Sunday, August 26, 2007

Lake Superior Circle Tour -- Day 20

Ahhh: waking up in Paradise! We had Harley-riders for neighbors and there was a hummingbird fight outside. I've never heard screaming hummingbirds before and it was the weirdest thing to watch.

Thankfully, there were two restaurants to choose from in the morning for breakfast, and we had a mediocre meal at one. I gave B.E. a choice: go back to Whitefish Point for a while or head straight to Grand Marais and beach-comb there. He chose Whitefish Point.

It was a super day, sunny and moderately warm, so I went wading in the lake, looking for more rocks. I found quite a few agates too! B.E. made his debris boats and I launched them. It was just the most fabulous day!

On August 2, a devastating 20,000-acre wildfire erupted in the Upper Peninsula, dubbed the Sleeper Lake Fire, and it was still burning when we were in the area three weeks later. Leaving Whitefish Point, we were about to drive south to Newberry and then north to Deer Park, going around the fire, and we expected to be horrified with the charred forests we would see.

Much to our surprise, there was hardly anything visible from the road that was indicative of a fire. This shot B.E. took from the car as I drove shows just a bit of burnt area near Tahquamenon Falls, but green was already growing up in the blackened earth.

Photo taken by Boyfriend Extraordinaire

Despite the lack of evidence from the road, the signs were all around Newberry that the fire was still a threat. At Four Mile Corner, where we turned north toward Deer Park, a local gas station/convenience store had become the headquarters of the fire-fighting effort, with all types of vehicles around and numerous Red Cross trucks and volunteers aiding the effort. It made my stomach sink. What a devastating fire this must be.

On a whim, I said, "Let's go to Oswald's!" It wasn't something we planned, particularly given that we already had a few bear encounters on the trip, but something just told me to stop by.

Oswald's Bear Ranch is a Newberry, Michigan highlight, and in fact, in my opinion, an Upper Peninsula highlight as well. If you like bears, you'll love Oswald's.

We wandered in and greeting us right away were a pair of bear cubs about 8 months old. They were hilarious and playful and it was hard to wander away from their gated area.

Mr. Oswald himself came over to the cage with a woman and they entered the gated bear cub enclosure.

Right away, one of the cubs made her way to the door and tried to get out. He not only knew how to work the lock, but his strength was pretty impressive. Here, B.E. stood guard, holding the clasp on the gated door closed so that the little one wouldn't get out.

I shot this footage of the little guy working the gate and B.E.'s conversation with Mr. Oswald about how clever he was.

I don't remember much of what happened next, but I trust that B.E.'s detailed descriptions have been accurate.

Evidently, Mr. Oswald asked the crowd if anyone would like to come in and pet the bear cubs.

I stood frozen, grinning from ear to ear but unable to move or make a peep.

B.E. said, "Schwee! Let's go! Let's go pet the bear cubs!"

He says I just stood there, still frozen, still smiling from ear to ear, still unable to budge.

He called to me again and I still didn't move.

Finally he yelled at me to get over there and pet some bears!

I moved, but I don't remember doing so.

Mr. Oswald took my camera and snapped a couple shots of me petting the cubs while B.E. shot a few of his own pics. I recall the feel of the fur, soft and yet coarse, and they smelled like wet dogs. They were awesome! As we made our way out of the area to allow for another pair of bystanders to pet the bears, B.E. got to pet them himself, but I was still in shock and have no photographic proof of it, sadly.

I pet some bears. I! PET! A BEAR CUB! OHMYGOD! That was the coolest thing! I could not stop saying it! I pet a baby bear!

Others were able to go into the enclosure and pet the cubs as well. WHAT A PRIVILEGE!

These two teens were invited inside, and I stood outside snapping pictures.

Mr. Oswald looked right at me and told me to put my camera down, not to waste my time taking these pictures. It scared me and I immediately obeyed.

Then he said, "Come inside and take the pictures in here, so the gate isn't in the way." OHMYGOD, I got to go in a second time!

Do not ask me what that bear was doing to Mr. Oswald. I don't know. I suspect it was a nursing act, but it looked really... um, weird.

Those little ones were cute as buttons, let me tell you. And full of spunk!

I shot this video of one of the little squirmy cubs, and NOTHING in the world is cuter!

We finally tore ourselves away from the babies to check out the adults. Wow. They're gigantic!

Such cool creatures.

I shot this video of a smaller bear who had just been playing in the pool, come over and take over the eating area of a bigger bear. We deduced that the bigger one was full, because he surely looked capable of dominating the area if he wanted.

And they're all black bears, so they're the little ones!

Then we sauntered over to the female enclosure and this big mama was foraging around. Check out the shedding!

Whew! What an awesome experience! We pet the bear cubs! I couldn't stop talking about it.

We left Oswald's triumphantly declaring that the highlight of the trip, even though meeting Teddy Pringles in the wild really was the highlight because it was a truly wild experience, but we were just soaring from getting to touch the cubs.

The rest of the drive was as it was before we turned off for Oswald's. Focus everywhere was on the fire, which the folks at Oswald's assured us was far away from them and they were in no danger.

All along H-37 were homes saved from the fire and large signs standing on the road thanking the fire-fighters. It was quite touching. At one point we had to have driven past the main road leading into the fire because there were bright red bulldozers, property of a fire-fighting company of some sort, digging up the wet ground. We wondered what the purpose was, but clearly, whatever they were doing was working because reports were that the fire was now under control.

The road along Lake Superior from Deer Park to Grand Marais is just as wonderful as one of my favorite stretches of road on H-58 from Grand Marais to Munising. We will definitely have to return to that area again sometime soon!

It was a somewhat grey day in Grand Marais, but we were able to poke around the bay where all the ships sat bobbing in the waves.

We checked in at the Hilltop Motel and Cabins, a place where I had stayed many years ago and it was a dump, but the renovations on their website looked so impressive that I booked us in at the motel for this evening. It was absolutely beautiful! There was a large deck with a view of the lake for visitors to use, but I found myself falling in love with a gargantuan tree next to the deck. It had to be hundreds of years old and would've taken four adults with their arms outstretched to wrap around the base of the trunk. That tree was so impressive! We weren't able to figure out just what kind of tree it was, possibly cottonwood, but I was truly awed.

We had a fantastic dinner at the West Bay Diner and turned in for the night in a very nice and comfortable room. Ahhh, what a day!

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