Thursday, July 24, 2014

our trip to (southern) Michigan in 2014

With my sabbatical this year, our vacations were more frequent but more modest: a trip to Alabama to see Chris’ family in October; a trip to Florida in March to see friends; and this summer (last week), the “big” trip to see Southern Michigan. (In previous summers, we’ve gone to much of NC in 2010, NY state in 2011, SD and eastern CO in 2012, and SC and more of NC in 2013.)

We headed out after a DC co-leader training on Saturday AM, with a stop in Auburn, IN to see the Victory Museum. It featured a ton of period vehicles, focusing on WWII. The building/admission also included a small display on local professional baseball players (including the women’s league team around WWII—as in the movie, “A League of Their Own”) and the Kruse Auto Museum (including race cars, drag racers, monster trucks, and some famous cars designed by Carl Casper: Dukes of Hazzard, Batmobile, Knight Rider).

On Sunday, we had our first major stop in Michigan: the Gilmore Car Museum (& Barns) in Hickory Corners. That weekend, they happened to have an English car show, so it was cheaper—and we got to see a lot more cars!

Later on Sunday we visited Saugatuck, an “eclectic and pretty” town, including its “chain ferry” and a public potty professionally painted with pointillism. We ended the evening with time at the beach at Holland State Park, a brief stop to see the tunnel at Tunnel ParkBeach, and some ice cream at the renowned and popular Captain Sundae.

On Monday, we enjoyed some shopping and the riverwalk at Grand Haven. Lunch was the corn dogs at Pronto Pups. (Good stuff! All they sell is corn dogs and cold sodas without ice.) Moving on, we hit PJ Hoffmaster State Park (incl. the Gillette Sand Dune Visitor Center and a short hike) north of Muskegon and Duck Lake State Park’s beach south of Muskegon. In addition to a nice beach, Duck Lake has a shallow waterway bridging to Lake Michigan, so you can walk from one to the other. All of the other beaches were quite nice, but Duck Lake is the only one that's memorable.

On Tuesday, we enjoyed MacWood’s Dune Rides (excellent!) and the lighthouse at Silver Lake. Then we headed east across most of the state, hitting Shrine of the Pines in Baldwin (amazing log cabin and furniture built by hand, without electricity); Morgan Composting in Evart/Sears (home of Dairy Doo, owned by one of the three entrepreneurs in the Acton film, The Call of the Entrepreneur); Cops & Doughnuts in Clare (a once-failing but now-thriving store bought by cops who took advantage of their infamous connection to the pastries); and the “Tridge” (a three-way bridge over two rivers) in Midland.

On Wednesday, we started with the Castle Museum (including a nice Legos display) in Saginaw. Then we visited Frankenmuth, a touristy Bavarian-style town to walk around and shop a bit. We had a late lunch at Tony’s in Birch Run. With its huge servings—e.g., the BLT with one pound of bacon!)—we didn’t need to bother with dinner. And we finished at Marvelous Marvin’s Museum/Arcade (a collection of old, functioning arcade games) in Farmington Hills.

On Thursday and Friday, we saw most of “The Henry Ford” in Dearborn. We spent two days there and still couldn’t get through everything. Its three components were all amazing! First, the museum thoroughly covered the range of Ford’s business interests—planes (new info there!), tractors (Sears and other retailers sold car/tractor conversion kits), and automobiles (all the way back to the Quadricycle)—and other relevant stuff (trains) or interesting stuff (furniture). (They also had a half-dozen IMAX options. We saw the D-Day film narrated by Tom Brokaw—masterfully organized and helpful for understanding the choreography of the battle and what followed.)

Second, Greenfield Village was similar to Colonial Williamsburg, but more extensive and wide-ranging (at least as I remember them), Most impressive, they had many original buildings—modest (an old doctor’s office); connected to famous people (one of the courthouses where Abraham Lincoln worked); or outright famous (e.g., the Wright Brothers’ home and bike shop). They also had a multi-building replica of Edison’s workshop community, including a laboratory where Edison’s team aimed to produce inventions regularly. GV was meant to preserve history, but started in October 1929 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Edison’s light bulb. (They have the chair that Edison sat in; supposedly untouched since then!)

Third, the Ford/Rouge plant/factory tour was terrific-- getting to see them put together a good chunk of the F-150s. They also had two short films on the changes over history (a labor economist’s dream).

On Thursday evening, despite some warnings, we took our carry-out dinner to Belle Isle in Detroit. It was beautiful and safe. On the way there, we were on safer/busier roads; it was like driving down Broadway in Louisville. On the way back, we stayed on significant neighborhood roads and that was a bit dicier, but still fine. (I would not have wanted to make that drive at night—perhaps fine, but not sure.) On that route, I’d say half of the houses were boarded up. More sobering, the huge manufacturing and apartment buildings that had been abandoned—and were not even worth tearing down.

The trip was just under a week, since I had the next DC co-leader training on Saturday AM. If we head north again—say, on the way to No. Michigan and the UP (which are supposed to be awesome)—we would likely visit the Cord-Duesenberg Auto Museum in Auburn, IN (we did get to see a lot of those cars in the other museums); the Mid-America Windmill Museum in Kendallville, IN; the Auto Hall of Fame in Dearborn; and the Yankee Air museum in Belleville (west of Detroit).

Two other small things to report: 1.) The hotels were nicer and far cheaper on the east side (in Saginaw and Detroit): both nice-- for $43 and $47 with a pool vs. $75-100 for far less clean. 2.) The road numbering was noteworthy—in particular, the use of numbered streets (e.g., 128th Road or Street), even in rural areas.

All in all, an excellent trip. It wasn’t our best overall; that honor still goes to SD and eastern CO. But it was probably tops in satisfaction per dollar and per mile.


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