UP'er Vacation

The last time Gary and I lived in the Midwest, we were located on the Lake Erie shoreline in Ohio. We had made a point to travel around Lake Michigan, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario to see as much of the Great Lakes as we possibly could. However, we never made it to Huron or Superior and we had always been sorry that we didn't get at least a peek at the Upper Peninsula, or the UP as it is commonly called. So, last week, Gary and I packed up the Prius and made our way north to visit the UP for a UP'er (pronounced yoo-per) Vacation to see some fall colors.

We wound our way up through northeast Iowa crossing the Mississippi River at Dubuque. Gary and I travel well together, we're both interested in everything, stopping frequently to look at something that suddenly strikes our interest, or to just get out and take a hike. There are times we just drive, talk and listen to music without stopping at all. Overall, we like to travel and we give ourselves plenty of time to explore along the way. One of the first stops on this leg of the trip was Horicon National Wildlife Refuge. Horicon is over 32,000 acres in size and is the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the United States. Aside from providing a critical rest stop for thousands of migrating ducks and Canada Geese it also provides habitat for the largest great blue heron rookery in Wisconsin. The views over the marsh are phenomenal and thanks to the very helpful staff and volunteers at the visitor center we were able to get in a good hike that culminated at a boardwalk that allowed excellent views over those beautiful wetlands. Here the colors were not quite beginning to show, but the mix of greens and yellows were a hint of what was to come.

We spent the first night in Oshkosh where we experienced the season of highway construction. We left bright and early the next morning and headed to Mackinaw, Michigan. Our route ran along the edge of the shoreline of Lake Michigan. We made a few stops here and there including a couple of pretty nice state parks. I took a few photos and some of them seem to indicate an ethereal quality to the subjects I chose. It really wasn't anything spiritual, I discovered later that I had a smudge on my camera lens. If you think you see the sparkle of a fairy near these mushrooms, nope, just a smear. Neat camera technique, don't you think?

Crossing the Mackinaw Bridge was a great experience. There was some construction taking place on the deck of the bridge forcing us to travel at a lower speed than normal. The lower speed didn't bother us because it allowed us more time to take in the views of Lake Michigan on one side and Lake Huron on the other. The bridge is almost five miles long and is built in the same style as the Golden Gate Bridge, only narrower and this one is painted green with white towers. The colors definitely suited the purpose for the division of Lakes Michigan and Huron. Our hotel was situated close to the water so we had a view of the bridge from our fourth floor patio.

The weather was wonderfully cool and sunny. The Prius saw no action for two days as we walked everywhere in Mackinaw. The parks and the Colonial Michilimackinac Fort were only steps from our door. We explored them and made our way circuitously into the city and found our way to the ferry terminal where we purchased our tickets for the next day to take us to Mackinac Island. We enjoyed the rest of the day in Mackinaw and ate our first pastie at Hunt's Mackinaw Pastie and Cookie Company. It was delicious. I had never eaten one before. Our choices were vegetable, chicken or beef. I chose the chicken. I think I'll be looking up a recipe for pasties when I get home. I could eat those things all day long. My mouth waters now at the remembrance.

The next morning the ferry ride to the Island was fast and refreshing. When we arrived on the island we learned that there are no motorized vehicles allowed. All the residents either use horses, horse drawn carriages, or bicycles. Or they walk. If you need a motorized wheel chair you have to obtain a permit from the city. The only motorized vehicles allowed on the island are those used by emergency services and city maintenance. There is an airport on the island which is serviced by horse drawn carriages, I assume. We rented bicycles as soon as we arrived. Gary and I had a blast, but that wasn't because either of us was in any particularly good “bicycling” shape. We spent a lot of time laughing at each other and trying to keep upright. I wobbled a lot and gave up trying to make it up some of the hills, preferring to jump off and push the short distance to the top, jump back on and pedal for almighty until I hit the next hill. Finally we made it to the top-most part of the Island and after a brief stop at Arch Rock, we exploited the joy of free wheeling it downhill. The exhilaration of flying at great speeds down a winding, tree-shaded path was undeniable. I think I even shouted “Weee” once or twice. We really were fortunate that we didn't encounter anyone else during those moments of giddiness. By the time we reached the bottom of the island and returned our bicycles we were both ready to enjoy a hearty lunch with something cold to drink. After lunch there was plenty of opportunity for shopping among the many shops. After strolling through the shops we purchased some home made fudge and enjoyed it while we took in the view from the the dock while waiting for the ferry. Back on the mainland we finished our final tour of Mackinaw with another pastie dinner. It was sad to leave Mackinaw but if we were going to see Lake Superior we had to move on.

The next day found us stopping at Seney National Wildlife Refuge which is part of the Great Manistique Swamp. Here we took a hike on the trails watching trumpeter swans feeding in the swamplands and Sandhill cranes feeding in the fields. The Visitor Center has a great little bookstore where I picked up a book on the history of the fur trading forts throughout North America. I think it could be a good reference for a story I started years ago, abandoned but might revisit again. I had a chance to catch up with an old friend who works at Seney and then we were off again to Munisingin.

We stopped along the way at an old lighthouse and found the fall colors we had been seeking.

After an interesting but tasty hamburger at a restaurant called the Dogpatch, we checked into our hotel and explored the south shore of Lake Superior taking a short hike along a beautiful sandy beach. We noted that the waters of Huron and Superior were remarkably clear and clean. Too cold for us to take a swim but we did wade in with our bare feet for a bit.

The last leg of our trip took us back home and we stopped along the way to enjoy some of the colors of fall and the pastoral farm scenery that Wisconsin had to offer. We also stopped at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge which is home to two endangered species, the whooping crane and the Karner Blue Butterfly. They not only have awesome wildlife habitat and wonderful trails, they also have a brand new visitor center that has displays and other interactive devices to teach you about the habitat at the refuge. I visited with another friend who is the manager there and the cheerful staff helped us find our way around the landscape. We had a delightful time.

Our trip was wonderful but we were glad to get home again. Visiting the refuges made the trip all the more interesting and pleasurable. We always carry our binoculars with us so that we can stop for a little birding along the way. If you are traveling anywhere around the Great Lakes, you will find a National Wildlife Refuge somewhere on your route. You will find your trip much more enjoyable if you stop and learn a bit about the area and the wildlife you will see there.

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