Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Pure Michigan: Fall Break in the Great Upper Peninsula

For fall break this year, I took a trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Having family that lives there, I have had the opportunity to travel there several times each year before, but this trip was extra-special.  The U.P. is typically ten degrees (Fahrenheit) colder than the lower peninsula of Michigan, so I was crossing my fingers that the leaves had not already dropped, as I was looking forward to seeing some beautiful fall colors along the way.  
We were in luck.  The weather was perfect the whole trip and the fall colors on the leaves made the entire countryside shimmer in gold, orange, and red in the sunlight.  I mean, take a look at the highway view:
On our drive over to my relatives' home, we stopped by Tahquamenon Falls State Park and saw the beautiful upper and lower Tahquamenon Falls.  Tahquamenon is the largest waterfall in Michigan and it is always amazing to see the sheer force that the bronze colored water has as it continuously pours over the falls, mercilessly pounding the rocks below. 
Driving west toward our destination, we spent a little time on Highway 94, part of which runs along the coast of Lake Superior, the largest and deepest of the Great Lakes.  Lake Superior is always cold, but that day the water was calm and reflected the sun and autumn colors of the trees lining its shore beautifully.  It would have been a great day to kayak.  I had not driven along that route in a long time, and it was great to see all of the little roadside drive-through parks along the shoreline.  We took our time driving, and it was nice to be able to get out every so often and walk down along the beach before jumping back in the car and continuing on our way.
Our first daytrip was to Canyon Falls in L'Anse, Michigan.  There is a small roadside park off of US Highway 41.  I had never been here before - not surprising, since the U.P. has smaller waterfalls all over the place.  The roadside park is very nice.  It's clean and accessible for people of all ages and the trail over to the actual waterfall is short and easy to manage.  Along the way, you can walk on the large flat rocks by the river.  It is pretty cool to see where the river just immediately drops off into the falls.
Another one of our stops along the way to the Porcupine Mountains was driving through Henry Ford's company town in Alberta, Michigan (officially called the Ford Center).  
The Ford company town was even featured in a Smithsonian article about the Upper Peninsula:
On my final day in the upper peninsula, I drive 58 miles from Marquette to the village of Alberta, built in the 1930s by Henry Ford, who conceived of a utopian community for his workers. In 1935, he founded such a settlement, centered around a lumber mill, at the southern end of the Keweenaw Peninsula. There the men worked in a mill that supplied lumber for components for Detroit car bodies; Alberta’s women grew fruits and vegetables on two-acre plots. The community included a dozen households, two schools and a reservoir that supplied water to the mill and offered recreation for residents.
Ford claimed he had been motivated to create Alberta—named after the daughter of one of his executives—by nostalgic memories of his own village childhood. But some are skeptical. The Depression years were a time of ideological struggle, with Fascism and Communism sweeping Europe and increasing tensions between management and labor in the United States. “Ford didn’t like unions, and saw the Alberta experiment as an alternative to keep them at bay a bit longer,” says Kari Price, who oversees the museum established at Alberta after the Ford Motor Company transferred the village to nearby Michigan Tech in 1954. Today Alberta is the location of the university’s forestry research center, and its original dozen Cape Cod-style cottages are rented to vacationers and a handful of permanent residents.
The Alberta experiment lasted only 16 years. Demand for automobile lumber ended in 1951 when Ford stopped producing “woody” station wagons, which featured slats of polished wood on the doors. And farming at Alberta turned out to be impractical: the soil was rocky, sandy and acidic; the growing season was short (90 days at best)—and the deer were voracious.  Ford’s failure, however, was not without its compensations. He envisioned establishing villages throughout the Upper Peninsula, and likely anticipated increased logging to supply the mills in future settlements. Instead, the region’s sprawling wilderness has remained intact.
After Canyon Falls, we ate lunch in L'Anse and then made our way to the Porcupine Mountains.  The Porkies, as the Yoopers would say, are Michigan's only mountain range, and compared to the Rockies or Andes ranges, the Porkies look like small hills.  However, when considering how flat the rest of Michigan is, they certainly seem worthy of mountain status.
Our first stop was to the Lake of the Clouds.  It was breathtaking.  There are about 90 miles of trails in total in the Porcupine Mountains State Park, including several trails that lead to Lake Superior.  But I think my favorite view has got to be of the Lake of the Clouds.  It seemed like the trees were endless from our lookout above the lake.
Driving back down from the lake, we stopped by the ski hill in the Porcupine Mountains.  My mom used to ski here in high school with her siblings and friends.  Not much has changed since then.  The chair lifts were open for a couple more weekends for $5 a person so that you could ride to the top of the ski hill and walk around the ski hills and trails to see the autumn forest and look out over Lake Superior.  Again, more breathtaking views.
Our day trip ended with a stop for dinner at Riverside Pizza in Iron River, Michigan.  I swear, there is no better pizza in the entire world than the pizza at Riverside.  It was an amazing, amazing end to an excellent day.
It is LITERALLY the best pizza in the world.

Our other day trip (before my bigger drive back to Ann Arbor - boo) was much smaller and more relaxed, as the first one covered a lot of ground.  We drove to Iron Mountain, Michigan, and first visited Pine Mountain, a gigantic ski hill with the tallest man-made ski jump in the world.  It's scary tall.  I hiked about half way up it and just sat down on the wooden stairs because I am not yet that insane to climb to the top.  However, every February, there are ski jumpers from around the world who come and try to set records there.  See for yourself how crazy these people are:
Seriously, crazy.

These are some of my pictures of the ski jump and the (truthfully beautiful) views from being that high above everything.
Right next to the Pine Mountain Ski Jump, there is a memorial for the veterans from the Upper Peninsula who fought in WWI, WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam war from each military service branch.  It is a very nice memorial in a peaceful location on top of the hill.
At the end of our Iron Mountain experience, we stopped by the Millie Hill at dusk in hopes of seeing some bats.  However, the bats had already begun to hibernate so we were not able to see any.  Apparently, August and September evenings at dusk are better times to see bats coming and going from the mine shaft.  The mine shaft is deep and has a regular temperature all year of about 48 degrees Fahrenheit, making it a perfect hanging out location for the bats.  Since the mine is no longer in use, the city of Iron Mountain put an enclosure around the shaft so that the bats could get in and out, but no one could bother them there.
Iron Mountain also has an athletic facility that was built by MSU Basketball Coach Tom Izzo with Steve Mariucci.  Apparently, Izzo and Mariucci are childhood friends and Mariucci was a coach on the Green Bay Packers when Brett Farve played for them and then coached a stint with the San Francisco 49ers.  Tom Izzo is from Iron Mountain, Michigan, originally and is known for giving back generously to the area, and apparently the two come back each summer for various golf outings and charity events to raise money for the area and other causes.
Driving back to Ann Arbor from along US-2 with a view of Lake Michigan was also gorgeous.  And we were even able to make a quick stop on the way back home through Escanaba to Dobber's Pasties to grab some delicious, frozen pasties to cook later back home.  Pasties are basically pasty dough with beef, potato, and rutabaga inside and were brought over from Cornwall, England, to the U.P. with the Cornish tin miners that were recruited to work in the mines in the 1860s.  The trip was timed perfectly, since within two weeks of our mini vacation, the U.P. received an early dose of winter snow flurries.

Yooper Soul Food Indeed.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Art Prize 2013

This past weekend was the last weekend of Art Prize 2013, the world's largest cash prize art fair.  $560,000 in total cash prizes are distributed to winning pieces of art ($360,000 is awarded by public vote and the remaining $200,000 is awarded by a jury).  This is the fifth annual Art Prize (the first being in 2009), and it is pretty cool to see downtown Grand Rapids come alive with people of all ages and walks of life spending time with family and friends to check out all of the exhibits scattered around downtown GR.  
Sleeping Bear Dune Lakeshore (quilt); Ann Loveless; 2013 Winner
Unfortunately, I was only able to spend one afternoon visiting the exhibitions, but I was still fortunate enough to be able to see many very good submissions.  It would be nice if some of the art stayed downtown for a while, not just for the duration of the art fair.  In any case, I included several pictures of some of the coolest things I saw today.  A list of the current 2013 winners can be found here; the winners from previous years can be found here.
Polar Expressed; Anni Crouter; 2013 2nd Place

Dancing with Mother Nature; Paul Baliker; 2013 4th Place
UPlifting; Andy Sacksteder; 2013 3rd Place

Myth-or-Logic; Robin Protz; 2013 7th Place
Tired Pandas; Nick Jakubiak; 2013 10th Place

Other honorable mentions (in my opinion):


melting glacier

pretty cool airplane tail (at least that's what it reminds me of) 

Hope you enjoyed some of the pictures.  Already looking forward to next year's exhibits!

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