"Water Wonderland" Michigan
Michigan snuck up on us like a cool summer breeze. One minute we were seeing family and friends in Ohio and the next we were relaxing poolside at a vacation rental in Mirror Lake with Chip's family. We spent six lazy days here going on bike rides, hunting for mulberries with grandpa, swimming in the pool, fishing, and plumping ourselves up with a lot of wonderful food. But, as always, all good things must come to an end and after a week we had to say goodbye to the comforts of a big, cozy home and help from family. We hopped back in Spud and ugly-cried out of the vacation rental driveway. It is always hard leaving family but after giving my cheek a swift slap of the hand, I snapped out of it and immediately grew eager to explore the rest of Michigan.
Heading north, we made our way to Sleeping Bear Dunes and Platte River Campground. We were greeted with typical midwest gray cloud coverage which soon turned to drizzle and then steady rain. Luckily, we pulled our awning out prior to the downpour allowing us to take breaks outdoors (and to prevent any wrestling matches that could arise from being in such close quarters). Outside, the boys debuted their new rain gear and began filling their dump trucks up with the water dripping from the corner of the awning. Before long it was time for dinner, then dessert (jiffy pop on the stove! Remember those things?), and later we decided to pull out the iPad for a movie which entertained the boys for a total of 18 minutes. I'd call that a success.
The rain abated so we headed out for a walk around the quiet campground near dusk. It was then that we finally had our first encounter with another Westfalia since leaving Colorado. We had a quick geek out session with the family of three, squeezing in some 'I wish we had that in our van" comments and eyeing up their "sick" paint job (Chip's word, not mine), then made a plan to catch up the next day for a photo op.
The following morning we sleepily emerged from the van at 9am, grateful for the best part of a rainy morning, that being darkness that makes our kids sleep in. We packed up, snapped a photo with our new Westfalia family, and then parted ways, heading north to check out Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
We began our day with a hike on the Empire Bluff Trail which offered "pretty good" views of the Lake Michigan coastline, Big Glen Lake, and the mountain of sand off in the distance. The hike was a steady climb but only totaled about a mile and a half round trip which was the perfect distance for our novice hikers.
After scarfing PB&Js and canned green beans in Spud for lunch, we discovered our favorite spot of the day. We moseyed up a sand-dusted cement path and within literally only seconds we stood at the edge of a massive dune, our feet wiggling in the fine sand. Peering down hundreds of feet sat Lake Michigan, extending out as far as the eye could see. We slid a short distance down then like a monkey we used all four limbs to climb up the steep sand until we caught our breath at the top. The boys snagged their beach bag and soon the sand was lined with trucks, buckets, and shovels while I sat admiring the view. The water below was mesmerizingly blue and had my mind playing tricks on me; I could have sworn we were at the ocean.
Our final stop of the day at Torch Lake was essential since we hadn't showered in a few days. Back home Chip would mention this spot from time to time, reminiscing about the Caribbean blue water and the summer vacations he took near there when he was a young lad. He had me at "Caribbean blue" and since then I had it on my must-see list. We raced down to the waters edge to check it out and the Caribbean blue he was talking about was not a lie. So we jumped in. And it took our breath away. Literally, because it was so cold. It might not have been the warmest but it was the clearest and bluest. Good for spotting any "lake sharks" that might be lurking about.
Just south of Charlevoix, Michigan we were lucky enough to stumble upon Fisherman's Island State Park which ties with Lake of the Ozarks (Missouri) as a top campground of the trip so far. While we often research sites or at least know where we are sleeping, it can be exhilarating when we discover one at the last moment and on our own. Preferably when everyone is in a good mood and not melting into tantrumville (and trust me, that could easily be any one of us). The campsite itself is nothing to write home about but hidden along the edge of this campground is a stunning stretch of sand and water. Before retreating to our cozy beds in Spud, Chip and I lounged here with local beers in hand for a very refreshing happy hour(s) while the boys played in the sand, stripping off clothing as they got soaked. By the time the sky had turned a deep orange, they were frolicking in the nude, swimming, and dancing. I'll never forget that moment.
The final portion of our Michigan trip took us north to the Upper Peninsula for four days. We knew we didn't leave enough time to devote to this area of the state so we refrained from researching too much. We did manage to tick some things off our bucket list that we have been wanting to check out including Tunnel of Trees, Mackinac Bridge, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Bay Furnace Campground, and visit friends in Marquette.
Overall, Michigan ended up surprising me in many ways. It's not typically a state that Westerners might think of as a vacation destination but as our van crossed over the Wisconsin border, my mind wandered back into Michigan. Blue lakes, dense green foliage, brilliant sunsets, and happy kids is how I'll remember this place. We agreed that we could see ourselves spending summers in this beautiful state. And to think, we have so much more to discover in it.
Days spent in Michigan: 14
# of nights we camped: 5
Miles in Spud: 900
best surprise: tunnel of trees scenic drive