I recently returned to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for the first time in several years for a weeklong vacation and wilderness immersion therapy session. As usual, it did not disappoint.
We stayed at a rustic woodland resort just outside St. Ignace, the gateway city at the opposite end of the Mackinac Bridge. While it might seem like a token place to experience the U.P., it’s practically another world from the lower peninsula just a few miles south: right on the edge of vast empty wilderness, straddling three Great Lakes, serving as a launching pad to Mackinac Island and full of distinctive Yooper charm and character (fun fact: St. Ignace is home to the annual Labatt Blue UP Pond Hockey Championship, held on East Moran Bay in Lake Huron each February).
The town has oodles more charm and authenticity than the tacky tourist trap of Mackinaw City, the other place to catch ferries to Mackinac Island at the tip of the mitten, with local institutions like Clyde’s Drive-In, the Driftwood and Manley’s Famous Smoked Fish, a place whose interior is plastered with Green Bay Packers memorabilia.
It’s also surrounded by drop-dead gorgeousness, with dense cedar, spruce and balsam fir forests carpeting undulating limestone hills and wildflowers seemingly blooming everywhere else. My wife during a hike remarked that the woods looked “old,” which seemed an apt description of the prehistoric and claustrophobic charms of the forests here, which are characterized by both their verdant lushness and destruction, the latter on account of brutal winter storms and often shallow limestone soils that prevent many trees from establishing deep and stabilizing root systems.
I drove down many barren, two-lane highways surrounded on both sides by walls of forest. I thought about how wilderness, rather than being a picture-perfect postcard scene, can often be described as a kind of barren, monotonous loneliness. I imagined what the place must’ve looked like back before it was logged clear for its valuable timber, and I wondered to myself whether it was just my imagination, or does the place get more and more wild each year that time passes from that era, the woods more dense and tall?
Here are some photos from our week around the Straits area, on Mackinac Island and along the Tahquamenon River (I actually took most photos of the latter on film, so those will have to wait).