Superior State: The Upper Peninsula of Michigan

I just got back from vacation and am having an incredible time motivating myself to return to my regular grind. I never take vacations. My musical “career” and present work have taken me to enough places, that staying home almost feels a luxury. Now that I’ve reached this moderately advanced age, though, I’ve recently felt the need to finally take one. Vacations should come with “post-vacation vacations” to allow a slow and peaceful transfer back to reality.

The Upper Peninsula covers nearly a third of Michigan’s landmass, but only 3% of its population. Most of the land is occupied by State and National Parks, wildlife reserves and forests. Occasionally, one sees a town. Despite the lack of humanity, the UP is one of the most unique places I have ever visited.

Formerly a hot bed of American iron and copper mining, the UP’s economy is now driven by logging and tourism. Log houses, logging trucks and chainsaw stores dot the landscape, along with signs warning one of wandering moose and elk. The population is a mish mash of descendents of the original Finnish settlers, recent imports, seasonal residents and snowbirds and a prominent, though clearly poor, Native American population.

It’s the Alaska of Michigan, a vast unlivable frontier that somehow skates by through the sheer determination of its residents and the economic support of its lower neighbors.

The UP is so vastly different from the lower peninsula of Michigan, that it could almost be a different state. In fact, secessionist movements have long existed in the UP, with a small group calling for the creation of “Superior,” the 51st State of the Union, named after the largest of the five Great Lakes. It is easy to see why. The UP is mostly disenfranchised from State politics. Lower Peninsula concerns with the revival of the manufacturing economy overshadow the resource based economic concerns of the UP. It would appear that the UP is regarded by the State Legislature as merely a source of votes, and not a priority for the resurrection of Michigan’s troubled economy.

We had the opportunity to enjoy some of what the UP has to offer in the way of its amazing National and State Parks. I was able to take a few pictures between bouts of hiking induced exhaustion through the Porcupine Mountains. I will be sure to got back to the UP one day. In fact, I am already planning to visit the mighty Isle Royale next year.

About Pete Larson

Researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Lecturer in the University of Michigan School of Public Health and at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I do epidemiology, public health, GIS, health disparities and environmental justice. I also do music and weird stuff.

3 responses to “Superior State: The Upper Peninsula of Michigan”

  1. Sandy Johnson says :

    I did my undergrad @ Northern in Marquette. I love the UP!

  2. Sandy Johnson says :

    BTW — great photos!!!

  3. Pete Larson says :

    That’s right, you did and I thought of you while driving through Marquette! I hope you are well!

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