Trestle Quest

I’m kind of a fan of trains. Or I at least I was when I was young. I wanted to be an engineer, but that was just as the age of steam locomotives was disappearing. Born too little and too late. A big Union Pacific DD40X diesel-electric just would not do, even if DD and 40 and X all together really should make it sound really big and really appealing. But nope, nothing but iron and steam ever had any appeal for me. I eventually had to give up my dream. (I have to wonder exactly what the UP people were thinking with that designation.) I always go to the U.P with high hopes of witnessing and photographing ominous skies and picturesque, towering thunderclouds, but I’m more likely to encounter clear skies punctuated by drenching downpours and clouds of mosquitoes.

Still, I do enjoy all things railroad even now, albeit on a more casual basis than as a prospective career, esp. since my days of being career-oriented are pretty much over. So it was that last month I found myself in Marquette with a history article and a county map book in my hands, looking for Michigan’s highest railroad trestle, the Lake Superior & Ishpeming (LS&I) Railroad’s Dead River span. At 104 feet in height and 565 feet in length, it has to be very impressive.

Spoiler alert: it does look impressive, but I’ll just have to take their word–and this photo–for it.

The article that pointed me to it said, “Viewable in the woods just north of Eagle Mills…” While that is technically true, it’s misleading. Eagle Mills is south of M28/US41 and the trestle is roughly three miles to the northeast, on the far side of that deadly dangerous, high speed Yooper Autobahn. But first I had to figure that out. Again.

I’d looked up the trestle on google earth, so I had an idea of where it is, but of course I didn’t bother to refresh my memory before trying to come at it from the north via county road 510, which starts south a few miles south of Big Bay, which I had visited first that morning. From there, following county maps, I found myself somehow going northwest on one-lane dirt logging trails. Northwest?!? What the…??? I should have been heading southeast! I had envisioned following 510 more or less straight south toward M28/US41 where I expected I would cross the LS&I tracks and Bob’s yer uncle, I would be able to hike straight to the trestle. I only determined later that what looked like rails on the county map was just a boundary line of some sort. 510 does not cross the LS&I tracks. After backtracking many miles I managed to at least get in the right neighborhood, which is west of Marquette, but then I was also back on 510 again, just at its south end… where I lost the scent.

I did, however, pull into a parking area beside the Dead River and walked a trail that led me across the river on a decommissioned single-lane bridge, but I quickly gave up that attempt after less than a mile or so.

The next day I changed up my approach to cruise around Eagle Mills, looking for railroad tracks– which I found, but which led me even further astray for a while. At least I knew I was on the right track (so to speak) when I found the LS&I RR bridge going north over M28/US41.

Some time later I at least got myself back on the north side of the Dead River again, and wound my way east through a rural community of scattered houses, ranging from hovels to modest estates, until I had the opportunity to stop and ask a local. He and his highly enthusiastic kid directed me to the end of the road, where the tracks are, telling me I could see it by walking the rails for about a three-quarters of a mile (or 10 miles, or maybe a hundred, according to the kid). I suggested that might not be wise, he said, yes, it is illegal, but “we do it all the time.” I won’t say that I gave it try, and, since I didn’t ask which way to go, I definitely will not admit to walking for at least a mile in the (obviously, in retrospect) wrong direction before giving up and turning back. Didn’t happen. I swear to Dog. (However, if someone did want to do that, they’d have to follow the tracks the other way, i.e., south, rather than north, and brave doing it with a radio-connected, commercial-grade critter cam strapped to a tree bearing witness to the crime. I debated long and hard before just giving it up for the day.)

The next day I had a great idea. Toss away the county maps and just google Dead River RR trestle! Google helpfully anticipated what I was looking for, and filled in the name for me faster than I could type it on my phone, probably because it had been following me on my quest, patiently sitting in its holster, stewing in the background, waiting passive-aggressively for me to break down and come to my senses and just ask it pretty please for the damn directions. I will forgive it for that. And hope it forgave me. Though I’m not sure yet.

So google took me to a little residential cul-de-sac where it said I could park my car and hike a short way into the woods. Unfortunately, the little residential cul-de-sac is populated by houses on private property, which was confirmed by a local resident on one such property. (This wasn’t a contentious encounter, I was asking before attempting a trespass. I did not trespass.) This resident suggested a different approach, which was to go back to M28/US41, park in the cemetery there, and…. walk the tracks. Again? Not that I did the first time, right? And once again I investigated, gave it long consideration, and renewed my solemn vow to not get myself caught, cuffed, arrested, hauled before a judge, prosecuted, jailed and fined during my week in Marquette. Railroad bulls can be tough, their bosses unforgiving, the judicial system sternly dedicated and sometimes even very efficient.

As near as I can tell, the easiest legal way to view the trestle would be to float down the Dead River in a boat or kayak or something. I don’t have any of those. (Do you? Can I borrow it?) On the other hand, looking at google earth again just now, I can see other possibilities that might have to try, little service roads and paths through the woods that may or may not be restricted railroad property…. maybe next year.

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