Rogers City: the nautical limestone city

When you approach Lake Huron from downtown Rogers City, you easily find yourself at Lakeside Park. And, as the logo says, Rogers City is “the nautical city.” There’s a rich history here of mariners and all manner of watery endeavors. But there’s a lot of digging going on here too.

This “Liberty Torch” welcomes visitors to the park and marina. Tom Moran, of Moran Iron Works in Onaway, fabricated it in 2004.

In late November, we had Lakeside Park all to ourselves. The park benches were empty. Our butts were the only ones in the gazebo seats. From the gazebo, you look out onto the breakwater.
I’m thinking that breakwater is mostly constructed of limestone. My rockhound days are behind me so I don’t know that for sure. But Rogers City is also the Limestone City.

Here’s a closer look at the freighter that was anchored offshore, beyond the breakwater.

This freighter is the “Great Republic.” That’s what it says in lettering in that white area just above the gray and black vertical striping. It used to sail, if that’s the right term for a ship with no sails, as “American Republic.” But in 2011 a lease expired and it was re-named the “Great Republic.” You can read all about this freighter here. It launched in 1981. It’s highly specialized and tricked out to handle rock and ore-carrying duties. It’s considered to be one of the most maneuverable ship on the lakes, with eight rudders, bow and stern thrusters, and variable pitch propellers. I don’t know anything about freighters, but eight rudders is seven more than any boat I’ve been on. It’s a “self-unloader” and can carry 1000 tons more than freighters of similar size.

Honestly, it just looked like a clunky big freighter to me. But it turns out that it’s 641 feet and 10 inches of special. That flock of Canada Geese probably knows it’s special. That’s why the whole gang decided to paddle by for a closer look. The Great Republic was anchored. We assumed it was waiting to load up or unload at the Calcite plant nearby.

The “John J. Boland” was also at anchor, a little closer to the plant.

It’s another self-unloading bulk carrier. It launched in 1973 as the Charles E. Wilson. Boatnerd says that it was renamed in January of 2000 after the first Charles E. Wilson was sold and started sailing as the Saginaw. I knew nothing of all this name-swapping stuff. And I don’t know who Wilson was or is or who Boland was or is, but apparently they got their names welded onto another pretty specialized freighter. This one has an adaptable digital gyroscope steering-control system and is described as a vessel with very few mishaps. It’s 680 feet long and can carry 33,800 tons of stuff. So, having very few mishaps is a comfort to those who work aboard.

Here’s the historic site sign that stands near the gazebo at Lakeside Park and explains why these freighters are all lined up.That’s hard to read, so I’ll tell you the main points.

The sign explains that “since 1912, the skyline south of Rogers City has been dominated by the buildings, machinery, and storage piles of the Calcite Plant, the world’s largest limestone quarry operation.” The world’s largest. Right here in our backyard.

There’s a  bit of puffing about what accounts for the humungous success of the operation. And we learn that the company started out as Michigan Limestone and Chemical Company. It was founded by a New York investment banker, William F. White. But the company’s general manager, Carl D. Bradley, is the guy who ended up being dubbed the “Limestone King.”  He died in 1928. You may remember something about Carl D. Bradley that doesn’t get mentioned on the sign. A freighter bore his name. It was the largest freighter on the Great Lakes from 1927 to 1949. In November of 1958, the Carl D. Bradley sunk in Lake Michigan. It broke in two during a fierce November storm. Thirty-three men died. Twenty-three of them were from Rogers City. Fifty-three children were orphaned. Two crew members survived. There are many places to read more about the shipwreck, including here. But the sign at the park’s gazebo isn’t the place for a memorial.

U.S. Steel bought the Michigan Limestone company in 1920. Carmeuse Lime & Stone, a Belgian Company, bought the Calcite operation. That’s who owns it today.

The sign at the gazebo says that since the mining started in 1912, the Calcite quarry has produced and shipped more than 878 billion tons of limestone. The estimate is that its stone reserves will last another 50-75 years. The sign says that the quarry is 5 miles long, 2 miles wide, and up to 150 feet deep.

Here’s what the quarry looks like to Google Earth:

Little Rogers City is dwarfed by the Calcite quarry and plant. The freighters in the photos were anchored just north of the peninsula that frames the bay above that “v” of green grass south of town.

If you head out south from town on Business 23 you can meet the Calcite Quarry a little closer than at a satellite height. Turn left into the parking lot at this plywood sign.

Don’t be misled by that little “M” and “S” squiggle. There are no swans at the Calcite Quarry.

The day we visited no one was at the viewing site. We climbed metal openwork stairs to get a better look from a platform height about six feet above the parking lot.

This ancient tree guards the parking lot.

It’s really hard to convey the scale of this tree. That little greenish “growth” just below the branches to the right of the middle of the trunk isn’t a fungus or a glob of moss. It’s Steve’s baseball cap. I hung it on a piece of tree bark to try to show the scale, but the tree trunk just gobbled it up. And Steve has such a big head that he typically buys his hats at Big Head Caps. This tree’s trunk is about 5 feet across. This tree is so big it was probably shading picnic-goers back in 1912 when the Calcite Plant was just a gleam in Carl Bradley’s eye.

So, you climb the steps and look down into a gash so deep and so wide that it rivals the Grand Canyon.

If you haven’t seen this, go look. This photo can’t begin to show the enormity of the quarry. Eight-hundred-seventy-eight billion tons of limestone came out of this hole.

These gigantic limestone boulders must have been rolled into place to celebrate the quarry’s 100th anniversary.

Those are roads down there. Workers drive huge mining equipment and trucks on those roads. They pass each other on those roads.

Generations of quarry workers dug this big hole. It’s not pretty. Not from space and not up close. But it’s impressive. Go see.

Late October waterfowl

These female Mallards moved off from a group of about 50 female Mallards that have been sunning themselves on the skinny beach near the cut-through at the island in the lower lake. The big group is making a bit of Long Lake history. A group like this hasn’t been seen at least in the dozen years we’ve been on the lake. The group sits, splashes about, dabbles around, and just generally does all things duck all day long. Very weird. It seems like they should have someplace to go by now.

These three seemed to be practicing their yoga asanas. When the females are in the water that cobalt blue patch isn’t seen. Nice of this individual to stretch enough to give us a good view.

Mallards are very vocal ducks, especially the females. In fact, they are one of very few ducks that actually quack.

The adult Loons left the lake in September, early September we believe. And we’ve decided not to worry, but there seems to be only one adolescent loon left on the lake. The sibs hung out together, for the most part, in the first weeks after mom and pop flew south. But now we see only one. One of the chicks was a bit smaller and we’re hopeful this one is just playing it smart, bulking up for the long flight south.

On October 14th, this adolescent approached our kayaks within about 15 feet. Steve took his photo. We paddled into Ghost Bay and this guy paddled in too, calmly floating near us, diving, and then resurfacing close by. We’ve not heard any vocalization. I guess when there’s no one to talk to, a loon just keeps their own counsel.

We will worry if this guy isn’t headed south in the next 2-3 weeks.

Common Mergansers are back on the lake. As with the Mallards, we are seeing only females. We’ve been seeing them in small groups swimming in the shallows. They dive and come up with mostly major sloppy stuff spilling out of their bills. Or they come up empty. For no reason we can discern, they are prone to episodes of water scooting.They flap their wings, flap their feet, rise up just a few inches off the water, and scoot ten or fifteen feet. They are the slapstick comedians of the waterfowl world.

This trio of females was a real surprise. They are Surf Scoters. They aren’t rare. But we’ve never seen them on Long Lake. From a distance, we thought they were American Black Ducks. But then those two white patches on the sides of their heads caught our attention. And then we noticed their spectacular large bills. A Surf Scoter’s scientific name is Melanitta Perspicullata, which basically means Black (duck) Spectacular. Someday I hope to meet a male Surf Scoter. His bill is even more bulbous than the female’s. And, instead of dull gray, his bill is white, yellow, and red, set off by a white forehead outlined in black. Now that’s spectacular!

Birds of a feather flock together…and not

Gulls know how to do the flock thing for sure. Pity the next human visitors to that raft. Hopefully they came with a mop. It does make you wonder though. It’s not like someone spread a breakfast of bagel bits on the raft and hollered “come and get it.”

You hear that distinctive wail of the loon and you never figure they’d gang up or have a party. But they do. And here on Long Lake.

Then there are the true loners, like this Great Blue Heron walking slowly through the shallows looking for tasty morsels.

Apparently if the vantage point isn’t quite right, they’ll try for a better view, though.

The Eastern Kingbird is often seen hunting solo for insects. But they work in pairs to feed their young.

Kingbirds don’t look particularly menacing. But if you come near their nest before the chicks fledge, look out. How do I know? They nested again this year in the cupholder on our dock bench.

They sort of fake you out because they tolerate your presence while they sit on the eggs. But once the eggs hatch, look out. Once the eggs hatch and you’re just minding your own business quietly trying to unmoor or moor your pontoon boat’s dock lines these birds are fierce. And they don’t just fly around above and squawk menacingly. They dive bomb right at your head and aren’t satisfied until they’ve actually hit it. I thought for awhile if you didn’t talk and if you didn’t look in their direction, they’d leave me alone. They proved me wrong on both strategies. We surrendered our dock bench to them for the duration. But we weren’t willing to surrender our boat rides and so we paid the price. No injuries though. Not to us and not to the Kingbirds.

We see Flickers alone or in pairs, often pecking around in the dirt looking for bugs and other protein.

This guy was just resting a bit, near as we could tell.

There are some birds that all Long Lakers can identify at a glance, like this Gull giving a Bald Eagle a hard time.

The Gull knew a threat, to young we assume, and went after the Eagle. There were some interesting aerobatics. At one point the Gull bounced off the Eagle, doing no apparent damage to either.

Cormorants seem to be more frequent visitors to Long Lake. We may even have a few permanent resident Cormorants this year.

Long Lakers aren’t freaking out though. Sure, Cormorants fish almost as effectively as Jeff does. But we don’t get much by way of walleye stocking these days. And besides a few Cormorants just do their bit to increase our lake’s biodiversity.

Speaking of biodiversity, please leave a comment if you recognize who this pair is. We spotted them in Ghost Bay on August 18th.

I thought they were adolescent mallards. We did have a brood of mallard chicks this year. But these upper bills have an overlapping point at the end, more like a merganser and unlike a mallard. If they are mergansers, maybe in their eclipse plumage, they must have forgotten to check the calendar. Plus they must have lost their GPS because we should be seeing Common Mergansers only briefly in the early spring or late fall. Please leave a comment if you recognize this pair.

We’re getting into the migration season again on the lake. It’s such a fun season and we’re fortunate that so many species decide to land and spend time on our lake. Actually, though, I must betray my biologically incorrect bias and confess that if the Canada Geese would just keep flying I’d be fine with that.

Long Lake double rainbow

Isn’t that something! Actually somethings. A double rainbow. The day was sunny. There was a cloudburst. Out came the sun again. And rainbows appeared.

The bright rainbow is a primary rainbow. In a primary rainbow, the arc shows red on the outer part and violet on the inner part. From what I’ve been reading, a primary rainbow appears when light is refracted as it enters a water droplet and then it’s reflected (somehow) on the back of the droplet and gets refracted again as it leaves the droplet. Light. Such a trickster.

In a double rainbow, a second arc, the one higher in the sky, has the order of its colors reversed, with red on the inner side of the arc. This is light playing with a water droplet again. Somehow the light is reflected twice on the inside of the droplet before it exits. Light. Such a show-off.

Here’s another slice of rainbow on the same afternoon.

Long Lake: bird’s eye view

Is there any wonder what the loons see in Long Lake? Here’s the view from 200 feet up near our house. August 7, 2017. This is the north section of the lake. That’s Belly Button Island looking like it’s just a tad away from “our” bay. And if your eyes look beyond the island, and turn left, you’d be in Ghost Bay.

Loons are very bad at landings. And they are even worse taker-offers. They beat their wings like crazy, hitting the water, and almost seem to be walking on those long feet of theirs on lift off. And landings aren’t graceful either. They end up skidding to a halt. So a long lake is perfect for the loons. Our lake also has two islands, which is ideal because loons prefer to nest on islands.

Here’s this year’s twins at three weeks.

And here they are just one week later. They still look a bit unpromising. But looks deceive. These guys are already diving for their own food and staying under water for longer and longer lengths of time.

The parents have obviously been feeding them well. Hopefully the twins will be strong and flying well by late October so they can make their flight south.