From Milwaukee, we picked up a car and drove north into Door County, a peninsula jutting out into Lake Michigan. This area is known for its natural beauty, as well as being part of greater “dairy county” – Wisconsin is the second largest milk-producing U.S. state, after California.
Weather conditions weren’t the best during our visit for two reasons; first, it rained quite a lot, and second, winds had blown smoke from the forest fires that have been ravishing Canada across a huge area of the Midwest. While this slowed our progress around the peninsula slightly, it did leave us plenty of time to appreciate some of Door County’s man-made attractions.
On our way to Door County we stopped in Green Bay, the region’s “big city”, which happens to be home to the National Railroad Museum. Now Sara and I both like trains (well, to varying degrees), but we clearly have rivals as this wasn’t even Helen and Mick’s first visit to this museum! It told the story of early rail transportation in the USA, as well as preserving some absolutely pristine locomotives, including “Big Boy” (yes, that’s really its name). We were even allowed to clamber aboard some, pretend to operate the controls, and scare the living daylights out of some other punters who didn’t realise there was anyone in the dark carriage they were entering 👻.
It’s been a while since Sara and I last visited the US, and I swear the breweries weren’t this good or plentiful before. The days of choosing between Coors, Miller and Bud are long gone, and instead brewery menus regularly featured beers inspired by Belgian blondes, Czech pilsners, hoppy IPAs and milk stouts. And the food wasn’t even an afterthought, either. At Copper State Brewing Co in Green Bay, we paired our brews with more delicious fried cheese curds, which went down an absolute treat. Add in some alfresco dining and the semi-regular passings of some nearby freight trains for entertainment, and it added up to a near-perfect meal. Even Mick found a place in his heart for a peanut butter stout alongside his real-ale favourites.
A short drive up the coast from Sturgeon Bay (where we were staying) was Cave Point County Park – a protected area right on the edge of Lake Michigan. Here, dense forest meets the lake’s choppy waters at a line of dramatic limestone cliffs. The absence of salt in the air was the only perceivable clue that the lake wasn’t open sea, and I’m sure we didn’t even see the water at its wildest. We stumbled over tree roots along the lakefront path to reach Whitefish Dunes, a totally deserted strip of sand along the lakeshore. The water was way too wild for swimming however, with the riptide signs and shipwreck information panels offering plenty of warnings of the dangers of taking to the water.
It was only on our way back along the cliffs that we noticed some deep cracks in the rock underfoot, many of which went all the way through to the sea beneath. Some were even large enough to lose a dog or a small child through!
Frozen custard 🍦
With Wisconsin being dairy country and all, frozen custard quickly became a regular post-lunch occurrence. In fact, when we were planning this part of the trip, it was clear that frozen custard was a very high priority for Helen and Mick, and who were we to argue?! We visited Zesty’s Frozen Custard which is housed in a 50s-style diner, and the riverside Not Licked Yet. While we loved watching the ducklings and feeding the topiary outside Not Licked Yet, Zesty’s super-creamy custard and rich hot fudge sauce stole the show.
Navigational aids ⛵️
On the east side of the peninsula at Baileys Harbor, we came across two rangelights, which together formed a navigation aid for ships arriving at night.
The rangelights were located 270 m away from each other but at different heights, with the white light shining 5 m above the red light. By aligning the white light directly above the red light, ships could be sure of a safe route in and out of the harbour, even at night. If this sounds familiar, then maybe you’re also a fan of Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons, in which Captain John and his crew use rangelights to safely enter a harbour in the dark.
Next, it was time to cross the lake to Michigan’s own Gold Coast (its eastern shore), via the historic S.S. Badger ferry.