Michigan

Crossing out of Wisconsin we head the northern peninsula of Michigan. I hadn’t factored on how big a state it is – well it’s only big if you decide to cut across, down and across like we did. I think it ended up taking us 4 days to cover the state, albeit we did have some good stops along the way. Thursday saw us cut into the state high up at Ironwood. The northern peninsula is bordered by Lake Superior – on the eastern side the lake narrows down and there is a very busy canal system in place – Sault Ste Marie. Supposedly it’s one of the busiest locking waterways in the world. The thin channel of water separates Michigan and Canada. The locks were first built by the Canadian’s in the late 1800’s but they were destroyed so then the American’s moved in and took over the locking operations locally. There are big plans to update the canals currently in order for them to be able to take larger ships through the locks. As much as we hoped to see a big ship or ships operating on the lakes we didn’t spot any. Our run east took us from the 2 onto the 28 – a coastal lake scenic bypass. We motored over to the town of Marquette – Michigan’s largest town / city on the northern peninsula. We pulled in here to have some lunch and for me to be able to get my hands wet in the lake. One of the key areas along this part of the lake’s coastline is the Apostle Islands – they called them this because they thought there were 12 islands off of the point, but there was actually 22 of them. Very popular with tourists in the area. Pulling out of there the weather started to pack up again and by the time we cut across further east on the 28 the rain came in. We headed south on the 117 to come out on the southern side of the peninsula and followed Interstate 2.

This rewarded us with our first glimpse of Lake Michigan – the lake borders the southern side of the Northern Peninsula, the western side of the lower peninsula, the eastern side of Wisconsin – Milwaukee is right on the lake here, and then right at the southern end of the lake you have the top of Ohio and Illinois – Chicago being the big city down there. Lake Michigan is the third largest of the lakes – slightly smaller in length than Huron, but a bit deeper. Our campsite tonight was a really nice rest area off the 2 at an area called Naubinway – in amongst the bush and a short walk out to the lake – so in one day I had already ticked off 2 of the Great Lakes – off to a good start. Friday morning dawned fine for us so we were up and away early and pushed on the last bit east across the Northern Peninsula. We stopped at the town of St Ignace – this sits at the south eastern tip of the peninsula where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron meet / converge. To cross the lake’s, you have to go over on the Mackinac Bridge – I think it cost us $10 to travel the 5 miles over the bridge. The bridge was opened in 1957 and cost just shy of $100 million to build. I read where the bridge paid off its original debt (bonds) in 1986 or so, and funds thereafter have gone towards the bridges upkeep. The bridge had been planned before WW2 but was deferred for obvious reasons. The bridge when opened was the longest suspension bridge in the western hemisphere – might still be? The bridge is considered Michigan’s ‘single largest asset’.

Crossing the bridge we are rewarded with our first views of Lake Huron – No 2 of the big lakes and the world’s 5th largest fresh water lake. Huron has the longest shoreline of the lakes – which includes the 30,000 islands that sit within the lake. It’s funny, but it’s as if Lake Michigan and Huron just form together – there is no narrow neck between then – just the bridge spanning across this – they are 2 shared faces of water for the 5-mile opening at this neck. A funny local trait – the northerners or U.P’s (Upper Peninsula dwellers) refer to anyone south of the bridge i.e. on the lower peninsula as ‘trolls’ as they ‘live under the bridge’. U.P’s or as they are known, ‘Yooper’s’, are also considered a tough breed as they endure of solid winter conditions. Over the bridge we turned east and opted for the scenic highway 23 – this would take us right around the eastern side of the lower peninsula – it runs all the way down to Bay City at the bottom end of Saginaw Bay. We stopped near Rogers City, a large Lime shipping port, so I could go out and tipped my hands into the lake – 3 down, 2 to go. Although there was still the odd old classic car parked up in properties along the way, the most common item in this neck of the woods was boats – ranging in shape and sizes – most of which had been wrapped – variation on shrink wrap, to prepare them for the pending winter months. After the scenic pace of the lake highway it was time to cut west again and so it was down the road on the busy Interstate 75 before cutting west on Interstate 69. It was late afternoon on Friday and so the roads were humming – everyone was in a hurry to get somewhere. I managed to see my first Ferrari on the roads and also a new Corvette – both of which were seen for long. After a big days driving, we called into a truck stop to the east of Lansing and called it a night.

Saturday morning we carried on into Lansing (around 20 miles) so I could have a look at the RE Olds Museum – the founder of Oldsmobile. We arrived a little ahead of opening time so had a bit of a wander around the downtown area – Lansing is the state capital for Michigan. The museum was okay but something of a disappointment as I’d read it was listed in the ‘top 10’ US auto museums – I wouldn’t hurry back to it but it was good to have a look at what was on offer. From there we headed west to find the Gilmore Auto Museum. This place wasn’t on my list to see but we saw an add in a Michigan tourist magazine and it sounded okay, so we took a punt and travelled the 60 odd miles towards Kalamazoo (turns out we were half way between Detroit and Chicago). We were using the GPS and it was taking us down so old dirt runs and I was really wondering where we were going to end up, but finally we arrived at the area called Hickory Corners and well, what an afternoon we were to be in for. This museum was amazing – a truly brilliant find. The museum is set on a rural 90-acre property and consists of a series of large barns. Ach barn or gallery is dedicated to a car genre or brand i.e. Cadillac, Ford, Lincoln. The Gilmore museum stated in the early 60’s when Donald Gilmore was given his fist classic car from his wife – he’d sold their business and she felt he needed a hobby so brought him a car – what a woman. Well one car led to many so he needed a place to store them and brought this farm property and then sourced a whole lot of old barns that he has reconstructed and then rebuilt on the farm – stunning. The museum opened to the public in 1966. Today the museum is considered to be the largest auto museum in North America so far as space / area is concerned.

Carol came around with me as well and I think she was just as impressed as I was. We spent close to 5 hours trying to get around all that was on offer but I think we still came up a bit short. One of the highlights for me was the fact that you were actually able to get up and around most of the cars – so many of the museums I have been going to prevent that – cars are backed up to a wall with a barrier to the front – not at Gilmores. The crown jewel of the current display was a collection of rare Duesenberg’s – from an opulence perspective these were the US version of what Rolls Royce was offering in the 20’s and 30’s and anyone that was anyone had to have a ‘Duessy’. They called the area a ‘campus’ – there are over 400 cars on display – well spaced as noted, and over 8000 artefacts including an amazing collection / display of hood ornaments. A bit overwhelmed and in awe of what we had seen, and with the museum closing at 6pm, we needed to get on the road again. We had plans to park at a rest spot on the Interstate heading in towards Detroit so we worked our way down to get ourselves onto Interstate 94 for run east. I hadn’t accounted for just how far west we had gone as we ended up running a good 120 miles with limited success.

The sun had gone down and whilst we were on the Interstate we were doing fine, but then the rest area we had planned to stop at was closed off for some reason so that blew our plans. We turned off into what I thought was the town of Ann Arbor – it was in fact and outer suburb of Detroit and with that it was crazy busy. I managed to get us heading in the wrong direction and soon had us going down the very busy main street of Ann Arbor at 8.30pm on a Saturday night – not really RV territory. We finally managed to get ourselves out of the area and ended up getting back on the Interstate and getting over to the north side to a rest area there – I think we parked up around 9.30pm in the end – big day and not the best ending after what had been a stellar afternoon. Sunday morning had us head as near to Detroit as we would dare (around a 30 mile trip in) – we / I was off to the Ford Museum at Dearborn – one of the big suburbs of Detroit (car names are popular for suburbs here as you can well imagine – Pontiac, Plymouth, Lincoln, LaSalle. This place – Ford’s complex here, was also amazing. The museum complex was opened to the public in 1929 and consists of the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation – it covers something like 8 acres of museum space, and then there is the 80-acre Greenfield Village – there’s 300 years of history and innovation on display here as well as 3 working farms. And then you have the neighbouring Ford Rogue Factory site. I only opted for the Innovation Museum but I could see how you would need atleast 2 days of you wanted to do the museum, as well as the Greenfield Village and factory tours on offer.

I had assumed being a Ford museum that Ford cars would be at the centre of the collection – not the case – the Innovation Museum is a bit of everything – cars (all makes and models), trains, planes, engineering and farming, as well as US history and of course a bit of Ford history – certainly not the package I had expected. That said I somehow managed to consume just shy of 6 hours non-stop just in the museum – a big day. I have to be honest, I had expected and hoped to see more Ford related material here – I really assumed that all Ford makes and models would have some representation but far from it. I think at best there would have been 75 cars on display and of those displayed a good half were non-Fords – this museum was all about the innovation – not just Fords. The story that goes with it was very good as well – he was obviously quite the man Henry Ford – he did very well for himself, but he also appears to have given a lot back to both this city and to the US. When I entered the museum at opening time 9.30am it was pouring with rain but by the time I came our mid-afternoon we were bathed in sunshine – very nice – contemplated getting my shorts back out.

We drove around Dearborn a little – emm, there are a load of Fords being driven in this area as well you might imagine. Seemed like every second vehicle was a Ford – I wondered if the Ford employees got a good discount? We got some fuel and then headed south on Highway 24 to join the madness of Interstate 75 for the final run south and out of Michigan. We had a very bumpy run of around 50 miles to the border – you’d think being an Interstate it would be well maintained but the road had lot of holes in it and in our right ‘slow lane’ it was bump after bump. We’d had a few great days in Michigan – it had taken us the best part of 4 days with the route we had taken, and museum excursions thrown in, but it was great. We know there was more we could and would have liked to have seen but it was time to push west again – we were going to head into Ohio next.

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