Isle Royale Travelogue Day 1: Madison to Copper Harbour

Note: When we travel, we keep journals. My husband writes, and I take the photos; he skips the back of every page, and I put in photos. The next few posts from me will be from our journal of our trip to Isle Royale at the end of May. Note also that the "I"s are my husband, and the "Alice"s are me. :-)

Sunday May 25
Madison to Copper Harbour

The trip begins today, as we move from the real world into a few days of removal. We're up to getting away -- forgetting all of the issues and troubles of home. No thoughts this week of the job(s), the new job at Purdue for me (maybe) the impending ADVANCE grant announcement for Alice (maybe), and of course, everything that needs to be done on the house before we can sell it.

But enough of that. For the next week, we'll think about and talk about only what happens in the moment -- the best flowers of the day (a field of trillium, trillions of them), the food experiences (Rhinelander Pub's strawberry and Jello pie), the birds spotted (grouse, wild turkey, downy woodpecker) and the things we do that we would probably rather not admit (currently, as I write this, we watch Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban on the hotel's Dish Network. Alas.)

So here we are, in the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge, watching TV for the first time in weeks and preparing ourselves (mentally, at least) for the boat ride to Isle Royale tomorrow morning at 8. Today was a day of driving, venturing out in Woodstock the Prius over hill and bridge and roadway bump from Madison to the Superior shore.

That's the main idea -- point the car north and drive. The fun is often in the details, so we'll try to provide those, not necessarily in chronological order. Instead we'll start with the most noteworthy - the field of trilliums.

We've been noticing over the 500-mile northward trip that we've been moving back in time. Back in Illinois, spring is well close to done, and early summer knocks. The dogwood blossoms are done, the tulips are so past blooming that the leaves are beginning to brown, the dandelions have done their turn from yellow to furry, and the daffodils have been completely forgotten.

(Update: Harry and Hermione are being clobbered by the whomping willow.)

But as we go north, the long gone flowers appear. We noticed tulips still in bloom (though a bit scraggly) in Madison - then redbuds still in bloom in Wausau - then the large fields of dandelions still yellow in Rhinelander - then the sightings of daffodils - daffodils! In almost June! - by the time we crossed into Michigan at Watersmeet.

And then the trillium appeared. Somewhere between Watersmeet and Houghton, we passed through miles of an open forest (the trees still had fuzz only - no leaves yet) with an undergrowth covering of, seemingly, nothing but white trilliums in bloom. Alice attempted some photographic evidence collection on a sunny hill with a wide shoulder to pull over on, but was faced with an impossible task, the field of view was just too big.

The time travel has its drawbacks, though. As we walked around the Lodge grounds in Copper Harbor in the evening tonight,the forest had barely woken. Birches were just budding and the ferns were still furled. We're really hoping that when we make it to the island tomorrow, we won't be ahead of the spring wildflowers. The more open forests make for better moose and bird sightings, but I'm not sure that's worth it. We'll see.

Moving forward in time, the current poor penmanship [trust me] is the result of lake sloshing. We're on the boat -- our own little Queen of Esquimalt, the Isle Royale Queen IV. The ride is not too rough [yet] and we're happily ebbing and flowing as we move north by northwest at 16 knots, facing a cold headwind. The water temperature is 36ºF, so we're staying inside where it's heated. But as we move along, let's return to yesterday.

So, the drive. The long drive. The mileage was about 53 mpg, which assuaged our carbon guilt a bit. This week is our cabin substitute [Note: we normally spend a week at my parents' cabin north of Vancouver - but not this year] - not an entirely satisfactory substitute, though. We've been pointing out things that substitute for others (hence the Queen of Esquimalt above) -- the Northwoods pines that look like cedars if you don't look too close, the two-street downtown business district of Copper Harbour that could be Egmont in another world, and the rocky shores of Lake Superior that, I think, do a reasonable impression of Jervis Inlet. Alice, of course, points out the lack of seaweed whenever I make that comparison. And mountains. And seals. And tide scunge. And whales. And good breakfasts at the White Spot on the ferry. But we'll do what we can.

We stopped for lunch yesterday in Rhinelander -- searching through the downtown for local flavour, determined to avoid fast food. Rhinelander, like many towns of the north, seems like a place past its prime. The store facades of Main Street buildings speak of a town much bigger - the plywood facades of homes just off Main Street speak of something else entirely. Perhaps I'm being unfair to Rhinelander, and my impressions are mixing with those of the UP towns of Houghton and Hancock and Bruce's Crossing and Calumet, but it was remarkable to see a place that had money at the turn of the century (mining and lumber) but has not yet really felt the 21st century goldmine of tourism. Our Rhinelander stop worked out, though -- the Rhinelander Pub & Cafe (since 1911) was a dark hole in the wall on the outside but clearly the place to be on the inside. Most of the town was there for post-church Sunday brunch, some of the ladies in the fanciest of hats. Two food-related comments: 1) covered in paprika - not enough to taste, just enough for colour; and 2) the aforementioned strawberry and Jello pie. :-P

We stopped late afternoon in the town of Calumet, about 10 miles past Hancock on the Keweenaw. I've known of Calumet for years from the Woodie Guthrie song - I think it's called "1913 Massacre" - about the Italian Hall tragedy:

Take a trip with me to 1913
To Calumet, Michigan, in the Copper Country,
I'll take you to a place called Italian Hall
Where the miners are having their big Christmas ball.

The story goes that the miners (of copper) were on strike - protesting the introduction of the one-man machine (miners had always worked in pairs) and asking for better wages and hours, and union representation too - the normal stuff. The strike lasted 15 months, and was about half-done at Christmas 1913.

In the rather strained and sometimes violent atmosphere, the union held a Christmas ball at the Italian Workers Hall, a second-floor hall on 7th St in Calumet. Hundreds of mostly Finnish miners attended with their families. Then someone, reportedly a copper company employee, poked his head in the door and yelled, "Fire!" The crowd rushed down the steps to the door, a long single staircase that met the door at the bottom with very little space. Seventy-three people were trampled to death. Half of them were between the ages of 6 and 10 years old.

The hall isn't standing any more. It was torn down in the '80s after having fallen into disrepair. The doorway is preserved, however, or rather the stone arch over the doorway, and the site remains a memorial to the miners, in a run-down shell of 7th St, complete with closed gas station and barking dog in a cage. It was depressing, but also heartening to see a plaque with the quote from Mother Jones (who came to Calumet to participate in the 1913 strike) on the back of the arch: "Mourn the dead, and fight like hell for the living."

Italian Hall Massacre memorial arch

Two other notable occurences in the day, I guess. We stopped in Rhinelander after the previously described lunch to have photos taken in front of the Hodag (the mythical northwoods monster of the Rhinelander area). And somewhere about Eagle River, we passed a car and a cop (with flashing lights). The car had just hit a bear. No kidding - roadkill bear.

Rhinelander Hodag

We stopped for the night at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge and WPA Golf Course (yes, that WPA - I didn't know FDR golfed)... it was okay. The forest around it was a little run down. So was the lodge. But it was only a quick minute from Copper Harbour, for an early start the next morning.

Keweenaw Mountain Lodge

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I love the way you record your trip. . . . Do you ever switch. . . he takes pictures and you write?


Did you get pasties? Please tell me you got pasties at some point :)

Sicilian, not yet. We used to write the journal where one person would write and the other would make stick drawings, but then I started doing all the stick drawings, and then forgot to finish in one of our journals. And he's much better at recording than I am.

yttrai, I hate to disappoint you, but we forgot - we completely meant to, but then never remembered to go look for some when we were in a place that might have them and at a time when they might be open. I'm sad too. :-(