We spent most of Sunday on Mackinac Island.
From St. Ignace, we took a ferry over to the island. It was another cold and overcast morning, and we all sat on the open, top deck of the boat for the first part of the ride, which went to and under the huge cable bridge called “the Mighty Mac.” It looks a lot like the Golden Gate bridge, and is even bigger.
The bridge was built in the late 1950s, and finished about 1% over budget, and one year ahead of schedule. It’s hard to believe that there was ever a time when a huge government infrastructure project did that.
The bridge lived up to the hype, and sailing under it was a great way to see it. But as soon as we turned away from the bridge and toward the island, we all went back downstairs to make the rest of the trip in the enclosed, main cabin.
The island has less than 600 year-round residents, but around 10,000 per day visit during the season, from early April to early November. It feels like a step back in time, combined with a modern tourist town.
As you approach, the most prominent features are the Grand Hotel on some high ground on the left, Fort Mackinac at the same level to the right, and the main town laid out all across the shoreline.
When we docked and walked out onto the main street, we saw a lot of horse-drawn carriages of various types. No cars are allowed on the island, which is an appealing idea that produces some strange sights.
During our day on the island, we watched horses pulling wagons full of luggage up to the Grand Hotel, and wagons full of building supplies, and wagons full of tourists on rides around the island. We even saw the Mackinac Island version of a carry-off dumpster: a wagon full of building debris, parked in front of a house and waiting for the garbage horses (I guess) to haul it away.
There were also some tourists riding their own rented horses through the streets, and a small army of workers with containers and shovels on bikes, riding around to clean up the streets after the horses. Which reminded me that all of the environmentalists who take car-hating too far are forgetting about the social costs imposed by the mountains of horse manure that were omnipresent in the good old days.
In addition to horses, Mackinac also has a lot of grand old houses, some of them bed and breakfasts or inns, and some private residences.
After walking through town, we took a horse-drawn tour of the island, during which we learned some interesting history. In the 19th century a local accidentally shot himself in the stomach, after which a local doctor was able to save his life – a rare outcome in a time when gut wounds were rarely survivable.
But the wounded man had a hole into his stomach that never closed, and the doctor did a series of experiments on human digestion, using the man he saved as a living test subject/laboratory. I remember reading about that – and being grossed out and fascinated by it – when I was a kid. And now I know that that strange story happened on Mackinac Island.
After rolling through some historic neighborhoods in town, our horses pulled our wagon up into the hills, where we stopped at a small museum/gift shop. The museum had a variety of cool old wagons, from one-horse power models to two- or four-horse, and including closed carriages and open ones, and also a hearse.
The next leg of the tour carried us through the wooded parts of the island, with stops at some scenic overlooks. By this time the sun was out, and the views and variations of color of the water where Lakes Huron and Michigan meet were really beautiful.
At the end of the ride we walked to the gigantic Grand Hotel, which has a 650-foot covered porch on one side. It reminded me of the Overlook Hotel in Estes Park, CO, a stately old 19th century behemoth from a bygone era. We paid to tour the public spaces inside, which were well worth seeing.
From there we headed back down to the dock and took the next boat back to St. Ignace, and then to parts south. We drove over the Mighty Mac bridge that we’d sailed under earlier, and after a little time on I-75, we got off on smaller roads.
The countryside was green, with a mix of mostly forests, with occasional lakes, farms and very small towns, and was more hilly than I’d expected. Under sunny and cool skies, the drive was really pleasant. Unfortunately, we were a little behind time, and weren’t able to take more time to stop or take detours to places that looked intriguing on the map.
South of Boyne Falls we came across a sign identifying the 45th parallel, which Darryll tells me means that the mid-point between the north pole and the equator goes through a guy’s small yard somewhere in the middle of rural Michigan.
A little farther south, the town of Mancelona had a gigantic pole near the middle of town that read “Mancelona Snow Fall.” The top of the pole indicated “20 feet,” and there was a big, wooden snowflake at the 9 and-a-half-foot mark. After more than three decades in Florida, I love snow and try to see it at least once every winter. But more than nine feet in a typical winter?
Which reminds me: when we got into Sheboygan, WI several days ago, I noticed what looked like a large metal antenna mounted to the side of the fire hydrants in town, with a red-painted tip about 8 feet off the ground. When I asked what that was, Darryll and Bob looked at me like it was a trick question.
It’s there so that when the winter snows are piling up, snow plows and fire truck crews will be able to spot where the snow-buried hydrants are. We came across the same thing while driving a lot of the roads through the Upper Peninsula’s forested roads, which featured tall poles on both sides of the road, so the plow drivers can see where the roads end.
When we entered the town of Kalkaska, we saw a gorgeous, 7-foot-tall statue of a trout in front of its old railroad depot, along with a few signs proudly identifying Kalkaska as, “Trout Town.” So of course we had to stop there for supper. And of course we ate at the Trout Town Tavern and Eatery. The food was good, and the décor was homey and trout-centric.
From there we drove south again, ending up on 131, which was a divided highway that looked like what I picture the autobahn looks like: smooth pavement and long, sweeping curves moving through a gently rolling landscape. I soon saw a speed limit sign saying “75” for the first time in my life.
The caddy was floating along like a dream, and Darryll pushed it to 75, just because it seems fundamentally wrong to drive less than the speed limit.
We made it another couple of hours, stopping for the last night of our trip at Ludington. I already know that I’d like to make this trip again, and spend more time at some of the places we’ve seen, and go to many more places that we haven’t been able to get to.