Monday, August 6, 2012

As I type here, I find myself in Ontonagon, Michigan, a town whose name is so musical, I can’t wait to see what adventures I will find there tonight when we go out looking for a place with edible food!  We drove up today from Boulder Junction (WI), our “visiting Red Arrow Camp” headquarters, a drive of just about an hour and a half over nearly deserted roads fringed with gorgeous forest.

Our destination and occupation for these three days is the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, right on the shores of Lake Superior.  Our first stop, after losing an hour by driving back into the Eastern Time Zone (despite the fact that we are west of Boulder Junction!) was the visitors’ center for the park.  We purchased two days’ worth of park entrances (forgetting that we would actually be here for three days…oh well, no volume discount either way) and got a knowledgeable introduction to the park and the best way to spend our time here. Then, we were off to find the romantically named Lake of the Clouds.

Lake of the Clouds used to be called Carp Lake…the opposite of romantic, wouldn’t you agree? However, the “carp” of the name was not the fish (there are no carp in the lake), but from the fact that it was once known by the name Lake of the Escarpment or Lac du escarpe to the French speaking residents/explorers of the region.  The escarpment is a high, steep ridge that rises on the north side of the lake, separating it from Lake Superior.

We drove up (as in “we gained altitude”) to the parking area and, tripod in tow, head off through the trees to see the sights. This is probably the most visited of all the scenic areas in the park, and it is very thoughtfully accessible by a boardwalk that can easily accommodate a wheelchair.  We didn’t have a lot of company – the parking lot was not full.  However, there were enough people to make you feel as if the park was appreciated, without so many that it was hard to see the views or enjoy the trails. (It is also a Monday.  We wondered what it might be like on a weekend.)

The bridge of my story – seen from the overlook.

The sight of the lake from the overlook is spectacular!  It is no wonder it is the most popular spot in the park.  The viewing platforms are between 500 and 1000 feet above the lake.  Way below you, the Big Carp River winds its way through dense, green forest, passes under a very prosaic bridge and then widens to fill the gorge and form the lake, which is about a mile long, but only about 15 feet deep.  It isn’t hard to imagine that this is a view worth seeing in any season, and I think you would be hard pressed to decide in what season it is the most beautiful. (in a subsequent talk with the proprietor of the motel where we are staying, I learned that the peak season for the “Porkies” is actually the fall.)We were seeing it on a splendid summer day, with bright sunshine and blue skies and just wispiest cloudy hints of the rain predicted for tonight.

A detail of the Big Carp River, seen from the overlook

Seeing it from the top was not enough for your intrepid blogger and her spousal sidekick, so we trekked down the hill (path conveniently provided) to the level of the lake.  At our first stop we flushed out a great blue heron whose fishing in the reeds we had obviously disturbed.  From there, we set off to find the bridge (doing so via a secondary or tertiary trail that had echoes of our erratic wandering in the woods around Pallette Lake a couple of weeks ago.  This time I kept track of my filter holder – a new one bought to replace the one I lost on that hike!).  Not so bad this time – we actually found the bridge and the correct trail to it, so that we could return on the proper path.Have you even found a bridge and said to yourself “Nah, I’m not going to cross it”?  Me neither.  Cross it we did.  The trail sign on the other side let us chose between a four-mile (one way) trip to Mirror Lake, or a trail around the lake toward the campsites.  We chose the latter, and walked about 1.5 miles through some of the loveliest forest either of us had ever seen.

The forest was a work of art!

With the lake to our left, and the sun overhead creating dappled patterns of light and shadow, we walked through a wonderland of thick bracken ferns, stately white birches, delicate, lichen-splattered maples and verdant mosses, to the accompaniment of the occasional bird call and breeze-powered rustling leaves.  We passed three or four campsites before we turned around to go back. Each admonished me for not planning ahead and coming with my tent to spend a night.  (Little did they know I don’t have a tent, or they would have admonished me for that, too.)

We were walking on the south shore of the lake so that our view of the other side included the rough red and grey outcroppings of the basalt that makes up the bulk of the escarpment.  We encountered other hikers on the path:  a rather large group of young people of both sexes with backpacks and bedrolls, and two other pairs of day hikers like us. But mostly, we had that enchanted place to ourselves.

Round trip, our hike was just under four miles (we both have pedometers now), but we did our fair share of hiking down and back up the escarpment – our excuse for why we’re so tired tonight!

The before-mentioned spousal sidekick enjoying the forest!

Our motel is about 10 miles from the park’s visitors’ center and close to Ontonagon (the town; It is also the name of the county we’re in.)  We are not right on the shore of Lake Superior (couldn’t get a room on short notice on the lakeshore) but we’re right across the highway, and a 50 yard walk will put us in the dunes that line the beach.  Gerry’s comment about the lake:  “If you told me it was an ocean, I would have no reason to doubt you!”  Despite its reputation for being freezing, all year round, we did see a lot of swimmers today.  Definitely wading is in order for tomorrow.The motel, the Sunshine Motel and Cabins, has a lot of personality. I really rather like it:  bright colors, bear/wolf/moose/pine tree motif – very friendly owner and guests.  No, it is not luxurious, or even elegant, but it is clean, convenient, friendly and cute.  Perfect for me.This journal continues …

Home away from home for a few days. We recommend it!

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