Prehistoric Forest – Irish Hills, Michigan
Fun look back at the history of US-12 at Concentrate Ann Arbor:
Michigan Avenue has been recognized for its significance as a Historic Heritage Route. Given the fact that it’s persisted so long and been so essential to the state, it seems more than fitting to refer to this road, which spans the entire east-west length of the state, as Michigan Avenue.
US-12 has fed a life-long fascination for me, and is becoming a long-term photography project. It’s a road, and an area, rich with history.
I used to have more time to make photos.
My commute was 30 minutes, but if I left early I could stop and take a landscape, or catch a beautiful sunrise. And sometimes, I’d have enough time to explore an abandoned building or home. Beautiful country roads, lovely scenery, and no rush.
Not so much anymore. My commute is now an hour long, at minimum, and it’s mostly interstate driving. This cuts back on the time I have to get out and explore.
One of the casualties of this new setup is my abandoned photography. My commute is longer and busier, I work on a big-time college campus in a mid-sized city, and I just don’t have the time like I used to. It’s a bummer.
Part of me also feels like I’m moving on from urbexing, creatively. I want to do new things, and make different kinds of photographs.
Except when I take a new way into work, like I did last week. Instead of busy I-94 East, I ventured down US-12. It added 20-30 minutes to my drive. It was so worth it. For one, it felt like my old commute: moseying at a nice pace, lots of scenery to check out, and the fog helped make the landscape extra interesting.
For two, I noticed a few abandoned building opportunities (including my old haunts in the Irish Hills) – like this abandoned farm structure.
The itch still gets me when I see an abandoned property. It used to be a big part of who I was, creatively, and I’ve had to let some of that go. But it’s okay. I’ll try to make time for adventure when I have the time and inclination.
Imagine it: 180 miles of LPs, kids clothes, and missing-piece puzzles.
That’s the US-12 Yard Sale – a giant bargain bin stretching across southern Michigan.
We typically check out the local section, stretching from Clinton and Saline in the East to Allen (Antique Capital!) in the West. The tough part isn’t the driving – it’s the figuring out which yard/garage sale is worth stopping at.
This past year, I had no complaints: I picked up a Canonet in fantastic condition for $5 in Jonesville. Everything beyond that was gravy.
Caught this in an abandoned farm field, along Michigan’s stretch of US-12, before winter really hit in our area.
The sunset was lovely that night, just after Christmas, and there was lots of exploring to do. More on that later.
As a kid, my family often went to Stagecoach Stop and Prehistoric Forest, and played putt-putt and drove go karts at the little amusement parks. Even back then there was a level of hokeyness – but it didn’t matter. Those places were tons of fun.
In high school, my dad and step mom were married at Stagecoach Stop’s little chapel, and their reception was held in the old timey tavern.
Stagecoach was a bustling place back in the day. You could watch a gun fight in the town square, grab some ice cream, pet a goat in the petting zoo, and even stay overnight in the motel. There was a working lumber mill, and horse rides, and a drive-through haunted Halloween tour.
Now those places are overgrown and fading away.
Driving down US-12 now, and passing through the Irish Hills, it feels like a ghost town. It’s almost like a run-down part of town, with all the windows broken out and no one left to protect it. Eventually, I’m sure, these roadside attractions will be mowed down completely.
Maybe the dinosaurs at Prehistoric Forest will survive. But more and more each year that place gets eaten by vegetation.
So last fall I took a drive out there, seemingly back in time, to capture some of those attractions I remembered from childhood. Before they disappeared.
At Stagecoach, I ran into a couple that was hosting a garage sale of sorts on the property. Most of the area was closed off, but I asked if I could walk around to grab some photos, and they said “yes.”
The Irish Hills Fun Center, a general amusement park with putt-putt and go karts, was completely abandoned. The kart track was still in decent shape, but the rest of the property was fading fast.
Prehistoric Forest, the true goal of my trip last fall, has been known as a target for vandalism. With motion sensors and cameras guarding the place, it was risky to try to grab photos of the place. When I drove past, there was a utility truck and a man taking measurements, so I played it safe and drove on.
Word is that the place has been sold. Who knows what will happen to it.
It was weird to see a place that was so bustling turn into such a dead spot. I may take another drive out there this fall to see what’s changed – if anything.