Hit the Road

With relief at the gas pump nowhere in sight, summer road trips may feel more like guilt trips. Because of that, travel plans are sporting a dose of practicality in the form of itineraries that stick a little closer to home. However, three new guides may be just the ticket for rekindling our affection for hitting the road

Jeff Counts’ Michigan: An Explorer’s Guide  (The Countryman Press, $19.95) provides fuel for the imagination when trying to find getaways closer to home.

“This book will help you discover everything from uncrowded beaches along Michigan’s 2,288 miles of coastline, remote Upper Peninsula inland lakes, and trout-fishing streams to upscale urban restaurants, backwoods taverns, and trendy art galleries,” says Counts, whose research involved spending a year traversing Michigan in an old Jeep.

For easy reading, Counts divides the state into regions and details vacation hot spots from Manistee to Detroit, Grand Rapids to Mackinac, Saugatuck to the U.P. Many destinations are familiar, such as the Boyne Resorts or The Henry Ford. But it also reveals lesser-known treasures, such as the small towns along the northern Michigan coast.

Another guide, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula  (The Countryman Press, $18.95), by Amy Westervelt, leads readers through the ghost towns, beaches, waterfalls, and lodgings that make the U.P. “one of America’s best-kept secrets.”

As Westervelt explains in the book’s introduction, when she moved to Michigan from California, she “expected snow and lakes and friendly Midwesterners. “What I did not expect was that I, who had traveled the world from Brazil to Italy, Morocco to Japan, would find one of my all-time favorite vacation destinations here: the Upper Peninsula.”

So many people with cottages up north dart up the highway, completely oblivious to the flora, fauna, towns, and landmarks dotting the landscape on the way to their destination. It seems the only time they venture off the freeway is to gas up or to grab a bite at a convenient chain restaurant. In Driving Michigan: Mile by Mile on 1-75, by Leslie Mertz (Arbutus Press, $17.95), it’s clear there’s plenty to learn if drivers would slow down, take an unfamiliar exit, and explore.

There’s a difference between being a mere traveler and being an adventurer, and this book is an invitation to make a drab ride into an exciting journey. From the Ohio-Michigan border to Sault Ste. Marie, Mertz tells what awaits us at every exit off 1-75, including interesting tidbits about many mile markers. She also crams a good deal of history and trivia (called Brainbusters) into her volume. Crafty parents can take one of these exits, and bored kids aren’t likely to whine, “Are we there yet?” If it seems there’s a bounty of information about Michigan flora, it’s for a good reason: Mertz holds a Ph.D. in biology.