Porcupine Mountains Michigan to Crosby (Brainerd) Minnesota

One of many waterfalls at Porcupine Mountains State Park – Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

While route planning for this trip months ago I decided to cut up to a more northern highway in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to avoid big city traffic on the way to North Dakota. I’ve been to Minneapolis/St Paul in another life so there was no reason to fight our way around their interstates had we taken a more southern route to I-94. We found the roads up north well maintained and the scenery was awesome.

Much of this RV lifestyles involves what could be stressful driving. We burn through maybe $60 – $70 in fuel each time we move, usually less than 200 miles away. The drives are hardly ever boring as there is much to see out the window. This northern route is popular for RVs.

Michigan 28 to US 2 then Highway 210/US 10. Duluth has major interstate work where they are moving ramps from the left hand lane to the right. We were detoured towards southbound I-35 via Superior Minnesota. No worries, the detour south of Duluth was fine as was the 1950s bridge over the bay. We went through Duluth on a Sunday by chance. The drive took us through a business area that was not busy and was on a truck route.

Unfortunately the schedule did not allow more than an overnight stay near Marquette Michigan and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore which are on the route before passing through Duluth. We would not be able to tour the sites without having a full day. I picked an easy park to get in and out of, along with full hookups to avoid time at the dump station the next morning. We stayed at Country Village RV Park (site 100 was perfect) in Ishpeming Michigan. I believe this was only the second time we spent just one night in a park during the past year of travel.

We would be moving from the eastern time zone to central time, gaining an hour which has to be factored in given most campgrounds have rules regarding arrival time. Although I’ve never had a campground office complain if we showed up perhaps an hour after the person that had our spot was due to check out. The larger campgrounds and state parks are more likely to have a person in the office fulltime. Staff in the smaller parks are often out doing other things, counting on RVs not to show up until a certain time. I’ve called ahead if we were going to be way early just to make sure it was okay. We hardly ever stay at a park which is first come first serve. But when we have, we showed up early, sometimes to find people still occupying spots they should have already left. That entire first come first serve thing is a little worrisome to me just in case the park is full and we don’t have a backup plan. Being able to arrive midweek.. I know some state parks leave spaces unassigned but so far we have not taken advantage of that. If you know any unusual secrets regarding first come first serve parks, let us know please.

Porcupine Mountains

Our next stop was a city park in Wakefield Michigan. I had no high hopes for the area with a planned tour of Porcupine Mountains, figuring they would be similar to the Ozarks of Missouri where we have spent much time. We were surprised. The visitors center sign was labeled “Wilderness Visitor Center” for a reason. At one point we took a 25 mile road through said wilderness. Yes, the Ozarks of Missouri/Arkansas include wilderness but not like this. Much of the park was along the shoreline of Lake Superior, included numerous waterfalls and a long deep valley viewed from a great height. We stayed at Eddy City Park and Campground. This city park, as many we have so far found, were occupied primarily by seasonal campers who live in the area and rent a spot for the spring and summer.

Our spot at Eddy City Park, Wakefield Michigan. The campground host was the best. He was apologetic that he assigned a different spot prior to our arrival as another camper was held over and occupying our previously assigned space. He offered to provide our spot free of charge but I insisted we pay. The spot we were moved to turned out to be one of the best in the park.
This can happen at a city park campground. Seasonal campers who brought their basketball goal from home. I assume so they could yell at passing motorist when they thought they were driving too fast. What I like most about city owned RV parks is they are often attached to, well, a city park with lots of open grass fields. The price is right and they are a good alternative to include during the summer when state and commercial RV parks are full.

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness is Michigan’s largest state park and offers exceptional opportunities for secluded types of recreation. Visitors can rent cabins that are in the middle of the woods and require they pack in their belongings. One can walk an extensive boardwalk along the banks of a stream and view waterfalls at many locations. A trail from the stream leads to a rocky beach on Lake Superior where the dog had a fun time running off-leash. A very short hike lead us to a lookout point with a view of a mountain lake.

The Porcupine Mountains were named by the native Ojibwa people, supposedly because their silhouette had the shape of a crouching porcupine. The visitor’s center was interesting and included details of copper mining and the parks creation as a result of volcanic activity. The park is the home to the most extensive stand of old growth hardwood forest in North America west of the Adirondack Mountains.

Lake in the Clouds
Cool museum display idea. Stuffed animal in front of a three dimensional forest photo.
Extensive boardwalk along the river bank with several stops to view waterfalls.
One of several Lake Superior beaches within the state park.
The rock colors have been changing the further we went from Lake Michigan. Our next stop is the iron ore territory of Minnesota.

Crosby and the Minnesota Iron Range

My high school class in geology was boring. We learned how to identify minerals and rocks. The final test, as I recall was a box of rocks which we had to identify. I took a four hour elective geology coarse in college which was a little more interesting then the high school class. We learned about different geological events that shaped the earth. I have to admit, spending time on the road has been a learning experience and has perked my interest as to why the places we visit came to be. I think it would be good to bone up on geology as part of preparing for fulltime RV travel.

During the drive to northern Minnesota Karen and I joked about trying to find a used blood covered woodchipper. At a rest stop a man commented we could stop in Fargo North Dakota and have a photo taken next to a woodchipper with a fake human leg. The movie Fargo included scenes supposedly from Brainerd Minnesota – don’t ya know. Actually the entire movie was filmed around Minneapolis to include the woodchipper scene.

Crosby Minnesota was a short stop at a city owned RV park. Just two rows of spaces alongside a city park and lake. Darn it – I can’t recall reading a single post in an RV blog about the wonders of Minnesota’s iron ore mining history. It’s so big I’d beat we would have had trouble winning World War 2 without Minnesota iron, yet alone building the massive steal skyscrapers throughout the nation. Wish I would have worked in a short side trip further north for more mining research.

I recall as a child my father talking about being part of the war effort as a child himself, running around his small community of Mt. Vernon Missouri collecting anything metal which could be turned into armaments to fight the Japs. It was his patriotic duty. In more recent times, some may recall the ship Edmund Fitzgerald (watch the movie). She started her final voyage from Superior, Wisconsin, in November of 1975 with cargo of iron ore pellets. By the next day, the Fitzgerald was caught in a severe storm with near hurricane-force winds, and waves 35 feet in height and sank. That is the same Superior we drove through, south of Duluth, to get here.

Crosby is part of the Cuyuna Iron Range. Although mining is no longer conducted here, it sure is alive further north to include the countries largest open-pit mining operation in Hibbing Minnesota. A neighbor was on vacation and interesting in RVing as part of his future retirement. I was interesting in what he had to say about working in the mines. The Hibbing operation is huge as seen in these Google Earth photos:

That’s Lake Superior on the right and Hibbing MN on the left. The brown cleared areas are the iron ore mines.
Open pit mines. Personally, I think the earth will fix itself someday and am glade we have mining technology/machinery that keeps men from crawling around in dangerous underground mines.

I’ve written it before; every RV park has something fascinating and unplanned to see in the area. In the case of Crosby City RV Park this would be the sight of Minnesota’s worst mining accident. Forty-one miners lost their lives, thirty-eight women lost their husband and eighty-three children lost their father in 1924 at the Milford Mine. This small county in Minnesota raised the money and built a truly well done memorial to those that died.

Old photos of the Milford Mine near Crosby Minnesota. Company housing was built around the mine where immigrants from many nations lived with their families.

If you want a look into the soul of an American, it can be found in the stories of these miners. They came from Finland, Sweden, Austria while some were second generation Americans. Having work in a mine was an opportunity they appreciated, far better than what they had back in their homeland. I read where many miners actually did not speak the same language but learned to get along and communicate as necessary. Kind of makes me think about where the accent came from when the locals speak around here.

The Milford Mine memorial includes a long boardwalk with a short story about each who died posted along the trail. What happened was an iron ore mine tunnel extended into a wet area of soil. Water pumps were standard equipment in mines. Unfortunately, one tunnel came too close to a local lake which in one catastrophic moment, drained into the mine shaft, drowning the workers. Help came in from area mines to recover the bodies. It was nine months before the last was found, even with men working 24 hours a day during the recovery.

Along the boardwalk are the names of those that dies and those that survived.
Markers of each that died. I read every one.
Location of the original mine shaft. Elsewhere on the property were foundations of older buildings and out in a lake, the location where water penetrated the shaft.

We are currently located just outside Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. Wow – a really underrated park for sure. The American history is a fascinating as the geology of the place. We will be heading west into Montana shortly.