Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fall color in southeastern Michigan

It's time to revive the Sunday afternoon drive, and with the Lions playing the way they do, you're not missing much by being away from home. In the 1950s, when the Lions won their last championship, they were worth watching, but the broadcasts were blacked out in the Detroit area, even when the stadium was sold out. My father was a dedicated fan, so we would take a Sunday drive to Mason, near Lansing, where we could watch the game at the home of a relative.
Those outing were fun, and since they cam in the fall, we had a color tour every couple of weeks.
It's unfortunate that southern Michigan doesn't often get the attention it deserves in fall, so I've come up with an Old Fashioned Sunday drive that takes you through some classic Midwestern towns in Washtenaw and Lenawee counties that haven't been spoiled by suburban sprawl. Dexter, Chelsea, Manchester and Tecumseh have retained their 19th century feel.
Take I-94 west out of the Detroit area to Dexter and get off the freeway. The first place to visit is the Dexter Cider Mill, 3685 Central. It's been in business for 120 years, and is thought to be the oldest continuous such mill in the state.
From there, head west on M-12 to Chelsea. Check out the Jiffy Mix mill downtown, and the main street shops and resturants. The Common Grill there is a top resturant destination. If you're looking to hike, take M-52 north to the Pinckeny Recreation Area, where there are numerious trails. If you're just up for a ride, take M-52 south to Manchester and then to Clinton, which is just east of M-52 on U.S. 12 From there head south to Tecumseh.
One lunch tip: Try the Tea Garden Cafe in downtown Techumseh. It's a break for pub food, and there are several authentic British dishes on the menu. And make sure to try the tea.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Fall storm watching

The winds of late October and early November are nearly upon us and there are no better places to watch the start of winter than along the Lakes Michigan and Superior coast lines, with their northern and western exposures to Mother Nature.
To get a good glimpse, try visiting Whitefish Point in the Upper Peninsula, just north of Paradise.It's about 1 1/2 hours north of the Mackinac Bridge.
The last ship to wreck in the Great Lakes, the Edmund Fitzgerald, sank in Whitefish Bay on Nov. 10, 1975, with all hands on board. A good stop is the Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point. The museum is open through late October and is the ceterpiece, with its exhibits on Great Lakes shipping, diving and artifacts. A display devoted to he Fizgeerald can also be viewed. A lighthouse at the location can also be toured. Cost: $10 for adults, $7 for children and $28 for families.
Tahquamenon Falls is nearby, and you could make a day between the falls and Whitefish Point.
Paradise is the nearest town, and it's located on Lake Superior, so you can do some weather watching from there.
The best place to stay is the Best Western Lake Front Inn, which offers lake views from its rooms. There is an indoor pool, sauna and hot tub.
The best place to eat is the Tahquamenon Falls Brewery & Pub on M-123 near Paradise. Food ranges from pub fare to steaks and whitefish. Prices, $15-$20.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Destination: Wilderness State Park

Fall colors are hitting their peak this weekend in the western Upper Peninsula and the Keweenaw Peninsula, but for many of us in southern Michigan, it’s a long drive to those areas. But the next best thing to being there is a trip to Wilderness State Park on the shores of Lake Michigan just west of Mackinaw City.
There the colors are about 50 percent. The 10,512-acre park stretches along the shoreline for miles and is a good place for kayaking, if the waters aren’t too rough. The park offers 250 modern campsites in tow units, six rustic cabins and three rustic bunkhouses for rent. The cabins and bunkhouses are often rented far in advance, so check with the state before you go. The state park system maintains a good Web site for reservations, .
Take along your bike. There are 16 miles of mountain biking trails in the park. A good bike trip would be between Mackinaw City and the park. The road carries little traffic.
You can either stay at the park or in Mackinaw City. Check out the Deer Head Inn, 109 Henry St., in the city. It’s a bit hard to find, but worth the look. There are plenty of motels in town, if that’s your choice.
Our top restaurant choice is Audie’s on Nicolet Street. There are actually two restaurants here, a family room, with an upscale menu, and a bar, which offers pub fare. You’ll find meals unusual for the area, including herb-encrusted lamb, duck and stuffed morel mushrooms.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Supporting Michigan farmers

As a Willie Nelson fan, I've always taken his advice seriously, and when he appeared on CNN news recently to talk about his annual Farm Aid concert I listened intently. His message was: Buy your produce directly from local farmers as a way to support family farms.
During a recent drive along M-22 between Manistee and Frankfort, I looked at the heavily ladened apple trees, and wondered why our local supermarkes bring apples in from the West Coast. It's a waste of fuel, especially when we have apples in abundance grown by Michigan farmers.
We stopped at a roadside stand and loaded up on apples and pears, and I couldn't help sampling them during the ride. The apples were crisp, not like the ones from the grocery store, which were probably picked green and shipped 2,000 miles. I was eating apples that matured on the tree, not in a box car or semi-truck.
Unfortunately I live in suburban Detroit, where there are few roadside stands. The efficent master plans of our suburbs have a way of wiping out such stands, one of the few free maket place for farmers.
In the Detroit area, we do have the Eastern Market, and a few suburbs have clung to their farmers' markets on Saturdays. Ann Arbor is a bright spot, with its Saturday market.
On a recent visit to Westborn Market in Livonia, I was pleasently surprised to see Michigan apples and tomatoes on display along side produce from Washington state. I bought the Michigan tomatoes.
From now on, I'm going to buy Michigan produce when I can, and shop in stores that sell it.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Michigan's Front Porch Towns

The front porch has gone the way of the outhouse in most suburbs these days, with family activity relegated to the back yard deck. We hide ourselves in an enclosed yard, often in a subdivision with no sidewalks. We end up closing ourselves off from our neighbors and the community.
But there are some towns in Michigan that still have front porch communities. Recently I spent the weekend in Frankfort on Lake Michigan in a small, nearly 100 year old cottage with a modest, but adequate front porch. It brought back delightful memories. I spent about 20 years living in another old lumber town, Bay City, in a house with a covered porch.
While hanging out on the porch in Frankfort, I met about a dozen people who were walking on the sidewalk. Unlike the suburbs, front porch towns don’t have large lawns separating the house from the sidewalk, so it’s pretty natural to engage with folks.
For many of us, we dream of having a house “Up North,” and that vision is often a remote cottage on a lake or a river. My Frankfort trip made me reconsider that dream, and I now would like a simple cottage in a small Great Lakes town.
As for a view of the lake, we had one less than a five minute walk from the beach on Lake Michigan. We could also walk to downtown restaurants, taverns and stores. It was a real feeling of freedom, not to be tied to a vehicle.