Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Mackinac Island

Monday morning turned out just as the weather forecast had predicted--bright sunshine and and quite cold.  So we bundled up in several layers and headed off to the ferry to go to Mackinac Island for the day.  When we got to the ferry terminal we met a very nice couple who were also taking their bikes to the island.   They were from upstate New York and we had a wonderful conversation with them as we sat together on the 30 minute high speed ferry ride across to the island.  He was a retired elementary school teacher, and had spent his career teaching in a community with lots of scientists, college professors, etc., which obviously had a significant impact on the make up of his classes.  Anyway, they do a lot of biking and told us about a lot of paved trails in Pennsylvania and New York, so hopefully we’ll be able to ride some of them before we head back home.

We deliberately took this particular ferry, as it takes a small detour from a direct route across the Straits of Mackinac to go under the big bridge a bit.  This was quite interesting to see the bridge close up from underneath.  When you're on the land, looking at the bridge from a distance, it's hard to believe it's actually 5 miles long, as you can see from one end to the other.  But from underneath, you really do see how huge it is.  While the ferry has seating on an upper deck that's open air, there were no takers this morning, as it was so cold, so everyone was inside the enclosed area on the main deck!  As we were coming in to the island, we could see great views of the Grand Hotel, as well as a number of really huge, beautiful old houses, all along the shore, and on the streets of the city.  Really a remarkable sight.

Once getting to the island, though, the most remarkable feature is the total absence of motor vehicles--just absolutely none!!  Instead, the modes of transportation are either horse drawn carriages and wagons, or bicycles.  As you pull into the dock, you see just great big rows and rows of rental bikes all along the docks of all three ferry companies.  In town there are just tons of rental bikes everywhere, plus the bikes of folks who live there or who come over for a stay, like we did.  And then there are the horse drawn buggies, carriages, coaches and wagons.  There are horse drawn taxis, some larger tour carriages, all with their own drivers, horse drawn carriages and buggies you can rent to drive around on your own, and the elegant, enclosed carriage from the Grand Hotel, with the driver all decked out in his red jacket and top hat!  And, instead of delivery trucks, you see horse drawn wagons, some pulling an extra trailer, loaded with baggage, leaving the ferry docks taking bags to the various hotels and all of the various other goods and supplies ordinarily delivered by truck.  There are also bicycle delivery wagons all over the island--later in the day when we were waiting for the ferry back to the mainland, we saw cyclists pulling trailers with luggage, one from the island hospital with medical supplies, you name it, there are either horse drawn wagons or bicycle trailers taking it all over the island!  We read that there are some 400 draft horses on the island--amazing!  And, since none of these horses use those bags like they use on the horse drawn carriages in downtown Atlanta or New York City, there are lots of folks whose job it is to spend the day with broom, shovel and either wheelbarrow or bicycle trailer, going around the streets, cleaning up after the horses--a tough job, but lots of people have to do it here!

It's quite an experience, to be in a place where there simply are no cars on the streets.  The streets in downtown are just as wide as the streets in any small town, all paved, and otherwise look like any other place--except there are no cars--just bikes parked in the street along the curb, or the horse drawn carriages.  It's so strange, to ride your bike in a place where you don't have to look out for cars.  You do have to watch where you're riding, though, since the street cleaners can only do so much at a time, and with all these horses, you have to be on the lookout for the horse leavings!  The road around the outside perimeter of the island is an 8 mile loop, plus there are several other interior roads, outside of the downtown area, where you can cut across the island in different places.  We headed out on the outer loop, but stopped at a number of the old churches in the downtown area to go inside and look around.  Some of the oldest churches date from 1670, when French Jesuits first came to the island to establish missions to the tribes of the Ojibwa, known also as the Chippewa, with Father Marquette, a 27 year old priest, being the most prominent of the early missionaries.  St. Anne's Church is the prominent Catholic Church on the island, and is really beautiful and ornate inside.  In contrast, the first protestant church on the island was completely stark--just white on all the walls and the doors into the pew stalls, with the only other color being the dark stain on the pews.  Nothing was on the walls or behind the pulpit; we weren't sure if this was as a result of a recent repainting, or if it was this way all along, but we've never seen a church that was completely devoid of any pictures or other adornments.

Then there are the houses--some are just humongous!  Some are now inns or B & B's, but were obviously once the homes of very wealthy people, many clearly just summer homes.  There is Ft. Mackinac, which was surrendered to the British by the American forces in the War of 1812, without a fight, as the commanding officer saw that his less than 70 troops were surrounded and far outnumbered by the British troops, so he surrendered to avoid massive loss of life to his forces.  The island was only returned to America by way of the treaty at the end of the war.

Next we spent the rest of the morning leisurely riding along the perimeter road, and it was just a glorious day!  It was still brisk, actually cold enough for us to wear our gloves and all the layers of clothing, but the sun was out, the sky was gorgeous, and the color of the water in Lake Huron was just breathtakingly beautiful!  As we rode around, we stopped to view Arch Rock and other landmarks around the island, and just to look out over the lake and take in the view.  All along the lakeshore, people had built little stone cairns, some quite elaborate.  It's quite a sight to see all these cairns as you ride along--some likely built by folks just because, but I imagine a number of them were built as little memorials to various loved ones.  We stopped to build a cairn in memory of our dear friend, Jill, who died earlier this summer.  Trisha found some heart shaped stones to place on the cairn, and we stopped to remember this beautiful, beautiful angel whom we were so blessed to know, and offer prayers in her memory, and for Pam, as well.

We stopped along the way to eat lunch at a picnic table in the sun, watching all these folks ride by, lots of families with small children, some of whom were using child seats on their bikes, some were using child carrying trailers, and some with the little kid bike with wheels attached to the adult bike, as well as many folks on tandem bikes.  Quite a sight!  While there were a number of people on the island riding bikes, it really was not overly crowded.  We had heard from our friend, Pat, who spent a good part of the summer in this part of Michigan, who said when they came over to the island, it was like a constant traffic jam of bikes.  We could believe that, after seeing all those rows and rows of rental bikes on the docks when we arrived.  So glad we got here after school started and the biggest influx of tourists had passed.  When we got back to downtown, we stopped at an art museum we had read about, but it turned out to be not quite what we had hoped.  It did have some historical photographs and some historical paintings, depicting scenes from the war, from the early settlement, etc., but we had hoped it might also have displays of local contemporary artists, which it did not.  We talked to the person taking admission, and she told us that there are just about 500 folks who live on the island year round.  Like we had learned when we were on Madeline Island in the Apostle Islands on Lake Superior, here they also make an ice highway when the lake freezes in the winter, similarly lined with Christmas trees that people set out to mark the highway in January.  I'd really like to see that someday, but Trisha said pictures of the place when it's that cold will be just fine for her!!

We parked our bikes downtown, near Trinity Church, a beautiful old Episcopal Church, and just down from the fort--here there were a number of bike racks, so we could park off the street, as opposed to lots of places throughout the town where you just park your bike along the curb, in the street, much as you would your car.  Then we walked up to the Grand Hotel, a beautiful old hotel, built by the railroads back in their heyday, just as many of the classic hotels throughout the US and Canada were.  It's a lovely place, truly grand, boasting one of the longest, if not the longest, hotel porches in the world.  So we went out to this grand old covered porch, lined with planter boxes full of bright red geraniums and lined with white rocking chairs, to sit out in the afternoon sun and have tea.  What a wonderful way to spend an hour or so on a beautiful afternoon!  While the hotel was once the destination for high society, wealthy elite, it's obvious that, like many such places, now a major stock in trade are the large tour groups, mainly of seniors.  We walked through some of the interior common areas, big parlours and lobbies, reminiscent of the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia.

We took a late afternoon ferry back to Mackinaw City--there are also ferries to the island from St. Ignace, the little town on the UP side of the bridge--and then drove over the bridge to the Upper Peninsula.  Fortunately the day was calm and no high winds, so it was quite easy crossing the bridge, for which we were very glad, as we had read about how sometimes the wind can make it a little tricky going across the highest parts of the bridge.  We had first thought we might spend the night in St. Ignace, but since it was earlier than we had thought we would get to that side, we decided to drive on a ways--and we ended up spending the night in Paradise, a little village along the way near Tahquamenon Falls, where we found a nice site at the state park.  All in all, quite a wonderful day on Mackinac Island!!

Waiting to board the ferry
 An old icebreaker, now a museum

 Heading out across Lake Huron to the island
 Approaching the bridge

 The Grand Hotel, as we approached Mackinac Island
 Just can't get enough of lighthouses!!
 Some kites flying in the brisk winds, as we came to the island
Another lighthouse

 As we rode out along the downtown main drag

 St. Anne's Church

 Shot from the front steps of St. Anne's, looking out to the lake

 House across the street from the church
Inside the museum in the church
 Some tales of the disputes the church had with the "evil forces" of drink and gambling

 This wealthy benefactor of the church was exempted from the requirement to rent her pew, which was required of everyone else--what sort of attendance do you think you'd have in most of today's churches if everyone had to rent pews??!!
 Some of the lovely houses in town

 The Protestant Church

Quite a contrast, eh?

 As we were leaving downtown, a little putting course on the grounds of one of the hotels
 Imagine these lawn chairs full of folks in the summer, just enjoying the view of the lake

 Some of the cairns we saw
 Arch Rock

 Some folks were quite elaborate in building cairns!
 The cairn we built to honor sweet Jill--see the two heart-shaped stones Trisha found and placed at the base of the cairn, for Jill and Pam
 We found a few sprigs of color to put on the cairn
 We loved you, Jill, and always will

 A huge house out along the perimeter road

Here's a depiction of ice bridge, lined in Christmas trees
 Beautiful rocks on the shoreline beaches

 A couple who had rented one of the buggies for a drive!
 Other shots along the ride around the island perimeter

 Coming back into downtown, some of the gorgeous old houses

 Looking along the main drag downtown
 Taxis and tour carriages, lined up, with Ft. Mackinac in the background

 Lovely Ojibwa outfit on display in the museum

 Replica of Father Marquette's original bark chapel
 Depiction of Fr. Marquette and an Ojibwa man, inside the little bark chapel

 Trinity Church

 Along our walk up to The Grand Hotel, this beautiful house
 Carriage house on the way up the hill

 The Grand Hotel

 Views from the porch

 Note the cute little way we kept our pants off the bike chains, with rubber bands!  Hey, you guess they figured out we're from Georgia??!!
 Having tea
 Some of the lobby areas

 Wonderful topiary of a horse drawn carriage!
 Sights as we walked back down the hill into downtown

 Here comes the elegant Grand Hotel carriage, carrying newly arriving guests; the wagon carrying their luggage had just preceded this carriage
 Quite fancy!

 Interesting tree
Just love all these flowers, obviously flourishing in these cool climes

 Delivery wagon
 All dog lovers would love this sign!!
 We sat outside on the ferry ride back, as the sun had warmed the day considerably, and these are a couple of shots back toward the island

 As we were driving across the bridge
As we drove off the bridge onto the UP
 Look at these fall colors beginning!  This place will really be in full showy colors soon!
 Here we are in Paradise!

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