A Field Trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

by Jim Hird, MSDC Member. All photos courtesy of Jim Hird.

Yooperlites viewed in ultraviolet light.

Last year, my wife and I went on a GRUNT, a 3-day long group of field trips put on by the Copper Country Rock and Mineral Club (CCRMC) as a reward for work done at the club’s annual show. And GRUNT is what most people do after the end of the third day. The club is located in the heart of copper country in the Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan.

We went there this time for  a week of collecting trips and other events, with the club’s annual show at the end of the week. For those that are new to the world of the UP, read on for some old and some new adventures of (wife) Bonnie and Jim in the great frozen north. My talk to MSDC in March 2022 featured the copper country and collecting there “then and now.” This is definitely a NOW collecting trip. 

The Wonderful World of Michigan's UP

The north was not so frozen, but the temperatures during the first week of August 2023 were a relief from the 90 degree heat of West Virginia. The relief came in the form of cooler temperatures in the 80s during the day and the 60s at night with lots of breezes to keep the bugs away. It did cool down a bit more in the second week of our stay, into the 70s and 60s before heading back to the heat of the south.

This was to be our last trip to the UP for a year or two because Bonnie wants to head down the full length of Route 66 next year. With that in mind, I took injections for my bad knees just before we left and scheduled only three collecting trips, but made plans to stay an extra week after the organized collecting, attend the CCRMC club meeting, and participate in the club’s own field trip the following weekend.

With us not wanting to travel the 1,000 miles in one long day’s drive, we elected to stop at Grayling and a motel with restaurant nearby that we like. The next day we started early because we still had a 90-mile stretch to go till we crossed over the Mackinaw Bridge (referred by the natives as “Da Bridge”) which is 5 miles long from one side of the Straits of Mackinac to the other. On the other side lays The Upper Peninsula, that we have come to again, or Yooperland as it is affectionately called by the people that live there.

The 5-mile long Mackinaw Bridge with the Upper Peninsula visible on the far shoreline.

Having had a very light breakfast at the motel and since we were running early, we waited till we hit Newberry for a full breakfast or early lunch, whichever you would like to call it. Full fortified with a lumberjack breakfast at Timber Charlie’s we were off again for our first destination of Ishpeming. We are members of that club as well and had offered to help with their one day show that was the following Sunday, August 6, 2023.

Timber Charlies in Newberry, MI, a great place to stop and eat.

Our staying destination in Marquette at the Cedar Lodge came none too soon to relax and get ready for the show set up the following day. We worked the kid’s booth for the scavenger hunt that I set up for the club again this year. The completed forms won the children a chance to make their own dozen egg carton rock collections from the bins of rocks provided by the club. This year’s answer was Hexagonaria percarinata or Petoskey Stone, the Michigan “State Stone” that just happens to be a fossil.

We both took breaks from our duties to hit the show and shop. We can always find interesting things to add to our collection or wear as Bolo ties or jewelry. I spent some time trying to catch up with the grandkids and son Jon but, alas, all I was able to do was spend some time with Jon at his place of work outside of Marquette. Both girls have their own lives now and with work and sleeping hours, no windows for a visit opened up this trip. This is how it is with kids after they get older and move out.

A vendor with datolite and agates for sale

The following Sunday, after the show, we got an early start to beat the church crowd to a favorite eatery, Sherries, for breakfast and then on to the house in Mohawk. This house is one that we have stayed at for the last several years and has a long history. It was originally built by the mining company in the early 1900s and used to house three families, one on each floor, and all with no indoor plumbing.

The meet and greet with the field trippers for this years K-Week was that evening, so after unloading the car we took a short drive out to press the flesh with new and old collecting friends. And free food!  

Our vacation house in Mohawk, Michigan.

Day 1, Monday: Field Trip to the Cliff Mine

The first field trip was to the Cliff Mine in the morning at 10am. The Cliff Mine is one of the oldest mines in the area dating back to 1850s and still is the source of some very nice specimens and artifacts on field trips. The poor rock piles are bulldozed by the club to expose new material before each field trip. The metal locators could be heard humming, beeping, buzzing, and chirping all over the piles as people spread out to hunt for treasures. Three areas had been turned over so people could really spread out to keep the locators from interfering with each other.

We found nothing the first day that I would consider exceptional, but such is the nature of hunting rocks. I did, however, find a large piece of something with copper. Since everything is covered in mud, you never know what will appear when the rocks are cleaned.

Shortly after the start with people starting up the Cliff Mines piles.
People on the upper pile spread out to hunt.
A mystery rock from the Cliff Mine with good copper showing.

Day 2, Tuesday: The Seneca Mine Rock Piles

The second trip was to the Seneca Mine rockpiles consisting of two areas prepared by the club. There was lots more scratching and digging when the locator beeped, but we found only more copper and a few pieces of calcite with copper inclusions. The acid will tell if they were worth hauling back. Lunch at Slim’s Cafe, stops at the Wooden Spoon for cookies, and blue smelter glass. One is for eating and the other for lapidary work. Hope you know which is which by now.

The first Seneca Mine pile that once extended all the way to the pickup on the right.
Second Seneca pile was off in the woods to the right of the first and much taller.
Blue smelter glass from the Pioneer iron smelter in Marquette County, MI.

That evening was the CCRMC auction and I was the guest auctioneer. Lots of materials here for the adventurous bidder. All the proceeds want to the club’s scholarship fund, so bidding was high and furious. Dinner was provided by the club by way of “Pasties” from the local market. These were taken and saved for a dinner later in the week.

Jim Hird as guest auctioneer at the CCRMC auction.

Day 3, Wednesday: A Free Day        

Day 3 was a free day for us since it was the day of the Quincy Swap and I had elected not to do a trip that day so we could go to the swap. We had not done the swap in several years because the swap used to be an afternoon affair so people could hunt in the morning and still get to the swap before everything was picked over. However, new people are running the swap and it has turned into an all-day affair, so the early bird gets the best rocks. It is held on the grounds of the Quincy Mine Hoist.

You can see from the pictures that the shaft house and hoist house command a prominent place on the property. Lots of goodies to buy and money to change hands at this event. Some of our finds included colorful datolites, a lovely copper crystal, and one very large datolite from the waters near Isle Royal before the ban on collecting. Before the ban, scuba divers collected 100s of specimens and filled bushel baskets with these weathered datolites. Now this practice would carry a hefty fine, loss of boat, and/or time in jail.

Quincy Shaft House (far right), restored Miners house (center), and Hoist House (left).
Local goodies for sale or trade.
Colorful datolites and copper crystal.
Large datolite specimen from off shore of Isle Royale in Lake Superior.

Later in the day was a stop at the Seaman Museum to visit with the curator John Jazczak. We also stopped at Keweenaw Gem and Gifts to drop off a lapidary project for them to polish while I was in the area.

Day 4, Thursday: Show Set Up

This was a day to relax, set up the show in the morning (including two cases displaying my bolo ties), followed by a late-night snack at a local establishment that had food, drinks, a local singer, and dancing.

Part of two cases in my display.

Day 5, Friday: A Rainy Field Trip to the Cliff Mine

The morning dawned with cool temperatures and rain but the trips are “rain or shine,” so off we headed for a second trip to the Cliff Mine. Despite the bad weather, the turnout was good and the weather did not dampen (pun intended) the spirits of the hunters. With locators covered in plastic wrap and some people in trash bag rain gear, we headed out for a soggy day on the piles and mud.

Luck was running higher and we as and others were finding the chisel chips of copper that are found at this mine. These are left over pieces lost when the large pieces of native copper were cut by hand with chisels and hammers. No chisels were found this time but there is always next time. Lots of other iron materials were found, including track spikes, nails, shovels, parts for rail cars, and timber spikes.

The group gathers for what proved to be a very wet day of hunting.
Uncleaned copper pieces from the wet day’s hunt.
Chisel chip artifacts.

 In the afternoon we headed for the CCRMC show in Houghton and some early Christmas shopping for both of us. We did not stay to help then since we were scheduled to work all day on Sunday.         

Day 6, Saturday: Arts & Crafts Fair

 On the last day of the official K-week event trips, we headed for Eagle Harbor to the arts and craft fair. This annual event is held the same weekend as the rock show every year and is always a fun place to visit.

On the way back to the house in Mohawk, I checked out one of the mines that was not on the official trip list but had been in previous years. The Northwestern Mine may not look like much, but it produces some fine cubic copper crystals. It is a short distance from the Central Mine, but we could not visit Central Mine this year because the piles were being crushed and no one was allowed in. This was a scouting visit just to take a look and I found that it promises to be an interesting location to dig on another visit.

Part of the Northwestern Mine pile, heavily overgrown.

Day 7, Sunday: Working the Show

Sunday was our day to work the show and maybe shop some more. We hit the Miner’s Cafe for breakfast. The owners Steve and Pam Hecht are old rock hound friends as well and I wanted to arrange with Steve to take me out to his favorite spot for hunting “Yooperlites”.

Me (lower right) shopping in Kelman’s booth at the show.

At the show I worked at the metal locator pile for the kids that consisted of a wood chip pile salted with copper and coins. Everyone got to keep three items or they could trade in coins for pieces of copper in the restock pile. Bonnie filled in as needed with odd jobs.

Instructing young copper hunters on how to use a metal locator.

The show closed early on Sunday afternoon and we broke down our display cases and helped with cleanup. Later we met a long-time college friend and mining engineer, John McKana, at the Mine Shaft for early dinner. Yes, there is a restaurant with that name.     

Jim and John at Shaft House.

That evening I met Steve Hecht to hunt on the beach after dark with UV lights for the elusive Yooperlites. I had let Steve pick the day since he was the expert. Since Mohawk is close to the area we were going to hunt, he picked me up in his old Toyota 4 Runner and we were off at break neck speed into the bush on a two-track trail. I was eternally grateful that we did not meet a car going the other way. When we reached the beach before the sun set, we had time to enjoy the view of a superior sunset on Lake Superior. Picture curtesy of Steve’s phone. 

A superior sunset on Lake Superior.

I had brought my UV lights, but left the hip waders at home, so I stuck to the dry gravel on the beach. We both used two slightly different wavelength lights and the second one he had was much better for picking them out under water then either of mine. Needless to say, he found more and bigger Yooperlites than I did. He evidently felt sorry for me and gave me the three bigger ones on the right in the picture below. I think I did well considering I had to stay on the dry beach and you can see from the variation of the pebbles that they would not be easy to spot if hunted by eye in daylight.

It was a beautiful evening to hunt and I found that green frogs do fluoresce green at night. I finally got back to Mohawk after midnight and found that Bonnie had not locked me out so I crawled into bed and slept soundly till morning.

Yooperlites we found in daylight; the three on the right were found underwater.
Same ones in UV light.

Day 8, Monday: A Day as a Tourist

After the long night of hunting, we did the tourist thing and drove around the area. I dropped off a Michigan greenstone with a lady to have it polished. You may ask why I did not do it myself. Please do! She is an expert and has the equipment to polish uneven surfaces and that is what was needed to polish this one large stone I found many years back.

We stopped again at Keweenaw Gem and Gifts to pick up the materials I had left for them to prepare, as well as the datolites I had picked out in the earlier visit. Quite a haul of fine, colored datolite for my collection as well as some reworked slabs from which I plan to make new bolos.        

Future Bolos: copper included agate from Indonesia (left), concretion from Madagascar (center), and pink opal from Peru (right).
More Datolite for my collection: Clark Mine (left), Franklin Mine (center), and a unusual Black one from the Franklin Mine (right).

Bonnie and I had talked about the Dreamland Bar, a historic hotel and bar that dates bay to the early 1900s. We had passed it on more than one occasion, but this time we made plans to have lunch there.

After a good lunch we headed out to Jacobsville to look for sandstone for jewelry. The red sandstone has yellowish white dots and makes nice pendants.

Sandstone beach pebbles to be used for making jewelry.

This time, the weather was much nicer than the last time we were there – warmer with no high winds. Despite the great weather, I could not talk Bonnie into making the long walk out to the lighthouse. We headed back to Mohawk by way of the back roads through Traprock Valley. Along the road we finally sighted our first sandhill crane on this trip. We ended the day with a relaxing stop at the Drift Inn in Copper City for a snack of beer and nachos.

The south entry light next to the beach that was the source of the sandstone beach pebbles.
A Sandhill crane.

Day 9, Tuesday: Rock Piles

The day dawned with plans to hit the Northwestern Mine to dig, but feeling lazy we elected to just walk a few other rock piles. This time I took only the pin-pointer locator to confirm suspected copper or silver and leaving both hands free to use both the "crutch," an aluminum crutch with an offset handle with the rubber end replaced with a garden claw, and my trusty Estwing gem scoop to help walk on the piles. My main hunting was aimed at micros so we headed off to the St. Louis Mine that is located off a bush road outside of Laurium. The Mountain Ash was in full berry presentation.

This mine is not known for big copper and never really produced that much. Bonnie was just walking around picking up pretty rocks. While walking around the uneven rocks using both of my walking sticks, I was looking for small pockets in amygdaloidal basalt. To my surprise I flipped over one with pockets showing and, on the back, found the telltale BLUE of the mineral kinoite. Kinoite is one of the rarer minerals found up there and only comes in micros. I was a happy rockhound and would have done a Snoopy dance except on the uneven ground it would have led to a twisted ankle.

A rockpile at the St. Louis Mine, known for its microminerals.
The red berries of mountain ash.
The telltale blue of the mineral kinoite in amygdaloidal basalt.

Next stop was the LaSalle Mine, another mine like the St. Louis, that is located on the ore vein called the Kearsarge Lode. It is also noted for kinoite, good micros, and silver. The rockhound gods were smiling again and I found both kinoite and silver this time. I was very happy now since I had never found any kinoite. All that I have came from swaps and purchase. I can’t wait to see what they look like under the scope after some prep work with vinegar.

A rockpile at the LaSalle Mine.

After our successful day hunting, we relaxed at a local ice cream and snack shop appropriately names "Sundae in the Park." It is conveniently located just up the street from the house in Mohawk at the local park. This evening was concert night and the local band, Cathy and the Back Road Boys, entertained till dark. Their tip jar was filled by the crowd in attendance. A great way to end the day.

Day 10, Wednesday: Visit to Copper World

Wednesday was another easy day with visits to Copper World in Calumet. Our first chance to see Tony and Tim at their tourist stop and candy shop. Naturally we had to sample the local fudge. Tony’s wife makes “good stuff” and remember, Rockhounds do not live by rocks alone. Sweets help!

Afterwards, it was off to see another couple that we have known for years and the owners of Tamarack Minerals Company, Steve and Elizabeth Whelan. I have supplemented their income over the years with purchases from their mineral website. Last year they stopped at our house in West Virginia for an overnight visit while passing through and some local rock hunting in the coal fields.

Elizabeth is a gardener that fights both deer and other wildlife, like bears, that love vegetables and bird seed. I had brought some garlic chives along from our garden for her this trip and had slipped them to her while we were at the Ishpeming show. I was pleased to see that they were in the ground and had survived the transplant very well. Of course, I was there to pick up something I had purchased from the site, saves on postage, and to look over what he might have of interest in his stock of minerals.

Day 11, Thursday: Driving to an In-person Meeting

This was a mostly a day to relax (it was a vacation after all) with a CCRMC meeting following dinner with friends at Quincy’s in Dollar Bay for some great ribs and fries. Since we live so far away, we normally only attend via Zoom, so it was nice to sit and discuss the upcoming club field trips. We found there were two trips scheduled, one each for Saturday and Sunday, both in Ontonagon County in the far south end of the Copper Country. A nice little jaunt of 60 miles one way and not on expressways. This meant 240 miles and two additional days hunting added to the trip. In preparation for the trips, we picked up sub sandwiches at the Mohawk Superette. A one-stop shop for all things needed for hunters and rockhounds alike.

Day 12, Friday: Checking Out a Future Field Trip Location

While Bonnie stayed home, I drove over to McKana’s place and picked him up for a trip to one of his mine properties located in Painesdale. He had to check the locks and fences there while I checked out his rock piles with a future CCRMC field trip to his property in mind. He was agreeable and I passed his contact info on to the appropriate person in the club. Hopefully the club will have an additional new place to hunt in the future.

Day 13, Saturday: The Caledonia Mine

After a 1-1/2-hour trip we arrived at the Caledonia mine. The pile had been prepared by the new owner and we attacked the mound with locators humming. While we were on the piles, four other groups, seen in the background, were working on smaller prepared piles of three cubic yards each from inside the mine. These are pay digs run by the owner and water is available to wash the mud off. That helps when looking for datolite. It does not read on a locator unless it is loaded with copper.

After a break for lunch, we went back out for more hunting but luck was not on our side this time. We found some copper, but nothing great. After returning home we topped the day off with ice cream at Sundae in the Park.

Group gathering at Caledonia Mine with another group in the background.
"I think the big one is over there."

Day 14, Sunday: The Mass C Shaft

Our last day of hunting was at the Mass C shaft at the end of another 1-1/2-hour drive. The picking was much better there with a large area flattened and washed by the rain. The owner had been processing rock for crushing, so there was lots of area to hunt, with the material spread out over the parking area.

Mass C had large flat area to hunt produced much copper.
There also were piles to climb for some and ground hunting for Bonnie.

We found some nice pieces of native copper and also two hammer stones from the Paleo-Indian workings that were present before modern mining took place. Also, a cross-shaped drill steel and one small datolite. The view from the bluff is beautiful with the whole valley below. Bonnie is hunting for hammer stones on top of the bluff, using her phone, I guess. Not my best side but everyone has one.

Some of the copper and hammer stones.
Hammer stones, small datolite, and unusual drill steel.
Closeup of small datolite in matrix.
A great view from the top of Mass C bluff.
Bonnie checking pictures from the top where hammer stones were found.
High-grading, trimming off rock, and the end of the day.

At the end of the day, there was nothing left but the driving back to Mohawk and packing the car and pod for the two-day return trip to West Virginia. Travel back was not as bad as the trip up because traffic was light and we timed our return for off peak traffic hours.

Consider the trip to the copper country of Michigan because it is well worth the effort and take the extra time to enjoy the tourist aspect of the area, as well. I only scratched the surface of what is available. If you need help with plans on things to do and see we are happy to oblige.

Jim & Bonnie Hird