One of my “bucket list trips” is to drive the entire length of US Route 2 from the East Coast to the West Coast. Not necessarily in one trip, but to have been able to drive the length of that highway as the opportunity affords itself.
Route 2 is one of the longest continuous highways in the continental United States, spanning 2,571 miles and is also the northernmost US numbered route in the country. The western segment of US 2 extends from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan across the northern tier of the lower 48 states. Most of the western route was built roughly paralleling the Great Northern Railway. US 2 adopted the railway’s route nickname “The Hi-Line” as the most northern crossing in the U.S.
On this trip to Montana, I chose to drive north to Ironwood, Michigan (see the first leg of the trip here if you missed it) and use that as my starting point for the trip westward on US Route 2 since it represents the western end of the Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I would then traverse across Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota and a good part of Montana all the way to US Route 89 near Glacier National Park.
Ironwood also has a number of unique things to see including a giant Hiawatha statue which is touted to be the biggest Native American Indian statue in the United States. They also have some nice murals and a few other unique things to see, so this would be how I started my day off.
As the name implies, Ironwood is a town that was settled due to iron mining. It’s history goes back to the 1800s. There are a couple of monuments to the iron workers in this town including a beautiful mural with paintings of the faces of almost 100 of the former iron workers. There is also a nice chainsaw carved sculpture in front of the old train station.
According to roadsideamerica.com, Ashland artists Kelly Meredith and Sue Martinsen spent over four years researching and painting the mural, which depicts over 100 real miners. It was unveiled on June 16, 2012, and proved so popular as a photo-op that in 2013 the city created a car-free zone in front of the mural.
Perhaps the biggest drawing card is the aforementioned Hiawatha statue which stands 52 feet tall in the midst of a park in town. I have been to many tall statues over the years including the Green Giant in Blue Earth, Minnesota (55 feet), the 15 foot tall Superman statue in Metropolis, Illinois, and of course the giant “Salem Sue” cow statue in New Salem, North Dakota (38 ft tall, 55 foot long), among others. But this Hiawatha was quite amazing. It was built by Gordon Displays of St. Paul, Minnesota and erected in 1964, so it is quite a long-running Roadside attraction. It was made totally out of fiberglass and weighs 18,000 pounds. Amongst the “big things” of this country’s unique tourist attractions, this is certainly one of the bigger ones.
Ironwood also has one of those classy looking theater fronts at the Historic Ironwood Theatre. A drive around the town also shows a number of vintage motel neon signs, which are always of interest to the seasoned back roads traveler.
As I left Ironwood, I made sure to get the requisite selfie with the Welcome to Wisconsin sign (one of 100 planned selfies on this trip!)
By morning I was well on my way westward on US Route 2 traversing across the birch forests and farmland of northern Wisconsin.
As I neared WI 169 I saw a sign to Copper Falls State Park. There was no distance noted, so I made a left and headed down the road towards Gurney, WI. Great drive, but after about 8 miles I figured it was too far, so I headed back. I had wanted to head to Copper Falls because a verse of my friend Antsy McClain‘s song Field Trip.
Back on US Route 2 on continuing west one enters the Bad River Reservation, which is the home of the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa Tribe. After driving past the Bad River Casino and the very small town of Odanah (pop 13), I came across a most unique “Collectibles Shop” on the side of the road. This is one of those really unique “junk all over everything” places. In some ways it is another form of Americana Art as far as I am concerned. Here are a few shots of the place….which some research showed me was Boudreau’s Antiques and Collectibles with an Ashland, WI address (65782 Hwy 2).
Once I left Boudreau’s and headed further west I could see Lake Superior to my right (north) and seagulls were everywhere. Definitely near water!
Ashland, Wisconsin sits on the shore of Lake Superior and is a nice little town with numerous brownstone buildings. It is also called the “Mural Capital of Wisconsin” due to its 13 wonderful murals. It is also the gateway to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. The Lakeshore features 21 islands and 12 miles of mainland and hosts a unique blend of cultural and natural resources.
The Ashland Mural Walk offers some amazing work by Ashland mural artists Kelly Meredith and Susan Prentice-Martinsen. They have also done murals in Ironwood, MI and other spots in northern Wisconsin. The first of their murals is a three story tall mural called the Asaph Whittlesey mural, which was completed in 1998.
The next mural is actually a set of three along the same wall and is called the Ellis Avenue Historical Mural and features three famous redstone buildings including Northland College’s Wheeler Hall, Ashland High School and the Knight Hotel. these were apparently completed in 2012.
In 2007 the artists painted the “The Bus Stop Waitresses,” which I actually enjoyed quite a bit as it is somewhat whimsical.
The next one is quite large and is called the Ore Dock Mural. This mural depicts the Ashland Ore Dock, which was built in 1916. The top portion of the mural is a “to scale” painting of the ore dock itself, including every properly numbered ore chute. The lower section includes 21 “postcards” telling the history of the varied uses of the structure over the years.
Another extensive mural is the “Veteran’s Mural” which runs along the side of the old Bay Theatre. This mural features 41 veterans and all the veterans painted in the mural are actual people from the area.
Another nice mural is the “Lighthouse Mural.” Completed in 2000, the mural depicts three Apostle Island lighthouses and their “keepers.”
A smaller yet unique mural is the “Dhooghe’s Store Mural” on the front of the Chequamegon Food Co-op building in Ashland.
Finally, there is the “Lumberjack Mural.” This one was also completed in 2000 and depicts some of the men (and one woman) of Ashland’s lumber era.
Due to all of the murals, some other shops have gotten in on the action and done their own. The one below was quite colorful and was in a back alley.
But murals are not the only attraction in Ashland. Like many small towns, they still have their old theatre front, in this case, the Bay Theater.
On the wet end of town is a nice park on the shores of the lake and I had to get a couple more seagull shots…
After a 30 minute stopover in Ashland, it was time to get moving so I continued west on US Route 2. Not too far out of town I cam across Pagac’s Bar on the south side of the road. The drawing card here was the robotic looking Green Bay Packer quarterback made out of scrap metal and a keg. Pretty unique.
Continuing west on Route 2 I came to the small town of Iron River, WI. This small town also had a huge mural by the same artists that did the Ashland murals. They began this project in 2006 sponsored by the Iron River Lion’s Club.
Continuing west the drive was lovely as it took me into the small community of Blueberry, WI
Not too much further down the road I came into Maple, WI and discovered a wonderful place called Grizz Works. This place does chain saw and wood work and has some fabulous pieces. I stopped and spoke with Justin Howland, the owner. He was very pleasant and amenable. In fact, I will be doing a separate post just for them. But here are a couple of shots…
US Route 2 out of Maple eventually heads into Superior, WI, which is the end of the road in Wisconsin. Just before town is one of those offbeat eateries…this one is called Gronk’s Grill and Bar. This is one of thos places that has a Burger Challenge (which I did not try….but would have liked to have….) . Called the Great Divide Challenge, it involves eating 8 pounds’ worth of burger and fries. The first person to accomplish this was a woman!! It was named after the Great Divide (which is south of Superior and not visited on this trip).
After fun at Gronk’s it was back on the road and to the bridge crossing over into Minnesota.