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From the Waters of Wisconsin to the Cliffs of Colorado

Aug. 1, 2008
Below, articles on Door County, Wisconsin, often called the Cape Cod of the Midwest, and Mesa Verde, Colorado, where ancient cliff dwellings truly take one back to another time. Also, an insider's tip for seeing Rocky Mountain National Park.

Below, articles on Door County, Wisconsin, often called the Cape Cod of the Midwest, and Mesa Verde, Colorado, where ancient cliff dwellings truly take one back to another time.

An added bonus: an insider's tip for seeing Rocky Mountain National Park, whether this summer during the Democratic convention in nearby Denver, or at a later date.

Door County, Wisconsin, for a fun-filled, oh-so-healthy vacation
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The little girl behind me giggles, a deep throaty tee-hee-hee. The woman next to me catches my eye, and we start laughing too. "Heather, sshh," says the girl's mother.

But Heather finds the actions taking place on the stage in front of us hilariously funny, and pretty soon the entire audience of perhaps 600 people is giggling along with her. Part of it is because the child's laugh is contagious, part of it is because the play, a production of the American Folklore Theatre, is genuinely funny — albeit in a hokey way — and part of it is because we're all just so darn glad to be here.

"Here" is Door County, Wisconsin, a small poke of land that juts out from the eastern shore of the state into Lake Michigan, about 150 miles north of Milwaukee. Seventy miles long and less than 15 miles across at its widest point, the narrow peninsula has more than 300 miles of coast, 5 state parks and enough sporting adventures, picturesque villages and recreational activities to satisfy the pickiest of people.

We stop at a small, family-owned restaurant where we're served our first piece of Wisconsin cherry pie. There are nearly 50 cherry orchards in Door County, which ranks fourth among the nation's cherry producing regions. The next morning at Lautenbach's Orchard Country, we wander among acres of trees laden with tart Montmorency cherries. These, says owner Bob Lautenbach, are not sweet enough for nibbling but perfect for cooking.

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He hands us a brochure touting the health benefits of tart cherries:

  • They contain antioxidants that are thought to prevent cancer and heart disease.
  • They contain melatonin, which may reduce the brain deterioration associated with aging.
  • They can relieve the pain of arthritis and gout.

    The list goes on, but that's enough for me. If eating cherry pie can keep me healthy, I'm all for it. I sign up for a cooking class at the Savory Spoon, located in a delightfully-renovated old schoolhouse in Ellison Bay. Chef Janice Thomas, whose credentials include studies at the Cordon Bleu in Paris and 14 years as a caterer, holds classes from June to October. In short order, I learn how to make pork tenderloin medallions with cherry sauce, a salad with roasted apples, pecans and cherries, and yes, an absolutely delicious cherry tart.

    My husband eschews the cooking class in favor of other, more familiar healthy activities — ones that involve exercise rather than eating! After much deliberation, he passes on riding a Segway scooter, parasailing, kayaking and hiking — all popular activities in Door County — and chooses to bike through Peninsula State Park in the morning and sail on the Bay after lunch.

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    Later, because I insist, we go shopping. We spend two hours exploring the shops in Fish Creek, our favorite of the area's quaint villages. Potter's Wheel Studio and Gallery is definitely high class, showcasing a mix of local and national artists. Edgewood Orchard Galleries also features fine work from artists across the country. But it's in the gallery and studio of local artists Tony and Renée Gebauer that we find the perfect Door County take-home: a handsome, hand-crafted, oven-safe pie plate!

    Finally, we take a short hike to one of the peninsula's ten historic lighthouses and follow it with a walk through Whitefish Dunes State Park, home to the highest sand dunes in Wisconsin.

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    Throughout our stay, we've been amazed by the masterful theatrical and musical productions. The Peninsula Players Theatre in the Garden, America's oldest professional resident summer theatre, presents plays such as Garson Kanin's Born Yesterday and Neil Simon's Rumors. The Birch Creek Music Performance Center, a school for Wisconsin's most talented young musicians, puts on exceptional concerts by the nationally-known musicians who serve as teachers.

    But it's at the American Folklore Theater, sitting on cushioned seats under the stars, where we have the most fun. This of course, is where we meet Heather, the giggling seven-year-old, and we're reminded that, when it comes to health, laughter is the best medicine of all.

    For more information: Door County Visitor Bureau, 800-52-RELAX or For more on the health benefits of cherries:

    Mesa Verde, Colorado, for a glimpse of the distant past
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    I take a deep breath, reach for the side rails, and scramble up a ten-rung ladder. There before me is a small city, tucked into a shelf on a canyon wall, protected by a huge overhang. Some of the buildings are circular, like tall towers. Others are rectangular, with sharp, crisp angles; all are made of sandstone bricks and have small, open windows.

    I'm in the Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park, a United Nations World Heritage site in the southwest corner of Colorado. Here, using only rocks and sticks as tools, an ancient people created not only a city, but a society. They farmed, prayed, made pottery, wove sandals. I think of my home, with thermostatically controlled heating, electricity, a refrigerator full of food purchased at a store, and I'm appropriately humbled.

    For approximately 700 years, from roughly 500 AD until the early 1200s, people congregated in the Four Corners area, where Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah meet. First, there were the basketmakers, who were just beginning to exchange their nomadic existence for a more settled one. Their pithouses became gradually more sophisticated, until, between the late 1190s to late 1270s, they developed the cliff villages for which Mesa Verde is famous.

    No one knows exactly why the Ancestral Puebloans moved on, leaving the dwellings they'd so carefully constructed. But for the Pueblo people of New Mexico and Arizona, such as the Hopi and the Zuni, where they went is no mystery at all. Modern-day Pueblo people claim the cliff dwellers as their ancestors, as the ones who came before. Thus the cliff dwellers became known as the "Ancestral Puebloans."

    I'm tickled by this piece of information. Years ago, when I first visited Mesa Verde, the cliff dwellers were called "Anazazi." "Not any more," says the park ranger. "Today the word 'Anazazi' is politically incorrect."

    The reason is simple. "Anazazi" is a word that comes from the Navajo language, not the Puebloan one. When the deserted cliff dwellings were discovered in the 1880s, Navajos were the only Natives in the area. "Did your ancestors live here?" asked the explorers.

    "Oh no. It was the Anazazi, the 'older others'" the Navajos answered, meaning that the caves had been inhabited by old people from other tribes. On occasion they went even further, saying that the caves had belonged to the "older ancients." Unfortunately, the Navajo word for "ancient" can also mean "enemy," and today's Pueblo people are understandably reluctant to have their ancestors described by a Navajo word, especially one that often means enemy.

    Thus, concluded the ranger, "we now call the cliff dwellers 'Ancestral Puebloans,' which most accurately explains who they were." Point well taken, although personally, I could have found an even better word. "Genius" is the one that comes immediately to mind.

    For more information: National Park Service

    Rocky Mountain National Park, for a cool getaway from the heat of the Democratic Convention
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    The temperature in Denver, which often soars above 90 degrees in late summer, may be matched by rising tempers as the Democrats hold their presidential convention August 25-28. For a cool — in both senses of the word — getaway, visitors can opt for a visit to Rocky Mountain National Park. The east entrance at Estes Park is 70 miles from Denver, while the west entrance at Grand Lake requires a 100 mile drive.

    We choose to enter at Grand Lake because my husband wants to do more than see the park; he wants to ingest it, to learn everything there is to know. Therefore, we opt for the guide services of Dede Fay, a member of the Grand County Tourism Board. It proves to be one of the best decisions we've ever made.

    Dede joins us as we drive Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous paved road in the nation. "Are you interested mostly in flora, fauna or history?" she asks at the outset. Her narrative is, of course, a mix of all three, but since we've asked her to concentrate on the history, she regales us with stories about the people — about the original homesteaders, who learned the hard way that ranching at 9,000 feet wasn't such a good idea; about Enos Mills, a Kansan who came to Colorado because the clear, dry air was better for his lungs and stayed to found a national park; and about Commander Powell, a one-armed Civil War veteran, who was the first white man to climb Long's Peak, at 14,259 feet the tallest peak within the park's boundaries.

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    The road winds through the park all the way to the east entrance, but we go only as far as the Fall River Visitor Center. It's Dede's favorite park center because it's quieter than the others, off the beaten track, and because bighorn sheep, the official state animal, like to graze nearby. We eat lunch, admire the scenery and, sure enough, spot some of the mountain sheep.

    We're back in Denver by late evening, wiser and cooler as a result of our daylong outing.

    For more information: National Park Service: Full and half-day tours of Rocky Mountain National Park: Dede Fay: 970-531-7020; [email protected].

    Photos by Irv Green, DDS; Story by Andrea Gross.
    In addition to travel writing, Irv and Andrea have founded LEGACY PROSE™, a company that helps people pass on their stories and values to their children and grandchildren.