Goldthread and gaywings. Bogbean and trailing arbutus. In Wisconsin's Door County, it's enough to make a naturalist hyperventilate.
Cherry blossoms and daffodils are the showiest spring flowers on this tourist playground between Lake Michigan and Green Bay. But it's the wildflowers, many of them rare, that provide the most joyous proof that spring has arrived.
On sandy ridges, the first flower spotted often is the once-common trailing arbutus, whose waxy white blossoms emerge in April.
Once, evening entertainment in Door County consisted of watching the sun set over Green Bay.
Then, at the turn of the century, the seven sons of the Eagle Bluff lighthouse keepers formed a band to entertain at various
gatherings, arriving with a horse-drawn piano.
The arts scene really got going in 1935, when the first theater was founded on the lawn of a Fish Creek motel. The same year,
a Danish landscape architect from Chicago started the first arts school. In 1953, the first music festival was founded.
Around the Upper Midwest, Door County is the tourist destination that other tourist destinations envy.
Everything a tourist loves, it’s got: Lighthouses, craggy shorelines, sand dunes. Golf courses, boutiques, bistros. Bicycle paths, hiking trails, beaches.
There’s a little bit of New England in the white-frame buildings of Ephraim, where tourists click photos of
Wilson’s, a century-old ice-cream parlor.
It would be natural, for a tourist, to arrive in Sturgeon Bay and just keep going. It would also be a mistake.
The rest of Door County has all the tourist trappings. But Sturgeon Bay has appeal of its own.
"Most people want to go farther up on Door County, for all the shops and such," says Bill Munroe, a volunteer at the Door County Maritime Museum. "But this is a working town. We like it down here. We like it very much."
Fish boils, cherry pie, chic shops and a nonstop stream of tourists.
Yes, that’s Door County, all right. But so is this:
Secluded beaches of fine white sand. Estuaries lined with herons. Hiking and bicycle trails winding through sun-dappled cedar forests.
If you think it’s expensive to stay in Wisconsin's Door County, you haven’t looked very hard.
In June, rates can be almost ludicrously low, cheaper than a Super 8. And even on weekends in July and August, it’s not hard to find a nice place for less than $100.
The Door Peninsula's breezy beaches are the place to be when the rest of the region is sweltering. During one early June heat wave, temperatures there were 20 to 40 degrees lower, and lodging rates were low, too — I paid $147.50 not for one night at a motel, but for three.
Today, Door County is not a very rugged place. It's a favorite vacation spot for city folk, and it reflects their tastes with dozens of art galleries, bistros and B&Bs.
But once, Wisconsin's Door Peninsula was rough and remote, settled first by Scandinavian fishermen and loggers.
Navigating this long finger of land, which separates the wind-whipped expanses of Lake Michigan from Green Bay, was no treat for early mariners.
Door County isn't known as a budget destination. But this popular peninsula in Lake Michigan is like everywhere else —
you can spend a lot if you want, but you don't have to.
We've already told you how to find deals on places to stay in Door County. Why did we go
looking? Because sometimes, we like to do the rich man-poor man routine — that is, pinch pennies in one place so
you can treat yourself in another.
And in Door County, there are so many good ways to treat yourself.
In Wisconsin, the American dream came true for a penniless boy from Iceland — and the rest of us made out pretty well, too.
In 1873, 5-year-old Hjörtur Thordarson traveled with his family from Iceland to Milwaukee, where his father soon died of
The youngster's schooling stopped in second grade as the family moved to farms in Wisconsin and North Dakota, then resumed when the boy — called Chester — joined his married sister in Chicago and, at age 18, entered the fourth grade.
In a cedar and pine forest on Lake Michigan, moments of illumination fly around like sparks off a campfire.
The best way to capture sunrise on film. Handy techniques for depicting shadow in watercolors. How to harness the power of the inner eye.
At the Clearing in Door County, everything becomes clearer.