Pure Michigan: St. Ignace

20150805-DSC_0005We have been on the road for two weeks doing the circle tour of Lake Superior. Internet service is weak to non-existent in state and provincial parks so I have had to sit on my photos and stories. Photography and blogging has made travel so much fun as I attempt to capture the personality of the places we visit.



We had made reservations at the Straits State Park for a week of camping with our daughter, her husband and our three granddaughters. At the last minute they had to cancel because of trailer problems – what a disappointment. We decided to decrease our stay to three nights and then head for Canada.

I was looking forward to staying at this campground because it is on the Mackinaw Straits that connect Lake Michigan with Lake Huron, on the Upper Peninsula side. I walked just a few yards from my campsite to the beach for beautiful views of the bridge.

One of the first things we want to do when we reach the U.P. is to have a pastie. I was in St. Ignace a year ago with a friend and she took me to a little restaurant that had really good ones. I wanted to take JB there – hoping they would live up to the hype I was giving them.


While we were waiting for our order I wandered around the small dining room looking at photos on the wall. I noticed the staff was making a table full of pasties in the kitchen so I grabbed my camera. When they saw me they invited me in and posed.


The family has been selling pasties in St. Ignace for over 50 years. Before the bridge was built connecting the Lower & Upper Peninsulas of Michigan, the state ran ferryboats and “Pee Wee” Phelps worked as a cook for many years on these boats. His wife, Bessie, was a good cook in her own right and would go to the docks to sell hot dogs, sandwiches and such to people sitting in their autos waiting for the next ferry to depart. When Pee Wee retired they decided to open their own business selling pasties – and the rest is history. JB and I have eaten a lot of pasties across the U.P. and none compare.

We are back in St. Ignace after two weeks of driving and camping in the way “up north.” Tomorrow we will cross that beautiful bridge and in the freezer of our travel trailer will be some Bessie’s Pasties. We are taking some of the personality of the U.P. home with us.

Upper Peninsula

Friend Natalie needed to go back to Escanaba where she grew up and wanted someone to go with her to help with the driving. I jumped at the chance. Escanaba is in Michigan‘s Upper Peninsula, on the far north shore of Lake Michigan, almost to Wisconsin. How nice that my trip was just in time for Frizz’s weekly alphabet challenge that is all the way up to “U”. I don’t think there is anywhere on earth that is like Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. 

View of bridge from the Lower Peninsula.

View of bridge from the Lower Peninsula.

I had two goals for this trip. The first was to capture Natalie’s growing up places in photographs because she was going to the memorial service for a couple who were killed in a car accident. These were people she had known forever and were her last ties to Escanaba. I couldn’t accomplish this because the pieces of her old life – her home, her school – had all changed too much. It had been well over half a century. Natalie drove around and showed me places as she was remembering them fondly in her minds eye. “This was where…” Going back and remembering sometimes is an important part of moving on. So is realizing that things aren’t the same any more. That can hurt a little.

My second goal was to capture the personality of the U.P. We took many summer camping vacations to the upper peninsula when the kids were young so this wasn’t my first trip. Even though I’ve been this way before, I still feel an excitement deep within, experience a sense of wonder when I go across the Mackinac (pronounced Machinaw) bridge. Natalie and I agreed that it feels like a different world. It has a special personality created by its geography.

It is almost an island, but not. Along the south are Lake Huron and Lake Michigan with just a small wet border with Canada on the east. The Sault (pronounced Sue) Lockes between Sault Ste. Marie Canada and Sault Ste. Marie Michigan provide passage for ships between Lake Huron and Lake Superior, important because it then allows shipping of natural resources to Chicago and the St. Lawrence Seaway to the Atlantic Ocean. The northern border of the UP is the shore of Lake Superior. The only land connection is the western border with Wisconsin.

I think most Yoopers (people who live in the UP or moved away after growing up there) feel a stronger connection with Wisconsin than with Michigan. There is a political, social, and economic disconnect between the lower and upper peninsulas of Michigan. A part of that disconnect is the Straits of Machinac. This strait has strong, turbulent currents but it can freeze over if not kept open by the Coast Guard for shipping. The only way to cross was by car ferry until 1957 when the bridge was opened – it is the only physical connection between the two peninsulas. The 5-mile long bridge is frequently closed because of high winds, making it frightening for some people to drive. The bridge authority provides a driver service for those too anxious to drive themselves. On both days we drove the bridge there were calm winds. Even so, when I drove on the inside grated lane I could feel the car move because of the updraft.

Mackinac Bridge from Highway 2

Mackinac Bridge from Highway 2

The personality of the UP is defined, in large part for me, by Lake Superior. It is deep, it is big, it is clear, it is really cold all year, and it can be wild. Sink ships kind of wild. Remember the Edmund Fitzgerald? – a ballad was written about it. Maybe it is a Michigan phenomenon but we look on Lake Superior with awe. Lake Superior produces a lot of snow – measured in feet kind of snow. And spring comes late – the trees were just starting to leaf out in the middle of May.

A stop at the Cut River Bridge on US 2

A stop at the Cut River Bridge on US 2

I don’t have photos of our many trips to Lake Superior where we scouted fire trails and lost roads for ghost towns – towns that flourished at the height of the copper mining era but then died. Sometimes these ghost towns were just foundations overgrown with weeds, sometimes the company towns looked like the people had recently left. There are lots of signs of past prosperity from logging and mining. Now people work hard to make a living from logging, fishing, farming and tourism. Last week-end the area was just waking up from the long hibernation of winter.

Here are photographs that seem to capture some of the personality of the UP. The slide show can be viewed by clicking on any photo that will also provide captions and information.

Natalie and I laughed because there seems to be Michigan time and Upper Peninsula time.  No one seemed to be in a hurry. Of course the marinas were empty and many of the business weren’t open yet because tourist season doesn’t start until after school is out for the summer. I hope the tourists will feel the difference, will take a deep breath of the air that smells so much fresher, and will let go of the stress that builds up “below the bridge.” Maybe they can open the car windows and let the wind blow it away as they are crossing.

Anther way you can unwind is to wander over to Frizz’s place and check out other entries. Here’s the spot: