Almost everyone knows that the state of Michigan is affectionately known as “The Mitten” due to its shape that resembles a human hand. What some people don’t realize, though – especially those from outside the Midwest – is that there is a whole other part of Michigan that is not even attached to The Mitten! Separated from Lower Michigan by the Straits of Mackinac and physically attached to northeastern Wisconsin is the Upper Peninsula, or the U.P.
The U.P. has long been an outdoor adventure playground for Midwesterners. There is plenty of wild land in the U.P., as the peninsula makes up 29% of Michigan’s landmass but contains only 3% of the state’s population. I made my first trip to the U.P. at the age of sixteen and I look forward to every opportunity I get to return. So when my family and I were invited to visit Marquette, the U.P.’s largest city, by Marquette Country CVB, I didn’t have to think twice. It would be my first trip to Marquette in almost fifteen years; my first winter trip to the western U.P.; and my daughter’s first ever U.P. adventure.
My travel-partners-in-crime (my mom and my daughter) and I made the seven-hour drive to Marquette from Chicago last month. The easiest route to the western U.P. from Chicago is north through Wisconsin and then east into the U.P. At this time of year, the weather can be a bit dicey. We lucked out, though: bright sunshine, blue skies, and open roads all through Wisconsin, with a few flurries encountered as we crossed into Michigan but nothing we couldn’t handle. We were invited to Marquette this particular weekend to experience the start of the UP200, an Iditarod-qualifying sled dog race, and Marquette’s first ever Downtown Showdown Rail Jam. We had a great time at both events and we got to see and do quite a bit more during our time there.
Our first stop upon arrival (after a delicious, filling lunch at The Portside Inn) was the Marquette Maritime Museum and Lighthouse. We were treated to a personal, guided tour of the lighthouse by Museum Director Carrie Fries. On the shores of mighty Lake Superior, Marquette definitely has a nautical vibe with a strong maritime history. The Marquette Harbor Lighthouse was built in 1866 and was occupied until as recently as 1990, being used as housing for the United States Coast Guard. Thought of as the “most historically important building in Marquette”, in 2002, the lighthouse was acquired by the Marquette Maritime Museum from the Coast Guard. We got a tour of the lighthouse, getting a peek inside both apartments of the two-story, schoolhouse-style structure and viewing all of the pictures, historical documents, and artifacts on display. At the time of our visit, the lighthouse was closed to the public as museum staff is hard at work restoring the building with the intent of reopening it as an extension of the Maritime Museum. All the while I was trying to imagine being a young child growing up in there and thinking how cool it would be to have lived in a lighthouse. Now as an adult, I’d love to live there just for the unobstructed views of Lake Superior.
Maybe I’m crazy, but when Carrie allowed us to take a stroll out onto the lighthouse catwalk, I jumped at the opportunity. I braved the biting, brutal wind and the ice-covered walkway to get even closer to Lake Superior. As I stood there paying my respects to the fierce Great Lake, I couldn’t help but silently recite the famous lyrics, “The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down of the big lake they called Gitche Gumee…”