Mention MICHIGAN and most people will immediately think of the automotive industry and the grit and (faded) glory of Detroit. Those who’ve visited will also know of the diverse beaches, dunes and cliffs scattered along the 3200-mile shoreline of its two vividly contrasting peninsulas.
The mitten-shaped Lower Peninsula is dominated from its southeastern corner by the industrial giant of Detroit, surrounded by satellite cities heavily devoted to the automotive industry. In the west, the scenic 350-mile Lake Michigan shoreline drive passes through likeable little ports before reaching the stunning Sleeping Bear Dunes and resort towns such as Traverse City, in the peninsula’s balmy northwest corner. The desolate, dramatic and thinly populated Upper Peninsula, reaching out from Wisconsin like a claw to separate lakes Superior and Michigan, is a dramatic departure from the cosmopolitan south.
In the mid-seventeenth century, French explorers forged a successful trading relationship with the Chippewa, Ontario and other Native American tribes. The British, who acquired control after 1763, were far more brutal. Governor Henry Hamilton, the “Hair Buyer of Detroit”, advocated taking scalps rather than prisoners. Ever since, Michigan’s economy has developed in waves, the eighteenth-century fur, timber and copper booms culminating in the state establishing itself at the forefront of the nation’s manufacturing capacity, thanks to its abundant raw materials, good transport links and the genius of innovators such as Henry Ford. Today the state is attempting to reinvent itself as a “creative hub” for new technologies, as the automotive industry continues to decline.
The Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore offers a splendid array of multicoloured cliffs, rolling dunes and secluded sandy beaches. Over the millennia rain, wind, ice and sun have carved and gouged arches, columns and caves into the face of the lakeshore, all stained different hues. Hiking trails run along the clifftops, and Hwy-58 takes you close to the water, but the best way to see the cliffs is by boat. Those in a hurry can get a glimpse of the cliffs by visiting the Miners Castle Overlook, twelve miles east of Munising, or Munising Falls, one of a half-dozen nearby waterfalls, near the village’s well-signposted visitor centre.