It’s the place people go to escape,
a place made of cabins, pine trees and lakes.
But no matter how far you drive,
there’s no sign to say “You’ve arrived.”
So just follow your heart til you find
your special place that brings peace of mind.
As you breathe in the air and unwind,
your cares are all left behind.
It’s no mystery where the northwoods start.
When you’re “up north,”
you’ll know in your heart.
– Suzanne Kindler 1996
Four s’mores and seven beers ago, I took out a map and marked every Michigan city or town I’ve ever visited.
Looking for a new vacation destination in “The Mitten,” I realized there was one big place I had not explored at the top of the map: Michigan’s vast Upper Peninsula! I’ve never been north of St. Ignace and the Mackinac Bridge. (High atop the bridge, to be exact!)
So much to explore in the U.P. but I had to be realistic. It’s a slow place – no highways and plenty to see. Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is longer from end-to-end than the Lower Peninsula is from the Ohio border to the Mackinac Bridge. The U.P. is so big, it won’t even all fit in the same time zone! I had to skip the western side including the Keweenaw Peninsula and the Porcupine Mountains. I focused on a few destinations that I’ve always wanted to visit and a few suggested by some Yooper listeners. I came up with an 8 day plan:
…and so we started at the 5 mile-long Mackinac Bridge (under it, not on top) and then headed north!
We started with one day in Sault Ste. Marie.
My girls studied the Soo Locks in school so we spent the day on a boat cruising the locks and international waters. This is one of the American locks that enable mammoth freighters to travel between Lake Superior and the lower Great Lakes.
The Soo Locks have been referred to as one of the great wonders of the world and it is still the largest waterway traffic system on earth. More cargo and giant ships go through the Soo Locks than the Panama and Suez Canals combined. Here’s my perspective of the lock as it fills to meet Lake Superior’s water level:
Canadian tug boat races
Soo Locks Boat Tours http://www.soolocks.com
S.S. Valleycamp http://www.saulthistoricsites.com/
Soo Brewing Company http://www.soobrew.com/
Antlers Family Dining http://www.saultantlers.com/
Karl’s Cuisine http://www.karlscuisine.com/
Paradise. No really, we spent the night in Paradise, Michigan. One tiny “town” with a four-way stop sign. But a beautiful place to have a Michigan craft beer and watch the sun play games on the horizon.
We spent the next day exploring Tahquamenon Falls State Park. Niagara Falls are the only waterfalls east of the Mississippi that are larger than Tahquamenon. Upper Falls has a drop of nearly 50 feet and is more than 200 feet across. Four miles downstream is the Lower Falls, a series of five smaller falls cascading around an island, carrying the river farther downstream before emptying into Lake Superior. I made my little pirates row our boat to the falls…
Up to 50,000 gallons of water per second are propelled over the falls, sustaining a thunderous roar in the heart of an otherwise peaceful Michigan state park. Without people or buildings in the background, it’s hard to capture the size of Upper Falls. There is a fisherman at the bottom of the falls in this photo, on the rocky beach on the left… but you can barely see him!
Photo tip: You don’t need fancy gear to shoot waterfalls… the only mandatory equipment is a tripod. (That’s a lie, I rested my camera on a rock for one shot.) Experiment with different shutter speeds to get the amount of blur you want. I can’t give you a magic number because the best shutter speed will depend on the time of day and how fast the water is moving. Getting the shutter speed just right takes a bit of experimentation. If you cannot get a slow enough shutter speed for the effect you want, use a smaller aperture so that less light enters the camera. That will allow you to select a longer shutter speed. Keep in mind that when using a long shutter speed, if there are any plants or trees in your frame they may have an opportunity to move if there is any wind, and then everything in the image will be blurry. Sometimes when photographing violent falls, you want to use the opposite technique… you want a fast shutter speed to capture a brief moment and suspend the water’s movement in the air (In the photo below, I also wanted to show how the water is stained brown as a result of tannic acid produced by decaying hemlocks, cedars, and spruces along the river’s banks.) In this case, use shutter priority mode and select a faster speed such as 1/500th of a second or faster in order to show the rough, angry water of the falls.
A fun tourist trap to visit near the falls is Oswald’s Bear Ranch in Newberry. The largest bear ranch in the United States features 30 rescued American Black Bears walking freely in huge natural habitats. The bears’ keeper Dean Oswald is a colorful character and retired Marine/boxer/police officer/fire fighter. I chatted with him before our family was invited to feed one of the adorable orphaned bear cubs!
Photo Tip: Try to keep the sun at your back as you photograph wild animals, especially black bears who tend to be black blobs in your pictures! You must be able to react quickly when photographing most animals, whether in captivity or the wild. If the animals are in captivity, fill the frame with the animal and keep fences and other man-made distractions out of your shot. In the wild, be still, be quiet and be ready. It’s a mistake to stalk or sneak up on a wild animal; choose a spot where they hang out and stay there. Patience pays. I have wrapped a jacket around my camera to muffle the motordrive because any little noise can scare off animals. Keep your distance and use a long lens. I’ve shot black bears, brown bears and grizzlies in the wild and they are very unpredictable and can appear over your shoulder at a moment’s notice. Safety first! And finally: when petting baby bear cubs, try not to die from the cuteness!
Tahquamenon Falls State Park http://www.michigan.org/property/tahquamenon-falls-state-park/
Tahquamenon Falls Brewery http://www.tahquamenonfallsbrewery.com
Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum http://www.shipwreckmuseum.com
Berry Patch Bakery & Restaurant http://berrypatchparadise.com/
Oswald’s Bear Ranch http://www.oswaldsbearranch.com/
Lake Superior is the world’s largest freshwater lake. How large? There is enough water in Lake Superior to flood the entire United States – five feet deep. Its deepest point (1,300 feet) was not far from the cabin we rented. Underwater visibility in places reaches 100ft, making Lake Superior easily the cleanest & clearest of the Great Lakes.
Collecting colorful rocks with the family.
I finally understood why people call the U.P. “God’s Country.” Beautiful lakes, beaches, waterfalls, lighthouses and wildlife. Undeveloped wilderness. We rented a cabin in the thick of protected Hiawatha National Forest. It was quiet and peaceful, the only disturbance came from mosquitoes and biting black stable flies.
Our cabin was nestled on the rocky shore of Lake Superior between Munising and Marquette. Pure Michigan!
Our own private three-quadrillion gallon lake!
The water temperature was a chilly 42 degrees at the time of our visit. And 2014 just happened to be the first time in 40 years that the lake completely froze over (there was still ice on the lake on June 5th!) yet my brave girls still wanted to go for a swim in Lake Superior! They didn’t seem to mind.
Miles of sandy beach and no other humans in sight. Peaceful!
The rocky shore in front of our cabin at sunset.
a day at the beach
Munising Falls (below) is more than 50ft high and makes for some fun ice climbing when it freezes in winter.
You can buy prints of these images here
The Grand Island Harbor Range Rear, established in 1868, is no longer active. There are about 60 American lighthouses around Lake Superior and even more on the Canadian side!
Christmas, Michigan is a small town on Lake Superior between Munising and Marquette. No traffic lights, population: 320.
A factory was built here in 1938 to make gifts at Christmas time. They renamed the town “Christmas.” The factory burned down two years later but the name stayed. A post office opened in the 1960s where thousands of Americans now send their holiday cards to be stamped with a Christmas postmark.
There are eight other cities in America named “Christmas,” but do any of the others have a 35ft tall Santa Claus?
Alger County http://www.algercounty.org/
Reminder: All of the photos on this page were created by me and are protected by copyright. May not be used in any manner without permission. Plus, you will hurt my feelings.
And now… Pictured Rocks …the reason for this trip!
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is spectacular! These steep 200-foot sandstone cliffs were sculpted by ancient glaciers and now border more than 15 miles of Lake Superior near Munising, Michigan.
The tiny kayaks in the photo below put the cliffs into proper perspective.
There are more than 100 miles of hiking trails to explore Pictured Rocks on foot. Or you can do your sightseeing by boat or kayak. Sandstone cliffs, beaches, sand dunes, waterfalls, lakes and forest make Pictured Rocks a perfect “Pure Michigan” destination.
Pictured Rocks was named for its varying colors “painted” on the cliffs by the mineral-rich ground water that runs down the face of the cliffs. Minerals such as iron, copper and manganese provide bold scenery only Mother Nature could create.
“Reflections” You can buy a print of this image here
As famous as the cliffs around Pictured Rocks, a wide range of vessels from another era are perfectly preserved in the cold lake water. They have been spared the damage of human traffic and industry pollution. The undisturbed wrecks have attracted scuba divers from around the world. The waters off Munising are sheltered by Grand Island and have been the final destination of many ships seeking safe harbor from the fury of the big lake. But many didn’t survive the rough waters and bad weather.
The Bermuda (below) is a 145 foot wooden sailing ship that sank while carrying a cargo of iron ore 145 years ago. The ship ran into trouble during a storm on Lake Superior and the Captain was able to bring it into Munising harbor. But the boat couldn’t escape the storm: it sank upright in 30 feet of water and several crewmen died trying to save the ship. I rented a pontoon to float over the shipwreck and snap a few eerie photos of the fully-intact wooden schooner built before the Civil War… just one of the 550 known major shipwrecks lying on the bottom of Lake Superior.
Photo tip: Every photographer should have a polarizing filter in their bag. When used properly, it can decrease light/reflection on water and other surfaces plus increase color saturation/contrast. Make your skies prettier! Strap a circular polarizer on your lens and learn how to use it. It’s a powerful tool.
The boat’s stern (using a polarizing filter)
I plunged my camera into the frigid water for a spooky underwater shot of the bow.
The Grand Island East Channel Lighthouse in Munising Bay was built in 1866 to help ships find shelter from the fury of Lake Superior’s late season storms. It has been restored many times in the past 148 years due to a wooden structure being built in such an exposed location.
Pictured Rocks http://www.nps.gov/piro/planyourvisit/index.htm
Pictured Rocks Boat Cruises: http://www.picturedrocks.com/fares-schedules/
Driving the “Shipwreck Coast” http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/road-trips/shipwreck-coast-michigan-road-trip/
Shipwrecks (Boat Tours) http://shipwrecktours.com/
Shipwrecks (Scuba & Snorkel) http://www.michiganpreserves.org/alger.htm
Grand Island East Channel Lighthouse http://www.lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=726
Seney National Wildlife Refuge http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Seney/visit/visitor_activities/wildlife_observation.html
Falling Rock Café & Bookstore http://www.fallingrockcafe.com
Wagner Falls in Munising. I want to go back and take this photo during the Fall colors!
Between Munising and Marquette, you will find the wonderfully bizarre Lakenenland, a free drive-through art exhibit of industrial scrap yard art. These beautiful, freaky, and unique creations of scrap machine metal are a must-see.
Presque Isle Park in Marquette: This “almost” island sits on the northern tip of the city. Beautiful forests, beaches and rocky cliffs plus plenty of wildlife, picnic areas, hiking trails and a historic wood band shell for concerts. The photo series below is from the cliffs we used as our front row seats for a Pure Michigan sunset.
Presque Isle Park http://www.mqtcty.org/parks-presque-isle.php
Blackrocks Brewery http://www.blackrocksbrewery.com/
Ore Dock Brewing Company http://ore-dock.com/
NMU’s amazing Superdome http://www.nmu.edu/sportsrecsports/node/113
Natalie reading by the campfire under a starry sky…
If you wonder why I made Michigan my home, you need to scroll to the top of this page and start again!
You can buy prints of these images and my other travels here
Proceeds from sales of my photos go to local schools and donorschoose.org