Welcome to our BLOG. We are on our second trip west. We hope that you enjoy following us on our journey.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Day 3: Pictured Rocks; Marquette

Tuesday, August 31, 2010 Sunny, windy, and 86; thick clouds, afternoon

NEI: My teacher-friends will recognize this as "not enough information" usually when solving a math word problem. Today it had to do with our visit to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Although we had read the NPS website, we did not know 1.) the best views of the rocks are from the water, meaning by boat. Since I did not have my motion sickness patch, we decided not to venture out onto Lake Superior with the winds as strong as they were; 2.) the rocks are at their best with the sun shining on them, in this case from the west since that is the direction they face. If we had known either of these facts, we would have adjusted our schedule accordingly.

The name pictured rocks comes from the streaks of mineral stain that decorate the face of the sculptured cliffs. They are composed of various types and colors of sandstone, layered one on top of the other. Streaks on the cliffs occur when groundwater oozes out of cracks. The dripping water contains iron, manganese, limonite, copper, and other minerals that leave behind a colorful stain as water trickles down the cliff face. From our vantage point above them and with morning sun casting shadows on the cliffs, we saw them with their true colors greatly muted.

But there are other activities and sights in the park. We chose hiking to two of the many waterfalls in the park. Both were hidden deep in the dense woods. The sound of the falling cascades had that familiar hypnotizing sensation so soothing and relaxing that it is hard to walk back out. We also hiked to Castle Rock which is the most recognizable feature along in Pictured Rocks NL. As its name suggests, it looks like a castle perched on a high point suspended over the lake. On our visit to a nearby beach we saw a few people wading in the chilly waters while kayakers were challenging the waves. We ran some of the sand through our fingers and found that while it is almost pure white, the grains feel very sharp. No wonder it bites when the wind blows it against the skin. We enjoyed our visit, but we were disappointed that we didn't see the rocks "dressed in their best."

As we were leaving the motel this morning, we met two bikers (of the Harley type), and we were chatting about where we had been and where we were going. They told us that we shouldn't miss Copper Harbor. We had never heard of it so it needed some explanation. Turns out that it is the northernmost point in Michigan. (Take a look at it on the map.) We were sold on the idea and decided to head in that direction tomorrow instead of Apostles National Lakeshore. To get more information we stopped at a visitors center just outside of Marquette. I'm still trying to decide if that was a good move or not. This was the opposite of the morning's experience. We now had TMI (in math speak, too much information). The woman manning the center effervesced with information about the U.P. We left there with a bag filled with maps, brochures, and a year's worth of ideas. That's why we ended up driving Lakeshore Drive in Marquette.

MARQUETTE: The home of Northern Michigan University also has the world's largest wooden dome. An unusual structure, it towers over a large portion of the campus. We passed a maritime museum and two tiny, but functional, lighthouses on our way to the Ore Dock where freighters are loaded with iron ore, etc. It was fascinating show. Rail hopper cars line up on an elevated trestle. The ore is dumped into the dock building and then released into the hull of the freighter via large chutes. As one chute is emptied, it is raised, another is lowered. Five were in use at all times and choreographed as so not to cause the ship to list. It was a short, but interesting side trip.

Tonight we are in Houghton. It and its neighbor on the other side of the Portage Ship Canal, Hancock, are homes to Michigan Technological University and Finlandia University. We took a short drive around both, and it's easy to see that they are definitely college towns. I am amazed that in the past two days we have seen four universities sitting on prime lake front property. I don't believe that would happen in the Finger Lakes or NC.

Tomorrow we head onto Copper Harbor. It sounds remote and unique. Also, since we're in mining country, we may get into a mine. (How claustrophobic might that be?) Should be an unusual day.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Day 2; Sleeping Bear Dunes; Sault Ste. Marie

Monday, August 30, 2010 Sunny, windy, 92

Vignettes from Today

NORTHWEST MICHIGAN Years ago a friend told me that the grid of roads through Michigan meant that it was straight and flat. Maybe some parts, but not the NW. The roads roll along with dense woods close on either side. It not only obstructs views, but, as evidenced by the quantity and variety of road kill, is home to many kinds of animals. (There was even a sign that read, "Elk Crossing Next Three Miles.") Occasionally an oil well or windmill will break into the scenery. We were also wondering why so many car trunks and rear bumpers were covered heavily with dust. It's because most side roads are unpaved. A real flashback to the 50's.

SLEEPING BEAR DUNES NATIONAL LAKESHORE Unlike other national parks we have visited, Sleeping Bear is not self-contained. We missed the Visitors Center because it was in the middle of the town of Empire which is midway between the northern and southern parts of the park. The park itself is accessed from side roads off of M22. We finally found a 12 mile loop road with 12 stops along the way including several overlooks. We saw Alligator Hill which mounds up high in the middle with its snout forming a dam between two small lakes. At another stop we saw Mama Bear Dune with her two cubs, Big and Little Manitou Islands. Legend says that Mama Bear forced her cubs into Lake Michigan to escape a forest fire. She made it safely back to land, but they were stranded in the water. Our last overlook was at a dune 500' above the lake. Continual erosion from wind and waves has pushed the dune two miles back into the mainland. It was easy to imagine today as the winds were blowing so hard that it stung our faces and filled our ears with sand. Our last stop was in Leland. It has been a fishing port for at least 150 years. Now the old fish shanties have been converted into little boutique shops, restaurants, and ice cream stands. Very quaint.

TRAVERSE CITY This is the prettiest city we have seen so far. It hugs the shores of Great Traverse Bay. White sands line the beaches, and it is a great place for parasailing and wind surfing. Northwestern Michigan University is also right on the lakeshore. If I were studying there, its location would be a major distraction to my educational endeavors.

SAULT STE. MARIE We've seen the Eisenhower Lock in Messina, NY, and the locks on the Erie Canal, but these locks are much larger. The water to raise and lower the ships in the locks flows without the benefit of pumps. Over the course of four hours we watched three pleasure craft---one luxurious with her own captain and crew---and one 1,004' freighter move through the locks. The freighter moved extremely slowly because its deep hull must displace the water in the lock as it moves into it. It took 1 1/2 hours transit. The "newest" lock of the four located here was completed in 1968 and is the only one that is not operated manually. Soon construction will begin on another that will take advantage of the most modern technologies.

UPPER PENINSULA Although we traveled two hours through the dark, it was easy to discern that it is flat here and very sparsely populated. We passed through two spots in the road that might be considered towns and never saw more than five vehicles approaching us at one time and only two vehicles at a time behind us. The road is so straight and flat that it's tempting to "put the pedal to the metal" and fly. But the presence of three State Troopers squashed those ambitions.

Tomorrow we're on to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Day 1: Cadillac, Michigan

The summer season may be waning, but construction season sure isn't. Wish I had a dollar for every barrel, cone, and concrete barrier we passed today. New York, Ontario, Michigan didn't matter where we were. I give a thumbs up to Ontario for the condition of their roads, but an "F" for their lack of parking and rest areas. We bought lunch to eat along the way, but never found a place to stop.

Our complaint of the day was border crossings. We were allowed into Canada in just 5 minutes, but it took 65 minutes to get back into the USA. (Guess Canada values us more than the USA.) While we were waiting, we were creeping over a bridge above a canal that flows between Lake Erie and Lake Huron at Port Huron. From that vantage point we could see bows of boats rising and falling as they plowed up the canal and into the current. Beyond them the sail boats were darting back and forth while in the foreground US and Canadian flags flapped in breeze. Add to that a lighthouse and marina, and it made for a gorgeous view. Almost worth the long wait.

Tomorrow we head to the first of the many national lakeshores and parks we hope to visit on this trip. From the little we've seen it should be a beautiful stop.