Awakening to stormy skies in Paradise, we knew it was time to move on. But first: blueberries! Although there were none served at our hotel breakfast, we stopped in the only grocery in town and bought a pint. Of perfection. Had we known the Berry Patch was across the street, we would have held our appetites until then. The parking lot was packed.
On our way to Paradise we’d noticed a sign for a scenic byway through Hiawatha National Forest. On the map, it hugged the shoreline of Whitefish Bay. Time to explore.
Not surprisingly, we immediately found the North Country Trail. Heading southeast out of Taquamenon Falls State Park, it stays close to Lake Superior for a significant stretch paralleling this byway.
As I told John a few days ago, and he’s repeated to others since, driving in the U.P. has the feel of long distance hiking: hours of nothing but natural beauty between stops. It’s why I fell in love with this region the first time I saw it, more than 25 years ago.
Managed by the USDA Forest Service, Whitefish Bay Scenic Byway has quite a few stops along it, with plenty of access to the North Country Trail. At the Bark Dock, we walked down along the trail. Along the sandy beach, the waves strummed.
The Naomikong Overlook provided a different perspective on Lake Superior, framed by forest. The Anishinaabe named it for the beavers that frequent the area. Sugar maples, common here, are starting to show the brilliant reds of autumn.
At Big Pine, a forest of pines created the canopy for a lush understory of wild blueberries. This was such a well-known berry picking spot, said the signs, that Canadians would sail over here back in the day to pick fruit.
Alas, the berry bushes were picked clean, but the beach was a sight to behold. The waves were now crashing and the wind howled. Still, I couldn’t resist walking the beach in search of pretty rocks and agates, even if my feet got drenched by rogue waves.
As we left, we encountered a woman walking in with her husband and carrying a bucket. Wouldn’t you know, we’d met her the day before at Whitefish Point. One thing we’d noticed this month: at obscure places, we kept running into the same people traveling on different routes, all exploring the U.P. in their own way. It was as if there are only a few dozen of us on long road trips, trying to see it all.
Opting to skip what looked like it could be a lovely view at Spectacle Lake if skies were blue, we drove through a crossroads and turned back around to try and figure out why a passenger railroad car was sitting there. Was it someone’s home?
I’d seen Point Iroquois on the map and suggested we stop there. As we pulled in, a parade of people frustrated two newlyweds trying to get a photo of the Harley they arrived on in front of the Point Iroquois Lighthouse.
Built in 1870 to guide ships from Lake Superior into the rocky narrows of the St. Mary’s River, this picturesque lighthouse was the second built on this spot. Of course, since a smidgen of blue sky appeared, I had to climb to the top.
I thought it was the prettiest light station along our journey thus far. A decorative native stone wall around the lightkeeper’s home and lighthouse sets this little lighthouse apart from the rest.
“Three keepers manned the lighthouse and they left detailed records,” said the docent. “After electricity came, they didn’t have to climb the light, so they got bored. They spent three years on this project!”
I walked the shoreline looking for agates, my last chance to do so along Lake Superior this trip. A lady who was searching the beach in the other direction suddenly appeared behind me.
“Do you know if it’s okay to pick up rocks here?” she asked, seeing me do so.
I shrugged. “This is a National Forest, not a National Park. Resource extraction is part of what they do.” I pointed out the lack of signs saying not to, since at Pictured Rocks, they actively discourage agate hunting.
As I walked back to the car with a few rocks in my pockets, two people passed me with buckets in hand.
Up the road at the Dancing Crane Coffee House, John joked about my growing tonnage of lakeshore rocks in the car. Jim, the proprietor, called out “Lucy!” They laughed. You’ll need to watch the movie “The Long Long Trailer” to understand.
“We went for a trip in a Ford Focus,” Jim said, nodding to his wife, “and agreed we’d pick up a rock at each stop. I turn around, and she has a 300 pound rock. ‘Where’s yours?’ she asked.’
I pulled out a pebble.”
John told a similar story about us and they both laughed. “It must be a guy thing,” she said.