I have been traveling to the northwestern corner of Michigan for the past twenty years to the sleepy town of Beulah, on Crystal Lake. While many people think of “traveling" as going to new places, I have discovered the thrill of returning to the same spot for many years.
This year marked the first time I set out to road trip from my current residence in southern Ohio. I decided to take US 27 North out of Oxford, Ohio and into Indiana to experience some of the rural, Midwestern back roads and keep my eyes peeled for abandoned places along the way.
I passed this abandoned drive through in Beane, Indiana and had to stop! Most of the tables and chairs were still there and the pop machine looked as if you could still get a fresh Coke.
After a little research, I found that the colorful signs on the side of the building actually stem from the Swiss German influence of the town. My trip continued on through Fort Wayne, Indiana and up into Michigan on Interstate 94 and M131. Just north of Grand Rapids, I stopped for gas and stumbled upon a beauty of a forgotten place.
Rosie’s Diner sits off exit 101 with three old-school diner cars from the era of bustling Route 66 and drive in movie theaters. I had already driven over half the trip, and the sun was still shining, so I explored the grounds and got a couple of shots.
There was even a completely overgrown mini golf course in the back with giant diner themed statues. What a gem!
I discovered after some research that Rosie's Diner was the location of the famous Bounty Paper Towel commercials in the 1970’s, starring none other than Rosie herself.
With a couple awesome discoveries under my belt for the day I hit the road again and finally arrived at our cabin on the lake. One of my favorite places around the cabin is the Empire Bluff Trail, a brief 1.5-mile hike to one of the most spectacular overlooks of Sleeping Bear Dunes and Lake Michigan.
The trail begins in the woods with wildflowers and an old farmhouse site and gradually the terrain changes and you find yourself taking your shoes off to enjoy the sandy dunes.
Another day trip I always enjoy is floating on inner tubes down to the mouth of the Platte River, which empties into Lake Michigan. A variety of put-ins spill out along the river for public access, and Riverside Canoe Trips is the closest outfitter for renting and getting shuttled up stream.
Traverse City is just north of Benzie County, a lively happening city full of fun restaurants, brew pubs, and art festivals. Known as the “Cherry Capital of the World,” it sits along the Grand Traverse Bay of Lake Michigan, a perfect location to host the National Cherry Festival.
The festival occurs annually each July to celebrate the harvest of cherries, one of Michigan’s largest and most important crops. Thousands of people from all over the globe gather to celebrate the harvest, and consume all things cherry! This year marked the 90th annual festival!
The festival itself was originally created in the 1920’s as a blessing of the cherry blossoms, which begin to appear in May. Growers and processing facilities, however, eventually moved the festival to the middle of summer to take advantage of the warm weather and harvest season which means tons of opportunities to make and sell the spread of delicious cherry products.
Through the years, the festival has expanded to a weeklong celebration during the 4th of July. It’s free to the public with activities for all ages, including educational stations to detail cherry processing and harvesting and health benefits of the fruit, a cherry farm market, beer tents with cherry infused adult beverages, trips to local cherry farms, and concerts at night from legends such as Joan Jett and Weird Al Yankovich.
It's a great place to find local foodies and connoisseurs whose passion is turning cherries into tasty treats. From simple, dried cherries to salad dressings, salsas, soda pop and—the all-time favorite—cherry pie, festivalgoers can always find something delicious to enjoy.
Another unique aspect of the festival is its commitment to the heritage and traditions of the Native American community in the area. Each year the festival has a Heritage Day, showcasing the cultures of the local Ottowa and Chippewa tribes complete with a Pow wow dance presentation.
The colorful display of dance, music, and other creative art gives people from all over the world an opportunity to experience and understand some of the native culture and history that encompasses the area.
Despite the festival’s many eating options, I enjoy finding local restaurants wherever I travel, and Traverse City has a wide variety. Zakey, right in the middle of downtown on Front Street, serves to-die-for Middle Eastern cuisine with reasonable prices and lunch combos. You’ll even catch some belly dancers if you’re lucky enough to be there on Thursday or Saturday!
West Bay Beach Resort, a branch of the Holiday Inn, proved to be a great place to stay during the festival, since it is located within walking distance of downtown and the festival grounds. The hotel itself is a beachfront property on the Bay with a cute little bar and an outdoor pool.