Sisu, Part 3: "Warp World"

September, 2010.

In the morning we woke up and explored the many ruins on the other side of the road after breaking camp. Turns out the ruined structure we had stealth-camped in was the Quincy Mine's former dry house, built in 1860:

The dry house is basically like a locker room where miners can change out of their wet filthy clothes after their shift and take a shower before putting on dry clothes, hence the name.

The Quincy #4 and #7 were visible across the road:

The Quincy name may sound familiar to Bostonians…that’s because many of the early investors and controllers of Keweenaw copper interests were Boston-area firms. Some of the prosperity and architectural beauty of Boston was (quite literally) found in Michigan soil.

You can see there has been some stabilization done here…mortar had been added and some brush cleared away since I last explored Quincy Mine in 2006.

We headed down into Houghton again for breakfast at the Soumi Bakery, and just as before, we had them pack us two cold pasties to go, and a loaf of the nisu bread as well. Damn that stuff is good.

We had a moment of debate over what else to explore today since we didn’t really have time to go all the way to the Porkies. We eventually chose to head out to Freda and see the ruins of the Redridge Dam and the Champion Stamp Mill. Along the Liminga Road to Freda, I noticed the temp needle on my dash climb a little higher than normal, so I decided to pull over and top off the coolant reservoir. The car did its usual Exorcist impression, but by this time it had been barfing clear water for some time. We let it cool off, refilled it, and continued.

As I talked about in my previous Redridge Dam post, it was built in 1901 to create a reservoir of water to supply the five stamp mills refining copper in the area. There were only two other steel dams ever built in America; one was in Arizona, and one was in Montana, marking a period of a couple years where steel construction was tinkered with as a method for dam-building, because it could be constructed more quickly and cheaply than a masonry dam.

We were able to climb up through the holes that had been cut in it to prevent it from overtopping after it was abandoned. I imagine this might be a pretty epic spot to watch the spring runoff when the thaw comes to Copper Country in April.

The old steel bulkhead was pitted and worn from a century of weathering...the long rods you see are the shafts that turned the relief valves when they were manually opened or closed:

Continuing on our way down the western slope along the winding road to Lake Superior’s roaring coast and the flyspeck hamlet of Freda, we reached the grand panoramic ruins of the Champion Stamp Mill:

I of course checked this place out before in 2007 and wrote about it in a previous post. I also more recently wrote about exploring the Champion Mine.

Photo by Hank

Photo by Hank

As we were about done and ready to head back to the car with a freshly refilled water jug for the radiator, we spied something I had never seen the first time I was here. A tunnel...?

Hank and I traded glances momentarily, our respective eyebrows slowly gaining in altitude, before pocket fumbling for flashlights and setting our water jugs down off to the side. Gingerly we set foot inside the large tunnel. Allow me to queue-up the appropriate music.

As I said earlier, copper ore stamping requires a lot of water. I’m thinking perhaps this was related to the water supply for the Champion Mill; I already had seen evidence of a network of small tunnels running all around under this complex.

It was dark but oddly enough we could see dim light in the distance; almost like a room of some sort was ahead.

We slowly advanced along the trickling stream running through the center of the tunnel. We could see that we indeed were coming to a room, which had a tiny bit of natural light coming into it.

Through...a skylight?

Wow...very odd.

It appeared we were in a junction room where several drains merged together…there were three more tunnel openings, but they were all sealed except for one. Some kind of pulley on the ceiling here as well:

We peeked through the rotted broken wood to see a very long corridor full of ferns and junk, lit from above through ceilings that apparently opened up to the sky…

…where the hell were we?!

Bizarre. On the left side of this large room was a steel ladder, and I now felt compelled to climb up it to perhaps get some kind of idea where this tunnel had taken us:

Dungeon Master: "The corridor splits into three passageways. There is also a ladder in this room. Which way do you wish to go, left, right, forward, or up?"


Expecting to pop up inside another mill or reservoir building of some kind, I was completely caught off guard when I came up into a tiny outhouse-sized wooden shack in the middle of a dense forest!

But where the hell were the concrete structures atop our underground water system? How could there be skylighted tunnels running underground here and yet no sign of anything manmade above ground?

I climbed a small wrung ladder built into the short concrete wall surrounding the little hut I’d come out of, and looked out a bit further…I could see that the forest had in fact grown up on top of a vast concrete floor with tons of square holes in it. How completely bizarre...

I looked down into one of the square holes and saw stagnant water. It was a swamp…underneath the forest...separated by a concrete floor…so weird.  I lowered my camera down in to take this shot:

I peered through the woods as I heard Hank coming up out of the tunnels behind me…the square holes seemed to go off into the distance for at least a hundred yards. Wow…

We started to wander out into the dense thicket. This was a lot bigger than it looked…It seemed to be everywhere underneath us…like there was more than just the three tunnels we had seen in the underground room…there had to be at least six that I saw the roofs of here. All running parallel. Plus on the edge of it all ran a concrete trench that had filled with water like a river, and become its own bog:

It felt like we had discovered something that no one else knew about…there was no graffiti, or empty bottles or trash. This was so overgrown and hidden from everything around it that it felt like we had gone through the secret “Warp World” shortcut in Super Mario Bros. It was in severe decay…I was almost afraid to be walking around on top of this for fear it would give in and I would plunge into a subterranean swamp.

This reminded me a lot of the Marlborough Ruins.

Surprisingly, we weren’t being mobbed by mosquitoes—seems like this would be the perfect breeding ground. We both began exploring upstream; I wanted to see where the hell this shit originated from. Would we find a dam?

Well, it kept going…and going. We must’ve walked for about 300 yards before we saw a change in the terrain of square concrete holes.

Finally they dead-ended at an embankment with large concrete slabs jutting out of the forest floor at weird angles. We climbed over those and saw that behind all this was a swamp. It looked like it had been dammed at one time, but had now merely overgrown to a ridiculous extent.

I asked Dave Clark, a knowledgeable colleague on CopperCountryExplorer, and he said,
Believe it or not, I've been in there before. That's supposedly part of the "coal attics"... I guess there was some sort of a conveyor system under all of those crazy cement holes in the ground, which would move coal through the big tunnel and out to the boiler (on the other side of the road). 
If you go far enough back, there's something big that looks like an earthen dam. Perhaps it was an approach for a rail line.
In retrospect, the “coal attic” theory does seem more a little more supported by the evidence than a drain or water supply system I think. But it is curious that the head of the tunnel system is a swamp that appears to be dammed and drained by it, as if it were once a reservoir….

At that point we decided it was about time to head back to civilization and get on the road home. We went through Houghton again, but as we were traveling south going through Chassell, my car started making a funny noise. We figured it was that exhaust rattle again as a result of having knicked the frame on the trail to the Ojibwe. Car still ran fine though…

CLICK for part four.

The Copper Empire, A Historical Atlas of Michigan's Copper Country, by Mike Forgrave
Upper Peninsula of Michigan, An Inventory of Historic Engineering and Industrial Sites, HAER, 1978

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