Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Taking the Scenic Route Home

Me walking towards Lake Michigan at Point Betsie
On our way home to Metro Detroit from our recent trip to Traverse City, we could have come back the way we came, but we wanted to see something new. For my wife, it was her first time seeing Lake Michigan from the Michigan side of the lake. For me, it was a a stretch of highway that I had never driven before.

One last look at Grand Traverse Bay on the way out of Traverse City
Instead of heading south or east from Traverse City, we headed west on M-72 towards Lake Michigan. It rained on and off along M-72, but the rolling hills along the road made the drive entertaining.

In the village of Empire, we connected with M-22 and headed south. M-22 is a 116-mile-long highway along the shores of Grand Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan. From its eastern terminus in Traverse City, M-22 heads north along the bay towards the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula before the highway turns south and west along Lake Michigan's Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore towards its western terminus, just north of Manistee.

One of the many lakes along M-22
We missed out on the Leelanau Peninsula portion of the highway, but the stretch from Empire to the western terminus was one of the most relaxing drives I've experienced. The highway is mostly lined by forest, but every bend brought the possibility of blue waters. Crystal Lake was stunning, even with the wind kicking up whitecaps.

Point Betsie Lighthouse
As we were driving along Crystal Lake, we saw a sign for the Point Betsie Lighthouse, and I quickly turned right to see one of Michigan's 129 lighthouses. The road to the lighthouse was short. The lighthouse is small, but even the smallest lighthouse brightens a shoreline. There were wind and wave advisories, plus the threat of tornadoes later that evening. The waves on Lake Michigan assaulted the beach, but Point Betsie Lighthouse stood firm.

We continued south after Point Betsie before stopping in the small lakeside town of Frankfort. Frankfort has a small lake of its own, Betsie Lake, that is connected to Lake Michigan. We stopped at a small park along Betsie Lake and watched the spray from waves in the distance crashing over what must have been a sea wall or rocks along Lake Michigan. Frankfort seemed like a relaxing town that I could spend a whole summer in.

Betsie Lake in Frankfort
The splash of Lake Michigan's waves in the distance
Point Betsie, Crystal Lake, and Frankfort were beautiful, but the highlight of the drive was the scenic overlook at Arcadia. The climb up the steps to the highest point of the overlook felt daunting with the high winds coming off Lake Michigan, but the view was worth whatever imagined dangers raced through my mind.

The stairway to heaven
A distant shore on Lake Michigan
If not for the lack of salt in the air, I would've thought I was overlooking an ocean
There isn't  a word in our language that can capture the beauty of the view, the sense of appreciation I have for living in a state with such a marvelous coastline, or the the sense of serenity that I felt despite the high winds that threatened to push me off the observation deck onto M-22 below. I had to leave, but I did not want to. I must go back.

Silver leaves sparkling under the August sun
Michigan is a land of beauty
We drove south again until we reached the end of M-22. We thought of heading farther south along the coast towards Ludington, but we turned inland to avoid the predicted storms and to make it home before dark. Luckily, the inland drive on M-55 brought us through the beautiful Manistee National Forest, which must be awash with color during the fall.

When you're not in the forest or by a lake, you're surrounded by fields of green
But then there's another lake around the corner
We eventually made it out of the forest and to progressively larger towns until we reached  I-75 and headed south to our home in Metro Detroit. We are looking forward to more Northern Michigan adventures and to more scenic drives through the Great Lakes State.

The scenic route might not be the quickest route, but sometimes the best way from point A to point B is the route that takes you along a scenic shoreline and through a national forest. 

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