Saturday, June 11, 2022

Bridge, Island, Lighthouses, and Lots and Lots of Water

 June 7 - 11, 2022
Mackinaw City, Michigan

Tuesday we continue north on Highways 127 and 75. More of what I think of as the "green tunnel" with thick trees on both sides of us. The hardwoods are so pretty this time of year! 

We cross the 45th parallel north, putting us approximately half way between the north pole and the equator - the "line" is actually a bit north but the curvature of the earth makes it "buldge" here. It means come Summer Solstice we'll be in an area with close to 16 hours of daylight. Cool!

A glimpse through the green tunnel to more trees at a lower elevation.

We get set up among the trees at Mackinaw City KOA. Mostly level, narrow dirt site with 50 amp FHUs. Upgraded sites with patios and furniture are available as well. No satellite, but we finally have more than a single bar of cellular coverage. The park WiFi works well. Super friendly and helpful staff here.

Tucked in the trees.

Our park is on the same road as Wilderness State Park so we take a short drive to check it out. Laid out in two and three rows between the road and the shore, there is a section with electric and water, one with electric only, and another with dry camping. Many sites accommodate long rigs, all are tight with their neighbors. But the front row are right on the beach, with amazing views and access. I'm sure they sell out for the whole summer very early!

We make a stop at a day use area so Tessa can get long-overdue beach time. The first poison ivy I've seen (ever) lines the trail to the water so getting there she's on a tight leash. I never touch it but still itch for a few minutes :-)

Dramatic skies add to the beauty of this natural cove.

So not interested in the view!

Round and round and back and forth - happy fluffy dog!

Back at home the "sounds of summer vacation" are in full swing with kids screaming the joy of being outdoors with no school for months ahead. A few fire rings smoke with sad attempts at flame. At 9:55 it's like a switch is flipped and everything is completely quiet - ahhhhhh. 

Mackinaw City's downtown is pretty much a staging area for Mackinac Island. There's a similar feel to West Yellowstone. The island is a main reason we're here as well, and Wednesday looks like the best day for our visit. Upon arrival at Shepler's Ferrry we find it's also a good day for two busloads of middle school kids to join us. Apparently they have a few more days of school that the campground kids don't. It really is wonderful they have this opportunity to kick off their summer.

We haven't been in a crowd in over two years so this is like being thrown in the deep end without swimmies on the first day of summer vacation - might as well go big! Once they're all loaded into the ferry ahead of us, we return to a much more manageable level of chaos. 

Four of the morning ferries include a ten minute detour under the Mackinac Bridge. We're in two of the Great Lakes - Michigan and Huron - in a matter of minutes! 

We wave good-bye to all the kids - we'll see all of them later.

With wonderful history and engineering, the Might Mac is a beauty.

A side of the bridge not everyone sees. As we're crossing it on Saturday I'm delighted to see zero rust - it looks brand new.

The bridge-view ferries are no additional cost, and I highly recommend taking one to the island.

A giant oil tanker makes its way from one lake to the other.

Arriving at the island, The Grand Hotel is hard to miss!

A world without automobiles (only one police car and one ambulance) is unique, and really quite wonderful. Love all the parallel parked bicycles :-)

There are several ways to explore the island. The carriage tours are very popular, and the one we choose. It's a two hour wait after we buy our tickets - on a pretty island with pretty things to look at, so who cares?

Inevitable limited forward views. We're the only ones wearing masks, but don't take them off all day. 

Lots of trees in bloom. The Lilac Festival is this weekend.

The cutest post office we've seen. I mail a couple post cards to the older grands.

From native tribes in the 1600s to forts and settlers and tourism, the island is full of interesting history.

Lovely historic homes - both private residences and tourist accommodations. 


We don't spend the $10 to enter the Grand Hotel, but the tulip garden is truly stunning.

With more horses (650+) than people (400 residents) living on the island, their quarters make up a large number of the out buildings above downtown. There are 4 veterinarians and 1 doctor. 

Change carriages at Surrey Hill with a Monarch Garden, metal forger and gift shop. 

Here we switch to a beautiful Belgian three-horse team for the pull through the second half of the tour. 

This part of the island is the heavy forest of Mackinac State Park. Lots of history and cheesy jokes from the guide (she's on her third day and delightful).

One of three historical cemeteries on the island - the Veterans section includes 100 unidentified soldiers, and is therefore one of five in the country that flies the flag permanently at half-staff. 

The cave's history includes native tribal lore and a couple teenagers with dynamite. 

Spectacular views from Arch Rock lookout point. 

Arch Rock - where a native princess with an obsessive father escapes with her sky-god. Local lore is one reason to take the tour!

Governor's Summer Mansion

Sweet views.

I love Lilacs but have never lived anywhere cold enough for them to flourish. 

Back in downtown at the end of the tour, I enjoy the views from the back of a store. 

Looking like a scene from a weather catastrophe movie, the clouds dissipate without dropping any moisture. 

17 fudge shops on the three blocks of Main Street. Downtown smells good :-)

Back at the launching area for our return ferry we find - guess who? - all the field trip kids ready to board! Again they fill their own ferry, all looking like they had a grand time on the island. We only saw a few throughout the day. Best of all, many have purchased fun hats and we get the "parade" as they pass by to load. Sombreros, cheeseburgers, purple octopus, jesters, lots of pizzas, flamingos, and at least one hot dog. The hat vendor was a happy seller today! 

It was a fun day on the island, and we return to the mainland before 6 PM. 

Back at the park we see a shuttle for the same ferry company pulling out - good to know! Although the free parking in town with it's own quick shuttle was really easy.

This far north it's still light long after we head for bed - the kids must have had a busy day as the park is nice and quiet. 

Fortunately I notice that my reservations for the first days in the Upper Peninsula don't make sense - before we get up there! Thursday I'm able to make the necessary corrections so we have a place to land in a couple days. Whew! 

We run around town a bit, but mostly hang out at home. As evening approaches the park is filling up fast and getting noisier. Our new neighbors are entertaining when instead of setting up after unhooking the truck, they grab a couple beers and sit in the cab to enjoy them. Must have been a rough driving day :-)))

We laugh every time a new sound is added - couples loudly giving directions for parking, lots of motorcycles, kids screaming, compressors blowing up mattresses, a short burst of rain, back-up beepers, dogs barking, clanging of camp set-ups, doors slamming. Again, at 9:55, the switch is flipped and complete quiet descends - magic! 

Friday is lighthouse day. We're going to see two of them, one with family history for our good friend Jim. Read his post here to learn the fascinating connection he has with Old Macinac Point Light Station.

Lighthouse and bridge, a beautiful place to enjoy perfect weather. 

I feel the sound, and push all the buttons, and make my own lighthouse - very fun!

Fourth Order Fresnel lens. Physics becomes art. 

I can't do the confined space of lighthouse towers, but the guide lets me stick my head in to grab a pic of the spiral staircase. 

Something we haven't seen at other shipwreck exhibits are models of the ships pre and post wreck. Very interesting.

The Cedarville is the largest shipwreck in the Mackinac Strait. 

She sunk in May, 1965, after colliding with another ship in the fog. Witnesses and investigative reports all point to captain's error for both the collision and not reaching accessible shore before she sank.

The grounds are lovely as are the views of the bridge.

Indiana Limestone gives the structure its pretty color.

Another way to see the area.

A quick stop for a Michigan lunch staple, then we're off to check out another nearby lighthouse. During our island tour I heard a local explaining that the best pasties are on "the other side of the bridge" so we'll have to compare!

Our beef pasties with gravy are super yummy!

McGulpin Point (I can't help but think of large drinks from McDonalds) is on the west side of the bridge, and also small in stature. There are lovely Lilac trees, and a small museum about the local tribe's history in the French and Indian War. 

McGulpin Point Light Station

Just down the hill, on the lake's shore, is Chin Sin or "Big Rock". It is referenced in historical journals as far back as 1749, when it was used to gauge the water's depth. It continues doing the same job today. There are records of it being completely submerged, but in recent decades has been mostly above the water.  

Chin Sin at 9' tall, 33' circumference, and estimated at 54 tons - may be the biggest depth gauge on the planet!

We end the day with a couple short stops at Headlands Dark Sky Park and Heritage Village. The former is a very modern, echo friendly event center right on the lake, and focused on astronomy. The area outside of downtown is very different, and quite lovely.

Wonderful interpretive signs along the entrance trail tell stories of the stars through art, information plaques, and recordings. 

The center includes a planted roof with run-off points on each corner that direct water to cisterns for watering the landscaping.

Beautiful blue water everywhere!

The latter is a collection of historic buildings, gardens and equipment, open to the public and free of charge, highlighting how natives and settlers lived here in the 1800s. 

I've never seen a chimney like this one on the "Quarantine House".

This handsome tree spans a huge area.

A cute flower and vegetable garden. Although I suspect the Rainbird sprinkler doing the watering is not "true to age".

Friday night at 10:00 our "sounds list" gets a new entry - 20 minutes of booming fireworks. So blessed that Tessa has no reaction to them!

Last time we were in the area we just crossed over the bridge from the north, and we've wanted to come back ever since. I'm glad we "bit the bullet" and did the tourist thing - we'll do it again at our next stop - and had some time to explore more of the area. The park is pretty, but I hope our people experience here isn't indicative of the rest of the summer. Nothing horrible, just loud and lots of them. 

Saturday we're over the bridge and into the Upper Peninsula for a couple weeks!



  1. Anxious to hear which side of the bridge has the best Pastie. On our trip to Pictured Rocks we passed by many, before finally stopping to find out what a Pastie was.
    While we enjoyed Pictured Rocks, I'll await next post as to your adventures in 'The UP'.

    1. Once we crossed the bridge every place has pasties - and smoked fish! - so we should have lots of opportunities. Pictured Rocks tomorrow :-)

  2. It’s Gay…what a wonderful post Jodee…full of history, beautiful photos, adventures and sweet Tessa enjoying herself. I can almost smell the lilacs and the fudge! The lighthouses are beautiful…especially the Indiana Limestone.

    1. Thanks Gay - we're really enjoying all the green and seeing a new-to-us area.

  3. Thanks for the shoutout on Old Mackinac Point! That was a fun project to be involved in getting it reopened. The Indiana limestone is actually the grey stone base. The brick has a unique story all it’s own. It is Cream City brick from Milwaukee (which is known as Cream City, due to all the cream colored brick in town). The brick used at OMPL was fired improperly in the kiln during manufacture, which allowed water to seep through the face. That caused the brick faces to start popping off in cold weather, as early as 1910. Mackinac State Historic Parks located a restoration firm that was able to replace the old bricks with similar old bricks from other buildings that were being torn down. If you got up close and noticed the mortar, it is a mauve color, which really adds definition to the cream brick. It’s kind of cool that the brick was shipped north on Lake Michigan in 1892 and my great-grandpa and his crew were shipped up from Detroit via Lake Huron…they met at Mackinac City and now we have a lighthouse to show for it!

    McGulpin Point’s restoration is just beautiful! Kudos to the people involved in that project.

    1. Not all the brick has been replaced…only the bad ones.

    2. Thanks for that great info!! I should read deeper than the first Google hit :-))) Yes, McGulpin is pretty too - they're both so different from Pacific Coast stations.

  4. Laurel ( 11, 2022 at 10:41 AM

    Oh, lucky you to be there during lilac season! I love lilacs...we had several in our garden in Oregon. Your photos of the bridge and the lighthouse with the lilacs are beautiful . All of the places you visited are on our list for our upcoming Michigan adventure...thanks so much for the wonderful preview tour. Dang, that was a lot of people stuffed into that carriage!! We haven't been in any crowds in more than two years, either. Like you, we'll be wearing masks if we're somewhere with people breathing on us.

    1. I thought of you when we saw the campground at Wilderness SP on the water - several hike and bike options in that park. It was surprising to me that only a handful of other people wore masks even in those tight crowds.

  5. Wonderful as always traveling with you 2 in spirit

    1. Thanks - although I'm not sure who you are, I'm glad you're coming along :-)))

  6. Lilacs and lighthouses. Live then! That was such a fun place to visit! The water is so beautiful too!

    1. It really is a fun and beautiful spot!! We lucked out to see all the lilacs.

  7. We went to Mackinaw Island years ago when there were fewer of everything, tourists, carriages and bicycles. Even then I wondered at the money it takes to live there or to stay in the hotel. It was a wonderful time. We did stay overnight in a B&B which was expensive enough. Carrie was in middle school and she and a friend had a make believe story going in which they were twins who lived on Mackinaw. Where did they get the idea? Who knows? How had she ever heard of it at 12? But we were in the Great Lakes region traveling so we took her there and had a grand time. She was thrilled. Thanks for the wonderful memories and the new information like 4 vets and one doctor. We had a lilac bush at the farm. I love them! They smell so fabulous and that one is a beauty. No pics of the hats?? Love seeing the light houses again as well. Echo friendly or Eco as in ecology? We loved the UP. Hope the huge increase in RVers doesn’t lessen your experience.

    1. What a fun memory with the family!! Eco-friendly I think :-) I thought about getting pics of the hats but am cautious about taking photos of minors and didn't think I could get the hats without the faces. Wish I'd seen the hat store in the village! So far we've left the crowd behind and hoping that continues.

  8. It was so much fun reading your blog post on one of my favorite stops. I love everything about Michigan...well, except the cold and snow. We even had a good bug experience. So that was a definite winner. Too bad so many people feel the same way about Michigan. Thanks for the memory tour. Loved seeing Tessa do her zoomies.

    1. Michigan really does have a lot to offer! I saw you stayed at the casino in Marquette so we're staying at the one (same company) in Baraga for a couple nights. So far (and all fingers and toes crossed) we've also had a good bug experience. I'm so glad that at 11 Tessa's zoomies are still at full speed :-)

  9. I might be in trouble if RV parks are my only choice night after night. But does seem worth all the activities. Love to see Tessa doing beach ziomies.

    1. We've been fortunate to have mostly quiet and uncrowded parks so far, but this place was crazy noisy. Tessa gets some grass zoomies at the parks but they're just not the same :-)