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....

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