International Writers Magazine: US Travel
"OTHER PARTS" OF MICHIGAN
dad turned 60 the other day, and while he may now be more than
halfway across the country, the six days we spent together, enjoying
one adult father-son road trip a week before his birthday couldnt
be more indelible in our minds right now.
While the trip
was essentially a loop of Lake Michigan from Chicago, then east, way
north, west and then back south through much of Michigan and Wisconsin
(including Green Bays legendary Lambeau Field) and back to Chicago
for my big present, a game at Wrigley Field, this recap will focus on,
naturally, the most unique part of the trip: our time along the northern
tip of Michigans Lower Peninsula, gorgeous Mackinaw Island (in
between the lower and upper peninsulas) and, you guessed right, the
desolate but pristine Upper Peninsula of the Wolverine State.
folks who have scarcely been to Michigan or who, like my cousins
and many friends, end their Michigan experiences in Ann Arbor at
the university. They likely had similar misconceptions of the state.
They think of noisy Detroit, the slums areas near Dearborn, Flints
ghettos and then some trees and lakes upstate, surrounding Michael
Moores mansions along Torch Lake in Traverse County. Well,
theyd be wrong, there is much to discover out here.
My dad and I pulled
off the state highway and drove up a desolate hill to a T in the road
where only a church stood. That was our directed marker to turn left
down the hill and eventually around a bend and up to the quaint
house with weeping willows and blue shades just east of Ellsworth, Michigan
on a hot day in mid July. It was so hot in fact that our hosts,
Ev and his wife Erika, noted that this was one of the hottest days in
the 60 years theyd spent off and on up here.
After chicken salad with locally grown cherries and cherry wine for
lunch and good stories, Ev took us around. Rather than paraphrase his
words, below is the majority of a summary email he sent to my mother
recapping the day:
"They loved the property and I took them up to the pond to feed
my rainbow trout and drove them around my nine hole par 3 golf course
I've laid out on the property. We then visited a natural area that I
and three others had saved from development - a one mile stretch of
undeveloped land on Lake Michigan. We had success- fully written a $4.75
million grant to keep the stretch in the public trust.'
Then to Norwood, a tiny little town on Lake Michigan whose port served
as the chief point to load lumber on old schooners to rebuild Chicago
after the great fire of 1871. Then to Charlevoix to check out the town,
the Earl Young "mushroom houses" with their undulating roofs,
Boulder Park where all the houses are constructed of huge boulders removed
from the beach near Charlevoix. Then across the North Arm of Lake Charlevoix
to Horton Bay, an old haunt of Ernest Hemingway as "Ernie"
spent the first 19 of this 20 summers on this earth on a nearby lake
and wrote many of his Nick Adams stories based on these summer experiences.
We then went through Boyne City and on to take a ferry across a tiny
stretch of water. The ferry boat captain is in Ripley's "Believe
It Or Not" as a person "who went around the world 10 times
in a boat, but never got more than 250 yards from his house!" He
lived right next to the ferry.
Then to a lovely lake with beautifully mannered grounds, and finally
to the Loeb Castle of Leopold and Loeb fame, the "trial of the
century" with Clarence Darrow serving as their attorney. The case
dates back to 1927, took place in Chicago, and you may not be familiar
with it. Myron (my dad) treated us to dinner at the Villager Pub which
has a long menu, but Ari got "the usual," his beloved hamburger
with fries! Myron and I each had the Great Lakes whitefish dinner which
is the dinner of the area. Erika enjoyed a wet burrito which I had to
help her finish.
Then back to Ellsworth past the two five star restaurants which grace
this area, each no more than 500 yards from the other in this dinky
town of 400! We then enjoyed good conversation and made plans for me
to act as guide in a canoe trip down the Jordan River, a National Scenic
River, a short distance away.
That we did this morning after I learned the trial that I was supposed
to be a juror on was settled out of court permitting us to enjoy the
trip. With Myron up front acting as the bowman, and Ari in the middle
playing Sacajawea, and Ev in back as sternman, we successfully negotiated
the run down the river without mishap. They both loved the trip as it
was something neither had ever experienced.
On this same day as the big canoe trip (a two miles, one hour trip down
the narrow, cold river), my dad and I, after a post-canoe breakfast
with Ev at a local dive, pilgrimmaged east then north to catch a ferry
from the small town of Mackinaw City to Mackinac Island. They are pretty
cavalier about their spelling around here.
Ferries and catamarans both take you to and fro the island, but with
"the Cat" delayed, we boarded the slow, Staten Island-esque
ferry on a partly sunny day. The partly sunny part, within ten minutes,
turned into a monsoon as our "captain" (a guy who looked to
be maybe 21) matriculated us through the rough seas of Lake Huron, depositing
us safely onto the island five miles and 40 long minutes later.
Being that the day was already half over thanks to our morning canoe
trip and we wanted to drive another hour after returning back to land
later in the day, my dad and I eschewed any long-winded, horse drawn
or bike tours, which, in the end, may have been a mistake. But nonetheless,
we enjoyed a quick exit for the hordes of souvenir-buying masses and
set foot onto the soft, quiet streets of the island.
Aside from the venerable Grand Terrace Hotel which greets you as you
pull into the island (coat and tie are required just to enter or gawk
near the hotel), the other unique distinction that separates Mackinac
Island from, well, the rest of the country, is that motorized transportation
is prohibited. Thus, the myriad horse droppings are essentially ignored
by patrons as they stroll along the pristine roads and clean airs of
the "city" streets.
we walked past beautiful cottages perched along the water, bed and
breakfasts and churches, my dad and I wondered why Mackinac is so
relatively unknown to those not from the Midwest. Although summertime
clearly brings in a high-class clientele from the Chicago and Detroit
suburbs and the Dorr and Leelanau Peninsulas of Wisconsin and Michigan,
respectively, most New York and Californian socialites are likely
to have never stepped foot on the island.
This question is
quickly answered when considering the latitude of this area and the
unlikelihood that pretentious celebrities would consider spending anytime
here in cold conditions or even attend a place where there is nowhere
to park their Jaguars and/or planes, thus left to travel with the masses.
Yep, no Babs or Paris H here, and thank God for that omission.
In a brief look at the history of Mackinac Island (and since there is
a Fort way at the top of the hill we knew there was some history, but
it required a steep admission charge, so we saw it but did not really
view it in-depthly), it becomes clear that its location was quite strategic
and desired in past centuries.
After being mostly used for fishing and fur trade by the French and
American Indians in the 17th and early 18th century, the French-Indian
war broke out from 1754-1763, leaving the British to wrest control of
the fort 17 years post war in 1780. The island then served as a battleground
during the War on 1812 until American victory caused the British to
turn the fort over to American forces soon after. Mackinac Island then
continued to be a peaceful fur and fishing post, although fishing became
more prominent by the 1830s.
By the conclusion of the Civil War, Mackinac quickly became a popular
resort destination and primary business switched to tourism. Its beautiful
scenery attracted visitors desiring relaxing vacations. In 1875 Congress
created Mackinac Island National Park, the countrys second national
park (Yellowstone being the seminal park). Military operations at the
Fort had ended, of course, and soldiers were removed from Fort Mackinac
by 1895. Mackinac Island National Park became Michigans first
state park in 1895 when the park was transferred from the Federal Government
to the State of Michigan. Today, the area that covers more than eighty
percent of the island is officially called Mackinac Island State Park.
By the 1920s, Mackinac Island banned all motor vehicles, excluding emergency
types, and in 1947, carriage tours became the norm (as well as foot
and bike), making Mackinac Island the beautiful tourist (but not typical
touristy) attraction it stands as today.
So, after what had already been a long, tiring day of canoeing, sailing,
walking and, of course, eating (we had a nice meal on the island before
departing), my dad and I got back in the car and headed over the Mackinac
Island bridge northward, getting our first glimpses of Michigans
remote and forgotten Upper Peninsula (hereafter, "UP" as the
locals deem it).
We drove about 50 miles or so up the extremely desolate but sunny, smooth
and pleasant road to the termination of Michigans Upper Peninsula
in Sault Sainte Marie where we found a hotel and enjoyed the daylight
which lasted until 10pm.
a Tuesday morning in late July, high atop the central United States,
the heat wave finally broke and sweat was a non-factor as father
and son headed for the historic Locks at the border of Sault Ste.
Marie, Michigan and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario (Canada). The "Soo
Locks" as they are referred represent a canal area for ships
to pass between, much like the famed Panama Canal.
Existing since the
early 1800s and under the watchful control of the US Governments
Army Corps of Engineers since 1881, the Locks allow ships ranging from
small passenger vessels and workboats to large ships carrying more than
72,000 tons of freight in a single cargo to pass through their walls
each year.. In recent years, the number of passages through the locks
has averaged about 10,000 vessels per year, down from previous years
due to the larger vessels being able to carry more freight at one time.
This may also have to do with the bitterly cold weather along the St.
Marys River each year.
There are four different locks, and the Poe Lock has the largest capacity
of the four locks. This newest lock, completed in 1968, took six years
to build and is the only lock ever constructed between two operating
locks. The locks truly are a tourist attraction, mostly in the summer
to be sure, though. On the weekday we were there, at 10am, there were
at least 50 people gathered around, even though no ships were due to
pass through until 2:30pm. Touristy, but not ostentatiously overdone,
shops surround the outskirts of the locks, bordering downtown Sault
Sainte Marie, which translates to "jump Saint Mary." The town
of Sault Ste Marie is the oldest in Michigan and one of the oldest in
the entire United States.
a shade after noon, based upon local information, we eschewed the
toll bridge to the Canadian version of Sault Ste. Marie and headed
south about nine miles on old I-75 (a road that just two and half
months ago I drove back from the west coast to the east coast of
Florida, terminating just north of Miami, a mere 1,700 miles from
where I was now) to Michigan Highway 28 which would take us the
remainder of our journey westward today across the majority of Michigans
A stop at Soldiers
Lake which had an actual water well, a good outhouse/bathroom and a
tepid but tranquil lake with a wooded trail in the middle of nowhere
was a fleeting highlight for my dad who really, really didnt want
to leave, but eventually we pushed on...tears in his eyes.
The temps just around 80 at most, we were hit the small town of Munising
about 90 minutes later, grabbed a small bite, and used the town as a
jumping off point to what would be the pleasant, majestic surprise of
destination - based upon little more than my eyes hitting the map
- was the "Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore" along the
northern coast of the UP, bordered by Lake Superior to the north.
It would our first glimpse of Lake Superior, enabling me to realize
another accomplishment: seeing all five great lakes in my lifetime.
(three on just this trip)
After a slight detour
for a 1.1 mile hike down a hill to see the wondrous Miner Falls just
off the shore and then back up, all the while enjoying one of those
father-son talks in which soon-to-be 60 year old dad discusses what
he was doing at my current age and just prior, we continued down a rough
road to the parking lot for the "PRNL."
Americas first National Lakeshore celebrates its 40th birthday
this year. This breathtaking 40 mile stretch of land that my dad, a
world traveler, noted was "as beautiful as the Aegean Sea in Greece"
reminded yours truly of the PCH is Central California, only quieter
with a turquoise blueish-green water that makes you wonder how this
is Michigan and not the Caribbean.
On a glorious mid-afternoon day, we thoroughly enjoyed the sites from
the semi-crowded viewing dock as well as another short hike through
a wooded area with rocks, cliffs and the beach below. Finally, we drove
down to the beach, sat, chatted, stood in the water, picked rocks for
souvenirs, threw the mini football around and had a generally splendid
time on a beach that saw about 25 others enjoying the day.
Long, likely overcrowded boat tours of the lakeshore from the water
are given and, according to the official website, depending upon the
season, activities to enjoy include "sightseeing," camping,
picnicking, boating, kayaking, canoeing (ha! already did that today),
hiking, fishing, backpacking, hunting, cross country skiing, snowshoeing,
snowmobiling, winter camping, ice climbing and ice fishing.
I suppose a return trip in the fall or winter, since Im only a
seven hour ride away, might be necessary. But for now, as my dad and
I drove off into the setting sun on our way to Marquette near the very
western end of the UP, wed always have these memories to share.
© Ari Kaufman August 2006
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