September 1-3, 2012: Lake Michigan Loop Redux


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″]

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