The Keweenaw Peninsula is a long jutting point that sticks out of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula into Lake Superior.  Copper Harbor is a town located at the tippy-top of the Keweenaw that is as far north in Michigan as you can get, and it’s waaaay up there.  We decided to head up to the top this weekend since we’re nearing the end of our U.P. stay.

Mother Nature was not pleased with us.  Or just displeased in general.  We woke in the night to heavy rain on the roof of the cabin, and when we got up early in the morning, it was still raining.  After breakfast and the mandatory morning prep – more rain.  The weatherman says it’s clearing tomorrow, so we’ll drive in it and make the best of it.

The 3+ hour drive from Gwinn to Copper Harbor is long enough.  Throw rain and the vacationers traffic in, and it’s a recipe for a splitting headache by the time you arrive.  Luckily the scenery is enjoyable enough that taking your time and driving within the speed limit (as ridiculous as that seems!) is bearable. 

Since the U.P. is famous (notorious?) for it’s pasties, we were determined to find a pasty shop for lunch.  Through Houghton/Hancock, into Calumet, no pasty shops!  It’s un-American or un-Yooper or something not to have pasty shops around.  We both sampled our first pasty at a little shop in Marquette when we arrived in early August, and pasty=tasty.

The drive on M-26 reminds me greatly of the drive up Highway 101 north of San Francisco.  Tight, windy, great roads with incredible water views.  Substitute Lake Superior for the Pacific, vary the genus of the evergreens, and one could mistake the ribbons of road quite easily.

When your glass is half full, less-than-optimal weather conditions provide more-than-optimal opportunity to do the things which you might otherwise pass on in better weather.  Like driving to where US-41 ends at the tip of the Keweenaw.  US-41 starts in Miami, and travels north through 8 states where it finally ends right here outside of Copper Harbor.  We’ve both spent plenty of time on 41 (also known as the Tamiami Trail) in the Miami area, this let us say that we’ve been to both ends.  Maybe a little cheesy, but a good photo op nonetheless.

Just north of Copper Harbor is the Fort Wilkins State Park, yet another place that would have been passed by in favor of other outdoor fair-weather activities.  Built to act as the local law enforcement during the Copper Rush, it was restored as part of the post-WWII revitalization efforts at job generation.  An interesting history, but I’ll let you do your own reading on Wikipedia.

My parents are lighthouse fans, and any sign that says “Lighthouse Overlook” is an instant reason for us to turn off the highway on the spot.

The Copper Harbor Lighthouse makes for great photo ops, even if you can only visit it by boat due to there being no public land or roads bordering the point.  Just keep your umbrella handy because you never know when a Lake Superior squall will blow in!  We got caught quite a distance from the car ourselves and did an O.J. Simpson (while he was young and agile, not his antics later in life) across the rocks to get out of the heavy rain.

A quick detour to Manganese Falls for a photo op and a quick hike up and down the falls.  We decided to see as many falls as possible while we’re up, since the UP is well known for it’s many small falls.  Not a very big fall and not terribly scenic, but very nice to see, hear, and just enjoy.

One other local gem that we stumbled across which might have been passed over is Estivant Pines.  A conservancy project protecting xxx acres of 500+ year old pines complete with hiking trails.  It’s great to see conservation efforts, and one of the reasons that we donate to The Nature Conservancy – even if we leave no large personal legacies, we can do our little part to make the earth a better place for those who walk it long after we are dust and ash.

The short season, harsh climate, and utter isolation create an environment where even the single source of revenue (tourism) in Copper Harbor is extremely limited.  A few motels, cottages, and even fewer restaurants make the most of what they can during the summer season, and they are always packed.  Every single motel we drove past had a ‘No Vacancy’ sign prominently displayed, and those who didn’t plan ahead were driving back to Calumet or Hancock to find a warm place to spend the night.  We had booked a room at the North Port Motel, a small motel conveniently located in the 6 square block booming metropolis that is downtown Copper Harbor.  When we first pulled in, Colette asked if I had already paid – meaning, “what a dump”.  It was, by all appearances – just that.  I remembered seeing on their website that they had completely remodeled their rooms within the last two years – and wow.  The outside of the motel does not do the inside justice.  Fresh carpet, clean well-lit bathrooms with modern fixtures, good beds, and everything we needed to get us ready for a hard day on the trails.  The tired old cliché “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” certainly rings true in our little world time and time again.

The other big problem in Copper Harbor is the lack of culinary choices.  We stopped at two places, only to discover that they closed at 8pm.  Wow.  Our final option was the Mariner North, a large, attractive log-cabin style which was doing a booming business.  Definitely a mixed bag.  Wait staff with too much going on bordering on rude, a packed dining room, and slow service.  Luckily this was balanced out by a selection of local brews and great sandwiches.  Staff: 2, Atmosphere 3:, Food: 5.  A full belly – priceless.  We were supposed to be in bed at 8pm anyway.  We posted Yelp and TripAdvisor reviews of both, since we’ve found both sites to be invaluable when researching travel and want to contribute our part to the crowdsourcing.

On to Day 2