Monday, May 31, 2010

Extreme southwest

Southwest Michigan is a land of tall sand dunes, wetlands, deciduous woods, cropland and quaint small towns. We spent Saturday and Sunday in the vicinity, first at the little town of Buchanan, Mich. Buchanan has only one stoplight and a handful of galleries and consignment shops (SL Consignment is our favorite). There's a fast-moving stream that actually flows under the main street and into a pond near the one stoplight. We were in town for the Un-Sanctioned event. Nearby Fernwood Botanical Garden was a highlight, and we could have spent a lot more time there--wild fields, woods, an arboretum and ravines leading to the St. Joseph River.

We never really left the extreme southwestern corner of the state, spending all of our time in Berrien County and venturing only as far north as Bridgman and as east as Niles. Perhaps the No. 1 natural highlight was Warren Woods (pictured), one of the last virgin stands of forest in the Midwest. The avian highlight may have been a late-season canada warbler (or nester?) in the ravine along the Galien River.

We took the Red Arrow Highway south from Bridgman to New Buffalo, passing many art galleries, cafes and shops. New Buffalo is a little Mackinaw City-like, but the many eateries and shops and views of the deep blue water of Lake Michigan were great. With the temps in the 80s and lots of beach-goers, it really felt like summer.

We wrapped up the journey by taking Route 12 west through Indiana Dune country and into the Southeast Side of Chicago. We stopped at a favorite oasis, Miller Woods in Gary. It's a small refuge that is mostly a well-preserved oak savanna, carpeted with ferns and wildflowers.