Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Part 1: The Introduction

Sault Ste. Marie Forest Area, Munising, Ishpeming and Negaunee, MI (Map)

Autumn 2012.


For as long as I've known Nailhed, I've read his chronicles and yearned to tag along. Finally 2012 came along and an autumn Upper Peninsula trip was proposed & decided upon.

I booked the trip home using air miles, so I had one of those lovely Deer Lake - Halifax - Saint John - Toronto - Windsor itineraries.

Sitting in the Halifax airport, I started to wonder about my next flight as I sat alone at Gate 10. Eventually 4 other people showed up & we boarded one of the smallest planes I've ever used. I suppose not that many people fly the 44 minutes from Halifax to Saint John.

Also, yes that is the cockpit you see. Yes the pilots were also the stewardesses.

My flight landed in Saint John, New Brunswick at midnight. I found some seats without armrests, then slept all alone, save for the one security guard and one cleaning lady.

I had never been to the airport in Saint John before; so there has to be some points allotted for that?

I would land in Windsor at 10 a.m.

Over to Detroit by 1 o'clock, we were going north by 3. Stopping in Clare to visit a friend & consume chili-cheese dogs, by the time we were done, it was about 9 p.m. and our friend was offering us space to crash. Nailhed wanted to make it to the Upper Peninsula tonight though, so the offer was turned down.

After stopping at a Meijer's to pick up a sleeping mat since I forgot mine, I don't believe we made it out of Clare County before I drifted off to sleep. The three hours of mediocre sleep in Saint John wasn't cutting it.

I awoke briefly as we passed over the Mackinac Bridge under a harvest moon - which I have to admit is a nice way to wake up, with the moonlight illuminating the clouds and the incredible man-made structure over the strait. Although, after paying toll & succumbing to the forests of the U.P., it was right back to slumber.

I would wake up one last time as we turned down a dirt road towards a quarry Nailhed knew about & figured upon as good as any stealth camping spot. Unfurling the sleeping bags quickly in the cold night, I climbed in the cab of the Ford Ranger & it was finally time to sleep until daylight.

That cold night made me thankful for the 20°F sleeping bag I bought for Colorado. Even as the day started to break, leaving the cab of the truck to take a leak, I donned more clothes in a futile attempt to get comfortably warm.

I was in a sleepy fog when we pulled into this dark quarry last night. Now that the sun was up, I was realizing how cool this place actually was - and here I thought Nailhed just picked some random boring quarry!

This was the Fiborn Quarry, in operation from 1905 to 1936. What makes this quarry different & interesting, is that this was a limestone quarry & some of the buildings were constructed by excavating cavities in the already existing limestone. The building you see above is ore car loader building, while the powerhouse foundation and locomotive storage warehouse still stand as well (the sun wasn't yet over the trees while we explored, so I took very few decent photos).

After stopping for breakfast in Newberry, we didn't stop in Munising for their lighthouses or their aged downtown, but for their modern, drab courthouse.

Check it off.

We continued west, through Marquette and into Ishpeming. Ishpeming is dominated by a mine-turned-museum, with the mine's headframe dominating the skyline. As we drove, there were even more reminders of the city's mining history, as there were fenced off mine shafts right along the street in certain neighbourhoods. Cruising past impressive houses surely built with iron ore money, we turned down a dirt road where Nailhed knew about more ruins.

These are the Barnum Mine ruins, showcasing all that is left behind. I particularly liked the autumn colours and the decent graffiti attempts on the tall cement structure.

An added bonus of going to the Barnum Mine was that we had to drive down random side streets, passing this wooden shingle, multi-turreted church.

Even if it wasn't abandoned, it would still stand as an impressive sight.

Nailhed knew a lot about certain ruins because of improved Google satellite imagery in the U.P., but in other cases, he simply had a footnote about a place and no idea what remained.

The Phillips Gold Prospect Mine was one of the latter cases. Even if we found nothing, I still enjoyed driving down random "County Rd GN", parking the car and walking random dirt paths under sunny skies in rural Marquette County.

What you see above is a small quarry we found, which Nailhed ran up to check the surrounding countryside, while I photographed yellow trees.

The quarry turned out to be nothing, so we returned down County Rd GN and went up into a forest according to the coordinates we had...although not finding anything up there either.

Back at the clearing, we found a very small piece of a foundation poking out from a pile of dirt...

The Phillips Gold Prospect Mine ruins!! Holy crow! :O


I found this pretty humourous after searching around and sweating for an hour. Maybe we should have just asked the rockhounds we saw carrying buckets of old rocks?

Satisfied with the incredible ruins of the Phillips Gold Prospect, we went back to Negaunee in search of another mine.

Cruising through town, I was impressed with the still active mine they have, as all I could see was a giant hill of mined material so dark that my camera laughed at me when I tried to take a picture of the material against the bright sky. I suppose the incredible satellite imagery will have to do.

Parking the car and walking towards more ruins, it was a bit unsettling to be in a forest with so much conical mine subsidence. People around here have to pay mine subsidence insurance because of their town's location atop a mine, so I suppose it should come as no surprise when there's subsidence very close to mining activity.

Risking the forest was worth it when we popped out on the mining property. I'm not sure what these giant steel monoliths were actually for, but walking in a barren field with 11 of them reaching skyward was a unique scene.

We stayed in Negaunee and went over to the Athens Mine, where only the hoist building ruins remain.

This had to be my favourite find of the day, with a basement below us, giant pulley motors & a fine view over Negaunee from this ridge. It was one of those situations where they knock down an entire building except for the basement, so I dropped down & checked out what I could down there. Coming back up, we savoured the fine autumn evening, colourful trees and fine scenery; before heading over to Marquette for dinner.

Knowing we were going to be out into the wilderness for a few days after this, we stocked up on food & beer, plus stopped at a family restaurant for a hearty dinner. They had delicious, local beers on tap & I had something called a cudighi, which was new to me. Nailhed told me they were pretty good & I butchered the pronunciation to get one from our friendly waitress.

The cudighi is a spicy italian sausage on a long roll, with mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce. It wasn't bad.

To wrap up our extensive day, we went north from Marquette into an area with very few towns. Nailhed knew about one of those "name & coordinates" mines, so we parked the truck in a forest clearing & made about finding our way over to 'Captain Daniel's Gold Mine'.

There was still an hour to sunset when we started, but once we found this rock bluff and the view over Lake Superior, we knew we would be staying a while.

The two of us moved all over the rock outcrop like ants on a sandwich, but never came across anything resembling Captain Daniel's mine.

We were facing the wrong way for a Superior sunset, but we did get to watch a moonrise.

Eventually we descended the large rock, bushwhacked through the forest again, until we arrived back at the truck. Since it was only 8 p.m., Nailhed cracked some Keweenaw Brewing Co's while I cracked a King Cobra (a decision I would later regret when I had to get up in the cold, at 4 a.m., to use the 40oz. washroom.

Sometime around 10 or 11 it was time to hit the hay. Sleeping in the cab of the Ranger wasn't as bad as I anticipated, but I greatly improved the matter by dropping the tailgate so I could fully stretch my legs instead of sleeping with them bent the whole night (thankfully it wasn't as cold this night).

I do have to admit that two men sleeping in the back of a Ford Ranger is er, cozy. At least I gave Steve some material for "Brokeback Upper Peninsula" (roll eyes).

Continue to Part 2!


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1 - Fiborn Quarry History, Caves.org - http://www.caves.org/conservancy/mkc/fiborn_history.html

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