After we crossed the Mackinac Bridge into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, we could really feel and see the difference between the Upper and Lower Peninsulas. Besides being more sparsely populated, there were also the signs to remind us. We had arrived in the land of the “Yooper,” which is a term for those raised in the Upper Peninsula. Yoopers are portrayed as rugged individualists with a sense of humor. Our destination was the small town of Munising which is on Lake Superior and is a popular stop as it is located close to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Actually, our campground was several miles south of Munising in the tiny speck of a town called “Christmas.” The town supposedly received its name in 1938 when a man started a roadside factory making holiday gifts. I was interested to learn that there are several other states that have towns named “Christmas,” including Arizona, Florida, Kentucky and Mississippi. Today there are only about 400 people living here and the biggest building is the rather small casino. The campground was not at all like the lovely, tree shaded one we left in the Lower Peninsula near Sleeping Bear Dunes. This one was bare of trees and rather boring looking, but we were happy to get a spot. The Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is one of the most popular places to visit in the Upper Peninsula.
The Upper Peninsula is the place to get pasties, a Cornish specialty favored by miners who took these pies into the mines with them. Shaped like a turnover, they feature a thick pie crust and are usually filled with ground beef, potatoes, rutabagas and carrots. They are considered the iconic food in this part of Michigan and once we hit the Upper Peninsula, the signs advertising businesses that sold pasties seemed to be every where. I had pasties several times and decided that I didn’t like them all that much. I found the crust to be heavy, the filling rather bland and the beef stringy.
Whitefish found in the waters of Lake Superior is another popular food, especially the smoked kind. I have a story to tell about my first time trying smoked whitefish. In a past trip while visiting the Upper Peninsula with my sister, we stopped to get gas at a convenience store. Inside, my sister found smoked whitefish in a refrigerated case and decided to buy it. I gave her such a hard time about buying a piece of fish from a gas station we knew nothing about. As we drove on our way, she unwrapped the fish and started eating it. It looked okay, so I tried some as well and boy was it good. So, I spent some time apologizing for criticizing her judgment and we merrily went to our next destination enjoying this delicacy on the way.
In Munising we went to a shop that caught their own fish in the waters of Lake Superior. The VanLandschoot Company also smokes the fish outside in a wooden shed. They specialize in whitefish but also sold trout. I bought smoked whitefish and Mark had to take a cheesy tourist picture of the purchase. I also got some smoked whitefish sausage which was really good and had a smokier taste than the fish. Back outside, Mark and I stood next to the smoker shed for some time soaking up all those great warm smells of wood and fish.
The most popular activities around the town of Munising involve getting out on the waters of Lake Superior. And perhaps the favorite thing to do is take a boat trip on the lake. There are a variety of trips offered including a pirate boat, The Riptide Ride that goes very fast with crazy spins, a shipwreck cruise, kayaking trips and a boat trip to see the pictured rocks. I knew I wanted to do the trips to see shipwrecks and pictured rocks. My first venture out was on the Glass Bottom Shipwreck Tour.
I read there are 550 known shipwrecks in Lake Superior and this tour took us out to learn about and view two of them. One of the ships, called the Bermuda was a fully intact wooden sailing ship built before the Civil War. It sits only 12 feet from the surface and sank in 1870 after leaking and filling with water. The other ship was called the Herman H. Hettler built in 1890. While carrying a load of 1,100 tons of table salt, the ship slammed into a rock reef during bad weather in November 1926.
As our tour boat moved over the wrecks, we were able to view the remains through the glass bottom while our captain explained what we were seeing. I took a bunch of photos, way too many that did not turn out! It was hard photographing these watery objects through the glass.
Besides the shipwrecks, we were also taken for a ride next to Grand Island which is located about 1/2 mile north of the town of Munising. A very short ferry ride takes visitors to this undeveloped island where there is camping, a small lake for fishing and trails for biking and hiking. Bike rentals are available at the ferry dock and I entertained the thought of renting one and taking it over to the island for a ride. But I usually check reviews (Trip Advisor) before doing something and several reviewers talked about the vicious mosquitos they could not escape. One reviewer mentioned that after the ferry dropped them off and they walked away from the dock, the mosquitos attacked them relentlessly. The biking also sounded more difficult than I wanted to deal with as the trails were described as steep in places, not graded and uneven. The bikers also mentioned mosquito hysteria.
Boating around Grand Island was great though as the scenery is beautiful and there were no mosquitos on board 😊. We stopped for a view of the Grand Island East Channel Lighthouse which was completed in 1870. It is a wood framed keeper’s house with an attached square wooden tower. The light operated until 1913 and is now located on private property.
Along Grand Island’s shore are rocky cliffs and recessed caves. Our captain boated us into one cave which was kind of fun.
My second boating trip was with Pictured Rocks Cruises, which is very popular with multiple trips happening each day. The sandstone cliffs tower 50 to 200 feet above Lake Superior and receive their name due to the streaks of mineral stain that can be seen on the face of the weathered cliffs. The cliffs stretch for about 15 miles along the lake shore and the best way to see them is by boat.
There are a number of special sights along the lakeshore and one of my favorites was this arch formation. It was eroded out of the sandstone cliff face, formed by the powerful waves of Lake Superior.
We were also able to see two waterfalls dropping off the cliffs. One of the waterfalls barely had any water in it, but Spray Falls was still flowing rather well.
Hikers can reach Chapel Rock on foot but we were also able to see it from the boat. There used to be an archway connecting the rock to the mainland. In the 1940’s the arch collapsed. The lone white pine on the rock is reported to be about 250 years old.
The National Park Service manages the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. There is quite a bit to see in this stunning area, so stay tuned as we explore more in the next post!