Posts tagged Upper Peninsula

The Road Trip That Made Me

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Sometimes I sit and wonder when I became addicted to road trips and all of the memories they create. Growing up, we frequently vacationed in northern Minnesota and drove some 800 miles each way from Indianapolis to our destination, which was a cabin at a resort on one of 10,000 lakes.

But I think I can point to a trip 30 years ago in July of 1985 that really opened my eyes to what a road trip vacation is all about. It was July 4th weekend of 1985 when my mom, dad, and I loaded up in my folks’ 1977 Chevrolet Impala. I was getting ready to head into my senior year in high school and my five older brothers were all out of high school and working jobs, so we had moved beyond the full family vacation. I was the last one in school, wasn’t working a part time job, so it was natural for just the three of us to hit the road.

Granted, my memory on the events of that week 30 years ago isn’t complete, but that trip made an impact on me to where I remember more about it than most people would. Our destination was an area mom wanted to go to, the northern most part of the upper peninsula of Michigan, specifically Copper Harbor, Michigan. We left on Saturday, July 6, 1985. We cruised north out of Indianapolis and went through Chicago via US 41.

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We didn’t stop in Chicago, but we took the two lanes out of Chicago and into Wisconsin. We continued on through Milwaukee and finally that first night we started to look for a place to stay for the night. Unfortunately we were running out of luck the darker it got. We got into Green Bay, Wisconsin in the 11pm hour that night, and we couldn’t find a motel with rooms to save our lives. We found out we were passing through that part of Wisconsin where everyone stayed who were in for the annual Oshkosh air show, which brought hundreds of thousands in from all parts of the world.

So there we sat at midnight in the parking lot of the Holiday Inn in downtown Green Bay. No Vacancy. At this point, mom was pretty hot, in every sense of the word. We were all tired and cranky, and at that point mom told my dad, “Oh, let’s just go home!” to which my normally mild mannered dad quickly shot back with “I’m not driving back tonight!”. Mind you, Indianapolis was some 400 miles back south. Once cooler heads prevailed, it was decided the farther we get away from the Oshkosh airshow, the better luck we’d have finding a room. So we decided to make the best of it and head north out of Green Bay. We motored up US 141, a 2-lane US highway that cut through the woods and pastures of northeastern Wisconsin. Back in 1985, there were very few 24 hour gas stations, and at one point we had to pull off so mom could visit a field so she could relieve her bladder. :-) We still hadn’t found a place to stay, but before we got to the border of Michigan, we found a 24 hour roadside cafe where we pulled in around 1am to grab a bite to eat.

I don’t recall the name of the place, but we were all tired, hungry, and half asleep. The one thing I remember about the place is that it was the first time I had a burger that had BBQ sauce and bacon on it. Other than that, I was ready for bed. Fortunately just a few miles up the road, we crossed into Michigan and into the town of Iron Mountain. FINALLY! It was 2am and there was vacancy at the Holiday Motel.

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After doing some homework, I’ve found that is no longer called the Holiday Motel, but it is still currently in business operating as an Econolodge.

After our short night’s stay, we forged north into the upper peninsula at Houghton. Cool little town with a neat little draw bridge that still functions today.

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On Day 2 we forged ahead and headed towards Copper Harbor, which is at the very tip of the peninsula. We stayed that night at Eagle Harbor at the Shoreline Motel. Loved this place! Situated right at the harbor, it’s a little mom & pop motel resort with an onsite restaurant. And much to my surprise, it’s still open with the onsite restaurant. There’s a lighthouse on the other side of the harbor, and I vividly remember laying in bed with the window open listening to the waters of Lake Superior splashing against the beach while the bell on the buoy in the harbor occasionally rang. And a little pesky mosquito buzzed around my ear while I tried to get to sleep. How’s that for a memory? It looks like we stayed in Room 4, as I took a picture with my mom waving at me from inside. img008

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We explored the area that next day and made our way into Copper Harbor. The towns up there aren’t very large and thus there weren’t a lot of other tourists. But the scenery is incredible! img010

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The Brockway Mountain Drive offers some incredible views of not only Copper Harbor, but also Lake Superior for as far as the eye can see. One thing that was different for me was how late the sun set up there. The picture above was taken somewhere in the 9pm hour, and the sunset close to 10pm. That night we stayed at a motel in Copper Harbor, but I can’t for the life of me remember the name. It was situated back into some trees not far from the end (or beginning) point of US 41. The last time I was up there, the motel was closed, but the building was still standing.

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That night we ate at a restaurant that still is there today called the Harbor Haus. Great seafood they had with a great view of the harbor. One of the locals told us if we really wanted to experience Copper Harbor, we needed to head to the city dump at sunset. Apparently black bears made there appearance at the dump and it was quite the tourist attraction. The dump is now closed and the bears find their food by other means, but it was one of the highlights of the entire trip.

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For the remainder of our trip, we headed west and went into our old vacation spot of Park Rapids for a couple of nights before working our way back home. Not to say that leg of the trip wasn’t fun, it wasn’t new and adventurous as the first 3 days were.

So as the 30th anniversary of that trip approaches in a few weeks, I look back on it with great memories, especially knowing it was the last trip I’d take with both of my parents, as my mom passed away a little over a year later. Her passing made the trip that much more special. And as a 17 year old, it made an impression on me that shaped me as a traveler.

I hope to get back up there and retrace as much of that trip as I can. Perhaps even stay at one or more of the rooms we stayed in. There’s a lot of my soul as a road warrior up there. My passion for hitting the road is deeply rooted in the memories of that trip, and those roots are alive and well in the Keweenaw Peninsula of northern Michigan. 

**All photos above were from the trip.

September 1-3, 2012: Lake Michigan Loop Redux

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Prelude

We haven’t been on a road trip or camped in a while and with our 10th wedding anniversary coming up, decided to take a trip over Labor Day weekend. Only two snafus: we needed to watch our 18-month old grandson until noon Saturday while my daughter was in college classes; and then the remnants of Hurricane Isaac were heading to the Midwest.

While tossing out ideas, I wanted to originally camp in northern Indiana and visit the Marshmallow Festival in Ligonier, Indiana and the Blueberry Festival in Plymouth, Indiana. I’d just enjoyed 7 wonderful visits to the Indiana State Fair a couple of weeks ago and was having major State Fair withdrawal symptoms. But being a holiday weekend meant a 3 day minimum stay at state park campgrounds, and since we weren’t leaving until noon Saturday, we decided to just stay in a motel. Adding in the uncertainty of Isaac’s path threatening to put a damper on Indiana and our plans, I was looking for someplace with a drier forecast to go. After checking the forecast for several areas and discussing several trips of various lengths, we decided that Michigan would be a good destination. The first of our two road trip options was to loop the lower peninsula, or the “mitten.” Based on the weather forecast, we would do the loop counterclockwise. The second option was to loop Lake Michigan (the Lake Michigan Circle Tour) – also counterclockwise, due to the weather forecast. We would decide on our route Saturday morning once we saw the weather forecast.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Saturday morning, we decided to do the Lake Michigan loop. We couldn’t leave Indiana until around noon, and the rain in central Indiana held off until then. We immediately drove into Isaac’s rainfall north of Indy on US 31 and the radar showed rain all the way to northern Indiana, but clear toward the Michigan border.

Back to the idea about attending a festival, there was a food vendor that I’d tried at the Indiana State Fair and I totally fell in LOVE with their food!! They’re called Pickle Barrel Sirloin Tips, and they’re sooooo good! Juicy seasoned sirloin tips, red skinned potatoes, sauteed onions and peppers…YUM!! I saw on their Facebook page that they would be at the Blueberry Festival, so despite the rain, we stopped by the festival and walked around in search of sirloin! The festival was very large, but we eventually found Pickle Barrel. It was a bit of a challenge to eat my sirloin tips and hold my umbrella but I managed. Our shoes didn’t fare too well in the rain, and eventually became saturated! Despite the extensive and varied food vendors, Pat didn’t find anything that looked appealing to his mildly queasy stomach, so we left the Blueberry Festival…very well impressed and certainly placing the it on our to do list again!

We continued our northwesterly trek toward Lake Michigan on state roads and starting our coastal loop in New Buffalo, Michigan on US 12. In this area, the LMCT follows various roads, often called the Red Arrow Highway, Blue Star Highway or Lake Shore / Lakeshore Drive. We continued until Saugatuck, and realized we were not going to obtain lodging within our budget along the coast. One mom & pop motel at which we inquired rates was a whopping $159! That was far in excess of our budget, especially for a pretty basic mom & pop. I remembered that I had a $25 Hotwire credit, and we had to search in Grand Rapids to get a very nice deal at Crown Plaza.

The hotel was nice, definitely a good deal for the price, albeit off of our route. Oh well, our finance budget prevailed over our time budget!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Another very early morning greeted me. I didn’t take advantage of the fitness center though; instead, I got up and got ready so we could get an early start to make up for heading off route. But sleepless nights mean groggy days and coffee is always a necessity. Must…have…coffee! A quick Google maps search on my iPhone revealed the complete absence of my beloved Dunkin’ Donuts in Grand Rapids! The horror! A search for the generic term “coffee,” however, yielded a different chain called Biggby Coffee. A quick perusal of their website sold me, and I could tell Biggby would be just fine! I love trying new places! There was one not too far from the hotel, so I refueled myself there with a large brewed coffee, with extra half and half. Very good…thumbs up for Biggby Coffee!

Piping hot java in hand, we pressed on, heading northwest on the evil-I to rejoin the Lake Michigan Circle Tour route, which we’d pick up on US 31 near Muskegon Heights. North of Muskegon, we made our way over to the coastal route.

We followed along the lakefront as closely as possible, but sometimes the routing took us back inland. When we arrived in Mears, we were impressed by both the sight of the massive Silver Lake Sand Dunes, as well as the town of Mears.
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It was definitely a touristy area – with campgrounds and motels, shops, and restaurants. We decided that we would put this area on our camping to do list! The next town to the north, Pentwater, was also a tourist spot and well worth visiting too.

We kept on north until we arrived in Ludington, where we stopped for lunch at House of Flavors on the advice of our friend Becky, of AMERICAN ROAD magazine. They served breakfast all day and the mood struck me, so I opted for two eggs over hard, with bacon and hash browns (just $4.99!). Pat went with House of Flavors’ take on a Monte Cristo, with grilled ham, fresh roasted turkey with cheddar & monterey jack on grilled egg-battered bakery bread. To give it the requisite sweetness of a Monte Cristo, they served the sandwich with some of their . We were planning on having ice cream in Mackinaw City at a favorite place of ours, but with a name like House of Flavors and a great selection, we decided to share a single scoop of Mackinac Island Fudge ice cream, which was vanilla ice cream swirled with fudge and soft fudge pieces. Very good and just enough to satisfy but not too much.

We arrived in Mackinaw City hungry for Cornish pasties, fudge and ice cream at Kilwin’s. We’d been there before and it was awesome! I was feeling pretty hungry, so our first stop was our favorite place for pasties, the Mackinaw Pastie and Cookie Co. at their location on West Jamet. I opted for my favorite, the beef pastie, and Pat went a little different and selected the Pastie Italiano, which was a beef pastie like mine, but topped with marinara and mozzarella. Pat also had a white chocolate macadamia nut cookie, since their other specialty is, as their name indicates, cookies.

After dinner, we took a walk around downtown Mackinaw City. We couldn’t go through Mackinaw City without getting some fudge! Of course, we also wanted ice cream, so we went straight for Kilwin’s. As soon as I walked in, I spotted some fudge that looked really good – it was chocolate with caramels and sea salt. I don’t know who came up with this combination, but generally anything I have had with that combination has been VERY good (candy, brownies, cupcakes, etc.). I knew I was going to get some fudge, then ice cream. As I waited, I wanted to snap a quick photo of the fudge to post to friends while the clerk was helping the woman in front of me. Well before I knew what happened, clerk reached over the counter, swatted my phone and loudly and sternly admonished me – “Sorry NO taking photos!! Company policy!” It was really awkward. I was stunned and embarrassed for a moment and looked around to see anyone else’s reaction. One lady looked bewildered and in just a few moments I realized I really didn’t like that action on his part. Even if there is such a policy against taking photos, which wouldn’t make sense to me – the clerk’s enforcement of said policy was unacceptable. Simply post a sign – and certainly don’t allow an employee to swat at a customer or speak so rudely and loudly. It was bad enough he swatted at my old iPhone 3GS – I would have really pitied him had he touched my Nikon D700. I would have raised a fuss indeed! We just walked out without buying anything. I was not going to patronize any place that treated customers that way for just taking a photo. With social media, that’s free advertising! I was going to extol the delights of their fudge (and ice cream) with my friends but instead this is the review they get from me. I posted on their Facebook page, but their response was fairly generic. They said they spoke to the employee, clarifying the photo policy, but I never said specifically when I was there or who the person was. Well, live and learn. I will not be spending any of my hard earned money at Kilwin’s again – fudge shops are abundant there – and I have not had a bad slice so far!

Moving on, we stopped at a few other shops, then we got to one called the Sweet Spot. They had lots of candy and sweets as well as an extensive variety of popcorn, in both sweet and savory flavors. The staff was friendly but definitely were a hard sell on the popcorn. Definitely had a similar feel to those NYC electronics shops, which were humorously spoofed on the Saturday Night Live skit, “Sabra Price is Right” with Tom Hanks.

After trying at least 10 different varieties, I was popcorned out and managed to extricate myself and get over to the fudge counter, which is what I really wanted, leaving Pat to fend for himself. They didn’t have chocolate caramel sea salt (!), but we settled on chocolate peanut butter, Snickers, and Butterfinger. Pat meanwhile, picked up two large bags of popcorn – cookies and cream and English Toffee and I got a small bag of caramel pecan.

Moving on, we stopped at one more fudge shop called Joann’s Fudge, which we remembered from a previous visit, was very good as well (again, never had a bad slice of fudge!). A quick perusal of their fudge revealed that they had chocolate caramel sea salt fudge! Despite just procuring three slices (1.5 lbs) at the Sweet Spot, I just HAD to get it, since passing up that type at Kilwin’s. I was not disappointed – it was so good!

We didn’t have ice cream, but had plenty of fudge and popcorn, so as sadly brief as our visit was to Mackinaw City, we needed to keep on going. We knew we were pushing the limits of time and distance on this trip! I had done some searching and found several good possibilities for lodging in the UP, in Manistique. The Star Motel had many excellent ratings on Trip Advisor, but I got a voice mail when I called. I tried the next place that was a mom & pop, and had good ratings too – the Northshore Motor Inn. They quoted me a rate of $72 for a king – I thought that sounded good and booked it.

Pat was gearing up to cross the Mackinac Bridge, always a white knuckle ride for him anyway; but it was made worse for him by the ominous loop of the wind advisory conditions on the bridge and relentless thoughts of the woman whose 1987 Yugo was blown off of the bridge, free-falling 170 feet into the Straits of Mackinac. I wasn’t worried, as the woman had actually stopped her car on the steel decking side of the bridge. We wouldn’t stop of course, and we could drive on the non-steel deck. Besides, my Corolla had an additional 800 lbs over the Yugo, that had to help. The warnings also were for RVs, or vehicles that were towing boats or trailers. While that advisory didn’t apply to us this trip, we do have a Serro Scotty travel trailer and it would be nice to camp in the UP sometime, and it was pretty obvious the advisories pretty well determined we won’t be crossing the Mackinaw Bridge with the Scotty in tow! I guess if we want to visit the Mackinaw / St. Ignace area, we’ll have to stay south of the Bridge. If we want to camp in the UP, we could visit the western part and go through Illinois and Wisconsin. Chicago traffic vs. the Mighty Mac – what a choice!

We crossed the Mackinac Bridge just fine and pulled off at a scenic rest area on the other side.

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Moving west through the UP on US 2, we spent the night at the Northshore Motel in Manistique, Michigan. We left the windows open so we could listen to the waters of Lake Michigan lap against the shore. We woke up the next morning and took a few photos.
Northshore Motor Inn - US 2, Manistique, MI

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We continued looping Lake Michigan on US 2 and other two lanes, making an obligatory stop at Mars Cheese Castle (which was housed in a completely new building, but still retained the classic sign).

Once we reached the northern Chicago suburbs, we decided to hop on the Evil-I and get home.

Here is a slideshow of all of my photos from this trip. If you click on the slideshow, it will take you over to my Flickr page where you can also view the photos there.

[flickrslideshow acct_name=”roadtripmemories” id=”72157631370856252″ width=”500″]

June 2007: Up in the U.P.

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Going into the weekend of June 22-24, 2007, I anticipated nothing more than a 4 hour drive over to Illinois to enter our ’65 Corvair in the 4th Cruisin’ Route 66 to Litchfield on  Car Festival, as we’ve done since 2004. Thanks to Mother Nature, that all changed. We awoke Friday morning to rain. The forecast for Litchfield was for up to 3 inches of rain throughout the entire weekend. We then decided spending two days in an $80 motel room in Litchfield, IL wasn’t sounding too appealing, so we canceled our reservation. We still wanted to make a 3-day weekend out of it, so we finally decided we’d take a trip up to our favorite region in the Midwest: The Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Leaving Speedway at 10:15 am….not in the Corvair….we jumped on the “evil I” Interstate 65 north and headed for Chicago. After encountering the typical Chicago traffic, we made a quick lunch stop at the newly remodeled O’Hare Oasis, which Pat used to stop at during those family vacations on the way to Minnesota in the 1970’s.

North of Milwaukee, we joined I-43 north and headed towards Green Bay, where we finally got off the interstate and onto US 141. Our destination for the night was Iron Mountain, MI, just across the Wisconsin/Michigan border. We stayed here two years ago on our Lake Michigan Loop Trip at an America’s Best Inn motel along US 2/141. This was a motel Pat and his parents stayed at in 1985 on a trip they took through Michigan’s UP and into Minnesota. Thanks to some photos Pat took from that trip, we found the room they stayed in, but, as was the case in 2005, the room was in a wing of the motel that wasn’t being used and was in sad shape, as we peered through the windows. This time, we stayed at The Timbers Motor Lodge, a couple miles down the road. After dinner at a local pizza/ice cream shop, we called it a night after cruising around to see what Iron Mountain had to offer before calling it a night.

Saturday morning we went north for our next destination: Copper Harbor, MI. This was also part of the trip Pat took in 1985. He really wanted to see how much of the things he saw on that trip were still there, such as places where they stayed and restaurants where they ate. Pat says it was this trip, some 22 years ago as a 17 year old, that gave him the love of the “Traveling Vacation,” where the vacation consists of traveling from place to place to place. After hooking up with US 41, we made our way through Houghton and crossed into the Keweenaw Peninsula in Hancock. From there, we hit M-26 through Eagle Harbor where Pat saw the Shoreline Motel, which was a stop during his ’85 trip. It was still there as he remembered it. We then drove up the fabulous Brockway Mountain Drive, which towers HIGH above the tops of the pines and silver birches below, and gives incredible views of Copper Harbor and Lake Superior. Driving down the drive and into Copper Harbor brought back many memories for Pat. We passed the Harbor Haus Restaurant, a dinner stop in ’85, on the banks of the harbor and saw many small, well kept motels. East of town near Fort Wilkins State Park, Pat saw the now closed Norland Motel, where they spent their night in ’85. A mile east, we encountered the end, or beginning, of US 41, some 1990 miles north of Miami, FL.

We ended our visit to Copper Harbor and turned around and headed south on US 41 back towards Iron Mountain, where I had to visit an Italian market we had seen the night before. The whole time we were in bear country, I had yet to see a bear. I had all but given up when a few miles before we arrived in Iron Mountain, I took a short nap. I nearly had a heart attack when Pat awoke me yelling “Bear, Bear!” In my grogginess from my nap, I didn’t see it as Pat was trying to guide my eyes to it with his index finger as it galloped across US 141. Pat turned the car around and we went back to the area where it had crossed. We drove down a snowmobile path, which isn’t hard to do in a Honda Civic, and saw the little black bear rustling through some foliage. He heard the car and looked directly at us from about 20 yards away. He decided he didn’t want any part of us, so he meandered back into the woods. So the animal part of our trip was complete: We saw plenty of deer, a bald eagle, and now the long, sought after black bear.

We arrived back in Iron Mountain, visited the Italian market, had an early dinner/late lunch at a place that sells pasties, then hit the road for Mackinaw City. We stopped at another pasty place for some ice cream, and jumped on US 2 for the four hour trip to Mackinaw City. This was our first time crossing the Mackinaw Bridge at dusk and the scene with the bridge lit up was incredible.. Pat’s still a chicken crossing it, just like he was the first time he did when he was 5! We found a GREAT motel almost next to the bridge and right on the shore of Lake Huron called the Riviera Motel. We got the last room with a lakeside view and it was one of the cleanest independent motels you’ll find ANYWHERE in the U.S. We went to downtown Mackinaw City and visited what shops were left open at 10 pm. Sunday morning I got up at 5 am to catch the sunrise over Mackinac Island and Lake Huron. Take a look at the pictures to see how incredible it is to watch. Pat, meanwhile, continued to snooze until I got back to the room at 6:30. We had breakfast at a local restaurant and then went back into town to shop. We came across a kite shop and bought ourselves a couple of kites and headed back to the shore next to the bridge, as it was a perfect day to fly a kite. Being the cheap German he is, Pat bought a kite that was $10 cheaper than mine. Well, his never saw the sky, so we made a trip back to the kite shop where he upgraded. It’s not been test flown yet, so the jury’s still out on that one.

It was now nearly 1 pm and we knew we had to make the 8 hour trip back home. So, back on the ”evil-I”; it was….this time I-75. After a McLunch to complete the generic journey on the interstate home, we arrived back in Speedway at 9 pm…..some 1500 miles later!

Jennifer ~

Slideshow of All Photos

For more details about a particular photo, click on it in the slideshow and it will open in my Flickr site.

[flickrslideshow acct_name=”roadtripmemories” id=”72157600490271536″ width=”500″]

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