Tag Archives: Empire Beach

Empire’s Sublime Winter Scene

A couple of Saturdays back we ditched household chores in favor of a trip to Empire when that elusive sun made an extended appearance. The pine needle debacle of Project Un-Do Christmas could wait – we knew we needed to remedy our sun deprivation.

Thus, out we went, happy for a reason to break out our long-neglected sunglasses along the way. (It’s the little things!)

At Empire, the beach was already sprinkled with about 10-15 other folks and the scene was surreal. Kids were crawling in and out of caves carved into the thick, massive ice formations built up along the water’s edge. Clouds intermittently descended and receded, offering up dramatic skies that beckoned you out.

Jim and I did our typical bit, taking turns exploring the beach while the other kept Jackson andΒ  Chance entertained at the playground. (FYI: You can get pretty decent speed going down the slide in snow pants.)

Once I finally convinced myself the beach was “safe” to venture out onto after watching about 14 other people successfully make the trek, I was off cresting mini ice mountains at a snails pace until I could finally peer into the water.

It was there that I finally got a sense of just how still the water was. Pancake ice floated gently on the barely breathing lake. The revelation of something so calm in such a harsh environment was almost jarring. (In a really good way.)

As the sun gained momentum slicing it’s way though the veil of clouds, we decided a winter hike up the Empire Bluff Trail seemed in order. (Which meant swapping our beach scene for one from a perch high up on the bluff towering over us. Viewing from both vantage points is a great exercise in perspective!)

We’ve yet to pull the trigger buying snow-shoes, so we hoofed it up the trail old-school (in our snow boots). It took us just over half an hour to make it to the top with the 4 year-old and the pup. Several other groups joined us, one offering to lend a hand with a family photo.

It’s pretty remarkable how much more snow and ice we’ve gotten this year. You can see the much longer ice shelf in this recent picture (on the left) compared to a similar image of the same place taken in January 2012.

More images taken atop the bluff…

Though it quietly killed me to leave before the sun actually set, we had little ones to get back to the car before the sun and temp sank. The pink glow of the clouds through the branches on our way down would have to suffice. I’ll still mark this one down as my favorite winter beach excursion to date.

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Sharing the Fall Season with Friends

Last weekend Jim and I had the pleasure of hosting our friends and colleagues, Lisa and Tara, on their first venture into Michigan. Our few days together proved to be a frictionless, long weekend of well-paced fun, which I feel I should probably credit to the fact that we’ve all worked together for roughly a decade now – well, that and the fact that we were all in agreement on the importance of sleeping in on weekends. πŸ˜‰

The girls arrived late Friday afternoon and, out of respect for their hours of travel and the hike we had planned for the following day, we opted for just a quick tour of the marina and dinner before crashing for the night. Our Saturday sleep-in hankerings satiated, we grabbed an early lunch the next day and drove west, stopping by Empire Beach (for the view from the bottom – where Tara almost immediately discovered a near-perfect heart-shaped rock) and then Empire Bluff Trail (for the view from the top).

Lisa, Tara, Jess & Jackson

Lisa, Tara, Me & Jackson @ Empire Beach

The hike up to the bluff is completely reasonable – even Jackson, at the ripe age of three, managed it this time without asking to be carried even once (*proud mom moment*). The fickle afternoon light routinely set the hillside afire in back-lit foliage a thousand different shades of gold. The sun was still struggling to stay out by the time we reached the viewing area, the bright-but-overcast atmosphere lending a hazy look to Lake Michigan.

We weren’t the only ones taking in the scenery, and our fellow gazers included two gentlemen unfurling parakites. We waited out both the sun and the would-be jumpers for a while, which afforded me the opportunity to finally notice a sign that indicated the overlook was, indeed, a ‘launch area’ (not sure how I missed that before). They were waiting for a few extra knots of wind (which we found out after sending Lisa in for intel on how much longer it might be) and we weren’t patient enough to wait them out, so we headed on back down the bluff. Maybe next time. πŸ™‚

Prepared Parakites

Prepared Parakites

Launch Area Notice

Launch Area Notice

Post-hike, we did the scenic drive through Sleeping Bear Dunes, finally joined by some consistent sunshine that better showcased the blues the big lake usually offers up. We couldn’t have asked for better weather (unlike, say, now). When the clouds did roll in sporadically, it only offered up impressive light effects that made the water glow like a light show was being projected from beneath.

After Sleeping Bear, we took the M22 route back into town and rounded out our evening enjoying music at Right Brain‘s reopening before we had to head home to get little guy into bed (who, I might add, was definitely getting his boogie on). Lisa, Jim and I managed to stay up gabbing until 3:30am, putting our sleep-in policy to fairly good use.

Sunday was set aside as lady’s day. While the guys hung out at home, Lisa, Tara and I grabbed lunch downtown and then headed up Old Mission Peninsula for some wine sampling at Chateau Chantal. (I settled on the Cerise Noir Dessert Wine, a brandy-infused, cherry port wine that I loved.)

The view from the back patio at Chantal was spectacular. Everything seems an exceptionally bright shade of yellow lately, including the grape vines on the peninsula; more color saturation than I seem to remember from last year, which is hopefully a visual confirmation of the stellar harvest rumored to be the byproduct of this year’s unusually dry summer.

A couple of hours later we gave Mission Point Lighthouse a gander, purchased some local syrup at my favorite road-side stand, then headed back into town to meet Jim, greet the sitter and enjoy an adults-only dinner out. If you’re ever in TC, I can’t recommend dining at Trattoria Stella enough! They are great about locally sourced goods and happen to be situated in one of the refurbished buildings of the former Norther Michigan Asylum grounds, now operating as the Village at Grand Traverse Commons. The fennel-spiked scallops and pumpkin risotto were but a couple of the stand-outs from our meal.

Road-Side Apples & Maple Syrup

Road-Side Apples & Maple Syrup

Monday we squeezed in some shopping and lunch downtown before the ladies had to begin their trip back south to Atlanta. Our long-weekend break proved to be great fun with a couple of friends that have shown us a great deal of love and support over the years (thank you for everything, ladies – your long-running friendship and recent generosity included!). We’re flattered they were willing to come so far, and look forward to the things we’ll get into when next they venture north, or vice versa.

Old Northern Michigan Asylum Building

Old Northern Michigan Asylum Building

Here are some more pictures of the old asylum grounds that my friend and fellow-blogger Heather recently took. Happy Halloween! πŸ˜‰

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This Past Week in Pictures

Empire State of Mind

Empire state of mind

Jim & Tony (waaaaay back there) @ Torch Lake

date night

date night

rainy day play

rainy day play

washed iris

washed iris

beam me up, Scotty

beam me up, Scotty

footprints in sand

Jackson chasing Heather chasing Jackson

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