We awoke to the sound of absolutely nothing; all that peace and quiet, we slept later than planned, “Up North” will do that to you. Today would be spent in the Jeep, enjoying another scenic ride. We made the decision to take a direct route up to the ring finger area of the mitten, also known as Sturgeon Bay, then enjoy the slow pace and picturesque views along the water coming back down; this was a good plan. Lakeshore Drive runs along Sturgeon Bay for miles, the length of it remote beach, finally ending in Wilderness State Park. Cars pull off and park roadside; swim suit wearing pedestrians carry beach bags and towels, looking for their own private stretch of beach. It was hot, the temperature near 90 when we left Traverse City, the warm sand squeaking as we walked, the water clean and clear. Finding a spot not too close to anybody else we laid our towels out on the soft sand and sat down; again finding ourselves staring out into the aquamarine lake. I find it a daunting task grasping for words to describe such a scene; remarkable, dazzling, and resplendent come to mind. Lake Michigan is a force, a living, breathing entity, it draws me in and takes me under its spell; no matter how many times I see it, I can never get enough. The drive ahead will provide us with marvelous views of both lake and land; M-119, the Tunnel of Trees.
Because of our late start, it was already lunch time; Cross Village was just ahead, it is one of the oldest settlements in Michigan, but what has really put it on the map, so to speak, is a unique restaurant, built high on a bluff overlooking the big lake, serving Polish Food for over 90 years; this my friends is Legs Inn. Referred to as an “architectural marvel”, the building is the hard work and dream of one Stanley Smolak, a Polish immigrant who created the furniture and structure from tree stumps, limbs, roots, driftwood and stones he found in the surrounding area. Cross the threshold and enter a fantasy land of nature tamed into whimsical usefulness and purpose; tables, chairs, ceiling timbers and benches, it is an incredible sight! This was our first visit ever where there wasn’t a line to be seated. The business has grown through the years and now includes manicured gardens and outdoor dining; it was a perfect August day, we headed straight for the patio. Tourists mill about on the lush green lawn, posing for photos by the different hand carved totem poles, perennial beds, and most popular, standing by the wall that overlooks the lake. Service was swift; before we knew it we were scooping up forkfuls of bigos, golabki, and dutifully dipping pierogi into cups of sour cream. Along with the combination plate we indulged in apple and cheese nalesniki; everything was outstanding. No time to linger, we have over 27 miles of fantastic, twisty, and winding road ahead!
At first glance the road appears to be a single lane, as a center line is non-existent; with a little give and take, it is accommodating to two-way traffic. Lining the roadway are mature trees giving you the feeling of driving through a forest; the largest ones actually meet over the road creating a tunnel. Adhering to the eastern shoreline, the pavement rewards us with awe-inspiring glimpses of Lake Michigan.
We find ourselves in Good Hart; a series of small businesses make up the miniscule town. We park roadside, the appeal of the Northern Crepes cart too much to resist; something sweet to follow up our lunch. We stretch our legs with a walk through Primitive Images, a splendid cabin circa 1840 that was moved from Quebec and rebuilt on this spot. Beautiful pieces of furniture made from Birch, Willow and Hickory twigs, etched glass pieces, and an antler chandelier are all browse worthy. In the back the Good Hart and Soul Tea Room resides; we purchased cold drinks then retreat back outdoors for a simple, delicious, butter, sugar and cinnamon crepe. A Studio is filled with more good things, catering specifically to women; scarves, T-shirts, shoes and jewelry, it’s all lovely. This charming little group of shops is totally unexpected and a fantastic find on a road that is a destination in itself.
A little further south we find ourselves in a tight horseshoe curve known as Devil’s Elbow, the corners of Kris’s mouth tilt up in a grin as he maneuvers the Jeep. Here and there it is possible to pull over and take in the surroundings; the alluring waterscape, picture perfect farms, and gorgeous countryside. We arrive in Harbor Springs, a well-known resort town that looks like it would be right at home on the east coast. We drive up to the top of the bluff; a residential area with grand old homes and enjoy the remarkable view of Little Traverse Bay. Cutting back through town the sidewalks are crowded with tourists; cars drive up and down the main street in search of parking; wedding guests meander toward the large white tent near the lake.
M-119 ends at Bayview, part of the Chautauqua movement, it was founded by a group of Methodists to be used as a retreat, it is sensational! There are said to be 440 cottages, most built in the high Victorian style. We parked by one of the community buildings and hit the pavement; you have to go on foot to see all of the amazing details. The array of colors make each cottage unique, many are surrounded by well-tended gardens; plan on spending at least an hour walking around. Now on US 31 we arrive in Petoskey; we ascend into the gaslight district with its wonderful view of the bay. Petoskey is the largest town on this coast, its quaint downtown area is made up of several blocks of shops, restaurants, hotels and cafes. If your sweet tooth is calling, there are plenty of places you can pick up some fudge or ice cream. A visit to American Spoon is a must; in addition to their vast selection of jams, jellies, sauces and salsa’s you can also indulge in Gelato or sorbet, yum!
And onward we go…..In Charlevoix we check out the whimsical homes built by Earl A Young; the largest concentration located along Park Avenue, Clinton and Grant Streets. Built entirely of stone with cedar shake roofs, they are known as fairy or mushroom houses; no two are alike. As we walk I am continually pointing and saying “make sure you get a picture of that” door, or window or chimney. I’d love to see the inside! Next we take a quick stroll through downtown; standing on a strip of land that separates Lake Michigan from Lake Charlevoix, the vista is awe-inspiring; there needs to be a word just for this! Throughout the entire day I have seen nothing but smiling faces; of course the ice cream and fudge may have something to do with that……When you visit this area the beauty gets right into your system; it soothes you. We planned the day as a drive, but each one of these attractive old-fashioned towns is worthy of a day spent roaming in and out of shops, a walk on the beach and a fabulous meal.
After a stop at the condo to freshen up for dinner we mosey back to Traverse City for dinner. Because of the film festival everything is staying open late, lucky for us because it almost 10 pm. We wanted something light; FireFly on Cass has a broad menu that includes sushi, just what we were looking for. The place was packed, but a table for two was easy to come by. After a wonderful meal we roamed around on foot, the streets still thick with festival-goers. We popped into Phil’s on Front for coffee and dessert, if you like chocolate be sure to stop in any time of day….We split a piece of the Northern Star, along with really good coffee and live music it was a relaxing way to end a perfect day.