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Ask a native Michiganian for directions and they're likely to hold up their right hand and point to the palm to show you where you are, where you're going, and how to get there.
Navigating Michigan's distinctive mitten shape by palm is as much a part of learning about local color as touring an automotive plant near Detroit (the Motor City) or experiencing Tulip Time in Holland (with its operating windmill).
Michigan is a state made up of mostly smaller cities and even smaller towns connected by an array of highways that wind alternately through sprawling farmlands and towering forests.
Besides learning your "hands-on" map system, if you're planning on living in Michigan you'll need to add a couple of other things to your to-do list.
Applying for a new driver's license is easy in Michigan, as there are Secretary of State branch offices scattered throughout both peninsulas. Typically, lines are shorter in smaller offices, but hours at those offices may be reduced, so check before you go.
If you own a moped, watercraft, or recreational vehicle, you'll also need to register them in Michigan.
Once you've got that taken care of, explore!
Touching four of the five Great Lakes (Erie, Huron, Superior, and Michigan), the state is made up of two peninsulas, the upper and lower.
The Lower Peninsula―the mitten―is where most of the state's population is. Its economy is a mix of industrial and agricultural.
The Upper Peninsula, called both the U.P. and "Yooper," is a wealth of forests, overlays iron and copper mines, and is home to a huge hunting and fishing tradition that draws visitors from around the world.
Michigan is synonymous with automotive. In fact, nearly one-quarter of all cars and trucks manufactured in the United States start their journeys in Michigan. Detroit, the self-named Motor City, is home to the Big Three: General Motors Corp., DaimlerChrysler AG, and Ford Motor Company.
However, the auto industry is spread out across the state, with suppliers and assembly plants located in dozens of smaller cities as well.
But the auto industry is just one part of the picture. Battle Creek is king of the consumer cereal industry, Grand Rapids is known as "Furniture City," and three of the largest office furniture producers in the world are located in and around West Michigan.
Michigan also is a major player in the agricultural industry, being the largest producer of tart cherries and blueberries in the nation.
Michigan is a tourism destination in the Midwest, with more miles of actual coastline than any other state. In addition to the Great Lakes, there are hundreds of smaller lakes and miles of rivers that make Michigan a boater's paradise. In fact, only Florida has more boats registered than Michigan.
The state's beaches along its western coastline run from the Indiana border to the tip of the Lower Peninsula, and several collections of dunes tower more than 100 feet into the air―the largest concentration of freshwater dunes anywhere on the globe.
Lake Michigan has one of the largest salmon fisheries in North America, with King and Chinook salmon being introduced by the millions into area streams each spring. Anglers from around the world are drawn to the wilderness of the Upper Peninsula, which, in many areas, remains unchanged from the days when Ernest Hemingway chased big rainbow trout.
Tourism is one of the state's largest industries, and what once was primarily a summer trade has become a mainstay throughout the year. Winter visitors spend time snowmobiling, skiing, skating, and ice fishing.
French explorer Etienne Brule was the first European to travel extensively through Michigan in 1622. He discovered a region that was rife with wildlife and would prove attractive to fur trappers. French missionaries further explored the territory, establishing missions and outposts along the shores of Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, and Lake Huron.
In 1763, the British took control of the Lower Peninsula, granting the United States control of the territory in 1783. Michigan became a state on Jan. 26, 1837, the 26th to enter the union.
Michigan also has benefited from an influx of immigrants looking for a better life. The state's lumber and mining industry drew thousands of families―many Dutch, Swedish, Finnish, Welsh, German, and Polish―to the northern portion of the Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula in the 19th and early-20th centuries. Detroit has one of the largest Arab-American communities in the country and a proud tradition of African-American culture.
- Michigan is divided by water, the nearly five-mile-wide Straights of Macinaw. It's the only state that's made up of two peninsulas.
- The Mackinac Bridge opened in 1957. It connects the Upper and Lower Peninsulas across the Straits of Mackinac. Before that, only ferry service connected the two peninsulas.
- People who live in Michigan are called Michiganians―or is it Michiganders? Ask two people on the street and you're likely to get different answers. Blame Abe Lincoln who, in 1848, jokingly coined the term "Michiganders." It stuck―sort of.
- Michigan is a Chippewa word that means "great lakes."
- Can you name the Great Lakes? There are five: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior. If you take the first letter of each, it spells HOMES, an easy way to jog your memory. Only Ontario―the easternmost of the lakes―doesn't touch Michigan. More than one-fifth of the Earth's fresh water supply is held in the Great Lakes.
- Michigan has three nicknames: the Wolverine State, the Great Lake State, and the Water Wonderland.
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