The Timeless Retreat of Mackinac Island

Aerial view of Mackinac Island, Michigan

The scenic Mackinac Island is located in Lake Huron nestled in between the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan. It is sometimes considered the “crowning jewel” of the state of Michigan. A visit to Mackinac Island today carries on a long held tradition of pursuing rest and respite on this lovely island retreat. Tourism became the dominant industry on the Island in the years following the Civil War and today during the spring and summer months, the ferry boats bring flocks of tourists seeking to capture the beauty of the island. Access to Mackinac Island is through two “point of entries” via either St. Ignace, Michigan from the northwest or from Mackinaw City to the south, or “lower peninsula” of Michigan. Traveling from northern Wisconsin, we made a bee line across the state on Highway 8 and into St. Ignace. Ferry services operate to the island from both St. Ignace and Mackinaw City.  The ferry ride itself is great to get an overall view of the island and of course a view of the Infamous Mackinac Bridge! That famous bridge is a whole topic in and of itself: check out my June 8 blog: Facing My Fears: Mackinac Bridge

Carriage rides awaiting their next customer.

Part of the nostalgic charm of the island is the fact that automobiles were banned from the island in 1898. No smelly exhaust, traffic jams or car crashes. Getting around the island is done on foot, bicycles or by horse-drawn carriages. Both bicycles and carriage ride tours are available for rental, making easy accessibility to the entire island; the perimeter is relatively small: only eight miles. While there, my husband and I enjoyed one of the Carriage Ride tours; which not only gave us a great view of the Island, but was also very educational. The drivers give you terrific history lessons as well as many comic insights. Also available are horse drawn taxis and horseback riding for the more seasoned equestrian. I was glad that we choose the carriage ride, otherwise it might have been just a bit too much walking and/or biking. I was amazed to find out that on this island, where “the horse is king”, the general population of horses working on the island is around 400. During the peak of the tourist season the group of working horses on the island is expanded to about 600. That’s a massive amount of horsepower!

Our Trusty Team

Most of the horses are draft horses and capable of pulling quite a bit of weight. Alot of horsepower and frankly alot of horse poop. When the wind is just right , you do smell it in the air, but it is not too overpowering. The folks that work on the island try very hard to keep the streets clean of any ahhh….er…”residue” from that large population of horses. Frankly I was impressed at how well they kept up with the old boys. Also, it’s probably important to note that although these horses are accustomed to being around people, they are NOT pets. Also they are working, not socializing. As tempted as I was to reach out and pet them, as tourists and travelers, it is wise to refrain from that. You could talk to the driver first if you really wanted to pet them, but every horse has different temperaments. I will say, however, I am sure they don’t mind a bit having their picture taken. Probably happens several times a day. (Stupid Tourists….) “Say cheese!”

 

A culinary delight that the island has become synonymous with is the famous Mackinac Island Fudge. What traveler doesn’t like to treat themselves to a melt in your mouth delight! The merchants on the island have known this for decades and began enticing tourists to the island with their treats, some starting back as early as 1887. The  early, early days of Mackinac Island (1820’s) the island become a very important market for the fur trade industry and then became important for commercial fishing.  After the Civil War the tourism boom to the island began and with it the need of treats for the tourists. Of course, I could not leave the island without a purchase of several different types of fudge. Good thing I shared it with family and cousins, because I think I bought way too much. There are just so many choices! (Is there really such a thing as too much fudge? I think not.) I think it is interesting to note that the locals have developed a term of endearment for the tourists coming to the Island: “Fudgies” Well, I think that fits. There are worse things one could be called.

Historic Fort Mackinac

Prior to all the tourism coming to the island, Fort Mackinac was established as a military outpost for British  soldiers and later, American soldiers from 1780 to 1895. Every building on the premises is original and was built by soldiers more than 100 years ago. The fort has been maintained and preserved to recreate life at the fort. Tours are available, with some of the historic events recreated by costumed guides. In addition to the historic Fort Mackinac, there are nine other museums on the island highlighting a variety of topics from art history to horse carriages.

Another intriguing part of history about Mackinac Island history that many don’t realize is that it held the title of a national park for twenty years. Yellowstone was named our first National Park (1872), then in 1875 Mackinac National Park was established. It operated as a national park from 1875 to 1895.  By 1894, Fort Mackinac was not an active military post.  Several US government officials decided to revise the fort and the park and turn it over to the state of Michigan. Then in 1895, the state of Michigan established their first state park: Mackinac Island State Park. With all the beautiful state Parks established subsequently in the state of Michigan, it’s compelling that Mackinac Island State Park is Michigan’s first.

The Grand Hotel at Mackinac Island

During the time period of its tenure as a national park, one of the most recognizable and historic buildings was built: the Grand Hotel.  It was opened in 1887 and helped to meet the needs of the growing tourism industry on the island with 393 rooms. It has been named a National Historical Landmark and boasts the title of the world’s longest porch. It really is an amazing and grand site to behold. I did not stay there, but it is a very beautiful building with an impressive history. It faces the water welcoming incoming travelers to the adventures and beauty at Mackinac Island.

For more information on planning a trip there, a good place to start is with their  Tourism  board: https://www.mackinacisland.org/  Put your traveling shoes on. JES

 

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Facing My Fears: Mackinac Bridge

Mackinac Bridge spanning the Straits of Mackinac (photo from Wikipedia)

This incredibly beautiful, albeit slightly terrifying bridge, spans 5 miles across the chilly waters of the Straits of Mackinac. It connects the upper peninsula of Michigan to the lower portion of the state.  Many of the locals refer to it as the “Mighty Mac”, very fitting: the two towers of the bridge rise an impressive 550 feet high making them easily visible from many sites in the vicinity. Very impressive yet to many folks, myself included, it’s a very intimidating and scary bridge to cross. Maybe I have “Gephyrophobia” (pronounced Jeff-ee-ro-pho-bia), the fear of crossing bridges or going through tunnels. For me it is not a debilitating phobia, but definitely an anxiety that causes a tense muscled trip across big bridges and white knuckles on the steering wheel. A recent trip to Mackinac Island required us to go across this stunning bridge. I also found out from the helpful ladies at our hotel desk that so many people, mostly tourists, are so intimidated by this bridge that the Port Authority offers a service to drive your car across for you if needed. I guess I am not alone in feeling this way.  My husband became my knight in shining armor when he agreed to drive across. You would think I could relax and enjoy the view. Unfortunately that was not really the case. I tried….I remembered to breathe…then snapped a few photos along the way. You can tell by the photo below, not a great one, that I was just thinking eyes forward and lets get to the other side.  Nevertheless, I am very glad he was driving. And I live to tell the tale…amazing.

My view from the passenger side…

Another interesting feature about the bridge is that below one of the towers is the shipwreck Minneapolis, a combination steam and sail vessel that went down during an ice storm in 1894. This is not the only shipwreck known in this area, the Straits of Mackinac are known for their severe storms and 25 known shipwrecks have been recorded in the area. I would imagine that if you went diving in the area there would be lots of interesting discoveries. Our ferry boat trip to the island provided great views of both the Mackinac Bridge and several quaint lighthouses in the area, but no shipwreck sightings. Perhaps part of the reason that wrecks are not readily visible is the fact that at its deepest part the water in the Straits is 295 feet deep. That’s WAY far down for a ship to lay in its watery grave. Maybe that’s another reason big bridges like this one give me the heebie geebies. Nevertheless, we survived and had a wonderful day at Mackinac Island: the topic of my next post….Put your traveling shoes on. JES

Grand Daddy Yellowstone

Falls at Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Established in 1872 as the first National Park in America, Yellowstone is the Grand Daddy of our national parks. It is interesting to note that not only is it the first in America, it is the first National Park in the world. It is good to be known as a trendsetter for something like this….setting aside land for conservation, recreation and preservation for future generations. It is an amazing place to visit not only for the historical significance, but the diversity in the features of the park. Yellowstone is quite a popular destination: it hosted 4.12 million visitors in 2018. That sounds like alot…but it is a huge park, plus it is not all summertime attendance. Some  folks visit for winter adventures, but the most popular times are July and August.  A visit to Yellowstone provides a variety of experiences to make it well worth the trip. Included in that list of things to see at the park include: erupting geysers, bubbling hot springs, prismatic reflecting pools, waterfalls and an abundance of readily visible wildlife. All these amazing features are found within this large park of  3,472 square miles.  For some perspective, that’s more than three times the size of Rhode Island.

Old Faithful…just like clockwork.

Probably one of the most fondly known features of the part is Old Faithful geyser. Like clockwork, it erupts about every 90 minutes. Old Faithful and the many geysers and hot springs serve as a reminder of the unstable nature and changing geology of our planet: especially near Yellowstone.  Also near Old Faithful is a terrific Visitor Information center with all kinds of nifty information about the geyser basin region.

Grand Prismatic Spring (photo:trendbuzzer.com)

Just north of Old Faithful are the beautiful prismatic springs and waterfalls. A boardwalk stroll through the various springs gives you a nice view and it’s beneficial to try several different viewpoints. One of the most amazing and colorful is the Grand Prismatic Spring. It is the largest in the Park: at 370 feet wide, and stunning to view. The bright colors are caused by different types of bacteria and algae that thrive with the different water temperatures. One has to try several different angles before viewing, and photographing, all the spectacular colors.  If you have a drone for aerial views…this would be an awesome place to try it out.

Woodland critters @ the Park: to this day I’m not exactly sure what these fellows were, badgers?

The wildlife are so accustomed to park visitors; frequently they wander close enough so you can get some awesome photos.  Of course that has been known to cause problems, if you don’t respect their space and use common sense. They are wild animals after all.  When we were near one of the visitor’s centers, there was a very large heard of Elk that decided to hang out and take an afternoon siesta under the shade of a spreading Oak. They are beautiful graceful creatures and several were mothers with young ones to protect. Photos could easily be taken from a safe distance. Several rangers had carefully arranged some barricades by the sidewalk directly across from the Elk….to keep both the tourists and the Elks safe. As you can image, “there’s one in every crowd” : some idiot walked over the barricade with camera in hand trying to get much closer for a “great shot.” Luckily he did not get too far before the ranger called out to him. Apparently, he felt he was exempt from following the guidelines put in place by the Park…he just ignored the ranger and kept walking closer. He waved off the ranger who then, justifiably so, got angry. Nevertheless, the ranger’s professionalism and manner in handling this incident was incredible. He “hit” him (the inconsiderate tourist) where it hurts: his wallet. The ranger firmly said that if he did not step away he would fine the man $500 for not adhering to Park regulations and disobeying the instructions of a Park Ranger. The Elk photographer did back down and I am sure the ranger was relieved that no further action was necessary. The rangers are there just to protect the beauty and sanctity of the Park, the Park wildlife and to assist visitors in the Park to have a wonderful Park experience.  I give all those rangers so much credit; they do incredible work. I have never met a ranger I didn’t like: they are all so incredibly helpful and they have a wealth of information about the Parks they serve. Never be afraid to ask questions, they are happy to help!

“Bison Jam” @ Yellowstone

On a lighter note about wildlife viewing is a critter you are almost destined to see: the Bison.  Yellowstone is famous for its roaming herds of bison.  Like many visitors to Yellowstone we were wondering: “What’s the difference between a buffalo and a bison?” We wanted to make sure we used the right verbage for theses amazing, massive creatures that you see frequently all around the Park. Actually bison are the creatures found roaming the American west, not buffalo. Varieties of buffalo are found in South Asia and Africa.  A major difference is the presence of a hump. Bison have one at the shoulders while buffalo don’t.  Buffalo’s horns tend to be quite long, bison’s horn are shorter. Even with all these differences, it’s easy to get mixed up and call them buffalo. Common usage I guess from all those old cowboy Western movies. In Yellowstone, a frequent occurrence on the road ways is the Bison Jam. Bison, of course, have the right of way and when they want to cross the road, you better let them….at their own pace. We had the excitement of seeing this first hand and you can get some great photos…safe photos…if you use caution and obviously stay in your vehicle.

Heading out west? Be sure to stop at the Grand Daddy of them all:Yellowstone National Park. Put your traveling shoes on. JES

Creek by the Shoshone Lodge, near East entrance to Yellowstone
The Author, Julie, at Yellowstone National Park

 

NPS Inspiration

Just published in January 2019: “The Centennial, A Journey through America’s National Park System by David Kroese

Yes, I am inspired by the National Park Service; the Parks, the seashores, the monuments, the historical sites….the whole package. People who know me,  know that I have a very keen interest in the National Parks and my passion for the parks really grew during the 2016 Centennial of the NPS.  Yet, last night it was refreshing and exciting to find that a person I don’t even know was also inspired by the 2016 Centennial of the NPS; so inspired that he wrote a book about it and his extensive travels.  WOW, looks really cool and also an inspiration to me. I keep blogging away about the parks, but am also starting a book about the National Park Service. The book is in it’s infancy stage at this point, but seeing something like this book inspires me to keep plugging.

Also, as a note to my regular readers and friends, I have made several updates to my travel blog that I hope will make it more “user friendly”. I hope to inspire others to comment and learn from each other in the travel community about amazing places in the USA. I also recently changed the name to:http://americantrekkerblog.com

I believe that “American Trekker” is more representative of what the blog is about: fantastic trips across America, and encouraging people to get out there and explore! Also, it is encouraging to know that wherever you live in this country, there is bound to be something amazing right in your own back yard. I have added a sections on my blog called “Regions”. You can click that tab and all the stories pertaining to that region will be listed, then just click on the story you want to read. Another section of my blog is : “Travel Features/Tips”, which covers everything from making the most of your National Park adventures, internet travel planning, free museums and the perils of lost luggage (yes, I imagine we all have a few stories to tell….)

I am hoping these revisions to my blog will help readers navigate their way. Be sure to enter your email if you are not already following me. You will just get email notification every time I post a blog. Thanks & Put Your traveling shoes on. JES

From the Rain Forest to the sea: Olympic National Park

Ruby Beach at Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park, located on the western edge of Washington state, showcases three distinct ecosystems: a rainforest, a wild flower meadow and a rugged Pacific shoreline. The exotic terrain and beauty of these systems are all showcased in the 1,441 square miles of this park located on the Olympic Peninsula. When visiting there, it’s a bit perplexing to understand the “boundaries” of the park because the terrain is so varied and part of the park follows the coastline of the Pacific ocean with a seemingly endless horizon.

The huge pines in the Hoh Rain forest: most of the tress are either Sitka spruce or western hemlock

The trees, almost all sitka spruce and hemlock, in this park are wondrous and their sheer size takes your breath away. Walking among these trees gives a mere human a sense of the grandeur of all creation and at the same time the fragility of our beautiful planet.  Some of the trees are hundreds of years old and can reach a height of 250 feet, with some having a circumference of 30 to 60 feet.  Going on a walk in these woods helps to give perspective on the connectivity of life, all life.  John Muir, the naturalist who was one of the men instrumental in helping to create the National Park Service said simply: “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” (John Muir, 1938) It’s amazing that this is one of the few rain forests in the lower 48 states. A key feature that allows this rain forest to thrive is the abundant rain.  Precipitation in the Olympic’s rain forest ranges from 140 to 167 inches per year. Luckily, we happen to time our trip there on a sunny, warm day.

Sea Stacks near the shore at Ruby Beach

A portion of the Park borders the Pacific and boasts two beautiful beaches that stretch along the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary: Rialto Beach and Ruby Beach. Rialto Beach is further north and Ruby beach is south near the Hoh Indian Reservation. These are not the kind of beaches you park yourself on a beach blanket with a margarita in hand; they are very rocky, rugged with a ferocious surf. Nevertheless they are wonderfully scenic and you can spend hours beach combing to see amazing shells, driftwood and view the iconic “sea stacks” by the shore.  Sea stacks are steep columns of rocks formed by wave erosion. Along this particular beach, the sea stacks create quite an interesting and diverse view along the shoreline.

Driftwood at Ruby Beach

With the strength of the pounding surf, the driftwood that decorates the beach more closely resemble art sculptures in a variety of shapes.  Art inherent in nature.  This close up of one of the huge logs shows the detail and the resulting effects of wind and water.  Everywhere you look, from every angle…there’s something new to discover, and to photograph!

Skipping stones by Lake Crescent, Olympic NP

Entering the park is probably easiest from Hwy 101 by Port Angeles. The main Visitors Center is located at this entrance and the untamed beaches on the Pacific side may also be accessed from Hwy 101.  Also by 101, situated at the northernmost area of the Park, is the amazing Lake Crescent. The glacial formed lake waters reflect a beautiful azure color, have very limited algae growth and are crystal clear. Some days you can see 60 feet down into the lake that has been measured in places at 624 feet deep. The lake is the perfect environment to support several different types of trout. When we visited the lake, we didn’t have the opportunity to go fishing, however we were able to have a peaceful picnic lakeside.  Also on the lake is the historic lodge: Lake Crescent Lodge. It was built in 1915 and each of the rooms has a view of the lake. This is one of three historic Lodges found in the Park.

Olympic National Park is a gem in the Pacific northwest that definitely warrants a visit when in the area. I have only been once, but would love to visit again someday. Put your traveling shoes on. JES

The Sun Rises first at Acadia

Cadillac Mountain–Acadia National Park

On the eastern most point of the Maine coastline, atop Cadillac Mountain, is one of the places where dawn first touches the continental United States. The 1,530 foot mountain is found within Acadia National Park, established in 1919 as the first  National Park east of the Mississippi.  (Yellowstone N.P. holds the title of the first Park in the U.S.-1872)  Acadia is truly a gem on the east coast, a showcase on the Atlantic seashore that Maine residents feel such pride in sharing  with visitors to this mountainous part of the state. The park is composed of most of Mount Desert Island and tracts of land on the Schoodic Peninsula and Isle au Haut.

When my family and I visited there, that Maine hospitality and pride of their state is very apparent. My husband’s uncle has lived in Maine all his life.  He was so delighted to show us around Acadia and the nearby tourist town of Bar Harbor.  Being from the Midwest, I pronounced it with the “Rs”.  A true Maine local would say “Bah Habaw”. I probably don’t have a correct phonetic pronunciation, but you get the idea…they drop their Rs. On that trip it was a never-ending source of amusement: our Uncle and cousins laughed at the weird sound of our “Chicaawgo” accent and we laughed about Bah Habaw. Bar Harbor is Maine’s best-known tourist town, with most of Mount Desert Island’s motels, restaurants and shops located there.  As you can see on this map, Bar Harbor is right on the coast with a stunning view of the Atlantic, but is just outside the perimeter of the Park.  In addition to tourism, Maine is known for being the leader in the Lobster industry. Looking out at the water I remember seeing all the little white dots on the water and then realized that they were buoys designating where the lobster traps were set. A lobster feast in Maine is a must-do while traveling there. The map also identifies many of the incredible features of Acadia including the carriage roads.

Waiting on the next wave to come in…. Thunder Hole

Acadia is a stunning example of a beautiful plot of forested land where the mountains meet the sea. Last year, more than 3.5 million people visited Acadia National Park. Yet don’t think for a moment that it feels crowded…the 49,600 acre park affords amble opportunities to stretch your legs and take in the landscapes surrounding you. Although it is considered one of the smaller National Parks, it ranks among one of the most visited. Taking in the scenery is easy by either car or traversing the 125 miles of hiking trails. The Park Loop Road provides a wonderful sightseeing jaunt trough the park. It takes you to Sand Beach, Otter cliffs (a favorite rock climbing spot) and Thunder Hole.  At Thunder Hole, the Atlantic waves crash into a narrow chasm with such force that they create a thundering boom. When we went there, my sons were captivated, and impressed by the power of the ocean waves. Depending on the surf, and time of day, the waves rushing in can sometimes create a huge thunder effect and spray water 30 feet into the air.

One of the major attractions of Acadia is Cadillac Mountain. It is the highest peak in the eastern United States. Reaching the peak by car, is easy from a 3 1/2 mile spur off the Park Loop Road. There are also several hiking trails that end up on the mountain.  The view from the top is a fantastic one including the ocean and surrounding islands.  Any time of day is beautiful, but a few brave souls take the opportunity to see the first rays of sunlight as it hits the continental shore.

One of the stone bridges on the Carriage Roads Acadia National Park

One of the unique features of the Park are the carriage roads. From 1915 to 1940 John D. Rockefeller financed, designed and directed the construction of the carriage roads. The roads provided access to the park by horse-drawn carriages and were banned for usage by automobiles. The carriage roads still prohibit automobiles and are treasured by hikers, bikers and horseback riders. The roads include 17 hand-built granite bridges, each a beautiful addition to your travel throughout the park. The preservation of the carriage roads is also a unique tribute to John D. Rockefeller, as he was the one that donated land to the National Park Service to provide for establishment of the Park.

Bass Harbor Lighthouse

Being the lighthouse lover that I am, I would be remiss if I did not mention one of the most photographed lighthouses that happens to be in the Park at the southern most tip of Mount Desert Island: Bass Harbor Light. It sits atop a perilous looking cliff and the tower height itself is 32 feet; relatively short for lighthouse standards but it’s light extends far out into the Atlantic. The lighthouse was built in 1858, and became fully automated in 1974. Probably one of the most photographed because of its location on a majestic pine-covered cliff overlooking fantastic sunsets on the Atlantic. Definitely photo worthy.

 Acadia National Park is New England’s only National Park and a beautiful Park preserving the forested  lands and the rugged cliffs of the Atlantic seaboard. For more information you can contact: http://acadiamagic.com or the National Park Service site information at: www.nps.gov/acad/index.htm

Parks & Politics: Trying (so very hard) to keep politics out of the discussion.

I originally posted this 1 year ago…not sure how far we have progressed, but in some ways I feel we have protected our national lands to some extent: at least we have not started mining in the Grand Canyon!

American Trekker

I love our National Parks and am a strong supporter of keeping the beauty and sanctity of our most treasured natural spaces. I travel to the Parks, I research the Parks and I blog about the Parks. I have wanted my discussions and observations to be encouraging and support our National Park Service and perhaps encourage others to enjoy and appreciate our Parks.  Up to this point I have done that and will continue to do so, however in light of recent developments with the current federal administration I can no longer keep silent. I really don’t want my blog to be about politics, but if you discuss the National Park Service you can’t avoid talking about the federal government because after all, it is managed as a branch of the federal government. In 2016, the National Park Service celebrated their centennial: celebrating 100 years of the establishment and development…

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