North for the Fourth 2017: Motorcycle Touring in Michigan
Last year about this time, we shared some ideas for touring destinations on the south shore of Lake Superior based on day-trip touring during a Fourth of July vacation. We enjoyed that so much we thought we’d do it again and share some new sights we took in along the way.
In addition to spending time with family and friends and taking in some Fourth of July festivities, this year’s trip north included motorcycle touring aboard my trusty Honda Shadow 500 in Michigan’s only state-designated wilderness, the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.
Located 15 miles west of Ontonagon, Mich., in the spectacular Upper Peninsula, the park covers 60,000 acres of rolling, rugged pine and hemlock forest that includes 90 miles of hiking trails and about 35,000 acres of towering virgin timber. That tract is federally recognized as a National Natural Landmark.
The Porcupine Mountains—known locally as “the Porkies”—are a 12-mile long escarpment that runs parallel to the south shore of Lake Superior for about one and a half miles.
My long-time riding buddy, Dean Massoglia, who lives in the U.P., joined me on the meandering route we took through the Porkies. His choice of ride? A Honda VTX 1300.
A great way to get there via motorcycle is by taking Gogebic County highway 519 on the western end of the U.P. from Wakefield, Mich. In about 19 miles, that takes you to the Presque Isle River portion of the park.
The Presque Isle riverbed varies from a wide, relatively shallow, mellow river back away from the descent to Lake Superior to a narrow, wild, roaring beast in the falls that form as the river drops down to its confluence with Lake Superior.
These views of the Presque Isle River and Lake Superior are from the hiking trail that extends east from a small parking area just off the park road past the park entry office. Further on, there is the Presque Isle Campground, which has 50 campsites and a stairway down to the lakeshore from its east end.
From CTH 519, the South Boundary Road meanders for 33 miles northeast through the park until it ends at highway M-107. There is very little to no shoulder on much of the South Boundary Road, with vegetation coming right up to the road, in addition to plenty of curves and changes of elevation, so visibility off the road is limited.
Those factors combined with a generous population of black bear, deer, coyotes, with maybe an occasional gray wolf or even a moose and keeping your speed down and your alertness up are good things to do. Turning west on M-107 for another seven miles takes you up the escarpment to the parking area for Lake of the Clouds.
If the name evokes images of a place of other-worldly beauty and spectacular range, you understand the nature of the place. Apart from the parking lot behind you and the viewing areas provided where you stand, the view extends more than 25 miles in three directions. With the exception of the Copper Peak Ski Flying tower just visible about 20 miles to the south, the forest shows no sign of human habitation or activity.
Heading back east along M-107, continuing on into Silver City, we picked up M-64 south to Bergland, then turned west on M-28 back to Wakefield, which also takes you into the Ottawa National Forest.
Back in Wakefield, right next to the city’s beautiful Sunday Lake, at the Wakefield Visitor Center is the striking statue of Nee-Gaw-Nee-Gaw-Bow (Leading Man), carved by Peter Wolf Toth, dedicated in 1988.
Toth has donated an original Indian carving to each of the 50 states and provinces in Canada as the 59th statue on his epic “Trail of Whispering Giants,” which he created from 1971 to 1988. The work in Wakefield honors the Chippewa (Ojibwe or Anishinabe) tribe, which is prominent in the area and its history. The statue was carved from a single pine log donated by the Ottawa National Forest.
No trip to the U.P. can be considered complete without visiting the Stormy Kromer monument and reading up on the Stormy Kromer story.
The true story of the Stormy Kromer hat dates back to 1903 when George “Stormy” Kromer realized the need for ear flaps to ward off the cold and short brim to cheat the wind. With the help of his wife working the needle and thread, they came up with a hat design which came into such demand, a company was formed and by 1918, large-scale manufacturing was underway in Milwaukee.
As time went by, the company aged as did its founder and eventually Ironwood, Michigan businessman and owner of Jacquart Fabric Products, Bob Jacquart, acquired the manufacturing rights and moved the operation north. Since 2001, the storied Stormy Kromer caps have been manufactured in Ironwood; a fitting place for the manufacture of a cap made to blunt the cold and snow because in winter, Ironwood can get plenty of it.