Tag: Great Lakes

Oswalds Bear Ranch – Newberry MI

Oswalds Bear Ranch – Newberry MI

I really enjoyed our vacation to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The attractions pretty much equaled our time there. We didn’t sit around bored, but we didn’t have to do tourist triage on the things we wanted to see, either. It was a perfect fit.

One of the things we saw on the UP was Oswald’s Bear Ranch. I am fairly certain that it was the Oswalds who brought some of their bears to the Delaware State Fair one year. I remember being astonished as I watched the man playing with the bears. All parties involved were having a blast, and no one was getting hurt.

So when I read about the bear ranch in Newberry, I put it on our list of things to do. Oswald’s is the largest (bear only) Bear Ranch in the entire United States of America. They have 29 bears in 4 habitats, and most bears are rescue cases. Apparently people adopt bear cubs and then realize as the cubs grow into full sized bears that they cannot care for them. Shocking, I know.

The Oswalds take the bears in and give them a place where they can safely live among other bears, since in most cases they have never lived in the wild before.

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The bears are pretty friendly, although not overly so. It was possible to get close enough to take some photos, but they weren’t curious enough about us to come closer.

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The big highlight was when we got to feed and pet a baby bear cub. Here’s a shot of my daughter feeding him a snack (a mixture of Froot Loops and Puppy Chow).

feeding cub

How cool is that? It was a little disappointing, however, to discover that bears are not as soft and squishy as their stuffed animal counterparts. Baby Bear’s fur was actually kind of coarse and as for squishiness… well, I didn’t test that.  😉

Kids will love the opportunity to see these majestic animals up close and to learn more about them. This is a very family friendly attraction and I recommend that you check it out if you’re on the UP of Michigan!

Oswald’s Bear Ranch is located at 13814 County Rd 407 (H-37), Newberry, MI 49868. Telephone 906-293-3147. Open the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend through Sept. 30th each year. Hours are 9:30 am to 5:00 pm thru Labor Day. After Labor Day, the hours are from 9:30 am – 4:00 pm.  

The Mystery Spot – St Ignace MI

The Mystery Spot – St Ignace MI

There are big signs all over Michigan’s Upper Peninsula encouraging visitors to go to The Mystery Spot without really saying what the mystery spot is. Curious, we headed there to find out.


The story goes that three surveyors in the 1950s came to explore the area and found a place where their surveying equipment did not work properly. Plumb bobs would supposedly be hanging level, yet would be drawn far to the east. In addition, the surveyors noticed that they felt slightly light-headed in the same 300 foot diameter area. They felt they had discovered a “mystery spot” that defied the laws of physics and nature. And the name stuck.

We paid for a guided tour and zipline. Our guide started off by having two people roughly the same height stand on top of a concrete block that was level.  Miraculously, one of the people suddenly seem much shorter than the other!

Similar demonstrations followed, like a chair that balances with just two legs on a thin ledge while a person is sitting on it, or being able to walk on a wall, like this young man did on our visit:

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After the tour, we headed out for the zipline, which was… interesting. It was my first time and I am deathly afraid of heights. But since my husband and daughter went ahead of me, I had to join them. I almost cried but I managed to step off the platform.

Mystery Spot MI Ziplining

I was so glad I did! The zipline is actually in two segments. When you get to the end of the first segment (you may be able to see the platform off in the distance in the picture above), you are rewarded with a great view of the lake and the Mackinac Bridge. So pretty!

The Mystery Spot also has a maze and a miniature golf course. It’s a great outing for school age children and their families.

The Mystery Spot is located at N916 Martin Lake Road in St. Ignace, MI 49781. Telephone 906-643-8322. Hours vary by season; call or check website when planning your visit.

Tahquamenon Falls State Park MI

Tahquamenon Falls State Park MI

It rhymes with phenomenon. That’s what was on a sign when we arrived at Tahquamenon Falls State Park, and to this day it’s the only way I remember how to pronounce it.

(You would think I wouldn’t ever need to pronounce it, but a year later when we were at the Grand Canyon, I saw someone wearing a sweatshirt from Tahquamenon Falls. “Tahquamenon Falls!” I exclaimed with probably a little more enthusiasm than was called for. “I’ve been there!”)

The centerpiece of the park is the Tahquamenon River with its waterfalls. The Upper Falls (shown above) is one the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi. It has a drop of nearly 50 feet and is more than 200 feet across. A maximum flow of more than 50,000 gallons of water per second has been recorded cascading over these falls. The Lower Falls, a series of five smaller waterfalls cascading around an island is found downstream. Although not as dramatic as the Upper Falls, they are equally magnificent.

Longfellow’s Hiawatha built his canoe “by the rushing Tahquamenaw,” and the Ojibwa Indians were attracted to the river because of its abundance of fish and animals along its shores.

Upper Tahquamenon Falls 2

The brownish color of the water is caused by tannins (organic material from decomposing vegetation) in the swamps drained by the river. The extremely soft water (low mineral content), churned by the action of the falls, causes large amounts of foam as well.

Upper Tahquamenon Falls 1

For those who enjoy beer, there is even a microbrewery right near the entrance to the Upper Falls. It is the Tahquamenon Falls Brewery & Pub, featuring a selection of brews to suit most palates. I tried the Blueberry Wheat Ale and although I am not much of a beer drinker, I thought it tasted pretty good. For more information about the brewery you can call 906-492-3300

Tahquamenon Falls State Park is located on Upper Falls Drive, Newberry, MI 49868 (Upper Falls) and 6999 N. Lower Campground Lane, Paradise, MI 49768 (Lower Falls).  Telephone 906-492-3415. The park is open daily from 8:00 am to 10:00 pm.

Riding the Soo Locks

Riding the Soo Locks

The Soo Locks are located on the St. Marys River between Lake Superior and Lake Huron. An average of 10,000 ships pass through the locks each year. My husband has a thing for alternative methods of transportation (trains, ferry boats, and the like), so I thought it would be neat to take a little cruise through the locks.


The boat entered the first lock, and the gates started closing behind us. I confess, I have a tiny bit of claustrophobia, and this made me uncomfortable as I felt a bit trapped.

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Fortunately, though, the water slowly rose, and we rose with it.

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(Same gate, although we are a little farther away from it in this shot.)

We did this a couple of times and then enjoyed a little tour of the surrounding area. The highlight for me was probably going under the International Bridge that connected the US and Canada.

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It’s weird to realize that there is one country to your left, and a different country to your right. Another exciting moment was when we came very close to this huge freighter ship.  (I looked it up later and discovered that it was 767 feet long. Not hard to believe – as we passed by it, I didn’t think we would ever see the end!)

passing freighter

As we came back to port at Sault Ste Marie, we got a better look at this big old hydroelectric power plant.

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I love those lighthouses in the brick work! But even more impressive is that this plant was built in 1902 and it is still operating today – 114 years later!

It was a relaxing way to see the area from a different perspective. And, as my husband would say, now we can say we’ve been through canal locks!  🙂

Soo Locks Boat Tours run rain or shine, seven days a week, from May 15 to October 15. The boats are located off of East Portage Avenue in Sault Ste Marie, Michigan. Telephone (800) 432-6301

Not Your Mama’s Beach

Not Your Mama’s Beach

Ah, Lake Superior. With a name like that, it has to be great, right? Well, when my family and I visited the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, they wanted to go to the top of the light tower. I did too, but I wasn’t allowed because I was wearing flip flops. So I sat down on a bench and waited until they were at the top, then I took their picture. They lingered a while, so I decided to take a little walk while I waited for them to return.

It didn’t take long for me to discover that there was a pathway out to the beach. I walked onto the deck and – being an Eastern Shore girl who needs to stick her toes in the water whenever and wherever she sees it – kicked off my flip flops and ran toward the waves.

beach dune

Big mistake. The beach is absolutely littered with rocks. Thankfully, they were smooth and round, but still quite solid and not the sort of thing you want to be walking on barefoot. The closer I got to the water, the more rocks there were, until:

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They do not have beaches like this where I come from. Just sand. So I quickly limped/hopped back to where I’d left my shoes and put them back on, then proceeded to pick up some of the prettier rocks. My family joined me and we enjoyed the beach for a while, eventually content to just play with the rocks and arrange them artistically.

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So, if you plan on visiting Whitefish Point Michigan, consider this a public service announcement: wear some closed toe shoes and don’t attempt walking on the beach without them.

The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum

The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum

Before going to Michigan, I always associated shipwrecks with the ocean.  And pirates. And the 18th century.  Imagine my surprise to learn that there have been many shipwrecks in the Great Lakes, often tragic, and not so long ago.

Anyone who lived through the 1970s may be familiar with a Gordon Lightfoot song, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”  The tragedy that inspired the song took place on November 10, 1975, when the Edmund Fitzgerald freighter ship sank in the Whitefish Bay area of Lake Superior. Twenty-nine people lost their lives in that shipwreck, and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum is built near the site of the wreck, on Whitefish Point.

The museum features artifacts retrieved from local shipwrecks, including the bell from the SS Edmund Fitzgerald:

edmund fitzgerald

As a result of the Edmund Fitzgerald wreck, there were widespread changes in Great Lakes shipping regulations and practices, including mandatory survival suits, depth finders, positioning systems, and more frequent inspection of vessels.

Touring the museum as an out-of-state visitor, I failed to realize the magnitude of this tragedy and its impact on the area.  That is, until I went out on the beach and saw this makeshift memorial to someone who had been lost in the wreck.    Everyone who left the beach to walk back up toward the buildings placed a smooth Lake Superior stone on the spot as if to say, “I will remember you.”

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The museum is not completely focused on the Edmund Fitzgerald, however.  There were old diving suits, lighthouse prisms and other nautical treasures.  Here are a couple:

diving exhibit

into exhibit

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In addition to the museum, there are additional buildings to explore:  a light tower, the light keeper’s quarters, US Coast Guard chief’s quarters, crew quarters, look out tower, and fog signal building, to name a few.

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lighthouse sign

The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum is open May-October.   The address is 18335 N Whitefish Point Rd, Paradise, MI 49768.  Telephone 800-635-1742.

Along the Way: St. Ignace, MI

Along the Way: St. Ignace, MI

Many times, we are so focused on getting to our destination that we fail to appreciate the things we see along the way.  Those unexpected places and people, if we pay attention, can be some of our most rewarding encounters when we travel.

One of my favorite “Along the Way” places was St. Ignace, Michigan.  We had to drive to St. Ignace and park our car, then catch the ferry to Mackinac Island.  Normally, we would have spent the time waiting for the ferry looking at our phones, discussing the things we wanted to see and do once we got to the island, making small talk with each other.  But we didn’t.  And I am so glad.

lake huron beach

St. Ignace is the second oldest city in Michigan.  Its other claim to fame is that the French explorer Jacques Marquette founded a mission there in 1671 and is buried there.

But aside from its history, it’s just beautiful.  Bordering the Straits of Mackinac, you can gaze out over Lake Huron.  There is also a picturesque lighthouse.

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seagulls with lighthouse

When traveling, as in life, it’s the journey that matters just as much as the destination.

I’ll have a burger with a side order of taxidermy.

I’ll have a burger with a side order of taxidermy.

There is a wonderfully kitschy restaurant in Sault Ste Marie, Michigan, called The Antlers. These pictures cannot even begin to show how appropriately named it is.  From the minute you walk in, you are greeted by over 200 stuffed and mounted animals and antler decor. The majority of the animals are ones that you would expect – deer, moose, boar, and the like.  But there are also more exotic ones:

antlers lions

antlers polar bear

The history of the place is just as interesting as its theme.  The Antlers has been around for a very long time. The original name of this restaurant was The Bucket of Blood Saloon. Its front was an ice cream parlor during Prohibition days, but when the sweet shop was showing a huge profit of $900, government officials got suspicious.  The restaurant is also supposedly haunted, and has been featured on the show “My Ghost Stories.”

But back to the animals.  I am not exaggerating when I say that there are very few items in the restaurant that are without this sort of decor.  Take, for example,  this lamp:

antlers lamp

And I had to laugh when I saw the restroom door:

antlers rest room

You would think that a restaurant with this much going on would stop there.  But there’s more.  They also have several boat whistles, horns, and bells that get played frequently. It’s a fun place to eat, kids love it, and what’s more, the food is good.  We had a great evening there.

antlers decor 1

So if you find yourself on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and are looking for a unique place to dine, check out Antlers.  It will certainly be a memorable meal!

The Antlers is located at 804 East Portage Ave., Sault Ste. Marie, MI.  Telephone 906-253-1728

Mackinac Island, Michigan

Mackinac Island, Michigan

The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is the perfect destination for families, for people who love nature, for history buffs … there is really something for everyone.  The jewel in the crown of the UP is Mackinac Island.  (Pronounced Mackinaw)

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When you first arrive on Mackinac Island by boat, you will notice a conspicuous lack of traffic on the streets, owing to the fact that cars are all but forbidden on the island. Instead, horse-drawn carriages and bicycles are the primary means of transportation.

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And as if that isn’t romantic enough, there’s the majestic Grand Hotel.  If you ever saw the 1980 movie “Somewhere in Time” starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour, you will recognize it immediately.  If you can afford to stay there, do.  The Grand Hotel has been named one of the top hotels in the country by Conde Nast Traveler, Travel +Leisure, Wine Spectator, Gourmet magazine, and AAA.

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For those who are inspired by nature, make sure you tour enough of the island to see its iconic Arch Rock.  Standing 146 feet above Lake Huron, this is a rare natural limestone arch.


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Finally, for those who love history, be sure to check out Fort Mackinac.  The views from there are fantastic, and you will have an opportunity to learn about the fort’s role in the War of 1812.  Canon and rifle-firing demonstrations are held periodically each day, and you can tour many of the fort’s buildings, which are set up with recreations of what they would have looked like in the early 19th century.

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Additionally, if your curiosity veers toward the morbid at times, you might be interested to learn about Dr. William Beaumont, an Army surgeon who was stationed at the fort.  When a French Canadian fur trader named Alexis St. Martin was accidentally shot in the stomach and his open wound would not heal, the good doctor took advantage of the situation to experiment with and observe the physiological process of digestion.  Those experiments lasted over ten years and led to many important discoveries.