Aug 18, 2012

Copper Island

Woke in the middle of the night to the sound of an approaching train.  Apparently he crossed a number of intersections, as he blew his horn at least half a dozen times.  Other than that, it was the sleep of a dead man.  No rain, not much wind and  chilly enough to make the sleeping bag feel like a warm savior.

Headed out in search of coffee, thinking that of course the college town(s) of Houghton/Hancock would have a million coffee shops.  Took us three more towns and a shot of sporadic Internet access to get enough bandwidth to search and find one.  All week I'd been plagued by bad signal on the Interwebs, both on T-Mobile and to a lesser extent Verizon.  The price one pays for being remote and scenic, I suppose.

When we stopped for coffee there was a liquor store that looked like set dressing for Northern Exposure.  And it had a Husky hanging his head out the second story window watching the people pass by.  Awesome.

We stopped at the Keewenaw tourist information center but they were closed.  On a Saturday in the height of tourist season.  Go figure.  Pamphlets in the lobby but not much help.

Our first real touristing of the day was at the Delaware mine.  A few gravels roads took us to a hilltop parking lot.  In the middle of the lot was a dirty three legged doc that didn't give a damn if we wanted to drive in there.   We went around him.  But it was clear he ran the place.  We got our first view of the forests from above and it was spectacular.

The office/gift shop had a couple skunks.  They were feeding them and they were as cute as rats!  Maybe even more so.  We geared up for the mine tour (45 degrees all year round) and after a short orientation video we headed down the 100 steps to the mine.  It really was just a couple hundred yard long mineshaft, but they had a section with modern lighting and a section with lesser lighting to simulate the 19th century technologies used at the time it was in operation.  It was so cool, so dark, and such a relief from the heat outside.  There were some more exhibits outside the mine, but nothing especially interesting.  Mostly ruins and old (unlabeled) mining equipment.

The roads to Copper Harbor were wonderful.  Twisting both up and down and sideways, smooth black pavement and trees arching over the road.  Like something out of a video game.  If it weren't for the motion sickness overcoming half the car.  The girls were both feeling a bit queasy, so we went slowly and opened the windows.  A little Dramamine and things got better on the return roads.

Copper Harbor struck me more like Grand Marais MN or any other artists community.  Lots of interesting shops (to some) and restaurants, but not a lot of family friendly fare.  We went on down the road to Fort Wilkins, a recreated/preserved fort from the time of the mines in the last 19th century.  It was your typical historic fort, but had no live interpreters (or dead ones, for that matter.)  The exhibits were very interactive and Lily spent quite a bit of time baking bread, setting and clearing tables, and serving us all in the dining hall. She loved it.

I was, of course, in heaven.  Nothing like an old fort and the promise of a good gift shop  to get my blood pumping.  Something really drew me to this fort, and I'm still not sure if it's because I was stationed there in a previous life, or maybe my Dad and I made it all the way up there on our Lake Superior Circle Tour when I was in high school.  (1500 miles in three days!)

A kayak glided by the parade ground on the lake shore.  I'm pretty sure it was homemade, maybe a Glen-L, but couldn't tell for sure and a stranger was riding in it, which obviously means I couldn't ask.  But it was pretty and Lily said that kind would be acceptable.  She's the one who's pushing me hardest to make my own.  Maybe I'll build a pair.

The gift shop did not disappoint.  I got a hand assembled/printed book called "Life aboard a Lake from 1964 to 1999" -- perfect!  I don't even care that it's on dead trees, it's such a treasure trove of information about Lakers, ore carriers and such.

While Jill shopped for dinner at the (no kidding) General Store in Copper Harbor, Lily and I checked out a gift shop or two.  We also stumbled upon a craft fair.  We didn't buy anything, but Lily handled it pretty well.  She's learning slowly that you don't have to buy to appreciate.  I was inspired by a few booths and a little disappointed in a few others.  I recognized some of the patterns from online sites and woodworking magazines, and really had to wonder if they could get the amount of money they were asking for their work.  If so, I really need to get into the craft show circuit.

Another booth had a collection of variations on a fish skeleton theme.  The head and tail as intact pieces joined by a single dowel, riblike dowels extending top and bottom from that "spine" -- they look really cool and I'll want to try and make one of those first.

My sister Lisa told us we had to go on the Brockway Mountain Road.  We weren't sure what that was, but it looked like it would have a good view or two.  And indeed it did!  It felt like you were at the top of the world.  After stopping at one pullout for pictures we went even higher than we knew we could go, and ended up at the clear top of a mountain.  There was a large sign describing the view, a lone gift shop and a 360 degree panorama.  The peninsula, Lake Superior, and more forest than you could shake a stick at surrounded you on top of the highest point for miles.  The guy at the gift shop was a bit of a rambler, but when I asked if he got any good storms up there he lit up.  Apparently you get to watch the storms come in from very far away and it gives you lots of time to get all amped up.  Would be fun to see.

In the middle of all of the tourists half a dozen ham radio operators were running equipment, tests, and doing signal checks.  From the looks of things they were hitting targets on the ground and in the sky.  I wanted to know more, but my own social anxiety paired with the likely social anxiety of the ham nerds was like opposing poles of a magnet.  No eye contact!

Driving along the south shore of Lake Superior in the late afternoon felt like being on the coast of California.  The waves weren't rolling in like they were the previous day, but it was still beautiful, breezy, and cool.  We looked long and hard for "the perfect beach" on which to have dinner and let the kids play in the waves again.  We were not disappointed.

We ended up at Sand Bay Beach, a huge expanse of sandy beach wide open to the waves.  Ample parking across the road along with picnic tables and a bathroom made it the perfect dinner spot.  Jill set up the grill while I hung with the kids on the beach, then we swapped and I finished up cooking the dinner as they played.  By the time they came back wet and exhausted I had a pretty little picnic table set with paper towel napkins, plastic silverware and everything.  We had baby back ribs and fresh corn.  It was perfect.  Sun dropping in the sky at the end of a long day made going back to the campsite an easy affair.  The drive back took us through more country that reminded me of Big Sur in California.  Deep forests breaking open to views of the shore, with the occasional shop or house sprinkled in for good measure.

We stopped at a shop on the way back for necessaries (liquor and milk) and I got one of the best souvenirs of the trip - Lava soap!  Do you know how hard that is to find back home?

We got back too late to do any grilling of pies, but we did have a nice little fire.  I did as much typing up of trip memories as I could, but it was difficult not having a reliable Internet connection.  Yes, I know, we were camping.  But all I wanted to use it for was posting these memories.  It's so hard when you get home to recall the spirit of the trip and the calm with which you would normally tell the story.  I'm actually finishing these up in the car on the way home as Jill takes a turn driving.  Oddly enough once we got into Wisconsin the signals started happening with more predictability.

We're all getting tired at this point and are torn between wanting vacation to last forever, and wanting to get home.  Stability can be welcoming.

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