After our short cruise aboard the S.S. Badger, we spent a weekend in Wisconsin camping with friends. But this isn’t a blog about Wisconsin history (no, your state does not look like a mitten), so we will skip over that. After that weekend, we drove north to the land that us Michiganders stole from Wisconsin, the Upper Peninsula (sidebar: it was very strange crossing into the UP from Wisconsin, as I am so used to going across the Mackinac Bridge to get to the UP. It doesn’t feel quite right to not go over any water!). Our first stop in da UP was Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, where we camped for the next two days. We spent the nights right next to Lake Superior and the days hiking Michigan’s only mountain range, the beautiful Porkies.
The Porkies get their name from the Ojibwe people, who lived throughout the upper Midwest. The Ojibwe named the mountains such because the ridges look like crouching porcupines next to Lake Superior.
The Porcupine mountains have a fascinating geologic history. At 2 billion years old, they are part of one of the oldest mountain chains in the world! The most defining feature of the mountains is the 12 mile long basalt-capped escarpment that rises directly out of Lake Superior. On the other side of the escarpment is Lake of the Clouds, the most famous spot in the park and one of my favorite views in all of Michigan (and that’s saying something). If you are interested in a more detailed description of the park’s geology, check out this brochure from the Michigan DNR.
The mountains remained a fairly untouched wilderness until the 19th century, when a few attempts were made to start logging and mining operations. Between 1845 and 1910, 45 different copper mines opened in the park. None made enough profits to last long. One example is the Nonesuch Mine, the remains of which can be seen in the the southwest corner of the park. Nonesuch Mine opened and closed five different times between 1867 and 1912. Although copper can be found in the mountains, it was difficult to separate from the surrounding rock, which made all the mining ventures fail. Far more profitable were the mines to the east and north, particularly in the Keweenaw Peninsula – a topic I will cover in a different post!
Logging began in the 20th century, and stripped many of the easily reached pines along the shoreline. Logging the interior was more difficult, but some companies intended to try. In 1925, P.J. Hoffmaster, Michigan’s Chief of State Parks, proposed adding the mountains to the state parks system to protect them from continued logging. It took another 20 years, but in 1945 the Porcupine Mountains State Park was formed. Despite this designation, attempts to industrialize and modernize the park continued. Copper mining was tried again in the 1950s, proposals were made for roads throughout the park, and there was even a proposal to dynamite the falls on the Presque Isle River to help fisheries. Finally in 1972, Michigan passed the Wilderness and Natural Areas Act, and re-designated the park as Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park (source). It is currently one of the largest wilderness areas in the eastern United States. There are very few roads in the park, instead it has over 90 miles of hiking trails, including a portion of the North Country National Scenic Trail. Much of the wilderness is still old-growth forest. In fact, the park is considered to be home to the largest northern hemlock-hardwood forests west of the Adirondacks. It is also home to a large variety of wildlife, including black bears. If you want to camp in the back-country, be sure to know how to use a bear pole!
The park is a beautiful retreat from the modern world. We had a great few days at the park, visiting Lake of the Clouds, the Presque Isle River and Summit Peak. We also spent some time at the visitor’s center, which contains a small museum about the park, its history and the current plant and animal inhabitants. Being in the far western portion of the UP, the Porkies are a loooong drive from SE Michigan, but they are definitely worth the trip. They should absolutely be a part of any UP road trip!
And finally, because I love a good collage: