Friday, August 31, 2012

A Vegan Vacation Weekend to Traverse City

IMG_1739 ranked Traverse City, MI as it’s #1 Foodie City in the U.S. and it’s not hard to see why.  While the farmland around my home state of Illinois only seems to have vast “Big Ag” corporate farms churning out tons of government-subsidized corn and soy, the farmland in the rolling hills of northwest Michigan contains a delightful mix of small family farms, fruit orchards, and vineyards—all producing a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and wines.

When I last visited in 2010, my brother took us to meet a ski buddy friend who happened to run his family’s cherry orchard on the Leelanau peninsula during the non-winter months. Cherries are the region’s biggest crop and Traverse City hosts a great Cherry Festival each June.

But on this visit, as a recently-converted vegan, I was most looking forward to the Saturday morning farmers’ market.  The markets in suburban Chicago had been a huge disappointment for me this summer—more vendors selling candles, flowers, and dog treats, than actual farmers selling heirloom and organic fruits and vegetables!

The farmers market in Traverse City was overflowing with fresh and beautiful produce.  Not quite as big as the massive Madison, WI market, but excellent quality offerings and lots of variety.


I wished I could buy it all, but had to be carefully choosy to ensure it would all fit in my RV fridge.  Here’s the bounty I ended up selecting – everything was delicious!


Traverse City has some wonderful “farm-to-table” restaurants and wineries, but I decided on this trip to eat my fresh produce and spend more time out and about.

There were plenty of sailboats out in Traverse Bay on this warm and sunny day:


The little downtown area of Traverse City is also delightful—I love the little canal that flows behind Front Street:


And Front Street itself was drawing quite a crowd of shoppers, diners, and even a small happy group of Occupy protestors!  My kinda town!


The great summer music camp, Interlochen, was less than 10 miles from my campground, so I decided to attend a free faculty chamber music concert.  The campus is located in a pine forest and they’ve tried to maintain as many trees as possible


Wish I could have recorded the concert, as each of the pieces were wonderful, but pretty rare 20th century chamber works.  A delightful evening.

The next afternoon, Millie and I took a drive around the Leelanau peninsula exploring the small farms:


We ended up at one of Millie’s favorite dog swimming beaches at Glen Haven in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  She managed to pace herself and swim for a full hour, and was one very happy (and tired) dog!


In 2010, we stayed at the state park right in town.  Convenient, but ridiculously tiny sites, overly-crowded, noisy, and smoky from all the campfires in such close proximity to each other.  It was also rather expensive by the time we paid for daily vehicle entrance passes for both cars (on top of the nightly camp fee).  So this time around, arriving for a warm summer weekend with no advance reservations, I now knew of a better place to go—the Northwestern Michigan Fairgrounds!


Only $20/night and just 5 other campers in the whole place!  Fairground RV parks are a great alternative to kid-packed, overpriced commercial campgrounds (and state parks too!) during busy “high-season” weekends.  Nice monthly rates (and 4G cell service) here too, so I may very well spend a month here in a summer to come—Traverse City has got everything a vegan tech worker and her dog could ever want!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

From the U.P. to the L.P.

Crossing the Straits of Mackinac

It’s amazing to think that the Mackinac Bridge, the 3rd largest suspension bridge in the world, has only been around for 55 years.  Prior to that, travelers going between the Upper Peninsula and the Lower Peninsula of Michigan had to portage across the 5-mile straits of Mackinac via ferry.

On a warm, sunny summer day, crossing this bridge is a carefree diversion.  Certainly being 200 feet above the cold waters of Lakes Michigan and Huron gets one’s attention, but usually in a pleasant way.

Try this crossing again on a windy, stormy day (or worse, in the dead of winter with snow and ice), and you begin to truly appreciate the engineering and human fortitude that was finally able to get this bridge built! 

I knew this was going to be a rain day when I prepared to leave Munising.  The morning had a few breaks (when I was able to get Millie out for a walk and do most of my outside departure tasks getting the View and Tracker ready to roll). By the time I pulled into the dump station, though, it started to rain again.  “No worries, that will just eliminate the need to hose everything down afterwards!”

By the time I progressed out of the campground and into town to fill up with diesel, it was now pouring buckets of rain.  Sure is nice to travel in a motorhome in these situations!  After filling up, I easily changed out of my wet pants and shoes, hung them in the shower, and put on some dry clothes!

I stopped into Muldoon’s for one last Veggie Pasty for lunch (gosh, those things were good!), and finally hit the road to make my way south and east across the U.P. to the Mackinac bridge.  About mid-way was the pretty and peaceful Seney National Wildlife Refuge.  I had spotted a couple sandhill cranes earlier in the drive (and the day before up near Grand Marais)  and thought I might see more along the refuge’s nature drive.

After getting the Tracker un-hitched, I was on the nature drive less than 10 minutes before the rains started again.  So, other than a few swans, one heron, and a bunch of Canada geese, that’s about all I got to see on this visit.  It still is a delightful place (and free admission too!).


As we made our way down to the U.P.’s southern coast along Lake Michigan, the torrential rains continued!  I pulled into a rest area to check availability of campgrounds in St. Ignace (the small town on the U.P. side of the bridge), thinking that I should hold off on crossing until the next morning when it’d be clear.

But just as we rolled into St. Ignace, the rains subsided briefly.  Since I really just wanted to park overnight (and not have to unhook the toad again), I decided to make a run for it and cross the bridge now to continue on down to Petoskey.

It was raining as we pulled into the free overnight RV lot at the Odawa Casino, and I again was so thankful to have my View where I could just turn the engine off, put my little slide out, and be ready for the night without having to get out into the elements!

The next morning was dry and a bit colder, but also with very gusty winds.  I now was REALLY glad I had decided to cross the bridge the night before!  Millie and I found a nice rest stop on the shores of Lake Michigan just south of Petoskey where we stopped for lunch and a little walk along the shoreline.


The short drive from Petoskey to Traverse City was delightful, as always.  A mix of great water views of Lake Michigan and other inland lakes, as well as rolling farmland and orchards, with numerous roadside fruit stands along the way.  No better place for a vegan to be!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Cruising Lake Superior

Superior Cruise

After 4 days of delightful rest at Imp Lake, I was eager to be a vacation tourist for a couple of days.  One of my favorite U.P. towns is Munising, home of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on Lake Superior.  I had visited Munising as recently as 2 years ago, but one thing I had never done is take the boat cruise to actually see the pictured rocks. 

After reading Technomadia’s rather sour post of their recent visit, though, I wasn’t sure if the cruise and re-visit to Munising would be worth the effort.   Fortunately, I knew enough to only reserve a spot at the excellent Munising Tourist Park (where I had stayed before right on the shores of Lake Superior), so that got my visit kicked off on a positive note.  Our site wasn’t directly on the waterfront, but we could see and walk to it quite easily.


I then was able to easily make my boat tour reservation online with Pictured Rocks Cruises, and rather than do the sunset cruise, decided on the one just before it that went a bit further up the coast to Spray Falls.


This was our tour boat, the Grand Portal.  I lucked out with a seat on the back bench of the upper deck on the right hand side (absolutely perfect for photo-taking).  Unlike Cherie’s experience, I must have had a different narrator because he was delightful, informative, and never too chatty.  One of the fascinating stories he told was how they got this 65-foot ship from Biloxi, MS (where it was built) all the way up to Munising.  Answer? Via various rivers up through Tennessee, Kentucky, and Illinois up to Chicago.  From there, it cruised up Lake Michigan, past Mackinac Island into Lake Huron, around the bend to the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie and finally into Lake Superior.  Wow!

The cruise lasted 3 hours, and while some of the shoreline seemed as I expected it to look— sandstone cliffs:

Rock arches:


and interesting trees growing from the rocks:


I really was surprised with the “colored” rocks formed by iron and mineral deposits over millions of years.  Simply beautiful!


I also was fascinated with the birds making their homes on the rocks:


At the middle of the 3 hour cruise, the boat pulled into this very tall, narrow “canyon” cove—can’t imagine them doing this when Superior’s northern winds are blowing bigger waves!


The highlight of the tour was seeing Spray Falls which cascade over the cliffs into Lake Superior from Spray creek.  The flow wasn’t too bad considering it was August and the Midwest suffered a major drought this summer.  It must be really impressive in the springtime when snows are melting!


The trip back to Munising was quiet and relaxing.  It also started to cloud up, so I was very glad, indeed, that I had chosen the earlier tour as the sunset tour would be gloomy that night. 


Our final stop was this old wooden lighthouse on Grand Island before heading back to port.

All in all, it was well worth the $35 and a very convenient and affordable way to see the Pictured Rocks!

Lynne's Camera Bag

Best RVing Stuff Under $50

Join Us On Facebook