Treman State Park, Ithaca Beer, Wagner Winery – Ithaca and Seneca Lake Finger Lakes

It was a veritable Cornell reunion on the trail hiking down spectacular Enfield Glen gorge from upper to Lower Treman Park in Ithaca. We kept bumping into my old college friends who were attending the same wedding we were later in the day. All of us up early to get in a hike. So Glad we did. Watkins Glen is lovely but I still think Treman’s gorges and waterfalls are more spectacular, with more water cascading down high rocky cliffs and barreling through channels cut into the rock, opening into deep pools of water before yet another waterfall. (We did the two-car trick where we parked Noah’s car at the bottom of the falls and ours at the top so we could walk one way, down the falls, hop into Noah’s car at the end and drive back up to pick up our car at the top. Saved time and exertion.)

Enfield gorge at Upper Treman

Next stop Ithaca Beer, conveniently located very close to Treman and our Airbnb on Route 13A/Floral avenue. It has a great outdoor eating area carved into farmland overlooking cornfields and a big vegetable garden. The beer and food was good too (fried chicken sandwich with a kick, grilled cheese). perfect still-pandemic dining.

Dan and Elizabeth’s wedding was held high above Seneca’s waters st the Wagner Winery on the east shore of the lake. Fortunately the weather completely cooperated with dry weather and a spectacular sunset. The guests were all bused out from Ithaca to the winery, which was very thoughtful of the hosts and saved us having to drive in the dark on winding country roads for 40 minutes at midnight. Good good, fun band, lots of dancing, great people and a lovely married couple.

Wedding sky
Perfect wedding overlooking Seneca Lake

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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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Salt Point Brewery, Purity Ice Cream, Coyglen Airbnb, Tompkins County International Airport – Ithaca, NY

Before we landed in Ithaca, I alerted Dirck that the airport was little more than a Quonset hut so imagine my surprise when it looked completely different. Still small but more like an airport. The rental car agent fillled me in that since my last visit 2 years ago the airport has been overhauled. And of course it’s the little things that impress me including a vending machine in the women’s bathroom with free tampons and sanitary pads. I’ve never seen that before. The world as it should be!

Coyglen Airbnb

We arrived on a crisp fall day and Ithaca never looked better, with the trees starting to turn red, yellow and orange, the sun shining intensely through fast moving clouds, making the pastures a dazzling green and Cayuga’s waters shimmer. I was instantly happy in this place that I have loved since my parents took me here as a child.

Our Airbnb (Coyglen) is as lovely as the photos. An upstairs apartment in a pretty old white farmhouse with a curving wrap around porch. It sits high atop a green pasture that looks out across the hills at a slit in the woods that is Buttermilk Falls. A sweet yellow lab not unlike ours came over to greet us as we sat near a weathered wooden barn in plastic Adirondack chairs, marveling at the view. We are just south of downtown off of 13A, near my other favorite state park, Treman.

The owner told us the house was part of a dairy farm and the gravel road that runs past the house and old weathered bar is Coyglen road and leads to Coyglen, a very rugged hike with no paved trail. Hikers get very wet but the scenery is worth it, I’m told.

Madigan Mint please

Dinner was in Lansing, at Salt Point Brewery where we met our friends whose wedding we are attending. Dear, dear Myra, my friend of 40 years who I haven’t seen in two years. She came rushing over with arms outstretched and I did the same. A long overdue hug and we were off to races, catching up, meeting members of the wedding party from Kansas City, Wichita and Des Moines (believe it or not.) This is the bride’s family. The groom, Myra’s son, is from Connecticut. They met as students at Cornell. Lovely people all and we had a great time, sitting outside on a lawn around the fire pit, with the lake in the distance, drinking beer and cider and eating very good pizza.

Dirck and I couldn’t resist stopping at Purity Ice cream, an old haunt downtown, which we passed on our way back to the Airbnb. Love this place!!

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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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Boot Hill Antiques, Dodge City Brewery, Boot Hill Distillery, Holiday Inn Express, The Long Branch Lagoon (Waterpark), Tacos Jalisco – Dodge City

We stayed smack dab in downtown Dodge City which gave us a whole new feel for a place we have visited dozens of times while staying nearby with family in the small unincorporated town of Wright, where my husband grew up. The occasion was sad, a belated memorial service for the family matriarch, who died last November shortly before her 97th birthday. But we offspring and in-laws, 33 people including 12 of 15 grandchildren (ages 25 to 39) and 5 great grandchildren, gathering from all over the country, were so happy to be together at long last to honor Evelyn (with masks on in the small country church during a memorial mass) and to catch up, Covid be damned.

Most people stayed at the new Holiday Inn Express, just south of the main drag, Wyatt Earp Blvd, and it was surprisingly contemporary, almost cool. But we opted to stay a five minute walk away in a cool old western bungalow near the Boot Hill museum, on an old red brick road. Great place, well-decorated in not too kitschy western decor, very comfortable beds and a great front porch with a table and old metal chairs where we ate breakfast looking down across the city, the sound of an occasional car rumbling by on the brick streets, a few people next door at the cool modern brewpub and up the hill at the distillery in a Spanish style brick building with a red tiled roof that used to be the city hall/police station..

Sadly Red Beard Coffee was closed, but we ate tacos at our favorite Mexican road house, Tacos Jalisco, which was as busy as ever with Hispanic and Anglo families. Good tacos (el pastor, carnitas, carne asada) and flan! We had a big family dinner at the venerable Cowtown Steakhouse.

I squeezed in a quick visit to Boot Hill antiques on the third floor of an old building downtown. Tons of great stuff packed into dozens of vendor’s stalls, lots of vintage tablecloths, Roseville pottery, old blue glass tumblers, turquoise jewelry, and that was just the stuff I liked in particular.

I wished we had brought our swim suits. The elaborate new waterpark looked very inviting although I’m not sure when we would have had time to visit. We had a little walk downtown on a very quiet Sunday, admiring some of the old buildings in fairly good shape and the beautiful old Spanish-style cathedral.

Sorghum in Western Kansas

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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

https://www.startribune.com/this-charming-lesser-known-summer-vacation-spot-is-a-michigan-classic/600091440/

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

BETSY RUBINER • SPECIAL TO THE STAR TRIBUNE

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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PepperHarrow for flowers, Middlebrook “agrihood”, Secret Admirer for Pimm’s Cup Winterset/Cumming/Des Moines

We have discovered some new delights in the Des Moines area. PepperHarrow Farm is a lovely private farm at the southern edge of Winterset, the charming town famous for its covered bridges. The farms sells beautiful albeit pricey bouquets at the Des Moines farmers market. But for the same price ($25) you can book a visit to the farm to cut your own, which we did, using a gift certificate D gave me back in the dead of winter. On a muggy August afternoon, we happily spent an hour or so in wandering through fields of dahlias, lisianthus , delphiniums, zinnias, and many other flowers I don’t know the names of. I came home with four arrangements worth, so happy.

En route we stopped briefly at Middlebrook, an aspiring “agrihood”/new development in Cumming, Iowa. There isn’t much there yet besides a pretty old farmhouse and a shed with some vegetables for sale (honor system.) Friday night festivities feature live music and food trucks, which sounds fun. The agrihood concept is intriguing- apparently it involves buying a lot and building and having space to grow things, with some community support.

Today, toward the end of a 26-mile bike ride to Easter Lake and back in DSM, we dropped in at a new cheerful bar downtown in an old (1900, if the date on the old tiled floor is accurate) brick building near the Polk County courthouse that used to be a bail bonds office. Now it’s Secret Admirer, a cute bar with a great back patio, serving beer, wine and specialty drinks, including Pimm’s Cup, one of the few drinks I love because it reminds me of my pals in England.

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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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