Winter in Northern Michigan is a sight to behold. The best is traveling right after a snowstorm has cleared out and fresh snow is hanging on every branch of every tree. I had that opportunity a couple years ago when the day after a snowstorm, it was a beautiful day with blue skies and lots of sun. It was still quite cold out, but the driving conditions were pretty good. There were still a few dangerous issues out on the road though that I had not really thought about until it was too late. Earlier in the day I was at Iargo Springs near Oscoda. I made my way up to Alpena toward the middle of the afternoon only to face another setback. I was surprised to find out that lots of people get stuck in the same location I did.
I traveled into Presque Isle just north of Alpena. The old and new lighthouses sit on each end of the isle. In my opinion the old one is the more interesting of the two. It is also a lot smaller, but the history and aesthetic appeal makes the old lighthouse a must see on any visit to the Alpena area. I stopped at the New Presque Isle Lighthouse first. It is at the northernmost end of the isle. The parking lot was cleared out and the lighthouse was opened for visitors. They were not doing tours up to the top of the lighthouse. I was there in the autumn season before and it can get quite windy. My guess is it is just too dangerous to make the climb up to the top due to the winter weather. You can still get an appreciation for the history of the lighthouse with the section that was opened. It is a nice lighthouse and definitely worth a stop to visit. Of the two lighthouses, the new lighthouse is also the most difficult to photograph in terms of lighting. The position of the lighthouse in relation to the sun makes it hard to get some different angles on the lighthouse.
My real adventure came when I visited the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse. As I mentioned before, this is what I feel is the more interesting lighthouse of the two. This lighthouse was closed up and a gate closed off the parking lot near the main road. I parked my car on the side area of the road where it looked like there was a bit of a turn off. That was my mistake. The whole area of the road is a soft shoulder. I ended up getting stuck for the second time that day. Countless efforts to dig myself out failed. Luckily, there was enough traffic that someone was able to pull me out with a chain. The guy that pulled me out lived down the street. He informed me that there is a marina parking lot about a quarter mile away that is plowed and a great place to park to view the lighthouse. I also found out that I was not the only one to park on the shoulders and get stuck. It turned out that this was quite common by many who were never aware of that marina parking lot.
I walked to the lighthouse. The snow was pretty deep in the area and no one had been there in the last 24 hours it looked like. At that time the water levels of Lake Huron were pretty low so there were quite a few rocks on the beach area outside of the lighthouse. The deep snow covered a lot of those rocks. It is very easy to misstep and trip over some of those rocks. A fresh blanket of snow with no previous trails made by anyone else in the last 24 hours left me to navigate my own way. I tripped up on some of those rocks and fell down hard. It is so easy to bang up your knee or twist your ankle in these conditions. It may not seem like a dangerous situation, but if you are not aware of what your surroundings are or the terrain that may be hidden, you could find yourself in a situation that could get you hurt.
The two lighthouses are beautiful during the winter season. The most important lessons learned is to know your surroundings and avoid parking along roadways. Too many people find themselves on a soft shoulder that they cannot get out of. Northern Michigan gets a lot more snow than what we do in Southern Michigan. Often we have a mindset of doing things that we are used to from where we live. I never adjusted my frame of mind when I made the trip from Grand Rapids to Alpena. I made that same mistake when I went to Sleeping Bear Dunes a couple years before that. At one point I thought I was going need an emergency rescue on a hike. I will tell you exactly how I got out of that situation in a couple days.
It sounds like a place from the board game Candy Land. Candy Cane Lane is one of Kalamazoo’s Christmas highlights. It is located in Bronson Park in Downtown Kalamazoo and the city puts on a Christmas light display worth checking out. I ventured out a few years back on a the start of a snowy evening for Southwestern Michigan. I had always heard stories from my mom and Grandparents who were natives of Kalamazoo about Bronson Park, but never had a visual account of what they were talking about until I saw it for myself. I returned there once again with my wife and brother and it was still amazing.
The park is a rectangular park surrounded by churches, museums and government buildings in the heart of Downtown Kalamazoo. On each corner you enter the park through a tunnel of candy canes. It is an amazing walk as you go through this tunnel as candy canes lean up against each other from each side of the sidewalk to make this little tunnel. Light fixtures and trees all around are strung with lights and garland. As you walk into the park through this tunnel you get the feeling that you are walking into something magical. Once you pass through the tunnels of candy canes you are treated with a lighting display that is probably one of the best I have seen in any city park throughout the state. Lighted snowflakes stretch between the trees and there are a few lit up reindeer decorations placed strategically throughout the park. In one of the parks monument areas there are several large candles lit similar to that of a menorah. I was really impressed with this display because it provides something for everyone as we celebrate the holidays.
Further down the park near the concert pavilion is a nativity scene. The area is lit up with lights on the nativity scene. The figurines from the nativity scene have been put through the elements over time, but are still in pretty good shape. I have seen others that are much more battered and torn. In some ways the nativity scene seems a little out of its element; not due to the subject matter, but rather on account of the upkeep of all the other decorations and lights within the park. It is not a bad thing at all. In fact the nativity scene gives you a little bit of a throwback feel to decorations of old. I pictured my mom and grandparents having viewed this nativity scene several years before me. Viewing the nativity scene also gave me an added appreciation of the Christmas story.
If you are looking for a great way to spend the Christmas season, I would highly recommend Bronson Park in Kalamazoo as a stop. The park is near the shopping district within Downtown Kalamazoo. Traffic around the park can get a little difficult at times, but there are plenty of parking spots around the park. It is near the public library, civic theater, and institute of the arts, making the park a good location for visitors. I was really impressed by the Christmas lights and decorations through the whole park. It is rare to see a tree that was not lit with Christmas lights. Again, I would say this park is one of the most festive parks I have seen throughout the state. A walk down Candy Cane Lane will be a Christmas walk to remember.
A few years ago, I read about a historical park just outside of Hastings, Michigan. The article described a small park with buildings replicating life in the late 1800’s. I had never heard of this park before, so on an warm August day my wife and I decided to take a look for ourselves. That day, we spent a few hours at this park going in and out of the buildings. It was as if we were witnessing the life and times that my Great Grandmother had always talked about; a life that seemed simple and carefree. After the initial visit I noticed on their website that they were having an event that showcased Christmas back in he late 1800’s called “Of Christmas Past”, and I knew this was something worth going to.
My wife and I took a tour around the historical village for this event. We walked into the Upjohn House/Administrative Office building and encountered Santa Claus sitting on a rocking chair awaiting for kids to come and visit. Nearby a man was cutting apple slices with an old apple slicer from the 1800’s and they were giving away cinnamon apple slices. We continued on making our way around the park. All the buildings were open, and you could wander through the buildings viewing what life was like in the 1800’s. Along the way we came across a few people dressed up in appropriate attire for the 1800’s giving out roasted chestnuts. We continued to the school building where someone was dressed up as an old school teacher and showing the kids various craft activities.
The general store area was open and we noticed a long line out the door. To our surprise they were giving out free bags of popcorn. It was nice to step inside this building because throughout the year this building can be locked up and the only way to view it is from the outside. The general store had replica items and goods that were often used and consumed in the late 1800’s. They also had authentic items that you would normally see in a historical museum, thus the reason why I believe they lock this building up often. We had to stand in line for the popcorn for a while, but it was worth the wait as we got an up close and personal view of some of these historical artifacts. Our last stop was the church. The church is what you would expect from the late 1800’s. This small church had two isles of wooden pews. Inside the church a brass band was performing Christmas songs. We sat inside the church for a while and enjoyed a small Christmas concert. The church was refurbished back in 2010, so it came as no surprise that the acoustics inside were better than I thought. It was really nice to sit back and relax to some Christmas music after walking around the park for a while.
Charlton Park is normally free to visit during most times of the year. However, during special events there is an admission charge. The “Of Christmas Past” event at Charlton Park costs $6.00 dollars for adults, and $3.00 dollars for children. When we went there, we spent a little over three hours there. The first time visiting you might find yourself there a little longer simply because there is a lot to see on top of the Christmas activities. When we went we had a great time. Christmas is always one of those times where you like to be swept back in time a little bit to enjoy the simpleness of life. Charlton Park’s “Of Christmas Past” not only takes you back in time, but provides a nice way to relax and enjoy the holiday season.
There are many small towns in the state of Michigan. Many of them have holiday festivals and events that draw in many members of the community. One that I enjoy going to year after year is in the small town of Ada, just outside of Grand Rapids. The Tinsel, Treats and Trolley event is held on the first Friday of December and provides opportunities for small businesses to reach out to all the visitors. It is a fun family oriented activity that gets you in the mood for the Christmas season.
The event starts with the annual bridge lighting ceremony. The Ada covered bridge is one of the few covered bridges in Michigan that gets decorated with lights during the holiday season. This bridge is impressive during any season, but is magical during the holidays. Once the bridge is lit up, several stores open up extended hours for shopping. Each store offers up cookies, fudge, candy, hot chocolate and many other Christmas snacks. Many of the stores are decorated up for Christmas. I love walking through these shops. There have been times where I have found something I wanted to take home with me. It is a lot of fun just strolling through these shops. The only drawback is with so many people, it does get crowded in some shops. As much as I don’t like the immense crowds, I have found the atmosphere is simply worth it all. The historical society and Ada Christian Reformed Church are open as well. Inside the church they have had snacks and many musical performances by the church band playing Christmas music. It is a nice place to stop in and relax just to catch a nice concert. The Historical Society building also offers treats, but is the place that you will run into Ms. Claus.
Trolleys provide transportation to various locations within the village. I would recommend riding the trolley just once for the sheer fun of it. If you cannot get on the trolley, don’t worry too much. The village is small enough that all points of interest are within walking distance from each other. Some of the sidewalk areas along the main streets are lined up with luminaries, so even the walk is rather pleasant. My wife and I have opted to make the walk from point to point over the last couple years just to experience the event a different way. While walking around from shop to shop it is not uncommon to see Santa Claus stop in the shops to say hello to the visitors. No matter what mode of transportation you use, I know that it will be a good time. I have always had fun at this event; my family has had fun at this event, and I have never heard any complaints about the organization of those putting this event on. Below is a link to the event. It will be on Friday December 2 which is coming up quickly. Take a walk. Take a ride on the Trolley. Enjoy some snacks and shopping. Most importantly, have a lot of fun and kick off the Christmas season