"Splashing through the sandbar, talking by the campfire, it is the simple things in life...
It was summertime in Northern Michigan."
State 9: Michigan - July 28, 2017
The Upper Peninsula of Michigan, or more commonly referred to as the UP, has always been a mystery to me. I never knew much about it other than it's existence, and it's remote location. Nate told me back when he was a wee little Nate, he asked his 1st grade teacher “What is that thing on the map above Michigan?”. To which the teacher responded “I do not know”. Nate has wanted to visit the UP ever since, and I must admit I share his curiosity. Even the people we talked to on the Michigan’s lower peninsula had little knowledge of the Upper Peninsula of the state, and most had never even visited it. It appeared the UP was a far off land cloaked in universal unfamiliarity, which just heightened its allure. Although the UP makes up 23% of the land mass of Michigan, it only makes up 3% of the population. Those who live on the UP call themselves Yooper’s; A term they even successfully petitioned to have included in the Merriam Webster Dictionary. Yooper’s must be a proud and resourceful people indeed. Since our home is wherever we park our van, and we are currently parked on the UP, I guess that officially makes us Yooper’s! Yippee!
We woke up in a Walmart in Sault Ste Marie, MI directly on the Canadian Border. Before we began our schlep west across the UP, we had a “Can’t Miss attraction” to visit in the city: The Soo Locks on St. Mary’s River. Locks allow ships to transverse elevation changes between two bodies of water. In layman’s terms, the Lake Superior side of the St. Mary’s River is 21 feet higher than the side of St. Mary's River that leads to Lake Michigan and Lake Heron. The Soo Locks compensates for the different water levels via a series of opening and closing gravity fed valves. I was very surprised to learn that no pumps are used! Although the locks were built back in the late 1700’s, it still operates the same way today as when it was first constructed. Today, the locks are operated and maintained by the Army Corp of Engineers. More than 11,000 vessels pass through the locks every year, carrying over 90 million tons of cargo. The locks can handle any size vessel from small passenger vessels to 1000-foot cargo ships, and on the morning of our visit, we were fortunate to see both. Please see the pictures below. Seeing the locks in operation was a very interesting process to watch. There are locks located throughout the world, and we highly recommend everyone seeing them at least once in their life.
We then drove two hours west from Sault Ste Marie, MI to visit the National Park depicted on the reverse of the Michigan State Quarter; Pictured Rock National Lakeshore. In 1966, The park became the first officially designated National Lakeshore in the entire US National Park System. It encompasses 73,236 acres along the southern shore of Lake Superior, in Hiawatha National Forest. The park includes spectacular rock formations, natural archways, waterfalls, and sand dunes. Pictured Rock National Lakeshore derives its name from the 15 miles of sandstone cliffs rising over 200 feet above Lake Superior, which have been naturally sculpted into caves, arches, and even human profiles.
We regretfully had limited time to explore this park, and many of the most picturesque areas were only accessible by hiking and by kayak.
We settled on 2 points of interest on out visit: Miners Castle, and Munsing Falls. The natural beauty we witnessed during our visit left us, and even all those around us, absolutely speechless. I am not going to even attempt to describe the natural beauty we were blessed to have had the fortune to witness. We hope you enjoy the pictures below, and inspire you to plan a visit of your own in the future!
Even more amazing than the natural formations of Pictured Rock National Lakeshore was Lake Superior itself. This was the first opportunity on our trip to see Lake Superior, and it was the most beautiful body of water we had ever seen in our entire lives. At it's shallowest points, the lake emitted a blue green hue, and at it's deeper parts, it presented as deep midnight blue. Lake Superior, the largest of all of the great lakes, was sparkling, mesmerizing, powerful, vast and captivating. When we gazed upon the lake, we felt as if it spoke to our very souls, and instantaneously, we both fell in love with its beauty and splendor. The pictures below don’t even capture 10% of Lake Superior's beauty, and we were overcome with sadness when it was time to depart.
This was the most spectacular park we had visited on our trip thus far. We were so VERY tempted to rent a campsite, and spend the rest of summer exploring this amazing gem. However, we made an agreement before we left to only spend a week in each state. With much pain, sorrow and regret, we ripped ourselves away, and continued on in our cross country journey. Even if Michigan does not end up being our new home state, Nate and I both promised to each other to one-day return to the region to be reunited with Pictured Rock National Lakeshore and Lake Superior.
There is a type of food specific to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan called a pastie.
A traditional pastie consists of beef, potato, turnip, diced onion placed inside of a circular shaped piece of dough which is then baked. They are the unofficial food of the UP, and people take them very seriously. Maybe even a little too seriously at times. Since a pastie traditionally consists of beef, and Nate and I do not eat meat, we needed to find a vegetarian version. Challenge accepted! Over the next two hours, I made dozens of very frustrating phone calls with pastie restaurants all across the UP. Everyone said a pastie is not a pastie if there is no beef. One restaurant I spoke with thought I was crank calling them and hung up on me. I would not allow repeated rejection to deter me! I would leave no stone unturned! No restaurant, food truck, or kitchen uncalled! I would search every square inch of Lake Superior if need be! I knew deep down in my heart of hearts there must be someone, somewhere out there who created a vegetarian pastie! Just when I about exhausted my entire call list, and thought all hope was lost, I found Jean Kay's in Marquette, MI. They were the only restaurant in the entire UP that sells handmade Vegetarian Pasties, and alas I had finally found them! Jean Kay's was an hour drive west from our current location in Munsing, MI and we disembarked right away. Upon our arrival, we wasted no time, and immediately placed our order for 3 vegetarian pasties. In my excitement, I accidentally mispronounced them as pasties. (PAY-STEES) Which I would soon learn, was a sticker that goes over your nipple! Apparently Nate knew what this was and started giggling like a school girl at my mispronunciation. The chef did not find the situation amusing in the slightest bit, and sternly corrected me. He snapped “We don’t sell nipple stickers here. We sell the best pasties (Pronounced PASS-TEES) in the entire UP for over 40 years”. The situation reminded me of the Seinfeld episode with the “Soup Nazi”. I feared the next thing out of his mouth would be “No pasties for you”, so I quickly apologized. I explained that I am not from the area, and had never had a pastie before. He just gave me a snarling look, and said nothing. They apparently take their pasties very seriously up here, so I will make a point to not mispronounce them again. Geez! About 10 minutes later, our vegetarian pasties were ready, and we dove right in. Albeit an unfamiliar and unusual combination of flavors, textures, seasoning and ingredients, they were absolutely delicious. What the chef lacked in personality, he surely made up for in his culinary skills.
Since Michigan’s UP is very unpopulated, there are only 2 Walmart’s on the opposing far ends of either side of the peninsula. After leaving Marquette, our plan was to drive west across the UP to Wisconsin border where there was a Walmart in the town of Ensenada, MI. This was less than ideal as it would result in a 5 ½ hour drive for the day. Imagine our surprise when we happened to drive passed a Walmart on our way out of Marquette! This Walmart did not appear on my app, so it must have been newly built. We have never been so happy to see a Walmart in our entire lives! Since there were many RV’s already parked in the parking lot, we decided to ask if we could spend the night, and they happily obliged. It was clear the universe did not want us to leave Marquette, MI yet, and we would soon find out why!
Before parking for the night at Walmart, we had one last stop to make for the day in the nearby tiny town of Ishpeming, MI. It was time to visit the Cross Country Couple's “Road Side Attraction” for the state of Michigan: a two for one special; Big Gus and Big Ernie! At 23 feet in length and powered by a V8 engine, Big Gus is the world’s largest working chainsaw. Unfortunately, they no longer run Big Gus for visitors, because one time the chain came off and flew across the nearby highway! At 35 feet long, weighing in a over 4000 pounds, and mounted to the back of a flatbed commercial truck, Big Ernie is the world’s largest working shotgun in the entire world! It shoots using a mixture of propane and oxygen, and the ignition is via a 12-volt battery. It was not shot during our visit, but there is a you tube video of Big Ernie in action! Big Gus & Big Ernie’s home is on the front lawn of a gift shop in Ishpeming, MI called “Da Yooper’s Tourist Trap”, and was rated the best gift shop in Michigan’s UP by Trip Advisor. If you happen to one day find yourself extremely, and I mean extremely lost, and just happen to come across “Da Yooper’s Tourist Trap” it is certainly worth a visit!
After leaving Big Gus and Big Ernie, we drove back to the Walmart, In Marquette, MI, and had a restful night sleep.