My Birthplace

August, 2016 – Ann Arbor to Detroit, MI Our route out of Michigan would take us right through Ann Arbor so I suggested to Jim that we stop for a couple nights to check out this town where I was born. My family moved to Missouri when I was about 4 and I only recall one brief return visit when I was around 15. I thought it would be nice to have a better sense of where I came from. As far as I know, we don’t have family in the area any longer.

Ann Arbor turned out to be a nice college town. The University of Michigan offers many free attractions. You do have to pay for parking but it was very reasonable. Our first stop was the Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

It was a magical place with beautiful things to photograph. So many blooms…

and the most gorgeous fish I have ever seen. I kept going back to watch it swim back and forth and try to capture its exquisite fins.

Jim and I were both fascinated by this huge kaleidoscope.

The lovely plant made a perfect backdrop for the kaleidoscope to work its magic.

The gardens contained plenty of nature’s weirder inhabitants as well: a Venus flytrap, the corpse flower plant (not blooming, thankfully), and this sausage tree. What?!

The day had started out a bit drizzly so we barely even touched on their extensive outdoor gardens. Thankfully the rain stopped on our way to the university’s main campus. We first stopped at the Museum of Natural History. It had 3 floors of rocks, stuffed animals, and such but the first floor full of dinosaur bones was the highlight.

Then we wandered the campus gawking at the amazing old architecture. Our favorite place was the law school quadrangle. It was built in the 1920’s in the English Gothic style. Extraordinary!

The details were stunning.

The only building we stepped inside was the law library and it was incredible. There were few students around since it was between semesters.

We debated whether there was anything in nearby Detroit we cared to see and Jim, being a car enthusiast, requested a visit to the Henry Ford museum. Tickets were a hard to swallow $20 for the museum and we decided to add the Rouge factory tour, usually $17 but only an additional $10 when purchased in combination with the museum ticket. Another $20 would have gotten us into Greenfield Village as well, an 80 acre outdoor museum, but we thought the two tours were all we could manage in one day.

The museum had an amazing collection of cars, just about every car you can imagine. Here is the Cadillac President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in. I just finished a very interesting book, Mrs. Kennedy and Me: An Intimate Memoir, so I found this car, which was described in detail in the book, especially interesting.

There were also trains, airplanes, a few RVs, and lots of neon signs.

I was entertained and Jim was in heaven. I’m glad we arrived at 9am when they opened as it was getting pretty crowded when we left shortly after enjoying our sack lunch in their movie theatre. We chose to head to the factory tour in part because I was cold. It was a refrigerator in the museum and despite wearing a jacket I was freezing.

We enjoyed the factory tour very much. You could walk at your own pace around a second floor mezzanine that ran around the outside of the main factory floor. You watched the actual assembly of Ford trucks. The hundreds of workers and all the automation were extremely interesting. Of course, no pictures were allowed.

We planned to return to the museum but were just too worn out by the time we finished the factory tour. While chatting with one of the tour guides I was told that you can actually buy the combo tickets and then use them separate days. If I could do it over again knowing what I now know, how much there is to see and that the drive from our campsite was a breeze, I would have added the village museum and returned 3 separate days to tour each place separately. But we were very pleased with our visit and satisfied that we got our money’s worth.

We camped between Ann Arbor and Detroit in Ypsilanti. The Wayne County RV Park and Fairgrounds had reasonable rates ($30 water & electric), were conveniently located, and since they had no events going on it was far from crowded.

We spent one afternoon visiting the town of Ypsilanti. It has a charming downtown they’ve nicknamed Depot Town because of its proximately to the tracks. It has many restaurants and a few fun shops.

A short walk across the river there are neighborhoods full of big, beautiful old houses and buildings. That is also the location of the Michigan Firehouse Museum.

For a $5 admission fee we enjoyed a couple hours learning about early firefighting techniques and equipment. Sadly they wouldn’t allow me to slide down the fireman’s pole. But it was fun and informative anyway.

We seriously enjoyed our visit to Michigan and will definitely consider visiting again.

Mackinac Island & Shipwrecks

St. Ignace to Alpena, MI – August, 2016 I’m pretty sure every person I know that ever visited northern Michigan has told me I just had to see Mackinac Island so there was no question we would be going there. The island sits just to the east of the Mackinac Straits which separate Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas and connect Lake Michigan to Lake Huron. The Mackinac Bridge is an engineering marvel that spans the waterway.

Ferries to the island operate from both St. Ignace on the upper peninsula side of the bridge and Mackinaw City on the lower peninsula. The cheapest of the three ferry operators was the Arnold Mackinac Island Ferry at $18 pp. It was the slowest ferry and a bit like a cattle car but got the job done. We caught the first ferry at 7:15 am and had a leisurely cruise to the island with great views of the bridge. Here one of the other ferries races to pass us and get his passengers to the island first.

Some of the best views of the town are from the boat.

The traditional way to see the island is by bike. If you own a bike bringing it on the ferry at a cost of $8 is the way to go. Renting one at $60 per day was out of the question so we chose to hoof it. Since the island has absolutely no motorized vehicles you only had to share the road with bicycles, horses, and buggies.

We walked around the edge of the island till we reached this great view of Arch Rock.

Then we climbed the stairs to get the opposite view.

We continued our walk through the interior of the island where they have a couple great old cemeteries. This one’s earliest occupant was buried in 1833.

Then we made our way back to town where it was starting to get crowded. People were constantly loading into carriages in Marquette Park below Fort Mackinac.

We had a lovely lunch at Millie’s on Main. It was the perfect place to people watch and cool down from our 5 mile walk. We then took a stroll down Main Street and visited several fudge shops. They each offer free samples of fudge which made for the perfect dessert for me as I’m a huge fudge fan.

We made our way back to the docks to wait for our ferry. We were pleasantly surprised when our afternoon ferry was a little nicer than the morning ferry. The upper deck was furnished with comfy patio furniture and there were less than a dozen passengers.

Mackinac Island is definitely worth seeing. Staying on the island a couple days and bringing your own bike would be the ideal way to visit. We enjoyed the town of St. Ignace where we stayed as well. Tiki RV Park was extremely nice. Our water and electric site was only $16 with our Passport America discount.

We made our way from there down the east side of Michigan’s lower peninsula. We spent a couple days in an electric site at Cheboygan State Park, $28 pn. The highlight of this stop was kayaking a mile south to visit a couple shipwrecks in less than 30 feet of water.

Jim jumped out of his kayak and snorkeled over these huge wrecks. One was the Genesee Chief, a 142 foot schooner, that was scuttled here in 1891 after it was determined she could not be repaired.

There were some huge fish like this sucker. That board was a 2 x 12 so the fish is around 4 feet long.

The visibility around the wrecks was around 50 feet. Jim had a ball and snorkeled back and forth for almost an hour. I didn’t mind staying with the boats as I was just a bit uncomfortable swimming that far from shore. I feel so much more vulnerable snorkeling than I do scuba diving.

Next we spent a rainy weekend in Alpena. This was a great little town with an awesome downtown full of fun shops, beautiful old buildings, and lots of cool art.

The Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center is a free museum devoted to the hundreds of shipwrecks in the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. It was exactly the kind of stuff we were hoping to see at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum, but didn’t. It was also the perfect place to spend a stormy Saturday morning.

We stayed a couple miles south of town where we paid $25 pn for an electric and water site at Thunder Bay RV Park. We had hoped to kayak to some shipwrecks in Thunder Bay but the weather didn’t cooperate and after several days of rain we doubted the visibility would be all that good so we moved along.

Tahquamenon Falls & Soo Locks

Paradise to Sault Ste. Marie, MI – August, 2016 The next stop on our itinerary was the Tahquamenon Falls near Paradise, Michigan. We hadn’t made any reservations up until this point because we wanted to spend as much time as we felt like at each of our stops without being rushed to meet our next reservation and I hate paying reservation fees. When we researched the only camping options in the area we were not surprised that they were booked for the weekend so we settled on a single Thursday night reservation.

Tahquamenon Falls State Park has three campgrounds. We got the last site with electricity at the campground furthest from the actual falls, Rivermouth Campground. We paid $33 which included the dreaded $8 reservation fee. We didn’t have to pay the $8 daily use fee since we had bought Michigan’s annual park pass.

We arrived at 10 am even though checkout at Michigan State Parks is 1 pm and check-in is at 3 pm. We took a gamble that the site would be vacated before 1 because we prefer to travel before noon and we had a lot we wanted to see in the area. We discovered the site was still occupied so we parked in their large overflow parking area.

We had lunch then explored the vicinity by foot until the occupant left at noon. We then moved in, set up, and set out to visit the main attraction. It was a 16 mile drive to the lower falls.

Tahquamenon Falls consists of an upper fall and the lower falls with a 4 mile stretch of river between. There is an accompanying 4 mile trail between that is a very popular hike. They even offer a shuttle service so you can make the hike either direction then get a lift back to the start. Unfortunately we wouldn’t have time for that on this visit.

The lower falls consist of several falls on either side of an island in the river. When you get to the main viewing area this is what you see.

Your options from here are to rent a rowboat for $7 per person or $20 per family or be shuttled over for $10 per person. Then you can play in the falls and walk around the island. We chose instead to walk the less than half mile trail to the right hand falls viewing platform you see in this photo.

There is no access to the water from there as far as I could tell but you do get a view upriver that includes a third fall.

There were a lot of people who had made the trip to the island and were enjoying playing in the falls. Without traveling to the island the best view you can get of the left-hand falls is by zooming in.

We then made the 5 mile drive to the upper fall. This is a single large fall and they have extensive trails built along the gorge so you can view it from every possible angle. The best view was from the lower trail below the fall down 200 steps and then a short walk back up river.

We chose to visit Whitefish Point, 17 miles north of our camp, early the next morning. It is a prominent point of land sticking out into Lake Superior that every ship entering or leaving the lake must pass. For this reason the Whitefish Point Lighthouse is considered one of the most important lights on Lake Superior.

The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum is located there and even though it was closed we enjoyed walking around the grounds. We would have liked to visit it but they didn’t open until 10 am and we were anxious to be on the road by then. We were excited to get to our next stop.

Sault Ste. Marie is home of the Soo Locks that make it possible for ships to traverse between Lake Huron and Lake Superior which is 21 feet higher. The Soo Locks visitor center is enlightening, entertaining, and free. There is a viewing platform where you can watch ships enter the locks, be raised or lowered depending on which direction they are heading, and then sail away. There is also a small but very informative shipwreck museum.

We seriously enjoyed our time in this community which was colorful and entertaining. I loved how they painted many of their crosswalks.

They have so many incredible old buildings like their gorgeous courthouse.

I was fascinated with this huge building that turned out to be the Edison Sault Hydroelectric Plant which opened in 1902 and straddles the St. Mary’s River.

I was determined to get some good pictures of it but it was so massive and there was so much crap in the way, powerlines, buildings, etc. I was mostly just successful at getting odd looks from the scores of fishermen that surrounded it.

We were lucky to have arrived in town during their Downtown Days festival. They had lots of street vendors, a petting zoo, and a good car show. Both sides of the street were lined with a great selection of classic cars for several blocks.

We camped at Soo Locks Campground and paid $31 per night for a water and electric site just one mile from downtown. Our site was not waterfront but was just one row back so Jim could see the ships passing from his recliner. It was very entertaining to pull our lawn chairs out to the waterfront and watch the big ships float by.

Across the water was Canada and upstream the Soo Locks, and the international bridge to Canada.

On Saturday there was a speed boat race downstream and the competitors roared past several times.

We loved our stay here and would be happy to return some day.

Pictured Rocks and Mooching at a Casino

Menominee to Munising, MI – August, 2016 We made our way into Michigan’s upper peninsula and stopped at J.W. Wells State Park. We snagged a lakeside site so our kitchen window looked out over Lake Michigan. It was a lovely place to relax for a couple days.

The next day we hauled the kayaks 20 feet to our beach and set off. We were shocked by how clear the water was. You could see the rocky bottom well after the water was over our heads.

On the left of the pic are some of the lakeside sites just up from ours. The arrow points to where we paddled to, the mouth of Cedar River, two miles away. We took a break on the beach before paddling back.

Jim bought a one day fishing license online for a reasonable $10. He had a few nibbles but finally on the way back he landed this good size bass. It was at least 12 inches. I was close enough to get a picture of his catch before he released it.

Everyone kept saying the sunrises were not to be missed. Each day seemed to dawn overcast and I never was blown away.

The campground was extremely nice and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit. The cost for the electric site was a reasonable $20 a night but we did also pony up $31 for a state park annual pass rather than pay the $8 per day park use fee. We expect to visit enough Michigan State Parks to come out ahead.

We were looking forward to our next stop and I was especially looking forward to saving some money on camping fees. I had read that just outside the town of Munising where we were headed was a casino with free electricity. I was so in.

We arrived before noon and had our pick of the 8 sites. Even though the marked spaces weren’t much bigger than standard parking spaces we were able to hang off the edge of the parking lot and mostly fit even with our slides out. Later that day a tiny Airstream moved in to the right of us and they were the perfect sized neighbor.

The next morning we had lots of neighbors but most cleared out pretty early and the next evening it filled up again. Our intel was correct, the sites were free and there was no registration or restrictions of any kind on their use. Sure it was crowded but we were busy sightseeing all day and I was sure ecstatic to save the $28 per night I would have spent at the next cheapest alternative.

The main draw here was Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, 42 miles of scenic shoreline on Lake Superior. There were also many beautiful waterfalls both in the national park and around Munising. First we visited the waterfalls nearest town. Both were just short walks from their parking areas.

I didn’t even notice the stacked rocks in this photo of Wagner Falls until I got it on the computer.

Next up was Munising Falls.

We also visited Sand Point just outside of town. It was a lovely beach with a view of the adorable East Channel Lighthouse across South Bay on Grand Island.

Then we headed out to explore Pictured Rocks. The most scenic spot that is easily viewed from land is Miners Castle. It is also closest to town so it was very crowded.

There was also a nice view from there of a good stretch of the shoreline. The local outfitters rent kayaks from Miners Beach below and lead trips out to the castle and back.

Next stop was Miners Falls.

It is a long drive between points of interest in this park. It was a 35 mile drive to our next stop, a walk along Twelve Mile Beach. Another 9 miles brought us to the Log Slide overlook where we had this beautiful view of Au Sable Light Station.

I would have loved to hike to it. But it is a 3 mile hike one way from the nearest access point and we had a pretty full day already. We would have come back to do it the next day if it hadn’t been such a long drive.

Our last stop was at Sable Falls 7 miles further.

And a short walk beyond that is a beach covered in beautiful multicolored stones.

From there it was an hour drive back to our parking lot with the free air conditioning. We had every intention of staying a third day and night to kayak either at Sand Point or Miners Beach. Even though the next day was the warmest of our visit it also turned out to be the windiest whipping the water into a frenzy. So we scratched that plan and departed for another adventure.