by Kath Usitalo
A 100 things to do in the U.P. could add up to a might too many things to add to one's bucket list. But what should be on every Michiganians list, as well as anyone from around the Great Lakes, is at least one extensive trip to the "Land Above the Bridge." Kath Usitalo's book, 100 Things to Do in the Upper Peninsula Before You Die, will help you choose what interests you and what not to miss.
Michigan's northern peninsula contains a third of the state's landmass but only .3% of her population. And all it takes to see what a different world lies north of Big Mac is to cross the Straits and drive. It becomes readily apparent within a few miles that the U.P. might not be a different state than below the bridge, but it certainly produces a different state of mind. It can be hours between billboard sightings or passing a Golden Arches. Virtually untouched natural beauty can be seen around almost every bend, and you can pass through several small towns before spotting a stop sign or stoplight. Hand lettered signs abound, and it seems half of them advertise homemade pasties or bait. The former is a Cornish pie stuffed with meat, potatoes, carrots, rutabagas, and anything else Cornish men and women can think of to stuff into a pocket of dough before sticking it in an oven.
The author warns the reader that in the U.P. many businesses are seasonal, cash is highly prized, and in many places credit cards won't get you the time of day. GPS systems don't always work in the U.P., cell phones are often useless, and many back roads are not passable by the family car unless its a 4-wheel SUV.
The author hits all of the do-not-miss sights from the Keweenaw Peninsula, and Pictured Rocks, to the Soo Locks, Mackinac Island, and Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park with its 60,000 acres, 90 miles of trails, great campground, spectacular views of Lake Superior, and abundant wildlife. But any guide book can lead you there.
The author also leads curious and intrepid travelers to singular roadside attractions the likes of which define the U.P. experience. Such as the Hilltop Bakery in L'Anse that is famous for its one pound cinnamon roll. Yes, a cinnamon roll the size of a small loaf of bread and so damn good they sell them all over the country via the internet at sweetroll.com. You can also get them as takeout but there is no way one can drive and eat this monster. Besides its best to sit down in Hilltop and let the smell of the rolls waft over you and then get one served right out of the oven when the butter, sugar, and cinnamon has become that delectable syrup within the roll and the sticky icing runs onto the plate until the huge roll looks like its swimming in the stuff.
The book pinpoints lighthouses that are B & B's and takes you to Whitefish Point and the oldest operating lighthouse on the Great Lakes which is within steps of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. If that's not enough, you're standing on one of the best bird-watching sites in the state during the spring and fall. At the other end of peninsula there's Fitzgerald's in Eagle River on the Keweenaw Penisula that specializes in southern BBQ and a world class collection of great whiskeys from around the globe.
The author makes it clear that if you're in the Keweenaw Peninsula you must stop at the JamPot Bakery in Eagle Harbor. It's operated by the Society of St. John Monastery and the baked goods including jams, jellies, muffins, brownies, cookies, and breads are all heavenly. The JamPot and Washington D. C. are nearly of equal distance from downstate Michigan, but one trip to the JamPot and you would crawl through broken glass to return. And if you want to really get closer to heaven, altitude wise, take the black-topped Brockway Mountain Drive. At it's highest point, it is 700 feet above the big lake, and on a clear day one can just make out Isle Royale shimmering in the distant blue of Superior. It is the highest elevated road lying between the Rockies and the Appalachian Mountains.
Usitalo also finds winter fun for those who don't snowmobile or cross country ski. In February, St. Ignace hosts 200 teams from across the U.S. and Canada in a pond hockey tournament played on 30 rinks laid out on the bay. During the tournament, hockey players may out number villagers.
This is a must guide for enjoying all the strange, one-of-a-kind, and breathtakingly beautiful attractions of Michigan's real Up North. The descriptions are succinct, give all the pertinent information, and will have the readers itching to travel.
Usitalo, Kath. 100 Things to Do in the Upper Peninsula Before You Die, St. Louis:Reedy Press, 2017. $16
Black Detroit: A People's History of Self-Determination
by Herb Boyd.
Reading Boyd's account of the 1943 Detroit Race Riot and its aftermath almost had me believing I was looking at an all too familiar blueprint or model for the race riots of the Sixties. There had been considerable friction and resentment among Detroit's Black population in 1943 due to second-hand jobs, housing, and overt racism. On June 20, 1943, 90-degree temperatures and suffocating humidity brought 100,000 Detroiters to Belle Isle seeking relief. The weather and the grievances made for short fuses, and fights broke out between Whites and Blacks. The fighting spread along the Belle Isle Bridge and into the city. Blacks started breaking into white businesses, and police were ordered to shoot to kill. The uprising lasted two days, resulted in 34 deaths, and almost 2,000 arrests. Not a single White was convicted of any crime. Committees were created to get at the root cause of the riot but neglected to consider racism or discrimination in jobs and housing, and declared White citizens only became violent when defending themselves. It also found the police were without fault. The mayor's staff (oblivious to the irony) came up with its own "white paper" that also turned a blind eye to the real causes of the riot.
Herb Boyd has produced a powerful, eye-opening history of Black Detroit and the growth of the city's energetic and resilient Black Culture. The book is a testament to and a celebration of Black Detroit's love for their city.
Boyd, David. Black Detroit: A People's History of Self-Determination, NY: HarperCollins, 2017. $27.99
New Books Coming in September
An11-year-old Croatian girl's trip to and living in Keweenaw Copper Country in the1880s. A novel based on a true story.
Chengelis, Angelique. Michigan Man: Jim Harbaugh & the Rebirth of Wolverine Football, Triumph Books, 9-15-2017. $25.95
Milan, Jon. Iconic Restaurants of Ann Arbor, Arcadia Pub., 2017. Paperback edition. $22.95