For the second week, we have a “Guest Blogger,” my spouse, Bill Popik. He and Jim Martin–our friend, photography guru and sometime-photo trip guide—embarked on a cross-country trip to photograph parts of the northern United States. This is Bill’s next installment.
After leaving Detroit, we headed north for Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, or “UP.” For those who have never been there, the UP is that portion of the state on the northern side of the Mackinac Straits, the site of the confluence of two Great Lakes—Michigan and Huron. To get there, one crosses the Mackinac Bridge. In the Upper Peninsula, everyone is friendly. You’ve heard the term “Minnesota nice”—the same ethic exists in the Michigan countryside.
Our plan was to stay on Lake Superior but all the lodgings were full, so we headed for Duluth. What a great move that was. Duluth is incredible! Its early history was trapping and trading with the Indians. That gave way to mining, lumbering and later steel production. The opening of the Soo Locks allowed the passage of ships from the Atlantic all the way to Duluth, a distance of 2500 miles. That enabled shipping goods into and out of the mid-point of the country. In the 20th century, Duluth became the busiest port by tonnage in the United States.
The city’s decline started in the 1950’s when the iron mines petered out. It continued into the 1990’s, when the city realized that tourism could play a major part in its future. With that guidepost, the city began a transformation into a vibrant and exciting place. (If you are interested in learning more about Duluth, check out James Fallows’ American Futures Project. Duluth is one of the cities highlighted there). Old buildings have been renovated and house shops. There is a thriving arts community. The shore of Lake Superior has bike paths and boardwalks. It’s a city made for being outside when the weather permits.
There are restaurants everywhere. We had breakfast at Uncle Loui’s, a highly recommended short order joint where the pancake is as large as the plate it’s served on. We walked around several downtown blocks and at Second Ave and First St. came across a memorial to three innocent black men who were accused of raping a white girl and were lynched. This is a city that does not try to bury the sins of its past but honors the memory of those who were unjustly slain.
It was a perfect short stay with one exception. We wanted to get our picture taken with Senator Al Franken at his Duluth office. I was even willing to pose next to a cardboard cutout but instead we pressed on. A few hours from Duluth, we crossed a small river with small boats parked along the banks. It was the headwater of the Mississippi. We took pictures just as a rain storm started. Onward to Grand Forks, North Dakota.