Road Trip Week One: Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota

House on the Rock Wisconsin Spring Green

We gave the house keys to the realtor and Chris carried me over the threshold from our first home to our new life on the road. The first weekend we camped fairly close to home, making sure we had all the equipment we needed and didn’t need to stop by the storage unit and grab anything, and we also took the opportunity for a digital detox. For four days our phones were locked in the glovebox and we were able to connect with nature and each other with no distractions.

Farewell to Southgate Square!
Getting to know our camp set up

Then, confident we had everything we needed for whatever adventures lay ahead of us (and with a lot of extra stuff in the car that we immediately started ditching), we hopped on the Pennsylvania turnpike and headed west. We made it to Ohio and stayed the night in Toledo- a new state for me! Eager to see more, we headed to Michigan the next morning.

Ready for some car camping

Our first “real” stop was Kalamazoo, Michigan. Mainly just because it has a funny name, we had always wanted to visit. Because we both like beer, we went to the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange- a very cool building (used to be a coffin factory) with a fun theme- based on the stock market, the prices of the beer fluctuate all evening and randomly, there will be a  “market crash” and you can buy low! We visited the Kalamazoo Valley Museum, a free 3-story museum with lots of fun to see and explore. We wound up spending a couple of hours there, and really enjoyed it. Then we walked along the downtown pedestrian mall- the first in America!- and picked up some “Yes, there really is a Kalamazoo!” postcards.

This is Kalamazoo

Rain was coming so we drove a couple more hours to Cadillac Lake in the Huron-Manistee National Forest and stayed in a lakeside motel there, enjoying a walk through a state park and a visit to a produce stand and a pasties shop, which made a delicious dinner. We spent the night and then we were back on the road and headed for the UP! We stopped to stretch our legs at the Mackinac Bridge and Light House before venturing over the bridge- the longest single-anchorage bridge in America- that connects lower Michigan to the Upper Peninsula.

Mackinac Lighthouse
“Big Mac”

Once in the Upper Peninsula we went to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, at the very tip of the juncture where Lake Superior meets Lake Huron (so far north, AT&T thinks we were in Canada and charged me overages). With over 500 shipwrecks and 3,000 lives lost, there was a lot to explore at this museum including a video about and the bell from the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald (cue the Gordon Lightfoot here). Chris climbed the lighthouse to watch ships passing through the straits.

We drove through the Hiawatha National Forest, and spent the night at a riverside campground off of Lake Michigan. Not bad for $15, although the mosquitos seemed as big as eagles and made making dinner a chore. However, the night was clear and we were able to sleep without the fly on the tent up and it was a beautiful night.

A clear night for camping
Escanaba River, Michigan

We headed south to Wisconsin and the big attraction there- for us- was Spring Green, home to both Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin and The House on the Rock, which we had both read about in the Neil Gaiman book “American Gods” (currently filming season 2, which actually takes place at the House on the Rock). Thankfully we arrived around 1 pm, and had a full four hours to explore this indescribable attraction. Part architecturally amazing house built on an actual rock (with parts of the rock both inside and outside the house), it is also filled with collections of such oddities I could not even begin to list them. That’s just the first part.

It gets a little weirder with the cantilevered “Infinity Room”, jutting out 218 unsupported feet.

Parts 2 and 3 consist not only “Streets of Yesterday” and “Heritage of the Sea” buildings, there were also huge rooms full of collectibles, models, artwork, toys, games, and – the most amazing bits – full size mechanized orchestras of dolls, skeletons, mannequins- and– most famously- not one but two giant carousels (one of which is the largest in America, and boasts 182 chandeliers). Words defy me here- you just have to see it on your own. Imagine Alice in Wonderland after eating the entire bottle of pills. I’ll leave it at that.

This sea creature is larger than the Statue of Liberty.
Over 200 unique animals on the carousel- not a single horse
Not even sure what this is- steampunk maybe?

With a quick spin to the Frank Lloyd Wright visitor center– they were about to close- and a drive-by of Taliesin, we continued west to La Crosse, a cute college town on the eastern bank of the Mississippi River. We enjoyed a beer and a taco pizza at Sloopy’s Alma Mater, which of course came with fried cheese curds- delicious. It was everything you would expect of a local bar in Wisconsin, complete with a stranger buying us a beer.

We didn’t have any plans for Minnesota except to drive through it to get to South Dakota, so we just made it a straight drive with a stop for lunch. We were hoping for some real Minnesota dishes (I had read “Kitchens of the Great Mid-West” with my book club”) and we were not disappointed with Grandma’s Kitchen, which featured a chicken salad made with chicken, mayo, cool whip, and grapes, with a rootbeer float.

Minnesota

And so we continue. Our next update will feature South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana, so stay tuned for another post before we head into Canada and then Alaska.

Any suggestions for Wyoming or Montana? Drop them here!

11 thoughts on “Road Trip Week One: Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota

  1. Thanks for sharing your trip! Your writing and Chris’ photos?? are Great!
    What I want to know is, what are those things with flowers growing out of them in the first photo?

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    1. There are so many weird things at House on The Rock that I’m not even sure how to describe them! Aren’t Chris’s pics great? Wait till you see the elk and the bald eagle he got on film in Canada. Stay tuned!

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  2. Deah, beautiful!! I’m impressed with how much you pack in in ONE week!! Fantastic photos and descriptions, I feel like I’m on the road with you guys!

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    1. Yeah, we do a crazy amount of driving! But we do try to stop every couple of hours and hike, see a sight, or catch some wildlife. Photos are mainly from Chris- he’s a great photographer!

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      1. Lots of fun so far! We’ve just driven down from Alaska to Oregon and I’ll be finishing up a post on that this week. So many cool things to see!

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