Heading south across Makinac bridge, we have come back to one of our favorite areas from our cross country trip in 2013. The Lower Michigan Peninsula – AKA, ‘The Mitten’.
First item on the agenda, look for a place for the night. We had just recently decided to give Harvest Hosts a try so we looked up some options in the area while we were driving and found Friske Orchards in Ellsworth.
At first, the man on the phone did not know what we were talking about. Later we will come to find that this is pretty common occurrence with hosts. It makes sense, I suppose. Someone calls them up one day to join this website and months later someone calls and wants to spend the night in their parking lot for free. I get it.
But once they got it figured out, it was pretty straightforward. We arrived to find ourselves the only people in the parking lot on a Saturday.
It was the perfect spot for kids. Right next to us was a petting area with goats that get to climb a tower (honestly, I liked the look of the area so much that started to look for fence companies near me to make some remodelling of our backyard).
Next to that is a giant sand pit complete with diggers. Luka could not get enough of them.
Since it was only open today and closed tomorrow, we went inside and did some obligatory shopping for our free stay.
The kids loved all the space they got to run around in. Here the girls are doing their best @ourwildabandon impression.
For some reason, they asked us to not park on the gravel but on the grass instead.
It seems weird to us because we are worried that we will kill the grass. Then I forget this is not California where we have diverted water from a giant river to feed a desert. Grass will be fine here.
Luka even learned how to levitate while we were here.
If you have not tried Harvest Hosts, you have to give it a shot. Its cheap and totally worth it. Tell them the Mish sent ya.
We left Ellsworth and began making our way towards the Sleeping Bear Dunes area. We were here 2 years ago but everything was closed so we did not get to see a lot or earn Junior Ranger badges. This time we are staying for a couple of days and hope to do some more exploring.
A couple of days ago an Instagram friend whom we haven’t met invited us to come stay at her farm house that they are renovating. We got here while they were gone but they told us to just find a spot and set up.
Emily and Ian (@watassaphoto) bought this house a little while ago and have been coming up during the summer to renovate it. They are living in their Airstream in the back while the work is getting done.
Just a couple miles down from their farm house is the town of Empire. We drove down there to see what was around and found a nice beach that everyone seems to be hanging out at.
A playground is always a hit for the kids.
Let’s hope no one gets hurt. These things always scare me.
Michigan sunsets are pretty nice. (I am not gonna get into it but let me just tell you that Michiganders are big fans of their sunsets.)
We have also been communicating with our friends Nathan from Wandrly Magazine over the last week as they have been settling in Pennsylvania for a bit to get their Airstream worked on. We last saw them at Sequoia National Park and Lone Pine and a few months later we meet again on the other side of the country.
They are here with some family staying at a lakeside vacation home. They said they love this place since it reminds them of other vacation spots they have been , they showed us on sites like https://enjoymexico.net/villa-rentals/cabo-san-lucas/ and they were right to of gone there! We spent a nice day together climbing sand dunes and shooting the breeze.
Back at the farm house we finally got to meet Emily and Ian in person. You know how things always come in threes? Well apparently gypsy meet ups come in threes as well. Another couple from Instagram Ryan and Maggie (@Kaplandia) have been looping the country going counter clockwise for the last few months and are finally going to be crossing paths with us while we are here. We were not sure how to make this work since we were staying at someone else’s property and couldn’t just invite them over. Over a casual chat with Emily, she turned out to be a big fan of Ryan and Maggie’s travels. So all of a sudden 2 trailers became three.
Ryan and Maggie are newlyweds in a vintage Fireball trailer and are doing a trip around the country for their honeymoon. It was pretty amazing how everything worked out the way they did.
Being Californians like us, at least Maggie is, we were really loving the beaches here at Sleeping Bear Dunes. Emily gave us some directions on a local’s beach that they hike to and we managed to find our way out there.
Minus the smell of the salty air, this feels just like the ocean. There were even decent sized waves on this day.
The views are spectacular.
We took a loop drive in the national park and got to the top of the dunes. It’s hard to tell in this photo but the dunes are steep and extremely high.
People have made their way down to the bottom of the sand dune and had to be rescued by boats or helicopters because how difficult it is to come back up.
We played it safe and stayed up top for the sunset instead.
After we say good bye to our host and traveling friends, we headed towards the town of Grand Haven. Actually we spent the night at the Walmart in Muskegon and drove over to the beach to hangout for the day. We camped at Grand Haven State Park in 2012 which is right on the beach. This time we are here to meet up with another Instagram friend.
This is the parking lot of North Beach Park in Grand Haven. If you have a bigger trailer than us, don’t try to come here. For that matter, don’t come here if you have a trailer at all. You should see the look of the girl who was working the entrance booth when she stuck her head out and saw me making the turn around the gate.
We hung out at North Beach Park for the day and planned to meet up with Maggie who follows us on Instagram who happens to live in town. As you can tell by now, Instagram has been playing a big part in our travels. We have been meeting up with a lot of people and a vast majority of them are through this social network. It is by far the biggest game changer for us when it comes to connecting with people on the road.
We came across this Instagram account of two twenty-something girls doing the Great Loop in a 27 ft sailboat. We were in Cedar Key, Florida at the time and they had just come through there a couple of weeks before us. One of the girls is from Grand Haven and before we knew it, we were conversing with her sister Maggie who invited us to come over for a pontoon boat ride.
Maggie and her mom took these perfect strangers around in their boat and showed us around the waterways of Grand Haven.
We had the most amazing time and got to see a town we’ve been to from a different perspective.
Here is the Grand Haven lighthouse.
The girls loved being on a boat.
Our time in Grand Haven was short but memorable. It is definitely a place we will soon be back again.
As we left Grand Haven we started head further east towards Detroit. We contacted a friend who lives in the area about hanging out and he told us that he and his wife had just bought a house that they have not moved in to. He told us that we could back into their driveway and make ourselves at home so we did.
We had been here a couple of years ago but the only thing we did in Detroit was the Henry Ford Museum. Marlene and the kids went out exploring while I stayed back to work on the driveway.
First stop for them was the Michigan Grand Central Station. On January 5th 1988, the last train left this station. In its 75 years of service, it’s sent people off to war and welcomed families home from vacation. In the last 25 years since it’s closure, it has sat as nature began the cruel process of decay with help from vandals and trespassers. This registered national historic place has been on the verge of demolition several times since the last passenger walked out its ornately decorated lobby design by the same architects responsible for New York’s Grand Central Station. Today it is guarded by razor-wire fencing and video surveillance systems awaiting Detroit to make an comeback so it can shine once again as it did 100 years ago.
So much of Detroit’s amazing landmarks are basically sitting in a stay of decay since the former industrial giant has faded from the limelight. It will take a lot of years for Detroit to make a recovery but this is a unique time for us to visit this city. I really hope our kids revisits Michigan Central Station when they are grown and gets to see it restored to its former glory.
The next stop is the Heidelberg Project. In 1986, Tyree Guyton and his grandfather began to create an open-air art environment in the heart of Detroit’s East Side, now called the Heidelberg Project. They used discarded objects and buckets of paint to create a two block area to bring attention to once forgotten neighborhoods.
Since the city’s fall from grace people have been vandalizing parts of the project. Here is one of the buildings that was recently burned.
Hey, kids! Put your heads through the holes so I can take a picture.
Marlene and the kids made it back safely and we met up with our friend Mike and his wife Christie who are new owners of the driveway we are sleeping on tonight.
Mike has been Marlene brother’s friend for many years. We first met him when he was still in college and came out to California. We took him to have hist first sushi experience more than 12 years ago. Today also happens to be Marlene’s brother’s 36th birthday so since we couldn’t be in California with him, we did the next best thing. An ice cream party with his best buddy in Michigan.
Before we left Michigan to had to make our way to one last Michigan National Park. This one is the River Raisin National Battlefield Park.
This is one of the newer NPS sites that had just been taken over in the last 5 years. Just outside of Monroe, Michigan, this is the site of the Battle of Frenchtown during the War of 1812. It is here in the bitter winter of 1813 that more than 400 American soldiers were killed, nearly 100 wounded and over 500 captured by the British troops.
While we were here, we got to meet up with a couple more traveling friends of ours. This is Krash and Karen. We first met them in Cedar Key a couple of years ago. They are from Michigan but spend the winter in a vacation rental in Cedar Key. Karen has been talking Krash into moving themselves into an Airstream for years and I can see that he is finally staring to budge.
We met lots of friends old and new in The Mitten but we have a lot more ground to cover before the summer is over so we must be moving on. Thanks again for the amazing time, Michigan!
over and out,
Next place to explore: Manuel Antonio Costa Rica Hotel.