Ah, Michigan. You never fail to disappoint. Yet another Dybis family camping trip is in the books, and I’m amazed again at how beautiful this state is, how much fun there is to be had in the Great Outdoors here and the kindness of its residents.
Luckily, this week-long vacation avoided any car calamities. Instead, we spent our hours along Lake Michigan, climbing awe-inspiring dunes and cruising through picturesque waterfront towns on the West side of the state. There is good reason for the many travel awards and accolades the Sleeping Bear region has received of late – it is glorious.
It was inspiring to see the tourist traffic up in the area as well. Yes, the taverns, tasting rooms, boat liveries and restaurants were crowded from Glen Haven to Traverse City. Sorry, Local Guy Who Complained Loudly, us “summer folk” are here to stay. And you should be happy to have us.
Here’s a rundown of how the Michigan vacation of my dreams went. The first step is to book your camping site in January. Yes, during one of the coldest winters in state history, we sat crouched in front of a computer, waiting to push the reservations button to our family could stay in a campground less than a mile from Lake Michigan. It was summer dreaming, and being prepared was worth it.
It is arguable that the Platte River campground is the finest I’ve had the pleasure of living in for a week. The bathrooms were posh, the showers warm and the dust minimal. Every comfort – especially those warm, six-minute showers were ideal. That $1 token for a hot cleanup was the best money we spent all seven days.
Hanging out in nature has its positives. You can hear birds all day long, giving you a soundtrack to your everyday activities. That’s a heck of a lot more pleasant than your neighbor mowing their lawn at 8 a.m. You can smell the pine trees instead of surburban scents like gasoline or the mess your neighbor’s new puppy leaves on your front lawn. Let’s just say that sleeping in a tent all week gives you perspective and relieves you from so-called normal stresses.
I cannot say enough about Sleeping Bear dunes, lakes and vistas. There is a scenic drive in the national park that takes about 40 minutes to complete. One of the stops along the way is a view of Lake Michigan that will change you – it not only reminds you of how small you are, but of how great this state is. The sand is soft and golden. The waters are clear – so very clear! It has been ages since I felt the icy waters of this lake, and it reminded me of everything that made my childhood here so special. We also camped as a young family, and I made instant friends, hung out with my cousins over a campfire and created sandcastles on many of these same beaches. It is an honor to show them to my own kids.
Another highlight was visiting two Michigan drive-in theaters. I have a special place in my heart for these last standing theaters, and I plan on visiting all six that are in the state. This trip, we saw a movie at the Cherry Bowl in Honor, which was about two miles from our camping site. This drive-in is in excellent condition – it has a fun playground under the screen, a putt-putt golf course and a huge field for running around in. The Cherry Bowl has all of its original speakers, which is an accomplishment in many ways. Most drive-ins have had so many speakers stolen that they no longer have those classic sound systems. We hung our speaker from the window, kicked back with some buttered popcorn (with real butter, mind you) and enjoyed a movie under the stars. Don’t forget about these Michigan drive-ins – they are institutions we must strive to preserve.
Speaking of preserves, I want to mention the many fine local businesses we checked out as well along the way. Our favorite probably was Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor. The campus for this restaurant, tasting room and store was lovely – full of Michigan wild flowers and children’s play areas. There was a spot for a bonfire, a place for a beautiful stroll and even an area where you could have cherry-seed spitting contests. The food was great and the atmosphere was peaceful and calm. Everyone was nice behind the counters, and you could tell this was a well-loved business.
It also helped me see the universe a little more clearly. Everyone treated nature with reverence. People seemed to drive slower to enjoy the ride. And most had the same frustrations with kids and the weather that we did. And it made me feel like I was a part of a larger place and time. It’s good to feel grounded in where you live. And I loved seeing everyone’s Michigan bumper stickers, M-22 tags and “Detroit” t-shirts. We bonded in our affection for this Mighty Mitten.
Not everyone would see camping in a tent as a great vacation. Perhaps my love of driving from small town to small town is strange. I cannot deny my affection for beaches and having sand in my kids’ hair. There is something so very human about seeing nature, living in it and relishing every bug bite and scratch. We made real memories on this trip, and I got to see once again why I have chosen to live and work in Michigan. It was a fabulous vacation, and I wouldn’t trade these moments for the world.