Northern Lake Michigan

14 Jun

Continuing our journey along the east coast of Lake Michigan (western side of the State) we turned onto a small side road towards the tiny hamlet of Pierport. The road ends abruptly at the public beach which is no more than eighty feet wide and twenty feet to the waters edge. Each side of the public beach private residences have their own little piece of Michigan heaven, a private beach.

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We took the time to enjoy the view with our morning coffee and for a short while pretended we too had a private beach as no one else was there to share it with.

A scenic view point not too much further along gave us a birds eye view of the lake shore looking south,P1130569 after we had climbed the 124 steps to the top!

The journey is once more an important part of our  travels, we feel we have had some little while now where the scenery has been nice – but  lacking something,  we are finding that ‘something’ again in Michigan.

We had been told that Sleeping Bear National Park was a must to visit, it has two campgrounds, one with electricity and one without. We pulled into the Visitor Centre in Empire thinking we were still south of the campground with electricity, on enquiring of the Ranger, we had got it the wrong way around. She was unsure if they could accommodate our 36ft but quickly got on the phone to each campground. It transpired if we were to drive straight to D H Day Campground eight miles to our north they had one site which did have electricity and could possibly take us.

The allotted site was one used on occasion for volunteers and next door to the camp host (note: we must be on best behaviour here!) We fitted with ease and little manoeuvring, also, to our great pleasure the ground was firm and level. Discovering we had a 50amp power supply was a bonus, so for $17 a night, we checked in for two nights.

The lake is just a five minute walk away so once settled we had to go and make sure there was still water in it!

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Checking out our map of both the places we wanted to visit in the park and in the immediate vicinity we quickly decided we could base ourselves here, drive out and return to our nice level pad each evening. We booked two more nights next day before we took the loop road around the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.

P1130590 The road was created in the 1960’s by a  lumberman called Pierce Stocking who  wanted to share with others the beauty he saw in Lake Michigan and its surroundings. In 1967 the drive was opened to the public, and until he died in 1976 he ran ‘Sleeping Bear Dunes Park’. The name of the drive was changed to commemorate his contribution after being taken over by the National Park in 1977.

The twisty one way trail leads through forest to parking lots and overlooks providing views of both Glen Lakes and Lake Michigan. It also allows a view of the top of the part of the dunes where the young, energetic or plain foolhardy can climb. We were able to park to have our lunch at one of the overlooks and enjoyed the panoramic view. We also enjoyed a little people watching as a continuous flow came in, parked, walked to the overlook, took a picture, lingered a moment and departed. Once more we were able to appreciate having time to linger longer.

Other than the designated dune climb area the public are asked to keep to the maintained trails to avoid damaging the fragile dunes. Of course there are always some who like to do their own thing.

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The tiny dots at the right corner of this picture are a group of people attempting to climb back up having easily skittered down the steep waters edge dune

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Already struggling and only a tiny way back up the dune we did not stop to see how long it actually took them to get up or if they had to be rescued.

We completed our afternoon with a visit to the small town of Glen Arbor just 2 miles from the campground. A thriving community of small stores and business serve the local permanent residents as well as the seasonal and tourist trade. We did not get to see too many of the stores as The Yarn Shop, and its owner Mary along with her knitting friend gave me yet another opportunity to indulge in creative conversation! As well as selling yarns the store is a showcase for Mary’s talent to be able to produce attractive and colourful garments from simple yet stylish patterns, very inspirational.

The lake shores have many properties with a waterside location varying in size and grandeur,  our second tour took us north through Glen Arbor, onto the Leelanau Peninsula. Around 22 miles wide at the base the triangle of land ends at the State Park and the Leelanau Lighthouse.

Around eighteen miles from our campground we stopped at Leland. Despite the prediction of 50% chance of storms we were able to enjoy warm sunshine as we walked into the main part of town. The upper stretches of the river reminded us of the Norfolk Broads.

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Below the more modern buildings and alongside the lower portion of the river and the lake are the historic buildings of Fish Town. A retail area which has changed with the times over it many years evolving from a fish landing, cleaning and sales area to today’s cluster of mixed use premises. Thankfully one of them still sells lake caught fish, smoked in another of the small buildings, I bought some smoked and unsmoked whitefish, a new taste for me to try.

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A modern Yacht Club sits next to Fish Town, the upper town area contains restaurants and interesting shops selling local art, crafts and tourist items.

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From Leland we drove to Northport, a sharp contrast to the place we had just left. It also had a harbour area and small shops but was strangely quieter and lacked the certain something which makes you want to explore and linger a while. We did call in to a gem store who were selling the locally world famous Petoski stones, polished and crafted into jewellery pieces. Tiny pieces of coral fossil embedded in the stone give it a spotted pattern on its surface. We had been looking for examples when walking on the lake shore, I found a couple, I thought, and was interested to compare the real thing with what I had found. I am still not sure if I had the real thing or not, they look so different when polished.

From Northport the road to the lighthouse was marked on our map as a gravel road, we decided having come this far it would be a shame not to go right out to the point and view the lighthouse. We thought we could check out the road and see how rough it was. To our surprise and delight all the way to the very end we found a good paved road, so pulled into the State Park car park at just about 2pm. A short walk took us to the lighthouse and $4 each allowed us inside to view the keepers quarters which have been furnished in a 1920’s/30’s style. Many of the artefacts have been donated by the children of the last lighthouse keeper who were brought up here, including this magnificent stove which stood almost as tall as myself!

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We felt the quarters were very spacious, in comparison to those we saw on the west coast, quite grand. However when you consider eleven children and their parents shared three bedrooms, maybe not so spacious.

Robert enjoyed a video in one of the upper museum rooms which went into great detail about how the Fresnel lens came into being and the physics of its operation, I got lost very quickly and climbed the ladder, squeezing through a tiny hatchway to the tower to watch an approaching storm.P1130626

From my perch in the tiny tower of the lighthouse I could view the not so picturesque P1130631replacement for the third order Fresnel lens which used to fit into the place I was standing. Below me I could see the building which housed the fog horn and the garden which was once tended by the family. It probably supplied many items of fresh food for their daily requirements. Looking out to the lake the storm moved quickly and soon blotted out the small islands off shore, hiding from my view a tug pulling two barges southwards down the lake and eventually dropping torrential rain on the point keeping us captive in the lighthouse until it slowed a little.

As I stood watching I wondered what it would have been like in the late 1800’s for the keeper to stand in this spot, probably observing sailing boats passing by, hoping they would be guided by his light and able to weather the oncoming storm.

We drove south down the east side of the peninsula (Hwy 22) but did not stop at Suttons Bay due to the still falling rain and rumbling thunder. Crossing between the upper and lower portions of the Leelanau Lake via highway 204 to get us back to the west side. Despite the rain Robert was determined to stop at a small farm to purchase strawberries we had seen advertised on the roadside.

We have learned to accept that we cannot expect everything we would like from our campgrounds, while we have a great level site and electricity in the lovely Michigan lake/countryside, neither State or National Parks offer internet, however we had discovered that in Glen Arbor many of the local business offer free wi-fi and by sitting in the parking lot in the middle of them we picked up a signal allowing us to check the mail.

Back at the campground it seemed the 50% chance of storms was catching up with us as the evening grew darker and 2 hrs before dusk it was almost dark. Rumbles of thunder were followed by torrential rain which seemed to get ever heavier allowing huge puddles of water to accumulate around us and our neighbouring sites , it was well past 9 before it stopped just leaving the continual dripping of the trees to disturb a good nights sleep.

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2 Responses to “Northern Lake Michigan”

  1. Susan June 14, 2010 at 7:36 pm #

    Thats an absolutely beautiful part of Michigan- Charlevoix, Traverse City, and the Leelanau Peninsula are awesome too…
    Michigan has the most beautiful lakes!

    • elainethehill June 15, 2010 at 7:14 am #

      We enjoyed Glen Arbor, the small shops there are realy trying to keep the small town feeling and still be commercial and provide free wi-fi….

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