Monday, July 26, 2010

Walloon Lake, Michigan

When most people hear the word Michigan, they probably think of the city of Detroit and the demise of the auto industry there. While it's true Michigan is worse off than most states economy wise there's also some amazing and beautiful parts to it as well. My husband grew up in Horton, Michigan, a tiny suburb of the city of Jackson which is over an hour away from Detroit. His parents house provided the perfect backdrop for our wedding which was last year on July 18th:

I was lucky enough to get to spend my first anniversary back out in Michigan this past week. One of the benefits to getting married at my in-laws is that I can come back to the site whenever I want! Because we love our dog so much we drove the 20 hour stretch from Denver out to Jackson. The drive takes you through Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and finally Michigan and it's probably one of the most boring drives in the world with not much scenery except corn fields. Of course the backdrop to our wedding was a corn field so I have a special place in my heart for them now.
We had a wedding to go to on Saturday night so we spent the first weekend in town. We visited with Chad's grandparents who live on Round Lake and also took an anniversary boat ride out on Clark Lake. One of Chad's family friends has a house out there and hosted all of our out of town wedding guests the day of for boating and hanging out. Being in landlocked Denver, it's so nice to get out on a boat and cruise around in an actual lake (not the reservoirs pretending to be lakes we have here).
Clark Lake is also the home to a restaurant called the Beach Bar which has a live band on Sundays. Last year they had hermit crab races there when Jason, Chad and I hung out there in the days leading up to our wedding. Although there isn't too much to do in Jackson (as you could expect from most small towns) I always have to visit the International House of Dawg when I go. They serve only hot dogs and french fries, but all their hot dogs are "gourmet" and they are the best I've ever tasted. I prefer the mac-a-weenie which is a hot dog covered in macaroni and cheese while chad likes the mush-puppy aka a dog covered in mushrooms and cheese. Simply amazing.
We never spend too long in Jackson when we visit over the summer because the goal of our visit is to get up to Walloon Lake which is in Northern Michigan. Northern Michigan is an entirely different world from southern Michigan. The economy is far better, it's less hot and buggy, and with all the lakes up there it's a boater and swimmer's paradise. On Walloon you will see everything from modest cottages to mansions with most all of them being only summer homes; the majority of the houses aren't winterized.

I never knew about Walloon before Chad and I must say it's a well kept secret. Most everyone has heard of Lake Michigan but the smaller areas around there are much more quaint. As you get closer to Boyne City on the drive up you will see cherry stands where the best tasting cherries in the world are sold by high school kids. Traverse City is the cherry capital so all the cherries sold in northern michigan are the freshest and the best tasting you'll find. On the way in and out of town we always stop at a place called the Whippy Dip where you can get a dip cone ice cream for $2. It's just an isolated little building on the side of the road (blink and you miss it) but I love it because you just don't have those kinds of places in big cities.

We called the cottage "Rancho Relaxo" because that pretty much sums up your time at the lake. Mornings are usually reserved for skiing before all the boaters are out and the water gets choppy. Afternoon is for sunning and napping and evening is for home cooked dinners and bonfires. Chad's parents have some close friends, the Lipps, who live a few cottages down so when they are up they alternate who cooks dinner. Then afterward we take a boat ride around the lake and maybe a walk on the spirit trail which runs in front of all the cottages closest to town.

While you hope for good weather every day at the lake, sometimes that just isn't the case which leads to trips into town. Boyne City is the closest town with a few restaurants and shops (my favorite being a newly introduced Buddha/Hindu store). Drive a little bit farther and you'll reach Petoskey which is overlooking the shores of Lake Michigan's Little Traverse Bay in the northern tip of Michigan's Lower Peninsula. We ate lunch at a place called The American Spoon ( which is a little cafe serving coffee and sandwiches and their handmade gelato which they actually make at the location. Among the fudge and souvenir shops they also have great clothing boutiques (my personal favorite is V2V), the best book store I've ever been too and a fantastic shoe shop that has basement bargain deals where I found some Marmont hiking boots. After wandering around a little bit we drove over to Harbor Springs where we visited Huzza which is a store owned by Chad's parents friends. Huzza has everything from clothing to monogrammed dinnerware and jewelry and Rad, the owner knows everything about every piece of furniture in there. In fact, he travels all over finding pieces for the shop so you are guaranteed whatever you find there will be one of it's kind. We received the prettiest silver salad bowl from there as a wedding gift which I'm still afraid to use as anything but a decorative piece (yes it's THAT nice...nicer than the coffee table it sits on I'm embarrassed to say).

We didn't spend too much time in Harbor Springs as we were making our way over to Charlevoix for dinner. First, however, we drove around the neighborhood there looking at the mushroom houses. Designed by Earl Young starting in 1918, these fairy tale houses are located in the Boulder Park neighborhood near the city's lakefront. If you can't be there to see them yourself the next best thing is reading Mushroom Houses of Charlevoix by Mike Barton which I happened to find in the bookstore in Petoskey which inspired our little side trip.

Unfortunately, it was raining in Charlevoix so we weren't able to go to the Venetian Festival which was going on in the park but we were able to eat at a place called Whitney's which is a seafood and oyster bar restaurant. I had the raw oysters and their clam chowder although it was a hard choice between that and the walleye (the specialty fish of the area) and the crabcakes. I had never been to Charlevoix before so I really enjoyed what I saw of the town and would like to go back and spend more time there next year.

Our time in Michigan went by fast and before we knew it, it was time to pack up the car and head home. While Denver is where my life is now, I can truly appreciate Northern Michigan and all it has to offer. I don't think many people would ever think to visit Michigan as a vacation destination, but it's a really beautiful state in the summer with so much to do. There's farmers markets full of tart cherry pies and fresh picked cherries and blueberries; harbors with yachts to look at, fresh made fudge shops (tourists in the area are often called "fudgies" for this reason), friendly people in all the shops and restaurants and just an air of calmness and relaxation. The season is short for tourists so many of the shops depend on what they can make in the summer to survive on all winter so you're sure to find helpful store owners and great bargains. Although the one thing I have to say I enjoy most about Northern Michigan is the fresh unspoiled lake water and being in a cottage with a lot of history with family....

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Surprise in Steamboat

My husband isn't big on his birthday; doesn't like to celebrate, doesn't want a big deal made and in the past five years has managed to avoid it by working out of town or something. Well this year he turned thirty and I was determined to surprise him if it killed me.

My best friend Malia and I began brainstorming places to go about a month ahead of time because we just happened to be planners down to the last detail. We came up with the perfect destination that was close enough for all of our friends to join us but far enough away to be a weekend getaway. That destination was Steamboat.

Steamboat is a three hour drive from Denver in the summer. It's billed itself as Ski town, USA but also prides itself on its being a cowboy town. It just so happened that the weekend of Chad' s birthday was also the Hot Air Balloon and Art Festival. Unfortunately, this meant that most of the cheaper places in town were booked up. So after some research I booked a condo at The Pines from The Lodging Company. There weren't a lot of dog friendly options that were available (of course we had to bring Bebe) and this one was advertised as having dog friendly condos. Buyer beware though, if you are going to bring your dog, don't try and be sneaky and NOT tell them you have a dog to avoid the fee or else you will end up in a condo that doesn't allow dogs like we did and end up sneaking yours around all weekend long. Luckily we weren't caught and evicted. Lesson learned!

Chad had no idea what he was in store for. He came home to the house on Friday after work where he was met by Jason and I who told him we were going out to dinner. Once we started heading on I70 West though he knew something was up and then it was just process of elimination to where we were going until we reached the point where it was either Kremmling or Steamboat...and nothing is in Kremmling so naturally Steamboat was the obvious choice. Our friend Jeff was about 15 minutes behind us in arrival so once he arrived (which was a big shock to Chad because he just thought it was the three of us) we went to dinner at Tequila's. After some awesome mexican food and margaritas we went to the Tap House for beers where we were soon met by Malia and Geoff, then Todd and Kelsey and Travis and Jill. Needless to say Chad was very surprised and the weekend was off to a great start.

On Saturday morning when we woke up we saw the hot air balloons being raised in the field right across from the condo and then they floated overhead in the area which was very cool to see. I've never seen anything but pictures of hot air balloons so to have them so close was a treat.

Malia and I had arranged 9 holes of golf for the boys at the Steamboat Golf Club ( For 9 holes it was $28 each (add ten dollars if you wanted to rent a cart) and it was a great chance for the guys to all get together and goof around. There are three or so golf courses in Steamboat (one I believe that is exclusive to members only) but this one turned out to be perfect because it was more laid back (read: not for the serious golfer). While the guys golfed the girls all went to the farmer's market which is held every Saturday in the summer. They had everything from baked bread to elk meat, fresh produce and pork sandwiches and jewelry and clothing. We bought some cherries which were excellent and managed to kill enough time before meeting back at the condo for lunch with the boys.

After lunch it was off to tube the Yampa. Malia had found a place called the One Stop Ski and Sport ( where we could rent tubes so we made a reservation for 1pm. Now everyone except Malia and Geoff owned their own tubes as we traditionally tube in Golden or Boulder most every weekend of the summer. We bought some heavy duty tubes with handles a couple of years ago from Dick's sporting goods and it's turned into a favorite weekend activity. We however, told everyone not to bring our tubes because we had arranged tubing from this shop and they were provided to us. The cost was $17 to tube which included being picked up from the end spot (they have designated areas of the Yampa to tube due to fisherman) and brought back to the shop. We were all OK with paying the money seeing as it seemed hassle free but it wasn't until we arrived at the shop we realized the fee didn't include unlimited trips down the river. I guess the city limits the amount of tube trips the company can do a day thus limiting us. While it was cheaper than white water rafting for sure, and less of a pain to not bring the tubes up, wait to inflate etc. it def isn't something I'd pay for again. Bring your own tube to truly enjoy the float!

Right near the tubing rental shop was the park where the "Art in the Park" was going on so we decided after our 30 minute float trip we'd check the art out. There were some interesting booths, but for the most part it was the same things you see at pretty much any festival during the summer (People's Fair, Golden Art Fair, etc) but it was very nice to all relax in the park and enjoy some music.

Todd's sister, Angela lives in Steamboat so after tubing, art in the park, some relaxing and grocery shopping we headed up the hill to her place for a little BBQ. Todd's parents also happened to be in town and Angela had some friends over so between them and the ten of us it turned into quite the get together. We had bought some blue cheese burgers from the grocery store that was conviently next door to the condo and Jason did an excellent job grilling them up. There was also croquet to play and ladder golf which Chad and I were miserably beat at by Geoff and Jeff. Kelsey had the blender going making some delicious daqueries and considering we were going to just make tacos at the condo, it turned out to be a fabulous way to wind down the already amazing day. I had bought a cheese cake for Chad so Kelsey and I had Todd gather everyone around the deck while we lit the candles and came out to have everyone sing happy birthday to Chad. Jason and I had found an enormous singing card which I had everyone sign in secret throughout the weekend and we presented that to Chad as well. I couldn't have been more excited for him!

After the BBQ, before the sun set, the ten of us made our way to the Strawberry Hot Springs. There's two miles of unpaved road (strange because it's such a popular spot you would have thought it would have been fixed up a little better by now) so I would definitely recommend an SUV to get up there. Unlike the Sulphur Springs we had visited in May, these hot springs do not smell like sulpher and the pools are a lot bigger. In fact I think I only saw one or two small pools with the majority of people splitting there time there between the hottest and more bath water type big pools. What's cool about the place is that it has a natural spring flowing through too of water that was pretty cold so you could get out of the hot water, jump in the cold and swim then back into the hot. You have to get there before dark because it gets pretty crowded and you want to stake a spot out for all your stuff...and a good spot at that because there are no lights there. I can't believe they are allowed too, but there are absolutly no lights in the whole spring area which of course is because it's clothing optional after dark (and make sure if you bring a flash light to shine it at your feet!). At just about dusk some guy stood on the side of the pool totally naked and yelled, "let's get naked!" and jumped in. Apparently those in our group who were moving around from pool to pool saw quite a few naked people (well what was visible anyways) but I didn't see any. The hot springs were only $10 and definitely worth it, very peaceful and one of the best I've been too in the state.

Sunday the plan was to get up early and watch the balloons being inflated for day two of the hot air balloon rodeo but unfortunately only Travis, Jill and Todd and Kesley were in their right mind enough to get up at 6am. The rest of us slept off our frozen daqueries and beer. Since we had to check out at ten we were still up early enough to see several of the balloons floating overhead and there was even one to land in the field right by the condo which we got to see them deflate and pack back up in the trailer that had been tailing the balloon. Once we all regrouped we headed into town to have a light breakfast at The Steaming Bean (where I had the best soy chai of my life) and then walked the length of the main street and window shopped. At about noon we decided to head back towards Denver so we could stop and eat a late lunch/early dinner at TommyKnocker. TommyKnocker is a local brewery in Idahoe Springs and while they have many amazing items on their menu, a little known secret is they have the best wings in town. They are also the biggest wings I've ever seen, even though we were told they were smaller than usual so the cook gave us 17 instead of a dozen. They have unusual wing flavors like raspberry chipolte and pineapple but the batter they fry them in is more of a tempura batter giving the wings much more of a crispy thin layer. Lunch there was the perfect end to a perfect weekend.

So much planning went into Chad's birthday and I'm just glad he enjoyed it all, even if he doesn't like surprises or celebrating his birthday. He does so much for me and all his friends every day and I'm just so grateful everyone could come and celebrate. Hopefully I can keep surprising him for many years to come....although I would like to make steamboat an annual trip. What's not to love about a summer weekend in the mountains?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Kite Lake Camping

Ever since last weekend all I can think about is hiking my next 14er. The adrenaline rush was just so tremendous and the accomplishment so great to me that I cannot wait to hike again. Unfortunately, most of our weekends are booked up from here until the end of July due to birthday celebrations and vacation. Determined to complete my goal of hiking 8 14ers for the summer, I began thinking of ways I could incorporate hiking into my weekend plans. Some friends of ours had wanted to go camping at the end of July so I started doing research on where we could camp and I could also sneak in my hiking expedition. No one had come up with any good spots yet, so ever the resourceful girl I came up with camping at Kite Lake (see some great photos here:

Kite Lake is a popular camping spot that is near Breckinridge which means it's only a short 1.5 hour drive or so for us from Denver. There aren't too many open bodies of water in Colorado as you can imagine so this is a real treat for us land locked people living here. Chad is from Michigan and I'm from Alabama so anytime we get the chance to be by a lake we'll take it. Open bodies of water are one of the things we miss most about our respective home states. Parking here in the summer is $3 and camping is $7 making it a very economical trip as well. Now we just have to buy a tent....

My ulterior motive for camping here, is of course hiking. After all, what good is camping if you don't have anything to do while you are out enjoying nature? Chad and I aren't big fishermen and we have a very hyper active dog so this seems the natural choice of how to pass the time saturday. Bonus is all that camp with us are welcome to hike as far as they want. I maintain anyone can hike a 14er but it does take some mental preparing and it helps if your thighs are muscular like mine (haha who's thunder thighs now?). I'm in luck with this particular spot too because the trail head at Kite Lake will enable us to climb Mt. Democrat, Lincoln and Bross all in one day (and Cameron as well but it's not recognized as a true 14er because the elevation gain between it and Mt. Lincoln is less than 300 feet. Mt. Democrat is 14,148, Lincoln is 14,286, Cameron is 14,238 and Bross is 14,172. Mt. Lincoln is the 8th highest mountain in Colorado.

If I can get three knocked out in one day then that only leaves me with 3 left to hike for the summer and I'll have almost achieved my goal. Of course it all depends on the weather conditions but I think the initial summit is the worst part so once I am up on Democrat not much else can stop me from climbing to the other two true 14ers. The return is about 5.4 miles with a 3,450 foot elevation gain. Kite Lake is in Alma which is the highest elevation town in America (10,361 whereas Denver is 5,280) so hopefully after a night of camping there we will be adjusted to the altitude and I won't get a splitting headache like I did after last week's hike. Just in case I'll be sure to bring my advil.

I'm just keeping my fingers crossed for a beautiful weekend of camping and hoping we can get up early hiking before any thunderstorms hit. July is the deadliest month for hikers climbing 14ers because of the lightening storms but if you hike safe you won't have to worry about getting hit. It's always better to save your hike for another day than risk it and have an accident happen. After last hike though I am going to make sure and bring a mini first aid kit. We banged our shins pretty good on a few rocks and I saw some people with cut up legs from falling and I don't want to take any chances.

For those of you interested in hiking out of Kite Lake I found these directions:
From Denver take I-70 west to exit 203, take Highway 9 south through Breckenridge to the town of Alma. Another route is Hwy 285 from Denver to Fairplay, then North 8 miles on Hwy 9 to Alma. Right across from a general store type building (Placer Trading Company) in the center of Alma head west up Buckskin Creek Road. You will know you are on the right road if you see the creek to your left. If you want to gain at least 3000 feet on the climb drive up the road about 4 miles and park at one of the turnouts. Its still a couple miles to the Kite Lake trail head at about 12,000 feet. You can drive a car most of the way, but there are a couple creeks crossing the road, and I would recommend scouting them before trying to cross them. A 4WD and good clearance can come in handy here. Once past the creeks its a short drive up the road to parking at Kite Lake. Most people start the climb from Kite Lake. An alternate route is the Hoosier Pass Approach and can be reached by heading north 2 miles from Alma. There a small poorly marked dirt road named Roberts Lane heads off to the left (west) and switchbacks eventually running into Mt Lincon Road. Check your topo to see where you want to park as the road leads quite a bit up to the summit of Lincoln. Road end to Lincoln, Democrat, Bross and return is 8.5 miles and 4800 ft gain.

Now all we need is some camping equipment. If I'm going to make a habit out of this hiking business I'm going to need some real hiking boots (sturdy but lightweight) as well as hiking sticks. My friend Gretchen has recommend: Hopefully I won't go broke affording my new hobby :)