Michigan’s northern tier is known for its natural beauty and solitude. Despite being home to just three percent of the state’s population, the Upper Peninsula boasts a subculture which celebrates the peculiar, the unexpected, and the just plain weird. The area is also home to a few natural oddities. Together, a visit to these weird and wonderful places can add spice to your Upper Peninsula sojourn.
At Palms Book State Park near Manistique, you’ll find a truly delightful natural wonder. At the far western end of Indian Lake lies Kitch-iti-kipi, or “Big Spring,” a natural spring that produces between 10,000 to 16,000 gallons of clear water per minute. Take a ride in a pontoon boat and observe the sand volcanos and brown trout glide under the cut-out floor beneath you. Kitch-iti-kipi is especially dazzling in the winter, as the strong movement of the water prevents it from freezing.
Lakenenland Sculpture Park
Along M-28, about 15 miles east of Marquette, you’ll notice alligators, dinosaurs, and even space aliens dotting the side of the road—or, at least, metallic sculptures of these unusual creatures. Crafted by sculptor Tom Lakenen in the style of “junkyard art,” these entertaining creations will fascinate visitors young and old. Best of all, it’s free, and open 24/7.
In Big Bay, near the Huron Mountains, you’ll find the historic Lumberjack Tavern, which was the scene of a famous murder in 1952. Local judge John Voelker (under the pen name Robert Traver) wrote a novel based on the incident, which was made into a major motion picture starring Jimmy Stewart and directed by legendary Otto Preminger in 1959. The movie’s trial scenes were filmed in the magnificent Marquette County Courthouse. The tavern still operates, and spares no effort to capitalize on its historic significance. Wall hangings and scrapbooks are available for the history aficionado to peruse. Look for the outline on the floor which indicates where the body fell.
Mystery Spot—St. Ignace
The Mystery Spot, located off U.S. 2 just west of St. Ignace, is best described as part tourist trap, part unexplained natural oddity. For unknown reasons, the laws of physics don’t seem to apply here. Tall people seem smaller, chairs balance with two legs in the air, and people can walk up a wall without falling. For $10 ($8 for children 5–11), you’ll be able to experience this truly bizarre phenomenon. And of course, you’ll find the obligatory souvenir shop, complete with Mystery Spot coffee mugs, T-shirts, and other assorted trinkets.
If the paranormal interests you, be sure to fit a nighttime visit to the Paulding Mystery Light into your itinerary. Located near Watersmeet off of U.S. 45, a small light of unexplained origin appears almost every night. Often it will change color or vary in its intensity. A sign provides some background: “Legend explains the light’s presence as a railroad brakeman’s ghost, destined to remain forever at the site of his untimely death. He continually waves his lantern signal as a warning to those who come to visit.” Even if you don’t believe in that sort thing, checking out this curious place can be lots of fun!
The Upper Peninsula boasts a bevy of rather bodacious dining establishments, but few are as unique as the Antlers Restaurant in Sault Ste. Marie. An eclectic menu is complemented by lots of horned animal heads—more than 200, in fact! And we’re not just talking about deer. Mounted on the storied walls you’ll find antelopes, big cats, bears, and even fish. The restaurant gives out fake antlers to kids. They’ll love trying them on, while mom and dad can take advantage of some great photo ops!