Driving Destinations - Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive

Detroit - Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive - Detroit

What do you do when you're in the midst of a 2-week business trip to Detroit (Yes, THE Motor City) with a day to spare in-between? Of course, being the nuts we are, long drive in a fun-to-drive car is the default proposition. That the destination happens to be a short but scenic stretch of road voted by the public as "The most beautiful place in America" not so long ago is an added bonus. That's where we were, exactly one year back on this day! 

Michigan, the beautiful Midwestern state in the United States of America has one of the longest freshwater coastlines of any political sub-division in the world. Sharing boundary with four of the five aptly-called Great Lakes, northern Michigan is home to the gorgeous Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Considering the time to drive to and from Detroit and what's left after that (which isn't much), it was decided to just do the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. Nice name, uh?

This scenic 7.4-mile stretch of tarmac, located within the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and operated by the United States National Park Service, is a closed circuit that can be driven, bicycled or even hiked. Comprising 12 stops, each of which offer magnificent views and contrasting topographies, this circuit is a must-do if you're in Michigan with time to spare!

The Roads to the Destination

For us Indians, a road trip in America immediately brings big, wide roads and sparse, fast-moving traffic to mind. But the roads in Michigan are quite a mix. Just like the state's infamous weather, they change from narrow, potholed two-laned suburban sections to wide, smooth Interstate highways in a flash.

The route from Detroit to Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is pretty straightforward with most of the distance covered in two major highways. Starting from Detroit, follow signs for Interstate 75 North, a major North-South highway that runs from Miami, Florida all the way up to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan bordering Canada. A few miles after Saginaw, follow signs for US 10 West, an East-West highway that connects Bay City, Michigan and West Fargo, North Dakota. Watch out for M-115 West exit just after Clare. Beyond that, GPS takes us through M-22 N and M-109 N before the signage for "Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive" welcomes you. 

Both I 75 and US 10 are typical American multi-lane highways with speed limits enforced. It's prudent to exercise caution even if other vehicles around appear to ignore rules. Make sure you escape traffic by starting early in the day. The traffic gets quite dense as time passes and as we approach cities and towns. 

As the nomenclature indicates, the M-series roads are Michigan state highways that are mostly two-laned and much shorter between cities. But, these are the stretches that would make you stop and take in the beautiful sight every now and then.

The Destination Itself

A 7.4-mile stretch is not an awful lot by any stretch of imagination. But, Pierce Stocking, the person who built and maintained this road before National Park Service bought it over, has done a tremendous job of opening up the area's natural beauty for others to explore and enjoy. The guide below lists all the view points and what's on offer in each of them.

Pay the 25 US Dollar fee for getting in (includes access to all of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore) and, within a few meters, the drive becomes a two-laned, one-way stretch.

The first stop, called the 'Covered Bridge', is just that - a wooden covered bridge that would be a perfect photo spot for you and your vehicle. As luck would have it, a classic car owner's group had decided to make the drive that day with known and unknown cars of various vintage showing up. As you can see in the picture below, with those cars rolling one by one to be photographed next to the bridge with their owners, we had to move on.

A steep climb atop a hill takes us to the second stop. This is a view point that offers a brilliant view of the Glen Lake. The clear skies, together with the various hues of green that the water takes depending on it's depth and the mountain range in the background, is a pretty sight.

After that, stops 3, 4, 5 and 6 are all about the sand dunes that give this park it's name, their ecology and the way they have evolved over centuries. There is even a 1.5-mile long hiking trail that takes you right into the dunes over stretches that were originally part of the Scenic Drive but later modified to conserve nature. 

In what's the best example of diversity the whole place is blessed with, the short distance between the sixth and seventh stops presents a complete change in topography. From hot sand dunes, you're in a lush, green forest with Beech and Maple trees in just a few hundred meters.

Next up is the incredible Lake Michigan Overlook. As you park the vehicle and climb the sandy passage to the top of a hill imagining yet another view point of a random lake, you are in for a shock. Nothing - absolutely nothing - prepares you for the breathtaking panoramic view that unfolds in front of you. Your eyes marvel at the magnificent blue waters of the lake seemingly stretching as far as the light blue sky. Your body takes solace from the wind blowing past standing atop the 400-feet tall wooden pedestal. And you just don't want to get out of this place!

If you think these pictures are gorgeous, let me tell you they just don't do justice to what's in store in reality!

Pull yourself away from the mesmerizing Lake Michigan and you're greeted by a view of the bushes in the dunes that once resembled a sleeping bear. That it no longer looks like that is due to the evolution that has happened over time.

Next up is one more view point, this time of the North Bar Lake. It's a pretty sight alright, but you're still not out of the sheer masterstroke of nature that Lake Michigan Overlook is.

The final stop takes you through Maple and Pine Forests before descending down to the entry point. 

On the Way Back

Michigan's state highways, as previously mentioned, are absolute hoots to drive on. In addition to the numerous photo stops on the way back, a shot of caffeine sat by the pristine waters of Lake Mitchell and Cadillac would go a long way in ensuring you reach Detroit safe and sound.  

The Automobile

It might not have made it to India, but globally, Focus has been one of Ford's best-sellers, challenging arch-rival Volkswagen Golf in several key markets across the globe. Drive the car and you'll know why. 

Our Focus, rented from Budget, exhibited superb handling and precise steering feel, attributes that have made Ford in general and Focus in particular so very popular. While the 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine was frugal and had enough juice, it was let down by the hesitant Dual Clutch Auto Transmission that pauses momentarily before slotting in to the right gear. The car looks neat too, in that nice shade of black shod with those sexy alloy wheels. 

It's a pity Ford is getting away from cars like these.   

Travelogue Statistics

> Destination: Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive
> Route Driven: Detroit - Flint - Midland - Clare - Cadillac - Empire - Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive - Detroit
> Total Distance Covered: 571 mi
> Toll, Entry & Parking Charges: $25
> Number of Days: 1

> Car Driven: 2018 Ford Focus
> Odometer Start: 32,425 mi
> Odometer End: 32,996 mi
> Average Fuel Efficiency: 37.9 MPG (16.1 km/l)

> Fun Tip: When you're in America, you live life king size! Wanna experience that? Rent a full-size pick-up truck for the drive. 

> Health Tip: Ambient temperature rose from 4°C early in the day to as high as 32°C by noon. Be prepared with your jackets and don't forget your sunscreens too!