The Keweenaw Peninsula is the upper tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Even though the Upper Peninsula is technically Michigan, I had never visited because it is really far away. Brian’s grandma grew up in the Keweenaw Peninsula, and his great-great-granddad was a copper miner that lost three fingers mining. Brian celebrates his Yooper heritage.
It took a couple days to drive from North Dakota to the Keweenaw Peninsula, and we made a few stops on the way. While we were driving through Minnesota, we found a giant statue of Paul Bunyan, and Brian just happened to be wearing a matching shirt!
We stopped at the first place we passed that advertised smoked fish, which was in Wisconsin. It was a gas station/convenience store, and we bought smoked trout, smoked salmon, and cheese curds, and didn’t regret it.
While we were in the Wisconsin north woods we stopped at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. A lot of the things to see and do are in the islands, and we didn’t take the time to leave the mainland, but we did take a hike on the Myers Beach Sea Cave Trail. We expected the hike to be along the lakeshore, but we were in the woods for most of it. Even when we were only feet from the cliff over Lake Superior, the trees were so thick we could barely see the lake!
The first views of the sea caves were 1.8 miles in, we took the trail about 4.5 miles round trip. The viewpoints were a little treacherous, and there were signs saying not to go too close to the edge. Of course everyone is going to go to the edge though, it’s the only way to see the caves.
The water filling and emptying from the caves made loud thumping drum noises. We were soaked in sweat when we finished because it was so humid.
The next stop was in Porcupine Mountains in Presque Isle State Park for a hike. We hiked to the mouth of the Presque Isle River on Lake Superior. The rocks here were the best skipping stones. Brian is a much better rock skipper than I am, but I got a couple to skip.
Then we hiked up the river to Manabezho Falls. I think we picked the wrong side of the river to hike, because our side was muddy and rocky, and the other side had a boardwalk! We did get a nice view of the falls though.
We were hoping for cooler weather and that the leaves had changed colors more, but no such luck. While we were in the UP we had every type of weather! From the hottest day of summer to rain to blustery.
We camped at the City of Hancock Recreation Area. It is on the Keweenaw Waterway, which separates the Keweenaw Peninsula from the rest of the Upper Peninsula.
The Portage Lake Lift Bridge connects Houghton and Hancock, which are the fifth and eleventh most populated cities in the UP. That’s not saying much though, there are only about 311,000 people in the UP. It’s 30% of Michigan’s area and only 3% of the population.
The first full day of our visit was Brian’s birthday. We spent it in downtown Houghton, which is the home of Michigan Technological University. We had breakfast at a restaurant called Suomi and then stopped in the downtown shops. In the early afternoon we found ourselves at Keweenaw Brewing Company.
KBC is a popular meeting place, and I can see why with pints of beer for $2.75. We sat at the bar, and folks sitting nearby struck up conversations with us. I chatted with an interesting guy named Bill who is a retired fish biologist/mushroom hunter. Later his friend Stephen, who is a retired math professor/sea captain joined us. We had such a good time talking at the bar that they invited us over for dinner the next night! Brian cooked pasta and trout, Bill and his wife Marcia made a delicious salad, and Stephen and his son Dan provided beer and wine and strawberry shortcake made with local strawberries. They were great company!
After two days of meeting interesting people, I was feeling like I finally understood why people go to Michigan Tech or move to the UP… then I remembered the snow. They get so much snow in the Keweenaw Peninsula that they have to shovel their roofs. They get about 20 feet of snow each year!
There is a National Historical Park in the Keweenaw Peninsula made up of about 20 historic sites. We visited the visitors center in Calumet, and three of the historic sites, the Eagle Harbor Lighthouse, Quincy Mine, and the site of Italian Hall.
Eagle Harbor Lighthouse is a working lighthouse built in 1871, that is also set up as a museum. We got there about a half hour before they closed, so we had just enough time to walk though it, and a couple of the other small museums on the property. Brian liked seeing an old snow roller that came before plows.
Quincy Mine is a copper mine that was active from 1846 and 1945. It was one of the three longest running and most successful copper mines in the area, out of hundreds of mines during the copper boom.
The Quincy Number 2 mine shaft is over 9,000 feet long along a 55 degree angle following the copper deposit. This required the world’s largest steam powered hoist, to get the copper out of the mine, which was used from 1918 to 1929.
We took the full tour, which included a tour of the hoist house, and a tram ride down the hill to an entrance at the seventh level of the 92 level mine. Then we changed to a different tram and entered the mine through an entrance originally built for drainage and expanded in the 1970s by Michigan Tech students as part of their mining lab work. It was cold in the mine, about 43 degrees, which is why we went the day we did, since it was 88 degrees outside.
Inside the mine, we learned how much it truly sucked to be a copper miner. Miners started in two-man teams with hammers and chisels by the light of candles. When technology advanced they first implemented pneumatic two-man drills, and then smaller one-man drills.
To convey the mining experience, the tour guide turned off the lights and lit a candle, and then blew it out. He also turned on a drill so we could hear how loud it was. If being a driller wasn’t bad enough, being one of the guys that moved the rocks was even worse. Brian was the only one that tried to move the rock car. He got it to budge!
It was a great tour, and made us really happy to not be miners.
Italian Hall was a two-story meeting place that hosted community events. It was built in 1908 and demolished in 1984. The archway stands at the site, which has been made into a memorial park for the disaster that occurred in the Italian Hall in 1913. In the middle of a year-long miners strike, at a party on Christmas Eve, someone yelled “fire”, and 73 people, mostly children, died in the rush to escape the building.
We took a couple of scenic drives in the area. One was Brockway Mountain Drive, which gives a nice view from the top of a hill, and the other was a poorly maintained dirt road to the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula. I think it was extra treacherous because it had recently rained. The giant mud puddles just made Brian happier.
We took on a rigorous research project during our weeklong visit. Brian committed to eating at least one pasty each day to determine his favorite traditional UP pasty. It wasn’t easy, and I couldn’t keep up. Pasties are good, but they are filling.
The culture in the Keweenaw Peninsula was greatly influenced by the Cornish and Finnish who migrated to the area to work in the copper mines, and the pasty came with the Cornish. The traditional pasty includes beef, potatos, rutabaga, and possibly carrot in a pie crust filling.
After all this hard work, our favorite was from Krupp’s, which is an unassuming convenience store, and was also the first one we tried. They were all good though! At Connie’s we also tried a green pepper pasty that was basically a meatball in a pie crust, and Roy’s offered several non-traditional pasties including a turkey and stuffing pasty, a chicken and broccoli pasty, and a breakfast pasty. Suomi also offers a mini-pasty, which is a great idea.
We went to the rocky beaches of Lake Superior, and I admired the rocks while Brian fished. He caught a small trout, but not big enough to keep. Lake Superior is an amazing lake. It’s the largest, deepest, and coldest of the Great Lakes, with storms intense enough to sink ships.
On our way out of the Upper Peninsula we crossed the Mackinac Bridge. Built in 1957, it’s a 5 mile suspension bridge. When it opened, the toll for a car to cross was $3.75 (nearly $30 in today’s dollars), because that was the cost to take the ferry. Today it is $4 for a car to cross. It was $8 for us since we have a few extra axles.
Our UP trip was great, but we will definitely need to go back. Our original plan was to see more of the UP, but we decided to spend extra time in the Keweenaw Peninsula and save the rest for another trip. The Keweenaw Peninsula has such an interesting history and culture, and there’s a lot to see and learn there.
Day 364| Mile 39,419