Keweenaw Peninsula MI

24 Jun

There are places that feel comfortable, places we feel more settled in, but in trying to decide why, we cannot fathom the reason, they just feel right. Keweenaw has been one of those places.

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 Eagle River

We left Haughton behind having pencilled in another three nights stay (Wed to Friday) with the overider that we would ring to cancel if we changed our minds, we hate being tied down. Highway 41 travels up the peninsula to its very end just north of Copper Harbour. We called at the visitor centre in Calumet to pick up more information but decided a visit to the Copper Museum could perhaps wait until the return journey.

Whilst the 41 is already a quiet road a smaller side road would allow us to travel nearer the lake shore. In many places property is built right up to the lake  or wooded ground obscures any views so whilst not knowing if we would see anything more or not we decided to chance the alternative route. We were soon rewarded as the road ran very close to the water and when we reached Eagle River a parking area right alongside the sandy beach made a great lunch stop off. A few mile further and Eagle Harbour also borders the lakeside, its lighthouse, so necessary in inclement weather, making a pretty picture on a perfect sunny day.

 

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Eagle Harbour Lighthouse 

A further stop at a roadside picnic area led us to meet up once more with a couple we had first spoken to at Miners Castle they seemed to be relaxing into the local lifestyle also a couple from Washington State, lunching with family who live in the area. Once again a few chance words lead to a conversation and when we begin to tell our tale its never a short conversation. People are lovely and always want to know more about what we are doing, we in our turn are interested to know where they are from and understand more about their home town.

We were amused by the roadside marker for Cat Harbour – Population 3 – was that humans or cats we wondered!

Eventually we turned back on to the 41 which ends just a few miles after Copper Harbour and the Fort Wilkins State Park. We chose the west campground and a long pull through site facing Lake Fanny Hooe, then settled for the end of a beautiful day.

The State park campgrounds are placed either side of the Historic Fort where 21 building have been restored to depict the life of the 1870’s. During Summer months actors in costume roam the buildings  to help portray the life once led by the military and their families whose home the fort became. There are warnings that these actors may not come out of character and certainly the first one who spoke to us did a good job of staying true to the year he was living in. He enquired where we were from – ‘England, might we be in danger here?’ I replied, the response was that we would be OK as long as we had not been collaborating with any Confederates. I assured him that we keep clear of conversations regarding politics, Medicare or football(soccer) to which he asked ‘what is Medicare’?

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 The married quarters 

 

His wife another actor was doing a grand job in one of the married quarters buildings where a party of three older ladies were asking her questions not realising she was replying in context of her role, they we so aghast that she had lived for 4yrs, year round in these primitive surroundings, we retreated to enable her to carry on her role and for us to let our mirth explode! What a tale they will tell their friends …….

We viewed most of the buildings including the Ordinance Stores, the Sutler (store) the ammunition store, and the two storey house which was the home to one of the Second Lieutenants and his family. We met a third actor here depicting the wife of this Second Lieutenant, she held forth with a group of visitors for probably half an hour, telling us anecdotes from her life in the fort, drawing us into the conversation with questions we could only respond to negatively or as I did a white lie to help her along with the story! Of course I read from cover to cover the fashionable magazine she was talking about, but no I had not seen the article about green dye being bad for ones health. She was unsure if her green dress should be discarded but as the silk was from Paris, France, she felt she would probably be fine.

P1130784  restored buildings Fort Wilkins

The Fort was originally thought to be necessary to keep peace after the Federal Government bought the land from the native Indians to enable the copper ore found there to be mined. A copper boom  existed for a time with many mines being worked on the peninsula, the ore shipped from harbours along the lake shore and supplies bought in that way too as no roads existed. The winter cold cut the supply routes for many months meaning the population needed to be hardy, self sufficient and organised.

Surprisingly even today this holds true. We decided to stay a third night so needed to cancel our pencilled in reservation at the campsite in Houghton. Our cell phone had no signal, no problem, we will walk the half mile to the town and use a public phone. We found three, none of them were working, we spotted a sign for the Post Office – maybe a phone there. It must be the smallest post office in existence, a tiny hut of a building no bigger than a garden shed, it held the PO boxes for locals and a tiny 18inch square hatch behind which was the postmaster in another tiny room, possibly a sorting office, possibly his home. He kindly rang one of the Motels to enquire if they had a public phone, no, but The Pines did. We walked to the main street, but had to pass the visitor/community centre so thought we would pop in there first.

An elderly lady greeted us and we relayed our dilemma, she directed us to the store at the top of the street and opposite. The inevitable questions of where we were from etc ensued …… I however managed to get a few in of my own.

Was it true that in the winter the population was only 17?

She thought it was probably nearer 80.

The Local one room school has been operational continually since around 1840, today it has seven pupils from pre school to grade five who are taught amongst other subjects Spanish by a local originally from Spain.

Where do you shop?

“Hancock, 45 miles away, most things can be bought there…. however we always take a list and if we are in town and there is something to be bought back for someone else we just pick it up. Of course sometimes we run out of something, but we can ask a neighbour. I once needed a red onion for a salad so I popped over to the local restaurant and borrowed one from them. It works both ways, they needed oranges for a garnish and the ones they had were no good, I happened to have a bag of oranges I could let them have and saved the day!”

She told us she lived at the very end of the road (we have since decided this is actually not the end but the beginning) she had hoped the family would not find her there, but they had and like it just as much as she did!

We crossed the road to the store, this may be the high street, a major road, the only road in fact, but we saw very few cars.

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The pay phone was on the porch of the store, along with a rocking chair complete with local male. The phone displayed a large ‘OUT OF ORDER’ notice. Local male told us the phone company had been around last week and cut off the network to the town payphones, presumably they were not paying their way. We discussed this a while and he directed us to The Pines Restaurant and Bar, back across the road (Yes, we should have gone there in the first place) We did make our call, from the back corner of the public bar, cancelled our site and assured the folk in Houghton we would be with them Thursday.

Maybe its the history which attracts us, maybe its the peace. It could be the friendly folk, the great scenery, even on a grey day the views were appealing. We still cant put a finger on whatever IT is, but we do feel comfortable.

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Lake Fanny Hooe – named after the sister of one of the Fort Wilkins Officers who came a while to visit!

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2 Responses to “Keweenaw Peninsula MI”

  1. Susan June 24, 2010 at 9:26 pm #

    wow, after reading this post, I’ll definately have to put this place on my Must See list…sounds like an awesome place!!

  2. elainethehill June 25, 2010 at 4:42 pm #

    Would be a good place to visit Isle Royal from too. Boats leave from Copper Harbour!

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