Upper Peninsula (MI) – Cute Towns & Fine Craftsmanship

Macinaw Bridge Michigan Macinaw Bridge Michigan

Macinaw Bridge

Upper Peninsula St. Ignace Michigan Lighthouse

View from our motel room.

Upper Peninsula St. Ignace Michigan Lighthouse

St. Ignace Lighthouse at dusk.

Upper Peninsula St. Ignace Michigan Upper Peninsula St. Ignace Michigan boardwalk Hessel Michigan Upper Peninsula

Welcome to Hessel

Hessel Michigan Upper Peninsula

An urban bookstore in the

most remote setting.

Hessel Michigan Upper Peninsula Hessel Michigan Upper Peninsula

100 year old lilac bush in all its glory.

Woodland jewels: lillies-of-the-valley.

Hessel Michigan Upper Peninsula

Hessel is a quiet village.

Hessel Michigan Upper Peninsula

Lazy afternoons watching the small bay over a beer.

Wooden boat show Wooden boat show

A 1942 Chris Craft perfectly restored.

Wooden boat show Great Lakes Boat Building School

Great Lakes Boat Building School

Great Lakes Boat Building School

All students build a flat-bottomed skiff.

Great Lakes Boat Building School

Planks waiting to become boats.

Great Lakes Boat Building School

Yet another coat of varnish dries...

Great Lakes Boat Building School

A 32' footer is prepped for

shipment to Harbor Springs


Pasties -- meat-and-veggie pies I first

tasted in Australia

Snowmobile sign

Snowmobiles are the best

vehicle come winter.

UP farm

Sprawling farms grace the landscape.

sandhill cranes

Two sandhill cranes poke along

down a dirt road.

Lake Superior

Lake Superior's forbidding shoreline.

Lake Superior

Lake Superior Ice-water.   How did those girls

manage to go in all the way?

Upper Peninsula - St. Ignace & Hessel

Mid-June, 2009 - We left the cute, warm, Northern Lake Michigan coastal towns and ventured over the Macinaw Bridge to the

rather forbidding Upper Peninsula.  The bridge is a magnificent structure, and as we crossed it Mark told me a little about this other

side of Michigan.  The "Yoopers," inhabitants of the UP, are a breed apart.  They can withstand truly frigid winters and take great

pride in being from a vast land that shares little with the urban jungle of Detroit or the gentrified small towns of the warmer regions

to the south.  There is a ruggedness here, an almost frontier quality, that increases dramatically the further you get from the

Macinaw Bridge.

We didn't get too far.  The

small town of St. Ignace

beckoned to us just after we

crossed the bridge.

Bypassing the very elegant

waterfront Best Western that

advertised, "We aren't

expensive, we just look that

way," we stayed instead at a

small inn overlooking the

lighthouse.  Several motels

were closed permanently, and

those that were open had few


We were the only visitors at our motel for the night, and we had our pick

of any room we wanted.  Given that opportunity, I wanted to make sure

our picture window framed the lighthouse just right.  Mark and the inn

keeper shared some sidelong glances and rolled eyes as I vacillated

between two rooms, popping in and out of each one several times.  "You

should see her pick out a table at a restaurant..." Mark sighed with a


Later on he agreed

it was worth it:  as

the sun set and the

lighthouse slowly

winked at us

during the evening,

we both grabbed

our cameras.

St. Ignace has

a long wooden

boardwalk that

meanders along the edge of the harbor.  We walked along it the next

morning and found a swan and its babies paddling in the water.

A seagull surveyed the scene and eyed me up for breadcrumbs.  I

threw out a few and within seconds I was surrounded by the whole

flock and engaged in a wild game of catch.  I would throw pieces of

bread as high in the air as I could, and the gulls would swoop by and

effortlessly catch the bread in mid-air in an amazing aerobatic


Back in Traverse City, along the

northern part of Lake Michigan, we

had met Liz Fels who was staging an

exhibit of her photography.  She was

from the tiny town of Hessel in the

UP, and she recommended that we

stop by her bookstore/gallery when

we got up that way.  Hessel's

welcome sign made the town seem

like a happening place, but when we

got there we found a lovely, sleepy

little hamlet that boasts just a handful

of shops and an eatery or two.

It wasn't hard to find "The Village

Idiom," Liz's bookstore/gallery, and

what a find it was.  For any

enthusiastic reader spending time in

the raw lands of the UP, this store,

brimming with used books, is a rare jewel.

Not only is there space to unwind your mind inside with shelves of

unusual titles and a gallery of pretty photographs, but there is space

outside to take your new read, relax, and check it out under the sun.

When I commented on how beautiful all the lilacs were around town, she

took me to her back yard where there is a 100 year old lilac tree.  It was

immense and it was in full bloom.

I had a field day with flowers in this town.  A few doors down from the

bookstore I found a huge patch of lilies-of-the-valley.

You don't spot these forest gems too often, and Mark and I

both laid down to get a whiff of their heady scent.  A group of

cyclists going by stopped and gathered around us to see why

we were sprawled out on the sidewalk.  Ah, they nodded to

each other knowingly.  Lillies-of-the-valley... Of course!

Further down towards the harbor I found more flowers planted

along a whimsical, nautical fence.

The pace in this village is slooow, and

the air has a sense of contentment

and remoteness.

Visitors come here to let the cares of

the world slip away, and there is no

tourist hype or brochures of

prospective activities.

Long, quiet happy hours spent

overlooking the tiny bay and watching

the rare person working on their boat

is about as busy as it gets.

Hessel is the home

of a big antique

wooden boat show,

and we found a few

down in the

boatyard.  Too

bad we wouldn't

be here in

August to see

the event.

A fellow at the


proudly showed

us Shotsie, a

1942 Chris Craft that looks like it just came out of the showroom.  The

rich varnish, immaculate engine and new-looking controls inspired

images of young people of another era enjoying an afternoon on the


We strolled around the water's edge and admired several beautiful old boats.  I can remember

boats like these (not quite as pristine!) from when I was a very little girl on the beach in New

England, and Mark remembers aunts and uncles taking him for rides in boats like these on Lake

St. Clair.

A little further north of Hessel, in Cedarville, we found the heart of this wooden boat culture:  The

Great Lakes Boat Building School.  Set in a huge barnlike building, the doors were thrown wide

to let in the sun and spring air, and we peeked inside.

Offering an intensive two-year

program, students attend all-day

classes five days a week (with

summers off).  They range from

young people looking for career skills

to retirees looking for personal

fulfillment.  The $10,000/year tuition

puts you in a class with just a handful

of other students, mastering this craft

under the attentive tutelage of highly

qualified instructors.

In Year 1, all of the students build

the same boat, a flat bottom

double-ended skiff, which the

school then sells when it is

completed.  Selling these exquisitely crafted boats

supplements the school's income and helps keep the

tuition from being even higher.

There were boats in several stages of completion, and

outside was a gorgeous 32' boat that had taken two

different student classes two years to build.

The first class had laid the planks and shaped the hull,

and the second class had done the finishing work.

Now it was on a trailer, ready to go to Harbor Springs, home of the

lucky folks who had commissioned the school to build it.

Stopping for a snack, we discovered a local delicacy in the UP is

"pasties."  I hadn't seen these meat-pie treats since I was in

Australia in the early 1990's.  Down Under they call these yummy

personal-sized flakey crust encased meat and veggie pies "pahs-

ties."   Here in the UP they were called "pass-ties" but they were the

same delicious mini-meals that were probably brought to both

regions by Cornish immigrants many years ago.

We drove straight north across the UP, making a bee-line for Lake Superior.  The

temperature had dropped as soon as we crossed the bridge into the UP, and there were

snowmobile signs everywhere.  We even saw someone wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with an

image of a snowmobile and the words:  "Summer Sucks."  This was Cold Country!  Brrr.

There are endless paths through the woods where you can snowmobile in the winter, and lots of

wide open farmland as well.

Mark spotted two large

Sandhill cranes strolling down

the road.  As with so much of

the wildlife we see, we tried to

get them to stop and pose so

we could get a clear photo,

but they had other ideas.

We had seen two of the Great

Lakes so far:  Lake Michigan

and Lake Erie, and I wanted

to dip a finger in Lake

Superior.  We drove straight

to the first coastal opening we

could find and ran down to the beach.  A family was

coming up the trail from the beach, the kids shivering in

wet bathing suits with beach towels wrapped around them.

One little girl told us excitedly (through chattering blue lips), "I went in four times!"  She was very

proud of her feat, and once I put a finger in I could see why.  It was like putting your hand in the

water that collects around the ice in a cooler.  My hand turned red and ached instantly.

I am sure the Lake Superior coast is stunning, but that little bit was enough for me.  We turned

south and headed back to our cozy hotel overlooking the lighthouse in St. Ignace, planning our

next outing to the Soo Locks.