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You too can escape

So, the defense of an equal rights law passing in Kalamazoo, Michigan last year grabbed your attention? And by more than 2-1? Well, it wasn’t about marriage, or even domestic partnerships, but two out of three Kalamazoo voters thought we were worthy of being equal at some level.

Armed with that political triumph, you might want to consider Michigan’s Lake Michigan shoreline as a great tourism destination for you and your traveling family. The western coast of Michigan has been a worthy destination for a long time, so put it on your list for a great escape. It is the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, and is stunningly lovely.

There is a wine country, stunning sand dunes, many outdoor activities, fun accommodations and camping, great spots to eat, and a very laid back approach to living.

Starting in the north, you should fly into Traverse City. You could take United via Chicago, or Denver and Chicago. In winter season (for us), but not summers, Northwest via MSP, and year around Delta via Salt Lake City. Return your rental car to Chicago after your trip and fly back from there.

Traverse City is an über charming town with a proliferation of accommodations, vacation rentals, and a great main street with locally owned businesses.

The local full timers complain about-the lack of shopping for them, but tourists love the downtown. Sound familiar? The secret part of this escape is the amazing National Lakeshore-Sleeping Bear Dunes.

TC has retained its cultural identity especially with a re-opening of its Opera House and State Theater. The beaches are clean and yet under lots of pressure during the summer. Hence, plan your trip in the shoulder seasons. The city sits at the southern base of Grand Traverse Bay, a large sound. There are thirty golf courses for those in your party so inclined. A casino, natch. There are wineries a in the area and plenty of opportunity to see and taste local cherries- the fruit of choice.

Recent visitors from Cathedral City highly recommend the Neahwanta Inn. It is in Purple Roofs , sits right on the lake shore. Check out their website. There is a charming historic place, the Traverse Victorian Inn. All the chains are available as well.

Sleeping Bears Dunes is a protected are of 35 miles of dunes and forests. The name comes from an old legend—of course—where the mother bear and her two cubs had to swim across Lake Michigan to escape a forest fire. Mom arrived, but the errant cubs never did. The high plateau on the mainland is named for the mother, and the two Manitou Islands, visible off shore, are the non-arriving cubs.

You could visit year-round as hiking and cross-country skiing are popular depending on the season. There are over 100 miles of marked trails. Canoeing, fishing and sitting around reading are all popular. There is a ferry to both of the Manitou Islands from the close by town of Leland.

There is also a 3500-acre historic preservation of farmland—the Port Oneida Rural Historic District.

It is a collection of dozens of farm and outbuildings unaffected by technology of modern times. These are preserved from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Check it all out here.

Driving south from the Sleeping Dunes, you will encounter a dozen state parks and a National Forest-Manistee—more opportunities for camping, hiking and wilderness relaxing.

The town of Muskegon offers a good selection of accommodations and restaurants. If you do not already know all you need to about dunes, check out the Gillette Sand Dune Visitors' Center. The Muskegon County Museum will give you a run down on the lumbering history of the area- one known as the Lumber Queen of the world. Wasn't she famous as well in Seattle? There is a dandy Art Museum with Hopper, Whistler and some other great stuff. Sleep at the AAA 2 diamond Holiday Inn or Comfort Inn. They are the best of the lot here.

The next day's drive should include a walk around Grand Haven and lunch here. The old downtown is well preserved and the Kirby House is historic and has great food. It sits in an 1873 building downtown. Its specialties include white chili and lake trout. There is a 2.5-mile boardwalk along the river which will give you lots of opportunity to eat and shop. The state park of the same name offers beach combing, more dunes hikes and canoeing.

Now, on to Saugatuck, the Palm Springs/Provincetown/Fire Island of the northern Midwest. This is clearly where the boys and girls from hundreds of miles around play during the summer. Again, like with Traverse City, the shoulder seasons might be best.

As with the towns already mentioned, Saugatuck was a major lumber shipping port in the late 18 and 19 hundreds- then in 1910, the Chicago Art Institute established their Summer School of Painting, and fairy dust flew throughout the region. Bingo- gay and lesbian travel destination. Enter preservation and quaint- and colorful was born. It sits on the lovely Kalamazoo River..( remember Kalamazoo...) across from its sister town, Douglas.

Though there is a bridge between the two, the old hand cranked ferry is the best way to cross the river. There are more beautiful dunes and beach-combing, though the combing here is taken to a new level. A nice charm about the town, as well as Douglas, are there are no fast food restaurants.

The Purple Roofswebsite lists twelve LGBT-owned and/or friendly accommodations. Chicago visitors, Bill and Mark, who also live here in our desert, recommend the Beechwood Manor Inn and the Hidden Cottages. Check out the whole scene here.

Just southeast of town in Fennville is the absolutely lovely Kingsley House Bed and Breakfast. It is romantic and peaceful and sits just twenty minutes from gay central. Do check this lovely gay owned spot out.

After your stay of several days, one hopes, the easiest way to return to our desert is to drive to Chicago. Direct flights on American and United, or connections in Denver (United) or Salt lake City (Delta) get you back to our desert. These western Michigan beauty spots truly are a lovely place for a quick escape. Nice in the summer, except for lots of people if that is not your thing, and ideal in the shoulder seasons of spring and autumn. Even winter finds the places open and appreciative of your visit. Don't miss it!

For this and other vacation ideas, contact George at zander44@aol.com