Day 13 – Ups (and downs) on the UP

We packed out of Ironwood, MI about 9:40 and set our sights on Calamut and the Keweenaw National Park – almost all the way across the “thumb” of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It had rained mercilessly during the night with one big crack of thunder that shook the motel. (So my driver tells me! I was already dead to the world and didn’t hear a thing!) So the morning was a crisp 52 degrees with winds blowing through accumulated clouds. There were small patches of sun from time to time as we traveled on.

Passing by a small lake as one of the rare appearances of the sun broke through, I hollered, “Oh, stop, please!” I wanted so badly to take some photographs and I hadn’t taken hardly anything with my big Nikon. The town was Wakefield and we did get gas, so that made it all worth while. The lake was Sunday Lake. How appropriate; it was Sunday and we had found the lake. Needless to say, in the sun, it was beautiful. (And, probably beautiful without the sun as well, but it had been a long time since we had seen the sun!)

Because of my complaining, my driver took a detour that would bring us closer to the shores of Lake Superior. We stopped in Ontonagon for comfort and asked directions to a place where we could visit the lake. The elderly clerk at the Kwik Stop was kind enough to direct us but we came out and neither of us could reconstruct what the names of the streets were she had mentioned. I whipped out my phone and pulled up maps. I found the city park she had spoke of and then realized the names of the streets were easily identifiable if one simply understood the dialect. We did find the Ontonagon city park and it was well worth the effort. The lake waves rolled up on the thin strip of sand practically at our toes. The wind whipped with ferocity and the waves responded. Standing there it was difficult to remember we were at the lake shore. I photographed with delight and was just about to return to the car when the clouds parted and sun shone down just for my pictures! Nothing like grace to bring the brilliance of the colors out of the landscape.

Arriving in Calmut about 2:00 (only it was actually 3:00 because we had crossed over into the Eastern Time Zone again) we went right to the Kewneeaw National Parks building – only to find it closed! My driver had made extensive notes for our stops and there was no warning that the place wasn’t open on Sundays. Turns out, just from September 15-30 it would be closed on Sundays. Starting October, it would only be open on Wednesdays thru Saturdays; after October it would be closed for the winter! Just a little notice would have been nice.

Well, we both needed a comfort stop, so we turned the corner and decided to walk down the main street of town to see what we might find. Everything looked closed and locked up tight. But, just a few blocks down there was a shop open. We asked the clerk where we might find a coffee shop. “Oh, I don’t know. Well, maybe at the end of the shop, here, we sell some coffee.” That was so vague, I just had to ask, “Is there a restroom anywhere?” There was some hesitation, “Well, the gas station around the corner.” I thanked him, not adding that I might be able to look in his shop if I didn’t need something else worse! We walked to where he thought there might be coffee. The place sold beans, but it didn’t look like there was brewed coffee available. That settled it, I was going to find the gas station. A kind patron at the counter turned around and offered, “There’s a coffee shop across the road and they have a restroom.” Thank you! We went across the road only to find that establishment closed. Now, I really was going to the gas station. Although it was sunny, the wind was blowing strong enough to rip the skin right off your face.

At the gas station, of course, I had to ask for a key, but the station manager was a grizzly old fellow who could have cared less and just handed me the key. Well, relieved, I could now enjoy the little town that looked like a place trapped in time. It’s the kind of place that would make a great movie set for a small town in the mid ’50’s.

Back in the same little shop, Randy saw a sign that said “Fresh Coffee – $1.” So, he asked again and pointed to the sign. “Oh, yeah,” the young man said and got a cup to pump the coffee into. After one pump the pot was empty! So Randy got about an inch of coffee for free since the poor guy didn’t think he should charge a dollar for that. So, we bought a piece of fudge named “Lake Superior Mud,” a mix of vanilla and chocolate with caramel swirled in the middle. Very creative.

An adjoining shop sold products made on the UP (Upper Peninsula) and I saw a shelf full of a variety of my son’s favorite hat. I texted him a picture and we ended up talking by phone – after, of course, the phone died twice in the process. But we did get him a hat in the right size and desired color. Nothing like buying local products. Especially one so unique and made right here on the UP.

We drove back to Houghton where we had reserved a room. Being famished, we made our usual question to the desk clerk, “Where would you recommend for dinner?” She gave us a number of options and we set out on a walk to take a look and see what sounded the best. The Chinese place was closed; the Italian place was just closing it’s doors at 4:00; the pizza place was open; the bar and grill, closed. It was beginning to look bleak. The only other shop on the street that was open was a book store. Not being able to pass by a book store, even when hungry, I stepped in to look. There was no one anywhere around and the clerk stepped out from a back room. He wanted to know how I was. “Well,” I began, “we’re actually looking for a place to eat. Where do people eat here on a Sunday?” He laughed, obviously having recently immigrated to the area. In his thick accent he recommended “The Library.” Oddly, I could understand him just fine, where the local accent was much harder to decipher!

“The Library,” located right on the canal, proved to be the place. Turns out they had a signature soup, creamy Swiss cheese and onion, and it was delicious. Randy said he had the best sandwich of the trip so far.

Afterward, I walked down along the canal and took some pictures. The sun was setting and the place was so entirely picturesque, it was a delightful walk. One thing I noticed – the entire town is in some way trying to reinvent itself. It had once been a mining town, but now the mines are deserted and turned into tourist attractions. The movie theater is a refurbished insurance agency; the churches are museums; the old library, a bar and grill; the Hanford House, a tattoo parlor; and so on. It’s a tiny little town on a beautiful canal leading into Lake Superior trying to grow up and transform itself into a tourist destination.