Monday, July 3, 2017

Frankenmuth, Michigan: Bronner's Christmas Wonderland

Do you like Christmas decorations? I mean, do you REALLY like Christmas decorations?

Bronner's Christmas Wonderland is the place for you.

It's gigantic. Awe-inspiring. Mind-boggling. There are 2.2 acres of merchandise on display, which is bigger than two football fields.

Anything connected with the December holiday is on display. There is a personalizing section to make a gift more special. More than 50 countries are represented.

Outside there are displays everywhere. A replica of the chapel where Silent Night was first performed in Austria can be visited. Santa is there, much bigger than life. If you go after dark, you can see thousands of lights turned on in colorful displays.

About two million people a year come through the place. I can't imagine what it is like in December, or on Black Friday.

If you are in the area, you really should go - even if you aren't religious (that angle to the holiday is promoted a bit, for what it's worth). But this video will give you an idea of what to expect.



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Frankenmuth, Michigan: Zehnder's Restaurant

It's not illegal to skip dinner at Zehnder's when visiting Frankenmuth, but it's close. The chicken dinners are quite famous as these things go, so it's a must stop.

The usual order is the family style dinner of chicken. The food seems to keep coming and coming under the circumstances - potatoes, stuffing, cole slaw, bread, and on and on. The waiter said no one leaves without a bag of leftovers unless they are traveling. I believe it.

You can order off the menu too. Tip - if you are traveling the next day, just order a plate of the fried chicken. You won't feel so guilty wasting so much food. The price, by the way, is the same either way you go.

Speaking of tips, think about making a reservation if you know ahead of time if you are going. The greeter is rather smug if you haven't done so, making you stand in the corner to wait for a table. The restaurant is huge, so you won't have to wait long, but a reservation will help make the experience better.

This operation really needs to be seen in full:



The family also controls the Bavarian Inn, but they are two separate companies in a friendly competition. Zehnder's is No. 8 in the nation in terms of restaurant customers.

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Frankenmuth, Michigan: Cheese Haus Mouse

Ah, ain't that cute.

Main St. in Frankenmuth is filled with cute little shops trying to attraction the attention of tourists. This is one such technique.

And it works pretty well. People line up to get their picture taken with the mouse. If they want to wait for the line to go down, they can always go into the store.

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Lansing, Michigan: State Capitol

Most state capitols more or less look alike. There are big rooms for the legislatures, small rooms for the Governor and government workers, and a big dome in the middle. It's usually very well done, too.

That's the state capitol in Lansing in a paragraph. You'll find a few of such buildings on this blog, and this fits the pattern rather nicely. A security guard asked us which capitol we liked the most, and we said they were all rather similar.

Speaking of security, there are no metal detectors at the entrances. That's rather unusual as these things go. However, the security detail inside the building is a large one. The state wants to give the appearance of openness.

The building here went up in the 1870s, and was restored around 1990. As you'd expect there are portraits of former Governors in the halls. Few have gone on to bigger and better things - not that being Governor isn't a highlight. George Romney had a son who achieved a bit of fame in 2012 when he ran for President, of course.

Shown here is the Senate chamber. Check out those comfy chairs! Each Senator has a good-sized desk, and a chair for a staff member to help during work sessions. It's much more spacious than the House chamber; no wonder representatives like to move up to the Senate.

Here's how the whole place looks:



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Grand Rapids, Michigan: Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park

According to the tour guide, the Meijer company - which has a chain of markets in the Midwest - had a piece of land that it wanted to use for a store. However, the neighborhood didn't particularly like the idea.

In response, the company was willing to turn the land into a site for gardens. Company president Frederik Meijer insisted on using the sculpture that was sitting in the equivalent of garages to fill up the space.

The idea went over well, and the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park was created. And it's wonderful. You'd have to call it a world-class facility, and no doubt is the pride of Grand Rapids. The gardens don't take up a large percentage of the space, in a sense. Most of the land is devoted to showing off the sculpture, and it's an impressive collection.

The signature piece of the place is shown here. "American Horse" is given its own little plaza; you can see its size when compared to the people nearby. Kudos to Nina Akamu for the work here.

It's not fair to show only one piece of work from the place, but that's my format. A video will give you a better tour.

 

As of this writing, the facility has acquired more land and is figuring out what to do with it. My guess is that it will be used for more enclosed gardens, so that it can become even more of an all-season attraction. But it's really, really good as it is. You should go out of your way to see it.

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Grand Rapids, Michigan: Loch Ness Monster

At last, the Loch Ness Monster has been spotted.

It's in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Sort of.

This has an interesting story. "Nessie" was created for a 2009 public art competition in Grand Rapids, and was in the Grand River for a while. It won sixth place, and sat around for about a year while people figured out what to do with it.

The John Ball Zoological Garden stepped up to the plate at that point. Nessie was placed in the pool by the Zoo's entrance, offering a unique greeting to visitors.

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Grand Rapids, Michigan: Fluoridation Sculpture

"What is that?"

I would assume that someone walking down the river path in downtown Grand Rapids would come up to this piece of sculpture and ask that question.

The answer, it turns out, is a tribute to fluoridation. No, really. It's called "Steel Water," and was unveiled in 2007.

Grand Rapids was the first city in the world to add fluoride to its drinking water, thus cutting dentists' bills for its residents considerably. (No word on what the dentists thought about this.) As the plaque nearby says, people used to lose many of their teeth at a young age before this step was taken. Many couldn't serve in the military in World War II for that reason.

Cavities in Grand Rapids went down 65 percent after this step was taken. The sculpture celebrating all this might be a little, um, abstract for some tastes, but it's one way to celebrate a wise civic move.

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Grand Rapids, Michigan: Rosa Parks Statue

Downtown Grand Rapids is quite a nice place to visit these days. There are several new buildings up in the area, and the riverwalk works nicely.

One of the meeting points in downtown is a small park about a block from the river. It's considered the heart of the city, according to an official web site. The area used to be called Grab Corners and Campau Square. But now, it's Rosa Parks Circle.

Parks, you remember, is one of the heroes of the civil rights movement. She refused to give up her seat on a bus for a white man in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955. That led to her arrest and a long bus boycott that eventually changed public policy in that area.

Someone made an interesting decision to have Parks standing in this piece of sculpture. After all, she made a statement by sitting. It's been suggested that Parks is shown to be standing up for her civil rights, which is as good an explanation as any.

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Sunday, July 2, 2017

Grand Rapids, Michigan: 1911 Furniture Strike Statue

The 1911 strike by furniture workers must have been a big deal, based on the statue about it located downtown in Grand Rapids.

Sure enough, it was.

About 6,000 workers in the industry had walked out in April of that year, causing problems in the industry. Management took some harsh steps in response. Thus in May, a riot broke out. Windows were smashed and people were hurt, but there were no fatalities.

The workers stayed off the job for about four months, but finally won some concessions. It was quite an event, and so the statue went up years later. Some unions sponsored its construction.

The tribute to the workers is located near the Ford Museum on Front Ave.

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Grand Rapids, Michigan: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum

When it comes to remembering the Ford Administration, Jerry had a split personality. The library is in Ann Arbor, but the museum is in Grand Rapids. They usually go together.

This is a nice tribute to the 38th President in a space that went through a recent renovation. The layout is a bit confusing, but there's certainly plenty of information about this decent man who fell into the job under unique circumstances.

Kiosks tell the Ford story - growing up in Grand Rapids, off to college to play football at the University of Michigan, joining the armed services in World War II, and running for Congress. There's a good-sized section about Watergate, naturally, and more about the Ford years. Remember the ladder that became famous as the last Americans left Vietnam in 1975? It's actually here. Not sure how they got it, but they got it. Ford's days as an ex-President are also covered here.

Oddly, the last part of the tour is the most touching. Video clips of Ford's funeral are shown, and the tributes poured in to what a good man this was - liked by everyone in Washington. If you think we need more people in Washington who think that way, you are right.

The building is right on the riverfront in Grand Rapids. Jerry and Betty apparently liked it enough to be buried there. The museum is set in a park-like setting.

Here's what the new place looks like:



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Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

It's tough to capture Sleeping Bear Dunes in one photograph. It covers a wide, diverse area, but the sand dunes are the most famous part of the grounds managed by the National Park Service. That's why I picked this one.

The slope from this point bends so that the drop comes pretty close to being straight down to the water. If you happened to fall down the dune, it would take you a couple of difficult hours to climb back up the hill - maybe, if you are in top shape. Otherwise, it would be time to call in a rescue team.

Sleeping Bear Dunes covers three different areas. This one is in the middle, just north of Empire, Michigan. Visitors can drive around the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, with about 12 stops along the way. This one is near the end and offers the best views of the dunes. Nearby is a Dune Climb, which is a much easier dune to tackle. The shore to the immediate north isn't to accessible. The shoreline turns east from there, but only rarely can be reached by car.

South of Empire is another section of the park that has a couple of roads in it but doesn't seem as interesting. Finally there are the two Manitou Islands, which are essentially uninhabited.

Here's a good tip - be sure to stop at the Hart Visitor Center in Empire on your way to the park area. You should do that at every national park to find out what you might see, but there are some good souvenirs there.

I didn't see any boat tours along the shore, so you'll have to settle for some shots of the whole park from the air.



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Traverse City, Michigan: Cow grave

We've been in a stretch of silly attractions here, and this one fits in nicely. It's the grave of a cow.

Traverse City State Hospital was a sprawling complex that dates back to the late 19th century. It was so big, in fact, that it had its own herd of cows to help supply food and drink. And one cow stood out when it came to production: Traverse Colantha Walker. We're talking 23,000 pounds of milk in a year - off the charts as these things go.

Colantha died in 1938, and the people of the Hospital gave her a big send-off, including the grave marker. The hospital closed in 1988, although there are many buildings in the area used for other uses. In the meantime, there is an annual dairy festival to salute Colantha. The grave is located on a dirt road just off Silver Drive. Look for the sign for "Historic Barns Park," and you'll find the grave just past the area where the pavement ends.

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Traverse Colantha Walker.

Traverse City, Michigan: World's Largest Cherry Pie Pan

The new champion.

Traverse City is known for cherries, and it wasn't going to sit back and let some other town lay claim to the biggest cherry pie in the world. So in 1987, it did something about it.

Here's the pie pan used to bake it. It checked in at 17 feet, 6 inches. That one hasn't been topped yet.

For those coming from the north on U.S. 31, it's easy to drive by this. The pan is on the east side of the road, in front of the Tyson Foods plant (formerly Sara Lee). Tip - park on the west side of the road and cross the street for your photo.

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Elk Rapids, Michigan: Twisted Fish Art Gallery

Sometimes you see something on the road that demands a quick stop and picture. Such is the case in Elk Rapids, where this bit of sculpture calls out to drivers.

This art gallery has gotten some good reviews on line. The work on the grounds is said to be interesting and unique.

Click on this link for the full tour.

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Elk Rapids, Michigan: Swan Statue

This big swan statue in front of the Chamber of Commerce in Elk Rapids comes with an interesting story.

The swan originally was used as a float used in local parades, starting in 1966. But eventually, someone points out that the orange-billed swan was a Mute Swan - an invasive species. It was crowding out the black-billed Trumpeter Swan, putting it in danger.

They are working on the bigger problem of how to save the Trumpeter, but in the meantime some high school students were recruited to paint the 15-foot statue. They have done so. That'll scare off those Mutes.

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Kewadin, Michigan: Hugh Gray Monument

Of all the odd attractions listed for our tour of Michigan through Roadside America, this is the one I wanted to see. And once I had to learn more.

It's a tribute to Hugh Gray, essentially the father of tourism planning for the state of Michigan. Now you have to admit, that's a little different.

We drove down Route 31 and took a left on to Cairn Highway, and then drove a couple of miles. There is was, on the north side of the road. After inspection, I discovered that each county had donated a rock to make up the monument.

But questions such as "Why here?" and "Why him?" came up. As for the here part, it supposedly was on Route 31 - the main road of the region - when it was dedicated in 1938. However, the road was moved, and now no one sees it without some effort. Oops. It's also supposedly on the 45th parallel, the line that's halfway between the North Pole and Equator. It looks a little too far south for that to be true; we passed a sign coming south on US 31 a bit before the turn.

As for Gray, he was the driving force behind the West Michigan Tourist Association - established in 1917. Gray eventually saw that states like Colorado were working together to lure tourist dollars, and he didn't want Michigan to lose its piece of the pie.

It seems that Mr. Gray was ahead of his time in his field. Want to read more? Here is your chance.

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Ellsworth, Michigan: Wayside Chapel

I have been in a few small churches across the country, and the question always strikes me. Why? Why does someone build such a small facility?

The idea was to have a place where travelers could stop and have a quick prayer. The tale of its current owner is told nicely here.  It says that volunteers mow the lawn, keep the place in order, and restock literature.

Most photos show what the chapel looks like from the outside. Here's an inside shot. Get more than four visitors, and we're talking standing room only.

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Charlevoix, Michigan: World's Largest Cherry Pie Pan (for a while)

You wouldn't think it would be easy to drive past the world's largest cherry pie pan, but we did. We sailed on by on Route 31 in Michigan after going through town.

This was a celebration of the bicentennial in 1976. The pie was 14 feet, 4 inches across, and 2 feet deep. The weight checked in at seven tons. That probably meant everyone in Charlevoix got a piece, and maybe seconds. It took five hours to bake it, and it's safe to say they didn't use an Easy-Bake Oven.

As we'll see, the record lasted only a bit more than a decade, but the monument still stands.

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Cross Village, Michigan: Legs Inn

Tiny Cross Village in North Michigan (but not in the U.P.) has a couple of attractions going for it. The first is the Legs Inn, a restaurant right on the coast of Lake Michigan.

For starters, as the photo shows, the place has a very unusual design from the front. But that's not all. The building has all sorts of hand-carved and natural decorations, which makes it a great place to explore. If you prefer eating outside, the backyard has a great view of the lake. There is a good-sized tavern in the complex, and live music is scheduled throughout the summer.

By the way, the specialty is Polish-American food. In fact, the sign introducing the Legs Inn as a Michigan Historic Site is in English on one side ... and Polish on the other. Can't say I've ever see that in such a marker.

Elsewhere in Cross Village, the "Tunnel of Trees" that goes through the forest along the shore. We did drive it, but it was something of a disappointment. It takes 22 miles to go through, and there are very few views of the lake along the way. Mostly, it's just trees. I assume September is the best time to drive this, but June was a little dull as these things go. At least it's not 15 miles per hour the whole way, as you can speed up every so often on the straight stretches. The Legs Inn looks like it would be worth the detour for a visit, but the leaves have to be turning to make a drive through the tunnel worth it.

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Mackinaw City, Michigan: Wienerlicious

Hungry for a hot dog after leaving Mackinac Island? Mackinaw City is the place to go.

Just off the bridge is "Weinerlicious," a restaurant in that city. You put up a 60-foot hot dog on the roof, and you'd better have good franks to sell.

Worth a stop even before it opens, just for the photo opportunity.

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Mackinac Bridge, Michigan

 Life in this part of the world certainly changed in 1957. That's when the Mackinac Bridge was completed and opened for business.

In other words, no more ferries to the Upper Peninsula.

The bridge links the two parts of Michigan in dramatic fashion, as it is the fifth-longest suspension bridge in the world. It spans the straits that connect Lake Huron and Michigan. The idea for such a bridge first was discussed in public around 1884, once the Brookyn Bridge had shown that big bridges were possible. Full ferry service started in 1923, but it was so busy that the bridge idea was still discussed. The Depression and World War II got in the way for a while.

But eventually, the money was raised. Construction started in 1954 and it opened on schedule on Nov. 1, 1957.

By the way, the bridge is closed to traffic on one day for a year for a five-mile walk across. It's a huge event.

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Mackinac Island, Michigan: Fort Mackinac

If you look at a map, you can understand why Fort Mackinac was on an important piece of real estate. It was right around the point where Lakes Huron and Michigan meet, and thus had military and strategic importance.

When trouble began in the Revolutionary War, the British moved a land-based fort on to the Island. The Americans gained control of it in 1796. The British grabbed it early in the War of 1812, but the Americans got it back after the peace treaty was signed. The U.S. continued to use the fort until 1895.

Now it's something a museum, showing what life was like there. There are demonstrations of cannons and marching, and exhibits in the old buildings throughout the grounds. And it is on the best piece of real estate on the island. The walk up to it makes quite an entrance.

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Mackinac Island, Michigan: Governor's Summer Residence

If you are elected Governor of the state of Michigan, there's a nice little perk that comes with the job - summer housing.

This is the nice little "cottage" that the Governor can use. The State of Michigan bought it in the 1940s. It's near Fort Mackinac and comes with some nice views of the island and surrounding waters. Yes, you can tour it on summer Wednesday mornings for 15 minutes.

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Mackinac Island, Michigan: Little Stone Church

You might walk by this Little Stone Church if you head to the Grand Hotel along Cadotte Ave. If so, you should take a look at the windows.

They are made by Tiffany's, and darn near priceless. No wonder they get extra protection.

The Union Congregational Church was built in 1904 out of stones from the island, giving it a charming look. Apparently everyone calls it the Little Stone Church. It's a Michigan historic site.

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Mackinac Island, Michigan: Arch Rock

The biggest natural attraction on Mackinac Island probably is Arch Rock, located in the northeast corner of the state park. And - how about that! - it's an arch made of rock. Here's a photo of the inside part of it; those in kayaks below got a different view.

If you visit in a tour like we did, you'll find that many other people are visiting at the same time. That means it's tough to find some space to appreciate the area, considering the platform is relatively small. If you can arrive early or late in the day, you should do so.

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Mackinac Island, Michigan: Skull Cave

According to a tour guide, Skull Cave used to be a large place.The Natives on the island supposedly used it as a collection spot for the dead. Fur trader Alexander Henry spent a spooky night among the bones there in 1763.

The cave got blown up sometime ago when authorities needed to build a road in the state park. You couldn't hide from anyone now, as Henry did once upon a time. But it's still a state historic site.

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Mackinac Island, Michigan: Surrey Hills Carriage Museum

Mackinac Island came up with a gimmick some time ago - don't allow cars. OK, I guess there are a few stashed away for emergency purposes. Otherwise, the roads are devoted to the use by horses and bicycles. It's funny to have to wait to cross a street until a couple of carriages go by.

The best way to see the main sights of island is on a horse-and-buggy tour. You'll get an explanation of what is there to see, and do it without pedaling.

After a ride through downtown, the carriage heads up the hill to the Surrey Hills Carriage Museum. Patrons get up the buggy at that point, and look around at a small collection of old carriages. It's all nicely presented. Here's one of the "taxis" that the Grand Hotel used to use for carrying its guests. You probably should know that there are some gift shops in the Museum complex, so clearly someone wants you to spend a little extra money during the break. Eventually though, the patrons get on a three-horse buggy and go on the rest of the tour.

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Mackinac Island, Michigan: Grand Hotel

The Grand Hotel says it has the world's longest porch - about a quarter of a mile. The fact was in Ripley's Believe It or Not in the 1930s. I'm not about to disagree.

The Grand Hotel is one of the classic spots in America. It was built in 1887, as railroad interests tried to drive tourism to this part of the world. It worked. The rich and famous have been visiting ever since. Naturally, it's expensive, and naturally, it's all beautiful.

The porch gets much of the attention, with its view of the island and the adjoining waters. The ceiling of the porch was painted aqua to prevent birds from nesting up there. I'm told it works, somehow. There's no better place to sit, relax, look out over the countryside, and maybe read a book or sip a beverage.

But it's quite a complex in total, which a variety of shops and activities. The landscaping is very well done, as you'd expect. There's even an ice cream stand around the entrance. You should know that it cost $10 for non-visitors to just walk around the building and much of the grounds. You also should know that it was worth it. The $10 can be used as a discount toward buying the Grand Luncheon Buffet, which checks in at $50. I'd bet it is a mighty good lunch.

Here's one tip for you - the Grand Hotel has its own outlet store. It's a couple of blocks down the hill toward town in a little shopping building. I picked up a nifty golf shirt there for less than $20. Makes me look like I stayed there - or makes me look I work in the golf pro shop. Probably the latter. 

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St. Ignace, Michigan: Father Marquette National Historic Site

This tourist attraction is a little difficult to describe. Let's start with Father Marquette.

He grew up in France and became a missionary. Marquette was assigned to the New World, stationed in Quebec starting in the 1660s. French influence extended all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico back then, so Marquette had a lot of territory. Therefore, he did plenty of exploring. You hear a lot about him when traveling the area. Marquette went by canoe throughout the country, and found that the Mississippi River could be a valuable help in navigating through a large part of the midsection of the country. He also interacted with several Native tribes along the way.

Marquette died in 1675 in Michigan, and his body eventually was moved to St. Ignace - where he established a chapel. A museum was set up there, but it burned in a fire in 2000. This tribute was established to him in Straits State Park in St. Ignace. The park is located near the Mackinac Bridge, just south of Route 2 on the west side of Interstate 75. There is a parking lot near the pavilion with a sign to the site - just keep walking and you'll bump into it.

There are no frills here - no National Park Service workers, no passport stamps, no admission charges. There a small display that includes a video. This won't take long to visit, but it's a nice little historical tribute.

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St. Ignace, Michigan: Mystery Spot

In the world of slightly tacky tourist attractions, the "Mystery Stop" is in the top couple of percent. The advertising is relentless and almost corny. "Explore the World Famous Mystery Spot - Amazing, Weird, Baffling, Incredible." There are billboards and cards throughout the region to lure you in.

After a while, many turn curious and give it a look. A college friend of mine told me that he had stopped by as a child.

Slight spoiler alert - if you look around the Internet, you'll be able to find the back story that's told. It's something of a tribute to optical illusions, as the photograph here shows. It takes about 15 minutes to go through.

The "complex" also contains a mini-golf course, maze and zip line. I should say that as of our visit, admission to the Mystery Spot was $9. I think I paid less to visit the Gerald Ford Museum in Grand Rapids, so it's up to you whether it's worth it. However, I would think if you are traveling with kids, this is a good spot to blow off some steam.

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St. Ignace, Michigan: Castle Rock

The region around St. Ignace, Michigan, has a variety of seastacks that pop up in odd places - such as land. Castle Rock isn't right in the water, but it is located back on shore a bit. The result is that when someone climbs it, he or she gets a good view of the area in all directions - including the waterfront.

Someone had the idea to make it a tourist attraction, and did so. Conveniently, it is right off the Interstate. A walkway has been built up the hill - it's a bit of a climb, and a ramp completes the journey to the top.

Oddly, at the base are statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe, the blue ox. They are mythical characters in the logging industry throughout the Midwest, and have popped up in stories for kids for years. I'm not sure about the connection to St. Ignace, but my advice would be "go with it."

Business majors will be interested in the marketing plan here. It only costs $1 to visit Castle Rock and see Paul and Babe. Now that's a bargain. It's essentially a lure for people to visit the souvenir shop, but tourists might want to stop there anyway. It's a big one, filled with some interesting items. The owners have another store on Route 2 a couple of exits down the Interstate, but this is the better stop.

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Grand Marais, Michigan: Annie M. Peterson Anchor

All right, what's the story with the anchor sitting along the shore in Grand Marais?

The village is on a bay of Lake Superior, and many ships have ducked into the harbor during times of rough seas. The Coast Guard has worked the area since 1899. Grand Marais almost disappeared around 1910 when the lumber industry in the area collapsed, but the fishing business kept it going.

Some of the ships, though, didn't make it to port. One of them was the Annie M. Peterson. However, the anchor was salvaged and put on display. Maybe it's the equivalent of a word of caution to be careful out there.

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Grand Marais, Michigan: Pickle Barrel House Museum

After finishing the west to east drive of Pictured Rocks, you come across the little village of Grand Marais on Lake Superior. The park doesn't attract enough people to be a major jumping-off point for exploring, but a few basic services are available.

What's more, there's a tourist attraction tucked away here.You just don't see many Pickle Barrel Houses, and the story behind it is an interesting one.

Cartoonist William Donahey wrote a popular strip for the Chicago Tribune in the 1920s, and also did illustrations for the ads of a pickle company. Reid-Murdock and Co. showed its appreciation by constructing a summer cottage for Donahey - shaped like a pickle barrel. I guess free housing is always appreciated.

After Donahey departed, the village used it as something of an information center and gift shop for several years. But in 2003, the Historical Society turned it back into a cottage for use as a museum. Looks like a fun place to take the kids.

The Museum is just down the street from The Dunes Saloon Lake Superior Brewing Company, which deserves a plug. Yes, there is beer there, but the pizza is very tasty. 

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Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan: Sable Falls

The best spots in Pictured Rocks are in the western section of the park. However, the protected area does stretch several miles to the east. Route H58 goes along the edge of the parkland, but if you are driving east eventually the road cuts to the coast.

The highlight in the eastern section is Sable Falls, a very pleasant waterfall in a wooded section. There are steps to the falls - about 200 of them or so - so it can be a bit difficult for some. But it is an impressive site, tucked into the wilderness.

A little hiking is needed to go to some other good spots in that section, such as Hurricane River and the Au Sable Light Station. You should know that seeing the Log Slide, an area used for logging once upon a time, is possible - but you have to climb up a very sandy hill to get there. We quickly decided we didn't need to fill our car with sand from our shoes. There's also a path near Sable Falls that essentially has been closed due to bear sightings. No need to mess with those critters.

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Saturday, July 1, 2017

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan: Miners Castle

One of the problems with this area is that if you don't go on a boat and stick to a car, you can't see much. The only area that has a view of the rocks is Miners Castle. Apparently the NPS isn't willing to cut down some trees to improve the view. Well, we can't blame them.

There are plenty of hiking trails along the lakeshore, and some of those might provide some good images. You can even walk to a beach - take an unpaved road for five miles, and then hike to Mosquito Beach.

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Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore just doesn't work too well in this format. There's too much to see.

Let's start with an introduction. Pictured Rocks is along the coast of the Upper Peninsula in Michigan. The launch point for visits is in Munising Falls. This is a little bit in the middle of nowhere, so not many people even know about it.

Part of the problem is that you can't really see it by land. So you have to jump on a ship, and go for a tour. That's when the "Wows!" begin.

The shortline to the north and east of Munising has been battered by Lake Superior and its storms for many, many years. As a result, plant life has died off, and minerals have been exposed. The result is bundle of colors that are beautiful to see. It takes about 2 hours and 30 minutes to see it all. I wasn't taking notes during my cruise, so I have a series of pictures in which one great shot looks similar to the next. Some of the rock formations have names, but it doesn't really tell the story.

The best thing to do, then, is to go to the video tape - and be sure to go to the full screen:



And when you are done with the cruise, be sure to visit the guest shop. They have some good, unique items in there.

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Brimley, Michigan: Point Iroquois Light Station

There are several lighthouses along the shore of Lake Superior in Michigan. This is either the first or last one you'll encounter, depending on your direction.

The Point Iroquois Light Station overlooks the lake from Brimley. It opened in 1857, and had an important role in shipping. That's because it makes the journey into the Sault Ste. Marie area a little safer, as the region is the entry point to the St. Mary River. Authorities closed it as a working lighthouse in 1962 in favor of a beacon in the lake, but the place was later restored as an attraction.

The tower is 65 feet high, and you can climb it. I did, although it's not for those who don't like tight places. It's a nice view, though. Visitors may also walk along the shoreline.

It's all part of the Hiawatha National Forest, and there are a few displays and a gift shop in the "complex."  There aren't many places along this road to stop and admire the scenery, so this one is welcome.

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Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan: Tower of History

After taking the tour of the locks in Sault Ste. Marie, some visitors might want to know where they have been. The Tower of History is there to help.

It's a 210-foot structure located just down the road from the two docks that host the ferry companies. You take an elevator up to the viewing area, which has a few different platforms so that you can see the entire area. The views are pretty good. This picture not only has one of the lock entrances, but downtown Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, as well.

The interesting part of the Tower might be the owner. It's on the grounds of a church; the two share a parking lot. Now, can you imagine the discussion around 1968 there? "We've got some spare land here; let's build a 21-story tower." The church had big plans to make the tower part of a complex dedicated to original missionaries, but apparently decided that was a little too ambitious. So in 1980 it was turned over to a civic organization, if I'm reading the website correctly.

There is a video on local history and a couple of exhibits, but it seems like a tough sell to get people to stop and look at them. I think it was $7 to go up and look around - pleasant enough on a good day, I guess.

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Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan: Soo Locks Boat Tour

For the full story of the lock system in the Sault Ste. Marie area (for the record, cities on both sides of the border have that name), you need to head to the American side. A couple of companies will be happy to take you around the area on a ferry for a reasonable fee.

As these things go, this is pretty interesting. The journey starts along the American waterfront, passing an electrical plant that is a quarter-mile long. Eventually the ferry reaches a lock. If you are lucky, you'll get a good look at one of the big freighters that uses the Great Lakes for transportation. In the photograph here, you can see one of them going through one of the big locks. We went through a smaller one, shown on the left.

And once we were lifted up, we were on Lake Superior - in our case, completing our bucket list of Great Lakes. The tour goes into the lake a bit, goes past an enormous steel plant on the Ontario side of the water, and then heads back to the home port. It all takes a little less than two hours. They do have dinner cruises for those who like such things.

Here's your history lesson on the place:

 

If you find yourself in this part of the world, this probably is the one attraction you should see.

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Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario: Canal National Historic Site

If you've looked at Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, on a map, you probably know that it's the point where Lake Superior turns into Lake Huron, which makes it an easy crossing point between the United States to Canada.You probably don't know about the rapids, which made such crossings a bit tricking before the bridge was built.

What was obviously needed was some locks so that ships could sail smoothly in both directions. And that's what Sault Ste. Marie did in 1895. What's more, it's still open for business. In the photo here, you can see the bridge looking down on the area.

Interestingly, this was once the longest lock in the world. It's also said to be the first to use electrical power. There are no tricks or stunts here. You open the door to Lake Superior, the boat goes into the lock, close the first door, open the second door to Lake Huron, and the boat leaves. (Spoiler: This is a little oversimplified.)

The lock is too small for commercial ships these days, but recreational boaters can use it to this day. The area is also a nice park. During our visit, First Nation members were celebrating the first day of summer.

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Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario: Essar Centre

I don't want to say Sault Ste. Marie loves hockey, but ...

The main rink/arena for the city is located on Ron Francis Way in the downtown area.

Now, Ron was a heck of a player for a long time, and an admirable person as well. As of this writing he is Carolina's general manager. Francis also grew up in the Soo, so this is an appropriate honor.

As for the Essar Centre, it's about a block from the waterfront in downtown Sault Ste. Marie. You can't get much more convenient than that, especialy if you are visting. The building was put up in 2006, and seats almost 5,000. The primary tenant is the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League - and you have to admit that's a great nickname.

There's some history connected to hockey in the Soo. Phil and Tony Esposito grew up here, and Wayne Gretzky played here as a junior briefly. But the photo shows four big names with numbers hanging from the rafters - Francis, Adam Foote, John Vanbiesbrouch, and Craig Hartsburg. (Gretzky's number 99 isn't shown, but he's up there too.

It doesn't look like there's a bad seat in the place. When we were there, people were getting some walking in by doing laps of the concourse. Maybe when they were done, they stopped and looked at the hockey hall of fame for the region, which includes former Sabres' coach Ted Nolan.

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Friday, June 30, 2017

Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario: Lock City Dairies

After a long day of traveling, some ice cream is in order. The first choice in Sault Ste. Marie must be Lock City Dairies, located on the east side of town fairly close to the Sinclair Yards baseball complex.

Not only is the ice cream good, but the store comes with a photo opportunity. We couldn't pass it up - three cows in a silly pose. Yes, that is a Lock City Dairies can on top of the pile.

Now if this place would only serve coffee ice cream, it would be perfect.

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Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario: World's Largest Baseball

There's an old saying in baseball that when a batter is in a hot streak, the ball looks really big.

You'll feel ready to play in the majors after seeing this baseball.

It's said to be more than 2,000 times the size of a normal baseball. It greets people who come to Sinclair Yards, located on the east side of Sault Ste. Marie. This is part of a complex for youth baseball that is massive and impressive. There are seven fields in the immediate area.

For those who prefer other activities, softball and soccer can be played on adjoining fields. But baseball is the star attraction, and the Soo Minor Baseball Association takes good care of the facilities.

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Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario: Moose Statue

When man goes up against a moose, the moose usually wins - unless man has some artificial help.

In this statue, it's the moose that has the help - but doesn't seem to need it. If you look carefully (click on the picture), you'll see a rifle with a sight in the left hand of the moose. The right hand has other things to do.

The cute statue is located on 1340 Great Northern Road, which is the main commercial strip leading north out of town. It is next to The Totem Pole Trading Post, which you can sort of see on the far right side of the photograph. The store has a nice supply of souvenirs for the area, and it's at the end of a small commercial strip.

This is worth a stop who like "silly" in their sculpture.

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Tobermory, Ontario: MS Chi-Cheemaun

If you've looked at Ontario on a map, you know there's a narrow peninsula that extends well into Lake Huron/Georgian Bay. In fact, it helps to split the two connected bodies of water.

Your choices of going to other parts of land to the north, then, are limited. You can go back down and drive around the lake or bay, which will take hours. Or, you can hop on the ferry - the MS Chi-Cheemaun.

It's a functional boat that does its job of getting passengers around the water to South Baymouth. The trip takes about an hour and a half, and the efficiency of the operation is evident. Cars line up and get on the boat as soon as it's clear from the last voyage. The passengers get off and can stroll about the ship. There's a decent cafeteria here, so it's not a bad spot for a meal if you come at the right time. A deck goes around the ship's edge, and there's a gift shop for those who want a souvenir.

Someone obviously had a sense of humor on top of the boat, as you can see by the paint job in the photograph above. Nicely played.

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Owen Sound, Ontario: Inglis Falls

When we visited the Owen Sound Welcome Center (friendly, helpful folks there, by the way), the woman behind the counter was surprised that we had been to the area before without seeing the best waterfall in the town limits. They can't say that about us now.

We were convinced to drop in on Inglis Falls, located a few miles south of downtown in a relatively undeveloped area. It's an impressive site.

Peter Inglis bought the land around the waterfall in 1845, and started a mill there. It produced flour, bran and wool, according to the tourist brochure. Now it's devoted to the public.

There are some good viewing spots around the waterfall, which featured waters with a tea-like color during our visit. Quite nice. The Sydenham River also is visible in the area above the falls, quietly moving along until it gets to the drop. There is plenty of parking for visitors, by the way, and it's on a good-sized hiking trail.

Care to see what it looked like six weeks before we got there? Me too.

 

There are other waterfalls in the area. Check out the website for details.

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Owen Sound, Ontario: Owen Sound Sports Hall of Fame

The Harry Lumley Bayshore Community Centre is the obvious place for the Owen Sound Sports Hall of Fame. Sure enough, one of the main corridors in the building is dedicated to that cause.

And, not surprisingly, the guy whose name is on the front of the building gets top billing in that Hall. The picture here has a tribute to him.

Harry Lumley picked up the nickname "Apple Cheeks" when he was a youngster in Owen Sound. He worked his way up the ladder and actually broke into the NHL at the age of 17 - the youngest NHL goalie in history. Harry bounced around from team to team once he arrived in the league to stay. He is best-known for having 13 shutouts in 1953-54, which stood as the league record for almost two decades.

Lumley wasn't the best goalie in the league then, as he had one more win than loss in his career. But he was a first-team all-star twice and played in four All-Star games. You have to remember that there were only six goalies in the NHL back then, so you had to be mighty good to be a starter. That's all why he is in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Here's a little recap of his career in Toronto:



There are some other players in the Hall with NHL connections. There's even one familiar name to Buffalo lacrosse fans. Bob Hamley played on the championship teams in 1992 and 1993 with the Bandits. He also was a good coach in the indoor league for several years.

Good to see they remember Bob, and "Apple Cheeks," in Owen Sound.

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Owen Sound, Ontario: Harry Lumley Bayshore Community Centre

Every town in Canada either has a hockey rink or wants to have a hockey rink. Owen Sound is no exception. Welcome to the Harry Lumley Bayshore Community Centre - more on Harry on another page.

What's more, you can walk into the place at almost anytime of the day and take a look around. Which is what we did when passing through this pretty area.

It's mostly known as the home of the Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League. That's a junior league (mostly ages 16 to 20, I believe) that's part of the feeder system to the National Hockey League. Other hockey and lacrosse teams play there as well, and I'd bet most of the community has done something there over the years.

Hockey facilities are affectionately called "barns" in Canada, and this certain fits the bill. When you walk inside, you can picture what it must be like to come for a hockey game on a cold winter night.

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Horseheads, New York: Chemung County Sports Hall of Fame

Sometimes you get a history lesson when you least expect.

Such as, when you visit a mall.

Tucked among the usual stores at the Arnot Mall in Horseheads, New York, is the Chemung County Sports Hall of Fame. It's a nice little tribute to the athletes, coaches and contributors to sports in that part of the world.

The most space, naturally, goes toward the memory of Ernie Davis. The standout athlete was the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy (Syracuse, 1961). He signed with the Cleveland Browns after college, but came down with leukemia and never played a regular-season down with the team. Davis died a relatively short time after finishing at Syracuse. You may have seen the movie about his life a few years ago.

The local high schools all have a display as well, and the long list of inductees is here too. Apparently there was an Elmira Sports Hall of Fame that passed away around 1985, and this was the replacement. It takes a few minutes for a look around the room.

I lived in Elmira for a few years in the late 1960s, and saw some familiar names during a short visit here. It's nice to see those people remembered.

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