minneapolis area and entered Wisconsin.  Our ultimate goal was the upper Peninsula of Michigan, but we wouldn’t hit that until tomorrow.  We were in a land without interstates so we got a real feel for the countryside as we trekked across the state.  We stopped off in one small town because the evil laundry baskets were once again full.  While we were sudsing our duds one of the other ladies approached Stacie and offered her Mary Kay beauty products because “she must be a model”.  We also stopped off at an unusual “antiques” store, which housed a unique collection of old farm tools, wagon wheels, yard sale leftovers, chairs, vintage photographs, and junk that somehow all qualified as priceless antiques.  And it was all priceless – if you found something that you wanted you had to get the owner off the phone and have him think up a price.  Luckily for us there was nothing that we desperately needed and we were spared from negotiations. 

            While in Alaska we had misplaced our campground guide books for Wisconsin and Michigan and as a result we only knew of two campgrounds along our route.  Since they were both Forest Service Operated we decided to stop at the first one we saw signs for (as it turns out there were no signs for the “first” one and we had missed it).  We think that the Forest Service may be visiting the website because this campground was very well marked and even though it was in the middle of nowhere we had no trouble finding it! (although we weren’t sure if we would be able to find our way back to the main road)  We picked a nice lakeside site and set up camp.  We thought about putting the kayaks in as there was still some daylight left, but some little voice told us to start a fire and relax instead.  Fifteen minutes later the skies opened up and it poured down rain (at least we weren’t on the water when it hit).  The skies cleared up an hour later and we turned in for the night.

            August 26 – Thankfully there was no more rain overnight and we woke up to sunny skies.  Our campsite was on the shore of a beautiful little lake and we really wanted to put the kayaks in, but we were now realizing that our adventuring days were numbered and hit the road.  Thanks to lots of signs we found our way back to civilization from the campground.  We backtracked a few miles because there was an attraction that was closed the day before and we wanted to see it.  The Laona and Northern Railway was created in 1902 primarily to serve the timber industry.  At its height it only had about 20 miles of track and 50 cars.  While it primarily hauled logs out of the forests, the railway was also a lifeline for loggers and residents, bringing in food, hardware and mail.  One of the stops along the railroad was “Camp 5”, a logging camp created in the 1890’s.  While the camp was undoubtedly meant to be a temporary stop while loggers worked in the area, it was turned into a farm for the logging company in 1914.  The farm raised meat, produce and horses for other active camps in the area.  In the late sixties the logging company that owned the railroad and camp 5 began making preparations for their upcoming 100th anniversary (1972).  An entire Soo Line railway depot was purchased and was moved 32 miles to become a station for the railroad in 1965. The farm was turned into a museum on logging and opened to the public in 1969.  A steam trail made the 17 mile trip from the station to Camp 5.  In 1974 the station was moved to its current location and today the train makes a 10 minute run to Camp 5.  Both the museum and the railroad are operated by the Camp Five Museum Foundation, a non-profit organization.  While they were getting the train ready, the first train wasn’t for a few hours and we really couldn’t afford to spend the time.  We tucked the brochure away for a future visit and hit the road.

            We zipped across what little was left of Wisconsin and crossed over into Michigan.  We had seen a few billboards enticing us to “visit Big John” at the Iron Mountain mine.  The signs didn’t tell us where the mine was so we really weren’t sure whether we would be passing it.  About forty minutes later we entered the town of Iron Mountain and saw the giant sign that was “Big John” (Dave couldn’t resist the chance to stick his big fat head in the photo op).  We pulled in to take a look around.  Most of the building was a blend of souvenir outlet and flea market.  In one corner was an area with a few benches and racks of raincoats and hard hats.  We asked about the tour price and it was quite reasonable so we booked ourselves on the next tour which left a few minutes later.  The mine was started in the 1800’s and for decades men and mules labored blasting a tunnel into the mountain looking for good iron ore.  Back then there was no real science to finding good iron ore so they just kept blasting away until they either found good ore or a layer of rock that indicated a dead end.  Finally they acquired a core drilling machine which was capable of drilling down from on top of the mountain and taking out samples of the rock.  They just kept drilling test holes all over the mountain until they hit a sample that revealed good iron ore.  Once the pocket of good ore was located, the miners blasted new tunnels to reach the ore and extract it.  They located a massive pocket of ore that was the size of a football field and hundreds of feet deep.  They worked this pocket until 1945when it became unprofitable.  Our tour consisted of a half mile “mine train” (it was actually a modified Santa’s Village train) ride into the heart of the mountain and then a walking tour of some of the tunnels and a view of the big hole.  The tunnels were just big enough to walk through as their primary purpose was to find a path to the mother lode.  After the mother lode was located the miners dug a shaft straight up until they reached the surface and then used winches to haul the iron ore up to the surface.  One interesting feature of the tunnels is that they were always sloping uphill.  This was done so that any water that leaked into the tunnels would flow out.  The tunnels were inhabited by what the guide called “Michigan butterflies”.  The other guests on the tour were fascinated by this, until they realized that those were bats flying around, not butterflies.  We rode the north pole express back to the gift shop and hung up our hard hats. 

We continued on our way and arrived in St. Ignace on the shore of Lake Huron in the late afternoon.  Our plan was to spend the night at a nearby state park and in the morning catch a fast ferry out to Mackinac Island and spend the day exploring, returning to the campground in the evening.  We pulled into the campground and found that it was one of those places that had hundreds of sites with RV’s, all jammed in next to each other with nary a tree in sight.  On a whim Dave started calling some of the hotels on the island and asked if they had any “last minute” specials.  Most of the places laughed at him, but there were a few larger bed and breakfasts that had some great rates.  We decided to book a room and made a mad dash for the ferry dock.  At the dock we scrambled to get the bikes off the truck and toss some clean clothes into overnight bags.  Dave then took the truck to the overnight parking lot and sprinted back to the dock, making the ferry with a minute to spare (of course we were the only ones on the ferry so they probably would have waited).  Upon arrival at the island we rode our bikes a few blocks to the bed and breakfast and checked in.  As the sun set we walked to the “center” of town a unique blend of ice cream shops, T shirt stores, fudge shops and restaurants.  We had dinner at place called the Pink Pony Saloon and then wandered back to the B&B for the night.