John Grindrod: Fall in Michigan’s Upper and Lower

With each passing year, I feel even more blessed to be well enough to take an autumnal sojourn with my Lady Jane, this past October, to our border state of Michigan. In that state, the nation’s 11th largest, when the talk comes around to peninsulas, it’s all about the Upper and Lower to either side of the Mackinac Bridge that serves as a five-mile-long line of demarcation.

Hoping for some vibrant fall colors and new experiences, off we went to visit Traverse City, Sault Ste. Mare, Munising, Newberry, Paradise and Charlevoix on a Saturday-to-Saturday sojourn.

Of the more than 1,300 miles traveled on the trip, the first 365 to Traverse City were driven under leaden skies and a steady cold rain.

In Traverse City, most of our outdoor time walking the downtown area included umbrella usage, which made our time in Dillinger’s Pub the highlight of our first stop. The pub was as warm, inviting and teeming with patrons. While I tend to avoid crowds if possible, I never seem to mind a crowded pub because it enhances the experience between sips of Sam Adams of people-watching.

Following a Sunday morning mass at St. Francis, it was off to Sault Ste. Marie, 160 miles north for our first taste of the Upper Peninsula, known more economically as the UP. Just short of the bridge, the weather cleared, and we were blessed with sunshine. Although still cool, we used a park shy of the bridge for a picnic lunch before traversing the Mighty Mack.

Some have called the bridge that spans the Straits of Mackinac the Eighth Wonder of the World, and I certainly enjoyed the experience, one that cost us a $4 toll, but I’m not moving off the favorite-bridge top slot the Golden Gate Bridge that I drove on Jane’s and my trip to San Fran back in 2014.

In Sault Ste. Marie, following our check-in, we headed to the downtown area bordered by the St. Marys River to check out the world-famous Soo Locks, designed and operated by the Army Corp of Engineers. The Locks are considered the linchpin of the Great Lakes because, by raising and lowering freighters larger than a thousand feet to get through the river on their way either to Lake Huron or Lake Superior, the system allows for almost 90 million tons of cargo, often iron ore, to get where it needs to go from mid-March to mid-January.

While in the museum portion, the old English teacher that lives within took over. On one of the placards that explained how gravity helps the system work, there was a quote that read, “The lock is open captain, bring her on in.” I instantly noticed the omission of a direct-address comma and a comma-splice error. Since the placard was not under plastic, the quote was in black and I happened to have a black Bic Pen in my pocket, I thought I’d help the engineers out. The quote now reads, “The lock is open, captain; bring her on in.”

Another recommended experience if you go is the Museum Ship Valley Camp. The Valley Camp is a dry-docked freighter that sailed the Great Lakes for almost 50 years. The ship is every bit of a thousand feet, and we loved going through areas such as the dining room, living quarters, engine room, pilot house and especially the massive cargo holds that once were filled with grain, iron ore, coal and taconite. On display was one of the lifeboats of the ill-fated Edmund Fitzgerald that was found washed ashore at Mamainse Point, Ontario, the day after that terrible November 10, 1975, when the ship went down in the icy waters of Lake Superior taking 29 sailors’ souls to their watery graves.

A final recommendation if you go is to visit a restaurant called Antlers. As soon as Lady Jane and I walked in, we saw in every direction — on the floor, on the walls and even up in the rafters — a wide array of taxidermied animals.

We both enjoyed a delicious whitefish dinner. I had to ask the server, a delightful Yooper, what the story was behind such a vast array of furry friends. She told me for years locals have been bringing in their taxidermied treasures and trading them for either beer or gift cards. She said the moose in the corner in a room that also included a polar bear netted a $400 gift card.

Next week, I’ll provide you some word-salad snapshots of Munising, Paradise, Newberry in the Upper and of Charlevoix back in Michigan’s Lower.

John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected].