Most geographic discoveries relate to something found: a river, a mountain, an ancient buried city, a previously unknown strain of newt. I’m here to announce an equally important geographic breakthrough: that the Upper Peninsula of Michigan as part of the United States doesn’t really exist.
Oh, I know, there will be those who scoff. Magellan had detractors, too. I don’t wear the funny pants and hats he did, but I also now know more about the alleged Upper Peninsula than he ever claimed to.
During the mid-1830s, a federal report described the UP (Upper Peninsula) as a “sterile region on the shores of Lake Superior destined by soil and climate to remain forever a wilderness.”
To confirm that report and to justify this column, my wife and I visited the UP in the summer of 2012 and, in fact, did find some sterile regions and lots of wilderness. There were only a few inhabitants. Rather than buckskins, many of them wore colorful Lacoste shorts and 100 percent cotton Hawaiian shirts with genuine coconut buttons, but they still had a frontiersman attitude about them.
The average population density of the United States is 87.4 people per square mile. The population density of the UP barely registers at 5.25 pioneers per square mile. You can’t even support a Starbuck’s coffee/bait shop with these numbers.
Over the years, the area was settled by French Canadians, Finnish, Swedish, Italian and Cornish folks. Despite the Cornish incursion, very few game hens wanted to stay there. The peninsula contains the only counties in the area that report a slight majority of Finnish residents. There are a few remaining outposts such as Marquette, Sault Ste. Marie, Escanaba, Menominee, Houghton and Iron Mountain – and none have a major sports franchise. I’m talking football, baseball, basketball, lacrosse, pickleball, foosball or table tennis.
To further advance my theory that the Upper Peninsula isn’t really part of the country, my wife and I know very few people who claim to be from there. Jim and Penny Hubble say they used to live there. Listen, Jim and Penny are nice people, but really? To our knowledge there is only one more individual in the Chino Valley/Paulden megapolis who says she remembers owning a house north of the Mackinac Bridge. My sister who lives down in the Valley thinks she vaguely remembers one person who may have driven through the UP once, but concedes that her recollection may be faulty.
If the UP really were part of the U.S., it would be accessible by common transportation links. When we traveled there, again in 2012, we utilized the shuttle from Prescott to Phoenix, a connecting flight to Atlanta and another one to Flint, Michigan. From there, we rented a dog sled with team and mushed overland several hours, then rented a canoe and hired a guide to lead us to a car rental agency. Approximately 36 hours after leaving Prescott, we arrived in a place called Curtis. Let’s face it, no self-respecting U.S. municipality calls itself Curtis! Well, maybe there’s a settlement in Nebraska called Curtis that presents an annual pageant on Palm Sunday, but only 939 people insist on living there.
Based on the documentation in this column, I think we can safely conclude that the real state of Michigan stops at the Straits of Mackinac.
I don’t know of any expeditions that are preparing to explore the wild lands north of the Straits, do you?
To comment on this column or to provide a weak argument that I’m wrong, email firstname.lastname@example.org.