Posted by: bkivey | 28 September 2016

2016 Vacation Pt. 4

Today was the trek north to my base for the next couple of days in Mackinaw City. It was also the day for Lake Huron, and to that end I planned to drive to Bay City and pick up US 23 for the drive around the mitten. Although not the fastest route, I was looking forward to seeing a part of the country new to me. It’s vacation: you’re supposed to dawdle a bit.

Once again pleasantly surprised by the tractable traffic out of the Detroit metro area, I set the cruise and headed north on I-75. I noticed that this part of Michigan is pretty darned flat. I suppose only to be expected from land that had glaciers sitting on it not so very long ago. Lots of farms, lots of woods.

Bay City sits at the foot of Saginaw Bay and has at least two pop culture claims to fame. Madonna is from here, and the 70’s band Bay City Rollers took their name from here. Madonna and her home town apparently aren’t on the best of terms: she’s publicly disparaged the town, which in turn refuses to acknowledge her. And a childhood supposition was smashed when I found the Bay City Rollers were not, in fact from Bay City. They were a Scottish band who’d thrown a dart a the map and Bay City struck lucky.

I wasn’t sure what to expect on the drive. Given that the road hugs the lake I expected some views. What I found was that every blessed soul in Michigan who can afford a lakefront vacation home has one. I believe they’re even given as wedding presents:

“Congratulations; here’s your vacation home.”


Or they stay at one of the many lodges. I knew Michigan was out-door oriented, and I expected some North Woods rusticity, but the scale was unexpected. It’s a pleasant drive, but lake views ain’t in it.

Along the way is the town of Oscoda and the nearby defunct B-52 base Wurtsmith Air Base. There’s an air museum there, and while I’m normally a sucker for aviation museums, I had a long way to go. I noticed that there were a few jumbo jets: 747’s and DC-10’s parked in the hanger area. I thought they were part of the display until I took a look and saw more airliners than any museum would have.


Apparently Wurtsmith and who knows how many other bases are now home to civilian aircraft ghost fleets.

I was hoping to see some of the many Great Lakes lighthouses, and the first one I came to that wasn’t in a state park was Presque Isle light:


This is a fair distance off the beaten track. The light here is the ‘new’ Presque Isle light; the old one is down the road and not accessible. It’s not on the lake, either. Lake Huron is just visible through a break in the trees.

Further down the road is 40 Mile light:


This lighthouse is right off US 23 and a bit of a museum. Displays include a shipwreck:


It’s actually about 200′ up the shore from the light. There’s a sign at the lighthouse explaining the wreck. On the road to the lighthouse is a one-room schoolhouse:


There are a number of hamlets along the roads in this part of the state, and every so often a larger town. This is Rogers City at 5 PM on a weekday:


And the obligatory annual car shot:


That’s the Honda Accent I flogged for over 1100 miles. Lake Huron behind. The rental car company was a bit different in that instead of assigning a car they told you to pick out a car on the row. No Ford Focus: damn! There was a Fusion, but I’d spent the last two days with a Fusion with a sketchy first gear. I asked the lot guy what he liked, and he pointed to the Accent. Nothing really outstanding about the car, but it did the job and was fairly comfortable. The driver’s seat is a bit hard on the backside after a couple of hours. Still, I felt a little uncomfortable driving a Honda in Detroit.

By the time I left 40 Mile light the front moving through made good on its promise. Rain and squalls to just outside Cheboygan. The approach from the south to Mackinaw City is a little squirely where two highways meet, but I found the hotel.

And so glad I was to find it. It had been a long day in the saddle, and all I wanted was food and rest. The hotel had an on-site laundry, and I had to take care of that. I asked the front desk about a good restaurant, and they recommended Audi’s. It is a good restaurant, but bring an appetite and a checkbook.

All right. Poised on the tip of the lower peninsula to explore the UP.


  1. Blair– Good stuff!
    –Not a whole lot in the U.P., but you will find some cool sites!
    Buy some of that $16/lb Fudge on the Island! It’s expensive… but “when in Rome,” and all that…
    Are you going to be on the west-coast of Michigan at all?
    Highly recommend exploring the US-31 and 131-route’s, on this (west) side of the State.
    “Old Mission Peninsula,” just north of Traverse City, Mi. is amazingly similar to the Oregon wine-country just south of Portland. (or so I am told, I’ll let you know after I visit myself.)
    “Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore,” is a very nice spot.

    This is an excellent time of the year to visit Michigan– the tourists all basically flee in September, so you should have a lot of these places “alone for yourself.” (and T-Shirt & Hoodie prices, drop in 1/2.)

    Personally, I’m getting ready to take the Empire Builder Amtrak route from Milwaukee, WI., to PDX in October. (Taking the car-ferry across Lake Michigan to Milwaukee & then Amtrak west.)

  2. Blair– I haven’t been on the north eastern side of the State a whole lot recently, but if I’m not mistaken, we have more “scenic” highways, close to Lake Michigan, in that we have a lot of State land controlling a lot of our sand-dune zones, on the Western side of the State, along Lake Michigan. (everywhere IS “scenic” in Michigan…excepting a few major cities.)

    Absolutely would recommend the US-31 route, on my side of the State.
    Head SW to Petoskey & down to Traverse City. (Just babbling, have vacation property in the Traverse City area, its on a lake but not THE Lake.)

    HAR– yeah, folks love their Lake front lots. (The Department of Natural Resources is a despised Agency in Michigan, btw.)

    Probably 1/2 of our shoreline sand-dunes on the west side, are Public Land.
    You probably noticed– we have a lot of trees in Michigan as well.
    Interestingly, 1/2 the pine tree stands you drove past on the way to the Bridge, are FDR era public-works projects. (Trees don’t grow in neat little rows, at least not naturally…)

    (And Michigan was essentially clear-cut during our Lumber Era, all our wood went to rebuild Chicago after the Fire.)

    Often, if you get off the highways (in the lower peninsula) there is inevitably a road named “Lakeshore Drive” or similar iteration– those roads tend to hug Lake Michigan.

    The Bridge— it’s a big bridge. Small cars have (rarely) been blown off in high winds.
    The UP— jeez, its probably 80% State Forest. Watch for DEER at dusk and dawn, especially when driving. It’s pretty sparse up there!
    The Island is always cool, and the tourist count will be greatly reduced this time of year.
    Small towns in the UP, are pretty cool, over-all, especially as you get toward Wisconsin.

    The Soo Locks are cool, and we have Waterfalls.

    Your making me want to drive North myself, this weekend!

  3. Hi Wayne,

    Thanks for your comments. You’ve given me some context to place what I saw last week. As I told Joe, I like Michigan. I’m sure you all are as eager to see my impressions of your home state as I am to see your impressions of mine. I had a good time.

  4. Hey Blair–
    It’s been unseasonably cool in the lower 1/2 of the State, and a bit rainy. It’s sorta “October” already but without the color-tour, yet.

    I’m sorry you had to be exposed to Detroit.
    It looks like a damn War-Zone. You have to go to the opposite side of the State (Benton Harbor) to see similar devastation. [Benton Harbor is “Whirlpool,” but they fled with 1/2 their manufacturing in the mid 70’s, and only recently expanded, a little, back into Michigan.]

    If I’m not mistaken, the Traverse City area is the same latitude (longitude?) as PDX, so similar-esque weather, except you guys have the Pacific Ocean and we have Lake Michigan. (We have more pervasive snow, and Michigan is pretty damn flat in comparison. Not as flat as Nebraska, but close.)

    “Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore”– they have a 450 foot high sand-dune complex. (Western shore is basically sand dunes and trees.)
    Northern lower peninsula has a lot of oil– we used to be in the top-10 producing States and still crank out quite a bit of oil/gas.

    anyway… just babbling.

    If I wasn’t heading West in 2 weeks, I’d seriously think about heading to Traverse City myself.

    Will check back later for your updates!

  5. Blair–
    While everyone in Minnesota does own a “cabin,” not everyone in Michigan has lake-front vacation homes (HAR!)
    (Don’t know about the other Lakes, but beachfront Lake Michigan land, goes for $10K a frontage-foot, plus about $125 a square-foot, for house construction. And the DNR will watch you like a hawk to make sure you don’t touch the beech and the “exclusion zone.” You might own the land, but you do not get to do whatever you want with it.)
    (But a lot of people vacation “Up North,” (and a lot own land) and depending on where you live in Mi., determines where you think “up north” is…)

    Yo– I would shill for a regional radio talk show, called, “Behind the Mitten.” They basically drive all over Michigan and “talk about it.” (It’s not original, but it’s “local” and amusing.)

    We have a LOT of Indian Gaming “up north,” and practically every County now has their own craft brew-pub. Oregon paved the way, but we are right behind you!.
    (“medical weed” is “legal” and “recreational weed,” is on the November Ballot… we aren’t Oregon yet, but we are close, as far as all that is concerned.)

    I would reiterate— be careful driving around at dawn and dusk, especially when not on an Interstate — we have something like 100K “Deer-strikes” per year. The upside– your rental car does have what we all call, “Deer Insurance.” But they can tear the hell out of your car if you hit them or if they throw themselves into your windshield. (I should say prance…very graceful but dangerous when they are moving around, and this is the weather they like, to move around, a lot..)

    Oh– cell coverage gets iffy in parts of the UP. Check your phone occasionally, if you are in the boonies.

  6. Thank you very much for the comments. Now that you mention ‘deer-strikes’ I recall that I didn’t see many deer signs. I’ve had a few ‘near-misses’ and one full-on hit but I was in a truck and Bambi came off much the worse. Your comment on cell coverage is right-on.

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