Thursday, July 31, 2014

It's the time of year for Michigan produce

     August is the time for buying local Michigan produce, and there's plenty of opportunities for it. Stores often mark where their produce is from, allowing consumers to make a choice.  Buying local not only supports Michigan farmers, but cuts down on the amount of fuel used.  Why buy tomatoes trucked in from some other state, when you can buy local. There are also farmers' markets in small and big towns, like Detroit's Eastern Market. Roadside stands are a favorite.

Here's a list of farmers' markets around the state to choose from:

Friday, July 25, 2014

A float trip on the South Branch of the Au Sable River

An afternoon float. 
    The most popular paddling route on the the South Branch of the Au Sable River is from Roscommon to Chase Bridge Road, where most canoe livery traffic ends.  That part of the river is lined with cabins, and there's heavy canoe traffic, especially on weekends. But if you have your own boat, and make the effort, you can paddle through the Mason Tract. a pocket wilderness area, from Chase Bridge to Smith Bridge. There are only a handful of cottages, and most the streamsides are open to the public. There is one large public canoe campground, and it would make a nice family over night trip. One tip: The portage from the river to the campground is long, so it's better to simply carry your camping gear from the boat, and leave the boat at the shoreline. Taking a boat out is much easier at Smith Bridge.
     I make the float often, fly fishing as I go and taking my time. That trip takes about six hours and could be as long as eight. But for those not fishing, you may as well take your time and enjoy the scenery and wildlife.  On a recent trip I was joined by a bald eagle and several herons.  Perhaps they were waiting to feast on any trout I caught. My oldest son once had a tussle on the river with a heron over the ownership of a fish on his line. The heron won.
     The 1,500 acre tract with 14 miles of shoreline, and about six miles in length from Chase to Smith Bridge with donated to the state by George W. Mason, a Detroit industrialist who died 1954. There are hiking trails through it, and a system of rough roads. While you can drive to the shoreline of the Au Sable's mainstream, you must hike to paddle to get to the river.  A float trip in a canoe or kayak is the best way to access the river. There are people willing to spot your car, so it's waiting for you at the end of the trip. Check with the people at the Old Au Sable Fly Shop ( in Graying to find the name of the car spotter. The cost is $25.
      For more information on the South Branch and other paddling opportunities in Michigan, please check out my paddling guide

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Henry Ford still looms large over the Detroit area

Henry Ford statue in Dearborn. 
     If there's any figure who looms over Detroit, it's Henry Ford, the original. And he was just that. The mention of the name of the man who developed the Model T and founded the Ford Motor Company in 1903 still can spark discussions among Detroiters. Some see him as a dictatorial  monster who wanted to control the lives of his workers, while others point to the $5 a day offered to auto workers in the late 1910s as the true start of a middle class in America. The statue of him, left, is located at Dearborn's Henry Ford Centennial Library on Michigan Avenue across from the Ford World Headquarters.
     I discovered it when researching my travel guide, Detroit & Ann Arbor: A Great Destination. The book is organized into driving cruises along major arteries.  My favorite is the Michigan Avenue route because it takes a driver from downtown to Ypsilanti, and along it are the bones of what Detroit once was. The Corktown area, which was once a prime neighborhood for working class Detroiters, straddles the corridor.  There's also  Mexican Town, and the now decimated but once vibrant Del Ray, which was home to a Hungarian enclave. Further up Michigan is the Ford Rouge Plant, which was once the largest in the world. The tour ends in Ypsilanti where Ford built a bomber plant that supplied planes to the allied air forces during World War II. The book tells readers where to eat and what to see, and also delves into the history of the area.
     For more information on the book, please go to

Monday, July 21, 2014

Detroit's '67 riots led to discovery of fly fishing, Upper Peninsula

Fly fishermen ready for a float trip. 
      It’s ironic that the Detroit riots in July 1967 introduced me to tout fishing, Isle Royale and the Upper Peninsula.  Those things and places seemed a million miles away from the gritty, violent streets of Detroit, especially that summer.  It’s a lifetime away,  47 years to be exact, and I spent many of those years trying to run away from my Detroit heritage, and it wasn’t until I wrote a travel guide to Detroit and Ann Arbor that I re-embraced my gritty heritage.
             That summer, I was 19 and had finished my first year of college.  To help pay for it, I got what were then one of the plentiful factory jobs building box cars in a plant.  The work was hard, sweaty and dirty, but paid well.  The workforce was integrated, and I had plenty of African-American co-workers.  One developed into a friendship that was tested by the riots. He and I had the job of placing large sheets of steel on frames where a welding machine passed over them. It was hot, even during the afternoon shift, and I was filthy by the end of the night, covered with flux which was applied to the welds to cool and harden them.
             It wasn’t the kind of job to make a career out of for either of us.  He was an Air Force veteran, just returned from Southeast Asia where the Vietnam War was raging.  He had a wife to support, and me, well; I was working for beer money.  We got friendly and talked on our breaks about what we wanted to do with our lives.  I knew we probably would be friends outside of work, but he was friendly and I liked him.
        Then the riots came.  They were sparked by a Detroit police raid on an afterhours blind pig on 12th Street where gambling was going on.  The street was the central business district for the black community.  Rocks and bottles were thrown and stores looted on a Sunday night.  At night I sat on the garage roof of my parents’ house in Detroit and watched the flames from the fires that had been started.
         When we reported for work on Monday, we were told there was a curfew and that we would be put on the day shift.  I lost track of my African-American friend, and wondered if he’d quit his job.  On the day shift, there was a surly black welder on our crew, which had a white foreman from the Deep South.  The welder would put his mask down, and fall asleep on the job.  On one occasion, the foreman kicked the welder in the legs and said: “Get to work, boy.”  The welder lifted up his mask and said:  “I’m going to move in next to you and have sex with your daughter.”  It summed up race relations to me that fatal summer.
                The riot dragged on, and as it did, I watched white workers placing orders with the black guys for deer rifles, TV set and other items.  In the mornings, the parking lot looked like a modern day big box store with guys transferring items from one car to another.  Race relations may have been bad, but greed is an equal opportunity employer.
           I hung in there for a few more weeks, working days.  But then it got too much for me.  Neighbors started to flee for the suburbs and others wanted to move Up North to a cabin to avoid what they thought would be a race war in the city.  My solution was to flee to the woods.  I’d heard about Isle Royale National Park in the middle of Lake Superior, so I recruited a cousin for my first backpacking trip.  We were hapless.  I used an old Boy Scout rucksack and brought canned food, not being aware of the fancy freeze dried stuff. 
       During that first year in college, I read a Hemingway story, “The Big Two-Hearted River” in which he sees large trout holding in the river near the Upper Peninsula town of Seney. On our drive, we passed through the town, and I had to stop.  I’d never caught a trout, and that mysterious image was burned in my immature 19 year old mind.  We stopped and wandered around until I found a river that turned out to be the Fox.  There under a railroad bridge were trout, occasionally moving their tails to stay in their spots.  I imaged Hemingway getting out of a train car at that bridge and seeing the same sight I saw.  Holding trout.  Had not he been trying to forget a war in the story?  I was, too, Vietnam and the riots in Detroit. 
       As a fly fisherman, I’ve been chasing those images for more than half a century, and plan to continue until I keel over in a river.  And I’ve got the Detroit riots to thank for all of those great times. 

Click here to see what the Detroit Free Press had to say about my Detroit & Ann Arbor Explorer's Guide.

For more information on the book, please go to


Friday, July 18, 2014

Finding a quiet spot in the Pictured Rocks

The Pictured Rocks in  the Upper Peninsula offer plenty to see. There are dunes and of course the pastel colored rocks along the shores of Lake Superior. But there are also quiet, little places where you can spend time collecting your thoughts. The Hurricane River near Lake Superior is one such spot. My guide book to Michigan can help you find such places throughout the state. 

For more information on the Pictured Rocks, go to

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A good stop at the Sleeping Bear Dunes

Blacksmith shop at Glenn Haven 
     The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in northwestern Michigan is now an idyllic vacation destination, but to 19th century families, it was a remote home along Lake Michigan.
    A stop at Glenn Haven, where some of the original buildings have been restored will bring back what life was like for those hardy pioneers who worked in the woods as lumberjacks or tried to farm or fish for a living.
     Life moved slower in those days, no faster than a horse could travel. A main attraction is the village
blacksmith shop where a real blacksmith is at work.
      There's also a general store and and old hotel, once frequented by lumberjacks and early visitors to the village. A fish cannery has also been restored and can be visited. The beach nearby is another attraction, along with a nearby restored lifesaving station, where rescue boats and other equipment is on display. 
     If you go, check out Glenn Arbor, nearby, which is a thriving tourist town, with restaurants, motels and shops.  

For more information on  Glenn Haven go to 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

U.P. roadside attractions

      The Fourth of July marks the start of the Michigan travel season for many families with children, and roadside attractions are a way to break the drive. The U.P. is full of them. A stop for a pasty is a break from fast food. And then there's the town of Christmas just west of M-28. Santa is there year round. A personal favorite is the Yooper Tourist Trap, below, right, which has displays of quirky items, like the Yooper Internet, which I could never figure out the meaning of. They Mystery Spot on U.S. 2 just west of the bridge has delighted generations of kids.