Lake Michigan – Charming coastal towns

Saugatuck Michigan Chain Ferry

Saugatuck Chain Ferry

Saugatuck Michigan Chain Ferry

Hand-cranking the ferry

Saugatuck Michigan shops

Saugatuck Main Street

Saugatuck Michigan shops Saugatuck Michigan shops Mt. Baldhead Saugatuck Michigan

282 steps to the top

Mt. Baldhead Saugatuck Michigan

Looking down at Saugatuck

Grand Haven Michigan

Grand Haven, MI

Grand Haven Michigan Higgins Lake campground Michigan

Higgins Lake

Higgins Lake campground Michigan

Behind the ice cream shop is a secret path...

Higgins Lake campground Michigan

Higgins Lake

Bay Breeze Yacht Charters Travers City Michigan

Bay Breeze Yacht Charters

Bay Breeze Yacht Charters Travers City Michigan

Free sailing!

Chateau Chantal vineyard Traverse City Michigan

Chateau Chantal vineyard

Old Mission Lighthouse Michigan

Old Mission Lighthouse

Old Mission Peninsula Michigan Old Mission Peninsula Michigan boat Pyramid Point Michigan Hike

Pyramid Point Hike

Pyramid Point Michigan Hike Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park

Birch tree -- not aspen

Pyramid Point, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park. Michigan

Pyramid Point, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park.

Pyramid Point, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park. Michigan Iris farm Michigan Iris farm Michigan Iris farm Michigan

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

be like.

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

trail opened

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

the distance.

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

color combination.

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

Northern Lake Michigan.