Flight to East Tawas, Michigan

Flight to East Tawas, Michigan

This past Saturday, April 8 brought with it a bright sunny day here in West Michigan.  It had been some time since we had been “wheels up” so Randy and I decided it was time to climb into the Navion and set out on another adventure.

In the spirit of our “throw the dart at the map” types of trips, I began browsing the Fun Places To Fly website for a destination in Ohio.  (No special reason – I just thought I’d look south this time.)  I was narrowing down my choices when the phone rang.  One of our flying compadres called hoping to hitch a ride to Midland, MI to pick up his airplane from the maintenance shop.

That is how it happens so many times.   Something will happen, causing us to deviate from our original plan and initiate a “Plan B”.  However, looking back, some of our best destinations have been our Plan B trips.  For instance, remembering our Sedona journey last summer, our first night’s stop was in Cuba, Missouri.  We had originaly intended to land at the airport in Cuba.  After learning en route that the airport was closed for runway repairs, we diverted to the closest airport, Rolla National (KVIH).  Rolla turned out to be a WWII era airport rich in history, where we found a plethura of dilapidated C-47s sitting in their final resting place on the field.  It was a hidden gem we would have missed had we stuck to our “A” plan.

Saturday’s B Plan didn’t disappoint either.  Since we would now be heading north to Midland, I scanned the Michigan sectional for northbound destinations and randomly choose the town of East Tawas which is located on the east side of the state just north of Saginaw Bay, approximately 60 miles south of Alpena.

After a pleasant flight to Midland, we dropped our friend off and then made the remaining 52 mile hop to Iosco County Airport (6D9).   Prior to landing, we took a tour of the area, from the air.  The scenery below was stunning.  We are constantly reminded how fortunate we are to live in a state that offers so many beautiful destination just a short flight away.

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Tawas Point State Park
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Tawas Point Lighthouse

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On final for 6D9

Upon our arrival, we were greeted by airport manager, Marv Poland and his wife, Linda.  They were very hospitable and accommodating.  Marv explained that the airport courtesy car had a dead battery, and insisted we take their personal car to town.  Yet another wonderful gesture from our extended family of aviation aficionados!

East Tawas is a small resort town sitting on Tawas Bay off Lake Huron.   The short drive to town is reminiscent of a family vacation destination from the 1950/60s.  There are rows of quaint mom and pop motels and cabins lining the route.  There is nothing pretentious to be found here.  The people are friendly, down to earth and the small town atmosphere is welcoming and refreshing.  (I swear I saw June and Ward Clever drive past and wave!)

Newman Street, the main business district is dotted with gift shops, restaurants, and coffee shops.  We chose to dine at the Whitetail Cafe, as it appeared to be a favorite of locals.  It is a small family run diner with a small town feel.  The food is homemade and did not disappoint.  Randy and I both had corn chowder that was out of this world. My Traverse City Chicken Salad piled on homemade fresh bread was amazing, as was Randy’s Hamburger.  No frozen meat here.  It was an old fashioned hand formed patty of fresh beef, grilled to perfection.  The service was good and the staff friendly.  Another great find.

After lunch and a walk through town, we drove to Tawas Point State Park to check it out.  It is picturesque and offers campgrounds along with two miles of sandy beaches for strolling and swimming.  This would be a great destination if you like to fish, are into birding or just enjoy being outside in nature.  The Tawas Point lighthouse, located in the park was just as impressive from the ground as it was from the air.

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We enjoyed the East Tawas area very much and would like to return during tourist season, as there are many attractions and things to do in the area during the summer season.  What a nice  “B” destination this one turned out to be!

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An Encore Flight To Route 66!

An Encore Flight To Route 66!

After lingering gray and gloom in Michigan, we finally experienced a rare February weekend of sunshine and temperatures nearing 60.  So this past Saturday, February 18, my hubby Randy and I decided it was time for us to fly.

We often reminisce about the flying Route 66  trip we made last summer for our wedding.  It’s fun to look back on our adventure and rehash everything we saw and experienced.  So it’s no wonder that Route 66 once again popped into my head when trying to decide on an aviation day trip.  Route 66 starts in Chicago and heads southwest, through much of  Illinois. During our trip last summer, our first and only stop in Illinois was Litchfield, which is in the southern part of the state.  There are many towns along the northernmost section of Illinois Route 66 that are easily accessible by airplane in less then two hours.

After a bit of research on the internet, I found that the historical town of Pontiac, IL, approximately 180 miles from our home base of Hastings, MI, offered up some interesting attractions, including several museums.  So the decision was made.  Route 66, here we come again!

A pleasant flight took us along the bottom of Lake Michigan,  over Michigan City and Gary, IN.  A nice clear day with good visibility offered up nice views of the Chicago skyline in the distance.  Leaving the Chicago area to the southwest, it is amazing how quickly  the  industrial steel mills and urban landscapes give way to a panorama of farms and cornfields.  Below us, wind farms dotted  with hundreds of massive wind turbines stretched out in all directions as far as we could see.

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Beautiful Gary, IN

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This is for you Beverly!

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We touched down at the Pontiac municipal airport (KPNT) at 10:30AM local time.  The gentleman manning the FBO was very accommodating.  He fueled the airplane  and offered us the use of the airport courtesy car for the day.

Someday I think I’ll write a blog just on the subject of courtesy cars.  You never know what you are going to get  Many of them are old retired police cruisers or beater cars donated to airports to serve out their last days hauling transient pilots.  But this was the mother of all courtesy cars! It was an older model and mechanically had probably seen better days.   But man, was it awesome.    A custom airbrush design by local artist Tang-Dangbai, formerly of Beijing, China, featured an aviation motif combined with a Pontiac, IL/Route 66 theme. Check out the photos and you’ll agree, this is the most artistic airport vehicle ever. Tang also owns and operates an airbrush school in Pontiac.

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We made the short drive to town and our first stop was the historical Pontiac museum complex – three museums located on different floors in the same building which was formerly the firehouse.  The Route 66 museum on the ground floor houses a wonderful collection of memorabilia from the entire route beginning in Illinois and ending in California.  Walk up a flight of stairs and you will feel that you have travelled in a time machine back to the 1940s. This floor leads to a life sized reproduction of a 1940’s house, complete with living room, kitchen, laundry area and bedroom.  There is also a reproduction of a 1940s wartime canteen, complete with big band music.

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On the top level you will find the Livingston County War Museum.  The collection is vast and amazing.  There are over 250 life-sized mannequins, each wearing the uniform of a soldier from WWI to present day.  What makes this exhibit so unique, is the fact that each uniform bears the name and story of the soldier who wore it.  Many of them include a photo of the soldier as well.  This collection has been meticulously and lovingly maintained by a volunteer staff of military veterans and history enthusiasts who love to share their stories and experiences.

After spending several hours exploring the museums and chatting with the volunteers, we headed for lunch across town at a the Old Log Cabin restaurant, an icon of Route 66.  The Old Log Cabin opened in 1926 before Route 66 existed.  At that time it was a lunch counter with a service station, and faced the existing town road.  When Route 66 came to town, the restaurant starting losing business, as it was facing away from the highway and hard to spot.  The resourceful owners took on the challenging task of turning the building around so it would face Route 66.  It must have been a successful ruse, as they are still in business over 90 years later!

After a comfort lunch of grilled ham and cheese sandwiches and homemade corn chowder, we made our way back to town for a walking tour.  There are several wall murals scattered through town, as well as a good number of shops. The Vermilion River runs through town and there are three unique wooden swinging pedestrian bridges crossing the river, the oldest, circa 1898.  Pontiac is also the Livingston county seat and the grandiose courthouse stands proud in the town square and is quite a sight to see.  We made a pass over town on our departure flight so I could capture some shots from above.  Another great adventure was had revisiting our beloved Route 66!  We hope you enjoyed tagging along and we look forward to seeing where next time takes us!

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Aerial view of Route 66

 

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Bird’s eye view of Pontiac, IL

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Blue Chip Casino, Michigan City, IN

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Warren Dunes State Park Michigan

New Year’s Day Flight to Gladwin, MI

New Year’s Day Flight to Gladwin, MI

Happy New Year!  Here’s wishing you nothing but blue skies in 2017!

Speaking of blue skies – January 1st marked our first sunny day in west Michigan since… hmmm…..well…since I can remember!

According to our local Channel 8 Meteorologist Bill Steffen, the Grand Rapids area had about half of the normal average total possible sunshine in December.  Now given the fact that December is typically our cloudiest month, that is pretty grim.  Our total sunshine amounted to roughly 9%.  According to Bill, that was only about 25 hours of sunshine for the entire month!  I’m not trying to be a negative-Nancy or anything, but fact is, December was 91% gray, gloomy, cloudy, snowy, icy,frozen, cold, wet, sloppy, (and many other adjectives that are not family friendly.)  Just not very conducive to roaring around in an airplane.

When New Year’s Day greeted us with bright blue, sunny skies,  my husband Randy and I scrambled to sneak in a flight before it all came crashing down again – which it did – the very next day.

We chose Gladwin, MI (KGDW) as our destination.  Gladwin is a small town roughly 100 miles north of Hastings,  the closest major town being Mount Pleasant, home of Central Michigan University, just to the South.  A pleasant and very smooth flight took us over miles of mainly farmland.

This time of year sometimes presents a challenge finding anything picturesque or interesting to photograph, so I try and look for any unusual geographical or man-made anomalies.  For some reason, I’ve always been drawn to photographing farms, as I think they are the quintessential representation of the Norman Rockwall-like rural America.  (Not to mention, the red barns offer a smidgen of color in an otherwise drab boring scene).

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We touched down at the Gladwin airport and found the terminal building to be deserted.  It was a holiday though, so this wasn’t unusual.  Fortunately the airport manager had the courtesy car keys available in plain sight, so all we had to do was sign it out and we were on our way.  It is always interesting and sometimes comical to see what kind of courtesy car you get.  This one was a large boat of a car – a  Dick Tracy-like former cop car boasting a large cow-catcher up front.  Fortunately this time around, we didn’t have to use the cow-catcher.

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Turning final to runway 27

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Love the cow-catcher on this old patrol car!

Historical downtown Gladwin is located on Cedar Avenue, about a mile from the airport. Gladwin offers a variety of shops and restaurants.  Most of the town was closed down as it was not only Sunday, but also a holiday.  However, we found that the quaint family owned restaurant we had come to dine at, the Pepper Mill was open for business.  Randy ordered the homemade corned beef hash and I had a mouth watering breakfast burrito.  Our very personable server, daughter of the owner, told us how her Mom comes in early every morning long before the sun rises and with her grandmother’s help, bakes their famous homemade pies fresh every day.  She gave us a list of the dozens of flavors available and explained that they have consistently made the mlive top ten pie list in Michigan.  Give them 24 hours notice and you can take any of these pies home with you.  We had no room for dessert after a great and filling lunch, but we’ll be back for sure to check out those pies!

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With our stomaches full, we headed back to the airport and launched back towards home.  I snapped a couple more shots en route  but mostly just settled in and enjoyed the ride.

All of those adjectives I mentioned above have since reared their ugly heads once again, so who knows when our next flight will be.  Being general aviation pilots subjected to Michigan winters,  we learn to be patient, take what we can get and relish every moment we can steal to spend in the air!

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Word? Hieroglyphic? Or just a drunk farmer?  What do you see?
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Meandering River

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Until next time!

Saving Lives with Pilots N Paws

Saving Lives with Pilots N Paws

Are you a person who loves animals?  Do you know a pilot who has a soft spot for critters? Perhaps you are a pilot yourself?  A simple act of kindness on your part can  not only change lives, but also save lives of animals in need. Want to know how you can make the difference between life and death for countless animals?  Read on:

According to the ASPCA, approximately 7.6 companion animals enter animal shelters annually.  Of these, approximately 3.9 million dogs and 3.4 million cats.   The estimated percentage of adoptions is 35% for dogs and 37% for cats. A staggering 2.7 million animals are euthanized each year, approximately 1.2 million dogs and 1.4 million cats.

Pilots and Paws,  a non-profit organization connects hundreds of volunteers made up of pilots and animal rescue organizations.  They have been instrumental in helping to decrease the number of animal deaths, by eliminating logistical boundaries,  making it possible to transport thousands of animals annually to no-kill rescue shelters all around the country.

The way it works is simple.  Pilots and other volunteers, including rescues and those willing to foster animals, join an online forum.  Pilot volunteers search the postings for animals in need of transport.  The searches can be filtered to show transports needed in a specific distance from volunteer’s home airport. ie. perhaps only those requiring a flight of 100 miles or less or in-state, etc.  When you join, there is no pressure or obligation to take on transports.  You sign on only for those transports you wish to fly.  Once you take an assignment, a rescue coordinator will contact you and put you in touch with other pilots who will be flying additional legs for the transport.  It quickly morphs into a team effort as you work together to coordinate a transport schedule that is agreeable to all.

As volunteers for Pilots N Paws, Randy and I flew our most current mission on November 5. We travelled to Marion, IN where we picked up two Shih tzus, a father and son who began their journey at the Hardin County Animal Shelter in Elizabethtown, KY, where they were relinquished by their owners.  The first pilot flew the dogs from Elizabethtown to Marion, IN where we picked them up for remaining leg of their journey to Holland, MI.

The amazing woman who coordinated Silas and Slipper’s rescue, Roberta is a volunteer at the Kentucky Animal Relief Fund, a rescue primarily for senior dogs.  With limited room, Roberta contacted a rescue she has worked with in the past that has taken in Shih tzus, in the hopes they had room for Silas and Slipper.  Julie, a volunteer for the Animal Placement Bureau, in Lansing, MI, coordinated with the APB to accept the dogs.  The volunteer we met in Holland, MI, Diane who resides there, agreed to foster Silas and Slipper until they could be placed in a forever home.

Each rescue mission is a team effort.  It is quite an experience to be a part of.

For pilots who may wonder how these animals travel, Randy and I have had no problems transporting animals. (In fact, our very first mission consisted of  fifteen dogs –  yes – fifteen dogs in one airplane, including 13 puppies and an adult Rottweiler!)   In most cases once airborne, they just lay quietly or go to sleep.  Pilots N Paws will even send you crates and supplies for your transports.

There is no feeling as knowing you have been an advocate for a helpless creature who is fully dependent on those willing to take on it’s cause.  We are always in awe of the rescue groups who put their hearts, souls and lives into helping these animals.

Pilots N Paws and the animal rescue groups they work with always need volunteers.  You do not have to be a pilot.  All you need is a big heart, a love for animals and the willingness to share your time and perhaps your home to animals as they make their way to finding a family to call their own. Donations are always welcome as well.

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Michigan Fall Splendor

Michigan Fall Splendor

I thought I would share some of Michigan’s autumn eye candy.  The first several photos are from a car tour to the Traverse City area on October 24 and 25.  (I know – this is an aviation blog… but there are exceptions to every rule – right?)  The fall colors were almost at their peak. The rolling hills of the abundant vineyards on the peninsulas offered up brilliant views of Michigan’s autumn color palette. During some tastings at the local wineries, I found that Michigan wines actually give California a run for their money (and that goes for the scenery as well!)  A highlight was a visit to the Ciccone Vineyard, owned by Madonna’s father, Silvio Tony Ciccone and his wife Joan.  The wine was great and the steward offering up the tastings was a very personable and friendly gal.  The winery is known for their dry reds.  Although they were fabulous, I came home with a bottle of Chardonnay. The grounds are absolutely beautiful and the Ciccone’s home is on site.  Worth a stop for sure!

We stayed overnight at the Stone Waters Inn in Bellaire, MI, home of Short’s Brewery (where we dined that evening).  The Stone Waters Inn is a small Inn with only ten rooms. It is reminiscent of a B&B without the breakfast.  The owners are very personable and helpful and the rooms are very cute, each donning it’s own theme.  If flying here, the Antrim County Airport (KACB) is nearby and a great gateway to the entire area.

Now for the flying part – yesterday, we took yet another flight to the Lake Michigan shore to see if the colors had popped any further since last week’s flight to Holland.  Although, very pretty, the color near Lake Michigan still wasn’t nearly as brilliant as the inland areas of West Michigan.  Upon our return, we flew around the local area for a bit and took in some nice views of colorful downtown Hastings from above.  The town of Hastings is a great destination in itself, with many shops and restaurants steeped with local history.  We are fortunate to live nearby and call 9D9 our home airport!

It’s sad to think that not long from now – perhaps a week or two at most, this will all be gone, the leaves will have all made their way to the ground and the color will be replaced with that infamous grayish hue for the next five months or so.

Get out there and enjoy it now before it’s too late!

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Almira Township, MI
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View driving toward Grey Hare Winery, Mission Point, MI
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Grey Hare Vineyard – Old Mission Peninsula

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View from Chateau Chantal Winery, Mission Point
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Chateau Chantal Vineyard
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Chateau Chantal Vineyard

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Another view from Ciccone Vineyard
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The Stone Waters Inn, Bellaire, MI
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View from Shanty Creek. Near Bellaire, MI

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M37 heading South out of Traverse City. Homeward bound.
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Local color tour from the air over West Michigan
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Even a scrapyard can look cool from above!
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And so can a golf course – FORE.  Whew, that was close!
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Holland, MI
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Scary Corn Maze near Dorr, MI
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Octagon Barn near Hastings, MI

 

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Colorful downtown Hastings, MI

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Algonquin Lake, Hastings, MI

An Afternoon Jaunt to Lake Michigan

How fortunate as aviators,we are to live in Michigan, with it’s wide array of scenic offerings.  The same landscapes seen from above can take on many different appearances, depending the season of the year, or even the time of day you fly over.  Whether Spring, Summer, Winter or Fall – anytime is a beautiful time to explore our Great Lakes state.

It is so easy to take for granted that while sipping our morning coffee, we can make a spontaneous decision to head to 9D9, hop in the plane and head to the shores of Lake Michigan  for a leisurely “sunday drive” and be soaring over the likes of Grand Haven, Holland or Saugatuck in roughly the time it would take to drive to the local mall.  This particular day, we lingered over Holland long enough to capture the photos below. Yes, we are very fortunate indeed!

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Holland inlet
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Brisk day for a sail

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Homebound sailboat
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Lots of empty slips this time of year! Lake Macatawa.
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Lake Macatawa.
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Holland lighthouse – “Big Red”.
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Coast of Lake Macatawa.

Exploring The “Thumb” – Lexington, MI

Saturday, October 8, Randy and I decided to head to the eastern side of Michigan to explore an area neither of us knew much about.  On the shores of Lake Huron, right in the middle of Michigan’s “thumb”, lies the quaint little harbor town of Lexington.

Being from the southwestern side of the state, we are very fortunate to have an abundance of lakeshore towns to enjoy.  Saugatuck, South Haven, Holland and Grand Haven, just to name a few, dot the coastline of Lake Michigan. These bustling harbor towns are full of tourists year around, particularly during the summer months.  However, we were unfamiliar with the “other side” and what it had to offer.  We spotted Lexington on the Fun Places to Fly website. It sounded like an interesting destination and we had heard that Lexington rivaled our Lake Michigan jewels, so we thought we’d check it out.

The nearest airport to Lexington is about 5 miles north of town, and hugs the shore of Lake Huron.  Flugplatz (7MI) is a small airport with a 3,870′ east/west well maintained grass runway. Although it is a public use airport, it is privately owned.  Owners Bill and Gail Schutzler’s house sits at the east end of the runway.  Randy called Bill Schutzler prior to our departure and asked him about transportation to town.  There is a cab service that will pick you up, however Bill told Randy if he were at home when we arrived, he would give us a ride to town.

The landing pattern for Runway 27 took us out over Lake Huron.  The view was spectacular.  Upon landing,  we back-taxied to the east side of the field and Bill Schutzler met us outside and marshaled us to the ramp in front of his house.  What a nice set-up they have!   Bill’s wife Gail came out to greet us as well.  After a tour of their hanger and some nice conversation, they offered us the use of their pickup truck for the day.  What a nice gesture.  I’m telling you – aviation folks are a special breed!  Our thanks to Bill and Gail for their wonderful hospitality.

It only took us a few minutes to reach the downtown area.  We weren’t disappointed.  Lexington is a charming, picturesque town full of little shops, restaurants, bed and breakfasts and cottages. The Lexington Village Theatre hosts live big name acts.  The town was established in 1835,  so there were an abundance of historical buildings and homes to see and photograph as well.  The town is situated right on the lake and you can stroll out on the breakwater and enjoy the view of freighters slowly passing on the horizon.

We browsed through some of the shops and found the typical tourist wares.  However my favorite was not typical in the least.  We visited an antique/resale shop that was reminiscent of walking in to a Stephen King novel.  Weirdness at it’s best!  I couldn’t resist snapping some shots to share. Unfortunately I neglected to catch the name, but you cannot miss it.  It is on the main drag and many of the items pictured are displayed on the sidewalk staring creepily at you as you pass by.  An interesting find.

We had lunch at the Windjammer, a nice restaurant with a great view of the harbor.  Although it was all but void of boats this time of year, it was still very pretty.  The menu was extensive and the food was very good.  If you go, try the Blue Cheese Nachos.  They are wickedly good!

Lexington does rival our Lake Michigan Harbor towns, however it is a bit more laid back and not quite as commercial as many of the towns on Lake Michigan.  Granted, we didn’t visit in the peak summer season, but we found it to be quiet and relaxing. Even though it was Saturday, there were no crowds to be found.

If you do fly  in to Flugplatz, it would be wise to call ahead to make sure you can arrange transportation.  It is a destination worth traveling to and we have officially added Lexington to our “must visit again” list!

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Glimpse of Lake Huron
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Lake Huron splendor

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Turning base for Runway 27
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On Final

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Our hosts Bill and Gail

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Windjammer Restaurant
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View from the breakwater
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Silently passing by

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A Night to Remember B&B

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Made ourselves right at home!
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Lexington from above

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