The mine was originally started in 1857 but it was 13 years until it first turned a profit in 1870. It was operational until 1945 after the demand for ore fell off when World War II ended. Over the years 22,637,000 tons of iron ore were mined from Big Stope and Little Stope (two cavernous holes found during the drilling of twelve shafts. We got a kick out of little 'dynamite ovens' made of metal about the size of a toaster oven that they shoved sticks of dynamite into. They set the oven over the fire to keep the dynamite from getting wet. OSHA would love that today!
Our tour guide, Bob, worked in the mine for 30 years. But we decided he must have worked as a tour guide. The mine opened to tourists in 1956 and in the first week turned a profit. That grated on the nerves of all the miners who had labored there for years when the mine couldn't make a profit from the ore production. It was cold and damp down there and we couldn't imagine getting up every morning in the climate up here in the UP and going to work in that dreary mine. No wonder they needed Pasties (more about those later.) Instead of canaries they had two trout in a pond in the Little Stope room of the cave to make sure there was airflow. Our guide threw some fish food from a can into the water and the trout went berserk. We were the last ones on the tour to exit the Little Stope and Bob threw a few pellets in to feed the trout while I snapped his picture. I was glad he fed them a little extra since one of the kids asked what happened to them in the winter when the mine was closed to tourists and inaccessible due to snow. Our guide said "They starve." How cruel!
The early miners made ten cents an hour. There was one job where you used a jack-hammer looking power tool that bored holes in the tunnel ceiling. Of course all of the stuff fell down on top of you, sometimes more than you bargained for, resulting in your death. This job paid twelve cents an hour and there was a waiting list for the position! Our guide said, "Anyway you look at it, that's a 20 percent pay increase!" But there was a more dangerous job; the guy who put thirteen sticks of dynamite in a series of holes in the rock. He lit the fuses and ran down the shaft, counting the blasts. If he didn't hear thirteen blasts he was the guy who had to go back and investigate. He made fifteen cents an hour and no one wanted his job!
After our tour we browsed the gift shop some more. They have the largest rock shop in the UP. I brought an ore sample back for Vickie (she's a rock hound!) Of course I bought postcards in the goofy gift shop (only 15 cents) where we found some hysterical signs. One of my favorites lists the ingredients in Viagra. Our next stop was west to Quinnecsec to eat at The Pasty Oven. Pasties (the 'a' is short) has more than 500 years of history. This little self-contained meal was a traditional meat pie of Cornwall, England. A real traditional pasty was whatever was left over from dinner the night before. If they had roast beef or pork, the wife would make a pasty out of that. Their husbands would take them into the mine and eat them hot or cold. They might heat them on shovels over a candle. A hot pasty in the pocket made a cozy handwarmer for miners on the way to work. The thick crimped crust provided a convenient handle for Cornish miners whose fingers were often contaminated with coal dust. I had a traditional beef and pork pasty, with rutabagas. Bob had a chicken and cheese variety. There was too much pastry shell for our liking and I thought White Tail's Turkey Pasty I had a few weeks ago was better. Another favorite is "Michigan's Upper Peninsula: Land of Two Seasons-Shoveling and Swatting."
We left The Pasty Oven and stopped at Fumee Creek Roadside Park between Quinnesec and Norway. A twenty-five foot waterfall cascades down by the highway here. Many locals come here for wedding pictures, especially when the fall colors are out. Next we took Hwy 8 south from Norway. Then entire main street of Norway was dug up for road repairs. None of their downtown businesses could even be accessed. We couldn't believe it until Bob figured out this is their off season. Skiing is the big tourist draw here. As we headed south we missed the turn to Piers Gorge Natural Area and as a result we zoomed across the Menominee River into Wisconsin. "Never should have left Michigan!" We did a "Uper" and found Piers Gorge, considered one of the most challenging kayaking spots in the Midwest. A kayak racing tournament was held there for several years in the mid-80's until liability costs forced its cancellation. We saw exactly why when we got there!
Piers Gorge got its name during the logging era when this section of the Menominee River had piers along the banks. Men stood on these piers with poles to make sure that the logs moved freely down the river. The entrance to the Gorge is heralded by Misicot Falls, an incredible twelve foot falls that spans the river. On down a bit the water crashes over an immense boulder knows as Volkswagen or Elephant Rock. The current then careens around a bend, and narrows between 75' high rock bluffs. The trail we hiked was 2 1/2 miles round trip. One pier point was more breathtaking than the next. Hardly anyone was there when we arrived but some families were hiking in with fishing poles by the time we left. Just like at Tahquamenon Falls, Bob was itching to have a fly rod. There were red maple leaves on the trail that had fallen. It's way to early for the leaves to change I thought.
Reluctantly we left the Gorge, stopped for gas in Norway but were unable to get a paper there. We scoped out nearby Harris Lake with a nice boat ramp. Two Youper fishermen came to ramp out just as we were leaving. The lake allows electric motors only with a $2.00 launch fee. There was some great cover but it is 60 miles from our RV Park so we'll look for a closer place. It is not our day for travel. We encounter road construction on Hwy 2 just before Powers. Two 5th wheels passed us going the other way and a huge rock dinged our windshield. No crack is spreading yet. We'll keep our fingers crossed. A little later after we stopped to eat, a bird flew headfirst into our windshield at 55 mph. It sounded like a softball hit the windshield. Fortunately that big splat did not crack the windshield either. I'm afraid the bird wasn't as lucky.
We stopped in Powers at the 'something' (Red Barn, maybe) Crossing Family Restaurant. It was not very memorable. They were out of chili and soup, she informed us after she turned our order in. So we got burgers and pie. She disappeared and we thought she would never come back with our pie and the bill. We left at 3:45 according to the clock on the wall. A few minutes down the road it was 4:45 as we crossed back in to Eastern Time. A few blocks later we stopped at a produce stand on Hwy 2. We got a watermelon thumping lesson and bought a baby watermelon and some good looking tomatoes. We hopped across the road to a Marathon station/liquor store and found the Detroit Sunday paper.
We were home by 6:00. We met Vickie coming across the front drive and gave her the ore from Iron Mountain. She and Dayne enjoyed the UP State Fair. She found the Croatian Chicken someone had told her about and she said it was good. Since we have no TV we read the paper and did puzzles.
It's 11:18 p.m. and 58.5 degrees. The high was only 65 degrees today and it was very breezy.