The great copper mining rush that had invaded most of the Keweenaw’s wild interior was largely absent at the peninsula’s far eastern tip. While throughout the rest of the Copper Country forests were cleared and civilization seeded in its place, the tip of the Keweenaw remained wild and remote. It was this wild and desolate character that prompted the University of Michigan to establish a small rocket firing station here in 1964.
The “Keweenaw Rocket Range” as it was known, was built on a small parcel of lakeshore just north of High Rock Bay. The rockets – under the direction of NASA – carried scientific payloads and studied atmospheric conditions and meteorological phenomenon. The facility originally consisted only a small launch pad and a few metal shacks, but as the site serviced larger and more powerful rockets (specifically the two-stage 100 mile range Niki-Apache variety) the facility was updated and expanded. At its height the rocket range featured an array of tracking equipment, a mobile control center, equipment trailers, rocket assembly and storage building, along with a large concrete launch pad complete with gantry.
The rocket range operated sporadically for several more years, finally closing down in 1971. The facility’s buildings and equipment were removed, and the land turned over to private interests. Today the rocky shoreline surrounding the site is part a 200 acre nature preserve owned by the Nature Conservancy. Rocky outcroppings and scattered islets protect a collection of small agate beaches nestled within several shaded coves. In the distance can be seen the faint silhouette of Manitou Island and the Gull Rock lighthouse.
NOTES: The Keweenaw Rocket Range sits at the far eastern tip of the Keweenaw, accessible by means of several miles of a poorly maintained dirt road that is often rutted, pitted, and flooded in places. The use of a high-clearance vehicle is required to traverse it. The road makes its way right up to the old rocket site, marked by only a few concrete foundations and a piece of the launch gantry. The lake is only a few feet beyond that, down a rocky and rugged beach. Camping, campfires, or ATV’s are not permitted.
DIRECTIONS: From Copper Harbor follow US41 north to its terminus. Continue straight onto Upper Mandan Loop Road and follow the dirt road for another 4.5 miles. Turn left onto High Rock Bay Road and continue for 2.3 miles until arriving at a fork in the road. The rocket range is a half mile down the road to the left.