U.S. ROUTE 12
After our day in Ann Arbor, we took U.S. Route 12 home to do a little bit of exploring. This highway has been on my Michigan bucket list for quite some time. It's often referred to as "Michigan's Forgotten Highway", and contains many abandoned treasures and historic landmarks along the way. After leaving Ann Arbor, we drove through Saline and Clinton (which looked to have cute downtown areas) and then I knew we had hit Irish Hills once we saw this sign. Not long after seeing the sign, the road starts to bend and turn a bit more, and then all of a sudden, you start to see the strangest things!
I first pulled off the road to check out this abandoned Irish Hills Fun Center. We pulled through the dirt drive, and I got out to snap a few pictures. There was a super overgrown mini golf area, an old water slide, along with a couple of boarded up buildings, including an arcade. The strangest thing I saw was this weird animal creature hanging out in the cave. Creepy, right? Once upon a time, U.S. Route 12 was a bustling tourism destination... now it's lined with abandoned amusement parks.
ABANDONED PREHISTORIC FOREST
I've been slightly dying to go and see the abandoned Prehistoric Forest. This roadside attraction was built in 1963. It had a safari train ride through the woods, which was filled with over 70 fiberglass statues of dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures. It also had a fossil digging pit, a volcano that smoked, and a 400-ft water slide added in the 80s. It closed in 1999 and has sat abandoned ever since. Unfortunately, vandals have damaged this park extensively, and it now has 'no trespassing' signs and security cameras everywhere. I would have loved to explore the entire forest, but we stuck to the rules and took photos from the road. Such an awesome place though. And slightly creepy too!
IRISH HILLS TOWERS
Just down the street, we came upon the historic and abandoned Irish Hills Towers. These are two wooden observation towers built in 1924. From the top, you could view a rolling landscape and several crystal blue lakes. The Michigan Observation Company built one tower, and the neighbor was mad and protested by building his own tower less than 5 yards away! They operated as separate entities through the 1950s, until a new owner bought them both. They closed in 2000, and were deemed unsafe. They started tearing them down, but after a meeting in September 2014, the township agreed to hold off demolition while the historical society continued fundraising to save the landmarks. Even though I'm not from the area, I would be so sad if they tore these down!
ST. JOSEPH SHRINE
Just another quick trip down the highway, we came to St. Joseph's Shrine. As part of the 1928 expansion of St. Joseph's Church, a shrine-inspired by the grotto at Our Lady of Lourdes in France was designed. Two Mexican artists sculpted the steps, archways and railings from wet cement to resemble stone and timber. There are fourteen outdoor stations, which depict scenes of the Via Dolorosa that Jesus walked to Calvary. We checked out a few of the sculptures, the colorful pathway, and some of the gravestones that date back to the 1850s.
CHERRY CREEK WINERY
Our last stop on U.S. Route 12 before heading north back to Grand Rapids was Cherry Creek Winery. For over 100 years, four generations have been making wines in this area. The winery is located in a historic 1870 schoolhouse, on a beautiful spot of land with plenty of outdoor seating. They also have Butter Fudge, Michigan Cherry Preserves, and a really delightful lunch menu. We paid for the $5 wine tasting, and also brought home a bottle of their Cranberry Passion wine. I'd also recommend their Root Beer Cider. Such a unique, yet familiar taste! Really yummy.
Well, that's it for our trip along Route U.S. 12! It's a super fun day trip, and in the summer, they have a lot more to see and do. I'd love to go back and explore Mystery Hill, Walker's Tavern and Historic Site, grab a bite at Randy's Road Side Bar-B-Que and stay at Stagecoach Stop Western Resort. Plus, I just read that they might be renovating the Irish Hills Towers for tours this upcoming summer! I'd love to go back and check that out. If you know of this area, and have any additional tips or things to do, let me know in the comments!