We were originally planning to spend seven days at a private campground in Traverse City (which is on the northwestern side of the Michigan mitten) before heading further west for a couple nights at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. But, upon arriving at our Traverse City campsite, we knew we’d want to stay as long as possible. Holiday Park Campground used to be an “Airstream only” resort, but is now open to anyone, and, as everyone in the RV world knows, Airstreamers know a thing or two about design.
The campground is spacious, green, and built around a beautiful lake…
Even better, because it was after Labor Day, we scored an enormous lakeside site, complete with a separate terraced patio and built-in fire pit, for a very reasonable price.
So, we quickly changed our plans to take full advantage of our good fortune. We cancelled our stay at SBD and extended our stay in TC.
Sleeping Bear Dunes
Since we would no longer be camping at Sleeping Bear Dunes, a top priority was driving out there for a day visit. So, on a particularly blue sky/sunny day, we packed up the dog and headed for the lake. One of the things we really appreciated about this park was how dog friendly it was. When we visited Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the Upper Peninsula, we were a bit disappointed to find that, while the park advertised itself as dog friendly, in reality, there were only a handful of locations where we could go. At Sleeping Bear Dunes, on the other hand, we could take Thor just about everywhere. Winning!
We visited the very popular Empire Bluff Trail which starts with an easy walk through a forest…
interrupted by occasional glimpses of the perfectly framed waterfront scenery…
Eventually, the landscape opens up and visitors can take in the whole coastline…
which is not hideous.
We also checked out the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive which takes visitors along several lookouts in the interior of the park.
Finally, we headed to the very large dunes.
As soon as you approach them, you’re greeted with this sign:
Turns out, there are a lot of people who like to walk or run down the dunes, only to learn that getting back to the top is brutal. Not only do they need to crawl on their hands and feet in deep sand for hours to make it to the top, but the dunes get full sun for much of the day. And the people who think it’s a good idea to run down to the bottom are rarely the same people who think it’s a good idea to pack adequate water, sunblock, and a hat.
Standing at the top, it’s hard to explain just how enormous these dunes are.
Indeed, you could be forgiven if you didn’t even notice the two people who were about halfway up the dunes, taking a break, in the picture above.
Here, let me crop the photo a bit for you:
And here’s them modeling the “Oh my god I hate my life right now” crawl…
To be clear, these dunes are not the same ones that make up the safe (but still tough) “Dune Climb Trail” that is located in another section of the park. That trail is difficult, but not moronic. Unfortunately, it is one of the few places in the park that is not dog friendly, so we couldn’t partake, but we did a quick drive-by to check it out.
Overall, we had a fabulous day at this lovely park. There’s lots to see and do, it offers wonderful views, and it’s dog friendly to boot! If you find yourself in Northern Michigan, don’t miss it!
Mission Point Lighthouse
Traverse City is located on the southern end of a large bay on Lake Michigan. Reaching north from Traverse City into the bay is a long, thin, strip of land which is home to numerous wineries and orchards. We spent one afternoon driving up to the northernmost tip of that peninsula in order to visit the Mission Point Lighthouse. The lighthouse is part of a park, so after walking out on the beach to view the 1870 structure:
and checking out a closer up view:
we explored some of the heavily forested trails in the park. They were, per the usual, lightly trafficked and made for a good spot to get Thor some exercise.
Traverse City, the largest city in Northern Michigan, has become a popular tourist destination for both summer and fall activities, and has graced several “best places to live/retire” lists.
The surrounding region is famous for its tart cherries and hosts the National Cherry Festival in July, which brings in about 500,000 tourists. The rest of the year, the yummy fruit is still easily available from stores such as Cherry Republic, which serves up all manner of cherry goodness to patrons. Best of all, you can snack your way through the store in one giant cherry buffet.
The city has also become known for its film festival. In 2005, Michael Moore began hosting a large film festival at several locations including the historic State Theater downtown. The festival has brought additional notoriety to the region.
Finally, the city dishes up delicious cuisine. From some of the tastiest fish and chips we’ve ever had at a place called Scalawags (which was, oddly, located in an office building downtown), to inventive worldwide cuisine at Alliance, to terrific pizza at The Filling Station, we ate really well during our visit.
One of the things we really came to appreciate about Michigan, in general, is its creative drinking opportunities. Not only is the state absolutely drowning in fabulous breweries, but they also have wineries, and some wonderful cocktail bars too. Without going into a bunch of detail that no one cares about regarding specific beers, I will simply say that we enjoyed every brewery we visited. And we visited a lot of them. Because beer is delicious.
We spent one afternoon sampling the breweries in the downtown area. One of the coolest was The Filling Station, a brewery/restaurant built on the site of an old train station. Neat, right?
We also visited Low Bar, a speakeasy style cocktail bar in the basement of another brewery. Not only did they have a very large cocktail menu, but check out their not-insubstantial menu of whiskeys:
And the drinks were tailor made to create “cocktail envy”…. defined as “The situation that arises when one observes another patron’s cocktail being crafted and immediately decides he or she must have one, too.”
For us, it was “The Boss,” a Mezcal, Cognac, cherry, and orange liquor concoction. After our bartender mixed the ingredients, she poured the liquid into a tall glass bottle, filled the empty space in the bottle with smoke, and corked it. She then set it on its side to allow the smoke to infuse the liquid. A) delicious; and B) entertaining!
Speaking of creative drinking opportunities, about 200 miles south of Traverse City, was Kalamazoo, our next destination. This town also knows a thing or two about fun bars. Take the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange where, just like on a regular stock exchange, commodity (in this case: beer) prices change based on demand. So, the prices of individual beers adjust every 15 minutes based on demand within the bar during the previous “trading session.” Making matters even more fun, every couple hours, the entire market “crashes” resulting in a five minute period when all beer prices drop by 30% to 40%. Patrons are encouraged to “buy, buy, buy” which sends prices back up for the next trading session.
We were there early in the evening, so prices were still relatively high, but as the night wears on, they drop significantly. Prices are tracked on video screens throughout the bar as well as a NYSE style ticker that surrounds the lower floor.
Our former home state of Virginia has very tough liquor laws. The state’s Alcohol Beverage Control board is known for being rather puritanical, requiring bars to post a certain percentage of their receipts from the sale of food – meaning, there are no “bars” in Virginia. They are all restaurants that happen to serve booze.
If the folks at the Virginia ABC saw what was going on at the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange, they’d have a stroke.
Which is why we loved it.
As for the rest of Kalamazoo, the downtown area featured several neat re-purposed historic buildings and nice artwork:
We loved Markin Glen, the county park we stayed at, with its picturesque ponds and walking trails…
and a campsite that had an enormous backyard for Thor:
But we really didn’t explore this small city much.
During our week in Kalamazoo, I spent a day up in Grand Rapids visiting the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum, and, on a different day, we both drove up there to visit Founders Brewing Company – one of our all-time favorites. We also headed west to Lake Michigan where we spent some time with our former neighbor from D.C., Ray, and his brother, John, who have a rather nice view of Lake Michigan from their house:
For those of you who’ve been around for a while, you might recall John had us on his radio show way back when. This time, we did an update interview and, because they know we have an interest in historical sites around the country, they organized a meeting with Ron Taylor the last surviving member of the House of David. “What’s that?” you ask? Read on…
The House of David
The House of David was a religious society founded in the early 1900’s by husband and wife, Benjamin and Mary Purnell. They claimed that he was the “seventh messenger of God” and established a commune that soon boasted over 1,000 members. Members believed that by joining the community and following its strict rules, they would be granted eternal life.
While some claimed (and continue to claim) it was simply a cult, several factors differentiated the House of David from other religious groups.
First, they established a very modern society, one that operated on over a thousand acres and produced fruits, grains, and lumber. Additionally, they operated a cannery, a blacksmith shop, a printing shop, a carpentry shop, a steam laundry, a hospital, schools, a restaurant, and an electricity plant.
Second, the group was open and welcoming to members of the larger community. This was not an insular group, but, rather, a hugely important part of the town of Benton Harbor.
They operated a large vacation resort, a zoo, and an amusement park. They ran an enormous farmers market. They had several artistic groups – musical bands and orchestras that not only performed locally but which also traveled around the Vaudeville circuits. Years later, and even today, people from the region recall fond memories of spending time at the property and interacting with its warm and welcoming members.
Third, and related, the group became famous for its baseball team. From the 1920’s to the 1950’s the community’s baseball team played against amateur and semi pro teams across rural America. The men, easily identifiable by their long hair and beards, were genuinely talented ball players. At one point, the team began hiring professional players who grew beards or wore false ones in order to play for the team. Because Major League Baseball required its players to shave, the House of David team was not permitted to play in the major leagues, so they often played in the Negro League.
They also, obviously, had a sense of humor…
However, in other ways, the religious commune was similar to others in that members were not permitted to own their own property, they were prohibited from consuming alcohol, tobacco, or meat, and they were required to be celibate. And, in the end, the original group was undone by a sex scandal. In the 1920’s, several young women came forward to allege that Benjamin Purnell had sexually abused them. Over the course of several years, cases were brought in both civil and criminal court and the story became a national sensation – drawing tons of media coverage. Eventually, the group was found to be a public nuisance because of the founder’s actions, but because he died before the case ended, the group was not disbanded.
Upon his death, the group split into two separate communities, one led by Mary Purnell and the other by another member of the original group. Mary Purnell continued to build her community up, adding significantly to the properties and managing the community for several decades.
The last remaining member of the group led by Mary is Ron Taylor, the man we met. He has turned the building in which Mary used to preach into a museum, showcasing the history of the House of David.
Since there are no new members, and no descendants of existing members, it will be interesting to see what happens when he passes on. According to their beliefs, when the last member dies, the second coming will be upon us. If that’s true, I really need to get this blog caught up already.
On that note, next up, Ann Arbor, the incomparable Henry Ford Museum, and Michigan Football!
Where we stayed:
Holiday Park Campground, Traverse City, Michigan
Markin County Park, Kalamazoo, Michigan