As we approach October, our senses seem to reach back to remembrances of lazy, summer days; of lemonade so icy cold the glass would sweat in rivulets; of the sound of kids playing in the streets; of being off from work and having had the opportunity to be like a kid again ourselves. And the question pounds at the sidewalls of our mind: Where has the summer gone?
Our instincts strive to get the feeling back, at least one last time before the fall of temperatures, the fall of all leafy things, the fall of the Sun behind low, semi-permanent winter skies. It is the human condition here in the great Midwest.
There are places, however, to recapture our fancies. Three selections come to mind:
all paths lead to the beach
St. Pete Beach, Florida in October is lovely. Summer rains have pushed away, leaving warm-sunny skies in their wake. That big ol’ white-sand beach beckons our toes to to be covered in its warm granules. The gentle surf reaches its arms to wash away the tension in our legs. Folks at the volleyball net need one more player, folks nonjudgmental of our talents, or lack thereof. The summer crowds have gone home, the winter crowds are yet to come. And the crowds of Spring Break haven’t even decided yet where to spend their great energy burn-off. It is October, and the beach at St. Pete is fairly less occupied.
Of things to do here, The Salvador Dali Museum in nearby St. Petersburg has a large display, an intriguing display of the master’s surrealistic works. Fort De Soto State Park, down near Mullet Key, has fine beaches and nature trails and the fort itself (with its 12-inch seacoast rifled mortars). And beyond….Egmont Key. A ferry ride from Hubbard’s Marina in Fort De Soto, this state park has sunken ruins or grass flats for snorkeling. You may well see tortoises, american oystercatchers , and even snowy egrets during your adventure.
If you have an extra day, traveling to Tampa to visit Busch Gardens is a pleasant thrill. Like Disney World, this amusement park is divided into sections. But here the different areas of the park are nearer to each other; the pathways more tuned to nature, much prettier, and closer to the park’s garden theme. Busch Gardens is chock-full of wildlife, from meerkats and roos to spotted hyenas and crocodiles. The baby park is also quite colorful and enjoyable, but you don’t need to have children to appreciate this 58 year old emerald. There are myriad rides for all ages. (I am especially fond of the 2 water rides). You will enjoy your visit.
St. Pete Beach has an abundance of lodging opportunities. From the opulent Don Cesar, with its iconic pink escarpments framing the south end of the beach, to the low-cost Howard Johnson’s. The Bon-Aire Resort, which is mid-priced for the area and mid-beached in location, may be another choice worth looking into. They have a large variety of rooms, most with kitchens or kitchenettes, and all within a quick saunter to the beach or to either of its two small swim pools. There is a beachside grill and a great view from the motel’s seawall for a world famous St. Pete Beach sunset.
The strand along Gulf Boulevard has an array of restaurants. Crabby Bill’s is a beachcomber’s delight with its rooftop tiki bar. It has beach access, so you can wander in after (or wander out before) looking for seashells on one of your long walks. Theirs is a festive atmosphere and a festive menu with spicy delights. Try the grouper. P J’s Oyster Bar at the north end of the strand is also casual, but a quieter place with more locals hanging out. Though an “oyster bar”, their bar-b-que ribs, steak, and shrimp are also worth a try. Down on Pass A Grille Way, south of The Don Cesar, is another notable seafood place called Sea Critters Cafe. They have an eclectic appetizer menu sporting such things as Gator Bites (real alligator meat) served with horseradish, Conch Fritters with a raspberry pepper sauce, Hog Wings (pork shanks) served buffalo or barbecue sauce, and Crab Cakes with key lime aioli. If you have room for more, you can pretty much count on your lunch or dinner selection to be quite good, be it Reuben or Cuban….Scallops or Sirloin. Can you stomach more? Try the homemade Key Lime Pie or Funnel Cake Fries.
every evening, a different sunset
If St. Pete Beach is a longing to hold on to the warmth of summer, our next selection may be a range bound letting go, a cocktail mix of summer and autumn together. West Texas is home to arid airs and the staked plains of the Llano Estacado. A bit further south, down El Paso way, rise fossilized reef mountains known as The Guadalupes. About a 2 hour drive from El Paso, El Capitan rises like a king’s castle above the Chihuahuan Desert floor. It claims its piece of the azure skies and professes one’s entrance into Guadalupe Mountains National Park. You can easily see why our government has maintained this awesome place for the use and enjoyment of her citizens.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
In Autumn, not only are the daily temperatures more reasonable than in summer, but there is also a day use area known as McKittrick Canyon where Fall wears her colours in dramatic raiment. Hiking the 2.5 mile trail in Autumn is like walking into an artistic rendering of contrasts. The McKittrick Trail follows a dry stream bed through typical desert vegetation such as agave, ocotillo, and Spanish Dagger. There also beckon juniper and Claret Cup Cacti. If you are lucky you may even spy a rare Texas Madrone with its blood-pink bark. Further up the canyon trail, the stream begins to flow and riparian vegetation becomes more copious. There be oak and ash and Bigtooth Maple with leaves ripening crimson.
The Fall coats of these hardwoods appear in keen, spectacular contrast to the surrounding hues of the desert. You may continue higher on the trail if you desire. But it is a hardy switch-backed climb from here, though more immense views may lure you. The high point of the trail is known as “The Notch” and will offer the trekker expansive desert and canyon perspectives.
This is wilderness here, so you may not readily find luxurious accommodations nearby. The park has campgrounds, though sites and shade are hard to come by. There are other camping opportunities further north, across the line into New Mexico. There is an RV park in White’s City and the Carlsbad KOA is further up US 285. There are motels in Carlsbad, but a stay in Roswell may be more to one’s taste if you feel you are part of the lore of extraterrestrial invasions. Driving west to El Paso from Guadalupe Mtns. for a hotel stay is definitely a possibility as well.
Besides finding a nesting place for you and your Loved ones in New Mexico, you may also wish to visit another national treasure here: Carlsbad Caverns National Park. It too boasts giant sized yucca and other desert plants and cacti. But spelunking into its earthen reaches is the “must” here and will reward your eyes and enhearten your soul with its hanging stalactites and its ocher and purplish walls. The Natural Entrance is a lips-shaped hole, and it is as if nature were blowing you a farewell kiss as you descend into to the cavern’s complex.
If our first two selections are a desperate hanging on, our third is surely a big, warm embrace. For Autumn, although chill and descending, has her individual charms and she calls us to her hearthside for an inner warmth.
Door County, Wisconsin is a space gloried in the gold and crimson leaves of October sun slant. A peninsula jutting like a long finger into Lake Michigan’s cyan colored waves, it peeks out toward Porte des Morts….and the upper peninsula of Michigan beyond. Such northerly latitudes bring Fall sooner and cooler, but denser with the smell of woodsmoke and more tart with the tastes of apple cider and cherry pie. Though oft visited and becoming more popular every year, perhaps I can steer the autumn wanderer to places a little off the Door’s beaten path.
Accomodations in Door County are cozy and ample especially in and around Sturgeon Bay, so one should not have too much trouble finding a fine place to stay. The Landmark Resort sits on 40 prime wooded acres near Egg Harbor and is reasonably priced. They have amenities aplenty and the cliff views of Green Bay are quite nice. The Main Street Motel is conveniently located in the heart of Fish Creek and places the traveler within walking distance of shops, stores, and restaurants.
Also in Fish Creek happens to be one of the finest state parks in the entire United States. I only hope they never crown it a national park, for it would lose its ambiance. Peninsula State Park is a hodgepodge of coves and ravines, beaches and bike paths. It is a wonderment in Fall and should be explored, at least in part, by hiking or biking. (Rental bikes are available just outside the park’s Fish Creek entrance.) Though highly visited, it is a wooded transport you would not want to miss.
Ephraim, from Peninsula State Park
Peninsula State Park Golf Course
At the northern end of the park is the state park’s golf course. One thing that Wisconsin boasts nearly as much as its cheeses and beer, are its abundance of golf courses. The one at Peninsula is a flower and has a memorable cliffside par 3. The course can be crowded at times, so I also recommend The Alpine Golf Course of Egg Harbor (it too has a cliffside par 3) and Maxwelton Braes near Bailey’s Harbor.
North of Bailey’s Harbor and also on the lake side of the peninsula, is the Mink River. A pristine estuary of Rowley’s Bay, it is an excellent waterway to kayak or in which to paddle a canoe. Known for great bass fishing, it is also temporary home to almost 200 bird species. Monet would have Loved to impression the Mink’s water-lilies on his canvases. This is a pleasurable escape and I recommend lying back in your canoe, closing your eyes, and taking in all the hushed sounds of birds, bugs and of lapping waters.
Antiquing is a Door County thing to do! There are a multitude of stores and shops all featuring country novelties. I propose just pulling over your vehicle if you see one and stopping in if you have time. South of Egg Harbor there are two different shops across Route 42 from each other, so you could save time by visiting each. Bay Trading is more like a warehouse and you can find yourself in an engaging conversation with its owner. During your chat, you might even wish to haggle over pricing. The man is an obliging trader. Old Orchard Antique Mall, across route 42, is a lot like a museum and they keep many of their artifacts in neat displays. It is pleasing just to walk their aisles.
More than any other thing, Door County is known for its food and October is harvest time of the year. Cherries are at the top of the list. You can purchase them whole and raw at any orchard or jarred and sweetened from almost any store. Nothing can aptly describe a slice of Door County cherry pie, so it has to be tasted. Many stores and perhaps 95% of all restaurants here serve cherry pie, so you will not be wanting. (My mother-in-law happens to make the BEST, so I won’t compare.)
Many, many restaurants abound on the Door Peninsula...so I will only name a few. For breakfast, I highly recommend The White Gull Inn of Fish Creek. An enticing menu, but I still usually only order their Good Morning America’s Best Breakfast: cherry-stuffed french toast (and bacon, of course). For lunch, let us journey back to Sturgeon Bay. Sonny’s Pizzeria, which overlooks the marina, is my fond choice. They serve Chicago style pizzas which drip in tastiness. I always go for the pizza buffet so I can try all the disparate offerings and still go back for more. A word of advice: save room for a piece of the cherry cobbler pizza. It is a relishing way to end the meal. And for dinner, north to Ellison Bay. There are several places that do Door County fish boils, but I recommend The Viking. Theirs seems more traditional than the others, and there is something about the fire engulfing the kettle under the darkening skies of Ellison Bay. Not to mention the sweetness of tender whitefish melting in your mouth, fresh from the boats docked nearby.
There are many other banquets to be had in Door County: from a hot dog and a hot pretzel at The Pumpkin Patch Festival of Egg Harbor, to a handcrafted cocktail and steak at Lure of Sister Bay.
And there is a hill on this precious spit of land, where you can witness the full moon rising from the shores of Lake Michigan as the sun descends simultaneously and plummets beneath the blue waters of Green Bay. You do not even have to move your feet. There are stars that come out overhead long after the Sun has folded his wings, stars that aren’t a regular occurrence anywhere that the lights are too bright and sounds too loud and eyes too weary to see.
But see them you will, if only you look .... and become the kid again, you were meant to be.
These are my October Selections.