Sunday, September 21, 2008

Follow the Lights … Days 7 & 8

Well, our vacation is now over, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do one last blog for everyone to enjoy. First of all, the trip was AMAZING!! We had the best time up in Northern Michigan. They say it’s God’s country up there, and I’m beginning to believe it. We must start off by thanking my parents and Dannie’s parents for watching the girls ALL WEEK LONG!!! That was quite an ordeal, but I think (in the long run) the grandparents and the girls both had tons of fun. We thought we would use this last blog to share our favorite things with you all.

First of all, the specifics about the trip:
Total lights seen (both lighthouses and range lights): 38
Total towers climbed: 6
Total miles driven: 1855.3
Total pounds gained: HA!! (no calories when on vacation, right??)

We’d like to start out by sharing a story we read about the origin of the Sleeping Bear Dunes (which we visited on Day 4). The dunes lie on the Michigan side of Lake Michigan, and over look two islands (South Manitou Island and North Manitou Island). It’s said that long ago, along the Wisconsin shoreline, a momma bear and her two cubs were driven into Lake Michigan by a raging forest fire. The bears swam for many hours, be eventually the cubs tired and lagged behind. Mother bear reached the shore and climbed to the top of a high bluff to watch and wait for her cubs. Too tired to continue, the cubs drowned within sight of the shore. The Great Spirit Manitou created two islands to mark the spot where the cubs disappeared and then created a solitary dune to represent the faithful mother bear. The dunes got its name because supposedly, from the air it used to look like a sleeping bear.

By the way, for those who are wondering, I DID GET MY T-SHIRT!!!! Here's a pic:

We’d also like to share the most popular quote from our trip … “THIS IS A LAKE”. It was sometimes used as a question, and sometimes used as a statement. We couldn’t believe, because of the size, and water color of both Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, that they weren’t oceans. We kept looking out expecting to see dolphins jumping!!!

We visited small town after small town on the way to/from the lights. The drives were beautiful and even breathtaking at times. From the coastlines to tree-lined roads, we enjoyed just about every mile we drove. One minute you felt like you were in the mountains, and the next minute you were driving down the coastline of the ocean, err I mean lake. We ate delicious sandwiches, fudge, pizza, fresh fruit, and of course tasted wine!! Thanks again to Margo her sister Marcia for some local delicious suggestions within Traverse City.

Dannie’s favorite saying was “Can you imagine?!?!” She loved being “transformed” back to the time when the lighthouse keepers lived. She said it was very humbling to see the way they lived and to think of all the modern conveniences we have today but take for granted. Then we saw a couple old schoolhouses and we learned that ONE teacher would teach grades kindergarten through 8th…all in one room. The grades each took turns going to the front of the classroom to get their lesson while the others sat in the back near a wood burning stove to do their assignment until it was their turn to be taught. Today, we stress so much over education and which school is best for our kids…we are lucky to even have the choices that we do!!

Oh, and in case you wondered, here’s a picture of our condo:

And last-but-not-least, the Lighthouse of the Trip!!! Dannie’s favorite would have to be Big Sable Lighthouse on the eastern coast of Lake Michigan. She says that the entire experience made it special. The hike to the light (in the wind and rain) was one element that made it special. Talking with the volunteer keepers, climbing the tower, the beautiful views it gave us, and being able to tour the rest of the keeper’s quarters make it the most special for her. Not to mention the pure beauty of the light itself. I, personally, would have to agree with her. We’ve never had such an “ordeal” in getting to a lighthouse. Plus, the one-on-one attention the volunteer keepers gave us was special to me. We were the only ones there that day, and we had so much fun talking with them, and seeing parts of the dwelling that most of the public will never see.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these blogs as much as we’ve enjoyed writing them for you. We sure do miss our girls, and can’t wait to wrap our arms around them. Good night from Michigan!!!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Follow the Lights ... Day 6

Starting Tripometer Reading: 1137.8
Ending Tripometer Reading: 1553.9
Lighthouses Viewed: 8

Well, Day 6 wasn't as long or as bad as we thought it might have been. We did head east to the north-western coast of Lake Huron, and worked our way south. We saw 8 more lights (6 light houses, and 2 range lights), climbed two more towers, and continued to eat our way around Michigan!! We even ended up seeing two couples at the first lighthouse that we had seen on our lighthouse cruise yesterday. The picture below was taken 113 feet high on the catwalk of the New Presque Isle lighthouse. It happens to be the same height as one we climbed the second day (the one we hiked to in the wind and rain), but we couldn't go out onto the catwalk that day because of the windy conditions. And yes, I have my Red Sox hoodie on AGAIN ... it was the warmest thing I brought!!!

Here's another view from the top (DON'T LOOK WILLIE!!!!)

After visiting the above lighthouse, and the other three lights in the immediate area, we decided to grab another sandwich at a local hole-in-the-wall deli. I ordered my sub, and as the lady went to make it, we said "wait, she [Dannie] would like one too". She seemed surprised, and we didn't know why. However, when they brought the subs out, we understood why she had that look. We couldn't believe the size of these sandwiches!!!! Needless to say, they were delicious (at least the parts we ate of them).

After visiting the last light, we headed back to Traverse City, and had delicious pizza from the Bay View Bar & Grill (recommended by Margo and her sister, Marcia). As for the Lighthouse of the Day, we need your help. We couldn't decide a winner, so it's up to you. Here are three of the best lighthouses from the day. Be sure to post a comment as to which one you like best??

1) Forty Mile Point:

2) New Presque Isle:

3) Tawas Point:

That last lighthouse (Tawas Point) might be the last one we see on this trip. Tomorrow is going to be a real easy day for us. We're going to sleep in, do a little more shopping in downtown, pack (ugh), and get ready for the return trip. There's a chance we might get to see some lights around Detroit before we head to the airport on Saturday afternoon ... yup, you guessed it ... you'll have to check back to see if we do or not!!

Follow the Lights ... Day 5

Starting Tripometer Reading: 873.0
Ending Tripometer Reading: 1137.8
Lighthouses Viewed: 14

Although Day 5 was a VERY LONG DAY, it was one of the best days we've had so far. As you can see from above, we saw plenty of lighthouses today (although some were distant views). We started out heading up towards Mackinac Point lighthouse (pictured below) with every intention of crossing the bridge, and heading up into the Upper Peninsula ... the U.P. Along the way, we stopped off to see the Charlevoix lighthouse, and the Petosky light.

After touring, and climbing, the Mackinac Point light, we made a sudden decision to take a lighthouse ferry tour, instead of heading north into the U.P. It was the very last trip of the season for the ferry company, and it was leaving in just two hours. We thought it was fate that we were there on a Wednesday, since it only ran one day a week during the off-season. In order to kill those two hours, we headed down to Cheboygan to catch four more lights. Before we left, we grabbed some delicious sandwiches to go from a local pizza place, and ended up talking to the owners for almost 20 minutes!!! Man, I love small-town America. On the way to Cheybogan, we surpassed the 1,000 mile mark on our trip. The rental car company must love people like us!! We returned in plenty of time to catch the ferry, and were able to take some great pictures of off-shore lights, the Mackinac Bridge, and even a passing freighter.

After returning to shore, we did a little more shopping, had dinner, and the started the return trip to the condo. Along the way, we were luckily enough to catch up with some family friends that have known my parents for many, many years. They live up in Michigan for 4.5 months, and then return to FLA for the rest of the year.

The lighthouse of the Day would have to be the White Shoal Light. This light is located 20 miles west of the Mackinac Bridge in the middle of the Mackinac Straights. The 121-foot light marks a hazardous area in this part of Lake Michigan. The light was built in 1910 to replace Lightship No. 56 that had marked the shoal since 1891. Lightship No. 56 was one of the first three lightship stations in Great Lakes. The nearby Waugoshance Shoal Light (which we also saw) was abandoned in 1912 after White Shoal Light became operational.

Tomorrow is our last day of lighthouse viewing since we decided we needed Friday to just relax, pack, and tour around Traverse City a little more. We have another long day ahead of us, but hopefully it won't be as long as today. We'll be heading east to visit approximately 7 more lights on the west coast of Lake Huron. Good night.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Follow the Lights ... Day 4

Starting Tripometer Reading: 726.1
Ending Tripometer Reading: 873.0
Lighthouses Viewed: 3

Day 4 was another truly BEAUTIFUL day with simply GORGEOUS weather!! We started out heading north on the Leelanau Peninsula towards the Grand Traverse Lighthouse. Since this was the only lighthouse we truly visited today, it easily won the Lighthouse of the Day title for Day 4. We actually "saw" three different lighthouses today, but two of them were very distant views. We did get a couple of descent zoomed-in pictures, but not good enough to share.

On our way back from the light, we saw another winery, and just couldn't pass it up. So, we took a few minutes and tried a few wines from the Gill's Pier Winery. My favorite was the Apple Wine (probably understandable to most of you since I prefer apple ciders)!! We then made our way to the Sleeping Bear Dunes, but only walked up about half way. We were told it was about a 1.5 mile hike, uphill and through the sand in order to see Lake Michigan. We decided it wasn't worth it, and we're glad we did. As we were leaving, we saw a sign for The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. This was a 7.4 mile self-guided auto tour that provided insight to the history of the area, a sampling of the vegetative communities found within the park and, best of all, spectacular overlooks of the Glen Lakes, the Sleeping Bear Dunes and Lake Michigan. Here are a couple of pictures from one place we found overlooking Lake Michigan (450 feet above the lake).

We then came back to the condo, enjoyed a glass (or two) of local wine, and the watched the sunset. We then made the decision to grab a bite to eat, and decided upon the local burger joint called Don's Drive In. We had a delicious hamburger, and chased it down with an amazing chocolate milkshake. And yes, the diet starts again on Monday ... HA!!

Okay, now for the moment you are all waiting for ... the lighthouse of the day. Again, we technically saw three lighthouses, but the two Manitou lights were so far away, that the winner had to be the Grand Traverse Lighthouse. Here's a picture of it:

No, that's not a real picture of it ... that's actually a reproduction of the lighthouse made entirely out of LEGO bricks (I know GrantBob will enjoy this). Below is a real picture of the picturesque lighthouse. The present Grand Traverse Lighthouse was built in 1858, replacing a deteriorating tower that had stood only since 1852. A fog signal building was added to the station in 1899.
Deactivated in 1972, the lighthouse was replaced by a light atop a metal tower. The light is located at the northern tip of the Leelanau Peninsula, marking the entrance to Grand Traverse Bay from Lake Michigan

Tomorrow is going to be a longer day for us, and we're not sure how many lights we're going to see. We are currently planning on heading up to Mackinac Point which is about a two hour drive from where we are staying. We know there are a couple of land based lights we can see, and many off-shore that we might or might not be able to see. I guess you'll have to check back and see for yourself which one we saw!!

Follow the Lights ... Day 3

Starting Tripometer Reading: 549.4
Ending Tripometer Reading: 726.1
Lighthouses Viewed: 3

Day 3 was a GREAT DAY all around. The weather was almost perfect (sunny, breezy, but slightly on the cold side - at least according to Dannie). The day started out at the Old Mission Lighthouse (pictured below). This particular lighthouse was not only pretty, but sits on the 45th Parallel. The 45th parallel is exactly halfway between the North Pole and the equator. Bet you didn't know that!!

The next stop of the day was at Chateau Chantal Vineyards. We sampled several of their best wines and bought one for us to enjoy out on the deck of our condo. They have over 66 acres of grapes, and grow 10 different varieties. Dannie enjoyed the table variety grape the best - see for yourself!! I tried to get her to stomp on it and make some of her own wine, but she decided to eat it instead. We then headed to the downtown area and walked around and did some shopping (mostly window shopping). We found out that Traverse City is the cherry capital of the world, so we sampled many cherry products including cherry salsa, cherry wine, and cherry jam. We just might have to bring some home with us.

The day ended at Turtle Creek Casino. It is a brand new casino that opened just three months ago and is only 7 miles from our condo. After stuffing ourselves on their buffet, we decided to try our luck on the $5.00 blackjack tables. Dannie tried her hand at craps as well. Together we walked out of there winners of about $125!! Woo Hoo ... that's plenty of money for souvenirs!!!

The lighthouse of the day would have to be the Point Betsie Lighthouse down in Frankfort, Michigan. The cylindrical tower with attached dwelling was built on the point in 1858. In 1891, the fog signal building was added, making necessary an additional keeper at the station. The dwelling was thus enlarged to accommodate two keepers. This was also the last manned lighthouse on mainland Michigan.

Tomorrow is probably going to be another "easy" day for us since we were up late trying to gamble our kid's college fund away!! I think we are planning on visiting only one lighthouse, as well as the Sleeping Bear Dunes. That's a cool name - I just might have to get a T-shirt from there!!!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Follow the Lights ... Day 2

Starting Tripometer Reading: 279.3
Ending Tripometer Reading: 549.4
Lighthouses Viewed: 6
Our second day was just as rainy, but ended up being a very good day. It appears that we have spent the last two days in the remnants of Hurricane Ike. They say it's supposed to clear up by tomorrow afternoon, and we should have a sunny week!! One of the prettier lighthouses that we saw today was the White River Lighthouse (seen here):

We actually got to climb this particular lighthouse, although it wasn't very high. It is actually surprising that we were able to make it to any of the lighthouses over the past two days. It seems that each time we tried to follow the GPS system, we saw the following signs:

We got so frustrated at seeing those stupid signs, that I just had to take a picture. Okay, now on to the light of the day. Dannie and I picked the Big Sable Lighthouse (pronounced \sa-bul\). Although it might not have been the most beautiful lighthouse, the story behind it makes it special.

We arrived at the State Park in pouring rain (yeah, I know, hard to believe, huh). We were told we had to walk to the lighthouse, and it was a 1.8 mile hike over packed sand each way. We thought about it, and when Dannie looked at me and said "You up for an adventure??", we paid our admission fee, put on our rain jackets, and off we trekked. We arrived at the lighthouse cold and half soaked (the rain was only blowing in our faces, so only our front halves were wet). We spent over 1.5 hours at the lighthouse touring the facilities, climbing the tower, and touring the lightkeeper's house. The two volunteers were so friendly, they took us upstairs to an area of the house that is usually off limits to the public. They also allowed me to walk out on the catwalk, even though the wind was howling around (Dannie was a little too scared, cold, and wet to step out on the catwalk). Here is a picture of the wet trail that we hiked down to get to the lighthouse grounds; taken from the top of the tower.

Tomorrow is another day, and we're not quite sure how we're going to spend it. We might spend the day around Traverse City, we might take in some local lights, or we just might not do anything at all!!! I guess you'll have to check back tomorrow to see for yourself.

PS at 10:30 at night, Dannie is STILL COLD!!!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Follow The Lights ... Day 1

Starting Tripometer Reading: 000.0
Ending Tripometer Reading: 279.3
Lighthouses Viewed: 4

Today was a GREAT DAY to start our week-long vacation. The only problem was the rain ... and there was a LOT OF IT!! This first picture is perfect proof of that (I promise there is a lighthouse out there behind that blanket of rain)!!

I took that picture in the middle of a monsoon (just ask Dannie). I stepped out, got soaking wet, and within two minutes the umbrella was destroyed!! Not just inverted, but literally cut in half. Here, see for yourself. What's even funnier is that five minutes later, the rained stopped, and I was able to take a perfect picture!!

Well, my favorite lighthouse for the 1st day would have to be the Grand Haven Lighthouses. Luckily the rain cleared up before we arrived. The two lights are connected to each other, and to the shore, by a long catwalk. The larger light is a 51-foot steel sided near-cylindrical tower that has been painted fire engine red. Its companion light is a square building, also painted red, and houses not only a light, but a fog horn to assist mariners who are in the vicinity.

Tonight we're in Muskegon, and tomorrow we continue heading north to Traverse City stopping at numerous lights along the way. When I get back, be sure to ask me about the Tornado Warning, and the work-from-home meteorologist and his dogs (a blog just can't do the story justice)!!!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Who Says ...

... you can't have your cake and eat it too?? Obviously it wasn't JP (insert link to JP's Blog if he ever gets one here). He snagged some cake from lunch, grabbed a fork, and dove right in. I guess he wasn't going to share it with ANYONE!!!