24 December 2012

2012 MICHIGAN Upper Peninsula 1 - On Our Way to Da U.P.

The purpose of this trip was to surprise Mike's cousin Chuck at his 70th birthday party in Brimley MI, about 30 miles west of Sault Ste Marie, MI.

If you don't live in Michigan, you might not know what the U.P. or  "Up North" means. Michigan is made up of two peninsulas. The lower peninsula is somewhat shaped like a mitten. Hold your right hand up with palm to your face and fingers together. This is what the lower peninsula looks like. Now hold your left hand up with palm to your face and that is the Upper Peninsula or U.P.  Your thumb in both instances are little peninsulas off the main "peninsulas." Both hands are the same size but in reality the U.P. is MUCH smaller compared to the lower peninsula. If you travel anywhere north of say Clare MI which is kind of in the middle of the lower peninsula, then you are Up North. Check an actual map and you'll see what I mean. And no we don't call the Lower Peninsula the L.P.!!

Anyway, we left about 10 in the morning and zig-zagged our way east until we hooked up with I-75 just south of Grayling. Along the way we stopped at one of our favorite bar and grills, Maggie's, in downtown Cadillac. Friendly folks, free popcorn to start, nice variety on the menu, and free chocolate chip cookie to top off the meal. Can't beat that combo. I love the salt and Mike loves the sweets.

In early afternoon, we crossed over the 5-mile long Mackinaw Bridge, currently the third longest suspension bridge in the world. Somehow I lost the Day 1 photos, but you can see the Mighty Mac pics on the return trip. We stopped at the visitors center which is basically an enhanced mobile trailer. Didn't need info, but wanted to see what they had to offer. They displayed some examples of wildlife including a wolf and a snowy owl, both of which were really beautiful to see up close. In any case, there is a nice view of the bridge here.

We had to waste some time before check-in at the hotel, so we got off I-75 and took back roads the last 50 miles between St. Ignace (just north of the Bridge) to Sault Sainte Marie MI. There is also a Sault Sainte Marie, Canada, which is across the St. Mary's River, but we didn't go there. En route we saw a herd (?) of about 20 wild turkeys right next to the road, unintimidated by our car. Also a lot of yard art, mostly deer or moose "sculptures" made from various media.

We stayed at the Ojibway Hotel, which is now the Ramada Ojibway. This is an historic hotel built in 1927 and overlooks the Soo Locks. It has seen some restoration / renovation, but the rooms are still somewhat dated. We got a lock-view room. It overlooked the roof of part of the hotel, so not totally scenic.

Mike and I had stayed at this hotel about 30 years ago. One big change from our visit then was that the bathroom sink was in main bedroom. The in-room bathroom housed only the toilet and shower. I remember back then we discussed that originally the toilet and shower were down the hall to be shared by all. We also snickered that the sink was probably used as a "toilet" (especially by the guys) way back when, when people were too drunk or lazy to walk down the hall. On that trip we had a hard time brushing our teeth the next morning, even we though knew at that point the sink was completely sanitized. Thankfully our current bathroom held toilet, shower, AND sink. 

Once we got settled we took a stroll the length of the locks. It was chilly, but no snow. The town was pretty much shut down this time of year due to not many tourists. Outside the hotel facilities, we saw only one fudge shop and one restaurant open after 6pm. Quite a few open bars though.

The locks are not so busy this time of year either, but we did catch one ore carrier passing from the Lake Huron to the Lake Superior side of the Great Lakes. The process is very interesting, as the water level in Lake Superior is 21 feet higher than the water level in Lake Huron. The ship pulls into the lower lock, huge doors closed behind it. The water in the lock is then brought up 21 feet higher. And then the huge doors at the other end of the lock open, and the ship passes into Lake Superior. Fun and amazing to watch.

Time for dinner. Luckily the sole open restaurant was a good one and we didn't have to drive for our meal. It was Karl's Cuisine. We had seen a spot about it on Under the Radar, a PBS show we regularly watch about fun places in Michigan. They couldn't imagine the good food that had come out of this small, unassuming place. And it was wonderful. We started with a baked brie in puffed pastry with fresh raspberry sauce. Umm, good, heaven. Main dishes were wild caught Alaskan Salmon and house Pinot Grigio in a fresh basil cream sauce over pasta. They also made their own wines, but not really our style (mostly too sweet).

We meandered back to our hotel. We had passed on dessert at the restaurant, thinking we would grab some fudge, but the fudge shop was closed. Danggit!!

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If you have visited any of these places, we would love to hear your comments. Or send us recommendations of places we should not miss.