Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Escaping the Heat to Washington Island and Cave Point Park

Whatever is going on, I don't like it.  Temperatures have been in the 90's at the end of September in Wisconsin.  This is usually the time of year for crisp sunny days, when there is something in the air that reminds us of apples, pumpkins and beautiful trees.  Not this year.  I haven't counted, but we have had many days this month with temperatures over 90 degrees.  As I was watching the weather last week, I noticed that northern Door County usually has temperatures 10 to 15 degrees cooler.  Since that area was on my list of places to visit, I thought let's go.  We looked at the forecast and yesterday, September 25, 2017 looked perfect.  We considered finding a place to stay overnight but realized that a day trip was doable.  We asked some friends to go along.  It was pretty short notice, but we were on the road by 7:00am.  We traveled up highway I-41 past Neenah, Appleton, Green Bay and then onto highway 54 to the Door County peninsula.  Our electronic GPS navigator kept trying to change our course to a quicker route, but we ignored her for the most part.   We wanted to go through some of the tourist towns on the West side of the peninsula.  We went through Egg Harbor, Fish Creek, Sister Bay to Gills Rock and over to the Northport Pier to take the ferry to Washington Island.

Al Johnson's Swedish restaurant in Sister Bay has a grass roof with Goats.

At the Northport Pier visitors center.

There a lot of Cormorant's fishing on Lake Michigan

The ferry to the island leaves every hour so we didn't have to wait.  It is a 30 minute trip with beautiful views although it was too early to see any fall color.  We saw very little for the entire day.  We took the car over so we could drive around and see the sights on our own.  We didn't want to rely on the trolley, but it is an option for those who want to don't want to take their car.

When we arrived on the island we were greeted with these signs.   

Welcome sign showing the Scandinavian influence.

As we began to drive around, I noticed that Washington Island is more than a tourist destination.  It is a small town surrounded by Lake Michigan with a police station, school, medical clinic, library, one grocery store and a bunch of bars and eating establishments.  There are about 700 permanent residents.  We asked how people get to the island in the winter.  The ferry operator said they have ice breakers to open a path for the ferry, making it able to go to the island and back twice a day.

The first place I wanted to go was Schoolhouse beach.  I had watched a piece on Discover Wisconsin that toured some of these points of interest.  I also read a Kathleen Ernst book called "The Light Keepers Legacy" which made me aware of this area.  Washington Island and Rock Island were established as a town in the mid 1800's.  Schoolhouse beach was the site of the first log school.  The school is gone but the beach has the most beautiful perfectly smooth stones and clear water.  When you pick them up, they feel like pieces of soap.  They are limestone of all shapes and sizes worn smooth by the water.  There is a $250 fine for anyone taking a stone because this type beach is so rare.

On the way to the beach we noticed an old farm museum.  It was 9 buildings that were filled with displays of authentic items from the time the island was settled.  It had farm animals and a fully furnished log cabin which showed how everyday life was like.  The whole house was the size of our dining room.  It is hard to believe how spoiled we are compared to life more than 100 years ago.

The blacksmith shop.

My grandfather also came from Denmark and traveled to Green Bay in the late 1890's.  The sister he lived with came earlier and her name was also Hansena.  My family traveled to Withee, WI which is in central Wisconsin.  My grandfather also settled in central Wisconsin in a place called City Point and Pray, Wisconsin.  I think land was free and they were able to start a homestead.  This farm was a connection for me.

Next we went to Mountain Park and the Lookout Tower.  When we pulled into the parking area we saw a tall set of stairs.  We thought the steps would take us to the lookout.  We soon saw that the steps only took us to the base of the tower, which we then climbed to the top.  Between the stairs and the tower I think there were a total of 180 steps.

View looking down the first set of steps.
The lookout tower at the top of the mountain
View from the top of part of the island and Lake Michigan
Down the road we found the famous Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm that a lot of people are familiar with.  The lavender plants were done blooming, but the store was filled a huge variety of items made with lavender.  Next we saw the Island Dairy with the Norwegian Stavkirke garden pavilion.  The pavilion was built from drawings of a Church of Staves, built in Borgund, Norway in 1150 A.D.   Today it was closed as were several places on the island.  I imagine this happens after labor day.

Norwegian Stavkirke pavilion with a view of the lavender farm.

Lavender plant

There were other things to see and do, but it was time to have lunch and head down the road.  The trip back, on the ferry was breezy and almost cold.  It was wonderful and hard to believe it was 90 degrees at home.

On the way way home we followed the Garmin girl.  Because of a detour she gave us a couple bum steers but overall she was fine.  We had one more stop on our journey.  Our friends knew of a county park near Whitefish Dunes State Park.

The state park had a little to be desired.  It didn't allow camping, campfires, biking or grilling.  It did have a swimming beach.  Next door to the state park was a little known (at least by me) Door County park.  It was called Cave Point County Park.

The sign was a little frightening.

This park was so beautiful.  It had a variety of cliffs and caves.  This was the icing on the cake for me.  I don't think the photos do it justice.

When we finally got home we were all tired but happy we had such a nice day.   It was surprising that there were no fall colors.  I wonder if we will see much this year.  The nights are not getting cold enough.  I noticed the heat has caused some of the leaves to fall prematurely.  I will be watching and maybe we will have another trip in the future.  Sorry this blog is so long, but I had so much I wanted to include.