Thursday, August 25, 2011

Through the Door

File:Map of Wisconsin highlighting Door Peninsula.PNG
We've now finished a week and a half trip through more of the Door Peninsula than many Wisconsinites have seen, and liked it well enough to agree that we'll be back, sometime.  It was in many ways the most scenic part of Wisconsin we've yet visited, and the roads were terrific for biking: well paved, not too hilly, and oh, so quiet.

We started and ended with visits to museums in Green Bay, which sits at the base of the Door Peninsula. The starter was the National Railroad Museum, a fairly impressive collection of rail cars and locomotives. One of their biggest stars is Big Boy, one of 25 built in the early 1940s for the Union Pacific RR.  At 1.2 million pounds, it was the heaviest steam locomotive ever built. We wonder if anyone running this monster ever did learn what every single control was for in this jumble of valves and dials.  Interestingly, although you could theoretically throw coal into the firebox, that's not how it was done since this engine burned coal faster than any human could heave it in -- it was fed automatically by a screw device from the coal car that ran behind the locomotive.

The museum had quite a few railroad cars as well, just two of which we've illustrated here, the kitchen from an early 20th century dining car and a mail car, where postal workers sorted the mail as they picked it up from towns and cities along a rail line.

Our first destination was Little Sturgeon Bay and a resort called Wave Pointe. Do any of our readers know why developers think it's cool to misspell "Point" these days? Well, misspelled or not it was a nice place with views over that little marina, or off to the side to the back portion of the bay. Across the bay the next morning we stopped to photograph this group of pelicans.

A little further on we had our own photo taken by another tourist, with Green Bay the bay (as opposed to Green Bay the city) in the distant background.

That was in Potawatomie State Park, and nearby we climbed the first of many similar towers around the peninsula for a view of Sturgeon Bay the bay -- yup, there's also Sturgeon Bay the city. The tower is 75 feet or 99 steps high, depending on how you want to think about it, and was built in 1932. The bay was 225' below us when we made it to the top.

By the way, that gash on the opposite side of the bay (you can click on the picture to enlarge it, then hit your back button to return to the blog) is Old Quarry County Park, and it illustrates what lies under the Door Peninsula -- dolomite limestone.  In fact, the spine of the Door Peninsula is part of the Niagara Escarpment, a geologic feature that is responsible for the massive climb by the Erie Canal at Lockport NY, for Niagara Falls itself, for the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario, and for the Door Peninsula here in Wisconsin. Since dolomite is harder than rocks which were created later on top of it such as sandstone, shale and less durable forms of limestone, the escarpment resisted erosion better and remains where other rocks have been crushed and taken southwards by the continental glaciers, or carted off by eons of slow erosion by wind and water.

File:Niagara Escarpment map.png

The Door Peninsula and Door County (the northern 2/3rds of the peninsula) get their name from the French description of the ship's passage at the northern tip -- "Portes d'Enfer," i.e. The Door to Hell. There are a lot of sunken ships up there. Given that danger, and to cut a lot of miles off the trip from points to the south like Chicago or Milwaukee into Green Bay, a canal was cut across the peninsula in the 1870s. They only had to cut through a mile and a quarter, then dredge Sturgeon Bay a bit. Technically, much of Door Peninsula is actually now an island reachable only via any of three bridges. Needless to say, there was no need for locks on a canal like that.

People talk of the "bay side" and "lake side" (west and east sides respectively) of the peninsula as the busy side and the quiet side, in the same order, and we saw why. There is only one town on the lake side, and it's fairly small. We encountered some sand dune beaches a short ways north of the canal, then charming Moonlight Bay further up.

Between those two placid spots is the one dramatic place on the lake side, Cave Point County Park, where Lake Michigan is taking on the Niagara Escarpment and sometimes winning.  In fact, there was one bedroom-sized chunk of the peninsula sitting in the lake, awaiting further dismemberment by ice cracking and by waves.

If you look closely at the map of the Door Peninsula above, you will notice one sizable island plus a few small ones right above the Portes d'Enfer. This 1896 lighthouse is on Plum Island, one of the obstacles in that strait that used to hurry sailors on to the nether world. We passed it on a ferry to that bigger spot, Washington Island, whose main charm is its remoteness -- $28 r/t for the 2 of us and our bike, much more for a car, will do that to a place. But Washington Island did have some "sights," such as Sand Dunes County Park on the south side, where we had a picnic lunch with a trio of turkey vultures soaring above us, perhaps eyeing our Wisconsin cheese and crackers.  And then there's the absolutely amazing Lighthouse Beach Park on the north shore, with its rounded dolomite stones reaching right into the water in the third photo, just perfect in a challenging sort of way for building things, in the last one.

There were two sights worth mentioning in the center as well. One was Mountain Wayside Park, though the "mountain" is so short that it takes another 75' tower to get you 225' above Lake Michigan for the view north. That's the quiet road we biked along to the base of the hill, where this 119-step staircase did much of the ascent for us, past a little fern grotto on the shaded north slope of the hill.

The final highlight of our visit to Washington Island was the Stavkirke built by the local Lutheran Church. It's patterned after a church in Norway that was built in 1150 A.D.  Washington Island has a strong nordic background, and in fact is the only place in America to see a significant number of Icelandic immigrants. The Stavkirke was a quiet place of contemplation, enhanced by the fact that you have to walk 100 yards into the birch-fir forest to reach it.

It was now time to ride back on the ferry and down the busy bay side, though this is Door County and busy is a relative term. One quiet side road took us to this outlook at Ellison Bluff County Park, and a series of remarkably quiet roads in Peninsula State Park brought us to views of the town of Ephraim and to Horseshoe Island, once a private enclave but now part of the state park.  In case you're wondering, that's part of the Upper Peninsula portion of the state of Michigan in the distance, about a dozen miles away as the crow flies.  If you enlarge the third photo you can see a sliver of the main part of Lake Michigan peeking over the hill to the right, but the lower half of Michigan is so far away -- over 50 miles -- that you can't see it thanks to the curvature of the earth.

We thought about riding this tandem at the state park beach but didn't think much of the idea of giving both riders a steering wheel.  That's a relationship breaker if ever there was one!  We also checked out the 1868 Eagle Bluff Lighthouse, one of the shortest lighthouses we've ever seen.

We spent an extra day in the nearby town of Fish Creek, seen here from the park. That was partly to see the park but also to feel unhurried as we had tickets to hear the final concert of the Peninsula Music Festival's 3-week season. The orchestra is composed of musicians from orchestras around the country, most of them first or second chairs, and they were just terrific performing Brahms' 2nd Piano Concerto, Wagner's Siegfried's Rhine Journey, and Jeff's favorite, the Rosenkavalier Suite by Richard Strauss.

One more quiet road got us to stop for a photo, Cottage Row in Egg Harbor, then we got on the totally quiet Ahnapee Trail to Algoma, at the Lake Michigan base of the Door Peninsula. We were impressed with how orderly they've gotten the birds to be down by the Algoma Lighthouse.

And now we've come back through the city of Green Bay to pay a visit to Heritage Hill State Park, a collection of historic buildings from northeast Wisconsin. They have about 20 historic structures, but we'll illustrate just three: a cabin that was built by a fur trader some time prior to 1830; a wigwam, actually a reconstruction of ones built by Jesuit explorers and missionaries who were among the first white men to visit Wisconsin starting in the late 1600s; and the general ward from the base hospital at Fort Howard, which was built to protect Wisconsin from the British after the War of 1812, and was abandoned in 1841 when Canada proved to be a peaceful neighbor after all.

Lest our readers think our trip lacks any challenges other than the miles ridden, we'll close with two photos to illustrate three of them. Weather is the first challenge, and heat and humidity were major issues for us until two weeks ago.  We've been much luckier avoiding rain, though we did have to hang out somewhere for a while when this thunderstorm bore down on us one day on the Door Peninsula. We saw a dozen lightning strikes as it approached, which succeeded quite effectively in getting our attention.
Keeping the bike running well is the second challenge, but we've also had fairly good luck with the tandem, though we did break one spoke that a bike shop replaced and have had 4 flats that Jeff has repaired.  We also had a derailleur cable fray, but we had a spare and the repair took us less than 20 minutes.

If you look closely at Jeff working on that inner tube, however, you'll see the result of our third challenge after weather and bike problems -- motel rooms.  Every week we have to learn the layout of 5 or 6 new ones so that we can navigate through them to the potty in the middle of the night.  For instance, in one place we both visited the john in a bathroom that was particularly dark at 3 a.m., and both had the impression that it had the most uncomfortable seat we had ever rested our buns on. Then, after dawn, we discovered that each of us had sat on the toilet seat sideways! Well, on the Door Peninsula Jeff zigged around a wall when he should have zagged, and that cut over the eyebrow is a result.  A day later Louise nailed a chair leg with her pinky toe, surprisingly the first biker-furniture assault of this trip (last year we had 3 or 4).

If the walls and furniture don't get us first, we'll be at the end of the bike trip in one week, when we reach Milwaukee. We'll wrap up the bicycling part of this year's blog in our next entry.

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