Traveling to Upper Peninsula Michigan, Day 8

Castle Rock

Saturday, our final day of exploring, we wake up before the alarm goes off and before the sky has completely brightened. We soon have our gear packed and loaded in the car. It is another chilly morning, but we have had no rain during the three days we have been here meaning we have been able to keep our car at the cabin without fear of getting stuck in mud. Otherwise, we would have had to walk the distance carrying heavy items twice a day.

We are soon on the way north on M31 and I75 towards Sault Ste. Marie just across from the Canadian border. Our goal this morning is to stop at Castle Rock, a rock outcropping high above the landscape just a short distance north of the Mackinaw Bridge. Like everything else it seems these days, it is commercialized, and the sign says $1 per person to climb. We are early as the entry doesn’t open until 9 a.m. so we have about forty minutes to wait. Finally, after collecting our two dollars, the proprietor directs us towards a set of concrete steps at the far end of the fenced in enclosure. We climb and stumble and climb the multitude of ill proportioned steps that we never count. I am guessing there are about 200 steps followed by a narrow ramp and concrete walkway that leads to the edge of the rock. We are 183 feet above I75. Visible in the distance is Lake Huron, downtown St. Ignace, and acres of trees. After a few pictures, Dave and I clomp our way carefully back down to the bottom.

Our next destination is to be the Soo Locks at Sault Ste Marie. We plug the address into the GPS and are able to locate the locks with no trouble. Our end goal is the observation deck that overlooks the locks. Amazingly, we are hardly situated along the observation deck rail before a huge Canadian freighter, the Captain Henry Jack, approaches the lock. She slowly inches into the lock until the gates can be closed and then the water, and the ship, rises slowly from the level of the St Mary’s River to meet the level of Lake Superior. Within an hour, she is slowly sliding out of the lock and is continuing on her way. We managed to hit it just right today.

We were told by the entry gate attendant that a mile down the road is the Tower of History. This structure is about 186 feet tall and provides a view of the city, the locks, and the Canadian shoreline. There does not seem to be massive crowds of people today and we find a parking spot there easily. This time, we take the elevator most of the way up. There are just a few steps to the top two tiers of the structure which sports an outdoor observation area. It does offer a spectacular view of the surrounding area and the trans-international bridge to Canada. We even spy a picnic table just a block away below us. We know exactly where we will have our picnic lunch on this warm sunny day.

All too soon, it is time to head for Escanaba, Michigan where we plan to spend our last night at a hotel. There we spend an enjoyable evening visiting the Sandy Point Lighthouse and splurging on Kentucky Fried Chicken in the park by Lake Michigan. All good things much come to an end and our Sunday is occupied with driving home to Minnesota.

Sand Point Lighthouse
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Traveling to Upper Peninsula Michigan, Day 7

The Arch on Mackinac Island

We both slept much better last night but were awake by 5:30 on this Friday morning, July 15, 2022. We decide we might as well get up and start the day. We are hoping to get to Mackinac Island before the crowds hit. The air is crisp and cool. My phone says the temperature is 51 degrees. The wind, though, is calm making for a peaceful enjoyable morning. Since we have an LP burner stove here, Dave makes the last of the pancake mix even though it takes longer than our dehydrated meals to make. We eat our pancakes while the sun is awakening.

We leave the little cabin at 7 a.m. for the drive to Mackinaw City where we hope to catch the 8:30 a.m. boat shuttle to the island. After a pleasant drive, we are there in plenty of time. “All Aboard” is soon sounded and today, we choose the indoor seats for the 16-minute ride across the straits. Round Island lighthouse greets us off to the right just before we enter the dock area. Even though we are fairly early, the crowds are already arriving. People are pressed together with luggage, dogs in backpacks, bicycles, and every manner of items potentially needed for a day trip, or an overnight stay, on the island. On Mackinac Island, no cars are allowed so one has to walk, ride a bike, or take a horse (or horse drawn wagon). We find out later that several motorized vehicles are allowed – an ambulance and firetrucks. The main street is clogged with horses, and bicycles going all different directions. Dave shocks me by saying that he is willing to try riding a bicycle on this island. Therefore, we stop and rent two- two wheelers. They are wide-tired, large seated, multispeed vehicles. Dave has not ridden for at least five to ten years or more and he is worried about balance most of all but also about a butt ache, knee aches, and a neck ache. The trail around the island is 8.2 miles. It turns out to be fairly easy riding, though, with only one area where we need to work at pedaling. I let Dave take the lead and I think I can honestly say, I never am really working. We make frequent rest stops.

Dave with bicycle

Our first stop is at The Arch, a section of limestone rock that has worn away in the middle leaving a huge arch. Two hundred seven steps greet us on our way to the top of the arch which stands 146 feet above the waters of Lake Huron. After slowly puffing our way up and spending a few minutes enjoying the view, it is time to test the knees and legs for the journey back down. We peddle a way further along this shoreside road and stop by the beach. It is then that Dave realizes that, unfortunately, he has forgotten his spare camera battery in the car. He is hugely disappointed because the current one has taken its last snapshot. We can’t just run back to the car so there will be no more picture taking on this venture. I do press my cell phone into service, but its pictures are not nearly of the quality of the camera. As we ride on, we ride past some bicycles parked along the side of the road. The humans must be off exploring somewhere. In the basket of one of the bikes is a squirrel who is busily chewing on the crackers the rider has left there for later. He is taking advantage of the situation. The trail follows the coastline for majority of the way and provides a spectacular view of the lake. Our total ride takes about 2 ½ hours and almost results in a stroke when I learn the cost is $75 for that ride.

Overlooking Lake Huron

Once the bikes are returned, we splurge on a goodie each. I have milk and a large chocolate chip cookie covered in chocolate. Dave has a gluten free sugar cookie and some popcorn. A decision is made to walk to the butterfly house on Surrey Hill. As we start up Front Street, the grade increases acutely and by the time we hit Huron Street, it is difficult to walk it without significant huffing and puffing. I am tempted to jump on the back of one of the horse- drawn wagons toting people around. Eventually, we make it to the top and take a short cut through the horse stable and carriage museum to avoid walking around the circle drive.

The butterfly house is populated with many colored butterflies twitting around from place to place. I love the butterfly house, but it is soon time to begin our trek back down the steep street. I have to laugh at the sign at the top of the hill, “Walk your bikes down the hill.” Really? Hills are made for flying down on a bicycle. I think it will be easier, too, to walk downhill than up but it puts a different angle of pressure on Dave’s bad knee. We end up stepping very slowly. We do arrive back at the docks in time for the 3 p.m. ferry and are shuttled back to the mainland.

On our drive back to Petosky, we stop at the fish hatchery in Oden that we discovered by accident the other day while waiting for our guest to meet us at the restaurant. The evening has grown cloudy, and the air is heavy with moisture. We don’t walk to the actual hatchery because of the distance involved but do make the trek to the big fishpond about .3 miles in. Large trout frolic in the waters and leap into the air when I throw in food I had purchased at the entrance for such purposes. Finally, we return to the car for the final drive back to the cabin. We prepare and eat our supper outdoors, then read by the evening light. We do not light a fire on this last night as we have run out of wood and have no ax or hatchet to cut anymore into burnable lengths. The wind is calm, and in the distance, I hear a rooster crowing, some dogs barking, and a multitude of speeding cars and motorcycles on the nearby hardtop road. It is never really quiet anywhere, it seems.

Round Island Lighthouse

Traveling to Upper Peninsula Michigan, Day 6

Machinaw Point Lighthouse

We set the alarm for 5 a.m. on Thursday, July 14. The GPS says it will take almost an hour to get to Mackinaw City and our boat for the “Western Lighthouses Cruise” leaves at 7:30. The sky is just beginning to lighten, and a full moon shines its beams over our little cabin. I slept very little last night as I never do when I have to get up early to meet some appointment. The jitters about getting there on time is just enough to chase away the sleepy man. We have our breakfast in the car as we drive; Dave spooning the yogurt into my mouth so I can keep my hands on the wheel and my eyes on the road. Our GPS guides us expertly this time and we soon pull into a mostly empty parking lot. A shuttle awaits to take us to the dock where we will board the boat.

Machinaw Bridge

The sky is clear and bright, and the early morning sun is just ascending over the lake. It is a chilly morning, about fifty degrees and the sun struggles to apply warmth to our backs. By, 7 a.m., we are stepping onto the boarding platform and climbing the stairs to the upper outside deck. We have worn all of our meager amount of winter gear we have brought along. Both of us wonder if this choice is a mistake. Soon we are skimming over the totally calm surface of Lake Huron headed toward the 5-mile-long Mackinac Bridge. It is the longest suspension bridge in the Western Hemisphere with 1.4 miles of it suspended in the air over the straits of Mackinac. Even without a wind, the breeze created by the boat is bone numbing cold. Our first slow down is to view the Old Mackinaw Point Lighthouse that sits just at the south end of the bridge. Then we swing around and head under the magnificent bridge for a splendid view from beneath. We tuck our coats around ourselves as we then cruise west on Lake Michigan at 35 miles per hour to St Helena Island Lighthouse near St. Ignace. This lighthouse sits on a small island and is currently being renovated and restored. One can camp on the island if so desired. Our last three lighthouses are built in the middle of Lake Michigan. A wooded platform was built on land and once floated out to the chosen spot, was filled with concrete and rocks for the bases. The white shoal lighthouse, north of Beaver Island, is being restored to be used as a bed and breakfast. It will only be accessible by boat. A team of workers are busy and stop long enough to wave to us. After the captain spins around the light for all to take pictures, we are off across the lake to Gray’s Reef Lighthouse. It sits alone in this massive expanse of water. In the distance, we spot a freighter steaming towards Mackinaw Bridge and a port beyond for loading. Our last stop is Waugoshance Point Lighthouse. It stands forlorn and alone, having been abandoned to the elements.

Soon we are blowing a huge wake as we speed back towards Mackinaw. The wind has warmed somewhat but it is still quite chilly, and the cold has reached deep into our bones. Most people have gone below by now. The sun warms our backs as we debark at the dock.

I plug the address for Mackinaw Point Lighthouse into the GPS and we cruise a few blocks to a park complete with a beach on Lake Huron and sporting shaded picnic tables. Here we enjoy our lunch before walking to the lighthouse for a tour. Climbing the 51 steps to the light chamber is the highlight. The platform offers a spectacular view of Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, and the Mackinaw Bridge. By now, it is 2 p.m. and we are both tired from getting up early so we head back down M31 to our cabin in the woods. A couple of stops are made to buy ice, a camera card, some drinks, and chips. That is followed by a slow drive along the winding path to the cabin. Time for some naps before supper and a lazy evening by the campfire.

A Great Lakes Ship