Back in my school days, geography was a subject in which I actually did well. To this day I love learning about places I haven't been.
One of those places was the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. When you ask a Michigander about their state they will usually hold up their left hand and explain that the state is shaped like a mitten. Some may causally add that the Upper Peninsula sits atop the mitten.
The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is commonly called the U.P. and its residents call themselves Yoopers. I've read a lot about the U.P. and met some wonderful Yoopers, but I wanted to see the U.P. for myself.
A couple of weeks ago my wife and I took off for Michigan. We entered the U.P. at its southwestern most city, Menominee, and drove on highways that for many miles followed the shore of Lake Michigan. Homes both modest and magnificent line the shore and it was easy to imagine sitting there on the deck with a cup of coffee on a summer morning.
You can't know much about a region by spending a couple of days there but in our short time in the U.P. we came to agree with Henry Ford who said, "It is one of the prettiest places in the world."
The primary economic engine of the U.P. has been lumber, mining and tourism. The mining industry has waned but logging and tourism remain strong. The U.P. makes up 29 percent of the land area of Michigan but has only three percent of the state's population.
Our destination that day was St. Ignace, located at the north end of the famous Mackinac Bridge which connects the U.P. with Lower Michigan via I-75. "Mighty Mac," an engineering marvel, is the third longest suspension bridge in the world and the longest in the Western Hemisphere.
I'm not fond of driving over water so the five-mile long bridge caused some apprehension. When we made the drive, however, it was a snap. It helps that the speed limit for automobiles is 45; just 20 for trucks. The view from the bridge is spectacular.
From St. Igance as well as from it's sister city, Mackinac City, on the south end of the bridge, you can take a ferry to Mackinac Island, home of the famous Grand Hotel. We took the ferry from St. Ignace and enjoyed several hours on the island.
The Grand Hotel is magnificent but with room rates starting around $500 a night we stayed on the mainland.
Except for emergency vehicles, motorized vehicles are not allowed on Mackinac Island so we took a horse-drawn wagon tour. When our wagon stopped in front of the Grand Hotel we simply took a long free look.
We enjoyed the wagon ride and the tour guide's commentary, in spite of bad puns and jokes about horse flatulence. You can tell the country folks from the city folks in situations like that. City folks giggle at horse flatulence jokes; country folks just roll their eyes.
In spite of snacking on ice cream and fudge on the island, I needed supper. We had seen numerous signs in the U.P. promoting "pasties," which neither of us had ever eaten. When we saw a restaurant promoting pasties we went right on in.
The pastie (pronounced pass-tee) originated in Great Britain's Cornwall region and is similar to our pot pies. In a pastie, however, the meat and veggies are placed on a piece of pie crust which is then folded, the edges are crimped and the item is baked.
The waitress thanked me for pronouncing pasties correctly. She said a lot of visitors call them "pace-tees," as in those little adhesive things strippers wear. I was grateful that I had seen a poster with a pronunciation guide earlier in the day. I wouldn't want anyone to know that I know about the other things.
Oh yes, pasties are delicious. A little gravy made them even better.
We Iowans like to pride ourselves on how friendly we are to visitors. We have nothing on Yoopers. While our time on the U.P. was limited, everyone we came into contact with was pleasant, talkative and helpful.
Another thing to check off my "bucket list." The U.P. is OK.