Friday, August 27, 2021

Iron Mine Tour, Vulcan, Michigan

Max, a friend in San Diego, has asked if we meet new friends in campgrounds. We have, but not as many as we would like. I think he imagines campgrounds as big kumbaya meetings around communal campfires. When actually, as campers we are fairly private, and although friendly greetings are often exchanged, chatting with strangers is rare.

Liz and Mike

But once in awhile the usual banter starting with "where are you from ... " turns into a meeting of  new friends. This week the couple with the fifth wheel next door, stopped by and said hello. She saw the Escapees sticker on our rig which led into my mentioning Jojoba. It turned out they have been there and know Coney and Carrol. 

We chatted for several hours and the next day went to the Mine Tour together.

I've been on coal mine tours, and I've seen large open copper pit mines, but I have never been on an iron mine tour until this week in Vulcan, Michigan.

I'm not sure I like the way the earth seems to sag just above the mine entrance. Had I noticed it, I might have been hesitant to go in! But we did. The mine tour has been going on safely for many years.

The tour started with a small outdoor exhibit of old mine equipment. We had an excellent tour guide who used to be a history teacher. I just felt he enjoyed sharing history with us.  

We were given hard hats and rain coats to wear in the rather cold and wet mine.

We rode a single wide train through 1/4 mile of mine tunnel. It took us only a few minutes, but we were told it had taken seven years of manual labor to dig out. No power tools were used.

We then walked down into a tunnel system where the floors had been smoothed, and lights  and handrails installed, long after the mine was closed.

Along the way we learned more about the hand work involved in this type of mining, and the hazards experienced by the miners. At a time when a loaf of bread cost about five cents, they made seven to ten cents an hour. No benefits or safety regulations.



After the mine tour we stopped for a miners lunch. Pasties of course. 

The pasty was a lunch food brought over from the Cornish mines in Britain. It is a large closed pastry filled with meat, potatoes and/or turnips that the miners could eat "out of hand." These were some of the best we have had. 

We ended the day with another "sit around" at the campground. No campfire, just lawn chairs and an open grassy space.

Our new friends left the next day, but we have exchanged contact information and hopefully we will meet up again. 

Today is a "cozy" day. We are relaxing in the Alfa enjoying the sounds of a midwest summer rain.  

A good day to write a blog post. 

Tomorrow we travel on.


Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Beautiful Wisconsin

 It is Tuesday August 25, our last day at the Apostle Islands RV Park in Bayfield, Wisconsin.

It is a pretty, small community on the Bayfield Peninsula just below the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior. 

Today is a perfect day to be working on a round-up post for the week. It is raining! I know, for local residents rain is no big deal. But we have seen so little of it this last year, it is a welcome sight.

Note: rain stopped about noon.

Earlier in the week we went on the three hour Apostle Island Cruise. 

It was a late afternoon trip and the weather was perfect. It had been a bit hot all day, so we looked forward to getting out on smooth Lake Superior.

We got to the dock area quite early since the plan had been to explore the shops before boarding. But there really wasn't much to see, so we wandered over to the pier and were actually the second couple in line. Other passengers arrived while we had a pleasant conversation with the first couple. They were from Wisconsin, but not quite locals.

There were quite a few sailboats out around the islands. Since the Apostle Islands are a National Park, they don't have private homes on them. There are only a few "grandfathered" homesteads left, that will go back to the park when the current owners pass away.

A popular fire proof building material, brown stone, was quarried on the islands for the rebuilding of Chicago in the 1870's. But when the Eiffel tower was completed in 1889, iron became the preferred material for the new "skyscrapers." These brown stone blocks were ready for shipment when the market for them crashed, and have been sitting here for over 100 years.

Water, wind, ice, and time.  Nature's sculpture tools.

Of the 22 islands, Devils Island has the deepest and most extensive "sea caves."


Yes, the water was this green in some places.

We also went past a couple of lighthouses and an old fish camp that are being maintained for historical reasons, and learned a lot from the captain's narrative about the islands themselves.

Finally, it was time to turn back and as the boat speed increased, we held onto our hats and faced the wind.

We had intended to get a fish fry at one of the many restaurants in town, but when we went into two, we were turned back by the large crowds of unmasked people, including the servers. We are being very careful about COVID exposure, and since we suspected that most of these people were NOT vaccinated, we opted for a nice pizza at home in the Alfa.


While on the boat we heard about a nice easy, three mile, hike on the "Lost Creek Falls" trail.

It was very pretty, and amazingly there were very few mosquitoes. Probably because it was so dry. 

There were sections of boardwalk over many parts of the trail. You could see that in wetter weather these traversed marshy places. 







Like most wooded trails, there were plenty of rocks and roots. Somehow this image does not show the steep downward slope of this and some of the other places on the trail.


Unfortunately, I have a bad knee that can suddenly become very painful while hiking. Particularly when I'm going downhill. I think it is time for a really good stabilizing brace if I want to continue trying to hike. This is the second time this summer I have gotten into a difficult situation because of it. Difficult for me, but not for 99% of other hikers!

The trail took us to the falls. I did not make it all of the way because of the incline, but Craig took a few pictures for me. This whole knee thing is a mystery to me. By the time we returned to the Jeep, on the last 1/3rd of the trail where is was smooth and level, my knee did not hurt.

I suspect woodpeckers may have been at this tree, but the odd thing was there were no other similar holes in any trees we could see. 

Also there were no holes farther up the trunk and it was quite a tall tree!


Speaking of natural oddities: Craig saw this little creature in the center of the trail.  Was he just snacking on a leaf, or was he waiting to trip up some careless hiker?

Wednesday we head back to US 2 and go southeast into the UP of Michigan. We have two more stops before arriving near Mackinaw City, reaching the end of Hwy 2. 

Check back to see more.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Heading East on US 2

On Sunday, August 8, we left Lakeside and traveled all of 19 miles, around the top of Flathead Lake, to Bigfork, MT.

We stayed at the Outback RV park, a quite rustic small place with lots of trees and full hookups. It was nice to not be looking at another RV right out of the windows!

We did have neighbors in sight, but not on top of us.

In addition to a few newer RVs, there were some rigs that were there for the long haul. It is not unusual for people from the area to have an older rig in a park full time as a hunting / fishing / weekend getaway. These are usually not allowed in the more "touristy" places like the Lakeside park. 

This one had a few interesting modifications. Note the wood stove chimney and the attached shed entry hall, which are both great for cold weather.

This long peach-colored bus was there for the summer. We met the young couple who owned her on our walk around. They and their two very young children were from Texas, and one or both of the parents were working at a nearby lodge for the season. Their little girl proudly told me they had beds in the bus! 

The only thing I was not 100% comfortable about the Outback was the steep gravel road we had to go down to get out. But as it turned out it was no problem for the Alfa.  [From Craig] I drove out.
The Outback is just a few miles closer to Glacier National Park than Lakeside is, so we choose Monday or Tuesday of our stay there to drive up to Glacier. Because of overcrowding, National Parks have a new system that requires you to get a "time in ticket" online either months ahead, or at 8 AM two days before you want to go. All were sold out on Friday morning for Monday before I had a chance to make a time selection. On the Sunday we had both laptops queued and ready to push the select buttons at 8 AM. I lost, but Craig got in for a 9 AM slot.  


We choose to get tickets for the "Going to the Sun Road" shuttle because from past experience at Glacier we knew the parking at Logan Pass (the top of the road) was always very congested. 

We had had quite a rainstorm the night before and the morning was overcast and cool.  As we waited for the bus, the ticket lady told us that it was only 39° F at Logan. I was glad I wore my warmest jacket.

Even with the timed entry system, there already was quite a crowd on the road.

We really could see very little from the shuttle because of the fog. 

It was not long before we were up in the clouds.


When we got off the bus at Logan there were only a few feet of  visibility.  (I could barely see the people on the sidewalk in front of me.) So we decided to get back onto the next bus going back down.

This sad little naked tree is a good representation of what we saw of Glacier National Park. I am very glad we came here a few years back and spent several sunny days exploring. Unfortunately with the ticket system we could not just come back the next day!

August is cherry time around Flathead Lake.

In Bigfork there are dozens of small and large cherry stands, ranging from an  umbrellaed table, an open garage, to  commercial orchards. 

The cherries, both Bing and Rainier types, are fresh picked sweet and cost much less than in the market.


On Wednesday it was time to say good by to this part of Montana and head east on US Hwy 2. 

Near the eastern border of ND, the Alfa odometer turned 100,000 miles.
Since it had 13,000 miles on it when we bought her, it means we have traveled 87,000 miles. I'm going to have to watch as we get close to 113,000 in the future. That will be our real 100,000 milestone!

You never know what you are going to see. These humongous buffalo skulls graced the center of a traffic circle along our way.

We did see a few buffalo in a field, but they were probably being raised for the meat trade.

from web site Depositphotos

I regret not having pulled over to take some pictures of the vast rolling wheat fields we passed. The above image is from the Web. They were beautiful. 

We also saw a lot of big hay or straw bales.

Web stock picture

I spotted the first oil rig in eastern Montana, but they became more plentiful along with fracking sites in North Dakota.

In five days we drove over 1000 miles. We stopped one night in Havre, MT at the Great Northern Fair Park, which was a narrow strip of land just feet from the edge of Hwy 2 with full hookups for RVs. 

Then one night in Williston, ND, at the Fox Run RV park, which was a large parking lot with hookups for oil workers and lost travelers. 

(I will not write about the hour we spent driving on gravel roads around the Williston Airport because we took a wrong turn. It was not a fun time.) 

And two nights in Devils Lake at APRV, a very easy in-out grass field with hookups. I don't like to drive more than three days in a row without an extra day to rest!

Then we stopped in Bemidji, Minnesota, for three days at the Royal Oaks RV Park. 

The park felt "tired".   The area has been very dry for a long time. They had no snow last winter and so far no rain this summer. Most of the grass in the park and in the town was dead, and the trees look sad.

Downtown Bemidji was not very busy on a Monday afternoon. We walked a few blocks, but not being shoppers there was little of interest to us.

Across the way was Bemidji Visitor Center and one of the two lakes. We had to stop and admire the great Blue Ox.

This statue of 
Shaynowishkung stands in the park along the lake shore. 

The plaque picture below tells some of his story.

In these times of our becoming more aware of some of the actions taken against the indigenous residents, I think it reminds us there were real people here before us.






This sculpture is also in the park. 

As were this small group of Canadian Geese!  

Our next stop is along the south shore of Lake Superior. I think of it as the beginning of the next chapter of this year's travels.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Flathead Lake, Lakeside, Montana


Sunday August 1

On most of our days at Lakeside on the west shore of Flathead Lake in Montana, the sky has been smoky giving the days a gloomy overcast and the setting sun an other-worldly orange glow. Fortunately neither of us has respiratory problems, but my eyes have been more irritated than usual.

Monday we tried to take a walk at a local Lavender Farm, but just as we arrived it started to rain and they closed. The rain didn't last long, but we headed back to the Alfa anyway. On Tuesday Craig, with the help of a mobile RV repair guy, successfully installed a new microwave to replace the one that had failed in July. It weighed 75 pounds and we felt it was best to get another man in to help.

Wednesday the smoke cleared for the day and we decided to take the evening Far West Boat Cruise.

The dock was just across the street from our RV park.  Taking boat trips like this is one of the things we enjoy doing. 
We do not pull a boat of our own and do not fish, so this is one way to see the larger waters we visit.

The Northwest shore of Flathead lake is very built up with huge  homes built quite close together.

Each of these has a multi-million dollar price tag.

No two are alike, and our cruise announcer dropped numerous famous names. 

This one was built by one of the original owners of Starbucks. While most of the homes are built as close to the water as possible, this one is high up, and there is a clog lift down to their dock. A good view and a four minute ride up or down.


I can only think "Location!" when I look at this one.

We cruised south for about an hour and then turned around to go back to Lakeside.

 As the sun slid towards the mountain ridges, we could see there were promising elements of a beautiful sunset. A scattering of clouds and a reflective lake only required us to sit back and be patient.

This reminded us of the Arizona flag.

It just kept getting better

until it was gone. 

Thursday we decided to drive around the lake. We headed around the top of the lake and down the east side.

But we were stopped by a road closure due to a wildfire.

We turned around, went back to Lakeside and headed south on the west side of the lake. 

As expected, we were turned back again, just past Polson. But all in all it was a nice drive.

If you're interested in old machinery and oddities, visit the Miracle of America Museum in Polson. We did not go in, but these were a couple of the unusual items along their driveway:


I love stuff like this! 

It makes me smile, and there is nothing better than that.