The polished stones lay glistening from the subtle but steady waves that break across the rocky shore near Sister Bay. I stooped to pick up a small, flat, smooth-edged specimen of the type my father had shown me so many, many autumns ago.
Holding the projectile between thumb and forefinger, I slung it side-arm with a slight downward spin. I’m rewarded with three hops across the water’s surface before it disappears beneath the waves. It’s nowhere near my best but a satisfying moment as I stood alone with my wife on the empty beach.
In the era of COVID-19, co-mingling with crowds, let alone long-distance travel, has not been high on many lists. Seclusion in one’s own backyard has been the norm. However, backyard fatigue sets in and isolation needs a new view.
Seeking that new view, we headed northward to Door County, Wisc. -- not necessarily known for providing a quiet escape, as the summer tends to find half of Illinois crowding the markets, eateries and roadways.
However, this time of the year, the pace tends to be slower, and with people traveling less, this slender parcel separating Lake Michigan and Green Bay can make for an ideal spot for an escape to a picturesque view of solitude.
With five sprawling state parks, 19 county parks and about 300 miles of shoreline, Door County provides an expansive opportunity to both seek new views and embrace comforting solitude.
It offered the prospect of getting away but still keeping our distance from strangers, where we could wander for hours and drive the backroads or walk numerous trails through seductively beautiful scenery.
Our first stop, between Ephraim and Fish Creek, was Peninsula State Park. Established in 1909, its 3,776 acres are a treasure that feature paved bicycle trails, hiking paths, an 1868 lighthouse and forests of hardwoods, such as sugar maple, beech and cedar trees.
After circling Shoreline Road, we headed upward. Skyline Road routes visitors over the highest points throughout the park, providing excellent, prominent views of the colorful woodlands and surrounding waters.
Off of Sky Line Road near Sven’s Bluff, we traipsed along Sky Line Trail, a 1.9-mile loop trail, where the only other traffic we found was chattering squirrels that seemed perturbed by our presence. A nearby overlook provided colorful views of Nicolet Bay.
Driving through Ephraim, it’s hard not to notice the ancient red clapboard of the Anderson warehouse standing alone on an equally dated concrete pier. The ruddy siding is covered in colorful graffiti noting the names of visitors from near and far.
Once storage for much-needed goods, the flamboyant building now houses the Hardy Art Gallery. A custom long ago started by wayward sailors, visitors still are invited to record their names on the Hardy Gallery’s exterior walls, thereby participating in the dock’s rich history of welcoming travelers to Ephraim.
Further along, past Sister Bay, off the highway at the end of a gravel road, you can find Ellison Bluff Park. This 174-acre park offers a breathtaking view of Green Bay.
A wooden walkway leads safely to the edge of the 100-foot limestone bluffs. There is also a catwalk that extends out over the bluff. Its rickety appearance belies its solid footing and the spectacular environs.
At the north end of the peninsula, Highway 42 turns east past the fishing village of Gills Rock and meanders a couple of miles through marvelous scenery to what is truly the end of the line -- Northport.
Northpoint’s very existence is because of the Washington Ferry. For a wonderful escape, drive your car onto the ferry for a 30-minute peaceful trip past Plum Island across the Strait of Death’s Door, as the waters are called.
The ferry drops you off in the town of Washington Island, a collection of homes and shops where many of the island’s 700 or so residents live. There are 22-square miles you can explore, but one of the main attractions here is Schoolhouse Beach, which offers beautiful views of brilliant, clear, sky-blue waters from its glacier-polished pebble shores.
On the so-called quiet side, or Lake Michigan side, of the peninsula, near Bailey’s Harbor, is the Ridges Sanctuary, a 1,600-acre pristine nature and wildlife area. Located on the harbor side of Ridges Road in Bailey’s Harbor is the Ridges County Park.
The Ridges Sanctuary, whose ridges and swales were created over a millennium by Lake Michigan wave action, offers diverse nature, from open beach to densely shaded conifer forest. Nearby stands the Upper and Lower Range Lights that have guided sailors into the harbor since 1869.
Through the swaying grasses to the open beach overlooking shallow waters, we settled in for an impromptu picnic. Nearby, the only other denizen was an artist with his easel, canvas, brush and autumn’s beauty.
We barely touched the opportunities for exploration and quiet relaxation available throughout Door County. We were unable to make it to two of my favorite parks -- Cave Point County Park and Whitefish Dunes State Park.
Cave Point features beautiful limestone cliffs rising above Lake Michigan, whose dramatic wave action during time has created caves of all sizes. To the south, Whitefish Dunes features more than a mile of sandy beach and the highest sand dunes in Wisconsin.
You still can find the many wonderful shops, markets and galleries that draw crowds every summer. When we did stop for a bite to eat or the ever necessary bag of apples or jar of cherry jam, we found precautions were well taken and enforced. We watched a masked waitress at a favorite pizza haunt thoroughly wipe down every single thing on and around a table, including the chairs. It was pretty much as safe as we could hope for.
However, walking the leaf-strewn paths alone under colorful canopies of the rich forests or watching the sunset from empty beaches was the real draw. It was the perfect way to capture that quiet solitude of a Door County view.