Thursday, August 14, 2008
peninsula meditations: door county
beautiful flowers at door county peninsula state park
When I decided to take a new job in Wisconsin last year, several people pointed out that I would be relatively close to Door County. Suddenly, Door County references proliferated--articles in Midwest Living magazine, blurbs in the local Sunday paper, in conversation with friends. I was eager to investigate this shapely peninsula.
Studying the atlas, I noticed that the Door Peninsula almost mirrors my favorite stretch of land, the Leelanau Peninsula in Michigan. In my mind this geographical parallel certainly conveyed a deeper similarity. But, as Japhy Ryder tells Ray Smith in Jack Kerouac's novel The Dharma Bums, "comparisons are odious." I often forget this gem of wisdom. My first visit to Door County, when I was expected the undulating orchard land and breathtaking lake vistas, the charming towns with tasty treats, of my dear Leelanau, was an utter disappointment. Door County did not fit into the Leelanau model I so adored, and therefore I found the Peninsula lacking.
This summer I was determined to give Door County another try. After all, I was much closer to Door than Leelanau, and I had a year of living in the Dairyland State to my credit. It was time for me to challenge my first impressions and make some new memories. I wanted to love Door on its own merits, not as a substitute for a truly unique place.
So, one Sunday afternoon my friend B and I set out for Algoma, a small town towards the base of the Peninsula. Two places in Algoma enchant visitors. The Flying Pig art gallery and garden shop, features artworks by local, regional, and even national artists. The plants are arrayed in gorgeous gardens that are also sprinkled with art work, and the selection of terra cotta pots is phenomenal. I purchased a tall, narrow French style terra cotta pot, a round terra cotta bowl with three feet to set it on, and a gorgeous lavender plant.
Also in Algoma, Cafe Tlazo serves delightful fresh sandwiches, from wraps to paninis; salads; and a bevy of espresso drinks. I'm partial to the Honey Latte myself. Their lunch choices overwhelm--this is one of the most vegetarian friendly places I've encountered in Northeast Wisconsin, and each time I go it's hard to decide what to order. On that Sunday, I enjoyed a Mediterranean wrap with a side of kettle chips. Yumm!
B and I also stopped in an antique mall in Kewaunee on our way back down the Peninsula, where I was tempted by a pink and chrome dinette table, but left it behind for someone else to purchase.
Several weeks later, I decided to venture farther up the Peninsula on a sunny Sunday. I packed a picnic lunch in my cooler, packed my day pack with essentials for a short hike or two, and set out. Driving the Peninsula affords spectacular views of gently rolling dairy farm land that stretches right to the shore of Lake Michigan. I drove past my favorite Algoma stops and continued on to Egg Harbor, where I stopped at the grocery store for chips and a drink to round out my picnic lunch. I also wanted to peruse their wine selection, as I had remembered it fondly from the previous year's ill-fated trip. They have many nice bottles, but nothing I had to buy that day.
I drove the few remaining miles into Fish Creek, the most kitschy and overtly touristy of the towns on the Peninsula. I motored on by the crowds of confused tourists thronging the sidewalks and headed for Peninsula State Park.
This state park hugs Green Bay and offers a lovely interplay of densely wooded forests, rocky beaches, and towering stone cliffs. Bike trails and hiking paths lace the park, and features like a four story lookout tower, golf course, and campgrounds, appeal to many different ideas of recreation. I found a semi-sunny picnic spot along the beach and enjoyed my lunch. The clouds kept building, hiding the sun and threatening rain, but I bundled up in extra layers and made the best of my time. I then drove up to the aforementioned lookout tower, where several trails begin.
a perfect spot for a picnic
I selected the Sentinel trail first, thinking it would be decently busy, because less strenuous. The trail winds through varying landscapes--woods, meadows, tall grasses, and features interpretive signage along the way. I kept mosquitoes at bay by maintaining a brisk pace, stopping only to skim the signs and snap a few photos.
Invigorated by my time in the woods, I decided to tackle the Eagle Trail, rated the most difficult in the park because of rocky ledges, small boulderfields, and large hills. I expected this trail to be less traveled than the Sentinel, but it was actually filled with hikers--most of the amateur-not-so-polite and/or ginormous-extended-families-blocking-the-trail variety. The excellent views of rock walls and dense, varied foliage kept me company as I stepped off the trail to let others pass: good hiker etiquette.
My day ended as I wended my way back down the Peninsula, bypassing the myriad fruit stands since my fridge was well-stocked from the previous day's trip to the farmer's market. I stopped at Door County Coffee Company for a little latte caffeine infusion to fuel my drive home, and dreamed of my next trip--in the fall, with friends, camping overnight and enjoying the gorgeous color explosion of hardwoods in their autumnal finery.
Has Door County entered my soul like Leelanau? No. Leelanau still lays claim to bucolic farmlands, orchards, and lake views; their wineries produce nuanced, flavorful, not syrupy sweet local wines. Plus, I have a nearly fifteen year history of summer jaunts with friends. But Door stands on its own merits now, of breathtaking and accessible state parks and a closer geographic if not emotional distance, and I'm beginning to love it too.