Lake Michigan summer fun…the great escape.
Like lemmings to the sea, cars streamed westward on the interstate one scorching-hot July Saturday, as we traveled to my husband’s home town – Grand Haven on Lake Michigan. It’s an annual trek for us to the Michigan coastline, usually in June, as we help settle in my father-in-law (up from Florida) at the local campground where he’s summered for the past 34 years.
Summer season flies for Cliff and Lesley Densmore, who’ve kept Camper’s Paradise, Inc. (which I dub “the best little urban campground in Michigan”) going for over a decade, since taking it over from previous owners. When it was built in 1962, the area was still rural. It’s amazing that it’s there yet – an oasis between the highway and the railroad tracks. I’d say it’s one of the city’s well-kept secrets: secret, because you can’t see it. If you didn’t know it was there, you wouldn’t know it was there. I’ve often wondered how many locals are even aware of it.
Looking back, I realize how wonderful it is for snowbirds, like my father-in-law, to have a camping space right in their hometown, where they can retreat back to cooler Michigan summers, and where all the extended family can find them. This year, the cousins had to wait a month to see him; he’d flown to Minnesota first to visit his other son and family. But, that made the timing right for us to continue up the west coast before the Michigan cherry season disappeared, and spend a few days in the Manistee area.
‘Blue water, blue skies: What could be better?’
The campground host at Orchard Beach State Park, just north of Manistee, had written those words on the welcome sign on Monday when we arrived. A wonderful greeting, I thought. What could be better than blue water and blue skies, the perfect antidote after enduring days of extreme summer heat in southeastern Michigan?
All the other lemmings must have agreed, as the Orchard Beach campground — on a high bluff over the dunes — teemed with families with kids and dogs and lots of parents and grandparents. Everyone had the same agenda: scramble down the steep dune stairway to the shoreline below, to the beach that seemingly goes on forever.
We’d no planned itinerary, so we were open for places to explore along that part of the Michigan shoreline. In the park office, I found a flyer about an Audubon bird sanctuary up the road.
The 76-acre Lake Bluff Bird Sanctuary is on the Midwest Migration Flyway, so it counts 178 species of birds passing through, including the Bald Eagle; Eastern Screech, Great Horned and Barred Owl; five swallow species; all seven woodpecker species; and all 26 warbler species – adding up to 1700 birds who enjoy the five-acre arboretum on the grounds.
Amazingly, and inadvertently, we’d discovered the southern terminus of the Sleeping Bear Birding Trail, which runs the entire 123 miles of Michigan Highway M-22 from Manistee to Traverse City. It wasn’t until we returned home, and I wanted to learn more about the Lake Bluff Bird Sanctuary and the Audubon connection, that I found out about the Sleeping Bear Birding Trail. So, next time, we’ll have to do a better job at homework, if we intend to do some serious birding.
The many miles of Michigan shoreline make the area a birder’s paradise, according to the Sleeping Bear Birding Trail blog. This is a new development, my bird watching friends; the trail launch was in April 2013. So, here’s another reason to head off to the Lake Michigan shore, no matter what season.
Lake Bluff Bird Sanctuary is also home to 70 tree species. But who would have guessed that among the 70 would be two magnificent Michigan Champion Trees: the Giant Sequoia and Sycamore?
The 3-room Lake Bluff Bed & Breakfast, another point of interest for future reference. The rest of the week, we soaked up more beautiful Lake Michigan scenery, driving the back roads and hiking some trails. We particularly liked the trail to the big water near Arcadia.
Old Baldy: Located south of Sleeping Bear, Old Baldy is just off the highway M-22 at Arcada; it makes a nice hike, traversing the sandy dune trail leading to the overview of the lake far below. The area is part of the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy.
Manistee Riverfront Walk is great for a pleasure walk, strolling by the river lined with boats. And, the city beach provides wonderful sunset views. A beautiful Michigan cherry ice cream dessert is a sweet reward at House of Flavors.
We’ve always spent most of our time in Grand Haven when heading westward. Once in awhile, we find an opportunity to wend our way up or down the fantastic Lake Michigan coastline. You can picture it as a ribbon of wonder…of blue waters and blue skies to follow and to cherish on the long side of the Michigan Mitten.
“Another day in Paradise,” quips my husband, teasingly, when we visit the campground each summer. We’ve many fond memories of our Grand Haven destination – the family gatherings, walking the amazing waterfront, picking blueberries – even sometimes taking in the famed Musical Fountain.
Yes, my husband’s hometown is the perfect via point for traveling up or down the coast.
As for paradise, Michigan’s water wonderland — as the Sleeping Bear Birding Trail Blog describes — is pure paradise, not only for birders, but for lemmings and vacationers everywhere.
Blue Water, Blue Skies Links