On the positive side, we did get out of the county.
Van Riper is the park I always think of as "Champion Beach." Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was a little barracuda, Champion Beach was the place my family would head to for swimming and a picnic.
The park is on the east end of Lake Michigamme and has a nice sand beach -- this pontoon boat is anchored a few hundred feet south of the swimming area. The lake is a little under six miles long from east to west; my Old Man always liked to do some reminiscing about how back in his misspent youth he once swam from one end of it to the other, although I can never remember if it was from the Michigamme end toward Champion or vice versa. I do know he liked to swim, which is why it's kind of a mystery that none of his kids ever learned how. But I digress.
Van Riper has a huge parking area for day use visitors. On the days we were there, though, I don't believe I ever saw a car parked there -- it was a mystery. Beautiful beach, nice lake, air temperatures in the 50s -- that's pretty balmy for the U.P. so I'm not sure why no one was interested in swimming.
I had reserved a camping site through the Michigan DNR state parks website, which (to my mild amazement) is a really good site. When you make a reservation, you get to pick the options you want (e.g., electrical service or rustic). The campground map shows you the sites that are available for the days you want to be there and has photographs. You don't have to take the computer's word for it that the site is level and shaded; you can see it in the on-line photo. You also get told the site's size (so many feet wide, so many feet deep), what all it includes (usually just picnic table and fire ring), how many feet, more or less, it is to the nearest latrine, and where the water faucets are. The only drawback to the site I picked was the pine pollen. I did not realize the red pine were blooming; after two days my car looked like it was back in Atlanta in April.
Van Riper has a lot of camp sites; about two-thirds have electricity, including a few with 50 amp service. None have water or sewer, although there is a dump station. (We saw one dude towing a honey wagon over to the dump station -- I sincerely hope we never end up having to invest in one of those suckers. If the holding tank starts to get so full it needs to be dumped, I'll take that as a sign that it's time to hit the road again.) For people who'd like to camp but don't own an RV and aren't willing to tent camp, the park has several rustic cabins available for rent.
I deliberately picked a camp site that was tucked back in the pines (also known as "as far from the playground as humanly possible while remaining within the park"), but there is a lot of green space at the park if a family's traveling with little barracudas that need room to run around without having to worry about tripping over tree roots. The S.O. did mention that if we decide to camp at Van Riper again, we'd pick one of the sites that we now know has more grass on it. Anyway, the pavilion in the above photo has been there as long as I can remember; the S.O. was speculating that it might be WPA work, but neither of us knows enough about the park's history to be sure.
The interior certainly looks right for a possible 1930's construction date.
Although I tend to think of Van Riper almost strictly in terms of the beach, the lake itself is a favorite of fishermen -- there were a fair number of campers who had towed boats to the park and seemed pretty serious about getting out on the water at the crack of dawn. The park also has some decent hiking trails -- varied terrain, not short, and with interesting stuff to see in addition to the usual trees and squirrels.
One trail is labeled "Old Wagon Road" and appears to run pretty straight on the map. Another one, the "Main Trail," includes a section that is pretty clearly old rail bed, either for a railroad or a mining tram. My guess is that it's a section of the old Iron Range & Huron Bay Railroad, especially as it goes right through an area where there are the remnants of iron mining.
A short loop off the Main Trail is the Mining Loop. We did spot some possible mining ruins, what looked like old shafts, but did not get far before deciding to retreat. The S.O. and I had planned to hike longer, but discovered the Deep Woods Off was wearing off fast -- either that, or the mosquitoes were immune. When it's so close to home, one of these days we'll bathe in DEET and go try again. I would like to do the entire mining loop, not just a short section of it.
The park also includes a tribute to the 1980s moose drop. There's an information kiosk that does side-by-side comparisons of deer and moose, right down to the size of the droppings and how much is produced in one "movement," and there's a memorial rock.
The Guppy didn't do anything surprising, everything functioned more or less the way it was supposed to, and even the cat survived camping. We did figure out we need to block off a few places the feline is currently able to get into, but fortunately she didn't do anything disgusting while exploring. We now have a better idea of what we need to add to the basic supplies and what we can live without. Next time we'll venture farther, and maybe by the time cold weather gets here I'll have convinced the S.O. we'd really like to go explore some of the Southern states for awhile.
|Cleo chilling out while camping. Like most cats, her motto is "Life is hard. Nap often."|
Trivia note: Van Riper State Park is named after a Dr. Van Riper; he practiced medicine in the Champion-Michigamme area in the early twentieth century. One of the cabins at the park is the Cully Gage Cabin and was named in honor of Van Riper's son, Dr. Charles "Cully" Gage Van Riper, a noted speech pathologist and author. I'm blanking on the first name of the first Dr. Van Riper and am too lazy to Google it.