After starting our travels north this year from the coast of Alabama in February, we are finally approaching the northern terminus of our travels for the year. We came north through the corner of Mississippi, central Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, and now Michigan. As expected the weather has been mostly pleasant since we arrived in Michigan with temperatures in the mid 70s to low 80s and the forecast for this week was eventually to be in the low 70s, with a few days not to get out of the 60s! What a way to spend the summer! Our trip from Sleeping Bear Dunes was mostly east to the central part of the state. Of course the state of Michigan gets a whole lot narrower as you approach the Straits of Mackinac which connects Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. We actually stopped about 30 miles south of the straits since it made a huge difference in the cost of the campgrounds of about $10 a night. We stopped at a campground called Michigan Oaks about 4 miles from Interstate 75 which would take us to Mackinac City and Mackinac Island. Michigan Oaks looks to be somewhere in between a commercial park and a state park, as the sites are spacious with a lot of large trees. However, the ground is sandy with very little grass or other vegetation. Since we arrived on Monday, they had a few choices of campsites we could use for the week, which is one reason we like to travel on Mondays. Even though there were very few RVs in the campground on Monday, they only had 4 sites that would not reserved for the coming weekend that would be large enough for our RV and have electric and water hookups. This campground did not have any sewer hookups, which is one reason it is cheaper, but this is really not a problem since they had a dump station and we were only staying a week. After looking at the sites we decided to take the one they had originally booked us for as I thought I could pull straight up into the site across from us and back straight in. However, I was wrong on two accounts. First the sites were so sandy that I spun out before I got the RV far enough up the slight grade to straighten it out. Second, there was a couple of trees in the way that made it very tricky to get the RV into our site. I had to pull the truck forward at least six times before I got the RV backed up in the correct orientation and on the level part of the site. Then we discovered that the electric pedestal was far enough behind the RV that the electric cord would not quite reach. We backed the RV back as far as we could possibly go and thankfully it was just barely close enough. These sites maybe spacious, but they certainly are not designed for RVs as big as ours!! In any case, we had only 30 amp service and were sharing the pedestal with another RV. In fact, the owners came by later to tell us not to run the a/c and electric water heater at the same time as it would likely ruin the pedestal, as it had in the past. Thankfully, the temperatures moderated by Thursday so we did not need the a/c after Tuesday. I will admit the pedestal did get awfully hot whenever we were both running our a/c units.
Our main reason for camping in this area was to visit Mackinac Island, however, we decided to wait on this until the temperature dropped a bit later in the week. Instead we spent Tuesday traveling to Petroskey on Lake Michigan to the Odawa Casino. This is another Indian casino in the state and actually one of the nicest we have seen. It is a beautiful venue located close to a major town with all the amenities. Once again we took our usual stake into the casino hoping to break even for a change. We found a wide range of slot machines to choose from (over 1000 available) and had a very good time. Of course, it did not hurt that Kal hit a large jackpot of over $50 on one machine and I managed not to loose my entire stake. We actually came out $20 ahead for a change!! While not enough to even buy dinner, we do enjoy playing around for a couple of hours trying our luck.
Wednesday was again going to be in the low 80s with a good chance of rain so we decided to put off the island for another day and headed to the Upper Peninsula. The Mackinac Bridge over the straits is an impressive suspension bridge being over 5 miles in length (of course the “suspension” part of the bridge is less than a mile of this length). They were also doing maintenance on the bridge so the traffic was down to a single lane both directions, which was slow enough that Kal did not complain about the fact she was on a bridge suspended 100 feet above the water. We stopped just over the bridge in search of Father Marquette National Memorial at St Ignace. After the GPS incorrectly took us to the campgrounds on the wrong side of the interstate in the Straits State Park, we got directions to the correct location. It turns out that the National Memorial is actually a part of Straits State Park and consists of a single open-air “Visitor’s Center” with exhibits about Father Marquette. If you know anything about Father Marquette, it is probably that he is credited with mapping the Mississippi River for the French in 1600s. While this is certainly true, he is better known in the region for his missionary work with the fur trappers and local Indian tribes founding the mission at St. Ignace. In 1672 he did join the expedition with Joliette to travel south along the Mississippi River. Of course, they were hoping it would turn west since they were looking for the northwest passage to California on the west coast. Once they got to the Arkansas River it was obvious this was not going to be the case, so they turned back north traveling up the Illinois River to Lake Michigan instead of taking the chance of encountering the Spanish if they continued south. Unfortunately, most of Joliette’s journal and notes were lost or damaged during the journey, so Marquette’s journals and maps became part of history, even though he was only the priest on the journey. Besides learning a bit about Marquette life at the Visitor Center, there is a short path through the woods with interpretive signs about the Indian culture and native trees and plants along the path. It is not clear whether this is actually part of the National Memorial or Straits State Park. There are a couple of nice overlooks of Mackinac Bridge along the path, which once the sun came out from behind the cloud cover, was a spectacular sight from the UP.
While I was thinking that we would travel to the Upper Peninsula to get a quick look at Lake Superior, once we found out it was over an hour across the peninsula, we decided not to. Instead we headed back across the Mackinac Bridge to Mackinac City where we ate lunch at the nice city park along the shores of the strait. After lunch we walked over to Fort Michilimackinac (what a name!) which is a 17th century fort. The most amazing thing about the fort is that since it was moved to Mackinac Island during the Revolutionary War, it has remained undeveloped and undisturbed. Since 1959 there has been continuous archeological research being done every summer that has uncovered some amazing things. As they slowly uncover the area within the fort, determine where the buildings stood, and learn all they can about the structures, they are slowly reconstructing the entire fort. They are only about 3/4 done with this project which is going to take a long time yet before they are finished. Within the fort there is an active archeological site where we watched workers slowly scraping the dirt into sieves and recording everything they find, which is a LOT!! Also within the fort are very interesting exhibits in the various reconstructed buildings. They have even reconstructed the soldiers latrines in their original location. In one of the buildings you take some stairs down underground where they demonstrate in a series of exhibits the entire archeological process of uncovering the foundations of the buildings, cellars, and artifacts. There are interpreters wandering everywhere dressed up in period clothing that can answer any questions your might have. For instance, we learned a great deal about the gardens they had behind nearly everyone of the houses within the fort. This fort began as a fur trading post by the French where fur trappers and local Indians would meet with traders laden with trade goods from Montreal every spring. The fort would be a bustling town during the summer only to become nearly abandoned in the winter. The French lost the fort after the French and Indian Wars at which time the British occupied the fort in 1761. The British attempted to continue the practices of the French, however, they rule was considered very harsh in comparison according to the local population. As part of a larger movement known as Pontiac’s Rebellion, the local Ojibwe tribes captured the fort in 1763 hoping to drive the British out of the Great Lakes region. The story of how they captured the fort is interesting. The invited the British to come out and watch them play a ball game similar to Lacrosse, that they held in front of the main gate to the fort. The Indians were not very good, multiple times losing their ball over the fort walls. They got the soldiers used to abandoning their positions to chase down the ball, while the commander of the fort stood outside watching the game. At one point, the ball was once again lost over the wall and grabbing weapons that the women had hidden under their blankets, they stormed the fort. The locals merchants and fur traders in the fort were not interested in aiding the soldiers, so a number were killed and the fort taken. They held onto the fort for over a year, before agreeing to give it back in exchange for annual gifts and looser policies. During the Revolutionary War, the British were concerned with the successes of George Rogers Clark to the south in Indiana and along with Fort Detroit, felt threatened. In 1781 they decided to move the fort to the limestone bluff on Mackinac Island which was more defensible. So over the next two years they dismantled the fort and moved it to the island, over ice in the winter and by boats in the summer. They even moved nearly all of the buildings. I suspect only part of the reason was to deny the fort to the revolutionists. Another part was that they had already cleared all of the forests of usable timber and firewood for miles. In any case, Fort Michilimackinac was dismantled and the remains burned during the Revolutionary War. We spent better than 4 hours exploring the many exhibits and building of the fort which meant a later then normal return to the campgrounds.
On Thursday we figured it was now or never, even though it was still overcast with a good chance of rain, to head over to Mackinac Island. I was really looking forward to this trip, as it is one of my boyhood memories during a family trip to the 1967 World’s Fair in Montreal. As a 12 year old I recall being impressed with an town that had no cars and all traffic was still by horse carriage. Of course, nowadays the major transportation is bicycles which I swear outnumber the number of people on the island any given day. There are still plenty of horse drawn carriages, but not like I remember it all those years ago. We drove to Mackinac City where we bought tickets for Shepler’s Ferry to the island. The trip across the Straits of Mackinac takes about 30 minutes since they have to take a detour under the Mackinac Bridge to show it off to the tourists. It was as impressive from underneath as from the surface of the bridge. We bought package tickets that included the Carriage Tour and Fort Mackinac, as well, so we had a full day planned. We found the Carriage Tour without a problem and only had to wait about 15 minutes for our carriage, along with about 12 other tourists. The ride up to Surrey Hill is a pleasant ride with a tour guide full of stories and jokes to entertain the tourists as the two horses plod up the hill. The most interesting part of the trip is the view of the Grand Hotel, which was the premier resort destination for the rich and famous in the early 1900s. It had probably one the longest covered porches in the world! At the top of Surrey Hill you exit the carriage to explore the venues at this spot. We were not interested in the butterfly conservatory, so we headed on down to the Surrey Hill Museum. This is actually part of the stables for the Grand Hotel so you can take a look at the horses, however, the main draw is their collection of carriages. Although they have over 25 carriages in excellent condition, they are a small sample of the many types and manufactures of carriages before the advent of the automobile. They have a wide range of carriage types from the super ornate to very simple, utilitarian carriages. They even have a horse drawn hearse. After spending about an hour looking at all the carriages we boarded another carriage, this one holding over 35 people with 3 horses to pull it. The tour now ascended into the forests of Mackinac Island State Park. It was interesting to learn that this State Park was the second National Park after Yellowstone in 1875. It was administered by the War Department through Fort Mackinac until 1895 when it was transferred to the state. This was certainly an easy way to explore a little of the park. There is a single stop along the way at the Arch Rock, which is a famous geologic formation of a free standing limestone arch that gives an interesting view of the Straits. After reboarding the horse drawn “bus” we descended back through the forests to Fort Mackinac where we exited to explore the fort.
As I learned the day before, Fort Mackinac was constructed in 1871 using the materials from Fort Michilimackinac, although in this case the main construction material was the abundant limestone on the island. Unlike Fort Michilimackinac which was abandoned in 1871, Fort Mackinac continued to be used as a fort to the end of the 19th century. Therefore there were a lot of improvements and modifications over the years. For instance, they had a schoolhouse within the fort for the education of the soldiers. Eventually a bathhouse was installed with running hot and cold water for personal hygiene, flush toilets, and a post canteen to try to keep the soldiers from frequenting the bars in town. While not very successful, it was at least a good attempt. Even before Mackinac Island became a major summer resort location in the 1900s, Fort Mackinac was seen as a luxury posting for officers. The only claim to fame at the Fort came at the very beginning of the War of 1812. In July, the British landed a large force on the north side of the island. Once they brought cannons up to the highest point on the island they were able to shot down into the fort. As the American garrison numbered only 60 soldiers they quickly surrendered and the British once again occupied the fort until the end of the War of 1812. In 1814, the Americans did try to retake the fort by following the example of the British. However, the British had fortified the summit with Fort George, a wooden stockade, and were able to easily repel the American attempt. Following the war the Americans renamed the fort to Fort Holmes and today there is supposed to be a reconstructed stockade at the top of the island. After eating a late lunch at their Tea Room in the fort, we descended back down the hill to the center of the town to explore a few more historic buildings. It turns out that our admission fee to the fort also covered the entrance fee to some of these historic buildings. For instance, there was the American Fur Company Store where fur trappers would trade their furs for all kinds of things, some of which were on display. A part of this building was also devoted to the legacy of Dr. Bowman and his groundbreaking work on the stomach. A fur trapper, Alexis St Martin was accidentally shot in the stomach while in the company store. At the time stomach wounds were nearly always fatal, but somehow Dr. Bowman was able to save his life. However, the hole in his stomach never completely healed growing just a flap across the opening. Dr. Bowman was able to insert all kinds of things into the stomach on a string and take sample of the stomach contents for years afterwards. He conducted thousands of experiments that greatly expanded our understanding of the digestive process. He would insert pieces of food on a string into the stomach and periodically check to see how much had been digested!! GROSS!! We also visited the Biddle House from the 1700s where we had a nice conversation with a volunteer cooking the kitchen of the house. We found out a lot about their diets and cooking strategies, especially on an island from which all the trees had been removed for years. After walking around town for a while I even convinced Kal to stop at a pub so I could sample one of their local beers. I had a very good brown ale from a Michigan brewery while Kal bought a new jacket with Mackinac on it. Except for the purple color (it was all they had on sale) it looks very nice on her. Around 6:00 we boarded the ferry to travel back to Mackinac City and the 30 minute drive to our campsite.
After the very busy last couple of days, we decided to laze around the campgrounds on Friday, so when Saturday promised to be a cool day with temperatures not climbing out of the 60s, we decided to explore another state park. Our destination was a hike in Wilderness State Park on the the coast of Lake Michigan just a few miles outside of Mackinac City. We found the park with no problem, but found the Ranger Station to be closed on a Saturday! However, they did have some trail maps outside the office, which we grabbed. Unfortunately they were a bit confusing, so we had some trouble figuring out the location of the trailhead. However, once we finally found it, we found a series of hiking trails of varying lengths. It was no problem putting together a hike of just over 3 miles through the Michigan forests. The trail started along a small pond with a pretty dam, which then slowly descended towards Lake Michigan. After traveling a mile along the creek we took a trail that crossed a couple of sandy ridges to another trail along the ridge. Climbing up and down the small slopes of sand was a challenge at times, but for the most part it was an easy walk through the woods. We then ate a quick lunch overlooking Lake Michigan before heading back to the campgrounds for the evening.
Sunday was another beautiful day in the low 70s and bright sunshine. However, we decided to just take it easy in the campgrounds so I could get caught up on this blog.