Getting Away from the Rain!

Trip Start Sep 29, 2007
Trip End Oct 14, 2007

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Flag of United States  , Michigan
Saturday, October 13, 2007

I went away from the lakeshore for the majority of the day. Fed up with the rainshowers (they were mostly lake-effect showers), I decided to move inland. I went for a very long all-day ride over through Traverse City to visit Alden and the Torch Lake area. I've never been to this area of Michigan before, so I figured why not?

First, I did my usual drive down to the end of the block to look out over the lake and Manitou Islands. There was actually a bit of sun! And scattered clouds - none of which looked very threatening. Someone else had told me it appeared to be clearing up near Empire (six miles south) and I needed to head that direction anyway.

My residency host Midge Obata is very talented, and is involved in a lot of interesting projects: the Glen Arbor Art Association, her own fiber art and her family gallery (the North Gallery - part of Lake Street Studios), and other local art groups. She also works as a chocolatier for The Grocer's Daughter. Midge gave me a sample of "Chingers" yesterday - which were little bits of ginger covered in dark chocolate. WOW! I knew I needed to get more of this amazing chocolate from the retail establishment located in Empire to bring home with me.

On the way to Empire, I spent a few moments admiring the D.H. Day Farm, which is also part of the National Park. I've been here 2 other times since I arrived, hoping for some good morning light on the barns. This morning wasn't too bad, so I did get a couple images. I've never seen such a fancy barn! It was built sometime between 1880 and 1890. I also stopped along the road to take a photo of The Dune Climb, which the boys had so much fun on top of last Saturday.

The moment I walked through the front door of The Grocer's Daughter, I knew I was in "trouble" - the store smelled heavenly. Everything is made in small batches right there in their own kitchen. The chocolate is from a plantation in Ecuador and you can read all about how the owner Mimi Wheeler traveled to tour the cacao plantation where her chocolate comes from.

I bought a chocolate turtle filled with honey caramel for Russ, dark chocolate ginger puddles for my friends Tad & Sarah, a new product called a Wally Bar, and a cherry/pumpkin seed puddle and a hazelnut puddle (and I'm suspecting that the end recipient of these will be ME!). There were herb-infused truffles for sampling, and I've never tasted anything quite like them. I didn't even know thyme, lavender or rosemary could taste so good mixed with chocolate.

As I pulled out of the driveway grinning from ear-to-ear about my chocolate discoveries, there was burst of hard rain while the sun was shining at the same time. Hoping for a rainbow, I drove just a bit south to Norconk Road where I knew there was an open field and a few barns as well. No rainbows - but I found a pair of old apple trees that had a very large quantity of ripe fruit. I sampled these, and found them to be sweet and tasty. I picked a few more "for the road" and got back onto M-72 headed towards Traverse City.

While driving through Traverse City, I recalled there was a restaurant I really wanted to try, and it was nearing lunch hour. Red Mesa Grill Restaurant is a Latin restaurant and I had seen their menu advertised. It sounded a bit unusual and fun, so I stopped in.

The place looked like it must be a lot of fun on summer evenings and weekends. First I'll start by saying they serve over 100 varieties of tequila and you can join some sort of "club" if you care to say you've sampled them all. I think there were about 100 kinds of hot sauce in funny little bottles all around the restaurant too. I had fun just looking at the labels!

With that many choices of tequila - there are almost as many choices of drinks and varieties of margaritas mixes. My waiter suggested several different ones, and I finally selected a sour cherry margarita. It's made with a house blended Tequila and Cherry Kirsch, shaken with fresh homemade tart cherry puree and sour mix served on the rocks. I don't think I usually take photos of my food...but check out the size of this drink!

My lunch was Brazilian skirt steak, which was a garlic-marinated skirt steak char-grilled and served with guajillo sauce, garlic green chile smashed potatoes and onion rings. Let's just say I walked out of that restaurant a very happy camper. I also didn't eat anything else the rest of the day!

Continuing towards Torch Lake and the little town of Alden, I saw a few interesting things as I drove along the east side of Grand Traverse Bay, and then east. I passed Turtle Creek Casino and made a mental note to perhaps stop on the way back and blow a roll of quarters in a slot machine if I had time. There was a scenic overlook on the busy M-72 highway (I apparently wasn't the only person out in search of fall color today!). I stopped there briefly just to read a few notes about the geology of the area. Then I drove along the lower east edge of Torch Lake.

Alden is a tiny little place! I almost didn't stop there, but as I drove around the corner out of town, I had to laugh at the pumpkin carvings lining the fences and benches of an older home. The carvings were so comical, I pulled over and decided to get out and wander around to look at them. There are too many images to put right into the body of this story - so look above at the whole album if you'd like to see more carvings.

It turned out the "home" is actually a well-known retail store called the Alden Mill House.They have been selling seasonings and spices for 22 years. I wanted to purchase one more gift, this time for my brother and sister-in-law, and this was just the ticket. The various custom-blended seasoning combinations sounded delicious. I noticed they were selling an instructional DVD to teach folks how to make their own pumpkin carvings like the ones outside.

My actual destination was the Grass River Natural Area - 1,325 acres of the protected land that is one of Michigan's premier nature preserves. I wished I could have spent more time at this beautiful location. There are many trails and boardwalks, and observation towers built up to sit peacefully and enjoy the wildlife. As I was walking out towards the sedge marshes, I caught a glimpse of an eagle flying overhead! I was excited as it was the first time I'd ever seen one here in Michigan. I know they are out there, and making a bit of a comeback - but I just have never had the opportunity to see one in the wild. It was only for a moment, but I was thrilled.

The boardwalk out to the Grass River area and back took about an hour. I didn't see any other animals other than some little sparrow-type birds and chickadees, but I could easily see if one was to visit here often, there would be many opportunities for wildlife sightings.

Wondering if I could make it back over near Sleeping Bear Dunes in time for sunset, I packed up and started heading back to Empire. As I passed Turtle Creek Casino, I figured it wouldn't take me very long to lose my roll of quarters - and I was right! In fact, it took me longer to find a parking spot to go inside than it did to lose those quarters!

Apparently there are a lot of folks out there who enjoy this form of entertainment very much - but I've decided I'm not one of them. I HATE to lose money! Most of the slots were busy, and people were coming into the casino by the busload. I just don't understand the need to squander money away, but why ask why...

I wished I hadn't stopped there for the half-hour that I did. As I drove towards Empire, I missed a moment where the whole sky turned a brilliant shade of red for a few moments on the high clouds. It didn't last long at all. By the time I arrived at Empire Beach, there was still a bit of sunset, but nothing like I had seen while driving to get there. No more casinos for me when I should be taking photos!

Oh - I almost forgot to mention this! There was an area of the beach that had really changed shape during the day, exposing a sand bar and quite a few good-sized stones. I grabbed a flashlight and starting looking for the elusive Petoskey stone in the dark! And lo and behold - I found something that really resembles one (or at least it's got some potential!). Earlier in the day, I picked up a little polishing kit from a souvenir store, so I can try this later in the winter as a little project and see how it turns out once shined up. I found it rather amusing that I spent hours along the beaches in daylight and couldn't find one, and had better luck in the dark!

Tomorrow I head back to Grand Rapids and return to "reality" of work and family schedules. This has been great fun and I will really treasure the experience I had to work on photography each day. Still - I'm hoping for just one more good sunrise before I leave! So there will be one more post of the images I find on Saturday morning.
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webqueen on

Re: My husband and I love Alden
Boy - you've made me hungry talking about all of these things! I'll have to be sure to locate these places on my next visit up there. Thanks for sharing!

- Stacy

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