“What we call the beginning is often the end.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.”
It seems fitting to start a story with no foreseeable end at a quite literal fin du monde. Here, on the North Coast of the United States lies the village of Copper Harbor.
What is the North Coast? It’s a colloquial term for the massive amount of shoreline along the Great Lakes, particularly Lake Superior, the largest freshwater sea in the world. The fin du monde is Copper Harbor, a small tourist village near the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula and the northernmost point of land accessible in my home state of Michigan.
We came here on a whim for no other reason than curiosity. The girl I am traveling with, Sheylyn, is a Northern Michigan University student I met last summer on Mackinac Island. Even though she has been a resident of the U.P. for the last three years, she’s never wandered past the Marquette area. With a couple days off and a sense of wanderlust, we headed down a less familiar stretch of US 41.
This day, it’s a cloudy and cold one with a misty drizzle slowly descending. We’ve just come down from the Brockway Mountain peak overlooking the rest of the peninsula. The streets and the buildings are empty, save maybe a half-dozen. The couple times I’ve been here recently it’s been the off-season, too cold for tourists who would wander here otherwise.
We drive past the deserted Copper Harbor State Harbor, empty though there’s no ice. The ferry to Isle Royal is nowhere to be seen. The only things open were the two bar-restaurants and a gift shop. A few derelict motels dot the shore and buildings with a similar aesthetic dot the few blocks that make up the town. On the far NE corner of the town stands the most noteworthy landmark of Copper Harbor, the Harbor Haus Restaurant and bed and breakfast. Though I’ve never eaten there, every review seems positive, making a point to check out on another trip.
US-41 continues a small way past Copper Harbor along some pristine Lake Superior beaches and passes Fort Wilkins, an American fort established in 1844 to keep an eye on the many new settlers, the perceived (though nonexistent) threat by the indigenous Chippewa, and to make sure the shipping on Lake Superior remained safe. It’s now a Michigan State Park, which was unfortunately closed this time of year.
We continue on down to what is literally the end of the road, a dirt cul-de-sac that has a single lane dirt road going off into the woods. Looking on Google Maps later on, I saw that his road doesn’t actually go to either the end of the peninsula or to the lighthouse, but rather horseshoes around the lake. On a better day, I would have loved to take the road to see where it heads.
After turning around at the Road Ends sign and finally succumbing to our hunger, we stop at the Mariner North restaurant. I have been here once before with my dad about a year and a half before this, and like the last time, I am on a bit of a seafood kick. Starting with the lobster, shrimp, and artichoke dip, continuing with the house Great Lake chowder (a combination of local trout and whitefish) and followed by a main course of the daily fish sandwich special, it is needless to say I was both full and seafooded out by the time we left Mariner. And while my travel companion isn’t quite the seafood enthusiast that I am, the meal was fantastic.
After the restaurant, we wander into a log cabin gift shop that was closed earlier. Inside are many local crafts, curiosities, and the staple “Copper Harbor, MI” generically printed on a variety of shirts and hats. After looking through some of the books and having a conversation with the owner on what could have possibly compelled us to come this time of year, we returned to the car for a final loop through the town and saw one lone resident out, collecting firewood from his garage.
A small way south of Copper Harbor is the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge, a county park and golf course dotted with rental cabins and a high-end restaurant. A couple decades ago, my parents stayed here during their honeymoon, making it even more interesting to drive up the rocky hill and down memory lane.
Where might the story head from here? Well, there are two roads out of Copper Harbor. And each of those splits and diverges and coalesces and then split again. So, it seems the answers may be both intertwined and infinite.