Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Part 6: Michigan's Western Frontier

L'Anse, Crystal Falls, MI, Florence, WI, Menominee, Escanaba, Big Bay, MI (Map)

Autumn 2012.


Sitting at the tavern last night in Calumet, I noticed the weather forecast on the TV. Snow was coming in two days; while thankfully tonight was our last outdoor sleep on the Upper Peninsula. Obviously for the temperatures to fall below 32° to snow, it would have to fall considerably from the balmy lows in the mid-40s which we had been experiencing during the night.

So this night was the day in between, where it wasn't cold enough for snowfall, but the temperatures were trending in that direction. I wanted to get out of bed & begin the day very early, but forced myself to keep going back to sleep until daylight. Once light finally came, I rushed out of my sleeping bag and the cold morning air coming off Superior was not to be trifled with - I subsequently rushed into the rest stop washroom.

We would find ourselves back in L'Anse this morning.

I knew that this would happen, so instead of taking night pictures of the Baraga County Courthouse three days ago, I opted to wait for this morning instead. Workers going inside the building gave me a few strange looks, but generally they didn't even notice I was there.

I knew that the courthouse here in L'Anse might be on its last legs as they say they can no longer afford to maintain this structure from 1885. As a result, they planned on purchasing & moving into a vacant hospital in town.

That is until the voters voted down that proposal not once, but twice! Apparently the people didn't want to pay a new tax so that their local government could move to the old hospital. So instead, L'Anse is buying an old pharmacy to at least replace the annex building up here on the hill (you can see a sliver of the annex building to the left in the above picture).


Anyway, for breakfast we went to the Hilltop Restaurant, a legitimate place that Nailhed knew about from previous ventures. The food was plentiful and tasty, but I also enjoyed their country soundtrack since Nail had turned off the radio in anger about 50 times on this trip, whenever the music wasn't metal enough.

Leaving southbound out of L'Anse, we stopped at the Canyon Falls Roadside Park.

I remember being groggy & ornery because it was early, but looking back at the pictures, I'm actually quite impressed with the stunning cliffs & falls.

Plus I was getting a free botany lesson!

I know I should be less of a boob & simply know these things, but since I can only identify about 3 trees in total, it was interesting to walk along this trail, look up and say, "oh, a Red Pine. Well I'll be damned."

Nailhed stated this has to be the best waterfall in Michigan & that he was confused as to why it isn't more hyped.

He has been in this area nearly a dozen times and this was the first time he decided to "check it off". One would think he would have stopped if this was promoted better, but then again, you also certainly find some jewels when you go through and see everything instead of just the highlights.

We continued south on US-141 until we met US-2 in Crystal Falls.

Seeing as Crystal Falls is the county seat of Iron County, of course we had to stop at their courthouse! It also doesn't hurt that their courthouse is a fantastic, romanesque beauty built in the year 1890, situated at the top of Superior Street with the city of Crystal Falls cascading down the streets around you.

While Nailhed waited in the truck at L'Anse, the Iron County Courthouse was good enough to warrant an interior visit.

Unfortunately there were actual court proceedings going on, but the staircases and hallways were nice enough. One of the best parts was a secretary noticing us appreciating the building, who then told us to go check out the courtroom, insisting that it was fine - well until she heard court proceedings and forgot they were actually having court that day!

Leaving Crystal Falls, US-2 turns south and I knew it went into Wisconsin because it had already tricked Nailhed in the past...much to my amusement! (Nail hates the idea of wandering into Ohio, Indiana or Wisconsin at any time).

So I had figured that we'd spend about an hour skirting the Michigan-Wisconsin border on swamp roads, making sure that the little eagle on my GPS kept to the right of the dotted line between the two states; but then Nailhed surprised me, by simply accepting the fact that we should take the highway into Wisconsin for 15 miles of The Badger State!

And wouldn't ya know it, we would go through a county seat! My first county courthouse of Wisconsin, the Florence County Courthouse in Florence!

The courthouse was okay, but what I really liked was the jail out back.

When this complex was built in 1889, the courthouse was $13000 and the jail was $4000.

The jail hasn't been used since the 1930s.

The really neat thing was that the jail was open and you could check it out!

In this day & age, to have something like this open and under the trust system? Only in good ole' Northern Wisconsin!

In addition to having the best skyline view in Florence, the guy across from the courthouse also had two sweet rides!

If you ever meet Doc Brown, maybe you can visit Florence too!

Unfortunately we would have to return to Michigan as we crossed the river into Iron Mountain, first checking out the Dickinson County Courthouse, then walking train tracks flanked by forest to visit this old bridge Nailhed knew about.

Old bridges are neat enough, especially standing tall over steep-sided rivers, but this one gets extra points for connecting Michigan & Wisconsin.

Nailhed walked across, I went below.

This is also where H.O.V.A. and Dame Dash apparently hang out.

It's the ROC!

Leaving Iron Mountain, we were hugging the state line and moving south to reach Menominee, one of the most remote points of Michigan if you're looking at it from a Detroit state of mind. A whopping 8 hour drive would await you, if you set out to reach this southwestern tip of the Upper Peninsula from the Motor City.

In addition to reaching a far off location, I was also infatuated with how close we were coming to Green Bay. For a sports fan and a fan of travelling in America, Green Bay has remained on my to-see list for a very long time: a product of it not exactly being the most convenient place to reach (the closest I've been is Milwaukee (2 hours) or Madison (2.5 hours).

The Menominee County Courthouse.

Menominee was an impressive little town with an entire streetscape listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It seemed like we were a little late to the party if we wanted to see anything abandoned, but that is all fine if people are trying to actually renovate things, instead of building additional parking lots and stuccoed Olive Gardens.

We did see some actual working industry while in Menominee, so while we did also see some sad abandonment, things seem like they may work. There were still some very large vacant buildings, so godspeed Menominee.

We did our part with eating at Murray's Irish Pub in a nicely restored/maintained building in the historic downtown. It wasn't exactly our cup of tea with loud music while we were the only customers, but otherwise it was good. (I know they have to appeal to a larger public audience, more so than the random dude who was hoping to avoid hearing Pitbull on his road trip (Nailhed would get his country revenge when the Menominee pub played International Lover)).

I soothed my ears with the crashes of Lake Superior waves, washing away that Bud Light fist-pumping Puerto Rican with a journey to Menominee's fantastic 1927 Lighthouse.

It really reminds me of another lighthouse, but I can't seem to put my finger on it.

Circling the structure, there is a sign telling people not to climb the cement crib and jump off into the water (Green Bay). If I should ever run into the mayor of Menominee, I will let her know that I didn't need a sign to tell me that.

We would eventually race away from Menominee, finally turning towards home along the south coast of the Upper Peninsula, after nearly 6 days of exploration. I wanted to get another motel this night to watch the Orioles; while Nail wanted to check out one last thing with the day's remaining light.

Even though I wanted to watch the Orioles, this bridge was too cool. Any long time reader of this website knows that I really like heavily decaying structures and this bridge was a prime example of forgotten infrastructure.

It was so decaying that big bad Nailhed - headframe climbing, girder shimmying Nailhed - said that we should turn around after we started to get over the moving river instead of the stagnant, marshy sides.


The great thing about visiting the bridge was that we just so happened to discover an abandoned complex of buildings as we drove down the side road to the known decaying bridge.

There were about five buildings on the property and the first one we went into, wouldn't ya know, had a better skatepark than back home!

(In addition there was Team Young graffiti on the walls! Their tentacles reach far & wide!)0

0 - Inside joke alert. If you don't understand, it's nothing, don't worry about it.

It was fine that it was dusk and I couldn't take a decent picture without a tripod, since I don't like bringing attention to stealth ramp spots anyway (and I don't know if I could help myself with how much I liked these old buildings).

Nailhed wanted to make a bit more progress to the east, but unfortunately there wasn't much in terms of communities after the last abandoned building. We raced down the road towards the next motel on my GPS, unfortunately ending up on a dirt road before deciding that the motel probably doesn't exist anymore.

Thankfully we would find the Big Bay Get-Away Motel shortly after...and their price was more than agreeable: $44!

Oh hewwwww yeah! $44! If only more places had $44 rooms (places that aren't located in Camden, East Detroit or Gary, that is).

It was an interesting room to say the very least. The attached bathroom looked like my own (very) poor carpentry skills tried to somehow superimpose it on the backside of the building, almost feeling like the small square room would topple over onto the grass out back. The TV had to have been there since the 80s, one of those ones you remember from your very early youth, with the click-click-click knobs which go between 13 different channels.

It was a perfect spot to watch the Orioles and all of the Detroiters were jealous when we got back and I told them all about our $44 room in the U.P..

Continue to Part 7!


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