The Western Upper Peninsula
As with other parts of Michigan, town names found throughout the western half of the Upper Peninsula reveal the region’s diverse history. Some monikers, such as Mohawk and Menominee, refer to the Native American tribes that once dwelled amid these remote lands. Other names signify words used by the Chippewa Indians, such as Escanaba (“flat rock”), Negaunee (“pioneer”), and Ishpeming (“high ground”).
Many more, however, highlight the area’s former mining industries; names like Copper Harbor, Copper City, Ironwood, Iron River, Iron Mountain, and Mineral Hills are nearly all that’s left of the copper and iron ore operations that thrived here from the mid-19th to the early 20th centuries.
Following a Copper Rush in 1840, which eventually yielded more mineral wealth than California’s better publicized Gold Rush, and the discovery of iron ore four years later, the U.P. flourished, employing thousands of eager Americans and European immigrants, resulting in the construction of numerous cities, and creating millionaires virtually overnight.
Timber was also an important commodity in the U.P., but eventually all three industries declined during the 20th century. Nowadays, the only remnants of this mineral-rich past are the aptly named cities, enormous mansions, abandoned mines, ghost towns, and occasional cave-ins that occur beneath homes and streets.
In many respects, the wilderness has reclaimed the land, much of which has been preserved in the form of regional, state, and national parks and forests, including the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park and Ottawa National Forest, where there are miles of hiking, mountain biking, and cross-country skiing trails; where cell phone signals do not exist; where the chance of seeing moose, timber wolves, and black bears is high; and where the summer sun might not set until 11 p.m.
While tourism has never thrived here as in the Lower Peninsula, it seems that every year more and more people are discovering this region’s unspoiled beauty and cultural attractions, including several museums in and around Marquette, the U.P.’s largest city, as well as the various heritage sites that comprise the Keweenaw National Historical Park, established in 1992.
Outdoor enthusiasts travel to the western U.P. and nearby Isle Royale, an isolated, road-free archipelago in Lake Superior, to savor the region’s cornucopia of wild rivers, majestic waterfalls, desolate beaches, remote lakes, downhill ski resorts, and surprisingly tall mountains (by Midwestern standards), including 1,979-foot Mount Arvon east of L’Anse. For those seeking solitude, history, and challenging winters, this is an ideal destination.
by Laura Martone from Moon Michigan, 3rd Edition, © Avalon Travel