Along the Keweenaw the big lake encounters one of four basic types of topography along the shore. The most common is one dominated by large rocky outcroppings consisting of basalt (either Copper Harbor Conglomerate or Portage Lake Volcanic). Second is the cobblestone variety, consisting of a beach of small to medium sized loose stones (Commonly referred to as an Agate Beach). The third is the rare sand variety, with varying amounts of gravel mixed in for good measure. The last type is the most dramatic of them all – the towering sheer cliffs found near Jacobsville and Freda. These cliffs are commonly sandstone, of either the Jacobsville or Freda variety.
Today we’re adding a fifth category to that list. Here along the shore at Gay stands a line of soaring cliffs a good 10-15 feet in height. The could technically be considered yet another sandstone variety, but this sandstone was formed by man and not nature. It is stamp sand, compacted by its own weight into a brittle rock much like sandstone. These cliffs are the remnants of the Mohawk and Wolverine Mines – now a permanent part of the Keweenaw(ian) landscape.
These cliffs stretch for close to a mile, decreasing in height as they make their way south from the mills. As we walked along the dark gray beach at their base we were joined by dozens of small birds (swallows we think) that were emerging out of the cliff face itself. On closer inspection we could see that these birds had dug holes into the brittle cliff face, and were using them as nests. Apparently stamp sands were not the barren and lifeless landscape we were led to believe. Here those sands had managed to create habitat for at least one species of animal.
We have been to these sands before and knew what to expect as we walked along their length. Our first find would be an old wooden launder, used to help deposit those sands out here on the beach. Though fallen apart, the wood it was built from looked almost new and hardly as rotten and worn as you would expect century old wood to appear. This was an early launder, buried half-way up the stamp sand cliff. It was most likely abandoned early, and allowed to be buried by the subsequent sands dumped on top of it. It was those sands that had protected the wood for all these years.
Continuing on our next find was a few old concrete footings, most likely for yet another old launder that existed here. Originally these were probably set into the sands themselves, but over the years the wave and wind action from the big lake has wrestled them free.
At the end of the cliffs sat the remains of the most recent launder – a large concrete variety that resembled a box. During our last visit the old luander was hanging a few feet off the edge of the cliff above like a industrial diving board. But since then that hanging section had succumbed to gravity and was now lying on its side down on the beach.
Looking up at the cliff we could see the rest of the old launder, now sitting up flush against the cliff face. Interestingly we could make out a line of what looked like dirt sandwiched between the stamp sand. The mill must have laid that layer of dirt down first to support the launder. This would seem to suggest that this launder was added much later in the mill’s life – at some point near the mill’s half-life by the looks of it.
But we couldn’t fin out much more from down here on the beach, so we began our climb up to the top to check it out from there….