I don't always like everything about Michigan (as I write this, it is 9 degrees with a -12 wind chill. 'Nuff said.), but I've called it home for 32 years and I've gotten to explore a quite a bit of it over the years. If you've never had a chance to visit or study our great state, you will find a ton of history on our Pleasant Peninsula.
The Physics of Suspension Bridges
To start, Michigan is divided into two peninsula's, known as the Upper Peninsula and the Lower Peninsula. They are connected by one of the greatest suspension bridges ever built -- The Mackinaw Bridge. I refer to it as my bridge and it's still my favorite place in Michigan. When it was completed in 1958, it was billed as the World's Longest Suspension Bridge -- even longer than the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. It spans the Straits of Mackinaw where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron meet. Closed to foot traffic, you can walk it once a year on Labor Day. For more on Mackinaw Bridge, visit the Mackinaw Bridge Authority and if you are in the area, check out the (rebuilt) Bridge Museum above Mama Mia's Pizza. The bridge has also been featured on Dirty Jobs (S3:E5) and Modern Marvels (S10:E7).
The Island Where Time Stopped
In the Straits of Mackinaw, there is an island where time has completely stopped -- Mackinac Island. Home to the Grand Hotel, Mackinaw Island used to be a tourist destination for the wealthy. Now, well, if you want to stay over night it's still pretty expensive, but worth it! The island is completely devoid of car transportation and is limited to bikes, walking and horse-drawn carriages. If you go to the island, you can learn a lot about the French and the local Indian tribes, as well as the time period around the War of 1812 at Fort Mackinac. On the mainland, you can visit Colonial Michilimackinac and learn about how the people who settled here lived and there are daily and seasonal reenactments. Mackinac Island is also featured in the movie "Somewhere in Time," a cult-classic movie that is remembered annually on the island. You can find more about it at MLive.
The Great Lakes, Lights, & Shipwrecks
Other than Alaska, Michigan has more shoreline than any state in the US at 2,147 miles on JUST the Great Lakes that it borders. Formed by glaciers, Michigan has borders on 4 of the 5 Great Lakes -- Lake Michigan (west), Lake Huron (east), Lake Superior (north), and Lake Erie (southeast). For more on the Great Lakes, check out Wikipedia's entry as a start. The Great Lakes have also been featured in an Episode called Drain the Great Lakes which is pretty cool.
Being the only state to border most of the Great Lakes, Michigan has had a long history of shipping. In fact, in the town where I grew up, you will find Rogers City. A modest town of less than 2,000, it was once the bustling center of the shipping industry. Calcite, home to the world's largest open pit limestone quarry (still in operation), was also home to the United States Steel fleet of boats (also called the Bradley Fleet, Great Lakes Fleet and formerly referred to as the Silver Stackers due to their gray paint). For more information on the size and history of the Great Lakes freighters, check out BoatNerd.com for pictures and history of individual ships sailing the Great Lakes.
The weather can turn NASTY on the Great Lakes in a heartbeat. If you don't like the weather, wait 5 minutes; it'll change. Because we are surrounded by the Great Lakes in such a unique way, we literally have weather unlike anything else in the country. Things like lake-effect snow and sudden violent storms out on the lakes are the cause of hundreds of shipwrecks in the waters just off of our shores. The most famous of which is the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald (subject of a song by Gordon Lightfoot). Other well-known shipwrecks include the Carl D. Bradley and the Cedarville, which my great-uncle was on the day it went down (he lived to tell the tale). To see more information about shipwrecks, there was an episode of Deep Sea Detectives featuring Great Lakes Shipwrecks (S1:E9), including the Fitz.
To help keep the freighters from sinking, there is quite an extensive network of lighthouses. There are over 115 lighthouses in Michigan with many more having fallen into disrepair or simply removed. CMU has a great article on the history of Michigan Lighthouses and how they operate. The Library of Congress has some great resources for more information on lighthouses and related topics. You can also check out the Soo Locks, which lets freighters travel between Lake Superior to Lake Huron.
Sand Dunes, Cherries, & Wine
The Grand Traverse area, where I now live, is pretty well-known for several things. First up are the Sleeping Bear Dunes. These dunes are MAGNIFICENT. We go at least once a year and before we had children, I nearly dropped from exhaustion walking up the Dune Climb and out to Lake Michigan. The history and ecology of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is fascinating and you can learn more at their site. The subject of much national press recently, it is worth the trip if you are headed to Michigan.
The unique features of the landscape in Grand Traverse Bay make it ideal for two crops that are very important to the economy in the region -- cherries and grapes. The Traverse City area is one of the largest producer's of tart cherries in the country and each year holds a National Cherry Festival. They also produce sweet cherries as well as those for the maraschino cherry process.
In addition, the geographical situation of the bay around the Old Mission and Leelanau peninsulas allows us the perfect climate for growing grapes. There are wineries all over Michigan but Grand Traverse county is the primary wine producing area. We not only produce traditional grape wines, but other fruit and specialty wines.
Ghost Towns, Waterfalls and Copper Mines
In the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, there are three main "attractions:" waterfalls, copper mines and ghost towns. The copper mines in the U.P. provided more mineral wealth than the California Gold Rush. As with all mining operations, it was feast or famine. When the mines became unprofitable and went out of businesses, the people left as well, leaving behind a peninsula of ghost towns. If you are lucky enough to get to travel to that area, you can find a host of local history books on the ghost towns, mines and shipping history of the area.
In addition, the glacier movement in the area has led to over 200 named waterfalls and all but one is in the UP. There are beautiful photographs and the geology of the area is fascinating! The other named waterfall happens to be near my hometown, Rogers City (where Calcite is located -- see above).
I hope that some of these places have piqued your interest in further study of the State of Michigan. We are much more than Motown & automobiles! Si Quaeris Peninsulam Amoenam Circumspice -- If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you!