Wisconsin's Door County is the place to be in summer
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McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT) - In Georgia in July, it's hotter than the Bad Place. All the hubby and I can think of is escaping for a few days from this place, where the temperature hits 90 in April and stays that way until September. Sometimes October. And ack! Even November.
That's part of reason we like Door County in the summer. Door County, that venerable peninsula of land in Wisconsin that divides Lake Michigan from Green Bay, is one of those places that is safe haven from scorching summer heat. The temperature there, at least in summer, rarely rises above 80, and the humidity is gloriously nonexistent. Only the Mississippi Delta and the tropics have higher levels of humidity than Georgia, so Door County is a welcome respite in July.
For a Southerner used to sweltering all summer, I savored in the moment when I had to wrap my sweater closer around me as we explored Cana Island Lighthouse _ one of 10 lighthouses in Door County _ as a cool wind howled around us. Just think. A sweater. In July. Underneath a cloudless sky as blue as beryl. Nirvana, indeed.
OK, maybe not Nirvana, but pretty close. And really, it doesn't just take low temperatures and humidity to make for an idyllic getaway. You have to toss in a few cherry pies, an old fashioned ice cream shop or two, hunks of purely sinful cheese, and then add a dose of the Green Bay Packers, who, as far as I can tell, are considered minor deities in Wisconsin.
Defining Door County is simple _ it's easygoing and slow-paced. There are no hints of brashness, rudeness, punk music, or loud mufflers here. Comprised of iconoclastically-named communities like Ephraim, Bailey's Harbor, Fish Creek, Ellison Bay, Sister Bay, Southern Door and Washington Island, Door County is one of those clean, quietly pristine places that seem almost like a throwback to the mellow 1950s, the old great resort towns of the Catskills, and television shows like "Ozzie and Harriett" and "Leave it to Beaver."
We were lured there by a friend's promise that it would be an antidote to my hyper-Type-A personality and a perfect complement to my husband's laid-back, completely unhurried lifestyle. By the end of the first day, when I realized that no one gets in a tizzy here as I do on a daily basis, I found myself caring less and less about deadlines and missed cell calls. As the Door County "medicine" took effect, I felt the stress slip away.
First off, there are the usual things to do in Door County in summer: swimming in either lake, fishing, horseback riding, kayaking, hiking, shopping for antiques and handcrafts, golfing (more on that), sampling cherry pie (and more on that, too), and being entertained with a fish boil (keep reading). But there are the more unusual and offbeat activities, too, like parasailing and learning that pancakes and goats go together like a horse and carriage.
Secondly, Wisconsin equals water. In addition to Green Bay and Lake Michigan, a conglomerate of rivers, streams, and ponds spackle the Door County countryside. If you want to see it from a more unique, albeit braver perspective, you'll find that parasailing or "sailing the Door" is quite the popular pastime.
Here's how parasailing works, in layman's point of view. First, gather your gumption and get over the fact that you'll be suspended above the vastness of Eagle Harbor at Ephraim. Next, you'll be harnessed into some sort of contraption that, barring anything catastrophic like a rope snapping and sending you barreling either toward the depths of Lake Michigan or the Big Dipper (depending upon the whim of the wind that day), is supposed to keep you safe in case of malfunction.
In other words, you're attached to some sort of plastic parachute, then strung up on the end of a few hundred feet of rope, and then sent soaring into the wild blue yonder with nothing about you but your wits and the hopeful knowledge that parasailing guys (and gals) know exactly what they're doing. Otherwise, one snap of the rope and you're either fish bait or the newest deep space satellite.
Seriously, though, they know what they're doing. This isn't parachuting and it's not sailing. Instead a boat pulls you along as if you are floating in the quietness of the atmosphere. The best part is that you get a bird's-eye view of Door County that will help you to appreciate its natural beauty and endless green spaces.
Parasailing works up an appetite, so now is a good time to bring up those cherries. Acres and acres of cherry trees cover Door County, and summer is when the orchards of pale blossoms ripen into oases of red and green. There's just something simplistic and very much un-Type-A about standing in a cherry orchard and plopping the fruit into your mouth straight from the tree. In Forrest-Gumpanese, I could eat about a million of them.
Here's a short course called "Cherries for Dummies" for your Door County visit. You can pick your own or buy them by the flat. You can make wine, jam, salsa, and even margaritas from them. Cherries can be fresh, dried, or frozen. Did you know the stems are left on fresh ones because they last longer? And so you don't have to count, there are about 250 cherries in a single, sumptuous pie. The reason Door County cherries are so good?
"The limestone underneath the surface of the Earth here makes the cherries more flavorful," says Bob Lautenbach of Lautenbach's Orchard Country. He further explained technical stuff about the nutrients in the soil and moderate temperatures and all that stuff blondes like me don't quite get, but who understands completely that whatever is in the dirt beneath Door County sure makes one heck of a delicious cherry pie.
You can buy cherries at colorful farm stands like Seaquist Orchards, or get it mixed into a cherry ice cream soda _ or sample one of dozens of other hand-created frozen concoctions _ at the ever-popular Wilson's, an old-fashioned ice cream shop and a legendary institution since 1906.
After we survived parasailing and cherry-eating, Hubby golfed with pals at Alpine Golf Course in Egg Harbor with its Currier-and-Ives views, as well as the challenging par-72 Orchards at Egg Harbor that winds through woods, orchards, and meadows. While he was on the links, I indulged in two of my greatest passions: hiking and photographing wildflowers at places like Dunes State Park, Peninsula State Park, and the Ridges Sanctuary, Wisconsin's oldest nonprofit nature preserve.
There's no way to say Door County without mentioning "fish boil" in the same breath. A fish boil is sort of a Great Lakes tradition but one that's especially prominent on the peninsula. Long story short, the local whitefish are pretty darned oily. When they're boiled with potatoes and salt in a cauldron over an open fire, the oil rises to the top. The "cook" then tosses kerosene into the flames beneath the cauldron, then "PHOOOMM!" The pot boils over, creating a volcano of flames several feet high, and then dinner's ready.
If you're not keen on this fish fry on steroids, try JoeJo's Pizza and Gelato in Ephraim for the best thin crust pizza around, the Mission Grill in Sister Bay, Gibraltar Grill in Fish Creek, or the Bravissima in Egg Harbor for more gourmet fare and wine pairings, Fred & Fuzzy's Waterfront Grill for those marvelous cherry margaritas, or Al Johnson's Swedish Restaurant and Butiks for pancakes and heavier, richer Scandinavian fare. When you're done grazing on pancakes at Al Johnson's, go outside to see goats grazing on grass on the sod-covered roof. Now that's baa-baa-baad-looking sight to behold.
Comfort rather than fancy is the rule for Door County accommodations, with a wide range of camping, vacation rentals, bed-and-breakfast inns, and small hotels and resorts. We stayed at the Wagon Trail, a quiet, cozy family resort in Ellison Bay. The Wagon Trail, surrounded by woods and water, is the ideal place for adding to that anti-stress mode. Its buffet breakfast, seriously one of the best I've ever had, and its brimming-with-goodies bakery are considered local institutions.
IF YOU GO:
Appleton and Green Bay are the two closest airports serviced by major carriers.
Visit www.DoorCounty.com or call (800) 52-RELAX.
© 2009, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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