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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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