Down Home in Michigan's Upper Peninsula
The area is gorgeous, remote, and quirky--where the people prefer ATVs to cars, and menus feature meat pockets and Paul Bunyan-size cinnamon rolls.
- Bella Vista MotelCopper Harbor, 906/289-4213, bellavistamotel.com, $48
- Sweet Water Café517 N. Third St., Marquette, 906/226-7009, hummus and falafel $11
- HilltopL'Anse, 906/ 524-7858
- Harbor HausCopper Harbor, 906/289-4502, whitefish $18
- Iron Industry Museum73 Forge Rd., Negaunee, 906/475-7857
- Da Yoopers Tourist Trap490 N. Steel St., Ishpeming, 800/ 628-9978
Day 2. Copper Harbor to Houghton
The sun creeps through the curtains early, and we awake to find ourselves possibly the only tourists in town. Like the water, the real tourist season doesn't warm up until after the Fourth of July.
Copper Harbor is small enough that it has only one traffic light. On a quiet day like today, even that seems like overkill. We drive the entire length of the town in about a minute and a half and then have a pleasant breakfast atThe Pines.The restaurant is made completely from white pine, and the walls are decorated with paintings of black Labs and moose.
Afterward, we browse at an elegant gift shop,The Swedes,which sells little gnome statues, polished rocks, and pamphlets of local lore like "A Brief History of Ahmeek, Michigan." I had enjoyed the lilting Finnish music on local radio the day before, and, seeing a stack of CDs behind the counter, I ask the proprietress, Mary, if she has any recommendations. Looking aghast, she flings her arms out and exclaims, "Does it look like I have time to listen to the radio, sir? I run a business!"
The morning is so sparklingly clear that it seems a waste to spend any more of it inside. The walking path to Hunter's Point leaves from the marina and runs for 1.6 miles along the lake. But in less than 10 minutes we turn off at Agate Beach, which is gorgeous and totally empty. For an hour we crunch up and down the red-rocked cove, marveling at our luck in having the spot to ourselves.
Of course, there are a few trade-offs to coming in early season. Jamsen's Fish Market, a charming-looking seafood spot right at the ferry dock, isn't open. The ferry that operates sunset cruises isn't running yet, either.
Still, we can't complain. With the car windows down, we head west on the Lakeshore Drive part of Route 26 toward Eagle Harbor. Even cuter, smaller, and less ready for business than Copper Harbor, Eagle Harbor looks like a delightful place to spend an afternoon, or an entire summer. We stand on the beach, snap a few photos, and watch for a while as a young girl steers a remote-control car down the center of the road.
The nearbyJampot--a bakery and jam store run by monks from the Holy Transfiguration Skete--is closed not because of the season but because we are silly enough to come on a Sunday. My sour mood changes after chili dogs and beer at theMichigan House Cafe.
The buildings at theQuincy Mineare creepy. They sit on a hill above the town of Hancock like the husks of giant locusts that have gorged themselves on the land and departed. It's 43 degrees inside the mine, and before our tour we're supplied with heavy jackets and hard hats. We board a tram to the mine entrance and then climb into a trailer pulled by a small John Deere. As dripping water echoes through the dark tunnel, our guides, Eli and Jennifer, tell us about accidents--253 workers died between 1846 and 1945, when the mine was in operation--as well as escape tunnels, children who started work as young as age 11, and a drill called the Widowmaker. We're seven levels deep in the mine, and I'm amazed there are 88 floors below us.
By the time we emerge squinty-eyed into the light, it's late in the afternoon. We head to an uninspired town called Houghton. We wander into a strange pizza joint called theAmbassador,where extensive gnome-based murals cover the walls. Fortunately, the restaurant has a great view of the Houghton-Hancock bridge, along with decent food.
- The Pines Copper Harbor, 906/289-4222, pinesresort.net
- Michigan House Cafe300 Sixth St., Calumet, 906/337-1910, two chili dogs $8
- Ambassador126 Sheldon Ave., Houghton, 906/482-5054
- Quincy Mine 49750 Hwy. 41, Hancock, 906/482-3101, quincymine.com, tour $15
- The Swedes260 Third St., Copper Harbor, 906/289-4596
- The Jampot6559 State Hwy. 26, Eagle Harbor, no phone
Day 3. Houghton to Manistique
On the mine tour we learned about pasties: meat-pocket snacks that miners warmed over their candles. Pasties are still fairly popular around the U.P., though I have a hunch that it's nostalgia rather than tastiness that keeps them on restaurant menus. Either way, I haven't worked up the courage to try one yet. In a fit of coffee-fueled brashness and journalistic duty, I order a pasty for breakfast atSuomi, a diner with logging gear on the walls. Check pasties off the list: I can now officially say that I'm not a fan of the miner's meat pocket. But the cinnamon toast at Suomi is perfect, and the service is friendly.