Tag Archives: Munising

Engaging Upper Peninsula

For such a sparsely-populated area, this are of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has a surprising number of things to do. When we weren’t hiking Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore or biking Grand Island National Recreation area, we went exploring the Munising and Marquette areas.

Marquette is the epicenter of Upper Peninsula civilization. Home to Northern Michigan University, it is a medium size town with shopping, restaurants, and a lovely network of bike trails. Similar to Bentonville, we were able to park at a trailhead that offered access to paved trails (for me) as well as mountain bike trails (for Jeff). We spent several days on these trails as we each got our respective work out!

030Marquette was originally a significant port city for the iron ore shipping business. In the mid-1800’s, the industrial revolution was in full swing with an insatiable need for iron ore which was mined and smelted along the Great Lakes shores. Originally, cargo ship loading was a laborious several-day process involving 20 to 30 men and wheelbarrows. To improve efficiency, a pocket dock system was developed which loaded a series of holds (pockets) atop a long dock which could be rapidly emptied into ships below. This reduced loading time from days to hours, and several ships could be loaded at the same time. Remnants of a giant pocket dock stand proudly in Marquette’s harbor. Historical artifact? Industrial art? Eyesore? You be the judge!

031We always check theater offerings wherever we go, and lucked into a performance of “What a Wonderful Feeling” on the WMU campus as part of their summer theater schedule. The musical takes place in a rehearsal studio during the filming of “Singin’ in the Rain” and brings to life the little-known story of the tempestuous love triangle between Gene Kelly, co-director Stanley Donen and their assistant, Jeanne Coyne. The play director was also the playwright and did a fantastic casting job. The one-set, 5 actor play (6 actors when you add the piano player) was set in a tiny 100 seat theater, but the singing, acting and dancing was amazingly professional. There were loads of fantastic tap dancing and jazz choreography, in period musical style. Kathleen and Jay – you would have Loved It!!

Along the way, we stumble into the most offbeat gems. Such is the Lakenenland Sculpture garden, located between Marquette and Munising. The owner has built dozens of giant sculptures out of scrap iron and planted them along a half mile trail for viewing – for free! Curious, we stopped in and meandered through the trail,  awestruck of the scale of the works that range from whimsical to artsy to downright political. Later that week, we stopped back in for a music festival held on the property. We listened to a surprisingly good hometown band play country music favorites to a local crowd. The best things in life are free!

A small fishing fleet still resides and operates near Munising so we stopped in several times to stock up on fish dip, fresh-caught lake trout, and smoked whitefish. Yum!

We’ve really enjoyed our time here in Yooper land. Aside from a couple of rainy days, the weather was mostly fantastic with cool nights and warm sunny days. The lake views are just beautiful. Living so close to the ocean for so many years, the lake plays with my head. It looks like ocean, but doesn’t have that slight salty/fishy tang that I always associate with the sea.

But, it’s time to move along. After spending the better part of 2 months in Michigan, we’re moving on to Wisconsin – a new State!





Grand Island National Recreation Area

015Grand Island National Recreation Area lies a 5 minute ferry ride across from the small town of Munising, MI. Managed by the US Forest Service, it is part of the Hiawatha National Forest and essentially undeveloped. The island has only mountain bike trails, campsites, beaches, and a few (grandfathered) private vacation cabins. So we hopped the ferry with our bicycles and headed over to check it out!

The island itself is approximately 3 times the size of Mackinac Island. Although you CAN ride a trail all the way around, it consisted of over 25 miles of hilly trail – not a paved path. That was a bit too ambitious for me, so we elected to stick to the southern half of the island, which held most of the interesting and historic features anyway.

We headed off on the bike paths. Some are wide gravel roads that are (mostly) solid, while others are more like typical single track mountain bike trails. Being a sandstone island, there is a lot of … sand. Slogging through sand is a lot like biking uphill, continuously. Although I love my hybrid bicycle, it is not ideally suited to this type of terrain. Adding to the fun were the swarms of biting flies, seemingly undeterred by copious amounts of DEET. At one point, reduced to walking my bike up a never-ending hill while being attacked by biting flies, I believe the words “I Hate This!” emerged from my lips. It wasn’t exactly what I had bargained for.

It wasn’t all bad, of course. The forest and lake views were beautiful. We explored a cemetery with gravestones dating from the 1850’s to very recent. I suppose family plots were grandfathered in when the land was purchased by the Forest Service a decade or so ago. We passed old cabins, remnants of a time when the island was a private vacation retreat. We toured the small nature center by the boat dock and walked the beach. It WAS peaceful. I can see the appeal if you really want to get away from everything.

However, after making a round of the lower half of the island, I was ready to head back to civilization!

And a shower.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore


We are currently in Yooper territory – the Michigan Upper Peninsula! Our campground is located near Munising, the gateway to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Pictured Rocks stretches 42 miles along Lake Superior’s south shore, between the towns of Munising and Grand Marais. Within its boundaries lie streams, waterfalls, several sandy beaches, enormous dunes, 100 miles of hiking trails, and 15 miles of sandstone cliffs  — the latter of which gives the park its name.

The sandstone cliffs rise up to 200 feet above lake level in towering sheer walls. Although the sandstone itself is mostly tan/brown, seeping mineral-rich groundwater have painted the walls brilliant shades of red, black, brown, green, orange, blue and white. Additionally, winter storms and waves have sculpted and carved caves and fantastical shapes into the soft sandstone walls.

We explored much of the park on foot, using the well-marked hiking trails. Many of the trails are short jaunts to overlooks or waterfalls but one hiking loop has become one of our all-time favorites! From the Chapel Fall trailhead, the 11 mile loop took us by two waterfalls, a beach, and a several-mile stretch on top of the best part of the sandstone cliff formation. On this clear blue-sky day, the scenery from the cliff top was spectacular. The clear Lake Superior water shone in shades from turquoise to deep blue. We watched tour boats and kayakers cruise by. From various vantage points, we even could catch views of some of the famed cliff formations, arches, and colors. The hike wasn’t especially difficult (total up/down elevation change was about 800 feet), but it is long-ish. We’ll probably go back and do it again before we leave!

However, the best way to see the cliffs is by boat. So, we purchased tickets for the Pictured Rock cruise and headed out. The mid-day sun may not have provided the best lighting to see the colors, but it was still impressive. As we cruised the calm waters, the guide called out features by their fanciful names; Minor’s Castle, Lover’s Leap, the Indian, the Pirate, Battleship Row. Splotches of color on the rocks created a sort of Rorschach test – I saw an entire frontier scene with oxen, horses, fence line, cowboys and cabins. Others saw a row of Indians. One person claimed to see Hootie and the Blowfish — I didn’t get it.

One famous formation is called Chapel Rock. A lone white pine (estimated to be 250 years old) perches atop a fancifully-carved formation. Once, an archway connected the formation to the mainland, but that collapsed about 100 years ago. There is insufficient soil to support the tree, but a large root system reaches out and connects the tree to the main cliff. I think there is a life lesson there for us – we may be planted in infertile soil, but we can still thrive if we maintain a strong connection to the Source.


It is yet another beautiful area of this country that we are privileged to explore.