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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

The land between three waters

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Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
Sunset light bathes the Hurricane River along the shore of Lake Superior, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
Many nature photographers disparage the Midwest’s lack of scenery. What they’re missing is an untouched wilderness that stretches along miles of Great Lakes coastline—the U.P., Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Nowhere in the United States will you find an area that more reflects the dramatic seasonal changes of beautiful winters, colorful falls and blooming springs through a changing landscape that offers more to the photographer than prairies, woods and wildflowers.

Situated between the wind- and wave-worn southern shores of Lake Superior and the usually calmer waters of Lake Michigan’s northern shore, with Lake Huron to the southeast, the U.P. is defined by forests and rivers, wetland complexes of immense size, and rocky, bluff-lined and sweeping sand shorelines. And with some 30 lighthouses, historic buildings and an ancient mountain range, the U.P. offers more than any photographer could wish for. (A warm beef and potato pie after a long day of photography isn’t that bad either!) A weekend gives you a glimpse and a week a good look, but it takes years to see the majority of what the U.P has to offer, and one trip only leads to many others.

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
Bond Falls, one of the “best kept secrets” on the western Upper Peninsula. Hank Erdmann notes that the area goes blue in the winter, as evident from these iced falls
U.P. Seasons
Like many northern climes, the U.P.’s summer often is described in terms of days versus months, but it lasts a bit longer. Bald blue skies send most photographers scurrying to another location to wait for sunset or inside for camera cleaning and image downloading, but in the U.P., a bald blue sky sends us running to the Lake Superior shore as that sky makes the waters of that immense body turn a shade of turquoise about which the Caribbean can only dream.

Spring has the first flowers arriving in late April in most places and blooms lasting into June and beyond. Spring blends into summer about the 4th of July, with the warmest weather in the month of August. By late August, the first shades of color are showing on maple trees and by late September fall color has peaked.

The middle of October finds fall on the forest floor and the first snow dusting the land. Winter is the U.P.’s longest season, and snowfall averages in excess of 200 inches a year. Locals and photographers alike take advantage of the season—spectacular winter scenery is as abundant as ski tracks and snowshoes.

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
Situated in the midst of some of the largest freshwater lakes in the world, Lake Superior, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has 1,700 miles of scenic coastline. The lay of the land includes pristine forests that are subject to dramatic seasonal changes
U.P. Travel
The U.P. has great tourism and services, but is just far enough away from the larger population centers of the Midwest so that the scenic beauty still exceeds development, unlike the popular tourist destinations of Charlevoix, Traverse Bay and Door County (Wisconsin). That distance—eight-plus hours by car from Chicago and seven or so from Detroit—and the cooler summers help keep some development pressure at bay. Small cities like Marquette, Sault Sainte Marie, Escanaba, Munising, Houghton/Hancock and St. Ignace/Mackinac offer just about any service a photographer could want (including the top-notch AgX Imaging photo lab in Sault Sainte Marie).

In both big towns and small, lodging and food usually is available and at very reasonable prices. Lodging reservations made even a few days in advance, while not always needed except for the busiest summer weekends at popular areas, help keep traveling costs at a minimum. Many campgrounds stay open into October.

Take all your gear! Travel across the U.P. is best accomplished by car, and leaving gear (appropriately covered) in a vehicle is about as safe here as anywhere in the country, so bring it all. Long lenses, wide lenses, close-up equipment, laptops, even a canoe or kayak all will find use. The U.P. is serviced by numerous small and medium airports for those coming from outside the Midwest, so you’ll have to travel a bit lighter. You’ll find standard batteries even in small towns and canoe rentals in many locations, but items like memory cards, camera gear and quality transparency film will be available in only the largest U.P. cities like Marquette, Menominee or Sault Sainte Marie.


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