How I spent my summer vacation- Part 1

The Michigan Supreme Court sent me to Houghton, MI, in the Upper Peninsula, for the first 2 weeks of June. My fellow co-workers and I are implementing the 97th District Court on to the JIS software system. This is my first time in the UP since college and I'd never been this far north.
Although "The Yoop" is not someplace I'd normally choose for vacation, I'm going to make the best of this trip by exploring the area as much as possible. I will spend most of my time in Houghton, at the base of the Keeweenaw Peninsula. But first, I have to get there.

I left June 2 with plans to spend Saturday night in Marquette. This is about 5 1/2 hours of driving. First photo stop- the Bridge, of course. I was also instructed to stop and put my feet in the lake immediately after crossing the Bridge. Apparently its a JIS tradition.

The Mackinac Bridge, celebrating 50 years in 2007 :

The Mackinac Bridge is the third longest suspension bridge in the world with a total length of 26,372 feet. The idea for a bridge or tunnel across the Straits of Mackinac was initially proposed in 1884 after attempts to provide year-round transit by boat failed. In 1923, the Legislature ordered the Highway Department to create a ferry system across the straits. Within 5 years, traffic on the ferry route was so heavy that Governor Green ordered a study on the feasability of a bridge. Financial concerns kept the bridge project on hold and World War II and the Korean War both contributed to further delays. The bridge was officially begun amid proper ceremonies on May 7 & 8, 1954, at St. Ignace and Mackinaw City. The bridge opened to traffic on November 1, 1957 according to schedule, despite the many hazards of marine construction over the turbulent Straits of Mackinac. The last of the Mackinac Bridge bonds were retired July 1, 1986. Fare revenues are now used to operate and maintain the Bridge and repay the State of Michigan for monies advanced to the Authority since the facility opened to traffic in 1957.

Mike Rowe from the Discovery Channel’s "Dirty Jobs" visited the Mackinac Bridge in May to film an episode showcasing the work that bridge maintenance crews perform each year on the "Mighty Mac." The hour-long Mackinac Bridge episode, entitled "Bridge Painter," is tentatively scheduled to air on Tuesday, August 7, at 9 p.m., on the Discovery Channel. The episode is airing in conjunction with the bridge’s 50-year anniversary.

The first part of the trip through the Upper Peninsula is along US 2. When you first start on US 2, there is a large signing warning drivers that "THIS IS NOT A HIGHWAY!" and the speed limit is only 55. Other than the final 50 miles of I-75 from Saint Ignace to Sault Ste Marie (the Soo), there are no interstate highways in the Upper Peninsula. There are a lot of roads marked "seasonal" which are not plowed by the Dept of Transportation in the winter. There are also 100s of miles of dedicated snowmobile trails. Occasionaly you may start driving down a trail/seasonal road only to discover it has become impassable due to a fallen tree or extreme decay. If you are lucky, you can turn around without driving off the dirt, otherwise its time for reverse driving.
Lake Michigan is the only one of the Great Lakes wholly within the borders of the United States; the others are shared with Canada. It is 5th largest lake in the world. The word "Michigan" was originally used to refer to the lake itself, and is believed to come from the Ojibwa Indian word mishigami, meaning "great water."

My travel through the UP continues on US 2, winding along the Lake Michigan Coastline (many stops at scenic views) until I reach State Rd M-77. There isn't a whole lot to see on this stretch but you do go through the town of Germfask (2000 Census population 491) which seems like a really cool town name. Something Finnish or German perhaps? No- its the initials of the last names of the town's eight founders. Germfask is a an excellent place to stay if you are visiting the Seney National Wildlife Refuge. After an hour along M77 and M-28, you will arrive in Munising. Munising is the homebase for the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. There will be more about this town and the Lakeshore in a later post.

From Munising, M-28 sticks pretty close to the Lake Superior shore. Just north of Munising, there is a scenic overlook which includes Grand Island. As it was raining and overcast on my trip, the view was dimmed by a moderate mist over the water. Shortly after passsing through Munising, the sun came out and the heat caused the moisture on the road to suddenly rise up in to an enveloping foggy mist. This mist coated my windows and even the windshield wipers coudn't clear it away fast enough. It was a spooky experience.

Lake Superior, is the largest of the Great Lakes. It is the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area and is the world's third-largest freshwater lake by volume. Many will also say it is one of the cleanest lakes in the world and I can personally attest to the quality of the whitefish (which I ate a lot of on this trip). In the Ojibwe language, the lake is called "Gichigami" ("big water"), but it is better known as "Gitche Gumee" as recorded by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in The Song of Hiawatha. Lake Superior is referred to as "Gitche Gumee" in the song The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, by Gordon Lightfoot. There is enough water in Lake Superior to cover the entire land mass of North and South America with a foot of water. Annual storms on Lake Superior regularly record wave heights of over 20 feet.

Sunset over Lake Superior

Global Warming Note: According to a study by professors at the University of Minnesota Duluth, Lake Superior has been warming faster than its surrounding climate. The increase in the lake’s surface temperature is not only due to climate change but also due to the decreasing ice cover. Less winter ice cover allows more solar radiation to penetrate the lake and warm the water. If trends continue Lake Superior, which freezes over completely once every 20 years, could routinely be ice-free by 2040.

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