Photo Gallery: Flowers From Michigan’s Upper Peninsula


Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is lined with beaches along Lake Superior to the north and Lake Michigan to the south. The Keweenaw Peninsula in the greater U.P. is also lined with Lake Superior beaches to the east and west. Views from each side vary, but are beautiful across the board. I spent the afternoon at a small beach on Lake Superior called Betsy Beach. Aside from a kayaking pair, we had the sandstone beach to ourselves and I did what anyone with a camera in the summer on a beautiful beach would do: took photos of pretty flowers. Enjoy.

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Wildfires in Michigan's Upper Peninsula Cause Record-Setting Damage
[Photo Credit: Elizabeth Seward]

The Soo Locks Of Sault Ste. Marie

The Soo Locks of Sault Ste MarieMichigan’s Upper Peninsula is an often overlooked travel destination. Sandwiched between three of the Great Lakes, the U.P. is a remote and rugged wilderness that features hundreds of miles of trail, incredibly dense forests and more solitude than anyone could ever ask for. Outdoor enthusiasts will love the options for hiking, camping and backpacking, while other visitors will enjoy the scenic beauty and laid back lifestyle.

That vast expanse of wilderness is occasionally broken up by quaint and inviting Midwestern towns populated by friendly and accommodating people. The largest of those towns is Sault Ste. Marie (pronounced Soo-Saint-Marie), which is located on the southern banks of the St. Mary’s River on the eastern side of the Peninsula, just a stone’s throw away from Canada.

You wouldn’t know it while passing through the sleepy little town but Sault Ste. Marie (Pop. 15,000) is home to the busiest lock system in the entire world. Completed in 1855, the Soo Locks connect Lake Superior and Lake Huron, allowing ships to safely traverse the 21-foot drop that separates those two bodies of water. Each year more than 10,000 vessels pass through the locks, despite the fact that they are closed between January and March, and in 2008 alone, the locks saw more than 80 million tons of cargo come and go.The Great Lakes have served as shipping lanes for centuries and the Soo Locks are vitally important in keeping that traffic flowing today. As such, most of the ships that pass through Sault Ste. Marie are freighters, barges and tugboats. Some of those vessels are capable of steaming straight out of the Lakes and directly into the ocean itself, delivering as much as 72,000 tons of cargo to the rest of the world. It is not unusual for the locks to see the occasional tall sailing ships, cruise lines or even military vessels too.

During the summer travel months the Soo Locks are amongst the most popular tourist destinations in all of Michigan. Visitors actually come from around the world to take in the sights of a large ocean-going vessel passing through Sault Ste. Marie. The transfer process between the two lakes is a fascinating one and watching the locks in operation is a unique experience. That process can be observed from a lovely park that sits alongside the locks, which is the perfect place for spotting the large ships as they approach. Better yet, visitors can actually pass through the Soo Locks themselves by booking a local boat tour.

The Soo Locks Visitor Center is also a great place to learn more about the locks while visiting Sault Ste. Marie. The center provides a contextual history of how and why these modern wonders were built while also offering a large observation deck for watching the ships “lock through.”

When you’re finished enjoying the locks, be sure to spend a little time exploring Sault Ste. Marie as well. As Michigan’s oldest city, it has plenty of unique aspects to discover. And whatever you do, don’t leave town without trying the fudge!

Racing the wind on a frozen Michigan lake

Racing across a frozen Michigan lakeA frozen lake on Michigan‘s Upper Peninsula seems an unlikely place to hold a world championship event – particularly in February. Yet that is exactly where I found myself this past weekend as I watched more than 40 competitors from around the globe zip to and fro across the ice propelled by nothing more than the wind.

I made the trip to St. Ignace, a small town located on the banks of Lake Huron, to attend the annual World Ice and Snow Sailing Association (WISSA) Championship. The weeklong event pits competitors against one another in a variety of wind-powered races that mix grace, skill, and speed in equal measures.

The field of competitors came from across the planet just to take part in the event. The U.S., Canada, Finland, and Russia were all very well represented, as were numerous other countries including Cuba. The lone entrant from that nation acquitted himself quite nicely, finishing tenth in his division despite the fact that his homeland hasn’t seen ice or snow in quite some time. The male and female racers ranged in age from as young as 17 to well into their 50s, although they all shared a youthful exuberance and love for their sport.

The WISSA Championship features three divisions based on the type of apparatus that the racers use to capture the wind. Some competitors prefer the quick and agile wing, which resembles a small hang glider and is usually paired with a set of ice skates or skis to propel them across the ice. Raising the wing above their heads and turning it to catch the wind, they are able to generate quite a bit of speed, while still remaining very nimble. Steering is accomplished by constantly adjusting the glider in subtle ways to meet the changing breezes.The second division pits competitors against one another on sailboards that are not unlike something you’d find on water that hasn’t entered a solid state. Many of the entrants in this category have built their own sleds, merging a snow or wake board with a specially designed sail that is capable of harnessing the wind to generate impressive speeds. Sailboards are not nearly as nimble as the wings but they are still a lot of fun to ride and are probably the easiest of the three types of WISSA vehicles to learn how to control.

Racing across a frozen Michigan lakeThe third and final category actually uses large kites to pull the racers, who are typically strapped onto a snowboard or skis, across the ice. These kites are attached to the end of long cables and use a unique steering system to allow competitors to adjust direction on the fly. What they lack in agility, the kites more than make up for with pure speed, although they do require more skill to control than it would seem at first glance.

Each of the three divisions holds their own appeal of course, although the one that fascinated me the most were the kites. One of the racers let me control his kite while it was in flight and I was amazed at the amount of force it could generate. On more than one occasion an errant gust threatened to rip the handle from my grasp and at times it was all I could do just to hang on. That same racer confessed that he was able to hit speeds in excess of 70 miles per hour on larger, wide-open lakes, although all of that speed wasn’t exactly translating into wins for him in Michigan.

While the graceful wings and speedy kites were a lot of fun to watch, it was the competitors themselves that left me the most impressed. After spending the better part of two days watching them race – and interact – with one another, I was amazed at the level of camaraderie that was on display. While it was clear that they all enjoyed the spirit of the competition, it was even more evident that they simply enjoyed hanging out with one another. Many of them were old friends who had raced against one another in the past, and in between heats they were often seen sharing gear, testing out each other’s rigs, and sharing tips to improve their performance. There was a lot of laughter and good-natured ribbing as well and it was abundantly clear that for many of them the WISSA Championship was simply a great excuse to get together with acquaintances both old and new.

The St. Ignace edition of the WISSA Championship was the first to be held in the States. Next year it will return to Finland, which has been a frequent host in the past. But organizers of the event in Michigan plan to set up a North American competition, which will return to the region on an annual basis. They also hope to continue to grow interest in the sport, which has the potential to be a popular alternative to traditional winter sports.

Visit Michigan.org for more ideas on what to do in Michigan during the winter.

REI Adventures offers winter weekend getaways

Rei Adventures offers up some great winter escapesLooking to add a little activity and adventure back into your weekends now that the football season is officially over? Then REI Adventures may have exactly what you need. The company, which is the travel arm of the REI gear stores, has introduced several new winter weekend getaways that will get you out playing in the snow this February and March.

These excursions are short – most are just three or four days in length – but pack plenty of activity into the itinerary. Local guides lead groups of active outdoor enthusiasts into some of the more remote, and beautiful winter playgrounds in the U.S., giving them the opportunity to visit those locations at a time when crowds are non-existent.

Amongst the new trips for 2012 is a three day snowshoeing excursion into the Adirondack Mountains, where travelers will stay in a rustic log-cabin while spending a long weekend hiking some of the more scenic trails in the region. Similarly, REI offers a four day snowshoeing trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula during which visitors will trek past frozen waterfalls and visit caves along the shores of Lake Superior. And for those looking for something even more adventurous and active, there is a three day escape to the Catskills to do some ice climbing.

These short, but active trips are proof positive that we don’t have to stay inside all winter waiting for the warm weather to arrive. REI Adventures will give you a reason to dig out your warm clothes and boots and head outside for some much-needed winter fun.

5 great domestic adventure destinations

Five great domestic adventure destinationsBack in early January we posted our suggestions for the best adventure travel destinations for 2011, with places like Ethiopia, Croatia, and Guyana all earning a nod. While we gave plenty of praise to those exotic locales, we also gave a big tip of the hat to the good ole’ U.S. of A. as well. We went on to espouse the virtues of adventure travel right here at home, which includes not only plenty of great destinations but also the ability to visit them without breaking the bank in the process.

So, whether you’re into climbing mountains, hiking trails, or paddling whitewater, here are five great domestic adventure destinations guaranteed to fill your need for an adrenaline rush and help you conquer that wanderlust in the process.

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
It may be hard to believe, but the state of Michigan is actually home to a spectacular wilderness area that has a lot to offer the adventure traveler. The Upper Peninsula, or “U.P.” as it is known, is the perfect setting for outdoor enthusiasts year round. There are hundreds of miles of trails to be hiked or biked in the warmer months and during the winter they serve as excellent cross country skiing or dog sledding routes as well. Paddlers will enjoy the Lake Superior coastline, which offers an experience not unlike sea kayaking, while campers and backpackers will appreciate the dense, but beautiful, state and national forests that are found throughout the area. Wildlife is in abundance as well, with black bear, deer, wolves, coyotes, and many other creatures inhabiting the wilderness as well. Perhaps the best reason to visit the U.P. however is for the solitude. The peninsula makes up about 1/3 of the entire size of the state of Michigan, but only about 3% of the state’s total population actually lives there, which means there are plenty of wild spaces and few people to bump into on the trail.
Five great domestic adventure destinations.Yosemite National Park, California
One of the most spectacular outdoor playgrounds in the entire world is located right in central California. Yosemite National Park is well known for its spectacular scenery that features towering granite cliffs, sparkling clear waterfalls and streams, and thick forests that include groves of Sequoia trees. The park has more than 750 miles of hiking trails alone and whitewater rafting along the Merced River is also a popular summer time activity. In the winter months skiing, both downhill and cross country, are permitted within the parks boundaries, and snowshoeing is a fantastic way to explore the wilderness as well. Yosemite also happens to be home to some of the best rock climbing in the world, with the legendary El Capitan drawing climbers from across the planet. That rock face isn’t for beginners however, and if you’d prefer an easier way to the top, you might want to consider hiking up Half Dome, another one of the parks major attractions, instead.

Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming
Often overshadowed by other national parks in the area, Wyoming’s Grand Tetons National Park is a spectacular destination in its own right. With more than 200 miles of hiking trails, it is an ideal destination for backpackers. But less experienced hikers beware, due to its combination of remote backcountry and altitude, it can be a challenging place to explore. The park also happens to be bisected by the Snake River, which provides world-class fly fishing opportunities and easy kayaking as well. Mountaineers love the remote nature of the Teton Mountains, which afford them real opportunities to test their alpine skills on any number of challenging peaks, including the 13,770-foot Grand Teton itself. The park has plenty to offer wildlife spotters too. While visiting, keep your eyes peeled for moose, grizzly bear, wolves, coyotes and much much more.

Maine’s North Woods
For considerably easier, but no less satisfying, mountains to climb, look no further than Maine’s North Woods. The region is a dramatic, and mostly untouched, wilderness that is a fantastic destination for hikers and backwoods campers, offering thick forests and plenty of low altitude (read 2000-3000 feet) peaks to bag. As you can imagine, wildlife is in abundance here as well, with moose and black bear making regular appearances, along with otter, deer, and even bobcats. Paddlers can choose to enjoy a serene day in a canoe on one of the many lakes that dot the area or elect to head over to Maine’s Atlantic Coast for a decidedly different, and more challenging, experience in a sea kayak. With over 3.5 million acres of forest spread out across northern Maine, there is plenty of backcountry to explore.

Taos, New Mexico
Located in New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo Mountain region, Taos is one of those towns that sits at the epicenter of an outdoor enthusiasts’ paradise. In the winter, it is one of the best ski and snowboard destinations in the entire country, and the miles of local trails are fantastic to explore while snowshoeing as well. During the summer, those same trails make Taos a world-class mountain biking destination and rock climbers will love the variety of challenges they find in the nearby mountains too. The warmer weather also brings excellent whitewater rafting, as well as fantastic opportunities for horseback riding, hiking, and trail running through a pristine wilderness that never fails to surprise visitors with its beauty and wonder. The village of Taos is a great destination in its own right, enchanting travelers with its down home charm, and it serves as a prefect base camp for those who come to play in the backcountry.

There you have it. Five great domestic destinations to that will give you plenty to see and do no matter what time of the year you visit. It’s still plenty early in 2011 to start planning your own escape to one of these outdoor paradises.

[Photo credit: Attila Nagy and chensiyuan via WikiMedia]