Friday, July 24, 2015

our trip to (northern) Michigan 2015

We enjoyed our second consecutive Summer trip to Michigan in late June and early July—nine days in total. The sequel (largely to the northern half of Michigan) followed the original trip (to the southern half of Michigan) in 2014—which preceded our Summer family trips to North and South Carolina in 2013; South Dakota and eastern Colorado in 2012; New York State in 2011; and North Carolina in 2010. Like our earlier Michigan trip, it was not our most impressive trip (see: NY and SD/CO). But per dollar and per hour, it was excellent, since it was relatively easy and inexpensive.

Our target was the northern half of Michigan, but we made stops along the way to get that far north. We started the vacation proper in Mansfield, OH with a visit to the Reformatory. (We had seen the Bible Wax Museum there in 2011 on our way to NY—and we hope to see the Military Museum some other time.) The prison/reformatory is most famous for its use in Shawshank Redemption and Air Force One. But it’s been used in other references to pop culture and is historically significant in terms of its technological advance as the largest free-standing set of steel-cage-structured cells. (I think it was five floors of 120 cells per floor.)

We spent the next day at Cedar Point—our second visit to our favorite amusement park by far. At 20 seconds and a top speed of 120 MPH, the Dragster continues to be the kids’ favorite, but they have a ton of great rides. They have fewer shows than the average park, but the one we saw was the highlight of the entire trip for three of the four boys. “Wheels Extreme” was a combination of people on bikes, roller blades, scooters and skateboards—along with some gymnasts on trampolines. The gymnasts used a long trampoline to do extended routines. The wheels—individually and combined—were also impressive. But we had seen those sorts of thing before. The best part was the gymnasts using two square trampolines between three 12’ tall rectangular staging areas. They would jump off one staging area and return to the same area by walking up the side. They would jump from one staging area to a trampoline and then over the next staging area to the next trampoline. (Try to picture it!) And so on. It was really creative, entertaining, and awe-inspiring.

With Cedar Point behind us, Days 3 and 4 were finally in Michigan, starting with our second visit to Detroit. We stayed in Canton—between sites we wanted to see in Dearborn, Belleville, and Ypsilanti. And we were still close enough to Detroit to enjoy the Big City. In Dearborn, we visited the Automobile Hall of Fame (across the parking lot from “The Henry Ford”; ok, but I can’t recommend it, unless you’re a big fan of cars and haven’t seen some of the better car-oriented museums in Michigan). We briefly revisited “The Henry Ford” (the two full days there were the highlight for Tonia and I on last year’s trip), catching their new “Roadside America” exhibit and seeing the 3-D IMAX film, Secret Ocean. After that, we walked around downtown Detroit and then headed back to Belle Isle State Park (adding a visit to their “Zoo”, Conservatory, and a fun State-fair-like Metal Slide). On the way back, we picked up tons of inexpensive and excellent pastries at Shatila, a local bakery of some renown (h/t: Rachel Loy).

The first part of Day 4 took us to the Yankee Air Museum in Belleville and the Automotive Historical Museum in Ypsilanti. Both were nice stops—modest, but inexpensive and worth the time and money. Then, we hopped in the car and headed to the North Country. Our only stop: the beautiful “Cross in the Woods” Catholic shrine/church in Indian River—about 30 miles south of Mackinac. It’s the largest crucifix in the world and—in tandem with its natural setting and their stations of the Cross—was a meaningful opportunity for worship.

We stayed in Mackinaw City and headed to Mackinac Island for Day 5. You take a ferry and end up on an island that does not allow driving. We walked a bunch and biked for two hours. It’s pricey—especially to stay there—but it’s a must-see place. It’s good for families, especially if they can bike or be biked. But it—along with much of the trip—would be a terrific place for older couples (sans kids) or as an anniversary celebration for young couples. Mackinac Island had a number of touristy sites. For example, we saw the Butterfly House & Insect World. It was ok, but then it occurred to me that the touristy things are largely there for people who have longer stays on the island and are looking for other things to do. In a word, I would visit the touristy things on a longer stay, but avoid them for a one-day stay.

From there, we headed into the UP (the “Upper Peninsula” of Michigan). Really rural and pretty (or even beautiful if you love trees and remote areas). The mosquitos were heavy (a problem from mid-May through late-July) and you have to be careful about getting food and gas (since there are so few establishments). But it was a really nice part of the trip.

We stayed in Paradise and stumbled onto one of the best restaurants in Michigan—The Fish House—with perhaps the best fish I’ve ever eaten. Then, Day 6 was full, starting with the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. We happened to be there for the 20th anniversary—to the day—of the raising of the bell on the Edmund Fitzgerald. (This year is the 40th anniversary of its sinking—the most recent, significant maritime disaster in America. I’d heard Gordon Lightfoot’s song a handful of times and assumed that the event was from the 1870s not the 1970s!)

Then, we stopped at the upper level of Tahquamenon Falls—really nice. From there, we drove east-to-west through Pictured Rocks NationalLakeshore. We stopped at the Log Slide and watched the kids hike an amazing sand dune down to Lake Superior—maybe 150 yards long with a 45 degree slope. Then, we drove to Chapel Creek and hiked 7-8 miles to the lake, seeing Chapel Rock, more dunes, and some of the Pictured Rock lakeshore sights. A good hike and beautiful in places. But this was the first “mistake” in our plans. Looking back, I would have liked more time at PRNL. You could easily spend an entire day there alone; there’s a lot more to do.

That evening, we drove to Petoskey. (Another mistake: with more time, I would done the entire “Tunnel of Trees” scenic drive on the way to Petoskey: Levering Rd, west to Cross Village and then M119 south to Harbor Springs [a really nice town] and then Petoskey. Coming from the north, this would only add 15 miles and 20-25 minutes to your drive.) The next day, we enjoyed the Archangel Grotto (and their Stations of the Cross) at the Marion Center in Joy Valley outside of Petoskey. On the north end of Petoskey, we enjoyed the state park and its beach.

If one wanted to settle into one of the lakeside towns in Western Michigan for a few days (again, the sort of trip we’d recommend for couples moreso than families), we’d pick Petoskey, given its combination of in-town possibilities and its nearby day-trips: a.) Indian River’s crucifix/shrine or the Tunnel of Trees & Harbor Springs—if not done earlier; b.) Charlevoix [15 miles away]—another cute little town which we drove through but comes highly-recommended; and c.) Torch Lake [35 miles away, on the way to Traverse City]—for its beautiful blue water, which we enjoyed.

In Petoskey, we stayed at the Michigan Inn & Lodge. In describing our trips, I don’t remember ever talking about our hotels; they’re usually quite non-descript! But this was an interesting hotel concept—with free, good meals [not just breakfast], huge TV’s in the room, and even free haircuts. I’d definitely recommend them, especially if you’re staying a few days.

From Petoskey, we drove to Traverse City, enjoying the National Cherry Festival. We tried to see Weird Al Yankovic in concert, but they had sold too many tickets and we couldn’t see, so I got us a refund. I had been reluctant to do more dunes (after last year’s Silver Lakes and this year’s UP), but we had some time and decided to visit the famous Sleeping Bear Dunes. It was well worth it—both the scenic drive and the op to climb some serious dunes. (We did not visit Glen Haven/Arbor, but would have done so if we had taken more time.)

The boys joined others in descending an even longer (250-300 yds to Lake Michigan) and steeper (60 degrees?) dune than they had done at Pictured Rocks. Going down was strongly discouraged—the sort of warning you’d expect to see posted when they don’t want to end up bailing out people who have over-committed to a physical feat they cannot accomplish! Then, all of us climbed the official dunes (250 yards with 30-40 degree slope). Not surprisingly, the powers-that-be wisely preferred that people climb first and descend later—than vice versa!

I had hoped to take the family to the (family-friendly) CherryBowl Drive-In Theatre in Honor. But they started really late and I had scheduled a long drive to our hotel in Grand Rapids, so we passed. The next day, we went to see the wild animals Boulder Ridge in Alto (terrific); the Mid-AmericaWindmill Museum in Kendallville, IN (nice and inexpensive, especially with our tour guide!); and the Cord-Duesenberg Auto Museum in Auburn (excellent on cars and the architecture of the building).

A few reflections on the modest “mistakes” I made (what I would have done differently if I had known) and how others might want to do this trip (independent of those mistakes). We took 9 days, but looking back, I wish we had taken 10, needing less time for Traverse City and adding time for PRNL and Glen Arbor/Haven. That said, a good trip to the north half of Michigan could be done in a week; we took four days to get to Mackinac, but that only requires one day.


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At July 27, 2015 at 2:42 AM , Blogger blogspot abal said...

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