Copper Harbor and Delaware Copper Mine
On our way to Copper Harbor, situated at the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan’s UP (after seeing our first moose this trip, see right) we were given a clue about the area when passing through Houghton. On the map it mentions Michigan Technological University and we expected something small in this remote area. We were surprised by the size and scope of the university until we discovered that this was the previous Michigan College of Mines founded in 1886 to support the mining operations in the area. It has grown well beyond its initial purpose as reflected by the extensive campus. Michigan was, for many years, the nation’s largest copper source, peaking in 1869 at 95% of the nation’s copper. You can see the impact of the copper in the ground, in the rivers, (see left), beaches, rocks, and lakeshore. The color of ‘a dirty pink’ was everywhere.
We stayed in Fort Wilkins Historic State Park less than a mile East of the center of Copper Harbor. The Fort and Lighthouse were built in 1844 to keep an eye on the ‘Copper Rush,’ to aid navigation, ensure safe transit of copper out, and supplies coming in through Copper Harbor. Unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate and we weren’t able to document the Fort, the town, nor the coastal drive to Eagle Harbor, all of which we enjoyed despite the rain. The rain did give us an impetus to go underground and this we did at the Delaware Copper Mine, 12 miles West of Copper Harbor.
The Delaware Copper Mine operated successfully between 1847 and 1887 when the supply was high enough and before quality ore ran out. It was restored and is now part of the Keweenaw National Historic Park. The mine operated on nine levels, the lower eight of which are now flooded but have been explored recently by divers. We took advantage of a brief break in the rain to stroll around the remains of the above ground operations. Then we embarked on our underground self-guided tour of level 9 which started with 100 steps down a staircase to the level of 9. We were the only two adventurers that day, so the quiet and darkness gave a spooky atmosphere. A trickling of water, our breathing, and our footsteps were the only sounds and a constant, damp temperature of 58 degrees made our exploration a cold one. We made our way to the mine’s final working face, which seemed much longer than we expected, possibly over a mile. The last section was lit very dimly, reflecting the candlelight use by the 19th century miners. While Colin was taking pictures, Cheryl was reciting calming mantras. We were very surprised to see the rock detail and colors in the long exposure photographs, since while in the caves the lighting was so poor we barely could see the steps in front of us.
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Copper Harbor on Michigan's Upper Peninsula