Tuesday, 30 September 2014

From Chicago to Canada via the Costa del Michigan

After leaving The Windy City behind us, we headed around the southern tip of Lake Michigan, briefly passing through Indiana, before driving into Michigan State. Some superficial internet research had indicated that most of the beaches on the east coast of the lake were worth visiting, and so we chose one that avoided a lengthy detour, and that permitted dogs on the beach.

We arrived at Grand Mere State Park in the late afternoon, and wasted no time heading down to the beach to catch the sun setting over the lake. The main car park is situated a little way back from the shore, and we walked down the mile long path, through the forest, marsh and sand dunes which separate the parking area from the lake. The Gold Coast, as Lake Michigan’s east coast is known, has a good reputation, and from the moment we saw the beach at Grand Mere it was easy for us to see why. The shore is backed by huge, well established sand dunes, and from the vantage point of the final dune, one can see miles of pristine golden beach stretching in either direction.

The sand on the beach of Grand Mere is soft and clean, the fresh water of the lake is clear and warm, and the area is massively underused. When we arrived at the beach we were the only people there, and on our two hour walk along the shore, we saw only one other person. It is ironic that having driven through the Florida Keys, the Caribbean coast of Mexico, and the iconic resorts of Acapulco and Mazatlan, the beach we have most enjoyed on this trip has been in land-locked Michigan, more than a thousand miles from the sea. Boris clearly liked the area as much as we did, displaying his enthusiasm by hurling himself down the sand dunes in a barely controlled plummet.  As the sun began to set, we walked back to the truck, and found a secluded spot to park, just outside of the park boundary.

We spent the following two days on the beach, listening to music, sunbathing, swimming, and unwinding in beautiful surroundings. The weather in the American mid-west is certainly not guaranteed to be favourable in September and according to locals that we spoke to, we were lucky to be there on two of the best days in weeks. With a limited time before were due to meet my cousin in Toronto, we left Grand Mere following a fairly direct route towards Ontario’s capital. We would loved to have visited the remote peninsula regions in northern Michigan, but time and budget conspired against us, and we instead stuck to the I-94 in the south of the state.

In search of stop-over points to break up the long drive to Toronto, I came upon the Gilmore car museum near Kalamazoo. I am interested in all things automotive, but neither me nor Naomi could be called car buffs; and so before we arrived I was unsure how entertaining we would find the museum. I needn’t have worried, the museum is awesome in every respect.

The collection of cars at the Gilmore Museum must be one of the best historical representations of American auto history in the world, and the condition of their collection is astounding. However it is not just the cars that make it so enjoyable; the cars are set in the beautiful surroundings of an old farm, with cars separated by era or manufacturer into several old barns and outbuildings. The grounds also include a historic diner, a 50s Shell gas station, and a small stand of trees, under which we were allowed to park our truck and spend the night.

I couldn’t imagine a better place to learn about American car history, and after our day spent at the Gilmore museum, I lost interest in visiting the Henry Ford Museum in nearby Detroit. It had originally been our intention to stop over in Detroit on the way to Toronto, but several people, some of whom had lived there, had told us that there was little chance of us enjoying a visit. I know that Detroit has suffered decades of decline, but was unaware of its terrible reputation for crime and decay. Instead, after leaving the museum, we continued east on I-94, but stopped short of Detroit at the Waterloo State Recreation Area. We spent two days in the area, following some of the many hiking and bridle trails that cover this huge area of forest and lakes, and camping in a secluded clearing on the edge of the park.

After leaving the Waterloo area, we made a brief stopover in the lively college town of Ann Arbor, before heading to the Canadian border.

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