Michigan's Best Kept Secret..
Quick! ..Where is the tart-cherry capital of the United States?
[Que the Jeopardy music]
Well, stay tuned to find out the answer to this very pressing question!
After spending a week "tooling" around the Upper Peninsula, our travels took us down the western edge of the state. And it was here that we discovered Michigan's true beauty.
Everything along Michigan's western corridor --bordering Lake Michigan-- was incredibly BEAUTIFUL.
Small, friendly towns, lots of greenery, stately lighthouses, evening sunsets that painted the sky blazes of orange and yellow, nice beaches and crystal clear Great Lakes water. It was something out of a storybook. A visit we have long talked about and will not soon forget.
But let me backtrack a little bit..
After leaving Big Cedar Campground in the UP, we headed south to our next destination. One thing about this section of Michigan is they have lllooonngg, straight roads. But it was a pleasant drive with very little traffic.
A little over three hours later we arrived at our next stop: Honcho Rest Campground.
Addendum: We never leave a campground and wander aimlessly to our next destination. We have met many RVers that travel this way, but we like the security of knowing we have a site (with FHU) waiting for us. The thought of having to spend a night in a Walmart parking lot because every campground in the area was full, is NOT on our bucket list. Therefore, we always plan at least three or four stops ahead.
This campground was very nice and located right on Bass Lake.
We spent many enjoyable evenings watching the sunset from the dock.
Life is good!
Another nice thing about our campground was that it was located close to many small, quaint waterfront communities. We visited many during our seven day stay (the red stars), but let me highlight a few we enjoyed most:
A small water-front town with a lot of character. From its origin as a fur trading post, to a sawmill, then the move into pig-iron processing and the post-Depression transition into a lakeside retreat for locals and tourists alike, this close-knit town has a character as unique as its founding .
The town was having their Elk Rapids Harbor Days Festival while we were there.
Music, vendors, face painting, friends greeting friends etc..
I never get tired of attending such events. These small towns really are the backbone of America. Everybody is important to somebody in a small town. When today's news outlets only seem to highlight the deviants in our society, an experience like this is very refreshing and restores my faith in community.
This was another quaint waterfront community. Larger than Elk Rapids, but with the same flavor and more stores.
A fine jeweler and the Three Stooges!? What's not to love?
As we strolled the streets talking with shop owners and locals we found out that Traverse City is the largest producer of tart cherries in the United States! --Who knew!?-- The fertile soil of the surrounding countryside is also the center of wine production in the Midwest.
In 2009, TripAdvisor named Traverse City the number two small town travel destination in the United States and in 2012, the city was listed among the 10 best places to retire in the country by U.S. News & World Report.
Although the charm of this town was indeed appealing, the realization that last year's total snowfall was 102 inches (YIKES!) makes me question the judgement (and sanity) of the editors at U.S. News!
The town, situated between Lake Michigan and the western end of Lake Charlevoix, is named after Pierre Francois Xavier de Charlevoix, a French explorer, and Catholic priest, who traveled through out the Great Lakes and was said to have stayed nearby during a harsh storm.
The town is also home to "The Mushroom House". A home designed by Earl A. Young, architectural designer, realtor, and insurance agent. He designed 31 buildings in the Charlevoix area in his 52 year career.
What's even more unique about this is that Mr. Young was not a trained/licensed architect!
Here are a few random shots I took while there:
The town is bursting with quaint shops, natural beauty and abundant recreational activities (when not snowed in!). A must-see if traveling through this area.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore:
Okay, I saved the best for last. This was one of the coolest places we've visited to date.
The park covers a 35-mile-long (56 km) stretch of Lake Michigan's eastern coastline. It contains miles of sand beach and bluffs that tower 450’ above Lake Michigan!
Yeah, that's what a 450' sand dune looks like! And people walk down..
and then struggle back up..
Warning signs are everywhere. If you can't make it, the only way out is by helicopter along with a $3,000 fine!
Although we didn't climb to the bottom of Sleeping Bear, we did walk many of the "more moderate" trails in the park. For us, it was a uniquely magnificent sight.