By: H. Anne Thurston-Brandley
For well over seventy years I have traveled in the Upper Peninsula. Granted, the early years I was not behind the car’s wheel and often it has been because I was on my way into Canada.
Yet over the years I have stayed in many of the UP’s camp sites and enjoyed its historical areas from east to west and north to south. The most memorable visit was back in ’57 when I packed our four children and dog into our Mercury station wagon to explore every state park then available. A two week journey, Porcupine Mountain on its far western shore remains my most favorite site. It was there on a stormy night seated around the hot campfire above Lake Superior’s rugged shoreline that I all but found myself knocked out cold when one of the fire ring’s stones split in two and bonged me on the head. I have never since lit a fire in a ring of rain wet stones.
Recently Ray and I set out to spend a week in the Upper. During our preparation we discovered our Michigan road map was a 1983 edition so secured a current one which was loaded with information. Like our Lower Peninsula’s Sleeping B ear Dunes National Park the UP also has a National Park, the Pictured Rocks between Munising and Grand Marias. We visited the Castle Rock area, one of its three camping spots available to motor vehicle. Sure enough, there within easy view from a wonderfully elevated station we saw not only the famous ‘castle’ rocks but also were able to look way below ourselves into the vividly colored clear Lake Superior water. The deep purples, vivid blues and treasure-like yellows were breath-taking.
In addition to the three beautiful spots available by vehicles those travelers who choose to backpack can walk the long trail which follows the cliff tops from the western end to the eastern terminus of the park. Primitive camp spots are scattered along the trail’s length.
The Mackinaw Bridge is undergoing renovative repairs, yet the traffic stills flows across its length. It is Route 2 which leads across the southern edge of the UP along Lake Michigan’s northern shoreline, which offers the most remarkable up-grading imaginable. Long time a main route for cars and commercial trucks the highway underwent some major improvements within the past two years. No longer is the driver of the passenger car forced to share the heavily traveled route with log haulers, moving vans and other massive trucks wanting to pass or needing to be passed. About every ten miles the new road with its generous paved shoulders offers a mile long double-lane section on which those drivers who must pass can do so safely and easily. Aware of this frequent passing zone the drivers relax and wait to accomplish whatever passing they dream necessary. A total of nine such passing zones exist as one travels west on 2.
Beside the wonderful National Parks and frequent State Forest camp grounds which didn’t exist in my earlier years amazing changes have taken place at the Cut River Bridge. High above the river the bridge remains much as it was way back then but the large river which passes under it hundreds of feet below is all but invisible today as a result of a heavy growth of maples and birch which have established themselves on what was originally the gradual decline of the river’s rocky bed. The stairs which twist their way down to the river have been rebuilt and include a wheelchair section which descends the eastern sides of the gorge far enough to turn and cross under the bridge’s massive metal supports to its Lake Michigan side. Overhead the sound of cars and trucks roaring overhead shatter the silence of the gorge. Today the river appears to be about two feet wide when you are fortunate enough to spot it among the heavy tree growth.
What we found unchanged were those we met in the camp grounds we called home. Friendly, helpful and interesting to talk with they were from as far away as California and Vermont. Many were retirees, yet even much younger travelers were on the road to view Michigan’s unbelievable fall colors. Which this year, as all of you have noted, I’m sure, have intensity above the usual. Aren’t we fortunate?