An Island on the Edge

Morning on The western shore of Lake Huron, near De Tours, MI

After the Treaty of Ghent in1814, things appeared settled with our British parents regarding the northern edge.  The 49th parallel covered most of it, and the various nooks and crannies of the northeast were no longer an issue.  Drummond Island, however, was.  A part of the Greater and Lesser Manitoulin Islands along the St. Mary’s/Lake Huron northern end, all but Drummond were settled.  They were British (Canadian).  But Drummond was to go to the United States.  It wasn’t until 1821, however, when, unable to resolve differences regarding the various surveys, a negotiated settlement was reached giving Drummond to the US.  Oddly, the Islands north and south of it, but basically on the same longitude, belong to Canada.  So here I am, on the last outpost of British control within our borders, and it couldn’t be more American.

I left The Soo early today amidst thick fog which didn’t leave until the sun was well up and could apply a little heat to burn it off. The trip downbound was through the first steadily agricultural area I’ve yet seen on the UP, but was very pleasant.  My plan was to have most of the day on the Island, which, at 249 square miles, includes a lot to see and explore.  For once, the plan worked out.  I caught the 9:40 am ferry at closer to 10 o’clock — this being an American schedule — and had the bulk of the day to explore.

According to the census, just shy of 1,000 people live here.  According the barkeep at Chuck’s, 75% go to Arizona and Florida at the end of September.  Most of the island is owned by the state and preserved for various reasons — wildlife, habitat protection, or whatever.  This is great, because to promote tourism, the locals have mapped out a series of trails for off-road vehicles or ATVs and these trails link you to trailheads for hikes to the various protected areas.

After yesterday, I thought it best to stop in the tourism office and get a map, and maybe a little color on which areas where preferable. In between Marlboro Reds, the lady there was very helpful, if a bit hoarse.  I decided to avoid the ATV areas and head for the northern shore to an area called Fossil Ledges.  According to my source, the road out wasn’t a Jeep trail but you couldn’t do it in a regular vehicle.  She said there was an area where the road would have water over it, but after looking at my truck assured me I would be fine. She gave me a piece of white copy paper with a map and instructions like “go 3.2 miles and take the road to the left; look for the beaver dam; your sign here is three orange trees, etc.”  It didn’t show the myriad of roads branching off left and right of my road.  In the end, I was able to figure it all out thanks to Lake Huron. I knew if I stayed as close to it as possible, I was on the right road.  And, by the way, “the road will have water over it” means you will be up to the door sills in a lifted truck for 30 yard sections at a time.  And I passed a new Ford F-150 4×4 that turned back because it couldn’t make.  I’d hate to see the Jeep trails.  But the ground here is solid “shelves” of limestone and granite, so there is always a hard bottom and, if you take it easy, you can avoid most of the submerged big rocks.

The Fossil Ledges, northeast side of Drummond Island. Decent spot for lunch.

For your effort, you get a spot with no one anywhere near you, ledges of limestone and shale at the water’s edge that are shot through with all sorts of fossils of shells and bones and things I don’t know about it, and a world class view.  I hiked around and then made lunch to eat while I sat on the ledges and stared at Lake Huron, watching a freighter upbound to The Soo creep along. Not only was I on the US edge here, I was hanging out over the Canadian edge between Cockburn and Manitoulin Islands like some leftover branch that never got trimmed.  Lake Huron is crystal clear, the weather today is sunny and 60, and I can’t think of a better way to spend lunch.

Among the other interesting things about the Fossil Ledges is this orange lichen that grows on them
In some places the Great Lake Huron erodes enough away that the Ledges collapse

After lunch I worked my way back through the swamp to the main road and crossed to the southern side of the island to explore there.  The habitat is markedly different being mostly conifer forest, and the shoreline is sandy.  I found a great beach at Shoal Cove, had another little hike about and relaxed and then headed back to the center of the island to Chuck’s.

70 years ago or so, somebody — I presume named Chuck — opened a bar out here.  Times have changed and some additions have been made, but near as I can tell, it is the same place.  Of the 900 or so residents here, the remaining ones have a standing meeting at Chucks, and the serious intellects apparently begin at around 1:30 pm.  I got there closer to 3 and discussion was in full swing.  This is a bar for people who like bars.  Crabby, but soft-hearted barkeep, American beer in cans, two shelves of different flavored Pucker (I assume to add to the rotgut selection of actual liquor in order to make it palatable), pool tables, and country music on the jukebox. But for my stellar self-control I would be there still, on my 6th or 7th High Life ($1.75!).  The folks in there were great fun and they find a way to both amuse themselves way out here and take care of each other.  Long discussions about what the only female elder could do about the bear terrorizing her storeroom was offered with the best of intentions. There is going to be a meeting with the neighbors who keep feeding the bear later today (if they show up at the bar.) It’s that kind of place.

I’m camped on the north western corner of the island with a great view of the various smaller islands and the channel between here and the mainland.  The sunset should be memorable.  All in all, this is spot on the edge that doesn’t do anything to explain the edge, but does everything to show it off.  It’s quiet, spectacularly beautiful, and has a great bar full of folks who live out on the edge and don’t care one way or the other about it.

Yep. Pretty much.

Tomorrow I’m downbound for Detroit along the western shore of Lake Huron and, once I get there, I will visit an old friend. I’m looking forward to all of it.

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