"It was Summertime in Northern Michigan"..
Like the lyrics to the popular song state: we spent our summertime in northern Michigan. This is the second of four blog posts describing amazing time in the Great Lakes State. Today, I want to tell you about our time in the Mackinaw City area; the uppermost point of the Lower Peninsula.
"Si Quaeris Peninsulam Amoenam Circumspice"
This is the state motto of Michigan. And it truly is descriptive of the state:
"If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you."
Michigan is a land of many great splendors and teeming with natural beauty. Between June 29 and August 12, 2018, we traveled up one side of the mitten --going as far north as Munising on Lake Superior-- then down the other. Putting over 3,000 miles on our truck in the process.
Here are five things we learned about Michigan and Michiganders:
1) Once you get outside the major cities, most of Michigan is rural. Nothing at all what I had imagined. I guess hearing so much about the linkage between Michigan and the auto industry, I expected to find deserted factories, dying communities, grey skies and polluted lakes and streams. But it was just the opposite. Michigan is a beautiful state (56% of the state is forest-covered) with lots of picturesque small towns and pristine beaches.
2) Michiganders LOVE the outdoors. So if you plan on visiting Michigan in the summertime, PLAN AHEAD! Way ahead. We had to book reservations months in advance and still found it difficult to find decent locations.
3) Roads? We don't need no stinkin' roads! A large portion of Michigan's roads look like this:
Yes, dirt roads! When our GPS (and Google Maps) first directed us down one of these, we thought they were malfunctioning, but they weren't. These are actual routes (with designated route numbers) connecting the few existing paved roads in the northern part of the state. And the further north you go, the less pavement you'll find.
And many of the dirt roads have been "washboarded" by the elements. And let me tell you, traveling over a washboard road, even at slow speeds, will rattle the fillings right out of your teeth!
4) The people of this state are unique. Once you get outside of the Detroit area, everyone we spoke with loves living here. Either all the "complainers" have been run out of the state, or everyone here fully embraces the culture, the weather and diversity of the ecosystem. We've never seen such territorial-devotion in any of the 30+ states we've visited. It seems that if these people are able to wedge their front doors open, they are outside enjoying a plethora of cold and warm-weather activities!
5) Michigan has the longest freshwater coastline in the U.S. (3,288 miles in length). Pretty impressive for a state that lies in the "midwest". With this much shoreline, it is not surprising to learn that Michigan has more lighthouses than any other state in the nation.
There are almost 140 lighthouses (some are non-operational) that ring the state. As we expatiated around the perimeter of the state, we came across many of these majestic and proud landmarks, each carrying its own spirit and history.
Here are a few of the many lighthouses we came upon in our travels:
Grand Island East Channel Lighthouse on Lake Superior. Built in 1868.
Little Sable Point on Lake Michigan. Built in 1874.
Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse. Built in 1890.
Round Island Lighthouse. Located in the straits of Mackinac, in Lake Heron and built in 1895.
Old Mission Lighthouse on Lake Michigan. Built in 1870.
Au Sable Light Station. Located on Lake Superior and built in 1874.
Holland Harbor Lighthouse (nicknamed Big Red) sits on Lake Michigan. Although many lighthouses have stood on this spot, the existing structure was built in 1871.
Now back to our travels.
After leaving the Detroit area, we headed north to Mackinaw City. It is the gateway to what Michiganders call the "U-P" (the Upper Peninsula).
Our first stop was at Elkwood Campground in Wolverine. This was a nice park but it earned 3.5/5.0 stars because of its narrow dirt roads and gravel pads.
Our next campground was Mackinaw Mill Creek RV Park.
A campground we thoroughly enjoyed and would highly recommend. The sites were spacious and the location can't be beat. The only downside was gravel pads making things messy when it rains. Because of its ideal location, we give it 5.0 stars!
The campground is situated on the shore of Lake Huron and every evening we were treated to a visual feast of yellows, oranges and purples as the sun glided below the distant horizon.
One afternoon while Lorraine was out for a walk around the campground, she spotted a Grand Design Imagine (a travel trailer built by the same manufacturer as ours). Being the social butterfly that she is, she walked up and introduced herself. That's how we got to know Deb and Don. They are Michiganders from Holland, MI., and we made plans to meet up when we got to their city.
(Let this be a warning to those we meet in the future, if you tell us to look you up when we get to your city.. we probably will!!)
All in all, we rated this campground an enthusiastic two thumbs up!
In the early days, Mackinaw was home to three different Algonquin tribes. In 1633, French traders made first-contact and a trading route was quickly established. Later a mission was founded by Father Jacques Marquette (mentioned earlier in my blog). The French built a fort here, which over the years was taken by the British, then the Chippewa and Fox warriors during the Pontiac rebellion, retaken by the British, then abandoned in 1780, when the British built a new fort on Mackinac Island.
Today, Mackinaw City is a favorite Northern Michigan vacation mecca, with visitors coming from all over the world to stay in this quaint town (technically, it's designated as a village). It is home to dozens of hotels, restaurants, sweet shops, taverns and many happy shop keepers.
The area also has many public parks and beachesk as well.
Although we visited just outside of the "tourist season", I imagine this place is bursting-at-the-seams in the summertime. We found it to be a nice place.. for a short visit.
Mackinaw City is also home to the world's third longest suspension bridge.
The Mackinac Bridge connects the Lower Michigan Peninsula to the Upper Peninsula. Opened in 1957, the bridge is almost five miles in length.
You are treated to some beautiful scenery as you drive across Mackinac straits.
The hunt for Petoskey stones:
In our travels, whenever we strike up conversations with "locals", we always ask for recommendations for things to see and do in the area. While in a conversation with a local in Mackinaw, she asked us if we had collected any "Petoskey stones"? The confused look on our faces must have answered her question, because she went on to tell us about the state stone of Michigan. These special stones can only be found along the shoreline around Petoskey, Michigan.. Challenge accepted!
The town of Petoskey is another of the quaint, coastal "Mayberryish" communities found throughout Michigan.
After arriving in the town, we commenced our hunt for these legendary stones. (cue the Indiana Jones theme song)..
Our first stop was Petoskey State Park. The sight of so many people genuflecting told us we were in the right place.
After kicking around a few stones, we made our first discovery:
It turns out that Petoskey stones are both a rock and a fossil. They were once part of a large active coral reef that was destroyed when glaciers moved through this area and spread the debris around the Petoskey region.
Here's a close-up I found online:
Hunting these stones turned out to be rather addicting endeavor, each find just fueled our desire to locate another even more impressive gem. As it turns out, some stones are more collectible than others (sadly, one can't equate "collectible" with valuable). People look for stones with a colored hue. Green being the most sought after. As much as we looked, we never found any. Although our knees and backs did a lot of complaining, we had a fun afternoon hunting these unique looking stones.
No visit to this area would be complete with a visit to Mackinac Island. This island lies seven miles off the coast of Michigan and only reachable by boat or ferry. As mentioned earlier, the British first built a fort here in 1780.
Fort Mackinac is a walled cluster of military buildings on a picturesque coastal bluff. A trading community sprang up on the flat lands below. Two battles occurred here during the war of 1812 but the Americans were unable to dislodge to the English. Only the treaty ending the War of 1812 returned Mackinac Island to the United States. And I say good riddance to the British!
Reachable only by ferry, private boat or small plane, Mackinac Island is a throwback to an old-time seaside resort with a personality uniquely its own. No motorized vehicles are allowed here. No chain hotels. No fast-food franchises. Just colorful buildings housing gift shops, fudge factories, restaurants and America’s oldest family-owned grocery store!
I had to chuckle at the delivery method that Amazon has to use!
Below is the Grand Hotel. Built in 1887, it has the world's largest porch. The hotel is well known for a number of notable visitors, including five U.S. presidents, inventor Thomas Edison, and author Mark Twain.
Below is one of the many horse drawn carriages on the island.
We spent an enjoyable afternoon strolling the shop-lined streets and listening to the rhythmic "clip-clop" of horse hooves. It's a step back to the best part of the past.