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Lake Michigan Circle Tour by Motorcycle: Day Three, Part Two

Wednesday, June 16, 2010 - We stopped at a little rest stop just after the Mackinac Bridge to take some pictures and figure out where we were going to go from there, since the day's goal had been to get across the bridge. It was only 3 pm, so we had plenty of time. After talking to the parks people manning the rest stop information booth, one of whom rode motorcycles himself, and checking out some maps they'd given us, we decided to push on up to Whitefish Point, one of the Northernmost tips on the Eastern portion of the Upper Peninsula, and home to Whitefish Point Lighthouse and Shipwreck Museum.

We weren't sure about the road conditions or how long it'd actually take us. Worst case, we figured we could make it to Paradise, Michigan and stay over there for the evening. We headed North on Interstate 75, and then veered West on State Highway 123, through the Sault St. Marie State Forest and on up into the Hiawatha National Forest.

The roads were in amazingly good condition, but the ride was very eerie. We came across almost no other cars, coming or going. Many of the houses and businesses we passed along the way were closed up, for sale, or abandoned. Coupled with the change in foliage — in Chippewa and Mackinac Counties, which we were riding through, the forests consist of a lot of Cedar, Black Ash, White Pine, Balsam Fir, White Spruce and Red Oak trees, among others — it almost felt like a scene out of some post-apocalyptic movie.

Mike, standing in Lake Superior.

Mike, standing in Lake Superior's Tahquamenon Bay, Michigan

Since the roads were so nice and traffic non-existent, we made pretty good time. We took a little detour onto Lake Superior Shoreline Road in the Hiawatha National Forest and stopped in the park with access to Tahquamenon Bay. Tahquamenon is from the Ojibwe Indians and means for "this is a short route." The Ojibwe used the bay as a shortcut while traveling. They used a small island in the bay as a stopover on the sometimes dangerous journey across the bay to and from Whitefish Point. (We were told by the locals that Tahquamenon is pronounced like it rhymes with Menominon, like the Sesame Street song!)

We walked out to the bay and were surprised by the clear, warm waters. The beach was sandy, but there were large rocks, maybe three feet round dotting the shallow waters. It was a beautiful landscape; very quiet and serene, just as it must have been when the Ojibwe were the only people in the land.

We headed back to 123 and further North, passing plenty of rugged vacation homes, then through the small town of Paradise, where 123 turns West. We stayed straight on North Whitefish Point Road, which became increasingly desolate, until after about 20 minutes, we came to the end and Whitefish Point itself.

The Whitefish Point Lighthouse is one of the first lighthouses on Lake Superior and is the oldest active light on the Lake, having first been lit in 1849. According to

Whitefish Point is known as the Graveyard of Ships as more vessels have been lost here than in any other part of the lake. Hundreds of vessels, including the famed Edmund Fitzgerald, lie on the bottom of the bay and the approaches. The lighthouse marks the end of an 80 mile stretch of shoreline known as Lake Superior's Shipwreck Coast. This light has shined onto the big lake unfailingly for almost 150 years except for the night when the Edmund Fitzgerald went down.

Whitefish Point is also home to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, which, unfortunately was closed by the time we arrived. Among other artifacts, the Museum houses the bell from the Edmund Fitzgerald.

View of Whitefish Point Lighthouse, Michigan

View of Whitefish Point Lighthouse, Michigan

Since the museum was closed, we contented ourselves with walking out to the sandy beach, which was strewn with water-smoothed rocks and large pieces of driftwood. I ventured a hand (and by accident, a foot) into the water and was astonished how cold it was. Such a stark contrast to the warmer water we'd just experience in Tahquamenon Bay. The wind was really whipping across the point as well, making the whole scene very bleak and desolate. I could easily picture ships going down in rough waters here. It didn't take much imagination.

While standing on the shore, we could see across the lake to the far shores of Canada's Pancake and Batchawana Bays. If we stared down the shoreline to the Southeast, we could also just make out the spans of the Sault Ste Marie International Bridge, which joins Sault Ste Marie of Michigan with its sister city in Canada. For us to see it from Whitefish Point, the bridge must be spectacular. From this distance it looked as if its white spans were connecting the clouds, as it appeared to be floating well above the ground.

The lakeshore at Whitefish Point, Michigan

The lakeshore at Whitefish Point, Michigan

By now, it was getting late, edging into the 7 o'clock hour. From the parking lot of the park, we called the Best Western Motel in Paradise that we'd passed on the way to Whitefish Point and secured two rooms. We then headed back the way we'd come, hoping to find an open gas station in Paradise, since I was pushing over 100 miles on my tank of gas and didn't know how much I had left. We pulled into the one-stop sign intersection town and luckily the convenience store/gas station was still open (If you find yourself in the area, they're open to 9 pm, for the record). We gassed up and asked the woman behind the counter where the best place to eat was. She directed us to the Brew Pub at Tahquamenon Falls State Park, which was about 14 miles West on State Route 123. The only catch was they stopped serving food at 8:30 and it was almost 8 pm then.

We decided to hightail it over to the Best Western and quickly check in, then hauled down 123 at a slightly illegal pace to get to the Upper Falls park entrance where the Brew Pub was. We made it with 15 minutes to spare. Easy!

The Brew Pub is actually part of a large group of log structures, including a large circular veranda out front, some gift shops, an ice cream place, and rest rooms. It looks pretty impressive for a State Park structure. The staff at the Pub were very nice and friendly, joking around with us despite the fact that we walked in at pretty much the last minute.

Dean, Mike and I had to try the slightly inappropriately named Blonde Beaver Ale for obvious reasons, one of four beers they brew on the premises. I'm happy to say it tasted pretty good too! I'd recommend it if you're in the area. Since we were in the middle of nowhere in the Upper Peninsula, it seemed appropriate to order the Sausage Sandwich and fries. It turned out to be a Polish Sausage, split in two on french bread, covered in onions and mustard. Probably not the best meal I had on the trip, but it was good.

On the way out, I grabbed a Blonde Beaver Ale T-shirt from their small gift shop.

The waitress convinced us to walk the short distance to the Upper Tahquamenon Falls; just a short walk up a well-paved path, maybe a quarter mile from the parking lot. Even though it was after 9 pm, there was still light in the sky. We did the walk and came up on a good viewing point for the falls. The falls were bigger than I thought they'd be; about 200 feet across with a 50 foot drop; and looked like foaming root beer. The amber color is caused by tannin leached from the Cedar, Spruce and Hemlock in the swamps that drain into the river.

Tahquamenon Upper Falls

Tahquamenon Upper Falls on the Tahquamenon River, Michigan

According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Tahquamenon River and it's falls is the land of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Hiawatha from his epic poem of the same name:

"by the rushing Tahquamenaw" Hiawatha built his canoe. Long before the white man set eyes on the river, the abundance of fish in its waters and animals along its shores attracted the Ojibwa Indians, who camped, farmed, fished and trapped along its banks. In the late 1800's came the lumber barons and the river carried their logs by the millions to the mills. Lumberjacks, who harvested the tall timber, were among the first permanent white settlers in the area.

For those interested, you can get MP3s of Longfellow's Hiawatha from LibriVox. You can also download an e-book of the poem from Project Gutenberg. I really wish we'd had more time to explore the Park and the surrounding area, but I'm happy we got to see the Falls. It was one of the cool, unplanned serendipitous moments of the trip that I really enjoyed.

Since our sunlight was fading quickly, we got back on the bikes and rode back the way we'd come, towards Paradise and a good night's rest at the Best Western. The twilight ride back through the shadowy woods, with no one and nothing, other than some deer bounding away from us through the brush, around was pretty damn cool. This was the only real riding we did at night during the trip up to this point, and it felt great.

Back at the Best Western, Mike, Tim and Dean suited up and headed for the indoor hot tub and pool. Since I'd forgotten to pack a swim suit, I didn't join them. We stayed up a while planning the route for tomorrow's ride and then crashed for the night, exhausted by a really long, fun day of riding and sightseeing.

Photo of Upper Tahquamenon Falls by James Marvin Phelps (mandj98)

Related posts:

  1. Lake Michigan Circle Tour by Motorcycle: Day Four
  2. Lake Michigan Circle Tour by Motorcycle: Day Three, Part One
  3. Lake Michigan Circle Tour by Motorcycle: Day Six
  4. Lake Michigan Circle Tour by Motorcycle: The Night Before
  5. Lake Michigan Circle Tour by Motorcycle: An Idea is Born

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