Is the Old Mission Peninsula one of the best places on earth? Our correspondent makes the case
- Last Updated: 7:03 PM, September 28, 2011
- Posted: 7:24 PM, September 26, 2011
The car is cresting over the hills of Old Mission Peninsula, whipping around curves at 70mph. It is a clear, late summer night, 80 degrees. The air is damp, perfumed with burning wood and a hint of fall. Top down, music blaring, I look up to my right to see the stars of the Little Dipper burning white hot through ink-black sky. There are few perfect moments in life. This is one of them.
Old Mission Peninsula is nestled in the “pinkie” of the Mitten, on the west coast of northern Lower Michigan (got that?). It is the crown at the head of Traverse City, recently famous for Iron Chef Mario Batali’s unabashed love affair with it and for being named one of Bon Appetit Magazine’s “Foodiest Towns in America.” OMP splits the Grand Traverse Bay into East and West Bays. It is 19 miles long; at its widest point it is three miles wide, at its narrowest you can park your car on the side of the road and drink in panoramic views of sloping vineyards and sparkling bays on either side.
Michigan is not without its share of beautiful places. The state has the longest coastline in the continental U.S., all freshwater and blessedly hurricane-free. Good Morning America recently named Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on Michigan’s west coast the “Most Beautiful Place in America,” but if Sleeping Bear Dunes is the most beautiful place in the country then Old Mission Peninsula should by rights be able to claim to be one of the most beautiful places on the planet.
This is my fourth trip up here in as many years. As a native Michigander, traveling “up North” (that directionally imprecise catch-all moniker used to describe the entire northern half of the state plus the Upper Peninsula by everyone who lives within 100 miles of a state border that isn’t Wisconsin) is a rite of passage and summertime tradition. Around here, they call it God’s Country.
During the summer, it sparkles with every conceivable shade of blue; sapphire and cerulean on a clear, sunny day; pale lapis in hazy light; brooding indigo in the rain. The sky transforms from rosy pinks and pastel yellows at dawn to turquoise smudged with glowing white by day to fiery oranges and reds and deepening violets at sunset. Trees and vines are brilliantly green.
The winter landscape is reminiscent of the massive glaciers that cut this Paradise straight from cold rock. The vines and trees are bare, coated in a layer of perpetual snow. Even on clear days, dusty powder dances lazily across the landscape that’s like an untouched frozen tundra. The world is white. The sky is gray. The water is an impossible silver.