The Door Peninsula of Wisconsin extends dozens of miles north into Lake Michigan from near Green Bay, Wis. Until last month, we'd never been to this idyllic part of the world. The peninsula is part of the Niagara escarpment that rings the western Great Lakes. So even while we were on the same lake as flat, sandy Chicago, the rocky coastlines and bluffs felt a million miles away from home.
We chose Door County for a winter getaway unintentionally. I checked into rentals in Wisconsin, hoping to stay close to home, and Door County offered the most options. Then I found a cabin in the tiny Gills Rock community, at the northernmost tip of the pleasant peninsula. The dramatic location was too much to resist.
In this mild winter, we didn't see snow until we were halfway up the peninsula at Sturgeon Bay. We continued northward on dark, winding, two-lane roads until we pulled up to our cabin at midnight on a Friday. The cabin itself was interesting--a restored mid-19th-century cabin that turned out to be very comfortable and (thankfully) well-heated.
We didn't realize until dawn that Lake Michigan was in plain view, across the street from the cabin. We woke to a beautiful snowfall on morning No. 1 and the temperatures began to plummet. I knew there was a chance to see some winter Wisconsin bird specialties, and within a few minutes we saw a flock of white-winged crossbills in the trees between us and the lake. A life bird! We did a little exploring that day including a trip to Ellison Bluff County Park, where we saw a beautiful sunset (above).
On Day 2, we traveled south to Egg Harbor only to realize that most of the shops and restaurants in the quaint Door towns were closed for the season. Still, we saw a good bit of the area and another life bird--a flock of Bohemian waxwings in berry trees along the side of the road in Fish Creek. This variety of waxwing, which lives in the Arctic half the year, is larger than cedars and has a rusty undertail. We also stopped at the tiny Pioneer General Store, the nearest grocery to us.
The temperature was below zero when we set out on the morning of Day 3. We drove around the peninsula and listened to the inauguration festivities. We explored the east side of the county, which is lower in elevation and seemingly more remote. We crisscrossed farmland and saw a couple of other winter specialties--a northern shrike and a rough-legged hawk. We had passed a tiny sign for a Jens Jensen visitor center in Ellison Bay and decided to go back late in the day. Jensen designed a number of well-known parks including Columbus Park in Chicago, where we were married. We discovered that he had created a folk school, The Clearing, in Ellison Bay. The site was meant to replicate his native Denmark, complete with a bluff facing the western afternoon sun.
We headed back to Chicago in the subzero temperatures on Tuesday and made remarkably good time--about 4.5 hours. It's comforting to know that such an escape is a half-day's drive away.