After a full month in Michigan (tied with Maine for the longest we have stayed in any state since leaving Florida in April) we have finally moved on to Wisconsin. We didn’t get far from the UP though, less than half an hour over the border to Ashland, on the western end of Lake Superior. We had picked the area largely because we did not want to travel much more than four hours but still wanted to be in a new state. Kinda of a craps shoot, but it worked out nicely.
We selected the specific park based on our general preference for city and county campgrounds, and a relative paucity of choices in the region beyond such municipal sites. Forget about Passport-America or private parks at all; it’s all city, county, state, or national forest options in this area. Our first choice based on reviews and location turns out to have been wiped out in a storm earlier this year, so it came down to the two municipal places a little deeper into Wisconsin, either Kreher Marina Park or the recently opened Prentice Park. We selected the latter since it only had six RV sites, our theory being that the tiny size might mean that the wifi would not be clobbered.
Unfortunately, Ashland is still struggling with this whole RV park management thing, relying heavily on the barely compensated camp host to keep things afloat. Upon arrival we noted a cost discrepancy between what was posted and what we had read online, there was no posted code to get into the bathrooms or the shower house, and the wifi password likewise unavailable. The camp host was not present, did not have a contact phone number listed, and would not be back until after dark.
Eventually we called the city’s parks and rec department, and they were able to provide the correct daily rate (lower than what was posted) as well as one of the codes to the bathroom. They were not able to get us internet access; apparently it has been down for months with sporadic efforts to fix it. After investigating the other Ashland municipal park (Kreher Marina) I found a working wifi but with the transmission power turned down so low that you had to be directly under the antenna to connect. Having been without useful wifi for our entire time on the Michigan UP, it was of high priority, so we only stayed one night in Ashland, pulling chocks the next morning to cross over to the nearby town of Washburn.
What a lucky decision! Thompson’s West End Park is right on the Lake Superior shore, but protected from much of the high winds, resulting in a calm and beautiful bay. The $25 a night rate was the same as the two Ashland parks, but here we had robust and fully working wifi capable of supporting video streaming and anything else. We secured two nights and used that excellent wifi to research local farmer’s markets, finding one right in town that had no vendor fee or special local resident requirement.
So we extended another night to attend. It was a tiny market held in the parking lot of North Coast Coffee. By the time things were in full swing there were at most seven vendors, all but us selling food of some sort. It was not exactly a great success; we sold a third of what we had in even the least profitable of the events we attended in Grand Marais, but it was free, only lasted two hours, allowed us to interact with locals and pick there brains about the region, and buy some fresh produce, all of which was more than paid for by the limited sales we made.
Unusually, every single item we sold was from the paper bead jewelry that has heretofore been a minor part of the gigs. In any case, we walked away from the market with black trumpet mushrooms and a few stalks of curly dock greens gathered by a local forager, a huge garlic bulb, and a great recommendation on where to get local Wisconsin cheese.
We really liked this park and the two nearby towns. Ashland, bigger and feeling a bit more cosmopolitan with an aggressive attempt at creating a wholesome but hip city identity, had thrift stores and an awesome food coop, while the smaller Washburn had an older town feel, but with nice neighborhoods and boutique shops. So we extended another night, and then it looked like rain and who wants to travel in that, so we added one more, and Rosemarie started feeling under the weather so we chilled for one more day and before we new it we were on our sixth evening there, only to have the camp host knock on our door to remind us that if we stayed a week the seventh night was free. Who can argue with that?
During our stay we made great soup from some pork bones Rosemarie had saved in the freezer with local potatoes, vegetables, the curly dock and some of the black trumpet mushrooms. Fantastic. We bought more than six pounds of cheese and cheese curds, most of it from Benoit Cheese, a few miles outside of Ashland, but to be honest some of it from the liquor store, so here’s hoping cheese curds are cheese curds no matter where you get them.
Having loved the smoked fish dip from Grand Marais, we thought it appropriate to try it in a more pure form, and so purchased a pound of fresh caught Lake Superior white fish, splitting it between one pan seared meal and another lightly breaded and fried. Ever since we slowed the pace and started working the farmers markets and food coops, we feel like we have eaten like royalty.
So eight days in the region, seven of them in Thompson’s West End campground in Washburn, and it really was time to move on. We can feel the weather changing, and it will be time to turn south soon. The only question is where to next? Can we still fit in Isle Royal or Voyageurs National Parks? Or should we just start heading towards Minneapolis and further points downward? Next post!