By the time you reach the Straits of Mackinac-the place where the Great Lakes’ Huron and Michigan meet, you finally believe just how huge the state of Michigan is and realize you have yet to arrive to the UP-the Upper Peninsula. Crossing the bridge north of Mackinaw City, with famed Mackinaw Island and the Grand Hotel off to the East, you enter the Upper Peninsula and a whole new world. That world is mostly noted for what’s not there: loads of fast food restaurants, billboards, tacky tourist stops, or for that matter, tourists. The UP attracts more sportsman and hikers than places further south, its relative desolation and lack of gift shops, keeping many tourists away. Making up just 3% of the population, but 29% of the land area, the UP’s brief summers and long, cold winters has led to its preservation as a beautiful and unique place.
Within a few short hours north, through dense pine forests and rolling hills, the shores of the greatest of Great Lakes, glimpses of Superior peek out between the trees ahead. Deceivingly beautiful, the lake is the most treacherous of them all, consuming boats and men-6000 ships documented in the past two centuries alone. At Whitefish Point, the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum makes this fact apparent, none more powerfully than the infamous wreck of the iron ore freighter, the Edmund Fitzgerald.
As the Gordon Lightfoot song will tell you, the ship went down in a November 1975 gale and took 29 men to the icy bottom at 535 below the water. In 1995, the ship’s bell was removed and replaced with an exact replica, complete with the names of the lost crew inscribed on one side. The original is on display and a reminder of the over 30,000 people who’ve died on the Great Lakes.
In addition to the museum, there is the restored Whitefish Point Light Station, ordered built by President Abraham Lincoln in 1861. The keeper’s quarters and lighthouse have been faithfully restored to their Victorian era splendor.The lighthouse itself is a steel tower design, built to withstand the violent weather and wind along Superior’s coast, and newly outfitted with an LED light and still in operation for ship navigation.
The Upper Peninsula is stunningly beautiful country, but one that reminds visitors and locals alike to respect the power of nature and geography, especially when traveling on the water.