Wheeling Next To Lake Superior
Michigan's Upper Peninsula has around 29 percent of the entire state's land mass and yet only 3 percent of its population. That sounds like a good formula for some places to explore! That part of the state is affectionately known as the UP and the residents often refer to themselves as Yoopers. The UP is littered with ghost towns and relics of the mining era along with 4,300-plus inland lakes, along with the world's largest body of fresh water, Lake Superior, to the north. If you access the UP from the Lower Peninsula, you will cross over using the Mackinac Bridge, a stunner all on its own.
I have been exploring the UP for the past five years with a varying group of people from the UP Overland forum. The UP Overland was formed by Kristian Saile and Tom Dolaskie IV, Marquette and Munising residents, respectively. They both have a strong desire to show others the natural beauty of that part of the state that seems to go unappreciated by many. The first UP Overland trip back in 2008 was only for one night. Some have managed to attend every one since, including my wife and me. The groups have varied in size and residence. Most of those attending are from Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin, but there have been some from as far as South Carolina, Florida, and New York. Something common with attendees is they return home with a new outlook on Michigan's UP.
The 2012 UP Overland had a different twist to it than those in the past. Before, we were all in a big group, traversing from one destination to another led by Tom or Kristian. A scavenger hunt–style event was held for 2012, breaking the large group up into individuals or teams. There was a drivers' meeting each morning to discuss what the day would consist of and where we would meet at the end of it. At the night's rendezvous point, we could break off into groups (or solo) for dispersed camping.
Our team consisted of five vehicles: a Jeep CJ-7 from Muskegon, Michigan; a Hummer H3 from Grand Rapids, Michigan; a Toyota Sequoia from Louisville, Kentucky; an FJ-40 from Homer Glen, Illinois; and our Toyota Tacoma from Bay City, Michigan. Most of us had attended several of the UP Overland trips, but there was a cancellation and we gladly took on a couple who drove their Sequoia up at the last minute from Louisville.
The group assembled at Whitefish Point in the parking lot of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. After the drivers' meeting, the various teams assembled and planned their routes. No sooner did we leave the lot than it started raining, but it didn't stop the various groups from visiting lighthouses, state parks, and other places that were on our day's checklist. It even included passing through where a large forest fire had burned earlier in the year. It continued to rain a good portion of the day and made the forest roads and two-tracks we traversed quite a challenge at times. The weather finally broke that afternoon, when we were getting close to Grand Marais, where our first night of camping would be.
We found out at our morning assembly in Grand Marais that the Munising area would be our destination for the next day. There were spectacular places to visit that day—waterfalls, sand dunes, beaches, lakes, etc. There was quite a bit of pavement on this day, but there was still some dirt mixed into our route.
The third day's goal would be the shores of Lake Michigan on the Garden Peninsula. Points could be had by visiting places listed (with photographic proof) on the day's handout. Several lakes and streams were on the list, but most were anxious to visit the Kitchitikipi Spring. It is a natural freshwater spring going down 40 feet and is a constant 45 degrees throughout the year. The beauty of the spring is that there is a self-powered observation raft you can take a ride on out over the spring. Not to mention you can see some rather large fish in the spring (no fishing is allowed).
There was an afternoon meeting after everyone had a chance to visit the Fayette Historic State Park, a partially restored 19th century pig iron smelting community. It is a must-see if you are ever in the Upper Peninsula and gives a neat insight into what it may have been like living back in the 1800s with its variety of restored buildings. Add to it the limestone cliffs nearby, and there are some fantastic photographic opportunities.
The final morning was soon followed by a drivers' meeting in the nearby village of Garden. We took some more forest roads back to the Munising area and spent some time at a nice little spot on the Superior shore.
The 2012 UP Overland hosted 28 vehicles ranging from a CUCV to a few Xterras. Altogether, there were 53 attendees in all age brackets who were there to enjoy the annual outing. We were once again blessed with some fantastic weather and sights, and we look forward to next year's event. For more information about UP Overland, visit upoverland.org/forum.