Michigan UP, Wisconsin and Minnesota – National Parks Road Trip – Day 3 – Abandonded Air Force Base, Marquette, MI and Duluth, MN

We started our day in Marquette, Michigan at the abandoned Sawyer Air Force base. There are literally hundreds of vacant buildings scattered about, with a few in use. We went past entire apartment complexes boarded up after the military left in the 1990s. It looks like it could double for Chernobyl.

2015 09 06 3 Sawyer Air Base MI.JPG

Interestingly though, as a tourist attraction, are a number of jet airplanes parked around town. They seem to be in good shape, just parked in fields and parking lots. At the edge of town is a new, small terminal that is used for the Marquette International Airport. We walked in to check it out and the board has one destination written permanently, ‘Detroit’.

It was about a 15 minute drive into the middle of Marquette, the largest town in the U.P It is also home to Northern Michigan University. Given the tough weather, over 200″ of snow per year, they have a domed stadium, the Superior Dome, however theirs is unique in that it is made of Douglas Fir beams and fir decking. This geodesic dome arena is the world’s largest wooden dome and is in the Guinness Book of World Records.

2015 09 06 44 Marquette MI.JPG

We made our way inside the Wildcat football arena, walking onto the cushioned Astroturf, with a beautiful smell of wood used to build the arena. The ceiling was stained wood inside and had white panels for the exterior designed in a sloping fashion to funnel snow off the domed stadium into large wells positioned on the ground at points around the structure. We saw another amazing item in the arena. It is the World’s Tallest Trophy at 22 ft 6.5 inches tall given for the largest skateboard parade and this trophy is also in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Along the Marquette Harbor we stopped at the Marquette Maritime Museum but it was closed, however there was a torpedo stationed outside that was perfect for sitting on and waving my arms as if I were Slim Pickens in the movie Dr. Strangelove while I had my photo taken. Just across the parking lot is the Marquette Bay Park, with a massive abandon ore dock.

We met a person in the parking lot of the park who told us how it was used; there was a massive train bridge that spanned across downtown Marquette, crossing overtop the buildings, and onto the ore dock. Trains would pull in with loads of ore, and dump them directly into the boats headed down the lakes. Given the fact we were along the Lake Superior shore at an ore dock brought to mind the Edmund Fitzgerald disaster, along with the accompanying song.

2015 09 06 52 Marquette MI.JPG

Leaving Marquette we stopped in Ishpeming to see the U. S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame, but it was closed. The building was designed with a steep roof modeled as a ski slope. An old ski lift chair provided seating in front of the building and international flags and an Olympic torch stood in front outside to complete the scene. We checked out the items outside the building and the well painted murals on a nearby bridge.

Also in Ishpeming is Da Yoopers Tourist Trap, a store I found on the Roadside America website. Large strange and unusual contraptions were placed on the store property along the road, including an 18 foot long chain saw called Big Gus. Another ‘feature’ was an old pick-up truck with a rifle mounted to the bed that stuck up over the cab of the truck and extended about 8 feet beyond the front of the truck. Amazingly both the chain saw and the gun actually work.

2015 09 06 61 Ishpeming MI.JPG

Lower Michigan becomes the butt of humor due to the dislike from Da Yoopers of Upper Michigan which is seen in many of the items for sale. Some items emphasized a local affection for beer and pasties- pronounced with a short “a” sound not long “a”. Pasties are dough sandwiches stuffed with beef, rutabagas, or other vegetables, not what I was expecting when I first saw the signs.

Our route this day took us across the western half of the U.P. across the M28. As was our goal we tried to find something interesting to stop for every hour or two, including Agate Falls Park, located in southeastern Ontonagon County, Michigan. What appears to be a basic roadside rest is actually the park for this 39′ high waterfalls, coupled with a classic old highway bridge crossing just above.

Wakefield, Michigan was our next stop to see the Peter Toth carved Native American. We were disappointed to see that the carved head of a Native American was only half the size and not as intricately carved as a similar wooden statue in front of the Judith Resnik Community Learning Center in Akron, Ohio.

We continued on through Bessemer, Michigan to find the giant ski bum noted on Roadside America. The Ski bum was at the entrance to a ski resort called Big Powderhorn that claimed to be the Ski Capital of the Midwest. Finally we arrived in Ironwood in the early afternoon, and found the railroad station built in 1893 listed on the National Historical Places. In front of the depot is a memorial carved of three miners from an old tree. This town also has a mural painted the length of a downtown building of every miner with his name and the name of the mine he worked.

2015 09 06 102 Ironwood MI.JPG

In addition, this town boasts the “World’s Tallest Indian” as is noted at the foot of a 52 foot tall Hiawatha. The statue is made of fiberglass and erected at the top of Suffolk Street next to a neighborhood. This statue towers over the houses. You really cannot miss it even though we asked someone where to find it.

Just across the border into Wisonsin we found another Roadside America classic, a giant large corkscrew in Hurley, Wisconsin. Appropriately it stands in front of a liquor store. Thank goodness Roadside America kept us entertained with oddball items like this to see along the way. You may interpret this mishmash of oddity as rambling fun, weird education, or just plain stupidity to fight boredom.

Ashland, Wisconsin was our next stop, to see the murals on buildings throughout the town. There are murals painted on the sides of downtown buildings on most of the blocks. The murals paint life of downtown businesses and life through the decades. Nearly all the murals depict people who were residents of the town.

2015 09 06 123 Ashland WI.JPG

Just outside of town we visited the Northern Great Lakes Center. The center displayed dioramas and murals of native tribes, wildlife, geology and life history of the area. It also exhibited professional photographs of Apostle Islands and Pictured Rocks. It was interesting to see these photos of Pictured Rocks which hung here in the Center because these photos were taken at different times of day and season to show so many beautiful captured scenes of the same landscape that we photographed while on our cruise. The winter scenes of Pictured Rocks and Apostle Island were especially outstanding.

2015 09 06 155 Ashland WI.JPG

Dark clouds appeared with expected storms so we made our way to Superior, Wisconsin. Unfortunately, the accordion museum there was closed and so we moved on to Duluth, Minnesota.

We drove around Duluth and were surprised to find steep hills within the city, which of course we headed up. I had read there was an overlook but I was having trouble finding it.Eventually in one of my efforts to find it I ended up in a parking lot of a Catholic Church where there was some guy just hanging out in his dingy old mini van. When I asked him where it was he said ‘follow me, I will take you there’. Knowing this violates every rule of every slasher movie, we did follow him, far enough I knew where it was and I turned and took off the other way, leaving Freddy Kreuger to himself.

The overlook was at Engel Park, with a 80′ tower at the top. The view from the top was spectacular, with a 360 degree view of the city, bay and lake. We spent quite  bit of time watching an ore boat leave the harbor under the lift bridge, as well as many ore docks, some still in use. On the Superior, WI side there were massive grain elevators.

2015 09 06 178 Duluth MN.JPG

Our hotel was near the harbor in a restored area with restaurants and parks. Returning we walked to one of the more popular ones, Grandma’s Saloon & Grill (that is really the name of the restaurant) then walked through town and later walked the boardwalk along Lake Superior for amazing photos of the incoming storm, before retreating to the cover of the large porch of our hotel to watch the storm blow through. Afterwards we walked again for more great photos trying to capture lightning and ships through the fog. We got some great photos to end our day here.

2015 09 06 215 Duluth MN.JPG