Tuesday, February 28, 2006

(17) Hancock Michigan, U.P. visiting Sister Ann

Hancock Michigan
Houghton, the gateway to the Keweenaw Peninsula
Visit with my Sister Ann.


After leaving Cadillac Michigan, I began my trek to the U.P. Crossing the Mackinac Bridge, one of the most stunning, huge and impressive bridges in the world, I once again was heading to my homeland and the Copper Country. I traveled along hwy 2, now you know your at the top of the country when the highways are such low numbers! A beautiful drive along the top shores of Lake Michigan. Quickly becoming less and less populated with each mile traveled. Sand dunes, young forests from past years of heavy logging the U.P. Over 80% of the U.P. is Sate, National or Forested land held in trust.

I then head Due north on US hwy 41 to Marquette and onto Houghton and Hancock, my destination for this portion of my trip. The roads have been improved over the years, wider paved shoulders and most of the bad concrete thumpaty, thump roads have been replaced with asphalt. Thank goodness. As I pass Marquette, the last large city in the U.P., it seems like I’m on a road leading to the ends of the earth. Fewer and fewer homes are seen. Traffic is lessened for a while, giving the appearance that my thoughts are correct. When I used to live up in this region, we often talked about living at the end of the earth. The only way out was to go south.

I’m now in the mountainous region of the U.P. The road boarders Lake Superior and inland lakes that have that deep deep blue color and are surrounded by what else, evergreens, stately old spruce trees, a few are dead and turned to a brilliant copper color and birch trees with their white bark showing off, I drive up curving roads with those trees seeming to close in even more.

At one of the many Wayside Rest areas, with their modern outhouses, hand water pumps and picnic tables covered with many layers of shellac to protect them from the winters up here, I see a sign for Canyon Water Falls. What a treat to be able to stretch my legs and walk through the woods, along creaking boardwalks over boggy terrain that finally leads to the rock outcroppings and sounds of rushing waters. Through the thick pine forest, I get glimpses of the shale and bolder strewn river leading to the water falls. Then around another bend the sound becomes louder and the viewing area overlooking huge slabs of shale, flat rocks that appear to have been sliced from large walls of stone line the canyon that the water fall descends into. A rush of joy being able to see a wonder of nature in a perfect setting. Unspoiled by the trappings of more famous natural wonders. This one is still surrounded by thousands of years of nature that created it.

After leaving this most refreshing sight and the vacationers I met while viewing it, I’m begin my final leg to Houghton/Hancock. I begin to see places I remember. The old beach we used to go to each summer. Mikes bar, now a restaurant where my Dad used to go every weekend for a drink and a game of pool. Past the site of the Copperama, the tourist site and restaurant that I worked at from age 12 ½. It’s now a gas station. Past the Douglass House Hotel in town with it‘s stately bar with the green Tiffany lamps and dark mahogany trim, the place I was named after.

I’m back home. What a feeling. After 35 years in Florida, I’ve come back. Retired and bringing my home along with me. So for a week, once again I live in the U.P.

It has changed somewhat. Michigan Tech, MTU, is much larger than when I lived here. It’s now looks like a small city as you enter Houghton and skirt around it on my way into the old downtown area.

The downtown area is looking more active. They removed the awful metal structures that covered many of the parking areas. They have an internet Café on main street which still has one street light.

Lots of newer chain restaurants and stores like Wal-Mart are up on Quincy Hill. Condo’s and new townhouses along with a marina sit along the Portage canal. But there is still much that hasn’t changed. The old buildings in town of native sandstone with trim painted a dark brown and so many older homes still stand with their worn asphalt or asbestos siding. Dating back to the late 1800’s and early 1900‘s.

I’m visiting my sister, Ann. She works for a Senior Citizen home where the residences have their own apartments. It’s hard work and she often puts in 50 hour weeks. Not easy work, but she’s very good at what she does.

Oh and temps are in the mid to high 70’s during the day and mid to high 50’s at night. Crisp fresh air. It hit the low 80’s the other day, so it does get warm up here in July.

My alma mater, Suomi College has become a university. The Finlandia University and I was thrilled to pick up an FU T-shirt, baseball cap and coffee mug. Yup, I’m a Yooper with a FU degree and darn proud of it.

No trains come this far up north any more. I road my bike on the beginnings of a great rails-to-trails route from downtown to the old Houghton beach. A super nice bike ride along the Portage canal. More like a lake surrounded by the steep hills on either side. What a fun way to spend a morning in the U.P.

Ann has joined me at my campsite at Hancock City Campground a few evenings, as we sit out watching the campfire. I have a crab apple tree and three Christmas trees on my corner of the campground. We get to watch other campers walk by with their dogs and children, out for a stroll.

RV tip. the Hancock City sites are $16.00 a night includes elect and cable TV. The beach is within a short walk through the surrounding forest. Sewer and water available as you enter or leave the park. The city of Houghton’s campground is right on Portage canal with the sites going for $22.00 a night incl. full hookup and cable TV. All sites are right on the waters edge or one row behind, all with great views as the second row is elevated.

I couldn’t leave the copper country without visiting my parents grave sites tucked away on top of a hill, in a peaceful setting. Peace be with them as they are surely in a better place with the Lord. Lutheran of course.

Oh and I went down to the Dee Stadium, where professional hokey started in the U.S. I remember going to a number of hockey games and even playing a few games myself. During the summer they have a huge historical display of photo’s of the area in the stadium. Copper mining, forestry, Iron mines and fishing, pictures of all the towns and how they got started. Finish, Swedish, German, Italian all ended up here in the U.P.

People I’ve met. The 96 year old man, Adalfo, at Sandy Shores Rv park in Manistique, Mi. He holds 13 patents for improvements to the fireplace. The most notable one being the damper system to stop cold air from coming down the chimney when not in use as well as the heat air exchange that draws cold are from the sides of a fireplace and pushes out hot air from the top.

Hancock Mich. Jim, my sister Ann’s friend, was a CIA agent (but for years thought he was part of the Navy) was on a secret mission during WWII. He saw the Andrea Doria on a radar screen about to collide with another ship, but because his ship was supposed to be invisible to all ships, they were not permitted to warn the Andrea Doria that it was about to collide and sink. The next day, through the fog, they saw dead bodies, luggage, etc floating in the cold waters from the downed ship. They were not permitted to stop and retrieve any of the dead or debris. Their ship continued it’s silent surveillance, undetected by friend or foe.

Or the story Jim told about the time a while back that he a few others were down in an old Copper mine up on Quincy hill and saw a huge piece of copper that was wedged on the side of one of the mining tunnels. It was so large, you could see where they miners had dug around, down and above the huge slab of copper trying to loosen it‘s grip, many thousands of pounds in weight. It still remains in the mine to this day, because there is no way to get the solid piece of copper out. It remains, a huge shining piece of copper as if someone just finished polishing it, waiting to be removed.

Donna, Ann’s neighbor who was ready to start traveling with me at the drop of a hat.

Henry ( a.k.a. Richard), Fred and Donald Palosaari. Three cousins I’d never met while living in the U.P. Henry lives on Palosaari Road in Laurium Mich. He’s the one that did so much work on our geneology work and completed a book on the subject. Fred owns his own business, Palosaari Contracting. What a pleasure to meet relatives and find out a bit more about our families past and present!

A trip into the past and exploring the life of those who still live in the Keweenaw Peninsula. A place that once had a sign declaring, “You are now breathing the purest, most vitalizing air on earth”. I think it still is.

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