By the shores of "Michigami".
A journey of a thousand milesstarts with a single turn of the steering wheel. You turn north, off Chicago's Stevenson Expressway, onto Lake Shore Drive. To the left, an astonishing vertical mass of great irregular rectangles thrusts upward. A half-dozen dark towers soar above them all, static, silent, dramatic.
The scene is riveting, but you haveto look ahead, for there's traffic here moving furiously in the lanes through sound and haze. Suddenly you jog right a little, head-on toward a scene in perfect counterpoint to the city: a flat, bare expanse of pale blue, stretching on and on to the northeast horizon.
You are in Chicago, and you haveglimpsed Lake Michigan--America's pond--peerless in the land for size, beauty, and importance.
You press on, past McCormickPlace, the Field Museum of Natural History, Shedd Aquarium, through beautiful Grant Park, all the way north to Evanston and beyond. The object of your journey is not Chicago, but the body of water that links this city to a hundred others. And your odyssey of a thousand miles around this greatest American lake has barely begun.
If your time is limited, you had bestsave Chicago for the next convention, else the allure of the city will bankrupt your schedule. Milwaukee lies ahead, and there is a score of interesting smaller cities in between, including a lakeshore corridor of suburbs that might be called millionaire's row. You pass through Wilmette, Winnetka, Highland Park, Lake Forest, and Lake Bluff, each with an obligatory beach on the lake and a golf course handy. Highland Park would make a worthwhile stop, even for those on a short schedule, because it offers notable Frank Lloyd Wright houses, five parks, and four museums.
From Chicago to Milwauke, thewell-populated shoreline of Lake Michigan might be called "Ethnicland USA." Perhaps few areas on earth have a more diverse mix of Germans, English, French, Poles, Irish, Serbians, Greeks, Italians, Scandinavians, Asians, and others. The reason has to do with the geography and geology of Lake Michigan itself. North to south, the huge lake cuts through nearly 300 miles of terrain extraordinarily rich in minerals, forests, wildlife, water, grass, and farmland. During the 19th-century exodus from Europe, these resources were ripe and ready for exploitation, creating in one region opportunities as diverse as those in all of Europe.
A hundred years ago you wouldhave seen a kind of walled-off diversity in Chicago, Waukegan, Kenosha, Racine, and Milwaukee. Now the diverse past exists only in names and the architecture, and you must experience it in churches, restaurants, neighborhood bars, festivals, and museums. Ethnic richness abounds in Milwaukee especially. This is the most German of American cities, yet if you have a few hours, you can visit the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, or St. Josaphat Basilica. You can dine at the Wurst Haus or opt for the Old Town Serbian Gourmet House.
The Milwaukee waterfron beckonsalso, but you've been here too long already. Driving north on the freeway through beautiful dairy country, you catch only a few tantalizing glimpses of the lake. So you exit at Sheboygan. Here's a place to see the lake again and, finally, to experience it. You walk out on a concrete pier into a half-mile of gently lapping blue lake sprinkled with fishermen, standing and casting.
Back on the road, you skirt Wisconsin'sDoor County, a great "i" slanting out into the lake, dotted by Washington Island. It's a lovely peninsula, but it's famous for staying and playing on, not driving around.
You pass Green Bay, a small citywhose football fame perhaps obscures its rich history. Searching for a route to China, Jean Nicolet discovered this site in 1634. Later the town became a center for the huge fur trade that blossomed around Lake Michigan.
The land is not as pretty now, asfarmland begins giving way to woodland, but there's still the blue lake, river after river, and much of interest. At Oconto, a museum exhibits tools used by the Indians of the Old Copper culture, ancient metalsmiths. Further on, the Fire Museum at Peshtigo commemorates a forest fire that took 800 lives here on October 8, 1971. (That same day of infamy, fire also destroyed Chicago and Manistee, Michigan.)
You cross the Menominee River intoMichigan and drive 50 miles through forest cleavage to the busy Escanaba waterfront. Now you turn east into Hiawatha National Forest and a beautiful 120-mile drive along the north shore to the Straits of Mackinac. From here, the five-mile-long Mackinac bridge carries you to some of the prettiest shore country of all: the skiing, fruit, and dairy region off Grand Traverse Bay, along Highway 31. If you've saved some time and money, or can spare some, Traverse City is the place to stop and spend them. The region in all directions is a wonderland of bays, islands, peninsulas, beaches, and sand fields, including legendary Sleeping Bear Dune. During the dog days of July and August, this is perhaps the coolest spot in the Midwest.
The east shore of Lake Michigan islightly populated. On the way to Muskegon, you see mile after mile of lonely shoreline, beach, dune, and forest. A good stop is the remarkable state park near Ludington, but don't stay too long, because there's more ahead. (Muskegon alone has 11 parks, many with beaches on the lake.) At Holalnd, you see a tidy little city that swells by hundreds of thousands during its famour Tulip Time Festival.
After visiting Warren Dunes StatePark further south, you may figure you've seen enough dunes, but the best is yet to come. Indiana can claim only about one percent of Lake Michigan, but it has one of the lake's treasures, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Here you can view thousands of acres of clean, sculpted sand and fully 20 miles of beach. Before passing through Gary and its mighty lakefront mills, then back to Chicago, this is a place to relax and play a little near the end of a thousand-mile journey around America's pond.