Tales from the Road: ‘Round the Lake, Part 1

For years I have been wanting to drive all the way around Lake Michigan, exploring. Never enough time. And this journey, along with my truncated excursions on the Lincoln Highway, tells me that I must make the time–while I can. But at least I did finally go around my Lake, and I have that. If I can go back and do it right, I’ll not be sorry.

After dithering about whether to go clockwise or counter–originally I had planned the former–I decided to head up into western Michigan in a hurry, passing areas I already knew so well, since I had only four days. It did not escape me that this all would have been so much easier if I had been living in Michiana where my heart dwells. My first stop would be Dee’s, north of Glenn.

86-year-old Dee at her farm market north of Glenn MI

I’ve written about octagenarian Dee before. I’ve been stopping at her farm for thirty years or more. She has always seemed ageless, energetic and independent. But this (this time for sure!) was to be the last year for Dee’s Lakeside Farm market, and I wanted to get my winter’s supply of apples. As always, she greeted me with a cheery “Hi, Honey!” and threw in some extras of a different variety with the half bushel of Romes that I bought. Then she offered me a piece of blueberry pie–she grows those, too. I left inwardly shaking my head, not wanting to believe I would not be seeing her the following year.

I had not yet greeted the Lake, so I paused for awhile at Pier Cove a few miles to the north, where once there had been a thriving town, although no evidence of it remains. A couple, carrying buckets, was poking about in the surf searching for “lightning stones,” they said. I had occasionally picked up stones such as they showed me for years, brownish with vivid white streaks, but I never knew they were called that most appropriate name. Apparently tourists buy them!

Lake Michigan at Pier Cove MI

Then onward, flying past Holland, Grand Haven, Muskegon–towns I had explored often and to which I would return, but I was hellbent northward to reach the soda fountain of the pharmacist’s daughter, who makes the best traditional chocolate sodas in the state. Lipka’s had originally been a corner drugstore on the main street of Montague, “twin” town to the larger Whitehall on the opposite side of the river.  After the pharmacist Mr. Lipka died, his daughter returned and reopened the store as a cafe, centering on the 1948 soda fountain. One wall of the restaurant, which is quite the local hangout, is covered with displays of old drugstore items and other historical memorabilia. Alas, it was only 4 in the afternoon but Lipka’s had just closed as I dashed in. I’ve been stopping here for years, too, so Patti Ream, the afore-mentioned pharmacist’s daughter, let me in long enough to order a soda to go. It’s better in the traditional fountain glass, of course, but the styrofoam cup diminished its yumminess only a little, and I continued on my way.

Cherry Point Market

Some 25 miles north of Montague, along the twisty and tricky Shoreline Trail, is Cherry Point Market, yet another destination I try to reach at least once a year. My earliest vague memory of it is passing by while traveling with my parents on a weekend jaunt up to Wilderness State Park. I’ve observed the surroundings change over the decades that I’ve been stopping there. Once completely filled with orchards, both apple and cherry, the land is more open now; Cherry Point today boasts an adjacent herb-filled labyrinth surrounded with lavender and a gathering area for fish boils, a favored local custom. When owner Barbara Bull is on hand, we have comfortable philosophical chats about the land and the Lake. Several years ago, Barbara wrote a memoir about her family farm and from there went on to become an award-winning fiction writer of novels based in the area.

Petit Pointe Au Sable Lighthouse
the clear waters of Lake Michigan at Petit Pointe Au Sable Lighthouse

A few miles north is the Petit Pointe Au Sable Lighthouse, completed in 1874. I lingered awhile, sifting the cool sand through my fingers and noting the sun slowly heading down toward the singing Lake. I had been hoping to spend the night at Manistee, so it was time to head north. Still, I did not want to miss the sunset. I paused at Pentwater and headed to its beach. Pentwater, which I’ve passed through often, holds a warm childhood memory of a row of hollyhocks alongside an old drugstore long gone, but over the years it has become upscale and touristy to my eyes. The beach already had its winter fences installed, cramping the space. It was surprisingly crowded–although perhaps not so surprising. In my past experiences, Pentwater always had a community of sunset people migrating to the beach late in the day. Before I got there, I tried to call the Lakeside Motel in Manistee, but the phone just kept ringing. As it was still a 40-mile drive away and the northern Michigan dark was enveloping me, I looked, reluctantly, for other options.

sunset at Pentwater MI

Manistee. Talk about change over time. I don’t remember when I first discovered it, but I fell in love, and it was always my destination if I made it that far north. A once thriving lumber town with a secondary major industry of salt, it boasted a beautiful historic downtown and a plethora of 19th century houses once occupied by bankers and lumber barons. Early on I stayed in a rundown old frame hotel on the “wrong side” of the river. It was fine; I was young and it was cheap. Manistee has a lovely beach, dunes, and two lighthouses. At the edge of the beach was the charming 1950s Lakeside Motel that I had always thought, given its prime location, would be too expensive. But I dreamed of staying there. I discovered another very old motel on a lake (actually a sort of delta of the Manistee River) on the north edge of town, the Moonlight. Indeed, I stayed there one night when the moon turned the surface of the lake to silver. It’s long gone. But the beachfront motel lingered on, and finally one year I decided to stay there. The town was beginning to change: all kinds of upscale new restaurants and bars, but some of the old charm remained. What a surprise to discover the price for a night at the Lakeside was so reasonable! Very basic, the room, but two entrances, one directly to the beach, with Lake providing lullabies all night. I was charmed beyond measure. Stayed one more time a few years ago. 

And then, when the pandemic began to lift in late 2020, I took a run up to the area and called, but they said they didn’t even have linens; they hadn’t opened. Now,two years later—oh, it brings tears to think of it. It is gone. The time warp, timeless experience will never be mine again. A new 5-story monstrosity is taking its place, with a bar open to the beach. Manistee is lost to me.

Never mind. I would do better next day after a good night’s sleep in a cheap chain motel–more Lake, more walking, more wonder.

This entry was posted in On the Road Less Taken..., Tales from the Road, The Past is Ever Present..., The Wonder of It All and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Tales from the Road: ‘Round the Lake, Part 1

  1. Eric Grayson says:

    When does your book “Fractal Journies Around the Great Lakes” come out?

    I’ve been to a few of these places and recommend them, especially Cherry Point

    • Glory-June Greiff says:

      Journeys, perhaps? 🙂
      Well I am working toward a book of that nature, yes. And yes, Cherry Point is special!

Comments are closed.