Dusk settled in as the road ahead of us curved to open up a panorama of mazy marshes along the rim of Lake Superior. “This is the perfect habitat for moose,” I said.
We crossed the mouth of the Tahquamenon River and sure enough, a road sign warned us of moose along the next two miles. A stately pair of sandhill cranes, a little different in coloration than the ones we know at home, stood along the marsh edge. But no moose.
Paradise, Michigan, is genuinely off the beaten path. It touts itself as the “wild blueberry capital of Michigan,” but we’d missed the festival held just a few days before. Fortunately, we’d found plenty of late season blueberries while hiking. And raspberries.
Paradise is mainly known for what it’s near: Tahquamenon Falls and Whitefish Point. We settled in to our waterfront room under stormy skies, where I watched a whitefish-shaped cloud blowing smoke rings over the bay as dark descended.
I’d hoped for a dark sky filled with stars, but no luck. The storm clouds broke open into a light show in the wee hours as lightning arced over the St. Mary’s River.
Our morning skies hung leaden, but this is Paradise. We weren’t going to let that keep us inside. I was a bit intimidated reading that Tahquamenon Falls State Park sees upwards of a half million visitors a year, but I wanted John to see its beauty.
The Upper Falls occupied us for a couple of hours. In the context of waterfalls we’ve seen in Iceland, they are small but mighty. In the United States, they’re huge. East of the Mississippi, they are second only to Niagara in water volume.
The North Country Trail runs right through the park, so it was a delight to hike yet another segment. A fee shuttle service lets you walk the 4.8-mile footpath one way between the park’s two developed recreation areas. Plenty of people took advantage of it.
I’d been here twice before over the past three decades. The infrastructure – particularly the boardwalks and staircases – all seemed new and quite capable of handling massive volumes of people.
Fortunately, we didn’t encounter crowds. There is a lull up here just before Labor Day Weekend, so there were no throngs to wait for at the viewing platforms.
We also walked right in at Camp 33, the famed brewery and restaurant at what was once one of the Civilian Conservation Corps camps. The extensive menu had plenty of options, including a tasty mix of three types of sautéed mushrooms.
When we emerged from lunch, the skies had turned blue. Time to see the Lower Falls!
Not a single showy spot like the Upper Falls, they are more of a series of rock ledges over which the river pours. Boardwalks follow them upstream until you reach the soggy footpath of the North Country Trail again.
For those wanting a bit of adventure, the park rents rowboats so you can power yourself over to the base of the falls and to an island from which to see the falls even better.
We had another destination in mind, however, so we passed on the rowboats. Like many folks who day trip up here from Newberry or St. Ignace, we were also headed to Whitefish Point, the end of the road beyond Paradise.
Dominating land’s end is the lighthouse and Coast Guard station, part of a larger complex that is now the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. As the important turn out of the vastness of Lake Superior into the more sheltered waters of Whitefish Bay, Whitefish Point is an important navigation point for ships coming and going through the Soo Locks.
Historically, it’s also been a graveyard of sunken ships. While any map of Great Lakes shipwrecks is astounding in terms of how many vessels have been lost, Whitefish Point has 30 vessels at depths achievable by experienced diver, all part of Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve.
While the museum interprets these wrecks – along with Coast Guard lifesaving and lighthouse keeping at the point – its strongest focus is memorializing the Edmund Fitzgerald. It sank in our lifetimes – November 10, 1975 – and was the largest ore freighter of its kind. On rough seas, it simply vanished.
Gordon Lightfoot’s song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” has alternately brought on goosebumps or tears since I first heard it while in high school, so it was interesting to hear a docent at the museum say “he wrote it so those men would not be forgotten.” The museum similarly honors their memories through exhibits, memorials, and a short movie.
No one knows exactly why or how this fully-loaded freighter sunk with all 29 crew on board. While a US Navy jet was able to locate the ship several days later, broken in two, in 530 feet of water, It took numerous dives in the 1980s and 1990s with manned submersibles to examine the wreck.
The centerpiece of the museum is the ship’s bell from the Edmund Fitzgerald. Using a rebreather deep sea dive suit that John remarked was built very much like a space suit, Joseph MacInnis used underwater welding equipment to remove the bell. It was replaced with a replica engraved with the names of the lost crew. The process, and the opportunity for families of the crew to be involved, are documented in the movie shown at the museum. Tissues are provided.
While a heart-wrenching story, the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald led to massive overhauls in Great Lakes shipping regulations and practices, especially where it came to crew safety. Navigation charts were modernized and weather predictions made a priority. There has not been a wreck of this magnitude since.
While at Whitefish Point, we also visited the surrounding Seney Wildlife Refuge, where easy trails lead out to bird observation areas. These dunes are a flyover spot for raptors in the spring. Audubon has a small nature center and gift shop here, with charted bird sightings.
The beaches of Whitefish Point also attract a lot of agate hunters, no matter the weather. It’s something about the shape of the point that catches a large collection of colorful wave-tumbled rocks and minerals.
A day in Paradise wouldn’t be complete without dinner, and so we were directed right out of our hotel door and across the parking lot to The Inn, where what would be more appropriate than whitefish for dinner? It was some of the best so far on this trip.
Glad you got to the shipwreck museum.
I want to tag along on your wonderful adventures.
It was great to meet you both while in the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point. I was in Houghton, Michigan on the campus of Michigan Tech University the day of
Nov. 10, 1975. None of us students had ever seen a storm as what hit that day. The winds were so fierce and powerful you could hardly stand up, let alone walk. Many left campus to head to McLain State Park to see the impact of the storm. There were 80-96mph winds, and they saw 30 ft swells out in the lake, as recorded through the day and night. It was only until the morning that we learn the Edmund Fitzgerald was lost. The campus was somber, eerily quiet. We waited word. The news was not instantaneous as today. Some time passed, with confirmation that 29 souls were lost shortly after students were excitedly entertained by big waves crashing upon Superior’s beach and rocks. The extremes of life. From innocent joy to sadness. The ship couldn’t handle the pounding it received. May all their souls rest, through the mercy of God, in eternal peace.
It was a delight to meet you. I wish you always grand travels, rocks in your pockets, sand in your shoes and delightful experiences in this beautiful home I call Michigan. Come back, you’re most welcome anytime!
And enjoy Mackinac Island!
We are, and a delight to meet you too! What a great, but sad, memory. Thanks for sharing.