The scenic drive along the River Road National Scenic Byway (which somewhat follows the route of M-65) - is picturesque at any time of the year but maybe even more so when the burnt crisp oranges, yellows and reds bleed into the leaves. This drive which is recommended in many a tourist guide, runs for 22 miles along the southern bank of the Au Sable River ("River of Sand") the drive begins just north of the small town of Hale beside the Five Channels Dam through to the historic logging city of Oscoda on the shores of Lake Huron taking you along shinning outlooks and miles of trees, sand dunes and marshes.
We happened to drive through, past and along parts of the scenic drive the week we where in the area, but for our first visit we drove the entire length and while we were running out between showers, we tried to sight-see at a majority of the overlooks and places of interest along the way - we would have seen more however this drive is also within the National Huron Forest so the dreaded old government shut down effectively closed parts down - for instance stairs down to see the natural springs at Iargo - a historic stopping point of Indians were closed, the visitors center at the Lumberman's Monument was closed alongside all the loos and bins. Other then that, the shut down nor the rain wasn't deterring us or many others.
Driving in from the west, the Westgate Overlook is the first stop on the route and offered a stunning overlook downriver across two viewing platforms. The fall colour here was the most incredible along the route, those oranges and reds truly stick with you.
Second stop was another panoramic viewing spot over the river, yet one that has great historical significance over the centuries. To Indians this area held great importance and was often used as a meeting spot and a drinking water source. With the turn of the century early loggers began constructing dams to divert the water into their camps and by the 1920's the springs were a popular recreation source for Europeans with trails later built in 1934. The trails continue to be available alongside more recent boardwalks and dams. However on our shutdown time visit, with signs suggesting heavy fines for going down the steps - we chickened out. So sadly we never saw the springs themselves, however the panoramic views were beautiful enough.
Just a little further away there's another pull in with trails, views but additionally a memorial. Built in 1950, the Canoer's Memorial commemorates those who have canoed along the 240 mile stretch between Grayling to Oscoda in the annual race, the white of the monument certainly striking against the backdrop of red, greens and yellows.
Foote Pond Over LookOften called Eagles Nest from the bald eagles that often nest in the area, the Foote Pond overlook offers views over the Au Sable River and the Foote Pond created by the Foote Dam a little further upstream. The rather steep sand dune running down from the edge of the outlook runs straight down to the waters edge and was dotted with footprint markers of those a little more adventurous then I - I could just see me landing head first in the water after tumbling midway down or something!
Foote Site Park
Foote Site Park is where the famous Au Sable River Queen launches it's boat tours, and even in October the queue was huge when we drove past on another day. The park has a small beach area and what appears to be a great spot for bird watching.
Finally as the rain was starting to clear we reach the end of the drive in the historic city of Oscoda - one of the few cities claiming to be the home of the popular American Folklore figure Paul Bunyan - in fact a huge statue to him stands along the cities main street. It's a small little city once built around the logging industry but now subject to the ebbs and flow of tourism, mom and pop diners standing alongside the creeping numbers of fast food chains.
If you ever get the chance to drive in America whether you live here or visiting, I urge you to check out the American Byways website which suggests scenic tours such as this River Road Tour - it's a get base for getting off the freeways and seeing not only wonderful areas, but what I call "real America".
Where are your favorite places to go to for a scenic drive?