One of the things we love about traveling is learning new things along the way. Here are five things we learned about Michigan (MI) while we explored this great state.
- Detroit gets such a bad rep. However we really enjoyed our time in Detroit. Detroit is across the border from Canada where we were coming from. Detroit offers a lot in terms of tourist attractions (Riverwalk shops, carousel, water features, as well as Belle Isle’s aquarium and gardens), entertainment (casino, science and history museums, General Motor headquarters/Renaissance Center or Ren Cen), and food (soul, Italian, Greek, and bar cuisine). We even found a Hmong/Thai food stand in a beer garden in Detroit and the pad thai roll we got there was something unique to us and oh-so-good.
- UP stands for Upper Peninsula. Yooper (UPer) is a person from Upper Peninsula. This explained a lot. We saw Yooper everywhere on souvenirs, t-shirts, and signs, but the meaning didn’t dawn us until we found a t-shirt and coffee mug that explicitly spelled it out. We had a nice little ah-ha moment and everything clicked into place after that.
- Miners’ pasty is a lunch that MI miners (in the 1850s-1900s) brought with them into the mines. It’s like a bigger version of the empanada with a thick doughy crust. The filling can include meat or fish with hearty veggies like potatoes, onions, carrots, and rhubarb. The reason why they were the lunch of choice is that miners’ hands often had arsenic (a toxin) from the mines on them. When they ate the pasty, they would hold the thick crust with their fingers, eat the pasty all around their fingers, and discard the crust section that their fingers touched. This prevented them from getting sick or being poisoned. And they didn’t feel like that bad about throwing away their scraps because they also thought the scraps would keep the ghosts (or tommyknockers, as they called them) away. We learned so much about the dangers and realities of mining during an excursion to the Iron Mountain mine in Iron Mountain, MI. After the tour, we had to try miners’ pasty (sold in many UP former mining towns) and they were quite good and hearty.
- Mackinac Bridge (aka Big Mac or Mighty Mac) is longest suspension bridge in US and third or fourth longest suspension bridge in the world (found two conflicting sources on this one). This bridge connects the lower and upper peninsulas of MI at Mackinaw City and St. Ignace. It crosses the straits of Mackinac that connect two great lakes (Lake Huron and Michigan). We had an excellent view of Mackinac Bridge on our ferry ride from Mackinaw City to Mackinac Island. Visiting Mackinac Island was like stepping back into time. There are no motorized vehicles on the island so the only modes of transport are kayaking, ferrying, biking, taking a carriage ride, renting horses, or walking. On our scenic 8-mile bike ride around the island, we kept thinking of the “cold clear waters of Michigan” a quote we’d heard from my close friend who lives in Detroit and agreeing how this was so true of the shores of Mackinac Island. After our bike ride, we walked through the town, dodging horse carriages (and manure) on the streets, watching confectioners make fudge, window-shopping at the arts and crafts stores, and admiring the well-kept, historic homes.
- Michigan’s coastline rivals some of the other beautiful coastlines we have visited. Sleeping Bear Dunes’ Empire Bluffs on Lake Michigan was absolutely breathtaking and reminded us of the Mediterranean’s emerald coasts or the Caribbean’s turquoise waters. MI has the longest freshwater coastline in the US. It has the second longest coastline (including seawater) after Alaska. The Great Lakes account for some of MI’s coastlines. Lake Superior is the largest of the Great Lakes and it is the largest body of fresh water in the world. Its water can fill a 5-foot pool the size of lower 48 U.S. states. Lake Superior is a force to be reckoned with. It creates and moderates its own weather and climate (winters are warmer, summers are cooler). Its highest wave was recorded at 51 feet. Sadly, on Lake Superior, there have been over 350 shipwrecks with 1000 lives lost. The US Coast Guard and first responders have their work cut out for them. There are two beautiful national parks found on Lake Superior: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (Michigan) and Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (Wisconsin). The best ways to see the lakeshores are by ferries or boats. These excursions are offered by the National Park Service.
Michigan is a state with so many more attractions than those we listed and experienced. We encourage you to get out there and learn or experience something new like we did. And please share your experiences with us because we’d love to try them when we drive back through Michigan.