I inherited my ability to wander from my maternal grandmother, Dixie Riley. She was afflicted with a life-long case of wanderlust. As a child, my Gram would show up at my parent’s home seemingly at random, the top down on her sky-blue Mustang. Sometimes my near-cousin Kalena was in the car with her, more often my grandmother was alone. I traveled the country alongside my Gram. We made annual pilgrimages to Las Vegas, Florida, and Upstate New York and day-trips to the Sleeping Bear Dunes, Cedar Point, Pittsburg, and Toronto.
My Gram’s wanderlust lives on in me, albeit much diluted. I awoke on a Saturday morning to a bright blue day. My kids wanted a weekend with their friends. My wife had been hired for a catering gig. I had the day to myself, which wasn’t a bad thing. So I jumped in the Jeep, tuned in to NPR, and drove. When I hit M119 near my house, I had no idea where the road was going to lead me.
At midday, I found myself in Traverse City. I considered visiting the Traverse City Whiskey Company or one of the area’s new brewpubs, but the Moth Radio Hour was on and I was captivated by a woman’s story of getting in a life-altering car accident when she was 8-years-old. Not wanting to get out of the car yet, I visualized a map of the region. Stretching into Grand Traverse Bay like a finger is 16-mile-long Old Mission Peninsula, home to several vineyards, scenic overlooks, and the Mission Point Lighthouse. I have never visited the peninsula, but I’ve always been curious about it, so I turned my car northward.
I started my trek up on the western coast. Here I found lake cabins of various sizes, both modern and old. The road twisted along the shore, providing lovely views across the bay of the Leelanau Peninsula.
About 8 miles in, I came across the first of many Old Mission vineyards, Hawthorne Vineyards. The Moth Radio Hour had just ended, and a drink sounded nice.
Hawthorne Vineyards sits atop a hill in the middle of their 80-acre orchard. I was immediately taken with the stunning views of both East and West Grand Traverse Bays.
The tasting room boutique is located in a modern building with massive windows. Once inside, I was greeted by one of their wine experts.
Hawthorne offers 5 tastings of their wine for $3, a bargain considering the generous size of their pours. I was offered a menu of wines and given a glass.
I was in the mood for a cold white, so I tried the Gewurztraminer, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Blanc, Select Harvest Riesling, and the Delish – a sweet white blend. I chatted with the staff as I sampled, giving my novice review of each wine. When I tried the Select Harvest Riesling, I was struck by the delicate sweetness, strong tartness, and bright aroma. I enjoyed the wine so much, I wanted to share it with my wife, so I purchased a bottle.
I continued my journey up the western shore of the peninsula until the road merged with M-37. I passed through apple and cherry orchards, horse farms, and fallow fields. I was struck by how little forest I saw. It appeared as if every acre of land was put to use.
Mission Point Lighthouse is located at the tip of Old Mission Peninsula.
I arrived just behind a large crowd of tourists, who formed a line to get into the lighthouse. Not seeing anyone on the tower, I decided to forgo the tour of the building. Instead I walked the grounds and beach.
I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Mission Point Lighthouse is the most photographed lighthouse in Michigan. All along the beach were photographers, their cameras on tripods, snapping pictures of the lighthouse, the lake, the log cabin, and the forest at various angles. I wanted to walk the beach and take some photographs myself, but I kept wandering into shots, so I decided to return to my journey.
On the return trip south, I followed the eastern shore as best as I could. Like the western side of the peninsula, I was afforded stunning view after stunning view.
Unlike the western side, however, I also came across historic buildings. There were several old farmsteads, transformed into lovely little B&Bs. I discovered a recreation of the Old Mission Church, a tiny log cabin church building no larger than a one-car garage.
I was intrigued by an abandoned, boarded up store located at the end of a dirt road. I find great beauty in simple architecture, and this building was simple. Two-stories with multiple windows, a small front porch, knotty pine siding. On the rear of the building, someone painted in black “Love Wins”. I couldn’t be sure if the author meant to quote Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie or not, but it reminded me of that wonderful little book.
At this point, my wanderlust was quenched and I was ready to head home. After photographing the Old Mission Church, I got back in my car and turned south. Not a quarter of mile later, I discovered the Old Mission General Store. I am going to say this, with all the sincerity I can muster, this store is one of my favorite places in all of Northern Michigan.
From the moment I pulled into the parking lot, I was transported back in time.
Wood burning stoves, barrels of root beer, Black-Jack Gum, fresh cider, pasties, paper dots, cherry hot N spicy pickles! The shelves teemed with late 19th and early 20th favorites. A couple inside was ordering lunch from the deli. Another couple was marveling over cans of Carling’s Black Label. I wandered through the store, opening cupboards and coolers, surprised to find antique toys and bottles of wine. I found cases of Towne Club pop, a favorite from my childhood in Downriver Detroit, stacked in a tight aisle. I sampled the store’s own brand of jam on a cracker. I thought of my mother, as I perused the classic food stuffs in their vintage bottles, and I made a note to return with her.
Old Mission Peninsula is one of Michigan’s unique places. When you plan your visit, be sure to allow a full day and try to hit the Old Mission General Store at lunch time.