If you haven't figured it out by now, this was the type of adventure where, if it could go wrong, it did. We crossed the bridge to the UP, brimming with excitement and anticipation. This would be the first time in the UP for both of us. The bridge was prettier than I imagined. A light teal blue against the tranquil lake, it was quite the sight to see. We crossed the bridge and drove over to Castle Rock.
"Are you sure this is it?" Grace asked, peering over at the roped off parking lot and the closed sign.
"Yup." I said, somewhat defeated. "This is it." We sat there, lost and bewildered. We had just paid four dollars to cross over to the UP...for nothing?
Luckily, my roommate and I are not known to give up. We drove around to the nearest town, St. Ignace, and discovered a hidden gem. The town dated back at least one hundred years and was filled with cute Christmas lights and ferries approaching the harbor. We walked around the dead town, and found four lone shops open on this blustery November day.
The first shop sold knick knacks local to the UP and Michigan. Slightly confused as to why anyone would be in this summer town on a cold November day, the manager asked us what brought us up here.
"Well," Grace answered. "We've never been to the UP before and we figured we should check it out."
"Never been to the UP before?" The lady responded, clearly surprised. "Well you're in for a treat!" She went on to explain the history of the UP, from the Native Americans to the miners, with an expansive knowledge. She had previously been a historical docent at the time, and we chatted with her for a solid half hour. We thanked her for the chat, purchased a couple of souvenirs, and headed back to the street.
The next store we came across was a Polish plates and jewelry store. The worker explained the creation process of the Polish plates (all imported directly from Poland; and handmade) in her thick Yooper accent (a Yooper, for those of you who don't know, is a person who lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan). She, too, boasted of her town. Similar to the first lady we had spoken with, she had left the UP for 10 years, but came back after missing it so much.
We then stumbled upon a souvenir shop, with a lone worker standing patiently at the main register. My roommate, ever the lover of local history, immediately began chatting away with the employee as I perused the store options. She kindly gave us a map and explained, in great detail, the highlights of the UP and all the best places to see. As we left the store she told us, "Now next summer when you come back here make sure ya give me a ring and stop in the store!" We promised we would if we did return, and left with warmth in our hearts.
After that, we stopped in a couple more stores and then found an old-looking diner to eat dinner. I had heard that it was necessary to get a 'pasty' (pronounced pass-ty not pay-sty ... this difference is very important to Yoopers). We were the only ones there besides the two workers and a regular who seemed like he had been there all day.
The way the locals talked with each other revealed the fierce loyalty Yoopers have for their towns. Almost everyone we had talked to so far had left the UP at some point or other in their life. However, something about the small town feel always brought them back. Their town pride was endearing and we felt as if, for this one day, we were a part of it all. I found myself loving the town merely due to how much all the locals raved about it. We may not have wound up at Castle Rock or Picture Rocks, but I think this unintended detour was much better.