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Watkins Glen Gorge, Reisingers Apple Orchard, Lively Run Creamery, Finger Lakes Cider House, Hammondsport, Wagner Wineries — Exploring Seneca and Keuka Lakes (Finger Lakes)

I have always wanted to explore more of the Finger Lakes west of Cayuga Lake, which is my Go-to Lake and so we did on another spectacular Fall day. We drove on scenic backroads about 30 Miles west to Watkins Glen State ParK, an old favorite where we did the course hiking, stopping first at a great outfitters store Famous Brands, with a sale (I needed a warmer sweater, which I got for $13).

On we went to Reisingers Apple orchard where we got Snap Dragon apples, which I’d never heard over. Snap is the perfect word for this hard, crisp, sweet/tart, juicy apple concocted by Cornell. Next stop two maker outposts in the countryside near Interlaken on the west side of Cayuga Lake north of Trumanburg. Both a dream! At Lively Run Dairy and Creamery, we got a cheese sampler plate of the cheese made there, eight samples, four goat cheese, four cows milk cheese. A nice young guy, masked, explained what we were eating through a pandemic-friendly plexiglass barrier. We ended up buying several: The creamy goat cheese, the Blue Yonder and Finger Lakes Gold Reserve.

Next stop: Finger Lakes Cidery, a stylish place with lots of people (but not too many) where we had a half flight of ciders, sampling four. (Honeyoye was our favorite) and fantastic food – a killer grilled cheese sandwich with fresh greens, the best tomato soup I’ve ever tasted (not campbells), grilled cornbread with two flavors of fresh whipped butter (jalapeño, and we think strawberries from the farm.) We sat outside on the deck, with the farmland rolling out to the narrow finger of Cayuga lake and the wooded banks on the other side. Heaven. From there we drove over to the eastern shore of Seneca Lake and down along a scenic road high above the lake lined with wineries and cideries. amazing the number. Then onto Hammpondsport which turned out to be a sweet little village that reminded us of a summer lake town in Northern Michigan or Door County Wisconsin. Very quiet and peaceful with a pretty lakefront park and village green lined with a few antique shops.

The wedding of Dan and Elizabeth was spectacularly situated overlooking Seneca Lake at Wagner Winery, with a very dramatic sunset and the sun breaking through the clouds as the festivities began.


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Fall in Madison and Adair County (Iowa) – historic barn tour, Howell tree farm, fall crawl, flower cutting at PepperHarrow

Such a gorgeous fall Sunday in Central Iowa. We went down to Winterset in Madison County to cut flowers at the lovely PepperHarow Farm and realized midway that the annual Iowa Barn Tour was happening across Iowa so we drove west to two lovely old barns along gravel roads the first in Madison County, the second in neighboring Adair County.

if I’d know it was happening we would have visited more barns. I also found out, too late, that Madison County was having a “fall crawl” today, featuring 12 stops (farms, ag-venues, shops, state park) welcoming visitors to wander around (PepperHarrow was one of them, which explains why so many more people were there than during our first visit in July.) Even though we missed it I was glad to see this fall crawl happening since the farm crawl we enjoyed several times pre-Covid in Warren County south of Des Moines is no more. (So many things Covid has ended, livelihoods and pastimes as well as far too many lives).

the Iowa barn Tour in Madison County

We also stopped briefly at Howell Tree Farm en route to Winterset which was packed with families with children doing all kinds of fun pumpkin patch things. Our Two-year-old grandson would love it, including the merry go round where kids ride ponies.

Note to self: Return to the town of Earlham in mid-October when the cool upscale vintage store RJ Homes on the well preserved main drag are open. They are open one three-day weekend a month.

Inside the drying barn at Howell Farm near Winterset

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Parsons Chicken and fish – perfect pandemic dining in Chicago

We are still in Pandemic dining mode — eating outside — and Parsons Fried chicken completely fit the bill on a Saturday night in Chicago. We went to the new (l think) location in Andersonville early, around 6 pm and the place was still busy enough for a 45 minute wait but no problem. It was a lovely Summerish-fall night so we sat on benches on the huge patio and had some drinks before what turned out to be excellent very crispy and not greasy or undercooked fried chicken (hot wasn’t too hot and there was also not-hot). Excellent hush puppies too and apparently slushy alcohol drinks (which we didn’t know about at the time.) The place was also refreshingly affordable.

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Here’s my first travel story in 2 years, not quite post-pandemic sadly: In and around Beulah/Crystal Lake, Michigan

Near Beulah, Mich., Arcadia Dunes on Lake Michigan are a less-touristed alternative to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

This charming, lesser-known summer vacation spot is a Michigan classic

The Beulah area captures nostalgia for Michigan’s vacationland. 

By Betsy Rubiner Special to the Star Tribune

AUGUST 27, 2021 — 7:30AM


As I bicycled beside a shimmering lake in the northwest corner of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, I was looking for the perfect photo op to capture the “Up North” spirit I loved as a Michigan kid.

“Stop! This is it!” I called out to my husband and 29-year-old son early in our ride on the Betsie Valley Trail.

Humoring me, my guys duly stopped to pose beside a white birch tree set against a dazzling backdrop of lake, land and sky in many shades of blue: the water’s glassy turquoise, the opposite shore’s navy blue and the powder blue of a cloudless sky in late July.

Here was the Michigan of my lost youth, yet I’d never been to lovely Crystal Lake, the state’s ninth-largest inland lake (about 8 miles long and 2 ½ miles wide) but a pipsqueak compared with nearby Lake Michigan.

During our last summer trek here, we stayed 20 miles to the north, near the gateway to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, with its 35 miles of giant dunes. So in March, when I started planning a post-pandemic (or so I hoped) vacation with our far-flung adult kids and first grandchild, I looked for a vacation rental near Sleeping Bear.

My search landed us in a white lakefront cottage with an alluring wraparound enclosed porch in the village of Beulah. Dating to the 1930s or earlier, the four-bedroom cottage was worn and musty inside. Outside, it was perfect, with a glorious Crystal Lake view and a huge fenced-in yard for our dog and Frisbee flinging. We happily spent most of our week outside.

Beulah proved a fine base camp for revisiting the national lakeshore and discovering other dunes, trails, beaches and villages. With a year-round population of about 200 that swells during the summer, Beulah was also refreshingly low-key. Tourists played pickleball in the park, swam in the clear water beside the sandy public beach and fished from the public dock. There was the occasional Jet Ski, pontoon boat or speedboat pulling a water skier, but the lake was not overrun.

On the 2 ½-block main drag, we found the obligatory ice cream/fancy coffee shop and gem store selling jewelry made with Petoskey stones (a beloved local fossil), plus Five Shores Brewing, offering live music on Friday night, and L’Chayim Delicatessen, serving real-deal bagels and a mean pastrami sandwich.

Another bonus: Beulah is the midpoint of the 22-mile Betsie Valley Trail. We frequented the mostly flat 10-mile portion stretching to the town of Frankfort on Lake Michigan. First we rode west on newly resurfaced crushed limestone along Crystal Lake, past cottages with patches of caramel-colored sand dotted with beach chairs, kayaks, inflatable floats, volleyball nets and docks, to a small nature area where I found my photo op.

We proceeded to Frankfort on a smooth paved trail lined with hot pink sweet peas and other wildflowers, passing through sun-dappled woods and green fields near the squiggly Betsie River, which widens into a small lake. We stopped in unassuming Elberta (pop. about 165) for peach ice cream at the funky Conundrum Café and admired the Life Saving Station, a restored blue-trimmed 1887 building with a cupola once used to spot distressed ships on Lake Michigan. (It now hosts weddings.)

Around Beulah

Although we swam in Crystal Lake, we showered soon afterward to prevent swimmer’s itch, a rash caused by parasites carried by waterfowl and snails. More often we chose Lake Michigan, which has a less-itchy reputation. Sandy-bottomed Esch Beach was our favorite, followed by the bigger, busier beach in the pretty village of Empire. The Frankfort beach was a close third, located near another popular photo op, the Point Betsie Lighthouse, built in 1858.

While we enjoyed Sleeping Bear’s Dune Climb and Empire Bluffs Trail, we appreciated the relative solitude of the less-touristed Arcadia Dunes. At the C.S. Mott Nature Preserve, we hiked a mile through the woods to Mount Baldy Dune, where, from 126 feet, Lake Michigan looked like a vast ocean.

We ate most of our meals outside at the cottage on a wobbly picnic table, enjoying the local bounty — fresh corn, tomatoes and blueberries; whitefish (grilled, smoked or mushed into an addictive pâté) from Frankfort’s Port City Smokehouse; and farm-fresh brats and burgers from the Market Basket grocery store/farm stand in Beulah.

Peach pie from the Elberta Farmers Market was the group favorite, followed by cherry pie from the Cherry Hut in Beulah, an endearing 1922 mainstay where waitresses in crisp blouses and cherry-red skirts serve cherry pie à la mode, cherry floats and cherry hot fudge brownies.

One night we splurged on dinner at the Manitou, a local favorite with a North Woods supper club vibe. I’m glad I booked ahead. At 5:30 p.m. on a Monday, it was packed with families and older couples, perhaps drawn by early bird specials of Great Lakes whitefish and yellow perch.

With the region located along the Eastern Time Zone’s western edge, our days were long and full, followed by our main evening activity — lounging in plastic Adirondack chairs and watching the sun sink below the horizon, the sky over the lake ablaze with color.

Getting there

Beulah is a 650-mile drive east of the Twin Cities around Lake Michigan’s northern end. Drivers can also take the four-hour S.S. Badger car ferry from Manitowoc, Wis., to Ludington, Mich. Delta Air Lines offers one direct flight daily between Minneapolis and nearby Traverse City, Mich., from May to late September.

Betsy Rubiner, a Des Moines-based travel writer, writes the travel blog TakeBetsyWithYou.

Near Beulah, Mich., Arcadia Dunes on Lake Michigan are a less-touristed alternative to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.





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Betsie Valley Trail from Beulah to Frankfort, the Manitou (supper club) – Up North

We had another beautiful weather day, low 80s, a breeze, plenty of sunshine so we hopped on our bikes and hike the Betsie Valley Trail for a 10 mile ride from Beulah to Frankfort on mostly flat trail hugging the lake and then into the woods and back out again to Frankfort.

Dinner tonight was at The Manitou, a backwoods suppler club that was surprisingly busy at 5:30 pm (Linus dining time although there really is no great time to dine out with an 18-month-old…he kept his parents busy.) Most of us had fresh fish, whitefish, trout, perch, walleye. I never can remember one from he other but for the record I think I like whitefish and trout best, both are dry, not oily. We also had delicious whitefish dip and smoked whitefish at lunch from the Port City smokehouse in Frankfort.

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Dune climb at Sleeping Bear, Cherry Republic/Glen Arbor, esch beach – Northern Michigan

Climbing up an enormous sand dune is tiring. But the view from on high of Lake Michigan to the west and Glen Lake to the east of Sleeping Bear National Park is worth the exertion. On a Wednesday the park was also not overrun with other tourists, even if it’s high season.

We also dropped by Cherry Republic, sort of a station of the cross in northern Michigan, to get some dried cherries and cherry jam. In the afternoon we discovered Esch Beach, south of Empire which turned out to be a keeper: sandier bottom than Empire Beach, beautiful setting with a high dune to the north, dog-friendly.

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Elberta Farmers Market, Arcadia Dunes Mount Baldy trail — Up North (Michigan)

Elberta ‘s Farmers Market turned out to be about six tents pitched along the village’s small waterfront park and was full of great stuff, tomatoes, corn, green beans, blueberries, broccolini, peppers, peach pie, goat milk soap, I bought it all and there was a lot more including meats, tea blends, beeswax.

I checked out some of the shops along the main drag in Beulah because today was not a beach day…very windy and cloudy but it never rained and by 4 pm there was bright blue sky. The wind returned tonight but all in all I we were extremely lucky with the weather – and we missed 100 degree heat in Iowa. (It’s been in the 89s and sometimes 70s here.) we really like Beulah. It feel less touristy than other nearby towns (except Elberta) and more of a real community. There are a few cute shops, several stone/Crystal/gem stores. There was a street party tonight with live music but we were too busy to go.

later dirck and I ended up riding on the wonderful Betsy Valley Trail from Beulah to Elberta, across the water from Frankfort and a world apart, much more humble, low-key, hippie, so of course I preferred it. We stopped for homemade peach ice cream at the Conundrum Cafe, a funky place that appeared to be for sale. The other fun place is the Cabbage Shed, a bar and restaurant that has love music. next trip.

dirck, Millie and I went on a beautiful short hike in the woods at Arcadia Bluff to Mount baldy, a high dune with spectacular views of Lake Michigan and the coastal dirck noted, it felt like we were on Big Sur. Tonight we had another outdoor meal late in the evening after Linus went to bed and sat outside on plastic Adirondack chairs watching the sun set and the wind blowing and the waves crashing onto the shore.

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Lils on Crystal lake, betsie river trail, l’chaim deli (you read that right), cherry hut – Beulah, Mi

JUST FYI: (This post is from a week ago…Wordpress is acting up.)

I may be allergic to something in this ancient musty cottage (my throat got clogged last night) but beyond that, we are sitting pretty, on the shores of Crystal Lake, a short walk to the town beach and small downtown which does, in fact, have a surprisingly good Jewish deli.

Our temporary home base.

We do most things outside in our enormous fenced-in yard (good for Millie the dog) and the wraparound screened in-porch with an odd assortment of ancient chairs and 3 folding beds (I may try one tonight instead of sleeping in the low ceilinged upstairs bedroom, reached by a small set of steep narrow steps that Millie and I have trouble navigating.)

Birch trees and lake along Betsie Valley Trail

Noah, Dirck and I rode on the wonderfully scenic and flat, crushed gravel Betsie Valley Trail, all along the southern shore of Crystal Lake past cottages, most modest and old, some new and fancy, but this town feels refreshingly less posh than Harbor Springs or even Glen Arbor. The weather is perfect, sunny, 80s, with a breeze. We rode almost to Frankfort on the trail from Beulah and also rode a few miles the opposite direction into the woods on a rougher gravel trail.

Lunch was excellent deli fare at L’chaim Deli in small, unassuming downtown Beulah. Pastrami on rye, Rueben sandwich, a bagel sandwich with artichokes and peppered feta (the Jerusalem). There’s a few interesting little shops including an old head shop feeling place with lots of stones and jewelry with local stones, not only petosky stones but a green stone found in nearby Frankfort and a blue stone found in nearby Leland. I also learned about a quintessential Detroit stone, “Fordite” (the Detroit agate) so-called because it was made from old congealed paint from auto factories.

I swam In Crystal Lake, walking a half block to the public beach. Warm, shallow, sandy bottom and some risk of swimmers itch, same as 10 years ago, so I showered right after getting out and walking back here. Then off to Frankfort for a swim in Lake Michigan, also sandy, shallow for awhile, calm. We went over to the Point Betsie Lighthouse, a pretty old white brick tower attached to redbrick living quarters. I’m told the Betsie stems from a mispronunciation of a French word.

I bought cherry everything at the old-fashioned Cherry Hut a few minutes away. The waitresses wear white shirts with cherry red shirts that flare out at the waist. Excellent cherry pie, cherry preserves, dried cherries, cherry danish and at a produce shop next door I got real in-season cherries, a dark wine red. tonight we grilled fresh white fish from the famous Port City Smokehouse in the nearby bigger town of Frankfort. Michigan sweet corn is pretty good too!


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Farmhouse Deli in Douglas & lil’s on the Lake in Beulah: Up North, (Michigan)

We found a great place to stop for lunch en route to Crystal Lake in northern Michigan, a sophisticated little cafe called the Farmhouse in Douglas outside of saugatuck. Easy in, easy out, with a nice little area in the woods behind the bakery with picnic tables, perfect for dining with a dog on a leash. And very good sandwiches.

Frisbee by Crystal Lake

We had the mufaletta and turkey club and got a takeaway pasta casserole for dinner tonight that was delicious with corn, arugula, sausage, bacon, curly pasta and red sauces.

Nice evening settling into our funky old cottage in Beulah with an enormous screened-in wrap around porch, a huge yard for frisbee playing and picnic tables directly overlooking Crystal Lake. We sat outside in plastic Adirondack chairs and watched a spectacular sunset at 9 pm, the sky bright red and orange sinking into the water on the horizon.

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Welcome to the neighborhood (DSM) Black Cat Ice Cream

Great to see a line out the door onto Cottage Grove at Black Cat, the ice cream shop relocated from a window at a downtown bar to a funky old building in the Drake neighborhood. The ice cream is pricey ($5 for a dish) and not quite as good as our local favorites (Bauders on Ingersoll Ave in DSM and Outside Scoop in Ankeny and Indianola) but can’t beat the location (a healthy walk for us from our house) and great for th neighborhood. I enjoyed trying out the comfy new swing in a pocket park down the street.

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