The Tahquamenon Falls Riverboat Tour & Toonerville Trolley Wilderness Train Ride are owned and operated by Captain Kris Stewart and his wife Dixie(who keeps everything and everyone running smoothly). The Riverboat Tour is the exclusive ride to the Upper Tahquamenon Falls. After arriving via the Toonervile Trolley board the riverboat for a 21 mile cruise of the Tahquamenon River. Enjoy all the wildlife and nature that only Upper Peninsula can offer.
The Train Ride on the Toonerville Trolley takes you on the longest and one of the oldest 24 inch gauge railroads in the country. Take a 5 1/2 mile ride through the wilderness of the Upper Peninsula. Be on the lookout for Black Bear, Coyotes, Sandhill Cranes, Grouse and Deer just to name a few, and a possibility of a wolf or moose sighting.
Michael and I have enjoyed many a trip with Captain Kris who has run this Riverboat Tour for twenty-nine years. He shares his knowledge of wildlife and nature along with a historical commentary of the area as he navigates the river. We have shared our love of photography and nature which lead to where we are now- in a 'bear blind' along the tracks of the Toonerville Trolley.
Kris and Dixie have opened their arms and their property to us. They have taken extra pains and shared their valuable time to help us prepare the blind. Words cannot express our gratitude for their kindness and generosity.
So we are glad to share our experiences and photography with all of you. Hope you enjoy! If you get a chance check out their website www.trainandboattours.com or check them out on Facebook-Tahquamenon Falls Riverboat Tour and the FamousToonerville Trolley Train Ride. We will be sharing photos with them to use on their sites-so enjoy!
Soo Junction Journal May 3, 2011
At 5:00am Michael and I picked up Roger Dickinson, neighbor/friend, who came along to help Michael cut brush along the tracks of the Toonerville Trolley in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Owners, Kris and Dixie Stewart, are generous enough to let us cut back brush so we get a clearer view of the tracks further to the north. Dixie even came along to help especially if the bears got too friendly.
We arrived around 8:30. Dixie was already there but we were waiting for Kris and his right hand man, Clarence, to get there. They were going back to work on the riverboat. We waited and waited and waited. Dixie, finally, said we needed to go. Glad we did because the guys had to wait for a part till after 12:00.
We were also glad Dixie decided to come along because the tracks were covered by water and this morning with ice. She and Michael had to get off a couple of times to give the speeder a little nudge. As we approached our blind we saw Goofette with her yearling cubs, Ole and Lena. They kept their distance but still enjoyed the treats we brought them. We were also visited by a momma and her single yearling cub. Dixie had a young second year male approaching her. She told him to go but he ran faster toward her. She finally flagged him down and got him to head back in the other direction. We weren’t there for photo ops. The last thing we want is for these bears to think human equal food. We want them to think speeder equals food. Finally before we left we spotted a big male down near the first feeding station. He left as quickly as he arrived.
All in all it was a very worthwhile trip. Thank you Roger and Dixie for all of your hard work. It will pay off with better photos ops come this summer.
Soo Junction May 8, 2011
Dixie and Kris were back at the cabin for the weekend so we decide to take Sunday to go visit our blind on the tracks of the ToonervilleTrolley. We didn’t get there till around1:00. We had taken a hike around Seney National Wildlife Refuge in the morning to see what was happening there. It is not officially open until May 15, 2011.
The tracks were not as covered with water has they had been earlier I the week, thank goodness. We had the momma and single yearling at the first station. But we continued down to our blind. It was a little overcast and windy (which was good for keeping the bugs away).
We got settled in then waited and waited. Finally we had bear down at the third station. First one then two yearlings then finally big momma. It was Goofette and the kids. It was so cute to watch Ole and Lena stood up and wrestled with each other. Then after they got worn out they laid down like dogs do and eat the corn that Dixie and Kris had left them. After they got bored with that they sauntered down to the goods we had brought them.
It is so cute to watch them. They are just like a human family with all the dynamics that go on. Lena cut through the woods, Ole came right down the tracks and momma hid in just out of sight to keep an eye out for trouble.
After the kids had their fill they headed down to the next feeding station. Momma Goofette came out of her hiding hole quickly grabbed one, two, three, four then five donuts and trotted down the tracks after her two adolescents. She acted just like all mothers do, wait on the kids first then gobble down what is left then run after the little buggers!!
We can’t wait till the mothers with the little cubs finally come across the river. The bears den up on the high ground then make their way back to Toonerville in the Spring. Unfortunately, the river has been especially high so our mommas our being wise and waiting for the river to subside a bite. We think the matriarch Bonnie and one of her older offspring Beulah should have cubs this year. Time will tell.
Soo JunctionJune 5, 2011 Well, we headed out around 8:30 am on a beautiful morning to see what sights we could see on the tracks of the Toonerville Trolley. We took a couple of bags (garbage size) as treats Johann’s bakery in Boyne City for our sweet toothed friends the black bears who call Toonerville home. As we neared our blind we found Goofette and her yearling cubs Ole & Lena in their favorite spot in front of our blind. Michael left treats at station #2 then we continued on to our blind. We caught glimpses of them in and out of station #2. But they never came down to see us. L The ravens were causing all kinds of ruckus down there. We did have a Sandhill crane come off of the logging trail to investigate what we had brought. We could see small bears at different times coming out to the tracks then back in. This happened several times but mainly we waited…and waited…and waited. Finally, when we decided we would head out to see what was up at the Refuge, a very small yearling decided to come see what we had to offer. She even was running poor thing in the heat of the day which bear do not like. But if it had to choose between heat and bugs, the heat won out. The bugs were swarming all over the tiny bear. You had to feel sorry for her. She was indeed very tiny for a yearling. Her coat was not the healthy luster of Ole and Lena’s nor was anywhere near their size. When she got to the donuts she scarfed down what she could fit into her tiny body.She was there for quite a while until another young yearling possibly her brother (he was bigger) came down to get in on the action. He, too, ate for a while then sauntered off down the logging trail. After that things got quiet again so we packed up and headed down to say ‘hi’ to Kris and Dixie. Right before we got to the cabin we spotted the sandhill crane baby Dixie had told us about. It was under a tree hiding in the brush. Its momma was on the other side of us acting like she had injured herself. This is how they try to get the attention away from the young. How sweet! Kris was in the boat painting the bilge. She had just come in for a quick bite to eat from painting the decks. We visited for a while and showed her the pictures of the ‘new’ bears in Toonerville. She didn’t recognize them either. We headed out to the depot, as we looked back near our blind, out stepped Ms. Bonnie, the matriarch of the Black Bears of the Toonerville Trolley. We figured she would enjoy the few donuts that were left behind by the two young yearlings. She does enjoy her sweets! We will be back after the Tahquameon Falls Riverboat ride and Toonerville Trolley train ride open up for the season June 15th. So hope to see you all there on the tracks of Toonerville Trolley!! Be sure and wave as you go by!!
Soo Junction Journal July 23, 2011
It is a gorgeous day as we head to film and photography black bear on the tracks of the Toonerville Trolley at Soo Junction. It is sunny, breezy and 70 degrees. It doesn’t get much better than this.
As we head in we have a pair of Sandhill cranes just down from our blind. We settle in, waiting for the crew to come through.
We don’t have long to wait before we spot Beulah with her three little cubs!! She comes across from the east to station #2. They mess around a little then disappear back to the east side of the tracks. We were in hopes of them showing back up but…no luck.
We have a young coyote that comes trotting in from the north. Unfortunately, the crew comes in and spooks it before it gets close enough to us for some good shots.
Mr. Buck Levasseur, from Discovering Michigan is with the crew. He is retracing his shows first steps from thirty years ago when he started. He is taking the riverboat ride this morning then we are going with Dixie to pick him up. Then we will stay ahead of the riverboat as it makes its way back up the river to the dock to photograph it for a new brochure cover.
After the crew goes through we have two beautiful bucks come out to the north of us to eat the corn that they dumped out. We watch them for some time just enjoying their beauty.
We have lots of noisy ravens and turkey vultures at #2 eating whatever the crew dropped off. The coyote worked in and out amongst them for a good part of the morning.
As the morning train makes its way down the tracks a jack rabbit pops out to nibble on a donut.
We have a pair of eagles that swoop in and out of #2 snatching bits of meat.
We were entertained all morning with one thing or another; black bears, coyotes, bucks, rabbit, squirrel, ravens, turkey vultures, sandhill cranes and ravens.
After the noon train came through we got on the speeder and headed back to the river. Dixie was selling her wares and helping little ones to sit in the engine to get their pictures taken (and blow the horn).
We then got on the fishing boat and head to the Tahquamenon Falls to meet up with the riverboat. Dixie sped down the river stopping to let us get shots of the riverboat along the way. We had a sweet ride! We took the afternoon train back to the station. It could not have been a more perfect day!!
Soo Junction Journal August 8, 2011
We get up early to break camp so we can leave for home when we are done at the Toonerville.
We hope to finally catch a shot or two of Beulah and her three cubs. The weather is beautiful. Sunshine, clear skies and 60’s as we enter the depot.
We head out before crew even gets to work. We have made some special PBJ’s for the little ones!
We are greeted by Goofette who is north of our blind near the corn. She comes toward us as we get ourselves settled. But she dodges into the brush to return a little later down at station #2. She eats a little of what we put out then waits for the crew by the edge of the tracks. She once again dodges in as crew goes by then right back out to see why they didn’t leave her anything.
We spy Beulah with her cubs down near station #1, that doesn’t bode well for us.
We are entertained by the Sandhill cranes, ravens and button bucks. We have screaming and chattering eagles nearby but can’t see them to tell what the problem is.
Just before the morning train comes in we get a surprise visit from Beulah and her three adorable cubs!! They walk down from station #2 to see what we have. We ‘hansel & greteled’ the PBJs down near our blind. They made it as far down as the donut pile before the train sent them back into the brush. We thought that was probably the end of it when they didn’t come right back out. But that was ok, at least, we got some footage of them.
We had the Sandhills doing their dance etc to the north of us. Then they had a surprise visit from a great blue heron of all things right there in the middle of the tracks. Strange!
We also had a doe and her two fawn and two other deer farther down to the north. An eagle also soared near the blind to the north of us. Sweet.
Surprise again, just when I told Michael there was nothing more on the tracks, Beulah and the babies came back for more treats. They ate till the noon train came through then that was it for the rest of the day, as far as we know. We called it quits shortly after the noon train headed back to the depot.
It was a super day on the Tracks of the Toonerville Trolley!!
Soo Junction Journal August 15, 2011
A gorgeous day!! Sunshine 50 degrees with some ground fog. We arrive at Soo Junction before 8:00 am. to get ready to head back to our ‘bear’ blind.
We are greeted at #1 station by a beautiful mature bald eagle!! I got some great shots of him before heading on.
We were then greeted by a pair of Sandhill cranes just north of our blind. We had a quiet morning until after the crew went back to the riverboat.
Our momma bear came out of #2 station around 10:00 with her three little ones. She started to head down toward us but then turned and went zigzagging in and out to #1 station.
After the morning train came through she reappeared at #2 and immediately headied in a beeline straight to us!!! The three little bears were having a fun time stopping and popping up on their hind legs then galloping after their momma again.
When they got down to us and their treats they stayed long enough to devour almost every morsel. The cubs got too hot in the sun and took their treats into the ferns to finish them. How cute!!
Momma eventually got up and headed into where the little ones were. That was the last we saw of them for the rest of the afternoon.
We did have one doe, two small bucks and our two big bucks come out at different times to the north of us to feed on corn. Also a broad-winged hawk and lots of blue jays, ravens and crows paid us visits throughout the day.
Soo Junction/Toonerville Trolley Journal August 22, 2011
We were up by 6:30am to head to Soo Junction to hope for a glimpse of our momma and her three little bears. We had a glimpse of a young bear around station #2 before crew came back but that was it.
After the crew came through we were excited when the big male bear that has been terrorizing the females and young one came sauntering out of station #2. As luck would have it he came right down the tracks towards us.
On the other side of blind came a young coyote on the run. When he saw the bear he dodged into the brush. Lo and behold, the coyote showed up right behind the bear. It was quite entertaining to watch the dancing back and forth of the bear and the coyote as they vied for the tidbits along the way.
Eventually the big boy settled in to feed while the coyote waited patiently. The big male eventually strutted off into the bush. The coyote played musical donuts. He would grab and disappear, then back again, to disappear again.
In the meantime we had our two big bucks come out to feed to the north of the blind. Sandhill cranes came in around the bucks. The coyote came going back and forth on either side of the blind and behind the blind. What a fun morning!
Just when we figured we had seen it all…to the north of us Momma B and her three little bears came out from the west side of the tracks. Yeah!!! They came quickly down the tracks until one of the cubs caught a glimpse of the coyote and dashed into the brush followed by its siblings. Momma just kept coming. The babies eventually caught up with her in time to eat some goodies.
We the goodies were gone on that side of our blind the momma started to come down toward the speeder and our blind but got nervous and went back. Before long she decided it was fine and headed down by the blind. All of a sudden one of the cubs(the one with the blaze on its chest) scooted up a tree!!! Sweet!! I was able to get some shots before it came down to join the rest of them as they walked by the blind.
The cubs were still skittish so they would grab a donut then crash into the bushes. A couple of them even climbed up another tree but there was too much brush to photograph them.
Not long after that momma decided she had had enough and headed back down the trail to the west of us taking her offspring with her.
What a great day!! And the morning train hadn’t even gone through yet!
The morning train came through with a nice happy looking crowd ready to enjoy the beautiful day.
We decided we would leave around noon but just about that time another smaller bear popped out of #2. We waited for it to come out again but…. no show. So we packed up and headed out with lots of great footages and memories.
Soo Junction Journal August 27, 2011
It is a beautiful morning with the sun rising in the morning mist. We head out to check out the black bears on the tracks of the Toonerville Trolley at Soo Junction. It is 57 degrees so really quite a mild morning. We get our treats packed up and head off to our blind before 8:00am.
We settle in hoping for a fraction of the activity we had on Monday. Unfortunately, we waited and waited and waited for something to happen. Five Sandhill cranes flew in north of us but flew off before the crew even came through. The crew came and went with only a few ravens and crows making much of a fuss.
A flock of 25 or more blue jays were giving a Merlin fits. We finally had a doe and two fawns cross the tracks near #2 heading to the east. They were acting very skittish.
We had a broad-winged hawk trying to get a red squirrel. It showed up a couple of times so we were able to get a couple of shots of it.
The black billed cuckoo was back, too. No make that a juvenile black billed cuckoo. Sweet they had a baby! While we were watching it, it nabbed a caterpillar of some kind from a leaf and flew off with it.
Well, the train came and went…and still nothing! Just when we were about to give up, Michael spotted a bear clear down at #1, then another and another and, yes, another. Momma B and her brood were headed toward #2 as fast as their little legs could carry them. They didn’t even stop at #2 to check, they just ran right down to where we had their treats waiting for them.
They fed for a while, the little ones taking their treats into the brush to eat. Momma finally got up and went into where the little ones were never to show back up. So they had gotten their fill and were content to stay out of the hot sun for the rest of the afternoon.
We did have an eagle soar over us and a few turkey vultures but that was it. We called it a day at 1:30 and headed back to the depot.
Michelle informed us that Dixie found more moose tracks around the depot area again! Hopefully, it will hang out in the area long enough for us to film it.
Soo Junction Journal September 4, 2011
We decided to head up Saturday night after Noel’s Highland Dance Competition. We arrived at Soo Junction around 10:00pm. By the time we got the goodies unloaded and the trailer set up it was about 11:00pm. We had just settled down to bed when it started to rain. It rained most of the night. But when the alarm went off at 7:00am the sun was rising!
We got back to the blind about 8:00am. We were greeted by the bald eagle at number one. We had a female coyote pay us a visit us first from the north. She came down and got some donuts. She was real jumpy. And she did not like the bagels!! She popped in and out then headed back to the north. Sandhills were feeding to the north of us, too.
We got our first glimpse of the Momma Blaze and her cubs around 9:00am before crew came through. They came down to us and were enjoying their goodies. Crew came through about 9:20. First one cub stood up then Momma then another and finally the last one stood up. It was so cool, all four standing watching the crew come down the tracks. They popped into the woods to the east. We thought they might come back out but…no such luck.
A big bruiser of a male came out of two went into the woods to the east before long he came out of the logging trail just to the south of us. First we thought it was Crooked Nose but after looking at photos he is much bigger and thicker in the neck. He also has a white spot under his neck. He licked at the sweet rolls and nibbled the good stuff off then sauntered back down the logging trail to the east.
Around 10:30 Momma Blaze and her cubs came back out on the track. They were heading to number one. We hoped that they would be around for the train to see. Well, after finding nothing at one they headed back toward us. Before they got to us, the train came through. Momma Blaze went and sat down by the tracks waiting for them!! It was so darn cute to see. One of the cubs popped out for a minute, too. They didn’t come back out though. So we waited. We did have the bald eagles fly down the tracks which was cool.
The coyote came back down from the north to entertain us again. We had a doe come out of two and pop in and out of the trail to the east. Then just before the noon train came through Momma Blaze and her cubs came back out at number two. They were making their way down to us but stopped to sit by the tracks to wait for the train. Dixie was on board with a bag of goodies. Momma Blaze would stop and sit then run a little ways with the cubs. She finally sat and waited with the cubs standing up to see what was happening. As the train got closer they all popped into the woods to the east. Dixie dumped her bag of goodies and Momma Blaze instantly came back out on the tracks to eat them. The people were able to get some good shots of them which was so cool!!
Well, we were going to run the speeder back so Dixie could have it but…with Momma Blaze and the cubs around we decided to stay. It was a good thing we did, they came out to eat and we were able to get some good photos and footage of them!! As soon as the train went back out, we got on the speeder so Dixie could get back to the landing before the boat got back.
It was a great day on the tracks of the Toonerville Trolley once again!! The weather held out for us, too. It didn’t start raining until we were packed up and heading out.
Soo Junction Journal September 12, 2011
We woke up to a foggy morning. We hope it will lift by the time we get to Soo Junction.
Unfortunately, it looks like the fog is here for a while. We had a Cooper’s Hawk visit us but too foggy for a good shot of it.
The sandhill cranes were on the tracks to the south and north of us. We had ravens, blue jays, merlins etc squawking all around. A coyote came from the south but never came any further then number 2.
Finally, the train came through at around 11:00. Shortly after it went through, the fog started to lift. Then out of the lifting fog came a black bear from the north. It weaved in and out keeping a quick pace all the way.
As it got closer we could see it was a younger bear. It popped into the woods before it got to us. Then just like Goofette and her cubs used to do, he came out of the logging trail just to the north of us where we had put some donuts.
Yeah!! It was Ole, Goofette’s cub from last year!! He looks healthy and happy! We had seen the family this Spring and photographed them so I was able to make a positive ID of it being Ole. Shortly after we saw them together Goofette kicked the two cubs, Ole and Lena, out on their own. L It was time for her to breed again and get ready for new cubs next Spring. Sad but that is how nature works.
Anyways, we were able to get some nice shots of Ole before he wandered off. He eventually popped out at #2 then wandered to the east and disappeared.
We decided to call it quits after 12:00 which was probably a good call. Dixie said that none of our goodies had been touched when crew came back through at 3:30. But…#3 had been cleaned up! It contained tons of meat. The bear do not usually eat everything up. Then Dixie spotted what looked like wolf poo. We probably have a wolf pack coming through the areaL. That is another reason we probably didn’t see much today either.
Soo Junction Journal October 3, 2011
We headed in before crew on a foggy morning. It was quite cold so we wore our ‘woolies’.
We had a couple of does come out north of us to the corn.
Crew came through around 9:00am. Shortly after that out of the east came Momma Blaze and her three ‘little’ cubs. The cubs are not quite as little as they used to be. They have really filled out which is just what they need to do before hibernating.
They followed our trail of PBJs and hot dogs right down to the mother lode of donuts. They quickly went to work filling their tummies with goodies.
It is so darn cute to see the interaction. Blaze, Jr. never goes far from momma. Chubby never goes far from the food. And baby Brownie just enjoys everything. She is always the inquisitive one. She stands up to see what there might be up ahead.
As quickly as they came in, they left us. And that as they say ‘was all she wrote’. So the train didn’t get a chance to see them, unfortunately.
But we found out from Dixie that Ole made an appearance at #3 and few people got to see him.
Sadly, next Saturday is the last run of the season. We are going to go in before crew to our blind then follow the train in and take the boat on its finally journey of the season. We haven’t done that yet and it is supposed to be in the 70’s!!
Soo Junction Journal October 8, 2011
We headed back to our blind around 8:00am. It will be our last visit to the blind for the season. Today is the finally run for the Tahquamenon Falls Riverboat Tour and Toonerville Trolley Wilderness Ride for the season.
We have a pair of does to the north of us as we get to our blind. But….we wait and we wait. The crew came through and we still waited. Finally we spotted a coyote coming from # 1 station. It eventually got down near us but… all of sudden it disappeared. That was the last thing we saw that morning. The first train came through and we quickly got on our speeder and headed back in to catch the boat.It was a beautiful day! It was sunny, warm and lots of happy people on board. We made some new connections, meet lots of nice people and just had a pleasant day out in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Soo Junction Journal October 9, 2011
Well it is time to take our ‘bear’ blind down on the tracks for the Toonerville Trolley. It is really sad this year we have had such a great time getting to know our new Momma, Blaze, and her three adorable cubs. We didn’t get to see them yesterday to say good bye.
We head back in around 12:00pm. It is gorgeous out and actually hot! I basically am the ladder holder etc. Poor Michael is the one that had to get in the hot, closed up blind to get it down.
While we were working I kept checking for critters on the tracks. A couple of times I thought we might have bear but they turned out to be ravens. Finally, I spotted a big black dot and some small dots down at #1 station. As they started down the tracks toward us, we could see that it was Momma Blaze and her cubs!!! Yeah! I was just happy to see them from this distance.
They kept trudging along the tracks to #2 station. At one point I thought momma had decided to take off to the west but… no! She came back on the tracks and kept coming down toward us.
By this time Michael had everything torn down and was strapping it all on the trailer. I got up on the blind structure and kept shooting them. Finally Michael got up in the blind just in time to film the family checking out what was on the tracks. They don’t have very good eyesight so they go by smell and sounds mostly.
Well, the cubs spooked at the speeder. They plunged into the trees not sure whether to climb a tree or not. But momma wasn’t upset so they calmed down. She smelled the speeder, she smelled the trailer and then she came up to the blind. She stared at us through her little eyes trying to decided what do to.
They really came for donuts and were not very happy about not finding any. Chubby the fattest cub kept staring at where the donuts usually are. He would come back out look, smell then turn and go sit down. Then do it all over again.
Blaze and Brownie totally hid in the trees peeking out at momma to see if everything was ok. Momma finally started to get closer to the blind. We didn’t want her to actually touch the blind and think that she could climb it. That would not be a good thing.
Finally, Michael said ‘No, close enough’. She stopped and looked then went back across the tracks and just sat looking at us. She would smell in the air just in case she missed the treats. She finally gave the signal to leave. The cubs all came out of their hidey wholes and started to follow her as she went down to check on #3 station and the corn to the north of us.
It was so darn cute to watch their little black butts wiggle as they walked in single file down the tracks following momma. Chubby would stop and look back as if to ask ‘are you sure there aren’t any donuts?’ He would go a little further and do the same thing. He did that till he almost got left behind!
Once they had gotten out of our range we got on the speeder. We bid them good bye until next year. We know they will survive the winter. They are all fat, healthy and ready for hibernation. We headed back to the depot to unload our blind. We left with full hearts, so happy that we were able to see Momma Blaze and her roly-poly cubs one last time. And deeply grateful to Kris and Dixie Stewart who have made this all possible by allowing access to their property and much more on the tracks of the Toonerville Trolley!!
All Photographs Copyrighted by Michael & Teresa McGill/McGills Nature in Motion-Unauthorized use prohibited