Garnet Lake – Garnet Ghost Town – A Paddle to the Past

Garnet Lake Campground – Finding a Lost Past in Mackinac County

A Point North

Sunset over Garnet Lake on my first night. It was a fantastic evening. I saw it as a good omen.

I came here on a whim. I didn’t know what to expect. The sign, “Garnet Lake State Forest Campground” had an arrow pointing down a sideroad. Those are the kinds of things that arouse my curiosity when I am cruising the U.P. I had never heard of the place which added more incentive.  What I found was a little known secret place revealed.

It was remote yet there were a few residences I passed on the way in. When I drove into the campground, there was only one other camper. I spotted a shoreline site which drew me in. Surrounded by pines and hardwoods, the campsite was comfortable and spacious.

The campsite at Garnet Lake as twilight sets in and the beginning of a glorious sunset.

What I saw before me was a beautiful little lake. Flat and serene, cattails along the edges, it was the quiet place I had been looking for. I pitched my tent near the shore and unloaded my kayak. The small lake was an ideal place to paddle. That would be tomorrow’s fun. In the meantime I set up my camera on a tripod. I was on the east end of the lake and had an ideal view of the upcoming sunset. Already the sky was beginning to tint. It was the beginning of what would be a spectacular sunset.

Morning mist on Garnet Lake rises and moves to the quiet breeze.

The campground here is nice, but basically primitive. Though you can camp here with camper or trailer, there are no hookups, so it needs to be self sufficient and functional off-grid. The entire time I was here, there were only two other campers.

When I arrived, I knew nothing about Garnet Lake and the immediately surrounding area. I thought it was just a remote campground, but I was about to find out exactly how wrong I was.

Kayaking Garnet Lake is not only fun but chances of seeing some wildlife is good. This is a beaver lodge I paddled past.

It all began with my Kayak. It was a beautiful day and I couldn’t wait to get out on the water. There was a light breeze which kept the bugs away on the water. I began to paddle and the water was very clear and the bottom could be seen easily. I paddled near the reeds where I had seen flashes of red moving through them. They were dragonflies, thousands of them, bright red and flying everywhere. They moved so quickly it was nearly impossible to get a picture of them. It made me wonder if these were the reason for the name “Garnet” lake.

The garnets of Garnet Lake. These red dragonflys flit and fly everywhere around the water.

I paddled out towards the deeper part of the lake. I kept looking at the bottom. It was so clear that everything was visible. As I paddled towards the west end, I started seeing trees on the bottom, large trees. Then I saw they’d been cut. The trees were saw logs. Garnet Lake had been at one time a sawmill pond. There could be no other conclusion. That meant that this had been a stream at one time and had been dammed to hold logs for a mill. I paddled to where it looked like there might be a stream outlet. I found it, but it was brushy, grown over and small, so I couldn’t take the kayak further. It was just too much of a mess, so I turned around and headed back to camp, but now I was really thinking about what my paddle on the lake had revealed.

Somewhere down that creek should be the ruins of an old sawmill, maybe even more, like a ghost town or logging camp. Being a historian, the more I thought about this more intrigued I became. It was time to take a hike.

The ruins of the old sawmill at Garnet ghost town.

I grabbed my camera, some water and snacks and headed around the lake. The first thing I came to was the railroad which was still being used, though I hadn’t seen or heard a train since my arrival. The tracks shined with little rust. I turned west towards where I knew the sawmill creek exited the lake. It wasn’t long before I saw how right I was. First was the ruins of the old mill, then the remains of the old town of Garnet, Michigan. I realized the railroad was paralleling a black-top highway which I hadn’t realized was there either. It was H-40 which runs between US-2 and M-28. Garnet is between Rexton another ghost town and Engadine. To get to the lake I had taken a backroad from US-2 and had completely missed Garnet, the ghost town. There were remnants of the old town still standing while a few of the houses were still occupied, though Garnet today has little resemblance to Garnet of the past.

Old homestead near the sawmill. This is another remnant of the days of the ghost town.

Originally called “Welch,” The town of Garnet at one time had around 500 residents. There was a sawmill which produced mostly shingles. A general store and hotel was there along with a harness maker. There was a saloon, a boarding house, school, and a doctor. They even had their own Justice of the Peace.

This is a historical photo pf the old post office of Garnet.

1897 is the first year Garnet appears on a census showing 500 residents. The population would decline beginning in 1910. In 1915 there was only 150 people left. By World War II, there were just a few houses and a sawmill operating there now making handles for axes, shovels and hammers. The sawmill operated until at least the late 1970’s but now is a crumbling ruin.

Hubie’s Place, not sure what that was, but it sounds like it was a good time.

The layout of the town is still visible and a couple of the old original buildings can be seen, some empty, a few still being lived in. As I walked, I was pleased with myself for having deduced the old town had been here from the clues from my paddling. If I had come in from the north, M-28, I would have seen the remains of the town first and knew it was there from the beginning. But I hadn’t and I felt I had solved a mystery, added an extra layer to my stay at Garnet Lake.

The crossing at the railroad and H-40 where the heart of Garnet was. A couple of homes still occupied can be seen.

Back at my campsite I was treated to another nice sunset. I would have to leave in the morning, but it had been an adventure of discovery. I would go back now and learn more about the little place named Garnet.

This is an old deserted mansion at the ghost town of Garnet.

How Christmas, Michigan Got Its Name

It’s always Christmas in Christmas. A true tale of the U.P.

The old Christmas sign. It was removed a couple of years ago.

            Christmas belongs to the Upper Peninsula. It’s all ours. Not the holiday.. the town… Christmas, Michigan. It’s been ours for eighty years and it always will be. Christmas (the town) is where Christmas (the holiday) is on display  all year ’round and all the trappings of the season are never all taken down, because, in Christmas (the town), Christmas (the holiday), brings visitors there all year to investigate the place that is named for the most celebrated holiday in the world.

            If one were setting out to name a town after this particular holiday, there is no better location for it. Christmas looks the part… not only from a man-made aspect, but from a geographical standpoint as well.

            Upon entering Christmas, especially during the winter, it looks like a vision of the North Pole. Christmas is three miles west of Munising in the middle of a snow belt. Since it is also on the Lake Superior shoreline, winter weather conditions can get very severe. Although it isn’t really the North Pole, it certainly could be an outpost.

            In the center of town there are reproductions of Santa and Mrs. Claus with a large north pole post beside them. Businesses reflect the spirit of the communities name and follow along with the theme- such as Mrs.. Klaus’ cabins and Foggy’s Bar that features the “Reindeer Room”.

            Christmas is a quiet place but there is still plenty to do. There is a Cross-country ski trail and snowmobile trail for winter activities as well as two nightspots and a casino. There are several motels and resorts that offer cabins for visitors. In the warmer seasons, there is everything to do that can be found in a lakeshore town including a nice park and Bay Furnace campgrounds. A newer business is the Paddler’s Village, a camping/ yurt experience on Lake Superior for paddler’s. Tourism is a staple income for the area and Christmas is no exception. It is an excellent destination point with a novel theme.

            Before Christmas was Christmas, it was known as the Bay Furnace and designated the town of Onota. Beginning in 1869, there were immense furnace structures along the shore of Lake Superior where they would smelt iron from the Ishpeming iron range. There was a1400 foot dock for the ships to moor to as the came and went with the smelted iron. Over 50 kilns would be in operation at Bay Furnace’s peak. Thousands of tons of Pig iron were smelted in these furnaces.

Bay Furnace today restored in the Bay Furnace campground

            In 1870 the town received a post office, designated “Onota.” The town would see a population of 500 by the time it peaked in 1877. It was during that summer, when a dry spell made the surrounding woods volatile. A fire began that burned for several days and at one point it swept down on Onota destroying it and all of the kilns. It was the end of Onota, or so it seemed, the name was moved 15 miles to the west to Onota township. Bay Furnace remained all but forgotten. The Bay Furnace company had been going bankrupt before the fire and the demise of the Bay Furnace operations seems to be a blessing in disquise.

               Christmas (the town) came into being a little over eighty years ago in 1939 when a local individual decided to start a Christmas product oriented factory and call it “Christmas Industries.” Julius Thorson, a retired state conservation officer, bought the land and had the property registered under his business name of Christmas at the Alger County Records Office. The section always appeared in the plat books under the name of “Christmas” so the area simply retained the name.

            The industry was short lived and burned down the next year and was never rebuilt, but the name stayed on the plat maps. From there the name stuck with the small community. Thorson had originally planned to establish an elaborate tourist complex on the land he had purchased, but the factory was the only part of the plan that materialized.

            At the same time, a beaver farmer named Walter Giedrojc had a profitable farming venture going on. During prohibition, he augmented his furry occupation by bootlegging bathtub booze on the side, selling it out of the back door of his home. When prohibition ended, he went legitimate and converted his home into a tavern and named it “Beaver Park.” the building still functions as a tavern (and restaurant) now known as Foggy’s.

            Development of Christmas (the town) as a resort area was brought about by a John Borbot and his sister Evelyn when they dismantled a nightclub in Dollarville in 1939 and reconstructed it at Christmas (the town). and called it the Knotty Klub. It was officially the first business in town and was followed by motels, gift shops, two grocery stores, restaurant, and another bar.

            For tourists, the town of Christmas became another destination point just down the road from Pictured Rocks. The Christmas (the holiday) name and theme has drawn people to it time and time again, to enjoy the ambiance the little town offered that reminded visitors that every day could be Christmas (the holiday). The idea has worked well throughout the past 80 years, although it had its ups and downs.                                      

In July of 1966, Christmas (the town) received a postal substation which officially designated it as a town. When the substation opened on July 8, there was a rush from stamp collectors from all over the world to get first-day cancellations on stamps from Christmas. That November, when the postal service issued its five-cent Christmas (the holiday) stamp, there was a big ceremony with local politicians attending and an official dedication of the post office was held. The Christmas (the holiday) stamp with the Christmas (the town) cancellation was quite a collectors item.

            When it was determined that Christmas would actually become a town, a controversy arose over who had actually named the area. Was it actually Julius Thorson, or was it George Mitchell, the man who was also behind Christmas Industries? George Mitchell was involved with Thorson in the ill-fated project. His actual role in the business has been obscured by time, but it has been determined that he was either the money behind the project or the man Thorson hired to run it. Different accounts state different opinions.

            When the Christmas stamp was issued with the first Christmas cancellation, Mitchell, who was a stamp collector and dealer in Homestead, Florida, perpetuated the rumor by claiming, in Florida, that he had named the town “Christmas.” He told his story to one of the Florida newspapers and word filtered north of his claims. It started a debate between local Alger county individuals and historians over who actually registered the name to the Christmas plat.

            Finally, in a letter sent by Mitchell, he conceded that the name had been registered by Thorson and the controversy died down. To this day, though, the first stamp issued in Christmas is quite a collectors item and the publicity that Mitchell received and his dealership surely didn’t hurt his sales in Florida.

            Getting a letter or card cancelled in the town of Christmas at this time of year has become a big tradition and every year, thousands of people receive mail containing one of these stamps. Even local businesses offer personalized letters from Santa with, of course, the now famous Christmas seal of authenticity

            The people who live in Christmas (the town) celebrate the holiday Christmas, just like anyone else-with their family and friends, but the holiday is never far from their thoughts. It is a tradition that is capitalized on all year, and that isn’t at all bad. Many people try to keep the spirit of Christmas alive all year long and the people of Christmas certainly have a head start.

            With their statues, businesses, street names (like Santa Claus Lane etc.), and their sense of fun, it’s always Christmas in Christmas and it’s right here in the U.P. It is a small charismatic little place that, even if you don’t stop, leaves you with a smile and some thoughts about this special holiday, no matter what time of year you visit or pass through there. In Christmas the town, it’s Christmas the holiday, all year long.

Christmas, Michigan Lighthouse.

 

Mimbre Artist and His Art – Pictographs and Cliff Home – Trail to the Past – Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument – Gila National Forest – New Mexico

Author’s Note: Many of these pictographs are subtle and faded. The more you study the pictures, more will appear in the stone. Spend a little time looking for the buried images in the rock.

While visiting the Cliff Dwellings at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, there is another site that is also worth visiting. The “Trail to the Past” is located at the Lower Scorpion Campground and it is right along the road where most visitors drive by and never see. The site explores a Mimbres artist and his home.

There is a parking lot at the Lower Scorpion and towards the east end of the lot a hiking trail labeled “Trail to the Past,” leads to a rock wall that has prehistoric pictographs painted on it.

Only a few feet down the trail and it splits. To the left is a trail to a cliff house, more on that later. To the right is the rock wall where the pictographs are painted. There are quite a few here and many of them have faded though they are still visible. These have been painted over the last thousand years. There were several generations of rock artists living here.

Figures and designs adorn the rocks, most whose meanings have been lost to time. These messages from the past have yet to be understood. Their beauty and symetry are ever apparent.

When I stood here looking at these, I saw more and more images as I looked more intently. These are worth more than a glance and the more I looked, the more I saw. There was something painted on nearly every flat surface, some faded while others could have been created yesterday.

Many of the pictures baffle me as to what they were intended by the artist, while others stand out and are easily identified. The one above is one of those that is difficult to figure out. It appears as if it were several images upon each other.

This is one of those pictograph clusters that the more you look at it, the more you see. There are several different paintings in this picture. See how many you can find.

As I mentioned earlier in this post, the “Trail to the Past” splits in two directions. To the right is the pictographs, to the left is a cliff dwelling and was undoubtably the home of the artist.

This shows a bit of the interior of the dwelling but it also shows a large red patch in the rocks above. This was likely where the painters of the pictographs got their color pigment for the pictographs. The red shade is the same as that of the rock art.

The trail to both the pictographs and the cliff house is quite short. The trail to the pictographs is handicapped accessable and is only about 50 yards from the parking lot. The trail to the cliff house is not handicapped accessable but is only about 100 yards. This place in the lower Scorpion Campground is overlooked by most visitors and it takes very little effort to spend a little time here. I was the only visitor at the time. This is well worth the minimal effort it takes to explore this ancient artist’s home and his art from prehistoric America.

Writing and photography by Mikel B. Classen.

Copyright by Mikel B. Classen 2020

For more information about Mikel B. Classen and his writing and photography visit his website at www.mikelclassen.com