A few short miles south of Big Bay is an exposed overlook with a great view of Lake Independence and Superior beyond. Once an off-road destination for ATVs and people willing to walk in from County Road 510, Gobbler's Knob was purchased by the Thomas Family a few years ago and underwent a major facelift. A parking lot has been laid out, complete with restrooms, information stands, and trash cans. Wheelchair-accessible paths lead up to the overlook itself and wide decks provide easy access around and over the rock. Even the name has changed. What was once Gobbler's Knob is now Thomas Rock, named after the generous family who has spent so much on building out and maintaining the park.
It was early in the morning when I pulled up to the park. I had tried to catch the sunrise from a different spot, north of Big Bay, but thick clouds and a brisk wind had drawn me inland shortly after the disappointing views. The park was still damp from an early morning rain, dripping green in the thick summer forest. I stepped out of my car, my boots crunching on the crushed rock, and the cool wet air surrounded me.
One other vehicle was parked here, early risers who probably caught the rising sun, and I wondered if I would see the visitors. There are two paths up the rock, forming an easy loop, though there is not a designated path for 'up' or 'down'. I chose the steeper path up the rock, anxious for the overlook, and quickly left the parking area.
Obvious obstructions lay on either side of the easy, marked path. Logs, rocks, and even some freshly-planted pines tried to erase the routes that were once here, the four-wheeler tracks and footpaths of Gobbler's Knob. It was not easy tracing the old routes with today's well-made paths and boardwalks spanning wetlands and gaps. Yes, Thomas Rock even had a few sturdy boardwalks to make the walk even easier.
When the path and I emerged from the woods a wide view spread out before us. Salmon Trout Point, a large, flat expanse of green, extended out to the north with wisps of the Keweenaw Peninsula barely visible beyond. Big Bay and Lake Independence sprawled out below, the town barely poking through the thick trees. Not much was visible to the south outside of the bulk of the Western Alder Mountain, an ominous rise of green that soared five hundred feet above Thomas Rock.
I meandered a bit on the bare rock, enjoying both the view and the silence. No loud trucks were roaring on the roads below and I never bumped into the other visitors out here (they must have taken the other path down). There is a high spot on the rock, almost a second tier above the main deck, and I hopped up on it. From here I could see the nearby radio tower, a stone's throw away, and the bright morning sun glaring from behind the clouds to the south.
Heading down the path, the one that zig-zagged a bit more to decrease the slope, my mind went back to Gobbler's Knob. How were the routes to the rock back then? What type of people visited the spot? How many beer cans littered the now-cleaned forest floor? A man and his son passed me, the boy sprinting excitedly up the path, the man wishing me a good morning while keeping half-an-eye on his eager son. Even though I usally prefer the wild and untamed I couldn't help but wonder if this spot is better as Thomas Rock.