I seldom see sunrises or anything close, but my motel window facing Moran Bay glowed with the dawn. I dressed and walked down to Lake Huron but I could hear Lake Michigan beckoning, whispering seductively in the morning breezes. After coffee and cookies with the motel manager, who was from Ukraine, bless her, and a conversation with the 70-year-old owner, who was already out working on his place and making plans to improve, I was on my way. I think, though, that I will be back.
I headed straight west along the top of the Lake out of St. Ignace, stopping at the Mackinac Bridge memorial, which boasts a spectacular view of the 5-mile bridge and a fine bronze statue of an ironworker. Five men died building what is sometimes called the 8th wonder of the world, at 5 miles the longest suspension bridge in the western hemisphere. The visitor center contains numerous informative displays.
Highway 2 has numerous roadside parks with stunning overlooks to the Lake far out and below; several have trails heading in that direction. Most have informative markers with fascinating historical and geographic factoids that make me hunger for more information.
I was wandering one such park when a local trucker stopped to take a break. He enthusiastically shared his joy in the beauty of the place and recommended the incredible pasties (a signature delight in the UP and the upper part of Michigan’s mitten) just a half mile up the road where he’d made a delivery; said they were fresh from the oven. I thanked him and stopped at Lehto’s, a tiny shop out of which wafted the most tantalizing scents! I’d had no breakfast and the trucker spoke truly. Best I’d ever had! The baker was very proud of them (rightly so); they were made entirely in the traditional Cornish way, with a thin crust and rutabagas! I don’t often have a conversation about rutabagas, but I grew up with them, one of the many crops from my dad’s abundant garden.
On I went; clearly I had crossed the “fall” line and most of the deciduous trees were blazing, chiefly reds and golds, although some oaks were stubbornly clinging to their green. This lovely two-lane highway sometimes is surounded with nothing but forest, other times the Lake is practically lapping at the pavement.
Stopped a few more times and finally reached Manistique, where I had once spent the night on my way to Pictured Rocks.
I was eager to get on to places I’d never seen before, so I chose not to meander through Manistique’s downtown (except to photograph the New Deal-era police station).
Onward to Escanaba, again with the Lake often just at my side.
At last I reached Escanaba on the Little Bay de Noc; it boasted a large commercial corridor with wonderful historic buildings; later, I learned this district is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. But sadly, its heyday seemed to be past; there were a couple of remarkable theaters that were in shabby condition, and far too many empty buildings.
I marveled at the imposing former post office built in 1908, now the seemingly underused Ludington Post Suites, an office building currently ripe for redevelopment again. A short distance away is the stunning House of Ludington, dating to the mid-1860s!
It seemed deserted but I later learned it indeed still is used in multiple ways as an air bnb, longterm housing, and event center (a destination for another time, perhaps!) I also wondered why so many things were named Ludington (which to me is the name of a port city in lower Michigan), and it turns out they were named for one of the major lumber barons and entrepreneurs of the region.
Escanaba’s lakefront belies its downtown, however, and is lovely, boasting a lighthouse from 1867.
I made a mistake–hardly the first nor the last–by not following the road along the Lake straight out of the downtown, which actually would have been heading nearly due south toward the top of Green Bay. Instead I headed back into town and out Highway 2 for awhile, not realizing its betrayal. It was actually heading away from the Lake! No wonder I was feeling frazzled without those waters to soothe my soul! When I realized this I began a series of zigzags down county roads until I reached M35 that ran along the Lake–whew! I stopped at a little park, which I had all to myself except for a large flock of Canada geese enjoying a swim. The breeze ruffled my hair and the Lake purred.
I figured I must be getting near to the Wisconsin border–turns out that park was halfway between Escanaba and the stateline–but I wasn’t sure. It was a fine country drive amidst woods and farms that gradually gave way to more houses and at last, Menominee. Across the river of the same name was its twin city, Marinette, Wisconsin.
I poked around town a little but the sun was heading downward and I was not sure where I was going to spend the night; I had figured around Green Bay–the city, that is. Heading south on the venerable US41, I saw signs for Peshtigo. I was intrigued, as this was the town that suffered an even worse fire the same day as the great Chicago Fire of October 8, 1871. So I turned that way and at least saw the town in the fading light.
Darkness had descended by the time I reached Green Bay. I thought I might stop and call some friends I had not seen in years. When I did so, they invited me to stay the night with them. They were another hour and a half away–well, longer, since I got myself a bit lost south of Green Bay–but it was more than delightful to see them again, living in a lovely old farmhouse. Sleep came easily after an hour or so of murmuring conversation among folks of a certain age and long acquaintance.