Friday, July 29, 2005

More From the Wandering Outer Podunkian

Today was the last day of my mini-vacation, so I took a trip up all the way up to Leelanau County, the little finger of Michigan's Lower Peninsula. It was a beautiful day for traveling -- not too hot, not too cold, blue skies, blue water.

Some trip highlights:

The very nice co-owner of The Gallery of Empire , who showered me with maps, brochures and insider off-the-beaten-path travel advice. If any of you are ever in Empire, stop in; it's a cool art gallery showcasing local artists and crafters.

The view. I can't tell you how beautiful the view was. There's a spot on the main highway where you climb a hill and -- boom -- there's Lake Michigan, today in a breathtaking shade of blue. And rolling hills...forests...orchards...awesome.

Noting the number of Mercedes and Beemers in Leelanau County -- more than I've ever seen in one place, including a German auto dealership. I tried counting 'em, and I'd say that about every sixth car passing me on M-22 was aus Deutschland. Tooling around in my used Intr pid, I felt quite...well...poor in comparison. No -- make that pore. As in po'. (Ah, the irony that right-wing demagogues accuse folks like me of using our alleged boatloads of childless-household discretionary income to promote our "agenda" and bring down Christian civilization.)

The Sleeping Bear Dunes. For a fee, you can drive the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, with numerous scenic overlooks, picnic areas and deep-woods meanderings. Awhile back one of the park rangers made news by reporting that while hiking through the park she'd found herself uncomfortably up close and personal with a cougar, an animal officially extinct in Michigan, but the subject of numerous sightings of late. Officials, typically, issued a semi-denial that there are cougars in the park -- you know, maybe it was a deer with a malocclusion, or a tourist's Great Dane, or maybe a really, really, really big kitty-cat. I was rather hoping to see a cougar slinking through the forest, especially considering that there were so many succulent tourists roaming around, but...alas. But I did see a lot of the native flora unique to the dune area.

And, of course, as noted, there were plenty of homo touristus. I like tourist-spotting. Lots of families; lots of seniors; a couple of visitors exhibiting the sort of behavior -- whining, loud cell phone blathering -- that reminded me of a bumper sticker I saw on a vehicle, not a Mercedes, back in Beulah: If They Call It Tourist Season, Then Why Can't We Shoot 'Em? One Mennonite couple -- the woman was wearing the cotton dress and black prayer cap -- was actually perched at the very edge of the big dune drop-off, where one false move can send you sliding all the way down to the lakeshore, with no way back up except navigating back up the almost 90 degree slope of sand; sometimes people can't make it, and they have to send the Coast Guard to fetch them off the beach. That's a long way to fall down in a cotton dress, I fretted from my safe perch at the observation deck. I noticed a lot of foreign tourists at the scenic outlooks, which always makes me feel good, because with all the negative press about the United States, and the warped Hollywood version of our country that's usually disseminated abroad, I'm happy when visitors can actually experience some of the beautiful, delightful things about America. One group of tourists was German -- perhaps on a fact-finding mission sent to learn where all their automobiles went -- and they were into the Dunes experience...they even broke into song at one point. It was like "The Student Prince" with Bermuda shorts and sunburn.

Stone House Bread in Leland, a bakery and cafe. Downtown Leland and Fishtown can be preciously and generically touristy, but there are some truly unique local businesses in town if you know where to look. The Stone House is one of them. I had lunch here -- a fabulous, dilly Hungarian mushroom soup and a chicken salad half-sandwich on ciabatta. (For those of you with scruples against eating fruit and meat together, be warned that in northwest Michigan odds are 10 to 1 that your chicken salad will have dried cherries in it. These are people who put cherries in hamburgers, whitefish sausage, dog biscuits and other items where you might not expect to find cherries.) The cafe wall features rows upon rows of smallish paintings of one particular Lake Michigan landscape painted at different times of day; they really capture the colors and feel of the area, and I enjoyed them immensely. The Stone House also, of course, has many wonderful varieties of artisan bread -- I bought a souvenir multigrain loaf that I hope to be enjoying soon, and a small wedge of locally crafted Raclette cheese that was -- mmmm -- like buttah. An enjoyable sign seen in the vicinity: "Dr. Atkins is Dead -- Eat Some Bread." (I do cheerfully admit to embracing an agenda of turning my fellow Americans off squishy white bread and rubber cheese. I already have one convert, too -- my mom.)

Well, that's it for LutheranChik's summer recreation. Back to work tomorrow, at a public service gig. But thank you all for being my virtual travel companions.

At the Sleeping Bear Dunes Posted by Picasa

Fishtown in Leland Posted by Picasa

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