Lower Peninsula Michigan: Thursday, June 23, 2022

Mackinac Island is so cool it would take plastic surgery to remove our grins.

GEE-WILLIKERS - it is cold! Our ferry boat leaves every half hour. The 9 am boat has a special feature. It goes out of its way to buzz under the Mackinac Bridge, adding an extra 15 minutes to the boat ride. I love boat rides, so we made sure we were on that 9 am trip.

The Shepler Ferry stomped on the throttle as soon as it cleared the dock. That boat has some serious horsepower. It defied its bulk and skimmed the water like a hydroplane. That meant a lot of cold crisp morning wind in our faces. We could have sought refuge in the cabin underneath. No, that was out of the question. The top deck held the thrills and the best photo opportunities. Just suck it up, Dave.

Shepler's ferry boat leaving St. Ignace.

Star Line's jet boat shooting up a rooster tail.

Mackinac Island's Grand Hotel as seen from the ferry boat.

Approaching Mackinac Island.

We reached the dock at Mackinac Island in time to chip the icicles away. The morning sun hadn’t hit its stride yet. We looked for a warm restaurant for a breakfast. 

The little magical island town is a Disney movie set. I thought everyone was going to break into song at any second. Cars have been banned on the island since 1903. If you didn’t walk or bike, you rode in a horse-drawn carriage. Bright red carriages were everywhere. The town buildings are well-maintained, shiny, and hung with cute signage. I even saw a UPS guy make his deliveries with a horse-drawn wagon. 

This is only our second time on the island. Back in 1996, we flew our Piper Cherokee to Mackinac Island. There is a small 3,500’ runway at the island’s center. We had the same foldable bikes that we brought this time. Of course, they weren’t electrified back then, but our 40-year-old bodies were certainly more electrified. Although I remember that I liked the place, I didn’t remember all the magic.

Downtown Mackinac Island.

I thought we landed in the middle of a Broadway musical. I expected everyone to break into a song.

All cargo is transported by horse-drawn wagons.

As soon as we downed our Americanized breakfast burrito (it was excellent, just not very Mexican), the day’s warmth started to soak in. Even at 65º, the blue sky and calm air was perfect for hiking and biking. 

We walked the town for an hour. The BnBs, the historic buildings, the restored British fort overlooking the town, the quaint shoppes, the carriages, etc., forced time to stand still. On this morning, it felt like Mackinac Island was something like the movie Groundhog Day. It felt like every morning on the island wakes up just like this, or, at least it should. I know, the island suffers through cold seasons, it rains, it experiences drab cloudy overcast, blah, blah, blah…. But today, this bright blue day, with the sun shining on this delicious quaintness, is how it should be, and we were there to soak it all up. Some days, life is exquisite.

Fort Mackinac overlooking the town. Originally built by the British to control the Straits of Mackinac during the Revolutionary War, it came under American control after the war. The British retook the fort during the War of 1812, only to lose it again after that war.

Flowers are a mainstay on the island.

Mackinac Island has a circumference of 8.4 miles. Highway 185, a narrow blacktop strip, circles the island along the shoreline. With no cars, calling this road a highway just adds to the charm. Walkers and bikers make the trip with ease. There are no hills. The road alternates between tunnels of thick dark cedar trees and open beach expanses with heaps of large white limestone rocks. 

Along the way, there is Chimney Rock, Eagle Point Cave, a spring-fed Brown's Brook, a soft-serve ice cream stand at British Landing, and Arch Rock. Arch Rock is the only real show stopper. Being a limestone arch high above the lake proves that Lake Michigan’s water level was once a lot higher than it currently is.

Sunset Rock, also called Chimney Rock.

A boardwalk and a short nature trail at Brown's Brook State Roadside Park. Brown's Brook is fed by a spring.

Arch Rock as seen from highway 185. You can access the Arch from the top from Arch Road, an interior road.

Once we circumnavigated our way around the island, we tackled just about every inland road and bike trail we could find. We discovered the community where the local 500 or so permanent residents live. These houses were surprisingly modest, not at all like the grand victorian homes elsewhere. The locals must have strong legs, they walk or bike wherever they go.

The island is split 80% State owned, and 20% privately owned. The State has done a wonderful job of restoring and maintaining everything under its jurisdiction. The roads are pristine. The bike trails are paved and gorgeous. The historical fortifications are refurbished to its original greatness. Even the tons of horse manure is discretely picked up by an army of pooper scoopers.

Arch Rock as seen from Arch Road.

Skull Cave.

Fort Holmes sits on the highest point on the island. This fort has an interesting history. After the Revolutionary War, the Americans occupied Fort Mackinac overlooking the town and harbor. They ignored this strategic high point. At the beginning of the War of 1812, the British bypassed Fort Mackinac and just occupied these heights which allowed them to quickly take, and keep the island until the end of the war. From this perch, the British controlled the Straits of Mackinac.

After the War of 1812, the Americans again abandoned Fort Holmes and the facility deteriorated. The State of Michigan decided to rebuild the fort to its original British glory. This version of the fort is the recreation of the original fort following the British blueprints left behind.

You can see the strategic commanding view of the Straits of Mackinac that this spot affords.

I remember what a fun flight it was back in 1996 when we flew to Mackinac Island, although flying over all that water in a tiny plane did give me a touch of the heebie-jeebies. But, that only added to the thrill.

I do love ferns. I wish I could my yard to look like this. 

The expansive Grand Hotel is considered to be the island’s centerpiece. I remember that the last time we visited Mackinac Island, we were kicked out of the Grand Hotel for not being properly attired. This time, when we tried to park our bikes to walk the grounds, we got kicked out again. We were informed that bikes could not be parked anywhere on the grounds. Jeez - picky.

Sadly, I did notice a little fraying around the edges. The building, although from what little we could see of the inside from the sidewalk, was indeed grand. But, at 135 years old, the outside was in need of some attention. The roof eaves had a hint of deterioration showing. The giant romanesque white columns had some un-romanesque cracking. At $800 to $1100 a night, I’d expect no rot or cracks anywhere. Just sayin’……

In spite of my quibbles, the Grand Hotel is pretty grand.

Around supper time, we stopped in at the only grocery store on the island. We bought a wad of deli items and picnicked on a carpet of green grass overlooking the harbor. The magic was coming to an end. Reluctantly, we boarded the ferry for our return to reality. Ah, but our campsite, deep in a wooded strip of land just a stone’s throw of Lake Michigan was still enchanting.

Tomorrow, we head back to St. Germain to check on my sister’s place one last time before she arrives from Germany in July. Then, it’s home to our country cabin in the middle of 26 acres on the Plover River. As my friend and fellow musician, Jay, exclaims, “N-I-C-E-!-!-!-!” 

‘Till next time, pleasant travels. Now, how do I unhack my hacked Facebook friend’s list?

The blue line traces our trip from campground-to-campground around the northern LP. It doesn't show all the sides trips we made to thoroughly explore the LP.

It is amazing how the LP is surrounded by Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. Add in all the inland lakes, rivers, and forests, and you get a wonderful recreational area that is much overlooked and uncrowded. I really liked it.

Glossary of terms used for newcomers: 1) V-Jer. The name of our camper. 2) Saturn. The name of our Van. 3) Duende. Our mischievous gremlin that breaks things. 4) Tata. The good gremlin that helps us fix Duende’s dirty work. 5) The Black Hole. This is what we call Walmart because every time we go in for just a couple of items, we come out spending way more than we figured. 6) QT. Quaint Town. 7) Little Buddy. This is what we call our Dyson cordless stick vacuum.

Dave and Wanda

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