Day Trip: Door Peninsula

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In other words: FALL COLORS!

I love fall, & I haven’t had it for the last couple of years because it really isn’t a thing in Florida.  A few trees turn pretty colors but for the most part they either just drop leaves everywhere all the time or insist on staying green & leafy year-round.  Anyway, I’m pretty excited about fall in Wisconsin.  I’ve been looking at wandering up into the Door Peninsula the whole time I’ve been here because I’d heard it was beautiful, & I figured what better time than fall?  I checked out the fall color report (easy to find for pretty much anywhere with a quick Google search) saw that Door County was up to 90% with expected peak this week, the weather was supposed to be nice on Saturday, so I packed up my camera & headed out for my mini road trip.

The Door Peninsula is the little thumb of land that sticks out into Lake Michigan north of Green Bay.  It’s about 90 miles from Green Bay out to the very end at Northport, to go any farther than that you have to get on the ferry to Washington Island (which I would love to do sometime but alas, it was not to be on this trip).  It was a long drive from Sheboygan, about 3 hours each way, but it’s a beautiful area & there’s plenty of little lakeshore towns to visit along the way.  It’s been 3 whole years since I’ve been north of the 45th Parallel so I was glad to get back!

WI-42 & WI-57 both wind up into the peninsula, I ended up taking 57 there & 42 back, both are great drives.  The only unfortunate thing is that I think half the state decided to go leaf-touring on the same day, plus half the little towns were having farmers’ markets and/or fall festivals so there was a surprising amount of traffic to deal with.  Sister Bay is a town of less than 900 people but there must have been thousands at the fall festival, all having to walk a long way from where they parked to downtown, none of whom seemed able to keep themselves or their dogs out of the road.  I think a weekday would have been better, although it would take a whole camping trip to properly experience everything.

I visited the farmers’ market in Two Rivers (self-proclaimed birthplace of the ice cream sundae), ate lunch in Bailey’s Harbor, & finally made my way all the way up to Northport to watch the car ferries for a bit.  Northport sits on the passage between Lake Michigan & Green Bay, a strait known as Porte des Morts or Door of Death.  The true origin of the name is unknown, but may derive from the oral histories of local Native American tribes.  It is appropriate today because this area may hold more shipwrecks than any other patch of freshwater in the world.  I’d really like to get back up there when I have more time (and maybe it’s warmer!) to visit the islands.  Pilot Island has a really cool-looking abandoned lighthouse that I could see from the mainland & looks like it would be really fun to check out.

On the way back down the peninsula I stopped at Door Bluff County Park & Ellison Bluff State Natural Area, both of which are very small but also free and had great views out over the lake.  The County Park is far enough off the main road that you start to think maybe you missed it but no, it’s there, keep driving.  I ended up spending 11 hours wandering around & it wasn’t nearly enough time!  Hopefully someday I can go camping up there & really get some proper exploring done.

 

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Throwback Thursday: Cataloochee Valley

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Cataloochee Valley is my favorite part of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  It’s far from any of the big towns or really popular parts of the park so it’s a good place to get away from the crowds at Cades Cove or Clingman’s Dome.  It’s got abandoned buildings that are still in pretty good shape and is also the only part of the park where elk have been reintroduced.

I went out there hiking one day in October a few years ago when I was still living in Gatlinburg.  The leaves were beautiful, the elk were out in the meadows, and I had the trails all to myself.  Lots of little creeks with tiny waterfall made for a very peaceful experience.  I had intended to hike out to a schoolhouse but I got started too late & didn’t want to be out there in the dark so I had to turn back.  I also kept meaning to stay at the campground there but never got around to it.  Hopefully I’ll make it back there someday & do those things.

Throwback Thursday: That Time I Tried to get to Munising & Ended Up in Grand Marais

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So it turns out that roads don’t cross each other in the Upper Peninsula. I discovered this when I decided to wander my way in the general direction of Munising to see waterfalls, with no real timeline or plan except to be back on Mackinac Island when I had to be at work again. I just kept going north, figuring I’d turn west on the next road. That road didn’t exist until Lake Superior appeared in front of me, & then it turned out to be a horrible, rutted logging road that I could only go about 10mph on lest it shake my car to pieces. The first civilization I came to was Grand Marais, a good 45 miles east of Munising.

Grand Marais is nice though. I got to see the Pickle Barrel House, I had the beach pretty much to myself (although I didn’t go swimming – Lake Superior stays about 55° year-round & I’m not crazy). I did get to hike out to a waterfall & to some sand dunes in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. All in all it was a nice little weekend jaunt, just not the one I had in mind when I started.

Journey: Amtrak’s Silver Star

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Orlando, Florida to Alexandria, Virginia – 934 miles

Coach class on the Silver Service trains uses single-level Amfleet cars, so the view isn’t quite as good as on the double-decker Superliner cars on some of the long-distance routes but it was still a lot of fun and I spent pretty much the whole 18-hour trip just staring out the window.  The Silver Star and Silver Meteor use the same tracks for the most part except that the Star swings west to hit Columbia and Raleigh, while the meteor takes a more direct route through Charleston and Fayetteville.  Neither has any ocean view at all.

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The historic Orlando station.

I didn’t have anyone next to me until the station before my destination.  There was supposed to be someone but…I guess they lost them.  The car attendent kept wandering around going “where is my Philadelphia?”  Pretty sure they got off in Florida and never got back on.  Great for me, probably not so much for them.

I got on in Orlando in the evening, fell asleep as we were crossing into Georgia, and woke up two states later just inside North Carolina.  We passed through several major cities and all sorts of tiny adorable towns.  The only sad part was that it was dark out for such a big chunk of the trip, on my way back I’m going to try & book it so that I go through those places during the day, and the ones I already saw at night.

The Silver Star isn’t exactly the epitome of comfort but I arrived in Alexandria on time (!) the next afternoon having spent $117 and basically no effort in the process.

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Museums of St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg is one of a handful of pretty little cities out on the peninsula between Tampa Bay & the Gulf of Mexico.  With beautiful beaches & palm-lined streets it’s been a tourist destination since the beginning of tourism.

The Museum of History is on the approach to the St. Petersburg Pier, which juts out into Tampa Bay & is currently closed for construction.  It’s a small but interesting museum, $15 for adults, $12 for seniors, $9 for children, military, & students (this was the first place I got a discount with my student ID!).  Their permanent exhibits include an Egyptian mummy, general area history, aviation, a few signs about pirates, and for some reason two rooms filled with nothing but autographed baseballs.  When I went in April they had a shipwreck exhibit on that showed models & artifacts as well as the technology involved in finding the wrecks & retrieving small bits from them.

Just around the corner is the Museum of Fine Arts ($17/adults, $15/seniors/military, $10/children/students), which holds many works from some of history’s greatest artists in its permanent collection.  After viewing ancient pieces from all over the world, I found myself in the presence of three genuine Monets.  Unlike most art museums, they welcome photography in their permanent collections.

Event: Live Oak International

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Every year in January horse drivers & jumpers come to Ocala from all over the world to compete at Live Oak Farms.  It’s become quite a festival, they have food trucks, vendors, even the Budweiser Clydesdale were there, all hooked up doing laps around the show ring.  It was a lot of fun except for the woman sitting next to me during the jumping saying “You can do it horsie! Oh that’s OK you’ll do better on the next one!”  It was the horse show equivalent of those people who talk to the characters during movies.

A Love Letter to the Florida State Fair

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I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned my absurd love of fairs.  Maybe it’s my Midwest upbringing, but I LOVE FAIRS.  All kinds: local, county, state, whatever.  I love everything about them.  I love baby animals and prize-winning chickens and little kids showing pygmy goats.  I love gussied-up llamas and livestock judges waxing poetic about cows and fancy horses with braided manes.  I love midways and overpriced rides and smells of awful fried food and obnoxious barkers trying to get people to play their ridiculous games.  I love expo halls full of craft booths and tables covered with handouts about bugs.  I love handmade quilts with ribbons pinned on them and dioramas with model trains running around the edge and forestry exhibitions of endangered animals.  I love ugly but lovable elementary-school art projects and musicians demonstrating mountain dulcimers.  I love samples of local honey and displays of exotic fish and barns full of rabbits.

I just really, really, really love fairs, and the Florida State Fair is one of the best I’ve been to.  I saw the Budweiser Clydesdales, fed a butterfly, and watched a woman weave cloth with a wooded loom.  I tasted ice cream some guy made as part of a demonstration to get people to buy some contraption or other.  I found out that Florida has a special kind of horse called a Cracker that does a funny little trot and saw a kid get hauled over to a hay bale by a goat he was trying to show.  I watched people feed carrot sticks to giraffes.  I spent seven hours looking at wooden clocks and bonsai trees and recycled yard art.  It was great.