As Don and Lisa headed southeast back to Ohio, we drove Betsy the farthest north we’ll be this year – the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The state of Michigan is made up of two peninsulas, the upper and lower. The northern, Upper Peninsula is commonly referred to as Upper Michigan or “Da U.P”. It’s separated from the Lower Peninsula by the Strait of Mackinac, a five-mile channel where Lakes Huron and Michigan meet, and connected by the Mackinac Bridge.
Although we had already crossed into the Upper Peninsula while exploring Mackinac Island and Sault Ste Marie with our friends, this time we were heading deeper into the northwest U.P. We selected Newberry, Michigan as our home base, as it was well-located at the south end of the “Great Waters” (aka Lake Superior) for our planned activities. The Upper Peninsula consists of 29% of the land area of Michigan, but just 3% of its total population. Residents are frequently called Yoopers (derived from “U.P.-ers”), and they have a strong regional identity with living in almost one-third of the state’s land area. Indeed, driving the wide-open roads and seeing few other cars reminded us of some of the highways in Alaska!
There is a lot of natural beauty and several attractions to explore in the U.P., but we could do only so much during our one-week stay at the quiet Clementz’s Northcountry Campground (see Steve’s review here). We ventured out to Tahquamenon Falls State Park, just 20 miles away, then made it to the Wild Blueberry Festival in the town of Paradise. In my next post I’ll detail our explorations of Whitefish Point, with its museum featuring amazing stories of shipwrecks on the Great Lakes, and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
Tahquamenon Falls State Park
We visited Tahquamenon Falls twice, the first time driving with the hordes of tourists to admire the heavily-developed Upper and Lower falls. On our second visit we hiked both directions on the 4-mile River Trail that connects the Upper and Lower Falls, plus another loop near the Lower Falls. That visit ended at the Camp 33 Pub and Brewery, located within the state park – never seen that before! Enjoying a micro-brewed beer after a 11.25 mile hike was a sweet reward, and their Falls Tannin brew was so good that we dug our growler out of the back of the car and had them fill it up!
Luckily, the mosquitos that this area is famous for seemed to have taken the day off during our hike between the falls. The River Trail was rated moderately difficult, not for elevation gain but for the exposed roots and series of stairs that we had to traverse. The fairly long hike was the best way to get away from the crowds, who mostly stayed near the viewing platforms. And the best part was that the trail ends were at the Upper and Lower Falls, both nice destinations.
For those folks who wanted to hike only one way, there was a shuttle that would take them back to the other falls – but at $20 for two people we thought the price was pretty steep. So after a rest and snack at the Lower Falls, we added another 3 miles to our trek by hiking the loop there before heading back to the brewery and our car. Now that I think about it, ending our hike at a brewery doesn’t sound quite right. Oh well, it was fun!
There were some flowers still blooming, but these purple leaves were plentiful. I just don’t know what they’re called – anyone know?
Tahquamenon Falls is actually two separate falls located along the Tahquamenon River – the Upper and Lower falls. According to Indian lore, the origin of the name Tahquamenon (it rhymes with Phenomenon) is attributed to the water’s amber color – the result of the leaching of tannic acid from cedar and hemlock swamps feeding the river. After Niagara, it’s the largest waterfall east of the Mississippi. The Upper Tahquamenon Falls is over 200′ wide and 48′ high, on a sandstone precipice. Over 50,000 gallons of water per second has been recorded spilling over this beautiful waterfall!
The Lower Tahquamenon Falls is located 4 miles downstream of the Upper Falls, and consists of several small waterfalls that cascade around an island. On this warm day we observed a few folks wading in the water, or paddling small boats that can be rented there.
We could tell Tahquamenon Falls is a very popular destination, with the parking lots getting jam-packed fairly early in the day. We never get tired of waterfalls, even after seeing so many – each has its own beauty and story to tell.
Wild Blueberry Festival
On another beautiful day we took a drive to the Wild Blueberry Festival in Paradise – yes, there is a town called Paradise in the U.P.! Since I’m a sucker for wild blueberries, I dragged Steve along to check it out. I was expecting bushels or baskets of wild blueberries to be displayed for sale. Instead, the long line was for blueberry pies, muffins and a pancake bake – no actual blueberries were to be had. I was a bit disappointed, as I was looking forward to baking some blueberry scones and maybe a blueberry pie 😦
Anyhow, I learned that wild blueberries are part of the local heritage here, and they’ve been celebrating blueberries since 1984. Long before cultivated blueberries were around, Paradise’s wild berries were in great demand. During the summers of the 1920’s and 1930’s, up to 1500 laborers moved here to pick berries. The local blueberry industry peaked during the Great Depression, but declined with the advent of WWII when labor was scarce. Then the natural succession of vegetation and forest reduced the availability of blueberries. Today, wild blueberries thrive and there is still commercial picking – but not like the old days.
After a taste of the delicious blueberry pie we checked out various local arts and crafts, but left Paradise blueberry-less.
Considering the festival was located on the shore of Lake Superior on a gorgeous day, I guess this stop wasn’t so bad after all!
On a technical note, we’re in the process of copying our campground reviews from rvparkreviews back to our own site, for more timely access and better content control – although we like rvparkreviews and will probably keep posting there as well. So far, we’ve updated our 2014 map so you can click on any of our stops and visually see where we stayed, in the hope that our reviews will be helpful to folks going into those areas. We think the new format of our upcoming reviews will be more useful to RVer’s in our situation. Steve started reviewing every campground where we stayed in March of 2013, and we plan to have that year’s map updated shortly. Let us know if it’s helpful or if we can make it more useful!
Next up: Part 2 of hanging out with the Yoopers!