By: Steve Legel
When fall comes to Michigan, apples get pressed into cider, time stops for the Michigan-Michigan State College Football game, and leaves change color and start to fall from the trees.,
Within weeks of children returning to school on hot, sunny end-of-summer days, the sun travels lower in the sky and evening merits donning a sweater.
Some years, here in the Mitten State, receive the right mix of sun, heat and rain for Mother Nature to create a palette of fall colors. The landscape becomes painted with her brush strokes of reds, oranges and yellows.
Dark comes earlier in the evening and the smell of smoke from backyard chimneys, tell us that Fall has arrived in Michigan.
Southern Michigan offers wonderful opportunities for one day or short weekend color tours. In fact, the state web page offers leaf peepers regional routes and ideas. Since I live here, might I offer to be your guide?
In a single day, we started early with a full tank of gas in my Hemi Orange 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT. And what a treat it is to drive! The SRT suspension delivers positive road response and smooths out road vibration and noise. The roomy, race ready bucket seats offer the necessary comfort for the day behind the wheel or navigating from the passenger seat. The in dash GPS and sound package are ready to go to work on this crisp autumn Michigan morning.
We drive west on I 94 from my home south of Detroit, and not until we are well past Ann Arbor, Michigan does the city give way to the country. Corn fields lay cut and empty, ready for winter’s snow. The centuries old windbreaks of trees foretell the bonanza of color that awaits us ahead.
This day, we travel to the Gilmore Car Museum, north of Battle Creek. An easy to master back roads route takes us from the expressway to the hamlet of Hickory Corners. The way is well signed, and parking at the Museum is easy. The Gilmore is the home to several restored antique barns and the Classic Car Club of America Museum. The grounds, once a working farm, showcases a restored 1920’s Shell gas station and a working 1940’s diner. We stopped for a hot chocolate at the Blue Moon Diner, after taking advantage of the two most photographed sites at the complex. Warmed and refreshed, we ventured on foot to explore the complex and the multitude of automobiles on display. The complex really could take a day to fully explore, but a half day will suffice for those with blood and not motor oil coursing their veins. One excursion here, not to miss is the Miniatures Museum. The original farmhouse is now dedicated to a display of miniature buildings with furnishings. The rooms come alive in diorama after diorama.
Aiming the Challenger further west to the Lake Michigan lake shore, we by passed the decommissioned light house at Benton Harbor for a stop at the Warren State Park Sand Dunes. The access is easy, and the view across the lake is peaceful. They say that on a clear day you can see the outline of Chicago from here. It was quiet here, as we mostly had the place to ourselves. On a warmer and less windy day, the dune might beckon for a climb, but then again who wants sand in the carpet of the Dodge Challenger?
We poked in briefly at the Round Barn Winery in nearby Baroda, Michigan for the first of lower Michigan wine samplings to enjoy on our return leg to Detroit. There are several wine tasting venues easily reached and well signed and marked along I 94. In particular we stopped at the Sleeping Bear Winery tasting room and divided our time trying the bear theme named wines, “Bear Lake” ( a dry white with hint of melon) and the “Red Bearr-on” (a very sweet table red). Michigan is noted for other fruit wines including “Blue Bearry” and “Rasp Bearry” The same tasting room samples out their “Bad Bear Beer list” of fall specialties, including Honey Spice and Pumpkin. The amber and brown were more to my liking, however.
Just down the road is the Cherry Creek winery and tasting room. Here we found the wines less syrupy and in lower Mid Michigan reference to Michigan International Speedway, and for car lovers everywhere, I recommend the “Raceway Red” blend of Caberrnet, Chambourcin, and Chancellor, listed as a compliment to burgers and BBQ.
We rounded out our day, near Jackson, Michigan at the Lone Oak Winery which offers a once a month tasting, dinner and live music entertainment. And such was our evening with Ian Stewart playing guitar and singing 70’s and 80’s favorites. Some songs were group sing along and Ian added some comedy between sets.
Fed and entertained, we reveled in the full moon above as we finished our eastbound trip home, the dark of the country giving way to the street lights of the city. An easy days drive, on about a tank of gas for the big rumbling carefree 6.1 liter Hemi.
We found cars at the Hickory Corners Gilmore Museum, we found colors in the leaves along the way and the blue of sky and water at the Warren Dunes and we found corks at Southern Michigan’s growing wine country tasting rooms.