The following letter was written by Glen E Swanson to Dr. Harold Allen, retired head of the Keweenaw Range, in the fall of 1997 after he had seen the remains of the site.
I don't know if you will recall my name but I approached you about five years ago while doing research on the Keweenaw Peninsula rocket site for my quarterly magazine QUEST. Since a period of time has expired since that research, I thought I would briefly recap what I did. I interviewed you at your home in addition to numerous phone calls which lead to the eventual publication of my article "Spaceport Michigan: When Rockets Flew from the Great Lakes State." In addition to the article appearing in the Summer 1992 issue of Quest, a more extensive piece was also published in an issue of the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society last year (see enclosed copy).
In September of this year, I called you at home and briefly spoke about the research that I had done as well as the latest findings regarding the abandoned site. This past summer, a friend of mine explained to me that a friend of his found the remains of the Keweenaw rocket range. I found it interesting that anything remained of the site and that someone would take the time and effort to search for it. My friend put me in contact with Dale Yeo, the person that found the remains who lives in Laurium, a small town about 15 miles north of Houghton.
I emailed Dale about the site and asked if she would post details of her find. She replied with a journal entry made at the site giving the route and general location relative to U.S. 41. She also sent a set of photos that she took of the remains. The photos depicted two main concrete slabs with the larger of the two distinguished by an arched azimuth rail still attached from the original Nike-Apache launcher. The other slab appeared to be the base of the payload integration building where the payloads were assembled and attached to the two Nike-Apaches prior to launch. There were no other obvious remains in the area.
After a series of email messages back and forth between Dale and myself, I began to make plans to visit the site as part of a Labor Day trip that I had planned for the straights. I initially planned to visit Mackinac Island and participate in the 40th annual Labor Day bridge walk across the Mace- nac Bridge. Having never walked the Mighty Mackinac before and hearing from other friends who have, this was something that I was looking forward to doing. I extended my vacation by one extra day and made a few other changes in my initial plans in order to include time to travel to the Keweenaw Peninsula.
Making plans to visit the rocket range, I contacted Peter Alway about the idea of building a scale model rocket replica of one of the Nike Apaches and bringing it with me to the site to launch from the remains in tribute to the work done there some 26 years ago. Peter is a master model rocket enthusiast who has been involved with the hobby for many years. He has written several books on the subject and contributed the detailed launch vehicle drawings that appeared in my original articles published on the Keweenaw site. It was natural to contact him about my idea of building the scale replicas to fly. He thought it was a great idea and promptly invited me over to his place over the weekend to build it.
During one weekend prior to my trip north, I visited Peter and we scratch built a 1/12 scale replica of the second Nike-Apache (NASA 14.167GI) that was launched from Keweenaw on January 29, 1971. We built the model to be portable, allowing the Apache upper stage to separate from the Nike booster first stage so that we could easily carry it in a backpack. It took us most of the day to build this replica which turned out to be surprisingly accurate. Prior to leaving Pete's place that weekend, he let me borrow one of his scratch built ARCAS rockets if I promised not to fly it. The ARCAS was not built to the same scale as our Nike-Apache but it looked good for photos which I planned on taking at the site.
With rockets in hand, I left work on Thursday evening, September 25 and drove to Mackinac City where I spent the night. On Friday morning September 26, I continued my drive through the UP, stopping at a few recommended used bookstores in Marquette and Houghton. Arriving in Laurium late that afternoon, I met Dale Yeo and we made plans for the weekend hike.
After an evening meal of local pasties and thimbleberries, we loaded our car with mountain bikes and hiking gear to head north. Joining us on the trip was Tim Eisele, a graduate student in miner- alogy at Michigan Tech and his father in law David Hubscher. We drove north past Copper Harbor to the very end/beginning of U.S. 41. Here there is a park marker explaining that this is where U.S. 41 begins and that it ends in Miami some 1,990 miles south. Near this marker is a mileage sign which reads "1,990 miles to Miami." This seems to be a popular photo spot for tourists, especially during the notorious Northern Michigan winters.
At the end of U.S. 41 begins a seasonal road which we drove 5.8 miles north to a junction (N 47"25.996', W 87"45.834'). At this junction, we parked our vehicles, as Dale advised the path ahead was too rough for most vehicles including 4WD. We mounted our packs and got on our mountain bikes. Tim and Dave decided to walk the rest of the way since they had brought their beagle dog with them. They began their hike and so did we. Riding our bikes about 3.5 miles north we approached a fork in the road at N 47degrees 25.825', W 87degrees 43.451'. Dale pointed toward the route we need to take from here to get to the site. After another 1.1 miles of biking we heard the lakeside and made it to the site. Taking a reading from my GPS unit I marked the center of the Nike-Apache launch base at N 47degrees 25.788' W 87degrees 42.866'. We made it to what is left of Spaceport Michigan.
Exploring the immediate area, we found it to be quite desolate. On the Nike Apache launch base, piles of rocks were arranged in an obvious campfire with burnt remains of wood and trash in its periphery. No sooner had we arrived than we heard the noise of several engines. Two ATVs approached and parked near us. The four kids that got out were friendly enough and curious as to why we came out here. After explain the significance of the area, they were quite surprised to know about its history telling us all that they often come out here but never realized what it was. No sooner had they all arrived but they roared off to the next ridge.
As rain clouds began to move in, I went ahead and set up our Nike-Apache model rocket to get it ready for launch. Examining the azimuth rail, I noticed stamped degree marks along the arc. One of the marks had a hole drilled through it which made a perfect spot to place the launch rod. After taking photos and saying a few commemorative words, we gave the countdown and I pushed the firing button. With fingers crossed, the Nike-Apache sailed into the sky from the remains that launched its real cousins some 26 years ago. The recovery system worked and favorable winds blew the rocket to within several feet of the launch point. Taking this as a sign of good luck, I made ready to launch it again, this time with Dale Yeo pushing the ignition switch. Like the first, the rocket flew perfectly until the last fifty feet when a sudden gust and a nearby tree snatched the recovered rocket from our grasp. Fortunately, the tree was easily climbable, and Dale managed to retrieve the wayward rocket. Taking a hint from the tree and the fact that it started to rain, we decided against a third launch and packed up for the hike back.
Prior to leaving, we managed to stuff our mouths with bunches of wild blueberries and thimble- berries found in the area. We even found enough to bring back with us to throw on ice cream... a taste of history so to speak.
On Sunday, I began the drive back to St. Ignace where continued with my vacation to explore Mackinac Island and get ready for the bridge walk on Memorial Day. The end of my trip went as well as the beginning as I arrived back in Grand Rapids to pour over my notes and photos. In closing, I thought that I would provide the above narrative along with copies of several of the photos that I took of our trip to the site so that you might recall the work that was originally done there 26 years ago and to be reminded that it has not been forgotten.
Glen E. Swanson