Tahquamenon rhymes with “phenomenon.” I love handy signs that tell you how to pronounce hard words like Tahquamenon. Which is our destination today.
But first: Coffee. Our aeropress does not work. This we established yesterday. So today we try coffee courtesy of the machine in our room at America’s Best Value Inn in Newberry, MI, land of Pizza Hut = Fine Dining.
Once someone on Peanuts gave someone else a cup of tea. And the recipient said, “It tastes like a cup of warm water with a brown crayon dipped in it.” Lucy was involved, but whether unsuccessful tea maker or disgruntled tea recipient, I do not alas, remember.
But that precisely sums up our coffee experience.
We leave our hotel early. There is no coffee anywhere. So up to Tahquemenon we go.
The Upper Falls
There are less than 10 cars in the parking lot. We think, how awesome. No one is traveling.
Meaning, the bathrooms are locked. Oh, but there’s one of those outhouse toilet things. Thank God for my mask. But still, it’s pretty dodgy in there.
We head to the overlook, and this is what we see.
All that red? It’s not iron, but tannin, mostly from the cedar trees which I can now recognize because their bark slowly spirals.
Looking through the curtain of water, I remember that scene in The Last of the Mohicans, another top 5 or 10 movies. I bet you can get behind this waterfall somehow. Not that I would want to try it.
I remember seeing that movie when it came out with my daughter’s father. And I said, if we were behind that waterfall, you would jump through it for me, wouldn’t you? You know, like Daniel Day-Lewis does for Madeleine Stowe after yelling over the roar of the cascades, “I Will Find You!!”
And he said, you’d have to jump with me. I’m pretty old.
You gottta love that honesty.
Also, that one didn’t last so long, though when our daughter was about 20, we realized that we could be pretty good friends.
Now at this age, Steve and I are just going to have to stay out of situations where jumping through waterfalls is part of the gig. We are just fine up top.
The River Trail
I’ve read about the River Trail, which takes you on foot from the upper to the lower Tahquamenon Falls. It’s through a forest, about 5 miles, and you are told right at the outset that you will get muddy and that the trail is difficult.
Steve is all for it. “We can walk around the mud,” he says.
I’m not so sure, but I’m stoic. Fortunately, 10 minutes in, he says, “This could be kind of boring.”
Back we track. We instead tackle the White Pines trail to see the two oldest pines in the forest. They’re each about 6 feet in diameter and really old. Like Queen Isabel, that nut, wasn’t even kicking the slats out of her cradle when these guys started growing.
We find the pines and they are indeed beautiful. The picture doesn’t do it justice, but Steve and I would be hard-pressed to get our arms around it if we each hugged one side and tried to meet in the middle. My arms are long, his are Super long.
Anyway, the trail goes on another 2.5 miles, and the local mosquito community appears to have issued an APB to the effect that “Meat’s on the lunch menu!” Back we track, walking fast, swatting, dodging mud—thank the saints that we didn’t do the River Trail.
Hell with all this hiking. We’re driving to the Lower Falls.
The Lower Falls
It’s a short drive to a much fuller parking lot, though not as full as the Upper Falls lot when we left it.
The Lower Falls aren’t nearly so spectacular from the vantage points. They’re cool because they’re very stair-steppy, and we figure this is what the Sault Ste. Marie rapids must have been like before the locks. But we do see lots of people in rowboats paddling around and over to an island.
“Let’s do it,” I say.
We had both seen the Rent a Rowboat thing, and both thought silently and separately, well, we can skip that. And then we did it, and it was So Cool.
You row, like, 300 feet. Steve rowed first, and I told him I’d pay attention. It doesn’t look that hard; stick the oars in the water in kind of a circular movement.
Yeah. We’ll get to that.
But first, we dock and climb to the walkways that are built in a ring shape around the small island. First, we’re greeted by a sign that basically says, don’t screw around in the water. There’s a current and undertow, the rocks are slippery, and, well, just don’t. This is paid attention to about as much as the governor’s mask mandate. But it seems ok, and the folks in the water are chill, not doing dumb things.
The falls, up close, are wonderful. The water is so clear you can clearly see the rocks below. The water runs red. On one of the signs, we find out that there’s so much foam because the debris in the water actually gives it a protein content. The foam, it says, is kinda like egg whites.
There are tons of what Steve calls “cairns” and what a Buddhist friend calls “stupas.” I thought they were cool when I first saw them, and on this day I just think, leave the rocks alone. Nature is not Jenga, there for you to build meaningless piles.
But I’m being a grouch, I realize after I talk to my friend. They are pretty cool. (Here’s a great article on ice stupas, btw, that helps explain the whole stupa thing.)
(Also, sometimes I wonder, am I turning into this guy? I am working to not be knee jerk grouchy. Life is too short.)
Row, Row, Row Your Damn Boat
It’s my turn to row! I am going to be awesome!
For one thing, I am severely directionally challenged. Right from left has always been rough for me. My left hand makes an L and plays the bass clef on the piano. I actually have to think about this and look at my left hand making the L when I tell people directions.
Steve has pointed out that it’s bizarre that I can follow the most complicated possible yoga instructions from my streaming app and never get mixed up. It’s true. The issue seems to happen when I have to talk directionally. I really prefer east/west/north/south because they don’t change places. Although sometimes when I’m tired, I screw that up too. All week in the UP, I get east and west mixed up every single time.
Anyway. Since you have to row backwards, I have to navigate. Steve also asks that I yell out his right or left as opposed to mine. But I can look at my hand! And then say the opposite. So no problem.
Now, after jaunting ’round the isle, it’s my turn to row. I sit backwards. Steve tells me what to do.
Oh, shit, this is Zero Fun. We go around in circles while Steve laughs. Two minutes in, I say, “Maybe you better do this.”
“No, no, you can do it.”
Now here’s the rub: Rowing with your left hand moves you to the right. Rowing with your right hand moves you to the left. That is SO dumb. I tell Steve he has to tell me which hand to use, not which direction to go.
But after about 5 minutes, I am getting the hang of it. The only problem is that every time I manage to get the boat going straight, the current pushes it in another direction.
Still, it’s 300 feet. It’s not like I’m having to row to Canada—only to be turned down!! That’s what I get for dissing Gordon Lightfoot.
We make it to the dock. We follow one more trail for one more view, but the island proves hard to top.
I buy a cinnamon roll and a hot dog and a cappuccino made from this machine so it’s actually more of a hot chocolate. I am giddy from all the sugar, yes siree.
Naturally, I conk off in the car on the way to our next stop, Munising. (It’s pronounced like uni-sing as in the uni from unicycle, with an M in front of it, if that helps.)
First, we stop and buy a small hot water kettle. Because good coffee is an issue in these parts. I seriously would have been the crappiest pioneer ever. “But…..you can’t foam the milk? There’s no….chardonnay? What is WRONG with you people?????”
Our ride west is utterly uneventful. The roads up here are so smooth and also pretty empty. They’re a pleasure to drive on.
We find our sort of scary and seedy motel, based on the rusted cars in the parking lot. The woman in the lobby tells us that check-in isn’t until 3. So we have half an hour to….go find coffee!
Downtown Munising is under serious construction. They’re building a roundabout, and half of Main Street is dug up. Still, we find the Falling Water Coffee and Book Shop, and it’s wonderful. We get excellent coffee, and because I haven’t had my fill of sugar, I get a scoop of ice cream. Steve finally comes to the dark side and gets one himself.
I pick up Paddle to the Sea, Holling C. Holling’s lovely book about a toy canoe that traverses all of the Great Lakes. I try to get Steve interested in a toy canoe, but he thinks they are lame. He doesn’t say that, but, well, he doesn’t have to. I am also sorely tempted by the used book selection, including this gem, which is so Get Christy Love!, I can barely resist. But I consign it to a photo, because I truly have too many books.
It’s cloudy, too much so to visit Pictured Rocks. I am honestly hugely grateful to not have to see any more beauty. You gotta process this stuff.
And once we get in our room, our hotel is just fine. Probably 90% of the places to stay in the UP are seedy-looking motels. But once you get in, the beds are fine.