Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Great Indiana Touring Book

The Great Indiana Touring Book: 20 Spectacular Auto Trips

by Thomas Hunt

This guide presents 20 driving tours in Indiana, each illustrated with black & white photos and full page maps. (The book also has a short section of glossy, full-color photos.) The routes average about 150 miles, so each can be done at a leisurely pace in one day. Three drives are reasonably close to Kalamazoo:

Northern Indiana Auto Trips

1. Touchdown Jesus and the Gentle People

South Bend - Mishawaka - Elkhart - Bristol - Goshen - Middlebury - Shipshewana - Topeka - Ligonier - Nappanee - Wakarusa - South Bend
144 miles

Selected Attractions:
Studebaker National Museum South Bend
Potawatomi Park and Zoo
Woodlawn Nature Center Elkhart
Menno-Hof Shipshewana
Potato Creek State Park

2. From the Heartland to Lake Country

Fort Wayne - Grabill - Saint Joe - Auburn - Pokagan State Park - Lagrange - Rome City - Fort Wayne
154 miles

Selected Attractions:
Foellinger-Freimann Botantical Conservatory Fort Wayne
Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Museum Auburn
McClue Nature Preserve (pdf)
Wing Haven
Pokagon State Park
Ropchan Memorial Nature Reserve
Pigeon River Federal Wildlife Area and Tamarack Bog Nature Preserve
Maplewood Nature Center
Olin Lake Nature Preserve

3. The Dunes and Beyond
Gary - Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore - Chesterton - Michigan City - La Porte - Valparaiso - Merrillville - Crown Point - Griffith - Munster - Hammond - Gary
132 miles

Selected Attractions:
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
Indiana Dunes State Park
Kingsbury State Fish and Wildlife Area
Deep River County Park
Lemon Lake County Park
Hoosier Prairie Nature Preserve
Oak Ridge Prairie County Park

Available from Amazon or the publisher, or electronically from Google Books, and from other booksellers and libraries.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


Goldenrods (Solidago sp.) are among the last flowers to bloom in Kalamazoo, which makes them an important nectar source after many summer flowers have gone to seed. Earlier this week, the goldenrod flowers at the Kalamazoo Nature Center drew honeybees, bumble bees, yellow jackets, wasps, and other insects.

There are a large number of goldenrod species in Michigan and throughout the US. These identification guides may be useful: Wisconsin goldenrods, Ontario goldenrods, US goldenrods.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Early color

While tomorrow's equinox marks the astronomical start of Fall, the changing colors make autumn visible. Silver maple and sumac offer the first red leaves of the season. West Michigan Weekly reports a 5% color change in Southwest Michigan, which sounds about right.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Monarch butterfly

The Monarch (Danaus plexippus) is probably the best-known butterfly species found in Kalamazoo. Of course, it's a popular species across the US and has been named the official insect of seven states. The bright colors, while attractive to humans, warn predators of the monarch's bitterness. This protection comes from consuming milkweed. The Viceroy butterfly is protected by its similar coloring.

Michigan's Monarchs are currently migrating south where the will spend the winter in Central Mexico. A Western Michigan scientist's work on Monarch migration was featured in a National Geographic news story earlier this year. I'm impressed by the distances these small creatures can cover.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Thornapple Trail

The Paul Henry - Thornapple Trail is a developing rail-trail in west Michigan. Only selected segments are currently open, including one out of Middleville, which is about an hour's drive north of Kalamazoo. The paved section of the trail is less than 4 miles long (one-way) so it's not a major adventure, but it runs along a pretty stretch of the Thornapple River. There are no hills and no road crossings on this section, which would make for a kid-friendly outing.

On an afternoon ride earlier this week, I was impressed by the variety of birds & animal life. The mill ponds at Middleville had the usual Canada Geese & Mute Swans but they were joined by a Great Egret hunting in the shallows, a species I associate with Florida. A few minutes later a pair of deer ran across the trail in front of me. On the return trip, a garter snake sped across the trail and two Sandhill Cranes called from the adjoining wetland.

The paved trail ended at McCann Road, which made a fairly short ride. Across the road, an unpaved section continued east. I wasn't sure how well my bike would fare on the grassy path, but it had been mowed and cleared of obstacles so the riding wasn't bad. (Although wider tires would have probably been more comfortable.) That section of trail ended at Irving Road. Eventually the trail will continue to Hastings which would make a really nice ride.

Overall plans for the trail are ambitious. When complete, the trail will run from suburban Grand Rapids through Middleville, Hastings, Nashville, Vermontville, Charlotte, and Eaton Rapids-- over 40 miles. This Google map shows the current and planned route. West Michigan Trails also has a map and information on the trail

The Middleville trailhead is at the gazebo and stagecoach, near the restored downtown. The Village Hall provides restrooms and plenty of parking.

Middleville Village Hall
100 E Main St
Middleville, MI 49333

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Backroads of Michigan

Backroads of Michigan: Your Guide to Michigan's Most Scenic Backroad Adventures.
by Robert W. Domm
Voyager Press

This book falls somewhere between a guidebook and a photography book. It's full of large color pictures, taken by the author, along with descriptions of 25 driving routes in Michigan. The state is divided into four sections: "Pasties and Iron Ore: The Upper Peninsula," "Where the North Begins: The Upper Lower Peninsula," "The Sunset Coast: Western Lower Michigan," and "Under the Thumb: Southern Lower Michigan." Each route is illustrated with photos of the landscape and selected details-- a wildflower, a picturesque stairway, or a Victoria cupola-- along with driving directions, an area map, and a few pages of description of the attractions and the history of the area. Two of the routes are in Southwest Michigan.

Backroads near Kalamazoo
1. Dunes, Beaches,and Art: Saugatuck/Douglas to South Haven.
"The two-lane Blue Star Memorial Highway (also labeled A2) links Saugatuck/Douglas to South Haven and once was the main north-south thoroughfare between the cities. Nowadays most commercial traffic uses U.S. Highway 196, a modern four-lane highway that shadows the older road. For those interested in a closer look at the local scenary, the Blue Star offers a slower-paced route packed with interesting sights and mom-and-pop businesses. Along the Blue Star are numerous antique dealers, ranging from quaint shops to sprawling lawns cluttered with rusting metal curios. Bed-and-breakfast inns (including one for pets), art studios, small restaurants, and plant nurseries are interspersed with fields of highbush blueberry and small farms along the route."

Directions: From I-196 take exit 41 onto Blue Star Memorial Highway, which leads south to the towns of Saugatuck, Douglas, and South Haven.

2. Yankee Springs
"Between Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids, where the rolling cornfields give way to forests and clear, quiet lakes, is a place called Yankee Springs State Recreation Area. Steeped in colorful history and awash with natural beauty, Yankee Springs entices visitors with 5,000 acres of public land situated around nine lakes, including a portion of Gun Lake, one of the largest and deepest inland lakes in Michigan. Oak, maple, and hickory trees line the blacktop roads and hang in a green canopy over the narrow sand-and-gravel access roads leading to the park's secluded lakes. Every season offers something new at Yankee Springs."

directions: From US-131 take exit 61 onto M-179. Go east on M-179 to Gun Lake Road. South on Gun Lake Rd to park. Continuing on Gun Lake Rd to Yankee Springs Road, then north, makes a loop back to M-179 (Chief Noonday Road.)

Amazon offers a Kindle version. Barnes & Noble lists used copies. I found a copy at the library.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Hart Montague Trail

The Hart Montague Trail connects a series of small towns in west Michigan on a former railroad right-of-way. It's about two hours north of Kalamazoo. The trail runs 22 miles from Hart to Montague.

We started at the Hart trailhead (a mile from downtown Hart, on Polk Road right next to Hansen's Grocer) and rode to Shelby, about 8 miles each way. The trail passed orchards, woods, and fields of asparagus. Like most rail-trails, it offered easy riding without steep hills. On Labor Day weekend, it was very popular, although not too crowded. It made a very nice ride.

The trailheads at both Hart & Shelby had plenty of parking, several picnic tables, exercise stations, and information signs. The "Get Off The Couch" website has detailed information on the whole trail.

Hart trailhead
3780 West Polk Road
Hart, MI 49420

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Fall 2011 events

Fall is a great season in Kalamazoo: colorful leaves, crisp nights & clear days, apple harvests, migrating birds, college football, and pumpkins. In September, it's usually warm enough for a trip to the beach. The weather for biking, paddling, and camping is usually reliable through October. November is a nice time to hike (but be careful of hunters.)

Fall events near Kalamazoo:

September 16-18 Grand Haven Salmon Festival Grand Haven

September 20 Ribbon cutting ceremony for the newest section of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail 1:30 p.m. Shipshewana, IN

Sept 23-24 Oktoberfest West Michigan John Ball Park Grand Rapids

September 24-25 Feast of the Hunter's Moon West Lafayette, IN

September 24 Sturgeon Release Celebration 10 am - 2 pm New Richmond Bridge County Park, Fennville

Oct 1-2 Old Tyme Harvest Festival at Scotts Mill Park Scotts

October 2 Share the Harvest Kellogg Bird Sanctuary/ Kellogg Biological Station 1-5pm Augusta

October 7-9 Cranefest at Audubon's Baker Sanctuary outside Battle Creek.

Oct 8-9 Goose Festival Fennville

Oct 9 3rd Annual Fall Color Cruise on the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail noon-4pm Markin Glen County Park Kalamazoo

Halloween Events around West Michigan

November 11 Winter Bird Feeding 101 5 pm at the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary Gull Lake

mid-November peak Sandhill Crane migration at Jasper Pulaski in northern Indiana.

Also consider

Fall recommendations from 52 Michigan Weekends

a Fall Color Tour or an Apple Tour

Fresh apple cider from VerHages Cider Mill.

West Michigan Tourist Association has a list of Harvest Time Festivals, a Weekly Color Report, and more Color Tours

Fall walks and rides on the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail

September events from Pure Michigan

October Events from Absolute Michigan

Event listings from Discover Kalamazoo

Gazelle Sports' calendar of West Michigan Races & Running Workshops

League of Michigan Bicyclist's Michigan Ride Calendar

West Michigan Coastal Kayaker's Association Event Calendar

Outdoor Athlete has lists for Michigan running, biking and triathlon events.

The Department of Natural Resources has calendars of events for State Parks and Recreation Areas: September, October, and November

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Douglas Beach

Douglas Beach is a small public beach just outside of Saugatuck, MI, just over an hour's drive from Kalamazoo. Access is down a steep flight of stairs. The park is in a residential neighborhood perched on the dunes above Lake Michigan and the upper part has parking for about a dozen cars, restrooms, and a couple of picnic tables. The lower part is a nice sandy beach.

While the public beach is relatively small, the Michigan Supreme Court affirmed the public's right to walk along privately-owned beachfront, so it's possible to walk for miles along the water.

It's easy to find the beach by following the signs for the Rosemont Inn.

Douglas Beach
80 Lakeshore Drive
Douglas, MI 49406