We bid a sad farewell to Grandma/Sarah’s mom this morning. After we came and destroyed her house and screwed up her Netflix settings and used her washer/dryer and ate all her food, we gave her hugs and told her we could stay another day if she REALLY wanted. No, no, she said, continue on to Ashland (“please go” she pleaded).
We set off on our journey – we must get that Lake Superior Circle Tour certificate! We drove up highway 13 on the Bayfield Peninsula and stopped at a few look outs. Another gorgeous day! Our goal was the Meyers Beach Sea Cave Trail – this is part of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (more NP passport stamps! More!!). The last time Matt and Sarah had hiked this was easily 15 years ago and we were the only ones on the trail at the end of a remote road. Holy shit today. We turn down the road and there are dozens of cars lining the side of the road. KAYAKERS. We park and walk ½ a mile to get to the trailhead, and there are hoards, we mean HOARDS of kayak outfitters, NPS rangers (watching the kayakers – in the past they have been known to measure kayaks to make sure yours is a sea kayak and appropriate for the lake), and millennials (of course) streaming around. We were the bewildered old people.
We took off on our trail, which is a cool trail – the first 0.9 miles is a board walk (literally two boards side by side (sorry Sarah’s mom, you would have hated it)) and then a moderately technical trail (due to mud, tree roots, hills). At the end, there are gorgeous views of the sea caves, as well as the 100 kayakers who are attempting to navigate them with no to little sea kayaking experience. We had a snack, quietly observing the two ladies in their 70s who had also hiked out. They were swearing a blue streak and vaping at the end of the trail on a bench. National Parks are for all people!
We didn’t remember exactly how dicey the end of the trail was for children, as the last time we hiked it we had no children. Now we have children who love to ignore our directions about not going near cliffs and staying away from ledges. At one point, B was swinging around a tree that was growing out from the edge of the cliff over the sea caves. We pray he outlasts natural selection at this point.
We hiked back and checked out the beach, which was covered in kayaks and annoyed looking rangers, then got back in the car and made a pact for NO MORE hiking. We promised the kids ice cream, that then took us way too long to deliver on. We motored through Bayfield (So. Many. Tourists.) We then went to Washburn, the bigger, less cute town between Bayfield and Ashland, and landed at Harbor House Sweets. OMG, amazing looking baked sweets and ice cream. Everyone was happy. Rejuvenated, we drove the rest of the way to Ashland.
We are staying at the Cobblestone Hotel in Ashland, which has no pool. There is only one hotel in Ashland with a pool (maybe two) and they all wanted two nights of reservations this weekend. Well, we only needed one night, so the kids can play in the tub tonight instead. When we pulled in, the number of NPS/National Forest Service law enforcement vehicles outnumbered regular cars in the lot. Hmmm. There IS a Rainbow Family gathering going on south of here in the Chequaemegon National Forest and this is our best guess as to the law personnel presence. They are peacefully gathering on public land without a permit, and have come from all over – thousands of people. Yeah, they’re hippies. But not on the Circle Tour, so we will not be seeing them.
Also, they have no rollaways and we apparently somehow accidentally got a room with only two queen beds. We don’t care any more – Zoe said “Yahh, I get to sleep on the floor!” (note: she still sleeps exclusively on the floor at home for unclear reasons) (also note: the hotel staff took off a bunch of the cost of the room because of this screw up, even though we didn’t care at all).
Coincidentally (so Matt says) – the South Shore brewery is next door, and we dined on whitefish fish fry, cheese curds and a beer flight – the food was better than expected and the beer was okay – the Wisconsin Pale Ale was definitely the winner.
Off to bed for the last day of vacation tomorrow!
Beers drank: South Shore Brewery Flight
Day 9 – July 6, 2019, Saturday – Ashland, WI to Houghton, MI
Sadly, the last full day of the trip. The continental breakfast was the same as it is everywhere (except their automatic waffle maker branded the waffle with a “C” for Cobblestone, nice touch). Thinking about this, isn’t it weird that hotels have basically gone from no breakfast, to a bunch of fruit and yogurt, to these seemingly elaborate spreads? We aren’t complaining, our children eat a ton of food in the morning and would be expensive to feed.
We zoomed off to the Lake Superior Visitor Center, the last stamp we needed to get our certificate! They too stamped on the Two Harbors one we needed. Apparently all these sites play fast and loose with the stamps, and could care less if someone was an imposter. I don’t think (hope) anyone has ever been lame enough to lie about the circle tour. We are just saying, you totally could. The visitor center is gorgeous! Beautiful well done museum. PLUS you could weirdly stamp your National Park Passport there. We don’t even know why because we weren’t at anything national. Matt ran out to the car and grabbed the stack of NP passports because it is all about THOSE stamps now.
We stopped at Black Cat Coffee for a scone and coffee, and off we went. Today it is only a 2.5-3 hour drive to Houghton, and our plan was to hit up a beach for agate collecting. We wanted to go to Little Girl Point on Lake Superior, which is just over the state line and about 7 miles north of Hurley/Ironwood. We had heard about it many years ago from a family friend from the UP and were told it WAS the beach to rock pick at. Many years ago we had gone there and the entire beach was full of locals swimming and picking rocks, too full for us to go on. This time we arrived, and the waves were Hawaii sized, the temperature was perfect, and there were only a few people there. It was awesome.
Waves were amazing, water was relatively warm (we all got soaked), and the rocks were plentiful. Sarah found a handful of agates, Matt collected a bag of pretty rocks, Noah picked at rocks, B beat a driftwood log with another piece of driftwood, and Zoe buried herself in sand and died a little inside. By the time we left, the beach was full – people came with buckets, coffee cans, pails with holes in the them for water drainage. Everyone looks like they were dressed for a day at the beach, but everyone was squatting down and raking their hands through all the rocks. It was seriously just the best.
After our hard work, we motored to Ironwood and picked up some lunch. After that, we drove up M-28 toward Houghton – we were fortunate enough to have a smattering of radio stations (unlike Canada, where we had one radio station for hundreds of kilometers that played “hit songs from the 1960s to today” – the radio station call sign was on a govt road sign because hitting scan on the radio wouldn’t even pick up its weak signal. We are scarred for life from that Canadian drive and Sarah will never complain about Wyoming again (until 3 weeks from now)). We picked up ice cream in Berglund, MI, which were amazing.
We hit Houghton after driving through very small and unfortunately abandoned appearing (but not actually abandoned towns). We are staying at the Country Inn and Suites which is the best hotel of the trip. Clearly new. We have a suite with a door between the two queens and a sitting room (OMG, privacy – although our MO is to let Zoe fall asleep in a queen bed, then once asleep we stealthily move her to a pull out bed – she was very very confused when she woke up the first time we did it). We swam in the warmest pool, they even had a spraying mushroom kid pool and a large hot tub. We got pizza from PizzaWorks – Thai Sesame Chicken, sausage for the kids, focaccia bread, and a Greek salad. Beer from Keewaunaw brewing. A perfect day for sure!
Beers drank: Level 92 Black IPA, Keweenaw Brewing Company
Day 10 – July 7, 2019, Sunday – Houghton, MI to Waupaca, WI
Home sweet home. We had a wonderful night of sleep, and in the morning enjoyed the fanciest continental breakfast yet! The kids went and played in the pool area (directly adjacent to the breakfast area, so all the brunching people could see our children in their waffle sugared up glory). Then off to home we went… Stopped at a coffee shack on our way into Hancock (god we miss those, they were all over Washington) and picked up scones and coffee. Took in the sights of Houghton-Hancock, the children oohing over a hotel with 4 stories (we need to get them out more).
We debated on the route home, and settled on taking the highway down to Watersmeet and then into Land O Lakes and Rhinelander, then out to highway 51. We knew it would be bad, but traffic heading back to Illinois (let’s call a spade a spade) was not at a total standstill. We picked up some Subway and ate our way back to home.
We survived, we got our Circle Tour and national park passport stamps, we have 22 pounds of amethyst (minus some that B sold to his Grandma Darlene for a dollar (unsure if she got a deal or not)), and our cats were still alive when we got home.
(Later that night, Noah and Mom took a walk around the neighborhood. He is a very logical child, and asked, “why did we spend a night in Houghton? Why didn’t we go home from Ashland? That would have been closer and made more sense. We had all the stamps.” Umm…. Either way, it was the best hotel of the entire trip and we regret nothing).
Beers drank: trip is over, it’s cocktail time!