Monday, September 19, 2011

Lake Michigan, Sleeping Bear Dunes, M-22

Dan and I are in Traverse City, Michigan, on another 24-hour date.  My parents are visiting, and agreed to stay with the children so that we could have this little adventure together.  We left yesterday (Sunday) at noon.  Dan wanted to take a road we had never been on before, so we did not take the fastest route.  Looking at the map, we could see that on our new route we would be pretty close to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and decided to make a little detour to see it.  I have wanted to visit this park for many years, so it was exciting to be headed there unexpectedly.  Our first stop was four hours from home, in Frankfort, Michigan.  As you approach Frankfort on the M-115, you get the first glimpse of Lake Michigan.  This view is framed by a large archway over the highway. 

We were planning to turn right from  M-115 onto M-22 North, but I really wanted to see the lake up close, so we continued down the street we were on (Forest Avenue) to a tiny culdesac (Sac Street) with beach access.  Parking the car, we walked out onto the white sugar sand.  The sky was blue and the sun was shining; the beach was almost empty--just a few couples scattered here and there on benches in the sand.  Dead ahead was a long cement walkway out into the lake with a lighthouse at the end of it.  Lake Michigan is so big it looks like the ocean.  There are even waves.  We walked out to the lighthouse, which is boarded up and smells like pee, and walked back.  There were two port-a-potties on the beach that were leaning at crazy angles down toward the sand.  Their doors were hard to open because the sand was blocking them.  Dan had to use one, and we were afraid it would topple over on him, but luckily it didn't.  The neighborhood we were parked in was so pretty:  Tree-lined streets of beautiful Victorian homes.  It seemed like a little paradise on the beach.

We got back on M-22 and headed north.  Part of the highway goes right along the banks of Crystal Lake, which is lined with vacation homes, many with their own little boat dock.  The lake is huge, and from the look of the tidy, well-kept homes, it is a place that people love to live or vacation.  The next intriguing-looking place we passed was the Platte River, a large river with boats docked along it and a few canoe-rental shops nearby.

We decided that instead of cutting straight over to Traverse City on the 72, we would wind our way toward it on the 22, which goes up the west side of the Leelanau Penninsula and down the east side of it to our final destination.  We continued north a few miles and then left the 22 for the 109, which would take us through the Park.

We followed signs for the National Lakeshore's Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, a 7.5 mile loop with amazing views of the dunes and the lake.  When we paid to enter the park, we received a map of the drive with explanations of each of the 12 markers along the road.  Pierce Stocking was an outdoorsman who wanted to make some of the beauties of Michigan accessible to people of all ages and ability levels.  He created this drive in the 1960s and after he died is was bought by and incorporated into the park.  We got out of the car and walked to the scenic overlooks at several of the stops.  The most amazing overlook to me was the one perched on a giant dune overlooking Lake Michigan.  There were signs all along the cement path leading to the dune warning people that if they walked down the dune to the lakeshore, it would be very difficult for them to get back up and if they couldn't do it on their own, they would be charged a rescue fee by the park.  I didn't really understand these signs until we were on the viewing deck and could see the entire dune.  It was super steep, almost a vertical drop about 400 feet down to the lake.  We could see people at the bottom walking along the beach; they looked like tiny ants.  The way back for them was straight up this giant tower of sand.  We heard one of the women on the deck explaining that her son is super competitive, and he does this walk every year.  This year he is 50 and he told her it was really hard to get back up.  After seeing what they were up against, I had no desire whatsoever to make my way down there.

The weather forecast for today was rain all day (yes, it is raining as I write this), so we felt very appreciative for the time at the lake with perfect sunny weather and blue skies.  We finished our scenic drive and got back on the 109, which took us through the abandoned lakeside logging village of Glen Haven, which is being restored as a historic site by the park.  We next drove through the cute little tourist town of Glen Arbor, full of fun restaurants, art galleries, and bed and breakfasts.  A stretch of the road went right along the lake, at a place called Good Harbor Bay, and we saw many beautiful homes between us and the beach.  We crossed the Leelanau Penninsula on the M-204 to Suttons Bay (another cute tourist town), and then drove south on the M-22 into Traverse City.  It took us awhile to find our hotel (I hadn't bothered to bring directions, phone number, or address with me)--we finally called my mom and she gave us the address.  It was on the highway we had been driving up and down (M-31), but it was a lot farther than we had gone, thinking that we would be leaving town and getting farther away from it.  After checking in, we drove back up the highway toward Suttons Bay to eat at the Apache Trout Grill, a restaurant we had passed on our way into town with a completely packed parking lot.  We were starving, and the food was great.  We had fried calamari, Asian shrimp tacos with plenty of cilantro, an avocado egg roll, fried whitefish with a parmesean topping and garlic aoli, a salad of field greens, pesto, a drizzle of balsamic syrup, and an entire round of breaded, deep-fried goat cheese.  And chocolate fudge cake for dessert.

After that we sort of stumbled to our car, stumbled to our room, and collapsed on our beds.  Dan watched some football and I fell asleep.

These 24-hour dates are so fun!!!!!  I suggested the first one to Chicago in July, and it was Dan's idea to do another one just two months later.  Our new plan is to do one every other month (odd months).  In November we are taking the kids down to Ohio to stay with friends, while we enjoy Cleveland (or maybe Pittsburgh) on our own.  In January we want to go back to Florida to celebrate our anniversary and my birthday.  In March we might try something really close to home, like Toledo.  In May we are going to Norway for a week for Dan's 40th birthday.  We were figuring out last night that if we don't go on any dates between these 24-hour dates, all the money we will save on weekly babysitting, dinners, and movies, will make these longer dates a bargain.  We're saving money, really, we are.  We have something to look forward to all the time now.  It has been a huge boost to our marriage and our lives in general.


Suzanne said...

Alane did that for Matt and me a while back. It was heaven. I think of those dates with real longing. Yours sounded great! Keep it up. Hopefully, soon I'll have a story to share too.

LL said...

Sounds like heaven! I can't wait to hear about the next one!!

HW said...

You're writing again! I love it when you do that. And I'm so glad you and Dan got away together. What a fun trip!