If the Upper Peninsula is off the beaten track, Copper Harbor at the end of the Keweenau Peninsula, is as remote as you can get in Michigan by car. CH and the other little burgs along Highway 41 must have been much more consequential during the late 1800/early 1900’s, when 95,000 people were here sucking copper out of the ground. Large churches and government buildings, long past their prime, hint at the days when big bucks were here to be made. But it’s pretty much all gone now and what’s left is thick forest, secluded coves, and occasional tourists searching in vain for a cell phone signal. Hunters and fishermen enjoy the peninsula as well as ATV/snow mobilers who share dedicated trails cut through the forest. The spine of the peninsula is almost 1,000 feet above lake level and mountain bikers bump and rattle their way up and down the craggy sides of the cliffs. It’s clearly an outdoorsy sort of place.
After the copper rush, much that we see here was built during the Depression by the WPA. They finished the road to Copper harbor, built the Mt. Brockway scenic drive, a golf course and brought electricity to these isolated communities. They helped to resurrect Fort Wilkins, a living history museum and state park today. Most of the buildings there have been lovingly and accurately reconstructed. The furnishings and paint colors are as accurate as archeologists can make them. We never did find anyone who could explain why the military was put here to protect copper miners. They never saw any military action and functioned more like police.
We feel lucky to be here during the heat of the summer. Inland the temperature went up to 90º, but as soon as we got close to the water, the breeze was cool and delightful. The sandy beaches even had people swimming in the water, something we’ve rarely seen in Lake Superior.
Michigan boasts that it has more lighthouses than Maine and there are two nice ones on the peninsula. The Copper Harbor one is only reachable by boat since the nearby land is owned by rich folks who won’t allow anyone else to drive on their roads. We took a small boat to tour the place with a guide who knew it all. Most of the light houses in the area were staffed by European immigrants and were poorly paid. They brought their families to these lonely spots and grew fruits and vegetables in the rocky soil to supplement their diets. They were only here nine months of the year since Lake Superior would freeze solid, but climate change has eliminated that concern, and shipping can take place here now year round. Cargo ships over 1,000 feet long can come through the locks at Sault St. Marie and connect Lake Superior with the rest of the world. If you want to identify the behemoth sailing by, there’s an app for that. If only our phones would work..
In the state park we are camped under trees, so no internet or TV for our time here. We were watching recorded shows from the DVR and it went berserk and will no longer display the hundreds of hours of programs Ken has carefully recorded. We’re hoping that when the satellite dish can reconnect, this problem will be remedied. And the jacks aren’t working again. Our version of roughing it.