For those that don’t want to follow the link I present the review in its entirety below.
True Tales: the Forgotten History of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula by Mikel B. Classen.
“Even Michigan natives who know just a little about the Upper Peninsula are aware of how unique it is geographically and historically. It is a beautiful, wild, rugged, sparsely populated peninsula full of unforgettable scenic wonders that is equaled by its unique and often strange history. This work by Mikel B. Classen is a great introduction to the often remarkable and memorable history connected to the U.P. that in all honesty weren’t forgotten by the general public. They are historical stories they never even knew about.”
“Among my favorites is the account of the last stagecoach robbery east of the Mississippi which took place in the U.P. The robber called himself Black Bart and killed one passenger and wounded another. Then there’s the Great Lake pirate who operated all over Lake Michigan from his base in Escanaba. I thought I knew all the relevant facts about the Ontonagon Boulder. I didn’t. It was a mass of pure copper the Native Americans worshiped, but the Hell with their beliefs. The boulder was transported to Washington where it was misplaced and lost for years. The boulder was the spark that lit the Copper Boom in the U.P. The author also writes of the prominent settlers to the U.P., throws in the odd shipwreck, and relates the story of a couple of castaways on Isle Royale. The two survived a winter on the island by eating bark, roots, and berries. The husband went crazy from hunger and his wife feared she was next on his menu.”
“Those who consider history boring need to read this book before doubling down on their misplaced judgement. The book is jam-packed full of interesting and arresting true stories tied to U.P. history. All I can say is, another volume please.”
If you are interested in purchasing True Tales, it can be picked up on Amazon or it can be ordered through your local bookstore.
I have just finished the rough version of my new book. It is off to the publisher awaiting publication. Whew! It always feels like a long haul when you finish a book. Though I feel all of my books are worth a read, this one is special. If you are a fan of this website, then this book is for you.
In this book the romance is gone. It tries to show many of the true hardships and facets of trying to settle a frontier that was sandwiched between three Great Lakes. There are stories from across the Peninsula from first hand accounts to revelations from the news of the time. As always there are heroes and villains. There are feats of great good and dirty deeds of the worst kind. There are adventures of the most extraordinary men as they struggle for the riches of the U.P. well before gold was discovered in California. There are accomplishments of those that braved the wrath of the Great Lakes in leaking ships and frozen waters. The intensity of storms killed thousands on land and lakes. Over 200 died in one season just between Marquette and Whitefish Point. Often the Edmund Fitzgerald is memorialized, but few remember the hundreds of wrecks before it. You will find some here.
These pages are populated by Native Americans, miners, loggers and mariners that consisted of Germans, Italians, Finns, Swedes, French and English. People came from everywhere looking for their personal promised land. Some to raise families, some to avoid the law or to start a new life. Some to get rich no matter what it took. The Upper Peninsula frontier called to all.
This book is the first installment in what will be a larger work that chronicles the rare and forgotten stories that make the history of the U.P. what it is. Through research and investigation I hope to bring back many of the tales that time and historians forgot.
The U.P. of today was created by individuals that rose up to meet challenges that broke lesser folks. Their mental and physical stamina was that of finely honed athletes accomplishing feats unheard of in the modern world. They hacked homes out of a dense wilderness and raised families with danger at every turn. Many of these feats have gone unsung throughout history and through this book many come to light.
It is my hope that the stories contained within this book not only celebrates the struggles of the individuals that first braved this formidable and raw land , but honestly portrays their efforts to overcome the incredible obstacles that stood in the way of the beloved peninsula we now know. It was once a very different place.
Just north of Las Cruces off of highway 185, is a place where dinosaurs walked. Well, actually most of New Mexico is where dinosaurs walked, but Prehistoric Trackways National Monument is one of the few places that the evidence of their existence can be plainly seen. Best of all, it costs nothing more than effort to see them.
Administered by the Bureau of Land Management, Prehistoric Trackways is about 5,000 acres and is a relatively new monument, only recieving the designation in 2009. About 10 miles north of Las Cruces on 185, a sign shows the turnoff to the Trackways. You will go down the road, over a bridge crossing the Rio Grande River. The next road to the right leads to the Trackways. There is no sign! The first time I drove past and missed the turn. The second time I googled the location and GPSed my way in. There is a small parking area where there is a kiosk showing some of the trails. There will be a trail running from the parking lot called the ridge trail. It lives up to its name running along the ridgetop of a deep wash. The picture above is taken from that trail and shows how deep the wash is.
After the trail winds over what appears to be a small extinct volcano, it drops down into the wash the trail has been following. The length is roughly two miles. Take some water. At the bottom you quickly realize that the occassional streambed is a sheet of hard rock and yes, it is full of dinosaur tracks.
When you start looking there are prints everywhere and it seems endless. This is considered the largest volume of paleozoic tracks anywhere in the world. The site was discovered by a Las Cruces resident named Jerry MacDonald in 1987. He had overheard tales from locals that they had seen places where these were visible and collecting the stories together he went hunting for them, eventually finding the location we all get to enjoy today. He also hauled out on his back 2500 pieces of the trackways which are now housed at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. If one is unable to hike out and see the trackways in their natural state, a visit to the museum might be a worthwhile aternative.
There are over 14 miles of trackways through out the Monument. This one is the easiest to access and I have to admit, there was a fair amount of work involved with the ridge hike. The others are scattered in various locations and are more difficult to get to. I recommend this one because the trail is marked and it only takes a few hours to do.
In some of these there are distinct claw marks showing their reptilian lineage. This area was also covered with what was known as the Permian Sea. Prehistoric crocodiles roamed these shores called Eryops.
While I was hiking, another hiker caught up with me and we walked through the trackway together. He’s pointing out the toemarks of what had to have been a huge beast. Not sure what it was. At the trackways you can get up close and really study these 280 million year old fossils.
There were also Dimetrodons, dinosaurs that had large fins on their backs. During the paleaozioc era this area would have been the edge of a large sea surrounded by volcanoes and thick foliage. These dinosaurs would have been hunting and avoiding being eaten. It would have been a thick humid place, not like the desert and mountains we see now.
The evidence of the long ago seas are here as well. These fossilized wave ripples from the bottom of the sea makes the conclusion obvious.
Fossilized sealife lays all around intermingled with the dinosaur tracks. Look closely, it’s everywhere.
Once you are back there and experience this amazing place, the hike is well worth it. One just has to keep in mind that there are no facilities of any kind here. No bathrooms, no water, no food trucks, though the latter might not be a bad idea.
As I followed the Trackway I realized that the wash we were following led back to the parking lot. I saw the wash when I first got there but decided it made more sense to follow the trail. If I had known that that was the same one I would have saved myself the climbing up the ridge. It would have been shorter and easier. Now I admit I really enjoyed the view from the ridge trail and it was a nice hike.
The picture above shows the Rio Grande River as it appears from the ridge trail. I’m looking forward to seeing how the Bureau of Land Management does improvements on the site. Marking the road with a couple of signs would be a good start. Finding Prehistoric Trackways National Monument is worth the effort, especially if you are a dinosaur nut like me. This is a chance to actually walk in the footsteps of dinosaurs. It’s an outing that is hard to beat.
Writing and photography by Mikel B. Classen. Copyright by Mikel B. Classen 2020