Friday, August 2, 2013

Seven Wonders of Michigan: How many are natural, and how many man-made?

Last week, the Detroit Free Press (and later, my employer, the Observer and Eccentric) posted a survey asking for the Seven Wonders of Michigan: a list of the top seven "wonders" of the great state.

The newspapers are looking for the greatest "wonders" of the state, ranging from natural beauty to man-made feats. It got me thinking for quite a while, what were the most impressive sights in the state?

Here's a list of mine I came up with, and they include several sights in the state's outdoors. It's not anything etched in stone: these are just some ideas I came up with in the last several days while thinking about this premise:

1. The Mackinac Bridge

The "Mighty Mac," as many Michiganders refer to the
bridge as.
While not a natural feature, it conquers one of the toughest natural features the state has: the Straits of Mackinac. Built in 1957, it's the third-longest suspension bridge in the world, going five miles across the straits connecting Mackinaw City in the Lower Peninsula with St. Ignace in the Upper Peninsula, and is the only connection between the two peninsulas of the state.

It's an incredible feat, and save for a few accidents that take place on the bridge in recent years, it's a remarkable gateway to the north part of the state. I've crossed it more than a dozen times, and it's always a bit nerve-wracking crossing it.

It's a modern engineering feat, and is definitely one of the main symbols of the state people associated with Michigan. It's an easy No. 1.

2. Isle Royale National Park

This is my favorite place in the entire state, having spent a week there back in 2005. Remote, quiet and gorgeous, this is a national park that tops most of the others I've seen.

Hiking along the Greenstone Trail back in 2005.
Only accessible by boat or seaplane, the island is a solitary landmass in the middle of Lake Superior, lying closer to Canada than the United States. Rich full of moose, wolves, lakes and mountains, the
island is a hikers paradise. Hiking along the Greenstone Ridge is the main means of moving along the island by foot, and many of the campsites provide ample shelter for travelers, Chicken Bone Lake excluded. That site was a miserable night in the sun.

The island was a hotbed of mining activity in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and signs of that activity can still be seen in the form of mineshafts that dot the island. While hiking, one must be careful not to come too close to these mineshafts, or down you go.

Not only is the island a beautiful, tranquil place to spend some time, it also has the only place I've ever found on Lake Superior to be a warm location for swimming: Moskey Basin on the east side of the island.

3. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Me pumping water from Lake Superior
at Pictured Rocks back in 2006.

Another wonder of the state that lies within the Upper Peninsula, Pictured Rocks is a unique set of rocks along the shore of Lake Superior between Grand Marais and Munising. With about 15 miles of coastline with the picturesque rocks that give the park its name, it's a long hike between ends of the park, and a rewarding one.

I spent nearly a week at the park and hiked the entire Lakeshore Trail, which is part of the North Country Trail, which spans from New York to the Dakotas. The views near the both ends of the trail are breathtaking: the rocks, such as Miners Castle (even after one of the turrets fell shortly before I was there in 2006), and the sand dunes near Grand Marais, where loggers used the sand to run logs down to Lake Superior.

We backpacked the entire trail when I was wrapping up in the Boy Scouts, spending 5 days doing 50 miles. Definitely a challenging hike, but worth it. There are plenty of stops along the way, including a multitude of caves along the lakeshore.

While it's not as remote as Isle Royale, it's got some spots that are definitely worth seeing. There's a reason this is the national park that's going on Michigan's national park quarter in 2018.

4. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Yet another up north staple that is one of the wonders of Michigan. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore composes a lot of land. While the dunes are wonderful to visit and see, my favorite portion of the park has to be South Manitou Island.

The shore of Lake Michigan along South Manitou Island.
It's a gorgeous place to visit.
I've been going to Sleeping Bear Dunes for years, with it being a popular vacation spot for the family, for church and the scouts. The dunes are a fun thing to climb, but I'm partial to the dunes on South Manitou.

There are plenty of attractions to see on South Manitou Island, including the shipwreck Francisco Morazan, a freighter that wrecked off the coast of the island and is clearly visible above the water. A grove of giant oak trees is nearby, an impressive sight with some of the biggest oak trees you've ever seen.

The islands have history lessons as well: it was one of the best agricultural spots for growing crops such as wheat, and features of its agricultural past are all over the island.

The dunes are wonderful, no doubt, but I'm partial to the islands. I've yet to make it to North Manitou Island, but I hear it's just as good.

5. Michigan Stadium

I get away from a natural setting for wonder No. 5 for one of the biggest structures in the state. It's hard to think of many manmade items, such I lean toward the outdoors. But Michigan Stadium is quite the
sight and well deserving as a wonder of Michigan (the state, not the school).

It's quite the view at Michigan Stadium on game day.
I've only been once, to watch my beloved CMU Chippewas play Michigan back in 2006 (which, apparently was the first-ever weather delayed game in the stadium's history. Nonetheless, my alma mater lost). The stadium has hosted more than 100,000 people every game since 1975, and hosted the largest audience for a game when Michigan played Notre Dame in 2011.

It's an incredible scene, sitting in an area that has more people that the city the stadium resides in, Ann Arbor. The students get into it, and the city completely transforms on football Saturdays. It's one reason I always tried to avoid the city on game days when I worked in Washtenaw County.

A game at the stadium is worth going to. Be sure to make it to Ann Arbor this fall, I hear there's a chance for redemption later this month.

6. Grand Haven State Park beach

There are so many beaches in the state that could qualify on this list. The one down US-31, at Holland State Park, is a good one too. But there's just something about the the beach at Grand Haven that truly
captures beauty.

The pier is one of my favorite sights on the western side
of Michigan.
I've gone to the beach at Grand Haven a handful of times, including when I worked in Grand Rapids several years ago and a trip last year in the summer. The pier is one of the more picturesque views in the city, which lays on the Lake Michigan coast. Walking along it, it leads you to the lighthouse at the end, another wonderful sight. The end of the Grand River emptying into the lake provides a wide channel for boats to come in and out from the lake, and the memorials to the Coast Guard are a sight to see as well.

The state park on the beach is always packed, so I have no clue how anyone gets a reservation. It's got no shade, but the campsites lay right on the beach, so at least there's a breeze most days.

If you're looking for that nice, long pier walk, Grand Haven State Park is the right place to go.

7. National Shrine of Cross in the Woods

Here's a bit of a wild card, but I thought it was unique enough to add to the list. I visited this sight back in 2006 coming home from a camping trip in Indian River.
The cross was labeled a national shrine back in 2006.

The crucifix is the largest one in the world, with the figure of Jesus standing at 31 feet tall, cast in iron. It's nestled nicely among the greenery at the Catholic shrine, and is quite the sight.

Sculpted by the same man who did the Spirit of Detroit, Marshall Fredericks, it took him several years to form the sculpture before it was erected in Indian River. Now, it attracts people of all sects, including many non-Catholics. It's worth a visit just to see the shrine, and is a little bit different than the others on this list, but still worthy of being a wonder.

What other items deserve to be on this list? You can vote in the Free Press's or on the Observer and Eccentric's website until next week.

No comments:

Post a Comment