Where: Munising, Marquette, Big Bay, Escanaba, Manistique, and Gulliver, Michigan
Trip Date: 7/16-7/20/17
This section of our trip went pretty quickly, we had a very limited time in each location. So this entry may read a little more like a list than some of my more narrative posts.
After leaving Whitefish Point we traveled deeper into the U. P. along the southern shore of Lake Superior. Our route took us through Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, a 40-mile section of preserved shoreline filled with hiking trails, campgrounds, beaches, and of course, the beautiful sandstone cliff faces for which it is named.
But our destination was a lighthouse (bet you didn’t see that coming).
Au Sable Point Lighthouse was built in 1874 to mark part of an 80-mile section of Superior shoreline that had yet to be lit. The tower stands 87 feet tall—though, because of its position atop a bluff, it is actually over 100 feet above the lake.
Like Big Sable Lighthouse from way back at the beginning of our trip, Au Sable Light was at the end of a mile and a half hike through beautiful lakeshore scenery. (On a semi-related note, I was curious as to why there are so many “Sables” in Michigan, so I looked it up. Apparently “Au Sable” in French literally translates to “at the sand.” So both Big Sable and Au Sable Lighthouses are named for their proximity to prominent sand dunes.)
We continued on our way along the shoreline to Munising, a small harbor town not far from Pictured Rocks. Our first—and only—order of business with the limited time we had, was to take another glass-bottom shipwreck tour into Munising Bay.
Although the tour we took in Alpena on Lake Huron was exceptional, the crystal clear water of Lake Superior offered something even more amazing. The Bermuda foundered in a storm near Munising in 1870, and today lies in only 12 feet of water. The wreck was much better preserved than previous remains I had seen. She still sat upright, hull intact with only the masts and cabin missing and some areas of damaged deck. The water was so clear that I could see the Bermuda in almost perfect detail just looking over the railing into the water. Of course, the glass bottom offered an even clearer view. It seemed so close I could almost touch it.
The boat tour also provided us with an up-close view of the secluded Grand Island East Channel Lighthouse. This 45-foot wooden lighthouse was constructed in 1868 to guide ships past Grand Island into Munising Bay from Lake Superior.
However, the light was nearly impossible to see from the lake. This fact, combined with high maintenance costs, prompted the construction of the Munising Range Lights in 1908. The East Channel Light was decommissioned that same year.
Our next stop was Marquette, the largest city in the Upper Peninsula, and a major port for shipping iron ore. Driving around the harbor, the first sight that jumps out at you is a very large, ominous metal structure standing in the bay that looks very much like a Bond villain’s fortress of doom.
It is, however, merely an iron ore “pocket dock.” While this particular structure is no longer in use, it once had a rail line that connected to the top of the dock. Train cars carrying iron ore would roll right on top of it, and then dump their cargo into the chambers. Then, a ship would pull up next to the dock and workers would lower a chute into the ship’s cargo hold and load it with the iron ore. Although this dock shipped over one hundred tons of ore annually between 1931 and 1971, it proved too small for the growing size of lake freighters and was abandoned in ’71. Today, it stands as part of Marquette’s shipping history, and is almost certainly not a sinister evil lair.
Just down the road we found the Marquette Harbor Lighthouse. The light sits on a bluff overlooking the harbor, and is apparently one of the most photographed lighthouses on the Great Lakes. I, instead, opted to draw it.
The light was constructed in 1866, and was instrumental in the development of Great Lakes iron ore trade as Marquette was the main port for shipping iron until the 1890’s. The lighthouse is now run as a part of the Marquette Maritime Museum, and is undergoing extensive renovations to be used as a museum space.
An hour farther down the coast we found the Big Bay Point Lighthouse. This was one of the more beautiful lights I have visited on this trip. The 64-foot tower sits on a small rocky cliff overlooking Lake Superior, and is surrounded by flowering shrubs and a wonderfully manicured lawn with a relaxing sitting area. The reason for its pristine appearance could be that it is now privately owned and operates as a bed and breakfast. If I ever go back to Michigan, I would definitely like to stay there.
Interestingly, Big Bay Point is the only operational lighthouse that is also a bed and breakfast.
On an unrelated note, the town of Big Bay happens to be the setting of the 1959 James Stewart mystery/thriller Anatomy of a Murder. After eating lunch at the bar where part of it was filmed, my father has still not stopped trying to get us to watch it.
Back to Lake Michigan
On the way out of the Upper Peninsula we decided we would go a little farther south and see some lighthouses on the U. P.’s Lake Michigan side.
In Escanaba we stopped to see Sand Point Lighthouse. This lighthouse was built in 1867 to warn ships away from the sand reef that sits in the bay. This lighthouse was also home to Mary Terry, one of the first female lighthouse keepers on the Great Lakes. Unfortunately she also died here when a fire broke out at the lighthouse in 1886. There is speculation that she was murdered, and the lighthouse intentionally set on fire, but nothing was ever proven.
Down the road in Manistique we found the Manistique Breakwater Light. As the name implies, this lighthouse sits at the end of a breakwater out in the harbor. It was built in 1916 and stands about 40 feet over the lake. In construction, it is not all that different from the Ludington Breakwater Light or the Frankfort Breakwater Light, all basically square pyramidal towers. Its one major difference is the bright red color scheme.
Our final stop in the Upper Peninsula was at the Seul Choix Point Lighthouse (pronounced Sil-Shwa). The name Seul Choix comes from the French term for “Only Choice,” referring to the point being the only choice for shelter along the rugged stretch of Lake Michigan’s northern shoreline.
The station at Seul Choix was established in 1892, and the current tower was completed in 1895 and stands a little over 78 feet tall.
If this tower looks slightly familiar (and not in the way that all tall, cylindrical white towers look alike) that is because this lighthouse is one of eight “Poe Lighthouses”, named after Army Engineer Orlando M. Poe and designed after his New Presque Isle Light. These lights share similarities in the wrought iron brackets supporting the lantern rooms, as well as the arched, evenly spaced windows just below the lantern rooms. Au Sable Light is also among these “Poe Lights”.
As we departed Seul Choix, we headed back towards the Mackinac Bridge once again, going farther south than we had been for the past five weeks.
Our last stop in Michigan, the Thumb, and Port Huron.