More Sightseeing in the UP
12 Sep 2011
|This is actually part two to the Soo Lock post. After we got off the tour boat, the day really changed, it brightened up, the sun came out and eventually the clouds cleared! So, as long as we were this far north, we decided why not go and see the three lighthouses up here in this area by driving westward. And it ended up being FOUR!
So, off we headed! Our first destination was to the small town of Brimley and to the Point Iroquois Lighthouse. But before reaching this lighthouse, we stopped and took a few pics of an unusual Indian Burial ground we happened upon along the route. The reason we actually stopped was because I glanced over and saw this miniature lighthouse and light keeper’s house along the side of the road coupled with a tanker (also in miniature) and when I got out of the Jeep to take the picture, I spied this Indian Burial ground across the street. It certainly was unusual because the wooden caskets were above ground and just scattered all about. The sign above the entrance way, which of course was forbidden stated “Bay Mills Indian Community – Gnoozhekaaning” and told the story of the pine tree planted at the head of an Indian maiden’s father’s burial site back in 1841. This is part of the journey we both really enjoy – finding those little unknown, unwritten about places that aren’t in any tour books and you just stumble upon.
The Point Iroquois Lighthouse was very well marked to find and we pulled off and enjoyed walking around the grounds, going inside (the tower was closed today due to some renovation) and chatting with the two volunteers working there. The lighthouse is located where Whitefish Bay narrows into the St. Mary’s River. Since 1855, a beacon here has helped guide ships through this extremely difficult passage, where reefs of Gros Cap on the Canadian side of the Bay and the rock walls of the Point Iroquois threaten on the Michigan side. In 1871, the original wooden light tower was replaced with the present one, a classic white-painted brick structure. The light keeper’s home was added in 1902.
I found the name “Point Iroquois” interesting because of where I’m from originally. Western New York is home to the Iroquois tribes and never realized they had extended this far west. “In 1662, a group of Iroquois traveled about 400 miles by canoe and foot from their homeland in western New York to the shores of Lake Superior. The local Chippewa defeated them in a battle fought near what is now called Point Iroquois.”
And just before leaving, we walked out on the boardwalk to the shores of Lake Superior and saw what we thought looked like a lighthouse, way, way out in the lake. So, I went back inside and asked the two ladies I had been chatting with earlier if that was indeed a lighthouse out there and was told it is the Gros Cap Reef Lighthouse in Canadian waters, built in 1962 and belongs to the Canadian Coast Guard, even has a helicopter landing pad on top. This replaced the Point Iroquois Lighthouse.
We continued along Curley Lewis Memorial Highway, a twisting, scenic road, also called Lakeshore Drive following the curve of Whitefish Bay and passing through the Hiawatha National Forest and it offered plenty of water views and a handful of worthwhile stopping points. We took advantage of a few of them to stop and walk along the beautiful beaches lining Lake Superior.
When we reached our next destination we were less than pleased to see three large tour buses positioning themselves in the parking lot and then saw the lighthouse was encased in scaffolding at the Whitefish Point Light Station. We immediately learned that the tour was given priority to the Shipwreck Museum we were looking forward to seeing and this had already been booked ahead for their “tour”. But, we still browsed around on the grounds. The Whitefish Point Lighthouse first beamed a warning light in 1849 and has done so ever since, making it the oldest operating light station on all of Lake Superior. Marking the bay’s entry, the Whitefish Point Light Station is a utilitarian-looking 80-foot steel structure supported by a framework of steel girders. However, it was all surrounded by blue steel girders supporting the painting being done on the lighthouse while we were there. The light station was automated in 1970 and continues to do yeoman’s duty.
We also walked out onto the beach that is strewn with shipwrecks and driftwood. It provides a rather eerie reminder of many lives lost over time in this treacherous area of Lake Superior. On Lake Superior, the largest and fiercest of the Great Lakes, northwest storms can build over 200 miles of cold, open water. They unleash their full fury on the 80-mile stretch of water from Grand Marais to Whitefish Point (hence the nickname, the “Graveyard of the Great Lakes”). Whitefish Point has long served as a beacon for mariners, a narrow finger of land reaching toward Ontario and forming the protected waters of Whitefish Bay, of the of the safe havens on the big lake.
“The searchers all say they’d have made Whitefish Bay if they put 15 more miles behind her ... “ singer/songwriter Gordon Lightfoot immortalized the ill-fated ore carrier “Edmund Fitzgerald” for the masses, but locals here need no reminders. Less than twenty miles from Whitefish Point and the safety of Whitefish Bay, the huge laker and all 29 hands on board were swallowed up in mere minutes, no warnings sounded, by a fierce November squall in 1975. This was what we wanted to go into the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum to see and read more about! Maybe next time.
When we left Whitefish Point Light Station we decided we had the time, and definitely had the inclination to see Crisp Point Lighthouse. This is an obscure lighthouse, named after Christopher Crisp, an early chief of Lifesaving Station #10, sits on a tiny arc of land fourteen miles west of Whitefish Point, an isolated, unbroken stretch of Lake Superior shoreline. The 58-foot Crisp Point Light was built in 1904, but has been automated several decades ago. The buildings have just recently been painted and some restoration is going on. We knew the lighthouse could be reached via Country Road 412, so we programmed that into our GPS and off we went. Jerry had it set on fastest route there, but we certainly were unprepared for the route she ended up taking us to reach the lighthouse. It was so much fun! We were in the middle of woods the entire trip, narrow little tiny roads, large dirt ones, but all in relatively good shape. Jerry was thrilled; this is what he loves – off road travels, and this certainly was! And yet, we arrived – certainly not on the route written up in the travel guide and it was a lot of fun.
We met the couple working there on a volunteer basis in the “Volunteer Keeper Program” and could tell their love of this lighthouse. They told us the one week stints were thoroughly booked up through next year. She pointed out that the steps they had built from the beach to the lighthouse were no longer there. Seems Lake Superior had other plans for those steps last winter and when they returned to the lighthouse, they were long gone along with quite a bit of the beach front. It definitely was well worth the drive and thought it was in a very beautiful setting.
It definitely was a long day, but we ultimately ended up saving ourselves another drive north on pretty much the same route. We thoroughly enjoyed our explorations of more of the Upper Peninsula.
Till the next time . . .