As a much needed getaway from elder care, we drove west to Soo Junction and indulged ourselves in a totally touristy train and riverboat tour to Tahquamenon Falls, courtesy of Tahquamenon Falls Riverboat Tours. I’ve been vacationing up here for decades and have done all of the usual tourist stuff around here and Anne has been coming even longer, but somehow this attraction has eluded us. Yesterday, after a forty minute drive, we arrived at the parking lot. Before we got there though, we stopped first at Sugar Daddy, the new Brimley bakery, for a little something and at a popup roadside craft stand, at the corner of M-28 and M-123 that was selling birch-bark baskets. Anne bought a nice one for me.
The total tour runs 6 ½ hours and travels through the wilderness swamps and forests around Tahquamenon. It begins with a 35 minute narrow gauge train ride, along the “longest 24″ gauge railroad in the country” (5 ½ miles). Called the Toonerville Trolley, this train was first built for logging in 1910. In 1927 in converted from hauling logs in the winter to hauling tourists in the summer. We sat in the third car, the “party car” that was comprised almost exclusively of people from Ann Arbor. It was sunny, warm, bug free and an enjoyable ride.
The train ride is followed by a 2 hour, 21 mile, riverboat cruise. The Hiawatha offers two decks, with enclosed and open seating, food service and restrooms. If you save some room until the last hour of the return trip, hotdogs are a dollar. This boat is the latest in a sequence of tour boats that have been plying the river. In the dead of winter, water trucks sprayed water for a month, making an ice road 18″ thick. The boat was hauled to the river in five sections by truck and welded together on the frozen river. When spring came, it launched itself.
During the cruise, the captain provided excellent narration on the area’s logging history, Native American history and Michigan’s plant and animal life. After reaching the rapids above the falls, he docked the riverboat for a little over an hour, allowing for a 1¼ mile roundtrip nature hike to a private viewing area for the upper falls. The normal view from across the river is better, but this one was different and different is usually good just for being so. After the stopover, the riverboat and train retraced their routes back to Soo Junction.
It rained on the return boat trip and after a couple of nearby lighting strikes and the captain’s admonition, the outside decks were cleared. It turned cool and we were missing our raincoats that we had left in the car, so we snuggled, just to keep warm, don’t you know. It was still a pleasant ride. The return train trip was not so nice. We both got massacred by mosquitoes. On the way out, we were heading northwest into a northwest wind, giving us a combined air speed of between 10-20 MPH. So, no bugs, but on the way back, we were heading the opposite direction and what with the wind still out of the northwest, the motion of the train was effectively cancelled by the wind. We used Off!, but almost every spot that we had missed with it got bitten.
Still, the expedition was a lot of fun. We saw Sandhill cranes, a Golden and Bald eagle and “Harry” the woodchuck, but no wolves, bear or moose. Maybe next time? We dined at Pickles, which on a Saturday night was slammed. For having spent almost all day sitting, we were both very tired and Bubs had to go to bed early, because no one else was still going to be up much longer.