Sunday, August 26, 2007

Lake Superior Circle Tour -- Day 1

At mid-morning on August 4th, Boyfriend Extraordinaire and I set out on our second "trip of a lifetime" around Lake Superior.

It was an uneventful drive, though the construction and traffic really irritated me and added to our drive time. Otherwise all was well.

We lunched at the Hardee's on the Oconto River where we realized how low and stagnant the water looked. Apparently, the drought has been bad this year. More with tradition was the reaction we got from the Hardee's staff when B.E. ordered a meatless burger. They just never know what to make of a vegetarian order, and this time was no different as two different staff members questioned the sanity of the cashier who took the order. Ah, those meat and potato loving Wisconsinites!

We made a brief stop at Rapid River Falls to check out what is always a serene and beautiful area. It wasn't ugly, but the river flowed so low that you could jump across the water in certain areas. The rapids were but mere trickles for most of the falls, but there was one area where water actually tumbled over a one-foot drop. Ooooh!

When we arrived at our "home base" at the Sunset Motel on the Bay, in Munising, the sun still hadn't set, so we headed right for our favorite place: Sand Point Beach.

An unusual sandbar had formed at the beach that jutted like a peninsula out into the bay. Kids were playing on the sandbar, looking eerily as if they were walking on water where they should have been hip-deep.

The sun was setting behind Grand Island, facing the beach across the bay, and the waves washed lightly over the sandbar, making it almost invisible. I could not resist -- I walked right into the water and out to the sandbar.

Never in my wildest dreams did I expect Boyfriend Extraordinaire to join me, since he's only touched Lake Superior once, always calling me the crazy one for wading and playing in the cold water. However, he surprised me and I turned around to find him following me. Soon he had followed the sandbar out into the water about 50 yards from the shore, and still was only about ankle deep, making him look like he too was walking on water.

This was our view of the shore and the beach when we'd finally hit knee-deep water.

The second spectacular trait about the beach was the soft sand. With nary a rock around, we could wander anywhere barefoot, with a cushy carpet of sand beneath our feet.

As we watched the kids playing on the sandbar and the sun set before us, a strange scene unfolded. A young woman with a videocamera started shooting the sunset. Her family was with her, though not within earshot, so her narration of the scene was for posterity on the tape. When the sun touched the horizon, she began counting, as if she could easily count the few seconds it took the sun to disappear. Well, it isn't that fast, and I think this might just have been the first sunset she ever saw if she tried to count it down. B.E. and I sat on a log and rolled our eyes as her countdown went on and on. By the time she reached 40 or 50, she got tired of counting and filming the nearly set sun and walked away. Tourists: pshaw!

Still, it was a nice sunset.

Lake Superior Circle Tour -- Day 2

The second day of the Circle Tour started early, after a disappointing discovery that the Munising Bakery was closed. We drove to Marquette for breakfast and then paid a visit to Presque Isle Park, which is always gorgeous. The rocky cliffs in Marquette are fairly typical of most of the shore around the lake, dramatic, dangerous and high.

I don't know why this sign made me laugh so much. All I could think was that there must be a rash of dwarf badminton teams taking over the tennis courts.

Our destination was Bruce Crossing, Michigan, and on the way there we stopped at Agate Falls just west of Trout Creek. The falls themselves are visible only from two areas: a trail high above the falls and a trestle high above the trail above the falls. I took the road more traveled while Boyfriend Extraordinaire took the road less traveled. This was my view of Agate Falls from the trail.

This was my view of the trestle where B.E. was looking down at the falls. There was no way I was going up there!

After checking in at our motel in Bruce Crossing, we headed straight for Bond Falls, which was spectacular.

There's a platform that leads around the bottom of the falls, over the water to an island, then across the rest of the water to the other side of the falls. In addition to the island in the middle that splits the water at the base in half, there are rock outcrops at the precipice that divide the falls in half. It easily became one of my favorite waterfalls.

The far side of the falls was my favorite.

Due to the drought, the water was low and the rocks were highly visible, exposing the vegetation and moss.

Again, it's the strangest things that amuse me.

From a different trail, we walked along the river at the top of the falls, where many smaller falls were just as nice to visit.

From there we ate at one of the two restaurants in town and then headed to Paulding, Michigan to see the mysterious and legendary Paulding Light.

I'm not going to perpetuate or ruin the rumors of the only tourist attraction this town has going for it, but suffice it to say that the waterfalls were far more interesting to me.

Lake Superior Circle Tour -- Day 3

The day started off well enough, but then we found ourselves in our third destination of Bessemer, Michigan, where we headed straight up Black River Road to see the waterfalls along Black River, which sounds like it would be nice, doesn't it?

First I have to remind you that I'm afraid of heights, which is only partially true because I not really afraid of the height. I'm afraid of falling. I'm afraid of tripping, tumbling, or the structure collapsing beneath my feet, and falling is something I'm only a hair away from doing whenever I am at any height.

We went to Sandstone Falls, which we've never seen.

Over 200 stairs down!

These were not normal stairs. They were two steps wide by one step high, framed with wood planks and full of dirt and weeds in the center.

Photo taken by Boyfriend Extraordinaire

As usual, I clung like mad to the railing, which actually saved me. About 3/4 of the way down, I took a misstep and landed with my foot half on the step frame and half on the center dirt, twisting my ankle and sending me violently down the stairs. I caught myself on the railing, whirled around, and narrowly managed to stop myself from tumbling down the stairs, that ended at a dirt path that towered over the rock that lead to the falls. It was my worst nightmare that almost came true! However, the only way to stop a twisted ankle from turning into something crippling is to walk it off, which I immediately did, and continued down the rest of the way to the falls. Despite the pain and incessant trembling in my legs from the fright, I climbed on the sandstone cliffs and Boyfriend Extraordinaire and I explored the magnificent falls.

Large pockets of water were trapped in holes in the rock, where B.E. discovered that crayfish were living. Unfortunately, he couldn't catch any.

The rocks along the falls were all slanted, making walking hard for someone without a twisted ankle, and positively awful for someone with one. It was also a bit disorienting when trying to walk straight. B.E. found many nooks and crannies to inspect as I tried to take it easy.

The slanted rocks were sometimes a stage for B.E. to act out his naturally comedic personality.

There were caves and arches of red sandstone to climb on and towering over us, hard and jagged, yet somehow plants and trees took root and thrived. I guess the will to live is not exclusive to humans.

It took a while to ascend the stairs back to the car, but we made it with only some slight dehydration to add to the ankle wound. I was still trembling. The trembling never stopped at all that day.

We drove to the harbor where the Black River meets Lake Superior and had a picnic at a picnic table in the shade. It soon became apparent that we were not alone. What I thought was a baby squirrel turned out to be one of a breed of very small squirrels that are prevalent in the area, and they are not much larger than a chipmunk, but a ton cuter!

We befriended this little guy with some bread and won for his heart and trust with some Cheetos. Once he showed he liked our lunch, we gave him the ultimate treat: a Cheeto with peanut butter on it. This little guy, literally, climbed right up onto the picnic table where we were sitting and ate off the surface across from us.

He'd eat half the Cheeto, then run up a nearby tree to hide the remainder.

Once he'd hidden his excess food, he came quickly back for more. I fell a little in love with this guy.

I took this cute video footage of him sitting with us. Don't you just love him?!

B.E. hiked a long way into the woods to see Rainbow Falls, while I sat in the car with the air conditioning blasting and tried not to fall asleep. This is the photo he took of the falls I skipped.

Photo taken by Boyfriend Extraordinaire

And this is the idiot who was also checking out the falls, climbing on the wet rocks and getting way too close to death.

Photo taken by Boyfriend Extraordinaire

From there we returned town, checked into our very clean and inexpensive motel room at the Travelers' Motel in Bessemer. Dinner was wonderful at Tacconelli's, and we slept like babies!

Lake Superior Circle Tour -- Day 4

It's quite strange how the cheapest motel we stayed in was one of the nicest. The Travelers Motel in Bessemer, Michigan is one I'll return to anytime. Leaving the next morning was not easy, but we did have to go.

From Bessemer, we drove north to a beach called Little Girl Point, which is heaven for rock hounds like us. The temperature was somewhere in the 80s and the sun was so bright that the conditions actually drew others to the beach. It's hard to believe the gorgeous beaches all along Lake Superior are almost empty on hot summer days. If I lived near here, I'd be here everyday.

Oh, and the rocks! OOOOH!

Much to my surprise, Boyfriend Extraordinaire even waded into the water, but it was only after I'd been in for quite some time, talking about all the minnows I could see swimming all around my legs that he finally decided to check out the water. Sure enough, he spent the whole time following the fishies.

When the bugs had irritated me to the point of a near breakdown, we left for Ashland, Wisconsin.
It seemed the entire town of Ashland was covered in mayflies -- it was disgusting. We had to sweep the car and doors each time we wanted to enter somewhere, and it didn't get any less gross the longer we were there.

When we first arrived into town, we passed a wagon that sold "Indian Tacos" and frybread. Instantly we were intrigued. We bought some fry bread (delicious!) and somehow the owner of the cart felt friendly enough to share with us the political controversy involving his harmless mobile food selling vehicle and the owner of the local Subway who fought to have him removed from adjacent property. We were sucked into the story and vowed not to eat at the Subway. Despite the politics, if you ever get a chance to try fry bread or Indian Tacos, do so!

Dinner was fabulous at the Deep Water Grille.

That night B.E. had control of the television and he forced me to watch one of the most nauseating and awful movies I've ever seen, The Born Losers. How I managed to stay up until 2 am waiting for that movie to get good (which never happened), I'll never know. From that point on, B.E.'s television choices were scrutinized, and I often tried to commandeer the remote before he could. Jeeze, what a horrible experience!

We slept well, if not enough that night.

Lake Superior Circle Tour -- Day 5

Leaving Ashland, Wisconsin was something we did eagerly, though we were extremely tired making the trip up the Bayfield Peninsula to the town of Bayfield, WI.

First we stopped at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center and we somehow engaged the nice woman in the gift shop with conversation, getting her to open up, and then she admitted she is one of the two authors of a recently published book about the Pictured Rocks in Munising. How fortunate of us! An actual author/photographer was standing before us! We chatted for a while about the book and she encouraged us to do a photographic book on the Circle Tour, which hasn't been done to our knowledge. She explained that they self-published their book and were already cashing checks beyond their expenses, so making money wasn't unheard of for a book with a relatively narrow reader base. Hmmmm... something to think about.

On the way to Bayfield, somewhere along the way, I saw a roadside gift shop that was a bit unusual, with gigantic totem poles for sale. Well, I love totem poles so we had to stop. An hour later, we were on the road again, having spent the time touring the workshop and property of these creative old men carving some really great statues.

This one was an 8-foot tall, lantern-holding wizard, which was being finished in their work area.

With a variety of finishes, various stages of completion, and the veritable zoo of creatures to see, it was quite a sight.

The totem poles were my favorites, and they made this style in a variety of sizes, in addition to having a very cute one with different Santas piled on top of each other.

Bears were the most common animals found among the sculptures, and they were really adorable.

We even were able to watch one of the guys in action.

This is the work area where the main carver worked, and many pieces were around that he seemed to be keeping busy with. He explained that he was in his 70s and had only been carving for about 20 years -- it seemed to us to be the kind of art someone pursues their entire life, looking for a market, but it seems to have all happened very easily for him in the later years of his life. Good for him!

My favorite piece was a dragon rocking horse (?) he kept in the back.

Maybe it was the heat and humidity, or maybe it was the bad night sleep the night before, but as soon as we got to Bayfield, we checked in at the Seagull Bay Motel (very nice place!) and passed out for an afternoon nap. We woke up late in the evening and were immediately hungry, but due to the late hour, there were few restaurants open. We ended up at a restaurant as they were closing and had, perhaps, the worst meal we had on the entire trip. Bluck. I may never eat fish again. Anyway, we went back to the room and fell right back asleep again. Bayfield isn't a sleepy town usually. I don't know what got into us but we figured it was okay because we were on vacation.

Lake Superior Circle Tour -- Day 6

Bayfield, Wisconsin has much to offer tourists, from scenery to gift shops, but if you go, you must have breakfast at the Egg Toss Cafe. Mmmmm!

It was a sunny day until we left the restaurant, and then the drizzling began. We drove to the marina and watched the boaters panic and bring their boats in from the water, which was scenic itself, but the storm was small and you could see the clear sky in the distance. It seemed a lot of effort to stop sailing just because of a little rain.

Soon the harbor was packed.

We left town and drove a couple miles to the Redcliff Indian Reservation, where we visited a gift shop and spoke with the proprietor about the area. The reservation near Ashland, Wisconsin called Bad River had actually halted their annual wild rice harvest because of the severity of the drought. The concern was that harvesting the grains now would permanently damage the plants and ruin not just one year of yield, but all future years. Never before had a drought been so bad that it resulted in canceling the wild rice season. Very sad.

From there, we went to Cornucopia, where the village is as quaint as it is small. Next to the used book store, I found a hummingbird hovering at some flowers.

For a former fishing village, the buildings seemed to display quite a bit of feminine influence.

It seemed to me that sailboats in Cornucopia were attracted to the small harbor and quieter setting, compared with the very touristy town of Bayfield.

After Cornucopia, we found a wayside to stop at and we hiked a short way along a path that wound down to the lake. All along the trail and all over the area there were tansies like this one.

Boyfriend Extraordinaire found some scat on the pathway and announced that it was predator poop. From the consistency, it was clear that the animal who left these droppings ate another hairy animal because it was full of fur. We deduced that due to the size of the poops and the amount of hair inside, it could have been left by a wolf. Yay!

The view just from the wayside in this area is fabulous!

While B.E. explored the rocks near the shore, I took some macro shots of this cute little flower. Is it just me, or is it perfect that these little yellow flowers so prevalent in Wisconsin seem to resemble cows?

A short side trip was necessary to visit Amnicon Falls, which we'd seen just two years ago at the highest it's been, and we were curious to compare with what we guessed was its lowest in history. Quite a contrast. The last time we were here, you couldn't even see the rocks from all the water rushing over the edge. Every rock in the scene below was under water the last time. Now, there was hardly a flow at all.

One of the few benefits of a drought is that you can see more of the ancient rocks and all the plantlife that lives in the falls, which is beautiful too.

Amnicon Falls is surrounded by a gorgeous forest of red pines -- my favorites!

The red sandstone cliffs surrounding the river are fragile and pretty in and of themselves.

The suspended bridge over the river was hardly necessary. With little water below, it's easy just to walk across the base.

So, we stomped around the river bed, viewing the falls from the water below.

Upstream, the dry river's bed was just as jagged and scenic as the falls.

We eventually made it to Superior, Wisconsin for the night, where we again crashed and crashed hard. What a day!