In February 2022 we left sunny, warm Florida for four weeks at the Sax-Zim Bog in Northern Minnesota. We wanted to photograph the legendary great gray owls – which we did and then some! You can read all about it in my blog “28 Days in the Bog.”
In the spirit of “since we’ve already come this far” we added another two weeks in Allouez, (AL-o-way), located in the Keweenaw (KEY-wee-naw) Peninsula, which projects nearly 70 miles into Lake Superior on the northern side of Michigan’s U.P.
When conditions are right, the Aurora Borealis are visible across the open expanse of the Big Lake.
The Northern Lights were high on our bucket list, especially after canceling our trip to Finland at the beginning of the covid pandemic, and we hoped for the best during our two-week stay.
Our Air BNB in Allouez was a palace compared to our tiny basement apartment in Hibbing.
There was a spacious kitchen with a table big enough to spread out two laptops and a lovely view across the backyard.
A separate living room with a comfy wrap-around sofa,
And a flight of stairs leading to two bedrooms and a half bath on the second floor.
Before we arrived, our host had told us to leave the water running in the downstairs bathroom. There was a “Let it Run” order in place due to a deep freeze. I guess when your water comes from the third largest freshwater lake in the world it’s ok to “let it run!”
We couldn’t have asked for a better place to spend the last two weeks of our road trip. You can find the Old Mining House on Air BNB here:
We scouted several locations for our late-night aurora forays,
And settled on the bayfront at Eagle River. The view to the north was unobstructed, and we could wait and watch from the warmth of our car.
Unfortunately, conditions were not favorable for the duration of our stay. Although we had beautiful blue skies on many days,
Evenings turned overcast almost every night.
But we were there for two weeks so we made the best of it. The whole peninsula is an outdoor enthusiast, nature lover’s paradise. Not only is it surrounded on three sides by Lake Superior with its lovely beaches,
It offers hundreds of miles of snowmobile and hiking trails,
State parks, scenic drives,
And beautiful waterfalls.
What we were NOT prepared for was All. The. Snow – especially this late into the season!
Keweenaw averages 208 inches of snow per year, and as of March 9, 2022, they were already at 284.5.
Lake Superior keeps the area warmer than Northern Minnesota but also dumps a lot more snow. Although we had plenty of layers to keep us warm, the amount of snow made it challenging to do many of the outdoor activities.
Most of the area’s attractions were closed for the season, and others were accessible only by snowmobile (above our pay grade) or snowshoes, which we rented from Cross Country Sports in Calumet for $10 a day.
Our neighborhood consisted of a small cluster of houses off US 41, a busy main road, so there was not a lot of opportunity for walking close to home.
We did manage a hike to Hungarian Falls,
Home to five waterfalls with the highest one having a 75-foot drop.
This time of year, everything was frozen, but it was still a lovely hike in the woods. We saw multiple tracks – including some fresh snowshoe hare. The only hare we saw, however, was an illustration in the children’s book “The Cross-Country Cat,” the pages of which were affixed to trees along the trail.
The Keweenaw Peninsula was the site of the first copper boom in the United States, which led to its moniker “Copper Country.”
And we spent a lot of time exploring the quaint little towns that dot the area.
Allouez is about four miles north of Calumet, which boasts a beautiful cathedral and lots of historic architecture.
We also enjoyed lunch at Carmelita’s and sampled their famous Thimbleberry Margarita. Thimbleberries are similar to raspberries and are a favorite among local residents.
Lake Linden has some wonderful old churches,
And fun restaurants.
But it was in Laurium that we were introduced to pasties.
Pronounced “past-ee”, it is a folded pastry case with a savory filling, typically seasoned meat, potatoes, and vegetables. The travel-ready meal came to Keweenaw by way of Cornish miners who migrated to the area to work in the copper mines in the 19th century.
The pasty is a point of pride among the residents of the U.P. and debates range far and wide on which is the best.
Donna at the Visitor’s Center gave us a list of places where we could try this delicacy but added that none would compare with her mother-in-law’s!
There is even a “Keweenaw Pasty Trail” that lists the area’s best locations – each with its own, unique spin on this beloved little pie.
One day we drove up to Copper Harbor, located at the very northern tip of the peninsula.
Most of the shops and restaurants were closed for the season, so we stopped at the Mariner North for lunch.
As we waited for our food, the restaurant gradually filled. It suddenly occurred to us that we were the only – and I do mean ONLY – patrons not dressed in snowmobile attire!
The countryside is full of photographic gems, even in the winter. We found picturesque barns,
Old dams, and historic copper mines – some of which are purported to be haunted!
We had stopped to photograph the abandoned Quincy Dredge #2, currently sunk in the shallow water of Torch Lake. Just as we got out of the car, we spied a little red fox crossing the ice!
In scouting locations for our aurora watching, we stumbled upon two interesting sites in Eagle River. The first was the Church of the Holy Protection, a monastery under the jurisdiction of The Ukrainian Catholic Church.
This stunning piece of architecture sits on the shore of Lake Superior, about five miles outside of town.
The monks devote themselves to a life of prayer, music,
And work, including making jams, coffees, and other baked goods at their sole source of income: the Jampot bakery.
Unfortunately, the Jampot is only open during season, late May through mid-October, but many of their products are available online.
There is no phone listed on either the monastery or Jampot website, but they do have an email. So, we inquired about their Saturday evening Solemn Vespers service and received this reply:
We are not regular church attendees, but in these troubling times we could not pass up an opportunity to pray for peace with Ukrainian monks.
The Solemn Vespers were unlike anything we had ever experienced. The entire 90 minutes was sung – even the chosen scriptures of the day.
The monks sang acapella, in three-part harmony, and their strong voices filled the small sanctuary like a heavenly choir.
TG and I were the only attendees and as we sat listening it occurred to me that this beautiful service would have happened with or without us. We were merely bystanders in one of the most genuine – and profound – acts of worship either of us had ever witnessed.
On another day while driving through Eagle River we noticed a sign for the Emil Dyni Memorial Deer Feeding Park. Whaaat??
In the winter deer travel from miles around to Eagle River where they are fed – by anyone who has brought the proper food.
They flock here by the hundreds and through the years have learned that the yard is a safe place to eat and bed down.
This park was on the same road that led to the Eagle River bayfront, so each evening when we went out aurora-hunting we passed the deer, peeking above the snowdrifts as we drove by.
The two weeks did not give us exactly what we had hoped for, but we were able to explore an area of the country that neither of us had visited before. The more we travel in the U.S.A., the more wonderful places we find to go. The Keweenaw Peninsula is absolutely beautiful and a great place to visit – anytime of the year. Just be sure to pack your snowshoes!
To view more photos from our stay, visit our flickr albums.