Thursday, August 5, 2010


This is how our travel day began…

… and this is how it ended.

Driving to Houghton in the rain Site 13 Houghton

Three miles east of the tiny Eagle River community and 5 miles west of the little town of Eagle Harbor on the northern end of the Keweenaw Peninsula, the monks of the Holy Transfiguration Skete of the Society of Saint John run The Jampot.  According to our temporary neighbor at the Elks Lodge in Sault Ste. Marie, The Jampot has the best baked goods and jams on the Keweenaw Peninsula – not to be missed.

Apleasant place to sit on the bluff at McLain State Park, overlooking Lake Superior. The Keweenaw Peninsula, a sharp thumb jutting north into Lake Superior at the top of the U.P., is best known for its beauty and its copper mining history.  We were feeling a little burned out on history, but are always up for beauty… and so much the better if we can find good food along the way.  We packed a picnic lunch and took off for a sunny day of sightseeing.

Our first stop was nearby McLain State Park, 20 minutes from the City of Houghton RV Park (click here to read our review and see more photos) where we are staying.  Michigan state parks charge non-residents a day use fee of $8/vehicle, and is one of the states that charges motor home campers a fee for both their “camping unit” (motorhome) and their towed vehicle (jeep), even though the motorhome will be stationary (like a tent or trailer) during the stay.  Colorado is another state that does this.  Consequently, we rarely camp in state parks in either state, but we do visit as day users.

McLain is a gorgeous state park, with 2 miles of sandy beach on Lake Superior.  We had great weather, and spent a couple of hours hiking and enjoying the beach.  LOTS of people were in the water swimming and splashing, children and adults alike, a relaxing summer scene.

Snow measure Heading north, we thought we saw a huge thermometer looming in the distance.  What was that thing?  A SNOW gauge!  In this photo, Odel is standing at the bottom of the gauge for scale; the top of the gauge shows the record depth of snow (cumulative) in Keweenaw County.  This is what the sign says:

During the Winter of 1978-79, Keweenaw County Established a new snowfall record by tabulating a seasonal total of 390.4 inches of snow.  This could be a new record set in the U.S.A. for the entire area east of the Rockies.  The monthly tabulations for the winter of 1978-79 are as follows:  Nov 49.2 inches, Dec 116.4 inches, Jan 111.4 inches, Feb 53.0 inches, Mar 52.6 inches, Apr 7.8 inches.”

Makes you shudder, doesn’t it??  By the way, the small orange arrow about halfway up the gauge marks the record LOW snowfall, set in 2009.

By now it was well past noon and we were getting hungry.  We pressed on to the north, looking for the fabled Jampot.  Sure enough, just past a little waterfall on a winding road along the shore, we found it:

The Jampot Bakery and Jam Shop.

Odel, the monks and the temptations.

The Jampot Bakery and Jam Store Monks at the Jampot

I don’t know how I managed to get a photo without a car in it; the parking lot was jammed when we arrived, and the little store was packed.  Hungry and faced with an array of delicious baked goods, we WAAAYYY overbought: a peanut butter and jam brownie; a carrot cake cupcake; a loaf of banana/cranberry/walnut bread; half a dozen nut and chocolate chip spice cookies.  The monks of The Society of St. John maintain an interesting website – click here to read a monk’s perspective of living on the isolated Keweenaw Peninsula.

Ft. Wilkins Historic State Park Fifteen minutes later we were enjoying lunch and dessert at a picnic table overlooking the big lake.  Next stop: our second state park of the day (on the same day use pass we had purchased earlier), Fort Wilkins Historic State Park at the tip of the Keweenaw in Copper Harbor. 

Copper was discovered here in the mid 1800’s, and the fort was built in 1844 to deal with the anticipated lawlessness and possible Indian wars that might come with the mining of the ore.  When no problems arose with Indians or miners, the fort closed two years later… then reopened after the civil war as an outpost for peacetime troops to serve out the remainder of their enlistment.   The fort was restored in 1930, and now is the centerpiece of another gorgeous state park.

That was it, the end of the road, out on the tip of the most northerly spot in Michigan.  Nowhere to go but south.

Lift BridgeDuring the copper boom years, the Keweenaw Peninsula presented a challenge to the wooden ships plying Lake Superior.  Part way up the peninsula, a lake and river almost bisected it, but not quite.  Opening the waterway by digging a canal to the west, to Lake Superior, shaved a hundred dangerous miles from a ships voyage - but turned the upper peninsula into an island. 

The Houghton-Hancock Life Bridge, from Houghton on the “mainland” to Hancock on the “island” was the solution and is now the only land link between the northern Keweenaw and the southern Keweenaw.  The first bridge, a wooden swing bridge, was built in 1875.  Fires and collisions damaged a succession of bridges; the current bridge was completed in 1959.  With the advent of the large metal freighters, the number of ships using the canal dropped dramatically, but the lift still is raised for sailboats that use the waterway.

Sunset from the Houghton RV Park.The photo above shows the bridge in “summer” position, raised so that boats can pass under it (it can be raised much higher for taller ships, but of course traffic has to be stopped for that).  In winter, when the waterway freezes and stops boat traffic (November to April), the bridge’s lift span is lowered.  Cars use the top deck; snowmobiles use the bottom deck! 

We arrived home tired and happy, reheated homemade soup and dug into our stash of monk-baked goods.  Sunset comes quite late here on the far, far western edge of the eastern time zone (folks to the south and EAST of us are in the central time zone – go figure!), and I snapped this shot just before I hopped into bed. Good ending!


  1. Love your writing.
    Love your photos.
    Love your blog!
    Adding The Jampot to my list!

  2. Yep... I am definitely going to northern Michigan. What a beautiful area! The baked goods looked delicious, and the story was fascinating. Great post, as usual...

    Kerri (melting) in AL :-)

  3. Wheeehee all my old stomping grounds!

    Been to these places many times while I grew up in the U.P. I remember the winter of 78-79. I was 18. Whew what a winter, I later moved 150 miles south to Green Bay that spring.

    At Fort Wilkens there is a tiny stuffed mouse hiding behind a flour barrel in the bakery! LOL

    Did you take Brockway Mountain drive along the western shore of the peninsula on the way down? Very pretty and FUN on a motorcycle!

    Where are you going next?

  4. Love Michigan AND Colorado...but why the huge fees for camping in state parks? We are 62 and 68..any discounts for old geezers with bad habits?? OH, what the heck...they don't allow you to take a U-Haul to the cemetery..we may as well spend it now...HECK WITH THE FEES...FULL SPEED AHEAD!!

  5. We had a great trip in that area last year, but missed the snow gauge. I grew up in upstate New York, but did not have snow like that.

    Will definitely not be going there in the winter.

  6. After reading your posts about the Great Lakes, we are planning to spend a summer up there in a couple of years when we finally hit the road. Love your blog and also your campground rating blog. Keep up the great work while having fun.


  7. Beautiful sunset. Great shot.

    I think I seriously need to find that Jampot. Sounds absolutely delicious.

    You're certainly seeing lots of pretty places up there.

  8. I thought it was funny that you said the parking lot of The Jam Pot was "jammed." I'm not usually a big fan of puns but that one made me giggle.

    I'm enjoying your trip to the UP. I had no idea it was so beautiful there. We plan to start full-timing soon and will add that area to our list of summer destinations.

    Have fun and safe travels,

  9. Having lived in Michigan we have visited the Keewenau Peninsula many times while our son was attending Michigan Tech but never stumbled onto the Jampot - it's now on our "bucket list" for our next trip up north. You guys did the Upper Peninsula proud in your blog enteries.

  10. Love your blog and your campground reviews and have enjoyed reading about your travels through the U.P.

    We lived in Lower SW Michigan for over 30 years, before recently becoming full timers, but never spent much time exploring the Upper Peninsula. Now we know we definitely need to spend some time there(in the summer)!