"" Writer's Wanderings: 2020

Monday, November 09, 2020

Mackinac to St. Ignace - The Funky Breakfast Place


 It was time to leave Mackinac Island. We were ready. The weather was definitely turning cold but at least we were happy to find that the wind had eased up for our ferry ride back to St. Ignace on the mainland. There were not a lot of good choices for breakfast on Mackinac partly because it was the end of the season and I'm guessing COVID maybe had something to do with it as well. So, we decided to hold off on breakfast and find a place in St. Ignace after our early morning ferry ride. 

Bob had done a little googling and found a place with a menu that totally outdid any breakfast menu I've ever seen. Granted, a lot of it was variations on pancakes and omelets but it sure looked good to us and it was just up the road from Shepler's ferry dock.


We collected our luggage from the ferry and started off to find Java Joe's--even the name was promising a good cup of coffee. What we found made me laugh at first. It was a tiny shack-like operation that was painted in outrageous colors and designs and motifs. If I had to categorize it, I'd say it was out of the early sixties.

It was just as small on the inside as it appeared outside and maybe even a bit smaller since the tables all had clear plastic shower curtains separating them because of the COVID restrictions. Now that I think of it, it kind of reminds me of some of the places we've been to in the Florida Keys. The floor was painted brightly and all sorts of interesting things hung on the walls. I couldn't explore a whole lot because, well, it was small and of course there was that COVID thing that deterred you from getting close to others.

The menu was in a newspaper format about the size of a neighborhood newspaper and one whole page was nothing but the menu. There were so many choices of pancakes that I had a hard time deciding but finally settled on banana nut pancakes which turned out to be absolutely wonderful. Bob settled on eggs and corn beef hash but was a little disappointed that the hash appeared to be from a can. 


The newspaper contains a story of Java Joe, a family legend which looks a bit suspicious in the telling of it. If you click on the picture and enlarge it a bit you can read the legend.

The other very interesting article was Java Joe's Five Day Road Trip. I had already decided that if we ever came back we needed to explore the mainland area around St. Ignace. Here was an outline for that very thing!

1. In St. Ignace go to Castle Rock, Deer Ranch and Mystery Spot.

2. Take Highway 2 west to Fayette State Park, an old mining town set on a natural harbor. Also see Kitch-iti-kipi, a large spring as well as Garlyn Zoo.

3. A day at Mackinac Island.

4. Whitefish Point Lighthouse and Museum on Lake Superior followed by Tahquamenon Falls and Oswald Bear Park.

5. Cross the bridge from St. Ignace and take the first exit to Fort Michlimackinac and in Mackinaw City see the Lighthouse and Museum and historic Mill Creek. 

Don't know if I would see it all but it would be worth looking into. Not to mention, it would be a chance to try all those other pancakes!

Friday, November 06, 2020

Mackinac Island -- The 8 Mile Bike Ride


 Remember how your parents always said they walked 10 miles to school in the wind and snow and it was uphill both ways? I almost felt like I was living it the morning we decided to take the 8.2 mile bicycle trip around the island. The first two days of out stay on the island had been sunny even though a bit chilly but according to our Weatherbug things were about to change. It assured us though that the rain and wind wouldn't come until after noon. Like all good weather predictors, it was wrong.

After breakfast on the last full day on the island we headed to the bike shop across from our hotel. At the Mackinac Island Bike Shop, we rented two bikes for $11/ hour. We picked this shop because it prorated the rental fee after the first hour. It also offered a free helmet if desired and a basket on the front with a bottle of water. The seats were comfy and adjusted for our heights and with fear and trepidation, I started off.


Thankfully I didn't immediately take a spill and once I got going the pain in my bad knees eased up. I would find though that it was better to keep going than to stop and start up again. Because there wasn't a lot of bike traffic (in the summer, I think they want you to follow the arrows of the bike route) we chose to go clockwise which was actually backwards from the prescribed route. We were concerned with the wind picking up and wanted to get to what we thought would be the lee side before it did.

About a third of the way, we stopped to get some pictures of where it was the British landed July 16 of 1812 just at the start of the war. They took the high ground overlooking Fort Mackinac and frightened the commander, who didn't know the war had begun, into a surrender to save having an Indian massacre. Really. That's basically what the historic marker says.


The clouds were moving in and we began to feel the wind pick up as well as the waves that were pounding an already eroding shoreline. Soon enough we got a light rain, not too bad. I figured we could survive. We had all weather jackets on. I pulled up my hood and we peddled on. Before too long our gentle rain turned steady with the wind whipping it into our faces. 

When it seemed to relax a little, I couldn't resist stopping at a sign that said, "Resting Place of the Ancestors". We rested a moment, took a picture and then we took off again--for me painfully. I told Bob I wasn't stopping again. It turned out we didn't want to stop. 

Just before entering town again, we made a quick stop for a little different view of the Arch Rock. I couldn't decide if I liked the view better from the top or the bottom. Of course at this point when you looked up the rain was hitting you in the face. 


The rain didn't let up. Our "leisurely" bike ride took only an hour and a half. The ride around the island would be a lot more fun in nice weather and with good knees. We asked if there were electric bikes but the answer was that they were not allowed. Hmmm. The golfers got to have their golf carts on the courses. Not fair. But as I said, with good knees and nice weather the ride would be very pleasant and there are lots of places to stop and stay a while. A picnic lunch wouldn't be bad either. 

We spent the rest of the afternoon going in and out of the shops that were still open. Most of them were just your run of the mill souvenir places. One or two had some unusual items but all of the clothing was emblazoned with Mackinac Island. I would have enjoyed buying a nice sweater and just telling everyone I got it there. 

We rest3ed in our room, watched a little TV and then went out to dinner. The weather was definitely turning colder and I was glad we hadn't waited any longer to visit the Island. Next time maybe a little earlier in the Fall.


Thursday, November 05, 2020

Mackinac Island - The Fort

 

Since we were up on the hill above town, we chose to walk straight over to Fort Mackinac. We had no idea what we would see once inside. We've been to some forts that were nothing more than a ghost of their past but once we paid our $13.50/person fee, we started in and were pleasantly surprised.

Fort Mackinac was founded during the American Revolution. The original fort was on the main land where Mackinaw City is now but the British moved it to the island in 1780 when they determined it would be a better location to protect the Straits of Mackinac. The Americans took the fort in 1796 but in the first engagement there during the War of 1812, the British regained the Fort. In 1814, the Americans failed to take it back but after the war, the fort was returned to American control. It was occupied until 1895 when the island became more a summer resort than a center for fur trade.


There were many buildings to explore and lots of interesting facts to absorb. And again, it was a beautiful fall afternoon to be in and out of buildings and enjoying the sunshine as well. Many of the buildings have been restored to what they looked like in the last years of occupation but there are also parts that date back 225 years to original foundations and stonework. 

There are scheduled interpretive talks featuring the firing of a cannon and of course a rifle from the period. All of that was of great interest to the kids that were touring the grounds. Well, it piqued our interest as well. Strangely enough, the rifle made more noise than the cannon but perhaps it was because we were surrounded by buildings when the rifle fired and I think it echoes off the walls. There was also an opportunity for a guided tour but we had already explored much of it on our own and just finished exploring by ourselves. 


There is a tea room where you can get lunch or an afternoon snack. It's run by the Grand Hotel. We didn't have time to check it out since we were there later in the afternoon and it closes at 3. Looked like a nice spot especially with the outdoor seating where you'd get a nice view of the harbor. 


The uniforms the interpretive rangers wore were the type of uniform that was influenced by Prussia which at the time the fort was occupied in the later years was a world power. The uniforms were dress uniforms only though but it was a little disconcerting to see that pointy helmet. 

If you go, don't miss the museum. It's kind of set off in an odd spot but worth making an effort to see. 

One of the fascinating things I found was in the bathhouse. There were rooms with bathtubs but at the end of the row of baths was a stove and a large tank of water that was attached with a pipe to provide heat from the stove and then pipes that ran to the bathtubs. A hot water heater! An unexpect3ed luxury.


By the time the fort was ready to close (at 4), we were ready to call it a day and relax in our room before finding a spot for dinner. The sun was creeping toward the horizon and a few clouds were making it a little more chilly for our walk down the hill to our hotel. We could only hope that the weather forecast that said it would be a dry morning would hold until our bike ride was over in the morning. 

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

Mackinac Island - The Grand Hotel


The Grand Hotel certainly lives up to its name. It is an imposing white structure sitting up a hillside and overlooking the Straits of Mackinac. Its eloquence speaks of times gone by when life was much more formal and mannered.

We ended our carriage ride at the entrance road to the hotel and after thanking our driver and leaving a tip, we started ahead. A lady in a red uniformed jacket stopped each of us who were headed in the direction of the main entrance and informed us politely that if we were not registered and wished to proceed, we would need to go into the side door and purchase our pass for the day. The pass to explore the hotel and its grounds was $10. It was worth it to us to be able to see the hotel from the inside and not have to pay for a night's stay which would have been at least $350.


A little history: Mackinac Island was becoming a popular summer resort in the late 1800s but there was a lack of accommodation. In 1886 the land was purchased for the hotel and construction began. In 1887 it was opened to guests at $3-5/night. By 1897,  a second wing was added and rates soon increase to $6/night. Another wing with 47 more rooms was added in 2001. There are now 397 rooms all individually decorated. Seven of them are dedicated to former first ladies. The Grand Hotel employs some 700 people during the season.


If you have seen the movie, Somewhere In Time, filmed at the Grand Hotel, you'll know that the decor is the same. The carpet and the chairs in the lobby all are themed with the iconic red geraniums, a reflection of the geraniums that line the porch in flower boxes. 

We wandered through the lobby to look into the huge dining room. I know there were more restaurants available but who wouldn't want to dine elegantly in the main room? Well, maybe because it was expensive but if you could afford a splurge it would be wonderful. Breakfast is $30, Grand Luncheon buffet $50 and dinner is $85. I heard that you needed to pay the $10 to just get in to dine but I don't see that on their website. That could add to the price. Or perhaps it is taken off the price of the meal.


There is also a dress code during the day as well as evening. It's more relaxed during the day but in the evening ladies are asked to wear dresses or dressy slacks and tops and men are required to wear jacket and tie. That would have kept us away even if we wanted to pay the price to eat. We didn't pack any good clothes.

There are other restaurants at which you can eat. Some are off site a bit and don't require the $10 fee to get to them. The Jockey Club is one and we enjoyed a very nice lunch there after we'd explored the hotel.


We spent several moments with a cup of coffee enjoying the rockers on the 660' long porch and the warm sunshine that was so pleasant. (The porch is said to be the longest in the world.) Then we went down the front steps to the garden area which was partially blocked by construction equipment that was there to work on the Ester Williams swimming pool.

While it might be fun to spend one night there for a special occasion, we were quite happy with just a look-see. Our room at the Main Street Inn and Suites was more than adequate.


Tuesday, November 03, 2020

A Mackinac Island Carriage Tour


 As we searched for a place to have breakfast, we realized how close to the end of the season we were. Normally the season runs a little better through October but because of the COVIC issues and the decrease in business, many places were closing a little earlier--even a couple of the fudge shops!

A line began forming for the carriage tours though as people awaited the opening of the ticket booth at 9:30. A lady started filling up buckets of water for the horses and made sure they had a chance to get a drink before beginning their trip through the island as the carriages began to line up as well to take on passengers.


We bought our tickets ($30.50/person) and boarded the second carriage that pulled up. Once each row was filled (one family or group/row because of COVID) we started down the main street of town and began our tour. Our tour guide and driver was a student who would soon be going back to her college on the mainland in a week or so. She grew up with horses so she was able to learn quickly how to handle the draft horses and the carriage. The hard part she said was learning how to do all the harnessing.

The tour went through some of the back streets of town, took us past the Grand Hotel and into the state park which takes up quite a large area of the island. It was beautiful and serene and we had been blessed with another sunny day so the fall leaves were spectacular. 


Our horses were a black Percheron draft named Don and a brown Belgian draft named Jumbo. We stopped at the corner near where the stables and carriages are kept for the company. Interestingly she had told us that there was one doctor on the island but as our horses took another drink from the trough nearby, she pointed out the veterinary office and said there were four veterinarians on duty during the season. Have no doubt. The horses are important.


The clippity clop through the park was restful with the sun filtering through the trees and lighting up the golds and reds of the leaves. When we reached the famous Arch Rock, we got out and had about fifteen minutes to walk around and take pictures. The arch towers 146' above the water and is about 50 feet wide. It is made of limestone and believed to have been formed some time after the glacial period when the levels of Lake Huron were so high. 


Our tour also took us past the Governor's summer house. It was built in 1902 and sits on a bluff looking out on the Straits of Mackinac. In 1944, the Mackinac Island State Park Commission purchased the home and it has been used by Michigan's governors as a place of summer residence and hosted several important events and people including John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, George HW Bush, Gerald Ford and Harry Truman. Tours of the lower floor of the mansion are usually available Wednesdays to the public. The upper floors are private.

 


As we neared the end of the tour, we were offered the opportunity to get off at the fort (and save a walk back up the hill) or the Governor's mansion (in case we wanted a short walk back to town as the horses would take a little longer to get around) or at the Grand Hotel or you could stay in the carriage and get off where we'd started. 

We chose to get off at the Grand Hotel. It was next on our list to visit and we knew it would save us a walk uphill and a little time as well. The Grand Hotel. The jewel of the island. Would it be worth the $10 entry fee?

Monday, November 02, 2020

Mackinac Island - Clippity Clop


 It's the rhythm of the clippity clop of horse hoofs on the pavement that makes you want to relax and take life a little easier and slower. But how did the ban on horseless carriages come about? This is Michigan, one of the centers of car manufacturing history.

Horses first came to the island when they were hauling building supplies over the ice from the mainland to build Fort Mackinac in the 1700s. In the 1800s, more people on the island owned horses and businesses began using them to haul goods. In the later part of the 1800s, the horseless carriages began appearing on the island. The noise from these newfangled means of transportation startled the horses and the carriage men of the island petitioned the village council to ban the "dangerous horseless carriages". The ban was enacted July 6, 1898 and has stayed in place ever since. The only motorized vehicles you might see are those that maintain the road and are used in building repairs and of course the emergency vehicles, a fire truck and ambulance. 


An exception to the no-automobile rule was made in 1979 when the movie Somewhere In Time was filmed. A few automobiles were allowed. Residents are also allowed to use snowmobiles in the winter and some golf carts are allowed on the courses only. 

Mackinac Island Carriage Tours is the largest on the island and for that matter is the largest, oldest and continually operating horse and buggy service in the world with over 100 carriages and 400 horses. The majority of horses are on the island only for the tourist season. The rest of the year they spend on farms on the mainland resting up for the next year. 

On their way to the ferry and winter vacation

There is a very interesting story of the history of the five generations of carriage men who have carried on this business on the island. If you'd like to know more go to the Mackinac Island Carriage website here. 

A number of other operations have horses as well including the Grand Hotel that operates their own shuttle service and tours. I read of another place that allows you to rent your own horse and carriage but the idea wasn't appealing to us to follow up on it. 

So when you you visit Mackinac Island you can opt to take a carriage ride, horse drawn taxi, bicycle or hoof it on your own. We chose to explore with a carriage ride on the morning of our first full day. 


Oh and one more thing. While there's not much chance of an automobile accident--the only one recorded was when the door of the fire truck bumped the door of the ambulance--there are other hazards of the road. Watch where you step.

Maybe just one more thing: Horse manure for fertilizer is the #1 export of the island. Really.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Mackinac Island-Oh The Fudge!!


 The entrance to Main Street Inn and Suites was in an alcove almost directly across from the Shepler's Ferry dock on the island. As we finished a few quick pictures, we crossed the street and checked in. In a little tiny lobby, we were greeted cheerfully by a lady behind the counter and the man who had collected our suitcase from the ferry. As soon as he knew our room number, he was off to put our suitcase in the room. 

We found our room on the third floor which smelled freshly cleaned which always eases your mind in a pandemic. The room was quaint and featured a loveseat and cushioned wicker chair. We didn't take a lot of time to settle in. The sun was shining and who knew how long that would continue.


Outside the temps were a little chilly but the sun warmed you a bit. We noticed most people were out on the sidewalks with masks on. I couldn't decide if it was because it kept your face warmer or just saved having to put them on again to go into stores or restaurants or the fudge shops. Oh the fudge shops!

As we walked down the street, even with masks on, you could smell the fudge. I wondered if the exhaust fans purposely vented out to the street kind of like how the smell of popcorn lures you into a movie theater or a popcorn stand at the fair.


 [Later we would be told there were 17 fudge shops and in examining the history of one of the fudge shops, yes, originally they did vent purposely to the outside.]

I wanted to get a good picture of the Mackinac Bridge and of the Grand Hotel so we walked along the boardwalk that led out of the main area of town and along the shore. I got a couple of shots of the bridge but the Grand Hotel was up higher and mostly hidden from our view by trees. 

Round Island Lighthouse

There were two lighthouses that sat outside the harbor of the island. We had passed them on the way in. Now we found a sign that told of the historic value of the one. The Round Island Lighthouse was built in 1895 by Frank Rounds and was first lit in 1896. William Marshall was the first keeper of the lighthouse and served there until 1906. The beacon was automated in 1924 and the Coast Guard took over in 1939 when the care of all lighthouses fell to them. In 1947 it was decommissioned and 
threatened with demolition. It was saved when it became a part of the Hiawatha National Forest. In the 1970s, when weather took a toll on it, preservationists rallied and saved it once again. In 1978, it was added to the National Register of Historical Places. With the help of the Boy Scouts the lighthouse is looking more like its original building. 



The second lighthouse, the Round Island Passage Light is also a historical landmark having been established  in 1948 as part of a project to better map the navigation of the Great Lakes. 


The clippity clop of two draft horses signaled the arrival of shipping packages to be delivered, among them several familiar Prime smile boxes. I'm not sure how fast Prime deliveries are on the Island. The horses take their time. Life seems a little slower here.


Thursday, October 29, 2020

Roadtrip! Ferry To Mackinac Island


Ferries to Mackinac Island are passenger only except for a freight ferry and one that carries construction equipment when needed. Mackinac Island does not allow any cars or trucks on the island. But more on that later. 

We arrived at Shepler's Ferry and were greeted by a cheerful fellow at the gate to the parking area. He greeted us and explained about unloading our luggage, where to buy our tickets if needed (we'd bought ours online) and where to pay for our parking. Parking is complimentary if you are doing a day trip. Overnight parking is $5/day.


As soon as we neared the loading zone next to the passenger area, another fellow cheerfully (do you see a theme here?) motioned us into a parking spot to unload our suitcase. He tagged it and promised it would be put on the ferry and picked up by our hotel on the island, then directed Bob to park in a huge lot that was maybe a quarter full. We had expected that being close to the end of the season and with COVID there would not be as many people as usual. 

The sun was still shining and making it a beautiful picture-taking day. We wandered a bit and then spent a few minutes out of the chill in a waiting area with half a dozen others--all wearing masks of course. When the ferry came in, we watched as someone entered the empty passenger area and sprayed something to sanitize it before allowing us to board.  


There were maybe a dozen of us so it was easy to distance. I imagine it is a little fuller in the morning when the day trippers start their visit. The ride was smooth and I tried to take a few pictures of the Mackinac Bridge but the angle of the sun and the spray from the ferry didn't make for nice pictures. 

Fifteen minutes and we were passing a couple of iconic lighthouses and pulling into the harbor. Once dockside, we were met at our suitcase by a fellow who took it straight to our hotel which was actually just across the street. It was in our room before we were but that could be because I stopped to take a couple of pictures. I wasn't taking a chance on the weather turning before I could capture the quaint views that the town offered.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Roadtrip! Crossing The Mackinac Bridge


 Needless to say, the Mackinac Bridge is impressive. The total length of the bridge is 26,372 feet. The suspension part is 8,614 feet. Now depending upon what you are measuring determines where it fits into the list of largest suspension bridges in the world. I don't care where it fits in the list, it is still amazing. 

The towers rise 554 feet above the water. The height of the 54' wide roadway is 200 feet above the water at mid-span, high enough I assume for any freighters that transit the Great Lakes. 


The bridge crosses the Straits of Mackinac which is the waterway between Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. The idea of a bridge was envisioned as early as 1884. In 1920, they considered a floating tunnel. A ferry route soon grew heavy with traffic and the legislature began considering more seriously the possibility of a bridge. 

In 1934, the Mackinac Bridge Authority was established to study the feasibility of building a bridge. It took a long time to find a way to finance the bridge but finally in 1953 with bond sales it appeared the bridge would finally be built. In May of 1954, construction was begun.

The bridge opened to traffic in 1957. The last of the building bonds were retired in 1986 and the bridge is maintained with the collection of tolls--$4 for a passenger car.

There are four lanes of traffic--two in each direction. The outer lanes are solid pavement but the inner, center lanes, are a steel mesh. Trucks stay in the outer lanes and are relegated to 20 MPH. Some appeared to have escorts. 


The toll booth is at the north end so we didn't have to pay the $4 until it was time to exit the bridge. Through the toll booth, we made a right turn and headed for St. Ignace and the ferry. We were about a half hour before a scheduled departure. Perfect timing. There would not be a long wait.

I hoped there would be more chances to get a good picture of the stately Mackinac Bridge that was now behind us. To learn more about the bridge, go to the Mackinac Bridge website.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Roadtrip! Heading For The Tip Of Michigan

 The largest portion of the state of Michigan is shaped like a mitten. Our destination, Mackinac Island, was at the tip of the fingers in the mitten. We started out from our overnight stay just outside of Toledo and headed north. The whole week we had watched the weather reports fluctuate between rain, cold, a wintry mix, and sunshine. Even as we headed out after our breakfast at the Hampton Inn (served cafeteria style by a lovely lady behind the tables set up to keep us from helping ourselves) we weren't sure what to expect. 

Not far up the road, the sun came out and we were entranced. The fall colors were amazing! Once we were past Ann Arbor and the Detroit exits, the traffic calmed a bit and the landscape became open country with vista after vista of colorful foliage. 


As we passed the Frankenmuth exit, I made a mental note that, should we ever return, we needed to plan a stop in the town where it's Christmas all year long

Lost in the wonder of the fall colors, I'm not sure where exactly we stopped for lunch. It was at a McDonald's and thankfully the restrooms were open as well. We ordered happy meals since we really weren't that hungry and it was a little early for a big lunch. "Are these guaranteed to make us happy?" I asked the young man. He pointed to the box and said, "The smile's right there." I couldn't tell if he was smiling behind his mask.

As I said in yesterday's post, Bob had planned to take the ferry to Mackinac from St. Ignace so that we could cross the Mackinac Bridge. Just after one, we began to see the signs for the bridge and soon we crested a hill and before us in the distance we could see the towers of the bridge. I have to admit, it was kind of exciting. It is the fifth largest suspension bridge in the world according to their website but other lists have it at 24 or 3 depending upon what you are measuring.

Still, 3, 5 or 24, it was going to be fun.

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