Saugatuck Chain Ferry
Hand-cranking the ferry
Saugatuck Main Street
282 steps to the top
Looking down at Saugatuck
Grand Haven, MI
Behind the ice cream shop is a secret path...
Bay Breeze Yacht Charters
Chateau Chantal vineyard
Old Mission Lighthouse
Pyramid Point Hike
Birch tree -- not aspen
Pyramid Point, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park.
Saugatuck, Higgins Lake & Traverse City
Early June, 2009 - We left South Haven, Michigan and drove a little
further up the coast to Saugatuck, another utterly charming town along
the the state's southern Lake Michigan coast. At the far end of town
we discovered the hand-cranked Saugatuck Chain Ferry which takes
passengers across the river. As we stood at the little ferry dock
marveling at this contraption, a mom, dad and daughter on bikes
appeared on the other side of the river. They started waving their
hands excitedly, the little girl especially. Suddenly the two young boys
on the chain ferry leaped into action.
One boy managed the lines while the other manned the hand-cranking
station. He cranked the lever round and round, and slowly the ferry
began to move along its chain. The current is quite strong in the
middle of the river, and it made sense to put this hand-powered ferry
on a chain system so it couldn't drift downstream faster than it could be
cranked across. The family on the other side happily loaded their
bikes onto the ferry and the boys switched roles for the return trip.
The town has a lovely main street
for walking and window shopping.
We found many pretty flower
displays along the storefronts as
we walked. We wished we had our
bikes so we could venture a little
further from the center of town.
However, being bikeless, at least
this pretty flower basket bike was
nice to photograph.
On the far side of the river, where
the family of bicyclists had flagged
down the ferry, Mount Baldhead
has 282 stairs leading to the top.
Lots of people seem to climb this
staircase as a workout -- at
different paces. Mark pumped
his way to the top at a steady
trot, while I gave myself a few
breathers near the end.
After admiring the view at the
top, we ran down the sand path
on the other side to Oval Beach
for a quick peak at the lake.
Then we got our heart rates
going again as we staggered up
the sand path to the top.
Sweaty and grinning, I started
down the stairs to the car. I
hadn't gone 12 stairs when I
met a 79-year-old woman
coming up. She had stopped to
catch her breath, and as she
wiped her brow she told me she
climbs this stairway once a year.
We got back in the car and started making our way north again. On a
small road that wound through the backs of some pretty neighborhoods
we saw a commotion ahead of us in someone's front yard. Kids and
bikes were everywhere and a small pen was set up in the yard. We got
out of the car to see what the fuss was about and discovered a family
was selling a litter of six adorable Golden Retriever pups. Hardly any
were in the pen; all were in the arms of the neighborhood kids. The
momma retriever stood to one side looking very proud and rather
exhausted. Mark finally got a chance to hold a pup, and he was in
heaven. If we weren't living a traveling lifestyle, he would have been the
proud owner of a new puppy that day.
A little further up the road we stopped in Grand Haven, another small town that has grown
up along the shores of Lake Michigan. An ice cream cone and a stroll around town, and
we were happy tourists.
We returned to Detroit for a week or so to catch
up with family again. Then we got the itch to
see more of Michigan and set out for the
northern reaches of the state. Our first stop
was Higgins Lake, Mark's family's old stomping
grounds when they camped with a myriad of
cousins and aunts and uncles in large family
caravans years ago. The little Shasta sister-
trailer we had seen in Elkhart had hosted many
a family campfire at Higgins Lake.
Mark remembered the rangers at
this campground as being quite
cranky, and sure enough they
wouldn't allow us to drive through
the campground to take a look
around unless we paid for a night's stay. As teens, Mark and his friends
had referred to the ranger there as "Ranger Danger," and had done
dastardly things like played very loud Led Zeppelin from their oversized
car stereo systems, blasting everyone out of the campground. Now, of
course, whenever rowdy teens disturb our serene camping spots, I have
to remind him that it is simply payback time.
But our mission of the moment
was to get into the Higgins Lake
campground just long enough to get a good nostalgic
look around. Mark drove past the campground entrance
to the old ice cream stand that he and his cousins had
walked to every day, and sure enough, the little path he
remembered still led into the campground out of sight of
the main entrance. We snuck down the path and got
our trip down memory lane despite Ranger Danger.
Mark's dad had always rented a big party barge during
their stays on the lake, and as we looked out on all the
happy boaters, the many family slideshows we'd been
watching over the past few weeks suddenly came to life.
Continuing north across the state, we spent some time
in Traverse City. This charming area was feeling the pinch from the bad
economy and we stayed in a motel that had posted a sign saying: "We're
almost giving rooms away," which they were. As we drove along the
shorefront of this very pretty town, we heard
advertisements for a boat show. Who could pass that up?
So off we went to see what a Great Lakes boat show might
Bay Breeze Yacht Charters was the center of attention.
The business had been recently acquired by Dave and
Kristin who had Michigan roots but had just spent 14 years
in the Caribbean bareboat yacht charter business. "Your
brain turns to mush after that long in the Caribbean," Dave
said, so they had returned to Michigan to shovel a little
snow and sharpen up a bit. They were offering free sails
on the bay for the boat show and needed two more people
before they pushed off -- so we hopped on. What fun to
be out sailing again! As we hung around on the boat for a
while afterwards, all the thoughts about our sailing
dreams that we'd been
avoiding for the past month
suddenly flooded back.
Early next morning we drove
out along the Mission
Peninsula on beautiful winding
roads past farms and orchards
and vineyards. Chateau
Chantal is perched high up with
views past their vineyard to
distant farmlands that roll down
to the bay on the horizon.
At the end of the peninsula we walked around the Old Mission
Lighthouse and swished our fingers in the waters of the lake.
It was a glorious morning, and we must have said 50 times to each
other: "this would be a perfect place to ride a bike." Sure enough,
before long, we came across a group of cyclists out for a morning ride
along those wonderful sweeping roads. We followed them down a tiny
road that led out to the bay and watched the scenery unfold next to us
as we returned back towards Traverse City.
Every home had a boat dock across the
street, and boats of all shapes and sizes
were ready to take passengers out for a
ride on the lake.
Dave and Kristin of Bay Breeze had
recommended we drive straight west to
the open shore of Lake Michigan and
hike out to Pyramid Point in the Sleeping
Bear Dunes. The hike took us through
some lush forest.
We noticed birch trees -- not our familiar
aspens -- along the trail.
At the end the
up to a commanding view of Lake
The water was clear and turquoise,
shading to a rich blue a little further
out capped off by some low islands in
We drove along the rural roads that
looped back towards Traverse City.
Suddenly a colorful palette of flowers
appeared, and we stopped for a closer
It was an iris farm, and the
irises were in stunning bloom.
The farm had planted varieties
in every possible shade and
We roamed along the rows of
flowers for an hour, stepping
gingerly between them.
Looking around at the many
hues, I felt like I was in the
middle of a Monet painting.
A second night in the
motel where they were "almost
giving rooms away," and we
were ready to go to further
north in search of more scenic
waterfront villages along