Saturday, October 27, 2012

Michigan Road Trip: The Eastern Coast

I'm glad you all aren't stick of this trip just yet. I've had a lot of fun sharing our silly photos and reliving our adventures. Maybe someday you'll find yourself in Michigan, and perhaps these posts will help spark your own adventures.

Which brings me to day four, the eastern coast of Michigan. Honestly, I'm not sure why anyone would visit the eastern coast... it's absolutely beautiful but there's not a lot out there besides quite campsites and cozy bed and breakfasts. The eastern coast is bordered by Lake Huron, and unlike the sandy beaches of Lake Michigan, the smaller lake stays pretty cold throughout the year and has a rockier shoreline. A lot of eastern Michigan is pretty underdeveloped, too, which is perfect for camping but that's about it.

That said, if you ever find yourself on the north eastern coast of Michigan, you're in for a treat. Because on the eastern coast, found in a sleepy little town called Ossineke, is a wonderful place called Dinosaur Gardens. It was by far the highlight of our trip (and, as the sign below states, the finest exhibit in the world.)

Dinosaur Gardens was constructed in the 1930s by Michigan native Paul Domke, who was inspired to make his own collection of dinosaurs after seeing replicas in the Smithsonian and Chicago Field Museum. It goes without saying, the giant concrete sculptures are far from scientifically accurate (we're pretty sure that some of them were completely made up) but that's part of their charm. To top it off, all of the sculptures are scattered throughout 40 acres of beautiful woodland. If you didn't know, weird sculptures and beautiful forestry are two of our favorite things! 

What's that lower photo, you ask? Oh, just some Michigan wolves attacking a mastodon (according to the plaque that was next to the sculpture.) Because Michigan wolves totally lived during dinosaur times.

The only bummer about vacationing as a couple is the fact that you can't take a lot of photos together. Of course, we found a way around that issue: set the camera on a tree stump and turn on the self-timer.

As if the photos don't speak for themselves, let me just say it: Dinosaur Gardens is the best place ever. It was totally worth going out of our way for a visit. Not to mention that beautiful forresty and giant dinosaur sculptures are among some of our favorite things.

Conveniently, when we headed south out of town on the only main road in Ossineke, we found these statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe, which were also created by Domke. We ran out of the car to snap some photos and headed to our next destination, Bay City.

Bay City is home to the Bay City Antique Center, the largest antique store in Michigan. At first I was skeptical about the size of the place, but as we turned every corner, I became more and more convinced. The store is three stories and spans an entire city block.

It was HUGE.

We weren't looking for anything in particular, but as we were leaving the store we walked straight into heaven. We had missed a section right by the front door: the block letter section. Boxes and trays full of them, organized by letter and size. It was amazing. I'm guessing a local newspaper probably sold them when they moved to digital printing, because some of the boxes had actual photo blocks and advertisements from the 1950s. We didn't end up buying any because they were a little pricey (and we already have a small collection of our own) but if I'm ever in the Bay City area again I think I'll be making a stop for sure.

From Bay City, we made our way 20 minutes south to Saginaw, planning to stop at the Castle Museum. Sounds like it could be awesome, right? Like a giant historic castle in the middle of a city? Nope. We pulled up to the address, which was just another building downtown, and decided to skip out on this adventure (and the entrance fee.)

So we went to Ann Arbor, our favorite city in Michigan (in the world?), for dinner at Zingerman's Deli. We didn't get a chance to eat at Zingerman's the last time we were in AA, so we made a point to go this time around. It did not disappoint, friends. I had the oh-so-delicious Tarb's Tenacious Tenure and Christopher ordered the Diana's Different Drummer, which he declared the best sandwich he's ever had (beef brisket with Russian dressing, coleslaw, and fresh horseradish if you're curious.) Top that off with giant pickles and their garlicy potato salad (YUM) and you have yourself a tasty meal. 

We wandered around Ann Arbor for a little longer and decided it was time to head home. The sun was just beginning to set and the air was warm - it was the perfect ending to a great trip. I love that we were able to explore bits and pieces of this great state we live in. Now that we're in the middle of autumn, it's nice to look back on our last summer adventure and all the fun we had together.

Catch the rest of the trip here: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3

Monday, October 15, 2012

Michigan Road Trip: Mackinac Island

Okay friends (aka Keitha who has been complaining about my lack of posting), after an unintentional blog break, I'm back in the swing of things to finish my MRT recap. I'm sorry if you're sick of these photos.... I kinda feel like that great-aunt at the family reunion who wants to show off vacation slides in the warm, musty den after everyone's had lunch. If you feel the same, feel free to ignore my next two posts.

Mackinac Island is one of Michigan's biggest tourist attractions, so Chris and I decided to make our way to the island on day two, to make sure we had plenty of time to explore everything. Honestly? We probably could have covered the whole island in a day or less. I don't know if we over-hyped the island up in our minds, or if friends over-hyped it for us, but we were pretty disappointed in our island experience. Everything was crowded, smelly, and extremely over-priced. We still had a lot of fun together, as usual, but I don't know if we'll be making any return trips to Mackinac.

For our first evening on the island, we walked along the boardwalk, explored Main Street and watched the sunset over the rocky beach. Everything on the island is perfectly picaresque, like a tiny Victorian town. I mean, come on, the public library was mint green! The island officially banned motorized vehicles in 1898, so island transpiration is limited to bicycles and horse-drawn buggies. The only problem with that? The entire island smells like horse poop. We couldn't even get away from it indoors, which made mealtimes unpleasant.


The only way to get to and from the island is by boat; to save a little money, we booked our hotel on the mainland and purchased two-day ferry passes. In the morning, we caught a special bridge-view ferry that took us under the Mackinac Bridge, Michigan's famous five-mile bridge that connects the upper and lower peninsulas. Considering that we accidentally slept in and missed the 7 am ferry we had planned on taking, it was a pretty happy accident.

First thing off the boat, we rented a tandem bike to cruse the island. After a shaky start, we took a beautiful eight mile ride around the shore, stopping at random points to stroll the beach. It was by far our favorite activity. If you ever visit Mackinac, totes rent a bike.

We also toured Fort Mackinac (meh) and hiked around the inner trails of the island. One particularly confusing thing about Mackinac is that a majority of the island is preserved state forest land, and the remaining bits and pieces are private mansions and tourist stops. There were some trails we started to walk down, only to realize the trail was actually someone's driveway.

All in all, Mackinac is a beautiful little island. Over-priced and over-rated, perhaps, but still beautiful. I think if it would have been more state park and less Victorian-themed tourist trap, we would have enjoyed it more, but I'm still glad we visited.