Down Home in Michigan's Upper Peninsula
The area is gorgeous, remote, and quirky--where the people prefer ATVs to cars, and menus feature meat pockets and Paul Bunyan-size cinnamon rolls.
We hightail it east with the idea of spending the night in Munising, home of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. But the vibe is all wrong in Munising, which sits in the shadow of a working paper mill, so we take a sharp turn south and head for the Garden Peninsula. The drive is beautiful: We leave the wooded coastline of Lake Superior and cross acres of farmland dotted with cows and the occasional barn. By the time we arrive in Fayette, the sun is shining.
Fayette Ghost Town is a former smelting-factory village that is now preserved in its entirety as a museum insideFayette State Park.The ghost town is in a gorgeous spot: midway down the Garden Peninsula, on a perfect little grassy knoll next to a cove of dramatic limestone cliffs. We wander nearly alone through a rickety old butcher shop and homes with meticulously restored bedrooms. It's like we've been allowed to lollygag through the set ofThe Village.
Our next stop isIndian Lake State Park,home of the 40-foot-deep Big Springs, which is also known as Kitch-iti-Kipi. We board a raft--free with the car permit fee--and float over the crystal-clear waters while gazing at the enormous trout and swirling sands way down at the bottom. Once again, we get to enjoy a popular attraction completely by ourselves, and what may otherwise have seemed cramped and touristy feels magical.
Providence leads us to the '50s-styleStar Motel,where our mint-green bathroom is so perfectly retro, I'm driven to take a picture. The Star has been run since 1975 by the precise and personable Dorothy McNamara, who knows Manistique well and provides guests with gift certificates to local restaurants.
In downtown Manistique, home to one of the more impressive Paul Bunyan statues, we stop in for a drink at a good-looking bar calledMarley's.Beers are $1.25 each. In a back room, a pool table and a jukebox sit unused, as if waiting for us. We play a few games, put on an oddball mix of songs--Patsy Cline, U2, Ray Charles, Whitesnake--and make a night of it.
- Star Motel1142 E. Lakeshore Dr., Manistique, 906/341-5363, from $42
- Suomi54 Huron St., Houghton, 906/482-3220, pasty $3
- Fayette State Park 13700 13.25 Lane, Garden, 906/644-2603, michigan.gov, car permit $8
- Indian Lake State ParkRte. 2, Manistique, 906/341-2355, car permit $8
- Marley's127 Walnut St., Manistique, 906/341-8297
Day 4. Manistique to Marquette
After a quick breakfast, we start back toward the Lake Superior side of the U.P. We don't get very far, asBlaney Park Lodge seems interesting enough to warrant a stop. A lodge and resort that dates to early 1895, Blaney Park apparently aspired to be a grand family retreat but wound up as an inexpensive inn and restaurant. A "dude ranch" lies in ruins out back, and the property has an airstrip that's supposedly still in use. I find the strangeness of it all endearing, though I also can't help thinking the location would be a great set for a horror movie.
We detour for a seven-mile loop through theSeney National Wildlife Refuge, where birds have the run of the place. Seems like it would be nice on a bike, but we have to get going back to Munising for a tour of thePictured Rocks.
We board a crowded boat for an up-close look at the colorful cliffs--which are astounding, though the guide's loudspeaker is nearly inaudible. In any event, we have fun on the deck, playing 20 Questions in the sunny ocean breeze.
A little worn out from sightseeing, we stumble into theFalling Rock Café. It turns out to be just the right spot at just the right time. After a hot pastrami sandwich, a bowl of tomato soup, and a couple of big scoops of ice cream, I feel like a new man. We consider jumping in the car and speeding headlong to Marquette before heading home. After all, before zipping off on the road at the beginning of our trip, we barely saw the town.
But it's raining, and the Falling Rock is so welcoming. Also, the adjoining bookstore has couches. We browse the aisles, sip hot chocolates, and settle into the cavernous softness. I set the alarm on my watch and take a nap.
- Falling Rock Café104 E. Munising Ave., Munising, 906/387-3008, pastrami sandwich $6.50
- Seney National Wildlife Refuge1674 Refuge Entrance Rd., 906/586-9851, fws.gov/midwest/seney , free
- Pictured Rocks355 Elm Ave., Munising, 906/387-2379, picturedrocks.com, tour $30
Finding Your Way
There's no shortage of pretty drives in the U.P., where you're almost always within a few minutes of thick forests and pristine lake views. The scenery toward the end of the Keweenaw Peninsula is particularly beautiful. On the way to Copper Harbor, take the inland road over Brockway Mountain, so the lake will be in front when you arrive. On the way back west, try scenic Route 26, Lakeshore Drive, for the best views of Lake Superior.