Saturday, June 14, 2014

Lake Michigan, Pastys, and the Mackinac Bridge

We were up early and decided to forgo showers until later in the day (always a calculated risk -vs- reward gamble) and headed out without breakfast hoping to find something edible in one of the little settlements dotted along Hwy 2.
We hadn't anticipated ever needing to do research on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, but now that we were here we just decided to wing it and try to follow a southern route along highway two which hugs Lake Michigan. It didn't hurt that the map showed this to be a designated scenic area, so with our minds made up we pointed the Pleasure Way east and off we went.

The first town we arrived in was Crystal Falls, a sleepy little village sitting on top of a steep little hill and looking very much unchanged since let's say about 1925. Everything seemed shuttered and there was very little movement on the streets. It seemed like one of those towns you read about in a Steven King novel where you don't realize that something's not right until its too late. Something like "Village of the damned", or "They only come out at night", anyway, you get the jist of it.
So ancient. We saw the man come and open this shop. Probably been doing it a loooong time. The thought of sitting in that shop for years and years just sends shivers....
We found a antique store that was open and went inside. It smelled of old moth balls and mildewed newspaper and there wasn't a great deal of interest to us, but it was nice to amble through the dilapidated building and poke around in long lost corners. We were both getting hungry and Jerani asked the owner if there was a bakery in town. He said the only one had closed years before but that he sure liked donuts. This wasn't especially helpful information, but it did bond us all in agreement.
We kept seeing roadside signs and stands touting "Pastys", Michigan's version of hotpockets on steroids. Pastys are filled with meats and either potatoes or rutabagas and encased in golden brown dough casing.
These one-hand meals were originally Cornish and were a staple of the Cornish miners who worked these local iron mines. They are now indicative of  northern Michigan and every town claims to make the best and most traditional Pasty, and there is no shortage of establishments competing for your Pasty dollar. Having had only fruit for breakfast we decided to stop at the most compelling of these Pasty shops, a business that had been advertising with roadside signage ever since we turned onto Hwy. 2. This was the one and only "The Pasty Oven" in Quinnesec, Michigan. We were giddy with excitement as we pulled off at The Pasty Oven, and I ran inside and waited in a small line in a diner-like building watching the woman behind the counter put freshly baked pastys into paper sacks which quickly became dark with grease stains as the patrons happily toted them off. The shop smelled of cooked potatoes, meat, and pastry dough. Mmmmm....
The pastys were hot so we had to wait to take a bite. It was mostly potato with some corned beef mixed in and the potatoes had a lot of beef fat in them. Tasty but wow... that will keep you for awhile. HARDY Good thing we only had fruit for breakfast. No need to eat for at least 8 hours now! Probably won't buy another one....a little too dense and oily for our taste.
We headed out of town and drove by sleepy little roadside gas stations and jiffymarts and continued on until we hit the larger towns of Escanaba and Gladstone.

This part of Michigan was once dominated by iron mining but has since taken an economic downturn as the mines dried up. Many of the businesses have fallen on hard times and much of the economy now depends on outdoor recreation. There are always a handful of businesses that take full advantage of these trends and combine two or three different concepts into one to take full advantage of the tourist dollar.
I don't know about you, but when I want to find a place to spend the night I always try to do it as close to a bait shop as possible.
We now hit a stretch of road where we got our first real good look at Lake Michigan and it was really quite pretty.
Very Mediterranean; the long golden sand beaches dropping down to different shades of blue where the lake water came in on small rollers to strike the shore. It did not scream MICHIGAN! but seemed more like a scene you'd witness on the Almafi Coast or off the Isle of Mykonos in Greece.
It was strange, but even though there was this gorgeous beach that went on for miles no one seemed to be taking advantage of it. We didn't see another car parked along the road, so at the next turn-off we pulled over and made our way down to the beach.
It was beautiful and nice to stretch our legs and give Max a chance to play for awhile. We strolled up and down the beach, smug to have found this little slice of heaven and to have it all to ourselves. After playing some fetch with Max, we climbed back up the little trail to the RV.
As we were just about to pull back onto the main road we spied a small white sign posted near the trail we had just exited. "NO BEACH ACCESS-MIGRATORY BIRD REFUGE". Oh, now we get it, that explains the lack of anyone but US on the beach. No wonder it was so easy to get a parking space. As we pulled back onto the road we noticed that these signs were evenly spaced for the next two or three miles. How we missed them was amazing. It's called ignorance of the law, but it did make for a nice break on the beach. Hopefully we didn't send nature into a tail spin with the "butterfly effect".

We drove on towards Indian Lake State Park, another fifteen or twenty miles down the road. It seemed to have camping spaces, but when we arrived it was just another darkly treed campground and held little appeal for us so we continued onwards putting all of our eggs in the basket labeled "Straits State Park" which was located in the town of St. Ignace on the northern end of the Makinac bridge which spans the narrow (relative term when faced with "GREAT LAKES") gap between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.
For the most part the road followed the shoreline and it was a pleasant drive all the way to St. Ignace. Once we got into the town proper it was a little convoluted getting down to the State Park without accidentally finding yourself crossing the huge bridge. There were all sorts of strange little round-a bouts and miniature clover leaf exits, but mercifully we finally managed to make it down to the park which sits very close to the superstructure of this magnificent bridge.
Thankfully there were plenty of sites available so we checked in and made our way down to a pretty little campground right across from the water with great views of the bridge. Everyone in the campground seemed to be in good cheer, and why not, it was a beautiful park in a great setting.
This is what campgrounds should be modeled after; whoever put this park together got it right! We both opened a beer and leashed up the animals and set off down a trail to the beach. After a quick stroll we leashed Erley to our picnic table so he could endlessly entertain himself watching for squirrels and we went to work making a nice spaghetti with sausage and garlic bread dinner. We opened a bottle of Merlot and sat sipping wine and listening to the soft music coming from our neighbor's radio.
After dinner we all piled out and went on a longer walk around the other campground loops and out onto the beach. We watched the sun set and the bridge light up and decided we felt much more at home in upper Michigan than we ever felt while traveling through Wisconsin.


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