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Keweenaw Rocket Range

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Area map of the NASA rocket range

An area map showing the Keweenaw (keé-wa-naw) Peninsula, Canadian border and the NASA site.

Probably the greatest thing about geocaching is that it takes you places you would otherwise never know about or go to. Our September 2012 trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan took us to some wild and wooly territory.  It’s not the kind of place where you would expect to find an abandoned NASA rocket launch facility, but there is one – and of course, somebody put a geocache there.  We went to check it out.

In 1962 the University of Michigan proposed a launch site near the center of the North American continent. This would fill in a gap in the US Army’s Meteorological Rocket Network. Following a survey of available sites a location on the Keweenaw Peninsula in Lake Superior was selected. The site was in use from 1964-1971.

The site was to be mainly used in the winter, in order not to endanger shipping on the lake. The first launches were made from a portable telescoping tower of ARCAS sounding rockets in August of 1964. In 1970-1971 NASA launched two Nike-Apache sounding rockets from the site and was preparing to launch surplus Redstone rockets (the same ones that launched the Mercury astronauts).  The Canadian government protested these much larger rockets being fired so close to their border.  The site was abandoned and never used again.  It definitely qualifies as off the beaten path.

I started wondering about the who what when where of the site.  When did they do this?  Who was it?  What did they launch? What happened to it?  Nobody seemed to know much about the place, so I went looking.  I found a bunch of stuff and learned a few things in the process, not all of them rocket related.

This is a photo post with background info in the captions.  Most of the rocket talk came from the Encyclopedia Astronautica.  Enjoy.

NASA launch site

This grainy newspaper photo gives a good overhead view of the site. There was nothing permanent here except concrete slabs. The telemetry vans near the top of the photo were dragged in by bulldozer for each launch. The missile storage building is down near the water’s edge. At the bottom of the photo is the shoreline of Lake Superior/Keweenaw Point.

Rockets

This schematic shows the types of rockets that were fired from the site. All were sounding rockets used for research. A sounding rocket is an instrument-carrying rocket designed to take measurements and perform scientific experiments during its sub-orbital flight. The rockets are used to carry instruments from 10 to 130 miles above the surface of the Earth, the altitude generally between weather balloons and satellites.

ARCAS launch

A photo of an ARCAS launch, date unknown. ARCAS stands for All-Purpose Rocket for Collecting Atmospheric Soundings. The ARCAS was a pop gun compared to the Nike but was used extensively from 1960 to 1990. It could also be launched from buoys in the water. The single-stage rocket could lift a 12 pound payload 10 miles up.

Nike Apache Launch

A Nike-Apache launch in 1970. The Nike Apache was a two-stage sounding rocket used to carry a variety of payloads for a wide variety of subjects including radio astronomy, meteorology, aeronomy, atmospheric conditions, plasma physics, and solar physics. The maximum payload weight was 80 lbs and the maximum altitude about 125 miles. A total of 636 of them were launched worldwide between 1961 and 1978. Two of those were launched at Keweenaw Point in 1970 and 1971. Those were the site’s last launches.

Ground Zero for the Keweenaw geocache

This pad is where the launch in the previous picture occurred and is Ground Zero for the cache. This particular cache is a virtual geocache, meaning you have to get somewhere and find out about something that is already there. There’s no box to find. The lake shore is just beyond the trees.

Mission accomplished. We had to get a picture of the marker with our GPS in sight. The drive out here was long and treacherous. The last two miles is an ATV trail which we deftly negotiated with our Saturn Vue. The metal band behind the marker was part of the Nike launch assembly.

Keweenaw Point

Keweenaw Point. This is as far as you can go on the Upper Peninsula. Off in the distance is Manitou Island. It has a lighthouse on the far right hand side. This is one of the most treacherous stretches of water in the Great Lakes. When a ship transits Lake Superior, it has to make five major course corrections. Keweenaw Point is one of them. The rocks and shoals here have claimed many ships over the years. In fact, the rocks in the lower left hand corner of this photo are a wreck site. The steamship “Scotia” met its doom at this very spot on October 24, 1884, driven into the rocks by a storm. The crew survived. The waves broke the ship apart. The bow section hung here for two years. The stern sank in ten feet of water. A salvage company cut her up for scrap, leaving only a skeleton. Parts of it lie 150 feet offshore. It is a popular dive site since you can do a shore dive. There are two other steamship wrecks that can be dove on from here – the City of Bangor and the Altadoc.

Propeller from the Scotia

Here’s one last bit of maritime trivia. This is one of two propellers from the aforementioned “Scotia”. Salvaged off the lake bottom in the 1960’s, it now sits on display on the grounds of the Copper Harbor Lighthouse. The ship had two props. Presumably, one of them is still out there.

That’s it until next time.   Hope you liked it and/or learned something.  We sure did.

Cheers …. Boris and Natasha

Back in the Saddle Again

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Hi again,

As you’ve no doubt noticed, I haven’t posted in a while.  I got to a point at the beginning of the summer where I was burned out with all this web and blog stuff.  I was trying to post too much too quickly about too many things. It wasn’t fun any more, so I walked away.  I really wasn’t sure if I’d be back.

We did a lot of cool stuff this summer. In addition to welcoming our new grand daughter, we cruised the back roads of my native Pennsylvania and just got back from exploring Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (where the yoopers live).  And of course, we criss-crossed Minnesota and Wisconsin in our never ending quest for geocaches, out-of-the-way places and non-chain restaurants.  I took lots of pictures with my new Nikon D3100 and constantly thought “This would be a great blog entry” but I never got around to it.

Sideling Hill Turnpike Tunnel

Here’s one of our excursions from the summer of 2012. This is the eastern end of the Sideling Hill Tunnel on an abandoned section of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. I grew up not far from here and remember driving on this stretch of road.  It finally got too congested and they bypassed it in the late 60’s.  The 22 mile track has two tunnels. The other one is Ray’s Hill about five miles west. The entire stretch is open for biking although it is not a formal bike trail. This was the longest tunnel built on the turnpike – 6,017 feet long. That’s why you can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. You need to have flamethrower headlights to negotiate this one. There were geocaches in, around and above the tunnels. We got some but not all.  They were tough and it was really hot.  The tunnel is nice and cool inside and a cool wind blows out of it constantly, much to Natasha’s delight.

I got the bug again a few weeks ago.  Since then, I’ve been busy getting my web house in order.   The main improvement here is a better sidebar.  After experimenting with widgets for a while, I came up with a combination I like.  It puts a lot more information at the reader’s fingertips and has clear, self-explanatory titles and buttons.  You can mouse over a link to get even more information about the content. 

Be sure to checkout the new Geocaching Storefront widget, where you can find most of the stuff we talk about in our instructional posts. BTW, I don’t get paid for anything. If you see something listed anywhere in this blog, it’s because we use it and like it.

You’ll also find a new keyword search widget based on the tag cloud.  It’s got a little introduction above it.  It resolves the dilemma I had about new material rapidly getting buried and good stuff essentially disappearing.  I think I’ve fixed that.  I’ve tested it and it works like a charm.

The blog content will be shorter, less involved stuff – instructions, reviews, pictures, etc.  No more long rambling posts .  I’ve got some catching up to do.  There are a couple of series I started like Top 10 Geocaches and Intro to Geocaching that I never completed.  They go to the head of the list.  I’ve also got a lot of new stuff from our summer travels.  Among our best finds – abandoned Civil War trenches in the middle of nowhere in Pennsylvania, a NASA rocket launch base at the  very tip of Michigan’s Keweenaw (Upper) Peninsula and a great tavern in Prescott, WI called The Brickyard.  We’ll let you in on all of it.

Outer stockade at Fort Ligonier

Another one of our excursions this summer – the fully restored Fort Ligonier in Ligonier, PA. A British fort during the French and Indian War, it guarded the Forbes Road to Pittsburgh and Fort Pitt. It was attacked twice but held both times. As you can see, it is a formidable position. What you don’t see is the inner walls, moat and redoubts behind the outer stockade. It also bristled with cannons, mortars and swivel guns. The Loyalhanna River ran right along the base of the rocks back then but was re-routed when Route 30 (the Lincoln Highway) was built almost 100 years ago.

Our companion website has a new URL – exploreoffthebeatenpath.com.  It will have the longer, more involved stuff.  My current project is the 1862 Dakota War here in Minnesota.  What?  You thought  Minnesota was settled by Micheal Landon and Melissa Gilbert during Little House on the Prairie? You didn’t know the largest Indian war in U.S. history was fought here? That’s alright.  Nobody else does either.  I’ll let you know when it’s published.

I’ll be moving up previous posts from the series I started and cross linking them so they don’t get lost. The four or five instructional posts on Introduction to Geocaching will be permanent pages linked at the top of the home screen.  That way, they’re always available and easy to find.    This housekeeping may take a few days, so bear with me.

Thanks to all who have commented, followed and liked.  There’s lots more to come.

Best ….. Dan

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