Thursday, April 8, 2010

US 131: The Michigan Roadside Naturalist

The Michigan Roadside Naturalist
by J. Alan Holman and Margaret B. Holman
2003
University of Michigan Press

While this guidebook, discussed earlier, covers the entire state of Michigan, one route goes directly through Kalamazoo. Their "West-Central Route" stretches from the state border to Petoskey. For this post, I've highlighted the southern section, close to Kalamazoo.

The West-Central Route [southern section]
Indiana border to Grand Rapids (US 131)

Features of this area: Rolling country, lakes and ponds, marshy lowlands, and wooded uplands on Wisconsinan end moraines. Reptiles uncommon in other parts of Michigan: eastern box turtle, black rat snake, massasauga rattlesnake. Ice Age fossils. Old Indian trails.

1. The Lakes
"US 131 passes mainly through a rather lakeless low ancient lake plain topography from the Indiana border until it reaches the higher Kalamazoo moraine upland area near the city. But one can find the lake country within a few miles of the highway." Reach the lakes by going west on US 12 to M-40 then north on county roads.

2. The Prairies
"The question of how prehistoric peoples used the small prairies crossed by U.S. 131 in St. Joseph and Kalamazoo Counties is intriguing. these prairies are small remnants of an extension of the 'prairie peninsula' that was an expansion of the vast prairies of Illinois across northwest Indiana and into southwest Michigan during the warm period known as the hypsithermal (around fifty-six hundred years ago)... The Potawatomi who lived in the area when the settlers arrived had villages and garden oriented toward the prairies."

Evidence of Hopewell Indians has been found near the highway.
Kalamazoo County had many prehistoric features known as garden beds. "These features consisted of earthen ridges about one and a half feet high and were reported to have been laid out in various formal shapes such as wheels and triangles, with spokes and patterned squares withe ridges facing first one way and then the other." There is no trace of these now.


3. Schoolcraft Area Mastodont
"A mastodont find occurred in 1995. The bones were found when a local family was digging a canal." (More commonly known as a mastodon)

4. Plainwell Area Mastodont
In 1945 a relatively complete mastodon was found on the Keith farm. "One of the unsolved mysteries about the occurrence of these giant, elephant-like creatures is the fact that most of them are discovered only as individual bones or parts of bones or teeth. One of the suggestions as to the reason for this is that Ice Age hunters killed animals that were mired in quaking bogs, butchered them at the site, and then carried most of the parts away, leaving the unused parts such as the skull and teeth in or near the kill site."

5. Prehistoric Grand Rapids
The Hopewell people built burial mounds (known as the Converse mounds) in what is now downtown Grand Rapids. These no longer exist. The nearby Norton mounds, 17 mounds near US 131, are now protected


You may find this book from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or at your local library.

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