“Up North – the magical land of cabins, fishing, beer, flannel shirts, and no cell phone service”. Anonymous
When Vivian and I are in the north country, we relish in its thick canopied isolation. Hiking among the tall trees somewhere near Lake Superior, we stopped to inspect a tree we could not identify. Just then, a couple walked past and stopped to look at the tree with us. It was from them we learned of the app “Seek” that uses the phone’s camera to identify plants and animals. From the one simple act of sharing a common interest in nature, Michigan’s north country became a playground of trees, wildflowers and insects for us. Good thing too as we had several weeks to explore the isolated north country woods and the great lake shoreline that borders them.
Days earlier as we pulled away from the Madison Campground in Wisconsin, it occurred to me that a month and a half would pass before a city with a population as great or greater than Madison’s would come into our view. We were heading in a northerly direction – up north where endless miles of dense forests take the place of open farmland. Communities populated with 30 or more people are scarce from the northeastern section of Wisconsin to the eastern portion of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP) where we would spend the next three weeks.
Towing the fifth wheel from northern Wisconsin through the UP consists of long stretches of two-lane roads where cell phone service or accessible gas stations do not exist. A long time would pass before the RV wheels met interstate highway pavement. Only three hundred miles north of Madison is a vastly different environment. If you are a hardy soul that wants to hide from something or someone, this is your country.
First stop – Iron River, Wisconsin. Never heard of it? Good! People here are quite content in their isolation and ownership of some of the wildest north country ever to be explored by ORVs. Southerners are not the only country people in the U.S. Those that live up north put country in “north country”. Northerners share a likeness with their southern counterparts; mostly pride in where their roots are from. But there is one big difference that stands out; while southerners offer charm and colorful dispositions, northerners are reticent – not unfriendly, but a tad hesitant to offer up any kind of enthusiastic display of emotion, be it just a friendly greeting to let you know they appreciate your business. It’s as if the locals had not yet thawed out from a long winter. But from what I can tell, most would give the shirt off their back to help a neighbor.
Just north of Iron River is the well visited Apostle Island National Lakeshore which is about as touristy as it gets in these parts of northern Wisconsin (check out a previous blog about that area). Lake Superior’s shoreline is a draw for many people, yet this is not a first choice location among more popular areas. What drew Vivian and I here was simply its isolated rivers, streams and lakes, the Great Lake shoreline and wooded areas. And there are waterfalls, lots of waterfalls. We explored a couple of them in state parks, one in Wisconsin, the other on the Minnesota side.
After a week in Iron River, we drove Highway 2 across the Wisconsin-Michigan border into the Upper Peninsula (dah U.P., eh). The U.P. comprises 29% of Michigan’s land and contains a declining population that is 3% of the state’s total. Sixty percent of its population lives in four of its 16 counties. No surprise, all four counties have a university or college. Given the sparse population throughout much of the U.P., staying near Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore jolted us into tourism reality.
Despite the crowds, we avoided them using our strategy of getting on the trails early morning. In fact, the only crowd I experienced was on the boat tour of Pictured Rocks (Vivian passed on this as she had already seen those rocks from a kayak some years ago). Enjoy the following two slideshows from Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore which is best described visually. The first are scenes taken from our hikes on land overlooking Lake Superior. The second slideshow includes images taken from the tour boat along the shoreline overlooking the pictured rocks.
Between us, Vivian and I have 87 years of living near Florida’s coastline. Although I am from northern Michigan, visiting the U.S. outside of Florida is done through the filter of having lived a long time in a subtropical climate with easy access to endless miles of coastline from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean. Naturally, we view the north country as complete opposite of where we come from – except for one thing, Wisconsin and the U.P. have a lot of shoreline; more than 1200 miles of Lake Superior shoreline. All of Michigan’s freshwater coastline is 3288 miles – a little more than half of that is along the U.P., bounded by three Great Lakes.
All told, we spent three weeks near the shores of Lake Superior while parked at campgrounds in Iron River, WI, Christmas, MI and Brimley, MI. We hiked through many forests and wetlands, walked along miles of Lake Superior shoreline, climbed rocks around several waterfalls and simply enjoyed the sparsely populated up north. And we learned about up north trees and wildflowers. Enjoy these photos.