GREAT WATERS, GREAT CHARACTERS
The U.P. could perhaps stand as much for Unique Personalities as Upper Peninsula. Physically separated from the rest of the state until 1957 when the Mackinac Bridge connected it to the “Mitten” below, this part of Michigan has a unique personality defined partly by its location, and partly by those who call it home.
Gitchee Gumee Agate & History Museum, Grand Marais
Self-professed Agate Lady Karen Brzys left the Detroit area and the corporate world to live in this tiny Lake Superior village and pursue her love of the semi-precious stones found along the shore. She creates art from them, has written books on the subject, conducts rock hounding classes and runs her own museum.
Pickle Barrel House, Grand Marais
It’s a tiny cottage created for artist and writer William Donahey, author of the Teenie Weenies cartoon, a popular newspaper feature that ran from 1914 until 1970. It was inspired by the pickle barrel home of some of his two-inch tall characters. The Chicago-based cartoonist and his wife, also a writer, spent summers at the compact cottage, now open as a museum.
Mystery Spot, St. Ignace
Unexplained, gravity defying feats by ordinary tourists have been the bread and butter of this beloved roadside, now offering a zipline, miniature golf and maze in the woods.
Weird Michigan Wax Museum, St. Ignace
The title says it all. Strange stories and characters are depicted in dramatically lit, life-sized dioramas.
Drive along M-28, or the railroad grade snowmobile trail 417 between Munising and Marquette, and you’ll see a gray elephant with pink stripes and yellow polka dots towering over a snowy trail. You’ll also find a dragon, breathing real fire, and nearby sunflowers made from discarded bulldozer sprockets or a buffalo fashioned from a pipe. Also playing host somewhere is likely to be Tom Lakenen, a local pipefitter/artist who created a whimsical outdoor gallery of 60 metal sculptures, tending a fire and passing out steaming mugs of coffee and Little Debbie’s. On a peak weekend, as many as 400 snowmobilers pull in on a snowy weekend to view art made from scrap metal, set on a snowy loop amid 37 acres of towering pines.
Oswald’s Bear Ranch, Newberry
Dean Oswald always loved bears and apparently is a sucker for orphans. What’s now one of the UP’s top attractions started when the DNR called, asking if he could take in an abandoned cub. And then another. And another. Today, the licensed rescue facility is home to some 30 American black bears. Admission is charged by the vehicle; a highlight is the chance to get your photo taken (for a fee) with a cub; worth the price is the chance to interact with Dean, and watch him interact with his “babies.”
Art inspired by Nature – and practicality
• Many shops showcase both art inspired by the region’s beauty and true Yooper ingenuity. Look to the back of the high-end Northwoods Gifts shop in Sault Ste. Marie, and you’ll find a take-out window for barbecue sandwiches and ribs. The Cup of the Day coffee shop/deli/Internet café is also a beauty shop.
• In Naubinway, the Anchor is part coffee house, part showcase for works by local artists, such as handwoven clothing, nature photography, and handmade baskets that incorporate found, shed antlers.
• Many artists open their working studios to visitors. In Munising, for instance, you can generally drop in and watch potter Thomas Baugnet at work at his Open Wings Pottery Studio and Gallery, crafting functional pottery with a regional twist; one popular item is a clay luminary with bark handles and a cut-out of the Upper Peninsula. Like many local artists, the area’s woods and water inspire his color choices.