Sarah, Dalla, and I recently returned from a weeklong trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where we met her parents, sister-in-law, and her sister-in-law’s mother.
We started off from Madison and headed to Mackinac Island where we met the rest of the group for a two night stay. For those who aren’t familiar with Mackinac Island, one of the big draws is the almost complete lack of motor vehicles on the island. If you want to get around, your options basically are: horse taxi, bicycle, or your feet. After parking our car in St. Ignace, a ferry took us across the water to the docks on Mackinac. There, the three of us boarded a horse taxi for the ride up to the condo where we were all staying.
A horse taxi is, generally, two horses hooked up to a wagon that has three or four rows of bench seating, a driver, and a battery driven radio that is used to dispatch the drivers to locations around the island. Depending on the driver, the load in the wagon, and the horses, the speed of the taxi ranges from “slower than I can walk” to “much slower than I can ride a bike”. As a longtime Mackinac resident/visitor advised us, “If you expect to get anywhere here in a hurry, you’re going to be disappointed.”
We spent the next day in downtown Mackinac exploring the historic fort, fudge shops (Mackinac is famous for its fudge), and generally seeing the sights. Dalla wasn’t always welcome in all those places, but she was welcome in the fort so she and I explored that in depth while others were shopping and eating fudge. Interestingly, the general verdict was the Mackinac fudge didn’t live up to the hype. I’m not a fan of fudge usually, so I trust to the judgement of others on that issue.
We left the next day after another, um, relaxed ride on a horse taxi down to the ferry. Once back in St. Ignace we packed up the car and headed to our next destination, Munising, MI. On our way out of St. Ignace, we were traveling westbound on US Route 2 when some large wooden signs blew out of the back of a trailer in the lane next to us. The signs, of course, flew into our lane, and despite my efforts to dodge them, one smashed into the front of the car. So, we had an opportunity to meet one of the local politicos (it was a campaign sign that hit our car), the state patrol, the city police (there was a jurisdictional dispute), and some other folks who knew the politician. He was a nice enough guy, and he clued us in to a good pasty joint, but that doesn’t excuse his failure to properly secure the load he was towing. Fortunately, the damage was mostly cosmetic, and the car was still fully functional, so we were able to drive on after a delay of an hour or so.
As I mentioned above, we stopped at a local pasty joint, Lehto’s, on our way to Munising. Pasties (pronounced: pass-tees) are something of an Upper Peninsula tradition. They were brought there by Cornish miners in the days of yore and they continue to be baked and served by mom-and-pop joints all over the place. A pasty is basically meat, potato, onions, and rutabagas wrapped up in dough and baked. It doesn’t sound that good, but it is actually fairly tasty when done correctly. We ate several pasties during our travels.
We eventually caught up with our fellow travelers at the Seney National Wildlife Refuge where we joined them for some birdwatching. The big highlights of the bird watching were loons, trumpeter swans, sandhill cranes, and all the mosquitoes in the world.
Rather than continuously harp on the mosquitoes, I’ll dedicate this paragraph to them and you can safely assume from here on out that if something happened outdoors it was under the nearly constant onslaught of mosquitoes. The only exceptions are anything that happened within spitting distance of Lake Superior. The backcountry campsites on Bowman Lake in Glacier National park and the backcountry trails at Effigy Mounds National Monument are the only other places that I’ve been where the mosquitoes were as bad as they were in the UP. We kept trying to figure out how the denizens of the area were able to go outside without being driven absolutely crazy by the bugs and we never did come up with an answer. Sarah and I would go out to walk the dog in the morning and as long as we were walking, the bugs were manageable. However, as soon as we stopped they would pounce and we’d have to start walking again or risk losing several pints of blood. Neither Sarah or I brought our headnets with us so we bought them in Munising. The fact that a garden variety hardware store had a selection of six different types right near the cash registers is probably a sign of just how bad things can get there, especially once the black flies come out.
Anyway, after our stop in Seney we headed to our rented cabin on Powell Lake in the Hiawatha National Forest, which is just a few miles south of Munising. The cabin was advertised as pet-friendly, but when we got there, signs said that pets had to remain in the laundry room. We decided to ignore those signs because we didn’t rent a pet-friendly laundry room, we rented a pet-friendly cabin, so Dalla had free run of the place. The cabin was OK, but it had some warts. The basement, where two of the bedrooms were located, was partially unfinished. Tina and Mike’s room, for instance, had a bare concrete floor. One wall of the basement was just panels of solid Styrofoam insulation on top of the concrete foundation. The basement shower was easily the highest-tech shower that I’ve ever encountered. It had two heads; multiple knobs; some undecipherable temperature scale; and a mysterious, unlabeled red button. The upstairs bathroom had, mysteriously enough, a ceiling fan. Don’t confuse that with an exhaust fan mounted in the ceiling. When I say ceiling fan, I mean a ceiling fan like you’d put in your living room. There was also the spiral staircase of death down, which several people nearly tripped, that led to a loft bedroom appropriate for people of the same stature as the Seven Dwarves. If it hadn’t been for the mosquitoes, the fire pit along the lake might have been a nice place to sit.
While we were there, one of the neighbor dogs (all of the dogs we met there ran free without their owner’s supervision, for some reason) took a shine to Dalla, probably because they looked so much alike. He was a puppy, but larger than her. She didn’t hesitate to put him into his place, however, so they generally got along. Since he would constantly come by the cabin to see if she was available to play with him, and would tag along on our walks (driving Dalla crazy since she was on a leash) we decided to call him Cling. That’s cling as in clingy.
The reason we were in Munising to begin with was the presence of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. It was the first designated national lakeshore and the best way to see it is from the lake, so we took a boat tour. It was a fairly cold and windy day on Lake Superior, but the scenery was worth it. Pictured Rocks is a series of multi-hued sandstone cliffs along the lake, some of which are over 200 feet tall. Even though the park has hiking trails, the best way to see the cliffs is from the water. So, once you’ve done that, you’ve basically seen the park.
We spent the next morning hiking in the national forest which meant tromping around in our long sleeves, long pants, and headnets, even though it wasn’t that chilly. In the afternoon Sarah and I relaxed for a bit while the others hit a few gift shops in Munising or went hiking along the Lakeshore. We didn’t go on that hike because the Lakeshore, for some really mysterious reason, flat-out bans dogs from the park. Eventually, we got together with a couple of other party members to try our hands at mini-golf. That idea went over the boards when we found the mini-golf course closed due to a death in the family, so we drove out of Munising to see what we could find on the other side of town. What we found was Christmas, Michigan, a small town that basically consists of a few houses, a casino, and a store that sells Christmas stuff, year round. Woo, hoo, I guess. As the only guy along on that part of the expedition (Mike was hiking along the lake), I got one of my two “Yays!” from the girls on the trip by suggesting that we stop there to see what the gift shop sold. That wasn’t enough to hold our attention for too long, so we spent the next hour plus wandering on a Lake Superior beach skipping stones and collecting attractive rocks for our rock garden at home.
We left the next day for the final stop on our tour of the UP. We spent part of the day driving to Paradise, Michigan, with a stop at Tahquamenon Falls State Park to see the Upper Falls along the way. The Upper Falls are OK; the best part is the presence of a small, but high-quality, brew pub near the Upper Falls.
We were out in a fairly remote part of the UP to visit the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, which is truly worth the trip. It’s not the biggest museum you’ll ever visit, but it is certainly one of the highest quality. The exhibits are full of interesting information and extremely unique items. The staff is helpful, but generally not intrusive. You can see it all in one day and not feel like you were rushed or might have missed anything of value. If nothing else, seeing a second order Fresnell Lens is worth the price of admission.
The biggest downside to the area where we stayed was the lack of amenities other than the museum or the lake. We ended up driving twenty or so miles back to the brew pub at the Falls for dinner because it was widely acknowledged by locals as the place to eat dinner.
After a one night stay in the area, we jumped back in our car and headed back to Madison. Fortunately, that was a long, but uneventful denouement.
There are a few pictures in the gallery if you’re interested.