It’s not difficult to find a good spot to watch the sun set over Lake Superior when visiting Copper Harbor, MI, the town at the northernmost tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula.
But it occurred to me during last week’s Ride the Keweenaw that I might be able to watch the sun rise over the lake, too. I got up early and drove east on US 41. It turned to a dirt road and I kept going till I saw a crude sign that said “Horseshoe harbor” and followed that road and eventually discovered a walking trail that led to the Mary Macdonald Preserve at Horseshoe Harbor, managed by the Nature Conservancy:
At the northernmost tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, stunted shrubs and trees cling to ancient bedrock directly in the path of Lake Superior’s fierce winds. The 1,261 acre Mary Macdonald Preserve at Horseshoe Harbor is the largest and highest quality mainland preserve for bedrock beach and bedrock glade communities in Michigan. The rock ridges that define the shoreline are wave-eroded edges of sedimentary conglomerate rock uplifted some 600 million years ago. They now create a barrier between the pounding wind and waves of Lake Superior and the woodlands behind them, protecting and allowing the emergence of slower growth plant species.
I took a few photos:
but I didn’t get a decent one of the huge ‘conglomerate rock’ along the shore. I found this photo online from a geocache page:
Right: The conversation at times turned to mountain bike tourism for the Upper Midwest region, as epitomized by Jay and Claire, two college students visiting Copper Harbor from Vermont. They were traveling to Montana, trying to visit as many mountain bike parks as possible on their way. For their next stops after Copper, I told them that the sequence (heading west) would be to ride CAMBA, Spirit Mountain, COGGS, and then Cuyuna. Alas, due to the wet and cold spring, only Cuyuna would work for this trip.
There’s a little for everyone, with technical rocky areas, long flow rides, extended downhill tabletop jump sections, climbs that make you whoop if you manage to scramble up, boardwalks, simple trails next to dropoffs… just spectacular.
Among my goals: I wanted to try some of the smaller table top jumps and advanced berms. Much of the big stuff on the double black diamond trails was over my head but even on runs like the Flying Squirrel and On the Edge there was still plenty of fun stuff that I could ride.
I was shocked how much easier it was for me to pump the rollers and go fast on the downhill gnarly stuff than with my hardtail 29’er. Full squish has just moved ahead of a fat bike on my bike quiver priority list.
I didn’t see it but Hansi crashed twice on one of jumps on the Danimal trail, taking a hard whack to his head and miscellaneous other body parts. I wore my POC Cortex DH MIPS full-face helmet for the first time and if I ever get better at the jumps, I can see a neck brace in my future. (Hansi’s photo of me above is included in his blog post titled A Copper Harbor fish story: Ride the Keweenaw 2013. His narrative and photos are riveting.)
Aaron came in search of epic snowboarding at Mt. Bohemia and stayed to build epic bike trails in Copper Harbor. A man with a vision for greatness, Aaron built upon a foundation of great trails on great terrain and turned them world class. Now a contracted professional trail builder with IMBA Trail Solutions, Aaron’s heart remains in Copper Harbor.
Fortunately for us (and his wife Amanda), he prefers to build trails in Copper Harbor but also dabbles farther south on the Peninsula. If you find Aaron, it will be at the end of a newly built trail at the controls of the mini-excavator or with Pulaski in hand. If you can’t find him, it is most likely because you can’t catch him. He’s as good a rider as he is a trail builder.
Like most everyone else who’s ridden Copper, I can’t wait to go back. And I’m thrilled that some of the MTB parks here in Minnesota are learning from what’s been done there.
When the mountain biking was over on the Sunday of the Ride the Keweenaw weekend, the festivities in Copper Harbor park ramped up. Many dozens lined up for the $25/person BBQ fundraiser while…
an excellent rock band, a GoPro-equipped quadcopter, and a, um, enthusiastic dancer provided entertainment. (Just in case you’re looking for the top quadcopters under 100 bucks – check out more reviews here.)
Left: It’s always good to see some fellow graying geezers on the trails and at the party. These guys were from Ishpheming, MI Center: Hollywood Dave Markman and CHTC Board Member Tony Schwenn provided security Right: He doesn’t know it yet but MTU student and hot shot mountain biker Oliver Cooper is going to be my coach next time I’m back up there.
As the sun went down, the dancing cranked up. A fitting end to a memorable event.
Because there is no ski area with a chairlift in Copper Harbor, the KAC shuttle is the next best way to get you and your mountain bike to the top of the mountain without having to pedal! An activity that is most commonly associated with ski resorts out west, mountain bikers enjoy bombing down Copper Harbor’s sustained vertical descents along the miles of sweet singletrack that connect the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge, Brockway Mountain and the village, nearly 600′ vertical and up to 3 miles below.
On the Sunday of the Ride the Keweenaw weekend, the shuttle was busy. They put up chains in front of the shop to provide some first-come, first-served structure to the riders waiting to get taken to the top. Once everyone piles inside the 14-passenger van, the driver (either Sam or one of his two trusty bike mechanics Jeff Squires or Jerry Smith) yells out “Where to?”
The shuttle currently runs noon-5:00pm on weekends and 5:30-9:30pm on Tuesdays. If you want to ride the trails at other times, team up with someone else for a DIY shuttle service with two vehicles like I did with IMBA’s Midwest Regional Director Hansi Johnson and his snazzy Subaru Outback. Of course, you can also pedal to the top. Hansi said that riding up the Stairway to Heaven trail (that’s a link to a recent YouTube video) is the easiest route to the top. Nearly all trails at Copper are two-way, and riders going up have priority over riders going down, although I mainly experienced the opposite.