22-Jul-2001 -- Three months ago, my husband, Fred, and I were planning a trip to Marquette, MI, to attend his 20th high school reunion. His sister and brother-in-law, Louisa and Jim, live 80 miles to the south in Iron Mountain. We noticed that a confluence was conveniently located between these two Upper Peninsula towns. We decided to ask our relatives to help us in our quest for our first confluence. We just had to hope that we could actually reach it and that no one else would get there before us.
As part of our planning, we downloaded the topo map and aerial photo, and purchased a Garmin eMap GPS (we already had an older DeLorme Earthmate, but were not entirely confident in it). The aerial photo showed what appeared to be dirt roads leading to a large sandy area that stood out in contrast to the heavily wooded surroundings. The confluence lay in the woods between this large sandy area and a strip mine. Louisa and Jim had scouted out the general vicinity a few days prior to our scheduled visit and were not sure if the confluence was reachable: the terrain appeared to be swampy in some areas, and blocked by fences in others. They were also concerned about bears and recent reports of wolves in the area. We’ve been near wolves before and knew that they would avoid us. Bears, however, are a real threat throughout the deep woods in this region.
On the day of our expedition, the four of us piled into Jim and Louisa's 4Runner and headed north out of Iron Mountain on Highway 95, until we came to County Road 11 in Randville. Here we turned east and crossed Kings Creek and Herzog Road. Soon we came upon a narrow, two-rutted, dirt track heading north into the woods: we believed this was the way to what we thought was a sandpit. Taking that for some distance, we then came to a fork in the road where both branches seemed to lead uphill into nothingness. I hopped out and was immediately attacked by swarms of black flies. It was in the 90's and the high humidity made it feel oppressive. I wasn't sure if I wanted to scout further on foot, but I figured we had come this far so it wouldn't hurt to go a bit further. The fork on the left almost immediately dead-ended overlooking a large field of wildflowers and weeds. The fork on the right went a bit further and lead to the edge of - not a sand pit - but an enormous rock pit full of discarded pieces of white and rose quartz from a local mining operation. On the opposite side stood the woods where the confluence was hidden.
Our plan was for Louisa and Jim to stay with the vehicle. Fred and I are from Chicago and are not accustomed to traipsing around in the wilderness, so we needed someone to stay behind to organize a search party if we didn't emerge from the woods within a reasonable time. So off he and I went, navigating around the rim of the pit to an area where we found a deer path through the trees. We expected it to be cooler in the shade, but this was not the case. It felt like a rain forest and after climbing a few steep hills we were soon drenched with sweat. Fred had run 11 miles earlier in the day and really didn't need this extra workout. It took us about 45 minutes of bushwhacking to close in on the spot. It turned out to be a bit harder than we had planned on.
The actual confluence is a few feet to the northeast of a large pine tree. The ground is covered with old leaves the trees discarded last fall and bushes weighted down with delicious, moist thimbleberries. The scene is not remarkable, in that it is as serene and beautiful as just about any place in the forests of the Upper Peninsula.
After taking some video footage and the requisite photos to document the visit, it was time to head out. The route we took to find the confluence was a bit circuitous, so we wanted to try a more direct path back to where we began the trek. After 30 minutes we became frustrated with the obstacles we were coming upon. We finally decided to claw our way through a dense stand of pine trees that were keeping us from going where we wanted. After disturbing the birds nesting in the pines, we finally came out at the top of a steep hill. Through the trees on the other side of the gully we could see the gleaming quartz of the rock pit. We scrambled down the hill and up the jagged rocks on the opposite side to find ourselves peering out over the vast expanse of the pit. On the other side were Louisa and Jim, who were waiting to greet us with cold drinks and ice packs.
As the crow flies, the confluence was about 1/3 of a mile from where we left the vehicle, yet our total time on foot was more than 2 hours due to the condition of the terrain. We were fortunate that we did not encounter any swampy areas or bears. Our Garmin never lost its fix despite the heavy tree cover. The DeLorme, by contrast, never obtained a fix once we stepped into the trees. Cell phone coverage was almost non-existent. Our trophies for the effort included a nice piece of rose quartz, a few cuts and scrapes, and one angry wood tick.