We like Lake Michigan, but enough is enough, plus it’s lonely around here

Up and out of Escanaba after delicious Swedish pancakes and some boat chores.  Among other glorious successes, we identified and resolved the small leak that caused the fresh water pump to cycle on periodically throughout the night.  That left only two Bays de Noc—Little and Big—between us and our Sunday destination.

In the mid-nineteenth century, this part of upper Michigan was a hotbed of iron smelting*, with the resulting product supporting much of the Union war machine.  Post-war, a Johnson Iron Company bigwig named Fayette Brown ordered a huge smelting operation and a supporting town to be built around Snail Shell Harbor on Michigan’s Garden Peninsula.  He named the town Fayette.  Fayette Brown was not a humble man.**

The entrance to the harbor is lined with huge dolomite cliffs.  Very cool.

Cedar trees along the cliffs have adapted to the crappy conditions by slowing their growth rate, which also allows them to live a long time.   One is over 1,414 years old, rendering our series of posts about the wondrous old trees along the Atlantic coast even more embarrassing.

At its peak, Fayette boasted five hundred hardy residents.  Most of them lived in what looks like poverty.  This “middle-class” house, for example, is smaller than Miss Lily.

The pig iron market kept the town booming for about twenty-five years, during which Johnson Iron produced 225,000 tons of the stuff. This would be a great place for a reference to the Marty Robbins classic song about the Arizona Ranger with the pig iron on his ship, but sadly we used it in a Mississippi River post several years ago.  Oh well.

Because we stayed for two days and had time to kill, Doug dropped the drone down into the roofless remains of the company store to get an artsy shot of Tumbleweed in the fading light.

The sign outside says that customers referred to the operation as a “pluck me,” which was a “term commonly used to emphasize exploitative company stores.”  We find “pluck me” to be a pleasingly apt description of price gouging.  “Pluck me” also is a close cousin to what one of us yells every time he carelessly gashes his head when retrieving something from the lazarette.

The big white house behind the little white house on the hill behind Tumbleweed in the photo was “the finest home in the harbor.”  Not surprisingly, the top company executive lived there.  Somewhat surprisingly, however, the superintendent lived about thirty yards from the little white house—this house—where the folks restoring it found a secret compartment with vials containing nine thousand doses of morphine.  We have no idea about the daily intake of morphine junkies, but nine thousand doses sounds like a lot.

The visitor center has an awesome diorama showing the town and harbor as it appeared in the late 1800s.

We assume a dad helped design and construct the project, because if the kid did it on her own it would’ve just been a shoebox with cotton balls and glitter, a few Lego houses, and glue everywhere.***

The last house we’ll include belonged to Dr. Bellows, the town doctor.

We note this only because years after he lived in this house, Dr. Bellows became a NASA psychiatrist who was dutifully skeptical every time Major Tony Nelson reported seeing paranormal activity around his house.  Unless that was a different Dr. Bellows.

Folks who follow us know that when we visit a new stop, we look for local places to eat.  In a ghost town like Fayette that’s not too easy.  A hike out to the road and then down it a fair piece, however, led us to the only restaurant to be found within a distance we’d walk without sniveling: Sherry’s Port Bar, “serving fresh whitefish (when it’s available.)”  Fun and quirky little place.  We hope it survives.

Anyway, Fayette was an awesome place to stay for a couple of days.

Not much going on between Fayette and Manistique.  Since we’re done with Lake Michigan, however, here’s a photo of an unremarkable stretch of desolate shoreline we passed as we rounded the southern tip of Summer Island.

There’s also not much going on in Manistique, and what little we might muster for the blog we already used last fall.  The Manistique East Breakwater Light, however, is still right where it’s been since 1916.  In 2013, a dude from Ohio named Bill Collins bought it for $15,000.  Apparently he now has a collection of at least four lighthouses for his kids to sell the moment he dies.

Once again, Tumbleweed was about the only boat around.  Even the dredges were gone from the middle of the narrow river channel, which helpfully dropped the degree of docking difficulty to zero.

A solitary swan did drift by, carrying a big guy who sometime earlier proclaimed that his back hurt too much pedal and a cheerful woman who was voted “Most Likely to Drown in the Event of Capsize” by her swanmates, who called dibs on the only two life available jackets.

Otherwise, not much to Manistique.  Manistique feels like a town that once was thriving so they built stuff and then people left and now there’s a St. Vincent De Paul service center on the main downtown street.

But Dana enjoyed running on the boardwalk, and we did find a quite solid breakfast joint.  Perfectly acceptable as an overnight pit stop on our way to Lake Superior.

Wednesday took us to Naubinway.  Before reaching Naubinway, however, we made a detour to retrieve balloons that some jackass somewhere released without a second thought, prompting the earliest of our annual rants.  Stop with the helium balloons!  Just because they’re pretty and go up and out of sight doesn’t mean it’s not littering!  Grrrrr.  Mylar and latex balloons break down into micro particles that harm plant and animal life. Foil balloons are not biodegradable at all.  What the hell is wrong with people?

Seul Choix (confusingly pronounced Sis-shwa) Point Light is the last of the fabulous Lake Michigan lighthouses we’ll document in this blog.  “Many people” believe it’s haunted by the ghosts of keepers past, but we think it at least equally likely that the museum people make up the stories to attract tourist dollars.  Back in the day the Seul Choix Point Light was dang useful though, because there’s a hidden boat-sinking limestone reef that reaches out beneath the surface almost as far out as we were.

Naubinway is famous as the northernmost point on Lake Michigan, although technically the actual northernmost point is one cove to the east.

Naubinway even more importantly is sort of near a cabin owned by our friend Erin’s father.  In fact, we’d never heard of Naubinway until Erin mentioned it.  Now, “Naubinway” is one of our favorite words to say.****

When Dana called the dockmaster at the tiny marina a few days ago, his wife answered their home phone.  Earlier in the day her husband had been restocking the toilet paper at the marina bathroom because the cabin folk used it instead of buying their own, she said, while adding that he had left his phone when doing so, which she attributed to the fact that “after he retired he turned into a putz.”   Dockmaster Brent later called to confirm the water depth, and when we met him at the dock he seemed pretty normal to us.

But once again, we were all alone.

Well, alone except for the billions of newly-hatched midges that joined us.  Those seat covers aren’t supposed to be fuzzy.  This may explain why we’re the only people boating on Lake Michigan right now.

The must-stop stop in Naubinway, of course, is the Top of The Lake Snowmobile Museum.  This place ranks right up there with the Navy Seal Museum as the coolest we’ve visited.

The term “snowmobile” was coined by a New Hampshire dude who modified early Fords for wintry weather.  Here’s a 1926 Model T wearing the gear.

Lots of vintage machines, clothing, and associated whatnots to be found in this incredible place.  Here’s one that Mario Andretti commissioned and raced.

Dana even found one specially made for girls.  Seriously.  It’s the pink one, because, you know, girls back then were too girly to ride non-pink snowmobiles.

Lots of snowmobiles.

Speaking of midges, thanks to Starlink we spent the evening sheltered aboard, watching the final episode of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.  We doubled up on final episodes by also watching the end of Ted Lasso.  Now those are shows we’re gonna miss.

After Dana did her best to rid Tumbleweed of midges and midge carcasses with the help of the leaf blower that Dockmaster Brent (the putz) loaned us, we crossed down to Mackinaw City.  Back under Mighty Mac for the third time, but the first from west to east.  Looks just about the same.

In prior posts we’ve wrung everything possible out of t-shirt and fudge shops and the history of Mackinaw City, so we won’t even try.  Off for a few days tending to some unfun non-boating stuff—so no blog post for a week or so—but back soon enough, excited to see what Lake Superior is all about.


*In an etymological twist, smelts also are small fish found in these latitudes.  The British Columbians call the smelts on Canada’s western shore “Ooligans.”  Go figure.

**On a smaller scale but in the same name-stuff-after-oneself vein that seems to run through the Brown family tree, Richardson’s is an iconic restaurant in Phoenix with an unsavory history but delicious food.  Richardson Brown also is not a humble man.

***Every dad worth a damn intuitively understands that his child absolutely cannot submit the lamest diorama in the class, even if it means a trip to Home Depot for more power tools and lumber and even if all the moms of the loser kids with their shoeboxes think it’s cheating.

****We really wanted to eat at Moofinfries in Naubinway, mostly because “Moofinfries in Naubinway” is double fun to say.  Unfortunately Moofinfries in Naubinway was closed on Wednesday.  So we ate at Shirley’s Cove Bar, which—particularly inside—is eerily similar to Sherry’s Port Bar.

10 thoughts on “We like Lake Michigan, but enough is enough, plus it’s lonely around here”

  1. I love making the blog! Let me know if you want to spend a night at Flaharty’s Folly.

    1. Erin’s dad! Thanks for the most gracious offer. Folly is our collective middle name, but we’re done with Lake Michigan and your terror-inducing midges. Onward and upward.

    1. Thanks Roger! Hopefully you and Barbara are starting your Loop soon . . .

  2. Although not in the area you guys are traversing we will be joining you on Lake Michigan in a couple days. We will be departing St Joseph Monday and making our way north along the east side.
    If the timing and are pcs work out we are considering a side trip into Superior briefly (likely just to Whitefish Point)….we’ll see

    1. Excellent! We’re lonely up here. Keep in touch and we’ll track you on Nebo. Maybe we can meet up and share docktails and boating stories.

  3. This comment is wordy, feel free to edit for brevity.

    Hopefully, I now have a bit of street cred with the Crew of Tumbleweed (Okay, maybe not cinematically, but at least gastronomically, and possibly geographically) so that I may offer a few Lake Superior thoughts for your consideration:

    Even more so than Michigan, Superior will probably prove to be a less traveled body of water by the pleasure boat cruising community, what with the “never gives up her dead” warning from the Gordon Lightfoot lyric. Plus, the four seasons, UP style, are even more pronounced on Lake Superior than Lake Michigan. Those being, of course, winter, spring, 4th of July, fall.

    Speaking of Gordon, my first recommendation is The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point. Obviously, there is an awesome exhibit on the Edmund Fitzgerald. The original ship’s bell was recovered from the wreck and is now in the museum. A replica bell was placed on the wreck with the names of all of the crew members inscribed on it. The first time I took my partner Sandy to the UP we stayed at the Whitefish Point Lighthouse and toured the museum. She is a rock hound and went crazy on the pebble beach at Whitefish Point but we had to fight our way through the most impressive mosquito swarm I’ve ever seen to get there. There is a state park marina nearby but all restaurants are a few miles away at Paradise. My recommendation is Brown Fisheries Fish House. they serve locally caught fish from their own fleet and when the catch of the day runs out the restaurant closes for the evening.

    Next is Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. I’d recommend taking Tumbleweed directly into Munising and then taking one of the tour boat excursions to get up close and personal with Pictured Rocks. Those tour boat captains will get you much closer than you should ever dare take Tumbleweed without extensive local knowledge, although it appears that all of the Pictured Rocks tour boats are now squaking AIS so you can use marinetraffic.com to study their tracks along the lake shore but I haven’t yet figured out how to convert points on a marinetraffic track to GPS coordinates. BTW, marinetraffic.com is where I first discovered Tumbleweed last fall when you were heading west into Lake Michigan from the straits.

    Munising is also my recommendation for a place to sample that UP delicacy known as a pasty. My top choice would have been Jean Kay’s in Marquette but the owner retired in 2022 and closed the shop. Muldoon’s in Munising is a close runner up; and, as an added bonus, they have a life sized statue of a Sasquatch in their yard that is good for a humorous selfie or two. One thing that will brand you a tourist faster than a Hawaiian shirt and white shorts is to mis-pronounce “pasty”. It is ‘pass-tee’ not ‘pace-tee’. Sandy continues to constantly get this wrong and I gleefully remind her that ‘pace-tees’ are the things strippers wear to get around local obscenity laws.

    Marquette is one of two highfalutin college towns in the UP, the other being Houghton, and I recommend a stop at both. Three things for Marquette:
    1. Presque Isle Park – great for hikes, morning runs, and spectacular scenery in general.
    2. The Vierling restaurant – great food and great atmosphere.
    3. White’s Party Store – awesome selection of whisky and other spirits. My bottle of Ardbeg Corryvreckan that I got there a couple of years ago is now down to a sip or two. This place could possibly up your Docktails game.

    For Houghton, I don’t have any specific restaurant recommendations but the town does have another example of Andrew Carnegie’s libraries. This one houses a museum so you can actually get inside.

    Eagle Harbor would be a great jumping off point for Isle Royale. There isn’t much there except for a great restaurant seven miles down the road at Eagle River called Fitzgerald’s. In addition to excellent food, they have an extensive scotch list. I have always been a fan of Ardbeg, and the Islay malts in general, but it was here that I tried a dram of Corryvreckan for the first time. The bartender told me that the only place he knew I could get a bottle in the UP was from White’s Party Store in Marquette so Sandy and I stopped on our way back to Escanaba.

    Isle Royale has been on my bucket list since I was 15. I was scarred for life when my parents told me they couldn’t afford to send me on the annual summer trip with the sophomore biology class. Haven’t made it yet, but I’ll get there one day and hopefully, vicariously, through your blog.


    1. Thanks Steve, er, Scott. Great tips. We’re a bit concerned about how much time we’ll actually spend on Lake Superior, however, because we’re having to waste time doing some other things and we still have a hard date to get to Baltimore. Plus, since the time we started this nonsense in 2017 we’ve used just about every line from the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald—and Dana says we’re not going way out of our way to stop on the chart pin that marks the good ship and crews’ final resting place—so there’s a makeable argument that we should skip Superior entirely.

  4. It’s understandable, most cruisers skip Lake Superior. No matter what you decide, I’ll continue to follow your blog.


Your thoughts?

%d bloggers like this: