My best friend from high school PJ lives in the Empire/Glen Arbor area and introduced me to it when we were teenagers in suburban Detroit, visiting her parents cottage on Lake Michigan in Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes. So a highlight of the trip is catching up with her and her family, which we did during a lovely afternoon at her beach gathering and cookout with about 15-20 people that stretched into the night, complete with swimming, Petosky stone hunting (no luck, as usual), grilled corn, brats and s’mores, stargazing in the dark, dark sky.
My visit also happened to coincide with the biennial Empire house tour benefiting the impressive contemporary Glen lake community library in Empire so PJ and I visited four homes in Empire and two perched on Glen Lake. Each was very unique and stunning, from a converted 1910 apple barn transformed into a 3-bedroom home to a 1912 arts & crafts bungalow, as well as an ultra modern site-specific architects’ home (“net-zero energy construction,” polished concrete floors inlaid with local beach sones, loft-style great room, native vegetation garden with non-native outdoor pizza oven) and lovely new-construction 12-year-old cottage (“scandi-modern meets cozy farm house”) in the charming sleepy village of Empire to a dramatic modern home tucked into a lakeside hill with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Glen lake (the deep blue cabinets echoing the lake) and a crazy sprawling 1927 log “cabin” also on the lake, in the woods, with origami wood floor, furniture and fixtures mixed with whimsical decor that reminded me of a Wes Anderson movie, complete with collections of peace sign sculptures, stiletto sandals, felt doughnuts hanging from the wood rafters in the sleeping loft, a portrait of Jimmy Hendrix mounted on the cut-stone floor to ceiling fireplace/hearth. I had a definite case of screened porch-envy after the tour.
All the homes had lovely paintings by well-known area artists, whose work PJ took me to see at three Glen arbor galleries including The Center Gallery, part of Lake Street Studios, which has a succession of one week summer shows of various local luminaries. The current show, of rural landscapes by Margo Burian, was almost all sold after just a few days. Other artists with the gallery, which focuses on local work reflecting the local landscape and culture of the sleeping Bear dunes region/Leelanau County include: Joan Richmond, Jessica Kovan, Amanda Ackerman. Other impressive galleries: Synchronicity and ArborGallery, where the saleswoman was a former art teacher at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, my kids’ alma mater.
We saw major Michigan celebrities on the Heritage trail in Glen Haven, Mi today — big burley young men in Michigan Wolverines shirts who turned out to be U of M football team players. Other mere mortal tourists watched them and tried to avoid being seen gawking. This was perhaps the most unexpected sight on the trail, which we rode for 20-some miles (round trip) from Glen Arbor to Empire.
It’s a really nice wide paved trail that winds mostly through the deep green woods (with the occasional white birch) but offers a few glimpses of Lake Michigan (at Glen Haven, which has some old historic buildings with big old boats on view and a hotel in the making) and Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes, past the Dune Climb, a wide steep mountain of sand that many tourists were huffing and puffing their way up and then running down, arms akimbo. The heritage trail is largely flat until just past the dune climb when it becomes hilly, often steeply so, much of the way to Empire.
Lunch was a sublime chocolate milkshake and Sour strawberry sorbet shared with dirck and newly available at the venerable GrocersDaughter chocolate shop. There’s also gelato and baked goods in a new building that opened last Saturday. Why bother with a mediocre sandwich when you can have a chocolate milkshake instead? It’s a little confusing figuring out where to get what. The gelato / bakery is in a separate new building, also including the milkshakes but the well-reviewed fudgesickles are sold at the original chocolate shop.
In Glen Arbor we rode about 10 miles north along another segment of the trail, this one on a road through the woods along Glen Lake but there were few cars. We got a few peeks through the woods to get a glimpse of big summer houses perched on the lake.
I should add too that in Glen arbor, Anderson IGA is now an upscale market with everything from local cherry jams to Dots pretzels. A branch of Lchaimdeli, based in Beulah, just opened. The bagels are good. And there’s a new store with well-chosen charcuterie fixins called Inn and Trail Gourmet. Old standby Cherry republic is good for meals and snacking on free samples of dried cherry everything. And Esch beach is a sandy swath of beach that kindly welcomes dogs. Our lab Millie plunged in, waves be damned, twice in what looked like an attempt to rescue dirck who did not need rescuing. But she didn’t plunge in when I was swimming. Hmmm….
A reader requested ideas on traveling by bus and trains to get from Chicago to Traverse City then to Mackinac Island and the Upper Peninsula, Michigan. I’m no expert but when I looked into the Chicago-Traverse City public transportation options a few years ago, renting a car seemed the best bet. A few other things:
– Remember the boat option, but again you’ll need that car. You can take a ferry (see ssbadger.com) from Manitowic, Wisconsin (about 1.5 hours north of Milwaukee) to Ludington Michigan shore but you’ll land almost two hours south of Traverse City.
– When we compared the ferry/boat vs. driving around Lake Michigan option, we stuck with driving because as I recall the ferry/boat was pricey and didn’t save much time.
– My dentist recently returned from a drive through the Upper Peninsula to Mackinac and then the Detroit area. She does NOT recommend the major road through the center of the UP. Apparently the view is limited to dense forest. She wished she’d taken a road hugging either coast, if there is a viable one.
– When in Mackinac, make sure to venture off the main drag of touristy shops (although you might want to get some Murdick’s fudge first) and wander up the hill to the Grand Hotel and to the wilder areas of the island to enjoy its natural beauty. You can rent bikes to explore. (see: http://bikemackinac.com/)
– Around Traverse City, don’t miss Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes National Park. We also enjoyed staying in Glen Arbor and visiting Empire, Michigan (go to the Friendly Tavern) and the Cherry Bowl Drive-in Movie Theater in Honor, Michigan.
A huge storm knocked out the internet access at our cottage on Big Glen Lake so I’m running behind in my blogging. Yesterday we took a very short hike at Empire Bluff for another spectacular view of the lakeshore and dunes, then checked out Esch road Beach – a relatively remote beach known for nude bathers (although we saw none.)
Later D and I rode our bikes from the cottage to Glen Arbor and then to Glen Haven which has a little maritime museum and a couple of old restored buildings, plus a lovely beach. We stopped at Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor for a drink and some free samples of dried cherries in various forms. Kitschy place but fun and generous spirit. Bumped into Ranger Ryan – who we’d gone on a bike tour with the day before – and he seemed a bit taken aback that we spotted him in civilian gear. Also stopped at Becky Thatcher’s Jewelry design which has gorgeous jewelry made with local stones – including Petoskey stones, which I failed to find on my own, and a pretty blue/green stone from Leland that I”m told is not technically a stone.
The huge storm rolled in around dinner time and fortunately we’d already decided NOT to cook out. We went to Art’s Tavern, the local hang out in Glen Arbor which was jammed packed but we managed to cram into a booth after a half hour wait and had the best cheeseburgers of our trip (they made mine rare!). More tomorrow. we’re safely in Chicago now although D is still searching for a parking spot.
Last time we tubed in Boulder Colorado it was terrifying and the water was freezing. This time, tubing in the Platte River near Honor, Mi, it was boring and the water was warm. I’d love something in between. We debated tubing vs. canoeing beforehand and the Platte River vs.Crystal River and ended up on a three hour very very slow float (it was supposed to be two hours) along a pretty narrow river that leads into Lake Michigan that was full of canoers, tubers, and kakakers. There was even one guy swimming or snorkeling, since he wore a face mask. Oh well. I do remember tubing on the Delaware River in Pennsylvania Years ago and it was a lot of fun – speedy but no sharp rocks and swirling gullies like in Boulder.
We had a picnic on windy Empire, Mi. beach – which also has a small inland lake South Bar Lake. We again chose Lake Michigan, where the beach was busier than north bar Lake but a sandy not rocky bottom and great waves and warm water. fun. Onto Laker Shakes, a gourmet market near Burdickville along Big Glen Lake that specializes in yes, milk shakes. I had some Hudsonville (michigan brand) double chocolate almond on a cone – the scoopers around here do not skimp on the scoops. This is the second ice cream stand we’ve visited in the area where the scoops are really more like three scoops. My mother would be pleased.
We had friends over for a cookout – very good homemade brats from IGA Anderson in Glen Arbor; fresh produce (tomatoes, corn, herbs, from a farm stand just north of Empire; smores at a fire we built with our neighbors on the beach. Nice.