Before moving on west, I want to look over my shoulder one last time at my home state. Michigan is a grand state to be from. Nestled as it is between big, freshwater lakes, Michigan doesn’t lend itself to incidental visits. It’s not on major east-west arteries. It’s not even a good north-south option because of the bottleneck at the Mackinac bridge (pronounced mak’-in-aw). (Five miles long. The third largest suspension bridge in the world.) Then you would dead-end at Lake Superior, anyway. (Largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area.)
So, out-of-state license plates are rare in Michigan. Sure, I see the occasional Indiana, Illinois, or Ohio visitors, and there’s a well-traveled Chicago-West Michigan summer vacation route, but by-and-large, you don’t end up in Michigan by accident.
I think that’s a good thing. It’s also my curmudgeonly view that the latest economic downturn has been good for Michigan, in a twisted sort of way. Not for the people who lost jobs, but to stem the crazy growth that was gobbling up lakeshore (10,083 inland lakes) and forest like PacMan on steroids. People can no longer afford to snap up lakefront property at any price; they can no longer afford to then demolish the perfectly fine cottages on those tiny lakefronts and erect McMansions that leave fifteen centimeters on either side of the property line.
So, here are some of my favorite spots in Michigan:
- Greenfield Village. I know that Henry Ford Museum is part of this complex, but visiting Greenfield Village as a child was a feast for the imagination. Located in the paved-over parking lot of Southeast Michigan, Greenfield Village is a collection of historic buildings of famous and ordinary people, such as Alexander Graham Bell’s labratory and George Washingon Carver’s house.
- Ludington State Park. Michigan has an incredibly rich park system. Hundred of small campground are scattered throughout the state. State parks tend to be larger with more amenities. They are also more expensive and heavily used. Ludington State Park is one of the most beautiful and busiest, so don’t visit between Memorial Day and Labor Day unless you plan to hike beyond the campgrounds. After the “fudgies” leave, however, locals have the trails and white sand beaches all to themselves.
- Rifle River Recreation Area. I camped here this summer. Located in the northeast quadrant of the lower peninsula, this watershed of the Rifle River has a small-ish developed campground and several really lovely rustic campgrounds. A watershed of the Rifle River, the park has lots of lakes, rivers, and trails to explore. And I did explore them, although I think I became anemic from mosquito attacks. Wear a headnet and bring good repellant.
- Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. You can’t really see the Pictured Rocks from land. (You need to take the charter boat tour from Munising and don’t neglect to do this), but I love the rugged, less crowded environment in this national park. I camped there for a few days and didn’t begin to explore the region. Be forewarned that only the most hardy swimmers will enjoy the frigid Lake Superior waters.
- The city of Marquette. West of Pictured Rocks, Marquette is the biggest city (20,000) in the Upper Peninsula and home to Northern Michigan University. Settled by hardy Scandinavians, mostly of Finlandish variety, residents of Marquette hardly blink at many feet of snow and sub-zero winter temperatures.
I love Marquette because of its lively, cheerful atmosphere, jaw-dropping natural beauty, and its old-timey, historic downtown.
If you’re camping, don’t miss the Tourist Park. It’s clean, pleasant, and right at the north edge of town.
OK. This is my list. What are your favorites? I’d love to discover new places to explore next time I go home.
*photo courtesy of Rebecca Makowski.