Tag Archives: Suttons Bay

The Blue Angels from a Different Perspective

As stated in our last post, the Blue Angels were in Traverse City to kick off the National Cherry Festival.  This was their first appearance since they lost one of their pilots in a crash back in April.  We’ve been catching occasional glimpses of them over the campground recently. Earlier in the week, they screamed up behind us while we were biking the Leelanau Trail with Diana’s cousin Nancy and her husband David, causing me to duck out of instinct!

Parallel to all of this, our friends Rod and Mary were in the process of settling into their new-to-them Ericson 30 plus sailing sloop.  After navigating it from its previous home port of Boyne City and getting a feel for what-went-where, they invited us out for a day of sailing, along with our mutual friends Lane and Patti.  Our plan was to journey from their slip in Suttons Bay to the south end of the West Arm of Grand Traverse Bay to view the Blue Angels air show.  Diana’s and my actual sailing experience at the helm has consisted of piloting a Sunfish around Fife Lake, so we knew the concept of tacking and jibing.  I’ve helped raise the sails on large schooners before in Maine, but that’s about it with a multi-sail vessel.  No doubt, this was going to be a treat!

For perspective, our trip was going to take us from Suttons Bay (denoted with the green bubble), around Stony Point and south to Traverse City (red bubble) and back.  Round trip distance was around 40 miles.

Mary pulled the bow line, jumped on board and we were off!

Rod motored us out of the harbor and out across Suttons Bay.  A former career captain for a major airline, he has the calm demeanor needed to handle a larger craft like this.  He has had other smaller sailboats in his youth, but this is new territory for him.  Lane and I crewed for him, with both of us being newbies.  Rod provided clear instruction to his mates and we learned quickly.  The only casualty of the day came early on, as a wind gust caught the bill of the captain’s favorite Gulfstream hat and sent it over the stern.  Davey Jones is sporting a new cap.  😦

There wasn’t much wind to be found in Suttons Bay, so we motored out around Stony Point.  Rod commented that his two cylinder 16 horsepower diesel sounded like the African Queen.  It definitely chugged right along!

Here’s Lane scanning the shoreline behind us after tending to the forward sail, known as a jib.

Before too long, we had wind in the sails and we were cruising south.

Diana, being the Girl Scout she is, came prepared with an additional hat.  Rod gladly made use of it.

Patti and Lane were drinking in the view also.  🙂   We started out with a fickle wind, but the breeze picked up as the day progressed.

As we passed Bowers Harbor, we saw several planes and jets doing acrobatics over Traverse City.  Following that, the Blue Angels’ C-130 transport nicknamed Fat Albert took to the stage.

This giant plane made several tight turns and climbs, passing just above the water in several cases.  On its last pass southward across the water, it made a steep climb over Traverse City and the five Blue Angels jets came screaming northward underneath it.  One had to temporarily drop out of formation with an unknown issue, but the other four continued on.  They looped off to the west and headed up to the top of Grand Traverse Bay, then blazed southward past us!

They were really moving!

Here’s what a 20 mile long smoke trail looks like at water level.  🙂

It’s amazing to see them fly so close together!

Before long, the fifth plane rejoined them and they were really putting on a show!

This is one of my favorites.  Nothing like a supersonic game of chicken.  🙂

As the show wound down, a wave of watercraft headed northward past us, kicking up an unpredictable chop.  Patti had headed below deck to retrieve a bottle of dry reisling to toast the day and christen the vessel. She stood in the hatchway with an open bottle as we came about and didn’t spill a drop…a testament to her sea legs and the craft’s stability!

On our way back north, we passed the topsail schooner Manitou, which was also under full sail.  The wind had swung around to the north, so we had to tack and jibe all the way back.  Fortunately, the bay is wide and over 300 feet deep, so we were able to complete the trip with just a couple of manuvers. 

We pulled back into Suttons Bay just before sunset, all of us a bit tuckered out.  🙂

We helped Rod and Mary stow the main sail, then headed back to the campground to let their dog out for them.  We all had a marvelous time and really learned a lot!  Thank you for the wonderful day, Rod and Mary!

Rolling Forward Through the Past

Sometimes a wonderful resource is born from misfortune.

In 1901, the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad  completed a spur from Traverse City to Northport, Michigan under the name Traverse City, Leelanau and Manistique Rail Road.  As part of the line, they also established a rail car ferry from Northport to Manistique in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Prior to that in 1874, they completed a rail spur from Traverse City back to their main north-south line (Cincinnati, Ohio to Mackinaw City, Michigan) at the tiny village of Walton, Michigan, later renamed Walton Junction.  That 1874 line began the immigration boom that Traverse City still sees to this day.  Diana and I had passed through Walton Junction for years on our way to her parent’s cottage on Fife Lake, never realizing that the name was derived from the meeting of theses two rail lines.

Competing with the already-established Ann Arbor Railroad for freight across the lake, it was quickly discovered that the ferry service wasn’t going to be profitable, so it was discontinued in 1908.  Freight and passenger service continued on through several different companies until 1975.  In 1989, the Leelanau Scenic Railway was established on the line, running to Suttons Bay until 1995, at which time the right-of-way was abandoned and the tracks were torn up.  All that was left of the railroad was the graded land, several bridges, and a handful of depot buildings.

The depot in Suttons Bay as it appeared in 1920…

…and repurposed as a law office today.

Meanwhile in Traverse City, the Traverse Area Recreational Trail had been built along an east/west rail corridor that ran through town.  With the success of that route, the Leelanau Trails Association purchased the 17 mile Leelanau Scenic Railway corridor from Traverse City to Suttons Bay….and work began on what was to become the Leelanau Trail. Asphalt paving was completed in 2013, and the pathway was designated as part of U.S. Bicycle Route 35.

Where trains struggled to get through the snow in winter…

…cross country ski trail groomers now run in the cold weather.

Where the passenger cars used to make their way northward…

…we now find ourselves riding along their former route, 115 years after the railroad was built.

Pedaling the Leelanau Trail (seen above in red) has become one of our favorite pastimes.  We started riding it in earnest last fall when we purchased our TerraTrikes.  Several wineries are located a short distance from the trail, so there isn’t a shortage of places to visit.  🙂    The scenery along the route is amazing.

During the spring, the cherry blossoms carpet the hillsides.

Here is Diana photographing a bank full of Forget-Me-Nots.

These little beauties were the theme we chose for her mom’s funeral guest book; as a result, seeing these made this day pretty darn special.  🙂

We enjoy seeing this draft horse and donkey along the way…

…as well as this huge cow that keeps them company.  🙂

While many of the railroads of northern Michigan were not able to sustain their businesses, the efforts of the railroad workers are being reused through the development of these trails.  We consider ourselves fortunate to be located so close to the Leelanau Trail this srummer, and we look forward to many more rides along this historical pathway before we leave this fall.


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Leelanau County, Michigan was shaped during the last ice age by the continental ice sheet that covered the area.  While that geology is a subject I intend to write about at a later date, my focus in this post is the town of Suttons Bay.  This little hamlet has become one of our ‘go-to’ place for services, as it sports a laundromat and grocery store.  It is also home to many unique shops and restaurants, along with a Saturday farmer’s market.  While driving on the back streets of town, we began to notice something very different about the village: the heavy concentration of fieldstone homes.  As many of you know, the glacial ice sheet that covered the northern United States deposited a layer of rounded stones in all shapes and sizes.  The soil in the Leelanau region of Michigan is full of them.  As a result, the local architecture reflects the presence of the stones, as they provided a cheap and abundant building material.

This is a charming home that uses natural fieldstone for all of its exterior walls.

Many of the homes use the stone for the foundation only.

This beauty took that a step further to include a fieldstone chimney.

This one appeared to have concrete below the decorative fieldstone. 

There was a builder’s trailer parked in the driveway of this home.  It appeared to be in the process of being renovated.

One of my favorites was this bungalow.  Take a close look at the detail in the railing of the porch.  The insets in the center of the railing employs the use of smaller diameter stones.  The gargoyles are the ‘piece de resistance’, as this structure really stands out among the others.

The stones are also used to construct retaining walls and borders throughout the town.  Wild Cherry Resort has also used fieldstone in this manner.

The use of the stones is not limited to older structures.  This is actually a modern home that sports a layer of the rounded rocks.

The crown jewel of the town is Union School on St. Mary’s Street.
This charming structure was built in 1907.  It was recently converted to four condominiums.  Looking at it, I couldn’t help but imagine the children who took this building for granted, only to realize as adults how fortunate they were to attend classes in such a beautiful school.

If you find yourself in Suttons Bay, get off the main road and check these structures out.  It is worth the few minutes it takes to drive through the town.

What sorts of indigineous stone have you noticed being used in the buildings in your area?