The Great Northern

Following US‑2 through wide-open spaces is guaranteed to bring new meaning to the expression “getting away from it all.”

Iron Mountain and Norway

Though separated by a half dozen blacktop miles of US-2, the sister towns of Norway (pop. 2,845) and Iron Mountain (pop. 7,624) both grew up with the lumbering and iron-mining industry, producing over 300,000 tons annually from three big mines. The larger of the two towns, Iron Mountain, backs up against the easy grade of its eponymous mountain and seems casually strewn about in parts: The east side is minimall sprawl, while the west side is older, traditional “downtown.” The must-see here, everyone will tell you, is the Cornish Pumping Engine and Mining Museum (300 Kent St., 906/774-1086, daily June-Sept., $5), two blocks off US-2 on Kent Street. This comprehensive local-history museum has as its star attraction the most enormous steam-driven pump engine you could imagine—it’s 54 feet tall and weighs in at over 700 tons. There are also displays about the old Ford Motor Company factory complex in Kingsford, which fabricated such innovations as the “Woody” station wagon, charcoal briquettes, and World War II gliders. The real must-see is the freebie, the Pine Mountain Ski Jump, west of town off US-2 along Pine Mountain Road. This 120-meter jump hosts annual international competitions in late January or early February and is the site of the current U.S. distance record.

The mines at Norway were so close together and so active that the village once caved in and they had to rebuild it down the hill. Gritty Norway once produced more wood shingles than anywhere else, as shown by the numerous houses still coated with them. Norway also boasts the beautiful Piers Gorge, a couple of miles south via US-8, where the raging whitewater of the Menominee River scraped out this fascinating, 70-foot-deep gorge on the border between Michigan and Wisconsin.

Cornish Pumping Engine and Mining Museum (300 Kent St.)
Pine Mountain Ski Jump
Piers Gorge