We stayed 2 nights at Interlochen State Park, situated between two sandy inland lakes and centrally located about a ½ hour south of Traverse City. But in the wider world, Interlochen is known as a musical mecca. Across the street within walking distance from our park, is Interlochen Center for the Arts. THIS is where the brilliant children go to master their craft.
Interlochen Center for the Arts
Each summer, over 2500 students flock to Interlochen summer camps. These talented teenagers come from all over the nation, and even the world, to stay and play… literally. Mastering musical instruments or crooning choral medleys is just scratching the surface. There are also programs in dance, media & visual arts, writing, theater performance & production, even motion picture arts.
In teaching fine arts, performances must follow. So Interlochen hosts hundreds of concerts and events each year. Take your pick from choir concerts, symphony bands, film screenings, dance troupes, plays, jazz ensembles, individual recitals, screenplay readings and art exhibits. While the majority showcases students and faculty, some are professional concerts or plays (The New York Philharmonic is an example), and many are free to the public.
It’s Summer Camp!
Lucky for us, this is Summer Camp Season! We walked over to the spacious campus and watched the sea of giggling teens in their ubiquitous uniforms, light blue tops/dark blue bottoms (here, knickers are still in vogue), toting black instrument cases from rustic stone cabins to vast, outdoor rehearsal halls. The kids were just finishing up a multi-week musical camp. It was the last day and performances were going on in every venue. We watched a symphony rehearsal for a while, then found a recital for kid composers. We witnessed about 20 very different musical pieces; some were solos, some ensembles of 3-5, incorporating piano, string, wind and brass instruments. The cool thing is that these complex pieces were performed by AND composed by 16-17-yr-olds! Amazing. We then meandered on over to another venue where we found an excellent jazz ensemble playing the music of Duke Ellington. Overall, we were impressed by not only the talent of these kids, but their studious demeanor. With the opportunity to attend such a prestigious camp, you’d better be willing to put in the effort. Maybe there’s hope for the world after all!
We skipped downtown due to another crazy farmers market traffic jam and headed up the skinny Old Mission Peninsula to see the Mission Point Lighthouse. After lunch, we wound our way back to a… mall? Who cares? Well, this is a…unique…mall. Yes, this massive former mental institution had closed and deteriorated over time, but some guy had a bright idea to preserve the imposing structure and turn it into retail shops, small business studios and senior apartments – splendid! Now known as The Village at Grand Traverse Commons (bit too long a name don’t you think?) the complex consists of several buildings and a large green space to host festivals and concerts. Tidy, upscale shops line its warm, wine-cellary, brick-walled basement. Interspersed are old photos depicting the hospital’s interesting history. But the first floor still retains that clinical feeling with stark tile and double-wide swing doors, plus the dark stairwells are a liiiittle creepy. But it’s a good start to reviving this historic, one-of-a-kind structure. Worth a stop to support the preservation efforts.
Cherries. It’s what’s for dinner.
And it’s what this entire area is known for, Traverse City being the home of the Cherry Festival which attracts half a million visitors who eat massive loads of the delicious red goodness. So I have been consuming cherries like it’s going out of style… stopping at roadside stands, chopping them into salads, buying cherry goodies at local bakeries and…then there’s cherry pie everywhere!
Enter Friske Orchards just outside the village of Charlevoix. As they say, they’re “not your average fruit stand”. No they are not. They produce the BEST. CHERRY. PIE. EVER. We stopped here because they participate in Harvest Host, a national network of farms & wineries that offer free one-night stays in return for an on-your-honor purchase of their wares. (You must be completely self-sufficient -- no electric hookups, water or restrooms.) Since we are members, we decided to try it and had our best overnight stay of the trip. We parked the van out back near the apple orchard and spent a quiet evening in a field completely by ourselves. Nice.
In return for this spot to park, we bought 2 apple fritters, a bag of fresh cherries, a pint of blueberries and a ½ cherry pie. Why ½? Well, it wasn’t cheap. And I was like, why do we need a whole pie, we’ll just eat it. Right? You know what I’m saying. But after our first bite, I was seriously contemplating throwing open the door and running back to the store before they closed for the night. OMG it was literally the best pie we have ever eaten. But alas, I restrained myself, for our health’s sake and my pocketbook (a whole pie was $22.) Big mistake. Big. Huge! I regret not snatching up that 2nd pie. Every. Day.
OK, onto Charlevoix which I think is the cutest town we’ve visited thus far. After lunch downtown, we watched the boats line up along the channel waiting for the drawbridge to open, allowing them all into Lake Charlevoix. Whew, I would NOT want to have a boat here. These guys were practically playing bumper cars waiting in a skinny canal, working to remain in the same precarious position with the wind whipping up, choppy waves barreling down the waterway, pushing them ever closer to the closed bridge. Yikes.
Charlevoix is also the home of the mushroom houses. What’s a mushroom house? Built by architect Earl Young, these homes look like they were specifically made for giant hobbits, utilizing large boulders and topped with undulating cedar shake roofs. My photo is not that great, so look online for better pics. I wish we could have sneaked a peek inside, the use of gigantic fieldstone is supposed to be amazing.
Lunch stop at Burt Lake State Park. For years I’d talked this place up as nirvana, wanting to show Brian where as a kid we’d regularly go camping with my parents and grandparents. I remember the camp sites right up against the water, puttering around in grandpa’s little aluminum boat, swimming in the sandy shallow lake and playing on the beach all day. Good times.
An Old Friend
To my surprise though, as I walked up to the beach, I recognized an old, familiar friend. The vintage aluminum playground slide. Oh my gosh! I remember this! It HAS to be the same one! Those sturdy, cast iron steps. Those handrails made of what looks like plumbing pipe, worn smooth from thousands of little hands shimmying to the top. The sliding sheet metal is now shiny silver from so many sandy little bums gleefully skimming down her slick surface. Still standing after all these many, many years (and no I don’t want to count them). I’ve slipped down this slide hundreds of times. SO, of course, I HAD to go for a ride…one more time. But as I climbed to the top, unexpected tears flowed. I paused a minute, with emotional reverence for a pretty awesome childhood and remembering my grandma who used to watch me on this very slide. Here’s to you grandma. Whooooo!
This was our mid-trip rest-stop. We met my parents for a little family camping at Wilderness State Park located on the western tip of the mitten’s middle finger. Just 7 miles from Mackinaw City, this park has great access to the Mackinaw Bridge, lighthouses, Lake Michigan and Mackinaw Island. For the nature-lover, it’s an amazing boating, swimming, hiking and rock hounding destination. Since we’d been to Mackinaw several times, we laid low these four days. But we did venture into town one day in search of the popular & delicious treats of pasties & fudge, as well as my one souvenir t-shirt of the trip. (Where am I gonna put more? I live in a VAN people.) On other days, we visited the McGulpin Point Lighthouse with a view of the Mackinaw Bridge, hiked for miles through peaceful pine forest and searched for Petoskey stone fossils in Lake Michigan for hours.
On our last day we drove nearby to the Headlands International Dark Sky Park. Situated along a wild and rocky section of Lake Michigan shoreline, this unique park was built specifically for stargazing. Devoid of people and therefore light pollution, it’s the perfect place to view the Northern Lights, Milky Way and meteor showers. The park is still under construction, hard at work on an events center featuring an observation telescope. So the only way to view the sky here, for now, is to walk a 1-mile trail through thick forest to the Lake where benches are available to sit and marvel at the night sky. We went during the day to check it out, but weren’t willing to hike it in the evening.
Instead, we drove to the small boat ramp at Wilderness State Park, only a few miles away, to try to view the Perseid meteor showers. Except we were there a day early (leaving the following day), so sightings were sparse. In total, after two hours, we only saw four meteors. While everyone else spotted little shooting stars…the one I saw was a like a shooting planet. Seriously, the flare was so big it looked like a missile; maybe we’re being attacked by Wisconsin! Is it because I said you didn’t look like a mitten? Of course, everyone else was either distracted or looking in the wrong direction… so no one can corroborate my story. What? How did you not SEE that!?
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Stay tuned for the 3rd and final part of our trip…