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The northern state of Michigan consists of two peninsulas that extend into the Great Lakes, actually touching four out of five of the magnificent bodies of water that contain 80 percent of the United States' fresh water. Michigan's Lower and Upper Peninsulas are divided by Lake Michigan and linked by one of the longest suspension bridges in the world, stretching across the Straits of Mackinac. The glorious freshwater shoreline, extending for 3,000 miles (4,828km), is also made up of Lake Superior, Lake Huron, and Lake Erie.
In Michigan you're never more than six miles (10km) from a river or stream, and never more than 85 miles (137km) from one of the Great Lakes, making the state an obvious favourite with boaters. Most of Michigan is well forested, with the Upper Peninsula home to a variety of wildlife, and boasting trout fishing lodges and winter ski resorts. The southern part of the Lower Peninsula is mainly characterised by rural farmlands and industry, but the west coast offers several popular beach resorts.
With all this water and forest, hunting, fishing and sailing are major drawcards for sportsmen in Michigan, but the other main attraction in the state is its large industrial city, Detroit, birthplace of the motor car: the city that put the world on wheels. The legendary names of the original automobile manufacturers like Ford and Chevrolet still resound loudly in Detroit, which offers numerous institutions and attractions paying homage to the car. It is a gritty, fascinating city, hit hard by economic woes in the past decade but with a resilient character that keeps its population famously proud despite recent hardship.
Although it is the spot where the development of Michigan truly began back in 1701, when it was founded as a trading post, Detroit is not the capital. The attractive Victorian State Capitol stands in Lansing, chosen in 1879 for its location in the centre of the Lower Peninsula, which made it less vulnerable to invasion by British forces from Canada. Back then Lansing was a simple sawmill settlement, but today it is home to about 120,000 residents and vies with Detroit as a major motor manufacturing centre.
Michigan regularly graces lists of the Top US states for tourists, attracting around 7.5 million visitors annually, and is well-loved by both American holidaymakers and foreign travellers. The primary appeal of the state is its wealth of lakes which make it a playground for boaters, fishermen, and watersports enthusiasts of all kinds. The state is actually said to have more beaches than the entire Atlantic Coast of the US. Michigan is also blessed with swathes of pristine forests, often traversed by nature trails, and boasts some fascinating pioneer history for cultural sightseeing.
Originally settled by various Native American tribes before being colonised by the French and later the British, Michigan has a rich colonial heritage and played a role as a British territory in the American Revolutionary War. The state has taken care to preserve historical sites and travellers can explore faithfully maintained and recreated trading outposts, forts and villages which bring the past to life. These attractions are primarily grouped around Mackinaw City, which is Michigan's primary tourist hub.
Quite apart from the natural and historical wealth, the other big drawcard of Michigan for tourists is the state's domination of the US automotive industry. Detroit has long been the home of American cars, with companies like General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler dominating the state's industry. There are many sightseeing attractions which pay homage to this industrial heritage and petrol heads will be delighted by visits to places like the Automotive Hall of Fame and the enormous Henry Ford Museum.
Henry Ford, the son of a farmer, built his first car in Detroit in 1896. There was nothing too amazing about this feat, because cars had been around for some time. What was unique to Ford's invention was the moving assembly line, which enabled him to literally put the world on wheels. Henry Ford's legacy is found at every turn in his hometown, Detroit, so it is unsurprising that the city's most popular and prominent tourist attraction was founded by him in 1929. The Henry Ford Museum is spread over more than 36 hectares (90 acres) in Dearborn, just outside of metro-Detroit, and encompasses five different venues. Together they bring the whole American experience to life, using exhibits, demonstrations, programmes, and re-enactments to showcase American life and its people. Ford amassed most of the exhibit collection, including tens of thousands of ordinary objects, items associated with illustrious Americans, and numerous inventions documenting technological advances. Among the exhibits is the limousine in which John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Edgar Allan Poe's writing desk, and George Washington's camp bed. For lovers of Americana this attraction is a joy.
Car buffs the world over are drawn to Detroit's Automotive Hall of Fame, close to the Henry Ford Museum in Oakwood Boulevard, Dearborn, which is the public programme and exhibition centre for the worldwide motor vehicle industry. The venue features entertaining and enlightening exhibits about the people who drive the industry. Visitors can indulge in interactive events like designing their own car and taking part in safety demonstrations. Even those who do not consider themselves petrol heads should enjoy a visit to this attraction; one can hardly explore Detroit without gaining some insight into the car manufacturing industry upon which the city was built.
The Detroit Historical Museum, in downtown Detroit, allows visitors the chance to tour the scope of the city's history, from Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac's landing on the banks of the Detroit River through to the city's emergence as an industrial capital. In the museum it is possible to walk through the streets of Old Detroit and explore 19th-century shops. Visitors can also find out about Detroit's role in the Underground Railroad that helped slaves escape from the South. The interactive Glancy Trains toy train exhibit delights young and old. The museum is an interesting time travel exercise and provides a good general overview of the city's history, with some fascinating exhibits.
One of America's largest fine arts museums, the Detroit Institute of Art boasts more than 100 galleries, displaying a collection of about 65,000 works, ranging from mummies to Matisse, and Asian antiquities to American Impressionists. The Institute of Arts is conveniently situated in downtown Detroit, along with many of the city's top attractions. The highlights of the permanent exhibition include masterpieces by Rembrandt, Rubens, Bureghel the Elder, Botticelli, Van Gogh, Cézanne, Picasso, and Caravaggio. From January till May the Film Theatre screens an impressive selection of international films and shorts, and the museum hosts regular temporary exhibitions and special events.
Detroit's famous Motown sound originated in two simple buildings on West Grand Boulevard, downtown, at Hitsville U.S.A. Visitors can see the original control room and recording studio where stars like the Jackson Five, Diana Ross, and Stevie Wonder made hit records between 1959 and 1972. The museum also contains some costumes worn by the stars and Motown founder Berry Gordy's apartment, still as it was in the 1960s. This attraction is great fun for music fanatics, particularly lovers of this particular genre, and captures the spirit of the period in Detroit very well.
Michilimackinac, about a mile (2km) from the centre of Mackinaw City, was the first stop for new arrivals back in the outpost days, around the 1700s. Today it remains the first destination for tourists visiting the area, being the site of a reconstructed 1715 French fur-trading village and military outpost that was later occupied by the British. The working colonial village is a living history exhibit that fascinates visitors, while within the stockade, archaeological excavations continue at the site. The historic park includes a vivid audio-visual recreation of a soldiers' barracks, a unique permanent underground archaeological tunnel exhibit displaying hundreds of original artefacts, a recreated Native American summer encampment illustrating life on the shores of the Great Lakes in the 18th century, as well as musket and cannon firing demonstrations and workshops illustrating pioneer skills like blacksmithing and open-hearth cooking.
Mill Creek, located on US-23, a few miles southeast of Mackinaw City, was constructed by Scotsman Robert Campbell in 1780, making it one of the first industrial sites in the Great Lakes area. The mill, now faithfully reconstructed, provided sawn lumber for the Mackinac Island settlers. Today, the water-powered sawmill sits in a delightful wooded setting among nature trails and forest management displays, providing an interesting attraction for numerous visitors. Demonstrations are given of logs being sawn, craftsmen in period dress show how houses were built, and a nature programme to encourage visitors to discover the area's flora and fauna is offered. The site includes a picnic area, and there is a cookhouse serving lunches and snacks. The surrounding area includes four miles (6km) of nature trails that bypass an active beaver colony.
Visitors who step ashore on Mackinac Island from one of the three ferry services from Mackinaw City can be forgiven for believing they have stepped back in time into a Victorian village. The small population of about 500 permanent residents has preserved the island settlement and the surrounding natural beauty to the point that no motor vehicles are allowed on the island; the only way to get around is on foot, by bicycle, or horse and buggy. The island, 80 percent of which is a state park, boasts 140 miles (225km) of roads and trails, ideal for hiking. The longest route is right around the island, following the scenic eight-mile (13km) Lake Shore road. Other popular walks include the Turtle's Back, Tranquil Bluff Trail, and British Landing nature trail. Every year in early June the island comes alive during the Lilac Festival, featuring the world's longest horse-hitch parade, fireworks, hayrides, country line dancing, free outdoor concerts, boat cruises, and garden tours.
From its stoic position on Mackinac Island, Fort Mackinac has stood sentinel over the Straits of Mackinac for more than 115 years, having been built by British soldiers during the American Revolution. The original fort has been restored as a National Historic Landmark and is one of Michigan's favourite attractions. Visitors can stroll through the 1780 officer's stone quarters, play dress-up in the discovery room, enjoy an audio-visual presentation in the Post Commissary, view the exhibits, and watch lively demonstrations. The fort is a must for anybody exploring the region and generally receives rave reviews from visitors of all ages.
About an hour's drive north of the Mackinaw Bridge, situated in one of the most scenic spots on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, lies the intriguing Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, alongside the historic Whitefish Point Light Station on the shore of Lake Superior. The museum is the only one of its kind, dedicated to highlighting the perils of maritime transport on the Great Lakes. It brings to life the dramatic shipwreck legends of the area with artefacts and exhibits telling stories of the ships and sailors who came to grief on the treacherous lakes. The lighthouse on the site is the oldest active lighthouse on Lake Superior. Visitors can also take a guided tour of the restored 1861 Lightkeepers Quarters, a duplex building with period furnishings, descriptive panels and artefacts from the days when keepers and their families lived here.
The Great Lakes influence the climate in Michigan by generally warming the winters and cooling the summers, creating more moderate temperatures in relation to nearby regions, but that doesn't mean that the winters are mild. The lakes also create more humidity and moisture throughout the year. Snowfall is heavy in winter and Lake Erie is often iced over. The north of the state generally experiences cooler weather than the south, but the climate in Michigan is unpredictable and changes rapidly, particularly during the spring and autumn months. In mid-summer (July) temperatures in Michigan can rise as high as 86°F (30°C), while in mid-winter (January) temperatures average below freezing point.
Michigan boasts some wonderful sandy beaches on its western coastline, winding along Lake Michigan. Some of the best of these, with miles of sand and wild dunes, are near the ferry port town of Ludington. The Ludington State Park offers 14 miles (23km) of hiking and biking trails in beautiful virgin forests and dunes, miles of sandy beach, and three campgrounds. There are several other popular beach resort towns along Michigan's west coast, within easy reach of Detroit, which are known collectively as 'The Riviera of the Midwest'. Silver Lake resort boasts its world-renowned living sand-dunes and the what is known fondly as the world's smallest newspaper. Grand Haven has a magnificent boardwalk along its spectacular beaches lined with restaurants, marina facilities and shops. Holland, as one might expect, has a Dutch flavour inherited from its founder, a Dutch clergyman. St Joseph, in the south, has a famous lighthouse and a French fort to explore.
The city of Ann Arbor in southeast Michigan, 45 miles (72km) west of Detroit and just north of the Ohio border, is home to the University of Michigan, one of the country's top universities. The city and surroundings have a great deal to offer visitors in the form of historic and cultural attractions. Ann Arbor's downtown area is extremely vibrant with never a dull moment, from live music shows to a plethora of libraries, galleries and museums, restaurants offering everything from romantic dinners to café society, some of the country's best bookstores, and often a street party. Among the many museums of interest is the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum, housed in a 100-year-old firehouse, which features more than 250 interactive science and technology exhibits. There are numerous restored 19th-century houses and farms to visit for a taste of life in days of yore, and even an original old main street blacksmith shop still operating in the satellite town of Manchester. Museums in the area cover everything from geology to classic cars, early American manuscripts, dentistry, and old fire-fighting equipment. On the university campus, the Natural History Museum contains the state's largest collection of dinosaur fossils and a planetarium features a 360-degree domed screen offering weekend stargazing shows.
The small resort towns of Saugatuck and Douglas are close enough together to be considered one holiday destination. Popular for weekend getaways from Detroit and Chicago, the towns are located along the shore of Lake Michigan, in the southwest of the state. The area is known for its eclectic and artistic feel, with dozens of art galleries and plenty of good restaurants and bars. Saugatuck-Douglas offers a number of activities for visitors, including fishing, hiking, sailing, golf, bowling, horseback riding, kayaking, dune buggy outings, and lake cruises. There are also some small sandy beaches that offer scenic spots for swimming and sunbathing.
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