Our goal on this day was to make it all the way up to Copper Harbor (that’s the northernmost point of Michigan, for those not from around here) and then hopefully back down to see some more ghost towns before heading east along the southern part of the UP–perhaps staying in Iron River or Escanaba, we hadn’t really planned. We knew this was rather ambitious, but we did our best. We didn’t realize that a lot of time would be spent on the very first stop of the day, though–and in the best way!
So you know we like a good adventure, and you know we aren’t always great at following the rules (because that usually takes all the adventure out of it, really). We also realize that AAA might put out a bolo on us if we get into anymore antics. We have also started a list of things we really need to start bringing on our trips–flare gun, machete, water shoes, etc…
Anyway, our first destination was Cliff, MI, which is not related to Cliffs Shaft, but was also a mining town along US-41. It’s not very far north of Calumet, and there is very little left of it–no buildings to speak of, just a slag heap here and there. But we knew there was a cemetery around, and we were bound and determined to find it. According to our directions, we needed to turn left on Cliff Road, just before M-41 turns into M-26. We found that fairly simply, and we could see a trail off Cliff Road that seemed to take us right where the cemetery would be. However, it looked like this:
We had a good laugh at what AAA would say if we called them (again) to tell them we were stuck in a shallow creek in a town that doesn’t exist anymore.
We weren’t really prepared to walk across the water, so we went down the road a bit to see if we could find a way over it. Sure enough, there was a small footbridge where the creek was very narrow, so we thought it would be easy from there to find the cemetery.
First, we climbed a slag heap, but then realized it didn’t go anywhere and we’d just managed to increase our elevation and not much else. So we climbed back down.
Then we thought that behind the slag heap there might be a path into the woods to the cemetery. Well…we were wrong about that too, but that didn’t stop us.
Yes, we made our way through the woods–real woods, no paths, no clear way to anything. Trees and foliage and brush. We couldn’t cut around the outside of the woods because the area around the creek was too marshy. Google Maps says that we walked about a quarter of a mile, but it was probably a lot more than that since we couldn’t take a straight path. It was definitely up there on the list of not-entirely-rational things we’ve done, but once we were so far in, we were committed.
And we found it. It was an incredible sight. The cemetery is dated to around the 1860s and it doesn’t seem like it’s been touched since then. The only indication that there is even a cemetery there is some run-down, knee-high garden fencing. There are fallen trees, brush everywhere, just like any other area of the forest…but with headstones.
Findagrave.com indicates 43 interments on record…we only saw a handful of stones. We’d assume vandalism or theft made off with the others, except the location is so remote and hard to access (not to mention it didn’t look like anyone had been there in decades or more), it seems so unlikely. It’s inaccessible by car, and who would want to carry off a large, antique headstone? The other possibility is simply erosion. The entire cemetery is on a slope down the side of the mountain, with a small bluff at the end, so there may have been more stones down there that had slide down over time. We got pictures of all we could, and it looks like someone else was there five years ago who got a few more than we did.
Of course, after this excitement, we had to make our way back to the car. It’s times like these that you wish there was better cell service in the UP, because we couldn’t use the GPS on our phones very accurately and we’re pretty sure we took longer getting back than we did on the way in!
It was hard to top that right off the gate, but we pressed on to the nearby Phoenix, MI, which is again one of those little towns that you’re not sure is a ghost town
There were some buildings there still, and some obvious residents; there is a church on the corner of M-26. There may have been an additional cemetery nearby, but we didn’t find it.
We did, however, turn the corner at that church (M-26, heading toward Eagle River) and ended up finding one of the best-tended cemeteries we’d ever seen. This doesn’t technically count as a ghost town or anything abandoned, but it was such a delightful stop that we had to share some pictures of the Eagle River Cemetery:
We then headed on to Delaware. We had heard that there were abandoned buildings there to find, but we couldn’t find much other than the Delaware Mine Museum.
Information gathered at the mine and online showed that Delaware was a town that just never saw its potential fulfilled. It was founded in the 1840s as one of the first copper mining towns in the Keweenaw Peninsula and grew to a population of over 1,000. But the price of copper dropped and the mine didn’t have a significant enough output to be profitable. Many people, including the well-known Horace Greeley, lost a lot of money on the mine.
After our earlier tromp through the woods, we were a bit exhausted at the thought of clambering around anymore, so we called it good, not venturing into the forest for the prospect of ruins, and decided to continue on. We did find a couple of houses on the main road on our way north, though:
There are some pictures of what others found here. We continued north to Mandan, and we weren’t disappointed!
As you can see from the above picture, Mandan was easy to find! Probably one of the easiest we ever located.
According to our research, Mandan underwent two periods of boom before finally succumbing to ghost town status. The town was originally organized in 1864 to tap into the copper stores running through the area, but it was difficult to extract the ore due to some layers of sand in the soil. This same soil quality also made it difficult for gardening and otherwise obtaining fresh produce to feed the population. The mine was closed 1866 and remained dormant for about 30 years, until the Keweenaw Mining Company purchased that and the adjacent Medora mine to try again in the early 1900s with more modern mining equipment.
It proved to be a difficult area to populate, thanks in part to the soil, as previously mentioned, but also due to the inaccessibility of the location. All supplies had to be brought by boat, but this was only possible May-November. The winter was a long, hard stretch and deprivation and shortages were very common.
In the end, the mine did not prove to be as fruitful as predicted, and the mining company slowly decreased operations until 1909, when they stopped completely and the area fell into abandonment.
Some of the old building still exist, as well as some stone foundations. A few have been rehabilitated and appear to be summer homes for people today. Here are some of the pictures we found:
Of course, we speculated about whether these homes had running water or electricity–there certainly wasn’t much going on up here! But it was a truly beautiful area.
That was our last stop of the day before reaching Copper Harbor. We had originally planned on getting down to the southwest part of the UP, but we’d spent so much time at Cliff and the other areas that our day was complete. We ended by driving up to the top of Brockway Mountain to take the scenic way back south and try to get as far east as possible so that we could get home the next day for other things we had to do.
There is still so much to explore in the UP, so we will definitely be making another trip up there to see what else we can find!