Saturday, July 30, 2011

Charlevoix Castle - an amazing stop

We had heard about the Charlevoix Castle located a couple miles out of Charlevoix and wanted to pay it a visit, but we never expected the amazing tour that we found.

The Castle Farms were originally built by Albert Loeb, acting President of the Sears and Roebuck firm in 1918 as a demonstration farm using Sears farm equipment. The farms were initially some 6,000 acres and housed a full dairy, horse barn, as well as living quarters.

Unfortunately, in 1924, Albert Loeb passed away and the farm was closed down. The farm property was sold a couple times and suffered great deterioration. Eventually, Linda Mueller purchased the farm and totally restored it to better than new condition, which was a huge undertaking. Li

Today the Castle is spectacular and is used for weddings, receptions and other events. We were told that 5 weddings of up to 400 folks each can be held at the same time. All the old barns are now social halls and wonderfully decorated.

One of the great surprises at the castle was the wonderful garden model railroad that consists of 1,600' of track. Rick was very happy and insisted on checking this part out carefully! Orinda thought our grandson would love Thomas the Tank engine as he tooled around the tracks.

Rick loves model railroads and this one was great. Garden railroads are able to handle outdoor weather and the trains are large and easy to see. The railroad consists of two general sections -- this detailed, urban area and then a large, elevated area.

The trains move between the levels by using this spiral helix system where the train climbs round and round until it gets about 8' in the air. This is quite an engineering feat.

The tower area above Orinda and the landscaped railroad area is the viewing area for the upper section. There has been quite a bit of effort in constructing this and we enjoyed checking it out.

This is the upper area and is over a garden maze for kids. It was cool to walk through the maze area and watch the trains chug across overhead.

We had a great time exploring the many courtyards and water features at the Castle. In addition to the great buildings, the grounds were manicured and beautiful. We could understand why so many brides wanted to be married here at Castle Farms.

The restoration included some of the original buggies, such as this one which is still in use for special occasions.

The castle is a huge complex and takes a couple of hours to explore. We were delighted to have taken the tour and this turned out to be a highlight of our visits to Charlevoix.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Traverse Bay and Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes

Traverse City and Great Traverse Bay is south of us at Petoskey and we wanted to tour the area to see what was there. Our first stop was on the Old Mission peninsula which forms part of the Bay. The peninsula runs about 16 miles north of Traverse City and at the end is the Old Mission Lighthouse, seen here. We also learned a remarkable thing -- we are at the exact site of the 45th parallel or exactly halfway between the equator and the north pole. Cool!

The lighthouse was built in 1879 and kept watch over these busy waters. In front of the house, is a beach area that is full of sand -- we found out later that there was lots of sand in the area.

Grand Traverse Bay is about 10 miles wide and 32 miles long (and over 600' deep) and this is a just bay in a very large lake! We were fortunate to have beautiful weather for our travels.

After driving back to Traverse City, we headed toward the western peninsula and then headed north on the coast road. Our first stop here was at Sutton's Bay, one of a number of small, pretty towns. Of course, Rick had to check out the marina which looks out over the north of Traverse Bay. What a beautiful view.

Orinda heard of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in the Traverse City area, so we headed a bit south to take a look. Frankly, we did not think that the dunes could be very big being next to the lake. Certainly, they could not be very large compared to the dunes we saw on the Pacific coast -- but we were in for a surprise. This sign pointed our way to the first dune.

The climbing dune was just what the name implied -- a huge dune to climb and lots of kids were having a blast. We enjoyed the view, but did not take part in climbing the dune. Whew!

Fortunately, there was a great scenic drive -- the Pierce Stocking drive which took us to several great vistas. We were surprised to see the vast dunes that stretched in front of us. In fact, you can just see an island well behind Orinda -- that is a big dune too!

This was the most dramatic view -- we are on top of a dune several hundred feet high and directly next to Lake Michigan. This is one VERY steep dune surface and we did not want to get too close to the edge.

Indeed, we were not the only ones concerned about this -- this sign showed that there have been issues before -- and if you are nutty enough to try and go down, you pay for the rescue to bring you back up.

Here is a side view of the dune -- those little specks are people! This dune is huge and we found out that we are 450' above Lake Michigan from this point.
This is a view directly below the overlook Rick is on. Now we can really understand the warning to be cautious about getting too close to the edge, although a number of folks were trying the daunting climb down and then up.

These dunes run for miles down the coast and we can fully appreciate why this was deemed a National Lakeshore. Sleeping Bear Dunes is well worth the trip if you are near the Traverse City area in Michigan.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Rogers City and Cheboygan, MI

We took a road trip east from Petoskey, MI to Rogers City, about 40 miles away. Rogers City is located on Lake Huron and we were curious to take a look. Naturally, we cruised down to the city center and marina to see what was going on.

We have been experiencing some warm temperatures (in upper Michigan, that means in the high 80's), but here, it was very cool to say the least! A strong wind was blowing from the lake and Orinda was glad to have her jacket.

This is the entrance to the marina and is a man-made rock jetty. We have seen quite a few of these on the Great Lakes since there seem to be very few natural harbors. As a result, these manufactured harbors are very well designed and built.

Orinda made the walk out to the end of the jetty and the navigation light, although the waves were several feet high. Not surprisingly, there was no boat traffic today.

In fact, we were really surprised to see how empty the marina was. AS you can see, there were many open slips; I would guess at least 60% were not in use. This has been fairly common in many of the city marinas we have seen and we wondered where the boats were.

Further, the Lion's Club of Rogers City was holding a fishing tournament, but we saw very few entrants. Perhaps the weather was a problem with that.

Lake Huron is much smaller than Lake Superior, but it is still huge! In fact, Lake Huron is the fifth largest freshwater lake in the world. After leaving Rogers City, we headed north to the town of Cheboygan, about 25 miles away.

The Cheboygan River runs through town and empties into Lake Huron. We were especially interested in this city dock area that allows boats to tie up so folks can walk into the stores in town.

The river offers traditional marinas as well and there were some dandy boats around here. Orinda liked the boats, but after seeing the waves on the lakes, thinks she will stay in the motorhome.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Little Traverse Museum and Burger Boats

Near the Petoskey marina is the old railroad depot which used to be the main entry point into the Petoskey area. Interesting, years ago, some 20 trains a day stopped in this small town during the tourist season (mostly in the summer). Apparently, the number of folks coming to summer here back in the early 1900's were actually higher than they are now.

Over the years, highway travel took over and the trains no longer came and as a result, the depot was not needed. After a number of years sitting vacant, the depot was turned into the Little Traverse History Museum.

The museum is full of many interesting artifacts of the area, including this buggy that was used by the local doctor on his rounds. Rick thought it would be fun to ride in the buggy in the summer -- but, I will bet it would be pretty sporting to use it in the winter! Makes me appreciate our Buick with air conditioning and heat!

Orinda was interested in this reproduction of a Victorian room that was typical in the early 1900's. According to the information on the display, these rooms were very popular in this area 100 years ago. These rooms were definitely not "living rooms", but rather very formal reception rooms that were designed to greet folks.

Today, bicycling is very popular in the area with the great cycling trails that pervade the town. However, we learned that cycling was very popular over 120 years ago as well! Back then, bikes were very different from our models today. This is an 1881 Star cycle that was revolutionary in its design as it had the large wheel in the back and the small wheel in the front. This allowed high speeds, but was safer since it was more stable. Notice that there is no chain driving the wheel; rather, the pedals were connected by leather straps to the rear wheel and could be pushed down individually or, for a burst of speed, both could be pushed together.

We did not know that Petoskey could also claim that Ernest Hemingway spent time in this area as a boy. Apparently he really loved this rustic environment and used it in stories in the future.

We also learned that Petoskey was one of the major Passenger Pigeon hunting areas. In 1878, this was the site of perhaps the last large nesting areas that was found. The museum reported that some 50,000 pigeons were harvested a day -- every day for several months! Unfortunately, such hunting practices and loss of habitat spelled doom for the bird and just 20 years later, this was one of the few left before they became extinct.

Rick also heard that some large yachts might show up in the Bay Harbor area. Indeed, these Burger Yachts were supposed to drop by the member's only Yacht Club, but we though maybe we could get a glimpse from the main, public area at the Bay Harbor Marina. Interestingly, it seemed that some of these "small boats" (under 50') had to make room for the biggies.

Sure enough, we saw some remarkable yachts. This tidy 85 footer was magnificent and we learned had recently been sold when the prior owner moved up to a 125' Burger.

We also saw this very nice sailboat that had just completed the Chicago to Mackinac race. This is the longest sail race in freshwater in the world and had over 350 sailboats with 3,500 crew members as entrants. Tragically, this year a severe thunderstorm hit the fleet late at night and caused a boat to capsize and two crew died. We were hit with the same storm as it came in from the lake and it really rocked the motorhome, but did no damage to us. Still, we would hate to have been on the water when that squall hit.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Charlevoix Classic Car Show at the Marina!

The city of Charlevoix, just south of Petoskey, seems to hold a number of special events and festivals. Many of these are held in the beautiful park area next to the marina and the Classic Car show was no exception.

As you can see behind this great early 60's Lincoln convertible is the marina. This is very cool -- nice cars and nice boats!

There were too many cars entered to fit in the large park area, so many of them are parked on the streets of Charlevoix. This 1937 Cadillac La Salle convertible was spectacular and has been owned by the same person for the last 51 years. Wow - what a cool car.

This 1934 Packard was also a wonderful car to see. Rick is very impressed with this one. This car looked like it had just come from the showroom and we really appreciate the hard work that it must take to restore it and to share it with folks like us.

We really like our Buick LaCrosse, so it was natural that we liked this 1938 Buick. Again, this car was perfect with an engine that looked brand new.

There were also hotrods and other recent cars, but Orinda liked the classics and there were plenty of those at the show. Speaking of Buick, here is a pristine 1931 Buick. It is interesting to see the major differences between this 1931 and the much more modern looking 1938 above. Quite a bit of change in just 7 years!

While we were looking at the cars, this cruiser idled by on its way to Lake Michigan. What a beautiful venue for a car show or just a nice stroll around the park and water.

Orinda liked this modified Ford roadster. The streets of Charlevoix are very picturesque and it is a pleasure to walk around this small town. They have done a great job in welcoming visitors.

Rick really enjoyed this -- a 1967 Mustang, very similar to the one he had in college. Hard to believe the car is that old (Rick can't be that old -- can he?). A great day checking out the cars and boats in Charlevoix.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Tour of Kilwins Kitchen -- Ice Cream and Chocolate!

We have had Kilwins Ice Cream down in Florida several times and always enjoyed the rich flavor and quality of the product. We were unaware however, that Kilwins had started in Petoskey, and is still headquartered there. Of course, when we learned that they offer tours of their kitchen, we had to visit!

The tour is focused on their headquarters chocolate making operation -- which was just fine with us. They also offer a very complete ice cream selection, but that is made in a different location. Still, Orinda was impressed with this sample!

The kitchens are spotless and while fully modern (this location just opened last month), we learned from our tour guide that the chocolates are still made the old fashioned way for the best quality taste (we were able to "test" this claim a bit later).

This batch of carmels had just been made and was cooling before being covered with nuts and chocolate. It was fun to learn how these candies were made and to see them at each step.

This is the chocolate covering machine -- a neat device if I ever saw one! The worker put pieces of caramel and nuts on the belt and they would move into the dunking area.

Here, the candies are coated with hot chocolate and then move into a cooling are. This thing made thousands of individual candies while we watched. Rick was very impressed with this machine, especially when he learned that it had to be completed dismantled at the end of each run for cleaning. That must be some job!

The tour ended in this reception area where we removed our booties and hair nets that were required. Our guide asked use to wait just a second while we looked at all the exhibits.

Sure enough, he quickly returned with samples of some of the candies we had just seen. We sampled the pecan/caramel chocolates that were wonderful! Orinda seems to think that the tour was pretty good and the reward at the end was worthwhile!