Lake Michigan Adventures

August 1st, 2021 (Sunday)

          After breakfast at the hotel, my mom and headed out for our next set of adventures.  I love coffee and trying out local java spots when I travel.  I noticed an ad for A Little Bit of Coffee in the Door County Magazine.  Located in Jacksonport (north of Whitefish Dunes), the coffee shop over looks Lake Michigan and is know for a good cup of Joe.

          My mom and I wound the scenic Peninsula byways north towards Jacksonport.  This quaint lakeshore town is home to charming shops and restaurants, lakefront lodging options and great beaches for families. 

          A Little Bit of Coffee is connected to The Square Rigger Lodge.  This inn overs updated motel rooms and cottages right on Lake Michigan. The accommodations are clean, laid back and perfect for someone wanting a beautiful view and beach access.

          A Little Perk of Coffee has a nautical theme – you feel like you are in a ships cozy quarters – the perfect spot to read a maritime mystery book and look out on the lake.

          I ordered the campfire mocha, and my mom enjoyed the caramel macchiato.  We took slow sips – enjoying the delicious coffee while taking in glorious lake views. 

          After finishing our coffee, my mom and I continued to head north on Highway 57 towards Bailey’s Harbor and eastern peninsula lighthouses.  When we arrived in Bailey’s Harbor, I missed the sign for the Old Bailey’s Harbor Light.

          “We can loop back later,” we decided to go with the flow.  Looking at the map, my mom noticed a byway to North Bay.  As we turned down the ambling backroad, we saw a sign for the Cana Island Lighthouse.  “This is the lighthouse I read about – we have to go!”

          We followed the signs for Cana Island down a Wisconsin Rustic Road.  The Rustic Roads programs designates scenic byways to ensure that travelers can enjoy natural wonder, rugged terrain, and history at a leisurely pace.  The rustic road to Cana Island felt like a beach road with tall forests and sand on the side of road. 

          I didn’t know what to expect when we got to Cana Island.  I’d heard about the lighthouse but hadn’t dug into information on tours or its history.  Upon arrival we barely found a parking spot. 

          As we walked towards a crowd at the end of the driveway I noticed the beacon in the distance – a crown jewel piercing the horizon.  I then noticed a long causeway of ankle to knee deep water between the mainland and Cana Island.

          Some travelers were trudging through the water – mostly in swim attire and water shoes.  I also noticed a large John Deere tractor pulling a large wagon filled with tourists, crossing the causeway. 

          “What in the world,” I thought to myself.  I must admit this moment is one of my favorites during the trip.  I felt as if we discovered a hidden world – and we had the ability to cross the waters to explore this uncharted territory.  Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine a wagon and a John Deere acting as a causeway ferry.

          The driver, a peppy lady in her fifties, ushered us on board.  The cost of the ‘wagon ferry’ is free, but donations were accepted. 

          What a ride, as the wagon rumbled over the rocky causeway, the water glistening, as the wind kicked up around us.  This is a piece of heaven and I’ll always remember the causeway ride.

          A few minutes later we were at Cana Island. We started our tour at the visitor center, paying island entrance fees and reading up on the history of the lighthouse. The museum, run by the Door County Maritime Museum featured an interesting set of exhibits on Cana Island and its role in Door County’s maritime past. As I mentioned earlier in my travelogue, the peninsula has long been referred to as ‘Death’s Door’ because of the rugged shoreline and hidden shoals.   Because of the volatile terrain, Door County is home to eleven lighthouses: more lighthouses than any other county in the United States.  These lighthouses have been integral to help ships traverse the treacherous waters to safe harbor. 

          Cana Island is an 8.7-acre island that has long been integral to the nautical history of Lake Michigan and Door County.  Built in 1869 and lit in 1870, the lighthouse – a cream city brick – reinforced with steel towers 89 feet.  It is 79 feet, 3 inches from ground level to the focal plane of the light.  The light is approximately 85 feet above water level with a visual range of 18 miles.  The stone foundation extends 4 feet into the ground, sitting on bedrock. 

          The light room at the top of the tower houses the original third order Fresnel lens, produced in France.  Eventually the light was electrified and remains an active aid to navigation under jurisdiction of the U.S. Coast Guard.

          After touring the museum, my mom and I approached the lighthouse with a humble reverence. I love lighthouses – they are seeped in history and symbolically remind me of light in darkness.  Stepping through the keepers-quarters I imagined what life would have been like on Cana Island in the late 1800s-mid 1900s.  The beauty and desolation of living by the water – cut off and yet providing warning to ships of the dangerous shoals and rough waters.

          I enjoyed walking through the keeper’s quarters and reading the lighthouse historical log.  Due to the waitlist, we were unable to climb the 97 steps to the beacon – but that didn’t bother me.  I enjoyed standing in the shadow of the light house, admiring her 150 story of perseverance against storm and gale, summer sunshine and cold winter.

          I particularly enjoyed the island views of Lake Michigan.  Every view of the lake I am even more in awe of the clarity of the water.  The water is so blue – I keep thinking I’m in a far away land (South Pacific or Caribbean). 

          Standing on the rocky shore, I took time to say a prayer and thank God for this wonderful adventure and his guardianship as the lightkeeper my life.

          My mom and I wrapped up our tour at the museum giftshop.  We found a neat lighthouse souvenir, a comfortable sweatshirt (Door County) and tons of postcards.

          “All aboard,” we crammed into the wagon for our return trip.  Paradise found off a Wisconsin Rustic Road.

~

          After a quick snack (kind bars and water), my mom and I headed back towards Highway 57.  En route we spotted a sign for The Gordon Lodge. 

          “Let’s check it out – looks like a fun place to stay,” we both decided on the detour.

          The Gordon Lodge is nestled on 130 acres by the Peninsula’s North Bay.  The lodge was founded over 100 years ago and includes the history and resort luxury any traveler demands.  They have their own private beaches, bar, and restaurant and lots of recreation.  I hope to check in one day.  Unfortunately, they are booked solid the rest of the summer – I can understand why.

          “It’s nearly 2 o’clock, we should get some lunch,” my mom suggested as we got back on Highway 57.

          “We could drive up the road a bit to Sister Bay.  I heard they have lots of great restaurants and cool shops.”

          Highway 57 departed the eastern edge of the Peninsula as we drove north, cutting across miles of farmland before reaching the western edge of the peninsula at Sister Bay.

          The village of Sister Bay is a vibrant community located on ‘Sister Bay’ off Lake Michigan’s Green Bay.  The village is known for its resort shops, food, and goats.  Yes, I said goats.  One of the most popular eateries in town is Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant.  Founding in 1949s, the restaurant is meant to offer a Scandinavian experience.  As a publicity stunt the Johnson’s started putting goats on the restaurants sodded roof.  ‘Goats on the Roof’ is uniquely Al Johnson’s and Sister Bay.

          Sister Bay, like other Door County ‘villages’ is home to an eclectic mix of restaurants.  Starving, we opted for the first restaurant without a waiting list – Husby’s.  I probably would not have chosen the beer themed Green Bay football infused restaurant, lined with pool tables and bar – but I’m glad we did.  The atmosphere was loud-but in a family friendly pool game way.

          The food was delicious.  We split chips and salsa.  For the meal I ordered the Door County Cherry Chicken (grilled chicken marinated in cherry juice) salad, and my mom got the whitefish sandwich with a gluten free bun and sweet potato fries.   

          After finishing our late lunch, we spent the next ninety minutes strolling the lake side shops.  We stopped at the Door County Confectionary for chocolate covered cherries and maple walnut fudge.  In my quest for souvenir apparel, I found a short sleeve vintage DC tee shirt and a long sleeve peninsula shirt with all the town names.

          Our favorite part about Sister Bay was the waterfront.  This community has an amazing waterfront part that hosts summer concerts and movies.  The sandy beach with swimming access is adjacent to the neighboring shopping with plenty of parking.  We enjoyed sitting by the bay watching the ships pass by.  The weather a perfect 80 degrees with a light coastal breeze.

          “Heaven or Wisconsin,” I thought with a smile.

          Closing in at 4:30 p.m., we decided to continue our Peninsula journey.  We took a quick detour to Rowley’s Bay (several miles from Sister Bay) before driving to the nearby community of Ephraim.

Ephraim (pronounced ee-frem) is a quaint village situated on the eastern edge of picturesque Green Bay on Eagle Harbor. The village was founded in 1853 by Reverend Andreas Iverson as a Moravian religious community.  The village spans 2400 acres on the Niagara Escarpment, providing stunning harbor views of nearby Eagle Bluffs and Peninsula State Park. 

As we drove through main street, we instantly fell in love with the bucolic architecture – main street is lined with white New England style houses and inns, cradled by the community’s two beautiful hilltop churches.

“We are on a pilgrimage to find Wilson’s,” I told my mom as I found a parking spot by the waterfront.  “It is a renowned soda fountain that has served locals homemade ice cream, shakes, sodas and burgers since 1906.  The locals recommend it.” I love ice cream and will gladly walk the extra mile for the perfect scoop. 

When we arrived at Wilson’s the line stretched outside the building.  Due to COVID-19 protocols you were assigned a ticket and could enter in small groups.  The restaurant though large inside, is cramped with tables and jukeboxes – primed with classic hits by the likes of Bobby Darin and Elvis. 

Once inside we surveyed the extensive ice cream menu.  I could have tried the over a dozen flavors – each one scrumptious – but per the advice of a local travel guide I stuck with a Door County Cherry Milkshake.  My mom sprung for the Turtle special – vanilla ice cream with caramel and chocolate, nuts, and plenty of whipped cream.

After paying the tab, we walked across the street to the shorefront and enjoyed dessert with a harbor view.  My milkshake was rich and creamy with the cherries adding sweet tartness.

“Mmm that is yummy,” I stole a bite of my mom’s sundae. The caramel topping melted in my mouth with the hot fudge and vanilla.  “Decadent.”

          Finishing up our ice-cream we strolled along the bay for ten minutes for driving to nearby Peninsula State Park.  Encompassing over 3,776 acres, Peninsula is considered a ‘crown jewel’ of the Wisconsin Park system.  It is designed for visitors to interact with nature, from the wildness of the backcountry trails to a game of golf overlooking Green Bay or taking in an outdoor theatre production under the stars.  This Park truly offers recreation, scenery, and fun for the entire family.  My only regret – we couldn’t stay longer.

          We started our park tour on the scenic Shore Road, which winds along scenic Green Bay and alcoves of Nicolet Bay and Tennison Bay.  A few miles in, we decided to detour onto the Skyline Road, another scenic park byway.  The Skyline Road twisted up the Niagara Escarpment through the deep forest.  As we climbed higher and higher, Lake Michigan (Bays) sparkled through the trees. 

          “I feel like we are on the Blue Ridge Parkway here,” I noted to my mom, the road steep and hilly.  The Niagara Escarpment’s jagged, rocky edges cradled portions of the road. 

          We stopped at several scenic pullouts – the dramatic views enough to take one’s breath away.  In the distance we could see several islands, including Horseshoe Island.  I cannot put into words the beauty of the coastal vista atop the Niagara Escarpment as the preamble of sunset began.

          While in Peninsula State Park, we also enjoyed exploring the campgrounds and Nicolet Beach. 

Peninsula is home to one of Door County’s resident theatre groups – The Northern Sky Theater.  Unfortunately, they were closed on Sunday night, but the I would love to attend a performance in the park.  What an amazing venue – to watch quality live theater against the Bay backdrop. 

The Northern Sky Theater was founded in the 1970s and continues to delight audiences with musical and dramatic productions that further the knowledge and appreciation of the culture and heritage of the United States.  Door County has a rich theatre stock culture – with nearby Peninsula Player and Shakespeare Door County. 

“It is nearly eight,” we noticed the time. “We better start heading back while we have sunlight.”

Part of Peninsula State Park exits into Fish Creek.  My mom and I enjoyed the town our first night in ‘the Door,’ and decided to stop at the historic Episcopal Church for a quick prayer.  “It is Sunday and since we didn’t receive communion, let’s pause and just thank God for this trip.”

As we were leaving the church, we noticed the road dead ends into Sunset Park – which was packed with visitors rushing to the waterfront park.

“Look at that sunset view,” I stood agape as the sunset erupted into a dazzling light show of fire reds, warm pinks, and a blend of coral and yellowish orange. “Every night you can come here for a bit of heaven on earth – what a gorgeous sunset!”

The dull amber glow of twilight emerged as we headed back to Sturgeon Bay. We took a different route home, by way of Egg Harbor to Horseshoe Bay Road and Bay Shore Drive.  Most of the route offered bay views and the lingering sunset vistas. We also were able to stop by the George Pinney County Park and a scenic photo op of the Niagara Escarpment.

“What an amazing day.”

My mom and I lamented it was nearly over.  We weren’t eager to go back to the hotel.  After some debate we decided to drive to Potawatomi State Park and look at the stars and lake by night. 

Most of the Door County Parks are known for star gazing due to the dark night skies.  My mom and I enjoyed a night drive by the lake and a bit of stargazing before heading back to the hotel.

I watched the Mass online before falling asleep at midnight, resting up for the next day’s Door County adventure: Washington Island.

One thought on “Lake Michigan Adventures

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s