From Superior we made the relatively short drive east on US 2 to the small iron mining town of Iron Mountain. Our intention was a rest stop where we could sleep in and just take it easy for a few days. If you are a long time follower of this blog, you know that we have a knack for finding the pride of most small towns we encounter. That was to be the case with Iron Mountain as well.
First though, as has been our habit of late we asked the proprietor of the camp ground we had chosen about the opportunity for a long running route that I could utilize. She gave us a couple of options ,the easier being the local roads starting from the campground. Carol, the owner, thought that running along the roadways would be pretty safe as there is not a lot of traffic and most of the people in the area are pretty friendly. So, after we got settled into our site we took a rainy drive around the area she suggested enroute to dinner. Carol’s suggested route included a number of short albeit steep hills that wound around and between a couple of small lakes. The course looked challenging, but just as beautiful as difficult. Now I only needed for the weather to improve by the next morning.
Dinner that first night was strange to say the least. We arrived at the restaurant somewhat late for a small town and we were surprised to have to wait for a table. There was another couple who arrived just ahead of us and they too were waiting. Unbeknownst to us there was another couple waiting in the bar. The couple we had come in just behind were seated first, then us. When we were seated I could not help but notice there were several empty tables and plenty of servers indicating that the wait was somewhat artificial at best. In fact the couple from the bar did not get a table for another twenty minutes or so and I counted some five empty tables from where I was sitting. The table that couple went to had been empty the entire time we had been at our table.
Our waitress was either in her first week of working, or should have been on her last day as she could not answer the easiest of questions. Eventually we were able to order wine/beer and dinner. We were somewhat concerned about what we were going to get because the prices seemed low for what was being offered. When our dinners arrived we were even more baffled as the portions were absolutely huge. I had ordered baby back ribs and I got an entire rack for what one would normally pay for a half rack nearly anywhere else. Connie had ordered a filet and it was the size of a T-Bone, just enormous. The down side is that Connie’s steak was way under cooked even for me. For Connie it was nearly intolerably rare. So, she ate around the edges and took the balance home. We could get two more meals out of those leftovers. I would have to say that other than the beef being undercooked the food was better than okay. The atmosphere in the restaurant was not very cheery; in fact gloomy would be a more accurate description. However, we didn’t have to take out a loan to get out of the place either.
By the time we got home the rain had finally quit and we were able to relax before going to bed. We did indeed sleep in the next morning, but when I finally did get up I went out for a ten mile run and it was just wonderful. To all of you who may wonder, yes I did have a smile on my face for most of the run. The scenery was far better in the light of day and it was enhanced by the fox I saw as well as the deer and a variety of birds and small mammals. I really enjoyed the run. I would make another run along the same route although only six and a half miles on the morning we left. This run was intended to be a fast run and it was remarkably so given the hills. When I compared the results to similar distances from earlier in this training cycle I was pleased to learn that the times are down considerably and the terrain was much more challenging here than in southeast Georgia where I had some 6.5 mile runs to compare to. Enough about my running for now.
As I mentioned in the beginning of this article Iron Mountain has some attractions for which there is considerable community pride. Our host told us about a natural area where I could run trails or we could just hike. We decided that a hike with lunch and the hopes of seeing some interesting birds would be a good way to spend the better portion of a day. So on our second full day in the area we got up relatively early for us and struck out for The Fumee Lake Natural Area which is actually located to the southeast of Iron Mountain. There are two public accesses to Fumee Lake. We decided to go to the more easterly access as there were two lakes accessible from that location. We were not disappointed. We had trouble making our way past the smaller of the lakes, a distance of not more than a quarter mile due to all the birds who were making themselves heard if not seen. We worked hard to find and identify a dozen or so species along this short stretch of trail.
At one point we heard a lot of commotion at the side of the trail. We found four very young red squirrels scampering up the side of a tree. Three made it to the tiniest of branches where they wrapped their little bodies around mere twigs and looked down the trunk of the tree. The fourth little squirrel kept creeping back towards the base of the tree, but with great caution as though he was looking for something but afraid to find it. He eventually went up the tree with his siblings. As we continued to watch and look around we saw what first appeared to be a handle sticking out of the side of the tree. The handle turned out to be a protruding coil in the body of a Fox Snake. Upon closer examination I could see that the snake had what in all likelihood was the mother squirrel in his mouth. We watched as the snake slowly devoured the squirrel. After completing lunch the snake had considerable difficulty extricating itself from the crack in the trunk of the tree the squirrels once called home. Another ten or fifteen minutes passed before the snake had freed itself and moved back into the forest to digest the huge meal. The whole event was really something to watch. I have a few photos to share; none are too graphic as I couldn’t get my lens changed fast enough to get good shots of lunch going down.
Before the extended morning was over we had identified some twenty –three species or so. We eventually made our way back to the parking lot where we enjoyed a bit of lunch. After our lunch we drove to the other entrance on the west end of Fumee Lake. It didn’t take us long to thank our lucky stars for having chosen to go to the other access area first. Although the walk was just beautiful, the environment was not good for seeing birds as the forest was just too dense. The looks at the lake were even hard. There was really only one very small area where we could get to the edge of the lake and scan for waterfowl. It should be noted that we were not about to make the hike all the way around the lake as it was getting late in the afternoon and the distance around is nearly five miles. At the rate we walk while bird watching we would be there until dark and we had another date for dark.
On our way back to the parking lot from this second stop we were startled by a Ruffed Grouse we inadvertently flushed as we passed. This was a mama bird. At least one of her chicks was on the left side of the path. I heard the little guy moving through the grass and as I looked down to see what was there the mother came from the other side screeching and flapping and generally providing a huge diversion while at the same time scaring us both half to death. Her technique was quite successful as we were both distracted long enough for the chick to get to cover. Connie never even heard the chick, much less get a look at it. I was trying to keep track of the chick while at the same time taking in the antics of the mother, but I was unable to do both and the mother really had my attention as she made more than one mock attack run at me. It was really something to watch.
As if that were not enough excitement for one day, after dinner we were back in the car heading for an old mine ventilation shaft which now provides access to the earth’s depths for a huge colony of bats. Actually, it is a mixed colony as there seem to be two or three species of bats that call the same abandoned mine home and use the shaft as their access point. The bats leave the shaft at dusk and spend the night hunting in the area for bugs. We had missed seeing the bats while in Austin, so we decided we should go see them at Iron Mountain. Well, as they say, knowledge is everything. We had limited knowledge, such as the location of the shaft. When we got to the shaft our knowledge grew some as we read the sign posted just below the hilltop where the shaft is located. From that sign we learned what types of bats utilize the mine. While we were waiting for the show to begin a self appointed expert on the Iron Mountain bats began telling all of us there the history of the sight. He rambled on about the depth of the shaft, 1250 feet according to him (actual depth 360 feet). His discussion as to how the shaft was saved from being sealed was more or less accurate, but his telling of the story was certainly much more flamboyant than the official version. Finally, the biggest piece of knowledge we did not have, nor did our local legend, the bats use this shaft primarily as a winter hibernation facility. Therefore, our rather chilly wait netted us only about a dozen bats, possibly local residents, instead of the nearly one million estimated to hibernate at this location.
I have provided a link to a web site that discusses this bat cave. Iron Mountain Bat Mine & Vista – Michigan’s Upper Peninsula . I certainly wish we had visited this web site before striking out for a look. But then we would have missed out on all the “miss-information” we got from the colorful fellow at the shaft. It was still a lot of fun and we are glad we took the time to visit.
The photos tell the rest of the story from our stay in Iron Mountain. Click on the photo below and enjoy.
Our next stop is Mackinaw City and as I finish this post I have to admit that I am now an entire stop behind. I will work on that.
|The Three Day Rest Stop|