Midwest National Parks – Part 1

The theme of our summer vacation was twofold: we need kayaks and beavers changed the path of American history.

For vacation this summer, Anthony and I decided to loop through Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and a little of Missouri.  Our industrious plan covered 18 National Park Sites.  Collecting stamps, magnets, and park brochures, we made our way through some beautiful and depopulated countryside.  Mostly, we were on backroads – the blue highways that William Least Heat-Moon famously enlivened for the American public.  Many of the parks we visited we have placed on a list of “need to return to”, and in these cases, we need a boat to fully enjoy them.

Our trek began in Shepherdstown, WV, where Anthony was attending a class.  Once he was released on Friday afternoon, we made our longest drive of the trip to Detroit.  Anthony lived in Detroit for a short period of time, and our first stop was for some authentic Mediterranean cuisine at Al Ameer.  We feasted on falafel, mujadara, garlic dip, and hummus.  The food was absolutely fantastic, and we left completely stuffed.  Arriving at 9pm, the restaurant was fully packed and echoed with laughter and the frantic movements of the waitstaff.

River Raisin National Battlefield Park

River Raisin National Battlefield Park

The next morning, still kind of full, we backtracked south to visit River Raisin National Battlefield Park.  The site is still being developed, since it was only determined to be an NPS site in 2009.  So far there is an informative visitor center and a short walk to the battlefield.  There are also some monuments in the park.  Until recently, the battlefield was covered by an abandoned paper factory.  Through the efforts of citizens, the city of Monroe, and the state, now River Raisin (Remember the Raisin!) will be protected.  A war of 1812 site, the rangers will be quick to point out, River Raisin demonstrates a time when we were battling against Canada through the British and their Indian allies.  Not only were the Americans ultimately beaten at River Raisin, there were such casualties and fear of retribution, that the dead soldiers remained unburied for months after the battle.  An horrific image to say the least.  So many of these historical sites we visit offer a sobering view of American history, and I feel (as does the National Park Service) that it is immeasurably important to remember and preserve these moments in history.

Afterwards, we met up with friends at Cafe Muse in the Royal Oak neighborhood north of Detroit.  On our way there, we were amazed to see so many burned out and abandoned homes along the freeway through downtown.  Detroit is obviously losing its population in the downtown and southern areas, and I have heard city officials are discussing turning some of that land back into farmland.  Hard to know what can be done, since crime is so high and the city has declared bankruptcy.  Anyway, it was lovely to catch up with friends we hadn’t seen in years and to enjoy a delicious meal.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

We departed Detroit to head up to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the first of all four National Lakeshores that we would visit on this trip.  It was a long drive through rural Michigan, cutting north and west across the state, but we arrived at Sleeping Bear Dunes, just in time to snag one of the last campsites at D.H. Day Campground.  We explored the nearby Glen Haven Historic Village and the small town of Glen Arbor nearby, where we visited Cherry Republic, sampling cherry hummus and cherry root beer.  As rain began to fall we dashed back to our campsite, hoping the storm would break long enough for us to make dinner on our camp stove.  Thankfully it did, and we were able to sleep dry in our tent.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

The next morning we set out to complete the dune climb, a 3.5 mile hike over shifting sand dunes to the shore of Lake Michigan.  It was quite a tough hike, over and through the dry, drifting sand, but the view of the lake at the end was well worth it.  We were right on the shore of the lake, looking out over the pristine (and freezing!) waters of Lake Michigan.  It was a fun hike, though we were both pretty tired by the time we completed it.  We then finally made our way to the visitors center, and eventually to drive the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.  We were rewarded with more great views of the dunes and the lake, this time from the top of a sand dune.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

After stopping for some Thai food in Petoskey, we stayed the night in Mackinaw City, next to the Mackinac Bridge, which took us over to the Upper Peninsula the next morning.  While driving the back roads of the U.P. we continuously saw signs for pasties and wild rice.  The scenery was stunning, and the uncongested roads were a treat.  Our next NPS stop was Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on Lake Superior.  We first stopped in the Grand Sable Visitor Center for information, and our cancellation stamps.  As we chatted with the ranger, she told us there was no longer a ranger at the Lightkeepers House Museum.  We mentioned we were hoping to go there in order to get the lighthouse stamp, and the ranger asked if we’d like her to mail it to us!  So we left our address and when we arrived home, there was our lighthouse stamp with a great note from the ranger.  So sweet of her!  We set up camp that night in the Hurricane River Campground, which was not even half full.  In fact, when we set up our tent, there was no one else on our loop!  We were introduced to the frenetic and persistent mosquitos of the U.P.  They do not quit, and even a layer of Deet does not always keep them away.  Temperatures dropped into the 40’s the night, and didn’t rise much the next day – and still the mosquitos were attacking.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

While there, we also took a short walk to the Log Slide Overlook, where loggers used to slide trees down the dunes into the lake for transport.  The view of the dunes was stunning from the angle of the overlook.  We also visited the Munising Falls Visitor Center, and the Interagency Visitor Center in the town of Munising.  Another short walk took us to Munising Falls, which we observed crowded by senior citizens on a bus tour.  We then walked down to see Miners Castle, which is where you can best see the Pictured Rocks (unless you have a boat).  Miners Castle is a unique rock formation, and the walkway takes you right to the edge of it.  One of my favorite American poets, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, wrote beautifully about this area of the country in The Song of Hiawatha.  The exposed layers of rock in the sandstone and the streaks of minerals along the face are what make the area so notable.  As we walked out onto Miners Beach, the rain that had been threatening throughout the day finally started to fall.  There were other waterfalls we wanted to see, but the chilly temperatures and wet weather kept us from doing so.

To be continued…



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