Jim Harrison at Grand Marais, Michigan

Jim Harrison, writer extraordinaire, on one of his visits to Grand Marais, MI.

Jim Harrison, author, Upper Peninsula icon, leans on an old truck in Grand Marais, Michigan. He wrote many of his books in a cabin there. Photo by Mikel B. Classen copyright 2023.

A few years ago, when I lived in Grand Marais, Michigan, I was fortunate enough to get to know Jim Harrison a little bit. He owned property there and would come and write out in his log cabin in the woods. It was situated on a beautiful bend on the nearby Sucker River. He would isolate himself out there and work on a book. Often, after 10 pm, he would come into the Dunes Saloon, also known as the Lake Superior Brewing Company, and have a few drinks after a long day of writing. His publisher had been instructed by Jim to call and leave messages at the Dunes and he would call them back after ten.

I was introduced to him by the bartender there, Dave Beckwith. I lived in Grand Marais for 10 years and had many opportunities to spend some time with Jim. We rarely talked about writing. I always figured that when he was there, he wanted to get away from the writing for a bit. So, we talked about other things such as hunting and fishing and make no mistake, Jim Harrison was a foodie.

He often talked about things he’d had in different places. When he came to Grand Marais, he would always stop off at this little place on M-28 called Rashid’s Market. He said they had the best prosciutto he could find. Rashid’s went out of business a few years ago and is now another unused building along the highway.

My wife and I would have a party every year on our anniversary which is also the summer solstice. We would invite everyone and the party would last for several days. Kegs would be brought in from the Lake Superior Brewing Company, the fire pit would be going and Mary, my wife would cook obscene amounts of food.  Seemed like half the town was there. It was very cool.

Jim would stop by and kick back with all of us. I don’t know what species it was, but we had this really fine soft grass in the yard. After a while and we would look over and Jim would be crashed out in the grass. He remarked to me how soft and nice it was to lay down in it and he’d never seen or felt grass like that. It was fun to have him there, but for most of us we saw him as a regular neighbor.

We all knew who Jim was, and plenty of folks would show up at the Dunes Saloon hoping for a “Jim” sighting. It was no secret that he might turn up in Grand Marais and people came looking. I was once mistaken for Jim, not sure why to this day, but the guy would not believe I wasn’t him. Someone also insisted that I was a character in a couple of Jim’s stories called “Brown Dog.” He wouldn’t believe me when I told him no either.

Black and White study of the author Jim Harrison.

Close-up of Jim Harrison in Grand Marais in Black and White. Photo by Mikel B. Classen Copyright 2023

Jim also liked being around the females. They would often cluster around his table and sit and drink with him. We used to call it “holding court.” He would be smiling with three or four ladies next to him cocktailing the night away. Never saw him leave with one though.

In Grand Marais, the tourist season gets so busy that everyone works, even the kids. My wife Mary caught Jim checking out our daughter who had just got a job bussing at the Dunes Saloon. She chastised him a bit informing him that was our daughter. He looked surprised and said “That’s Mikel’s daughter?” He came over to me and apologized and I looked at him and said, “Keep this in mind, she’s only 14 and this is neither Kentucky or France.” He laughed. Jim was always good natured about things.

Jim would often come to town during the fall. He loved to bird hunt and would bring his dogs. Accompanied by friends and relatives they would all spend a few days chasing down partridges aka ruffed grouse. Tourism had slowed this time of year and a pleasant, relaxed time could be had.

One day Jim approached me to take a few pictures of him. He disliked the author picture on most of his books. You know the ones, where he’s looking contemplatively out a window. We made arrangements to meet him downtown Grand Marais, the next day. I get downtown outside the Sportsman’s Bar and after a bit Jim shows up driving an old beat up truck that he had borrowed from one of the locals named Lance.  Jim also has someone with him.

He gets out and introduces me to his companion who happens to be an editor of a French magazine who was doing an article on Jim. Jim Harrison is apparently really popular in France. The editor and I shake hands and jim says “We’ve been drinking wine all night. I’m really hung over, we need to do this quick.” So Jim heads for the truck and leans against it, smoking, wearing his ever present off faded pink shirt. The wind picks up a little tossing his sparse hair around.

I’m bent over my camera shooting pictures when I realize that the French editor is shooting me shooting Jim. Yes, splashed all over France is my derriere in a magazine. I didn’t shoot very long since I knew Jim was impatient. The pictures on this page are from that shoot.

A couple of days later I went out to his cabin on the river bend. It was an old log cabin with a thick coat of varnish on it. He let me inside and the interior was fantastic. There was a river stone fireplace with dark walls stained from age and nicotine. This was where he created his magic, his wordsmith shop. I showed him the shots I’d taken and gave him the envelope with the prints. On the table were several yellow paper legal size pads where he created his stories. There was an energy there you could feel, like a thick fog.

Jim eventually sold his property in Grand Marais. The little town was becoming “discovered.” Soon the tourists began to overwhelm the place no matter what the time of year. I remember Jim coming into the Dunes Saloon, which was quite busy at the time, loudly saying “Get all of these fucking people out of my bar.” He ended up finding a quiet table in the back and cocktailed there.

Jim came less and less to Grand Marais and then he simply stopped coming. When the cabin sold it was final. I never saw him again. Then he passed. It is one of my regrets.

Author Jim Harrison leans against an old truck in Grand Marais, Michigan.

Jim Harrison after a long night of wine drinking wearing his signature t-shirt. Photo by Mikel B. Classen copyright 2023


For more information on Jim Harrison follow these links: Jim Harrison – Wikipedia

Books by Jim Harrison (Author of Legends of the Fall) | Goodreads

Photos of Jim Harrison by Mikel B. Classen. Copyright by Mikel B. Classen.


Grand Sable Falls and Dunes – Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore – Grand Marais, MI

Grand Sable Falls in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore near Grand Marais. Photograph by Mikel B. Classen

Grand Sable Falls is located on the eastern end of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Though it is not the largest waterfall in the park, it’s beauty makes it one of the park’s premier sights. The falls are located a mile west of Grand Marais off H-58, a well marked parking lot is the trail head. The walk to the falls is short and not difficult. The 168 steps to the bottom provide different views of the falls on the way down and from here can be seen this 75 foot cascade in its entirety. The stream is surrounded by hardwoods of Maple and Aspen adding to the falls’ ever changing look with the seasons. This is an incredible autumn destination. During the Summer, look closely, Trillium and Lady Slippers can be spotted in the forest.

Trillium in Black & White. Photograph by Mikel B. Classen

This has always been a special place and marks the beginning of the massive Grand Sable Sand dunes. A small walk from the bottom of the falls to the beach, just a few yards, awaits one of the most spectacular views on all of Lake Superior.  Standing there looking up at the immense sand dunes that stretch in an arc to Au Sable Point 15 miles away, is a moment worth walking to. As a suggestion, walk the shore back to Grand Marais from here. It’s a great alternative to the stair climb.

Lady Slippers are one of the wildflower wonders of the U.P.  Photograph by Mikel B. Classen.

The eastern end of Pictured Rocks gets much less traffic than the west end at Munising. Grand Sable Falls is one of the overlooked attractions at the National Park. Missing this is a big mistake. This is a must-see for any trip into Grand Marais.

Historical Picture of Grand Sable Falls with visitors. Today, there are stairs. People and photographer unknown. From Mikel B Classen historical pictures collection

Special Note: This attraction is located within the National Park. It was announced that the National Park Service (NPS) would be instituting fees or requiring passes for park visitors beginning this year. At this moment it is unclear what that will be and how this will affect visitors to Sable Falls. I advise stopping into the NPS visitor’s center first to learn what the requirements are if any. Access has always been free and open before.

Where Grand Sable Creek meets Grand Sable Dunes at the shore of Lake Superior. Photograph by Mikel B. Classen

Historical Photos – U.P. Fishing

Historical Fishing Pictures from the Upper Peninsula’s Past

Pictures from the Mikel Classen Historical Pictures Collection

Native Americans fishing the St. Mary’s River near Sault Ste. Marie.

Fishing has always been a part of basic human survival. Plain and simple, fish are great to eat. Around the world people use fish as a major source of their diet, but, the squirmy things are an awful lot of fun to catch. Fishing here in the U.P., like many places, is ingrained into the culture and as fishing moved from a necessity to a sport, it became even more so.

Fishermen line the Soo Locks as a ship locks through.

Fishing is one of those things that has never changed over the years. You can add all the technology you want to it, but when it comes down to basics, it’s still a stick, a string, and a worm.

When the smelt ran, everybody came out. Dip your net in and it was full of fish.

Of course there are different kinds of fishing, as the picture above illustrates. Smelt dipping was a spring rite of passage for many here in north country.  The rivers would be lined with campfires, waiting for the smelt to run. When they finally did, the streams would be full.

Brook Trout fishing on a beaver pond on the backwaters of the Hurricane River. This guy is pretty dapper for being back here.

I’ve always been a fan of Brook Trout fishing. If you are doing it right, it is incredible excersize, but I have to admit that there is nothing as good as pan fried fresh caught Brook Trout.

Fishing the rapids at the St. Mary’s River has been a long tradition. These two are having a great time.

Fishing is a connection to our past. It is something we have in common with our ancestors going back to prehistoric times. It strikes a chord within us that gives a feeling of peace and when the day has success we feel excited and elated. Our fishing experiences stay with us forever. What can be better than that?

Sometimes you just need a helping hand.