Top of the Mitten

We only had one full day in Mackinaw City and we had a very full roster of things which needed doing and sights which needed seeing. With some strategic planning and tactical implementation, we felt we could get it all done.

We were fortunate to have been able to book a much-coveted lakeside campsite at Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping. Lake Huron was just across the campground road and a span of grass. This may have been a large commercial campground, but it sure had curb appeal.

First and most important on our list was a vet appointment in Cheboygan for Dakota. Over a month post-surgery, Dakota seemed to be feeling well and doing fine. But his vets back home wanted a reading on his liver levels, so I had found the Animal Medical Clinic in Cheboygan.

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Cheboygan is a really sweet little town. The Cheboygan River runs through the town and the downtown is unusual in that it hasn’t been gutted by the local WalMart. It had a nice proliferation of shops, restaurants and some pretty parkland along the water. It is not a wealthy town. Median family income is $38,000 annually. The population dropped about 7% from 2000 to 2010 down to 4,800. But all that said, it seems to be holding its own.

We have been fortunate to encounter many good veterinary practices on our travels. The Animal Medical Clinic is yet another. Dr. Jason Ward gave Dakota a thorough exam and we had a good conversation about his health and care. Unfortunately, his liver levels are still high, but not off the charts.

Before going to the vet, I had dropped Jim at the laundromat in town. It was quite a good laundromat and we really needed it. This was part of our careful strategization. We would get our chores done quickly and early so the fun could begin.

The fun part starts. We dropped our laundry at the trailer and headed to Mackinaw City for some pasties. This is a food, not something worn by exotic dancers. Pasties were invented in England as a portable lunch for miners. Their wives would make a meat pie wrapped in flaky pastry and wrap it up for their menfolk to enjoy midday. Pasties made their way across the Atlantic and became popular with miners in the Upper Peninsula and Northern Michigan.

The Mackinaw Pastie & Cookie Company got top ratings for their pasties. Deservedly so. My pastie was Beef Stroganoff and, despite its size, I ate the whole thing! Jim seemed pretty happy with his #1 classic beef pastie (with peanut butter cookie!) as well. One can take frozen pasties with them at this establishment, but we’re hoping to sample more pasties when we cross Big Mac to the UP.

Next up:  the ferry to Mackinac Island. We hustled over to the Star Line pier and caught the 1:30 ferry to the island. This has been a dream destination of mine for years. Yes, of course, I saw the movie Somewhere in Time, but it has always held romance.

Happily, the ferry is dog-friendly and Dakota enjoyed his ride across the Straits of Mackinac.

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While both Jim and I knew there were no cars on the island, we had forgotten Dakota’s insistence on barking at every horse he sees. There were a lot of horses on the island. Horses were pulling taxis and touring carriages. Horses were available to rent for riding and with carriages. In fact, even the UPS guy delivers packages with two draft horses hooked to a wagon loaded with Amazon Prime boxes. Between the horses and the dogs, Dakota was the barkiest dog ever. I wasn’t sure if Jim or Dakota were going to lose their minds first.

The island is, of course, beautiful. The streets and shops near the piers were packed with tourists. We left that area quickly and began the pilgrimage to the Grand Hotel.

It is very grand. It is expansive and gracious. The grounds are lush with flowers and feature tennis courts, a glass house, a pool, croquet court and café. The hotel is beautifully maintained outside and in the lobby. My desire to see the place may have been sated, but my desire to actually stay there as a guest has only grown.

We walked around and viewed the other lovely homes and inns on the island. The views of Lake Huron are breathtaking. Everywhere the gardens were indescribably lush. Perhaps it is all that horse manure? We threaded our way back through the crowds to the pier and caught the ferry back to the mainland.

But the fun wasn’t over…we set up at a fire pit across from our site and enjoyed the late afternoon on the shore. The wind was fresh, the sky and clouds picturesque. Jim built one of his signature fires and we relaxed into the evening.  To our left was Mackinaw City and the graceful spans of the Mackinac Bridge. Across the water in front of us we could see the green slopes of Mackinac Island and the great white shape of the Grand Hotel. Now we felt we knew it a bit. It was a long, but satisfying day. One could say we felt like we had died and gone to heaven, but, no, that was our next stop…Paradise, Michigan, and the Tahquamenon Falls State Park.

 

 

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The Tunnel of Trees

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Photo by Connor Gray + Rachel Haggerty

From Indian River to Mackinaw City is a pretty straight shot across the top of the mitten. But adventure beckoned and, at Jim’s urging, we decided to detour and experience what some have called “the most beautiful drive in Michigan.”

Beginning at Harbor Springs and running 20 miles to the Wilderness State Park, M-119 is known as “the tunnel of trees.” Hugging the Lake Michigan coast and riding the top of the bluffs, this is a very narrow and twisty-turny highway with jaw-dropping vistas on one side, our left as we were heading north, and wooded domiciles on the right. These spanned various styles with a smattering of log cabins, cottages, a few impressive homes and some that were definitely less impressive. All along the woods to the right were signs marking forest areas belonging to families. They were taking care of their wooded lands.

There are no pictures with this post because both my hands were busy gripping various parts of the truck. Jim drove with great confidence and easily negotiated the hairpin turns, dips and swoops of the road. One particularly tight hairpin turn is known as the Devil’s Elbow. We had to wonder how many of the oncoming cars wondered what possessed those people in the blue truck towing an Airstream to take the drive.

We probably added a good hour and a half to the trip, but it was definitely not something to miss. And, despite bouts of terror, I am so glad we did it.

The Thunder Rolls and So Do We

The next day thunderstorms were predicted. Their time of arrival seemed to shift each time we checked the weather. Noon, then late afternoon and then back to noon. We hitched as the skies suddenly darkened and were happy to be road-ready by the time the thunder began.

Our next stop was Burt Lake State Park. This park shared much with our previous Michigan state park stops. Once again, this is an older park. The campground is studded with mature growth oak and maple trees making it both shady and attractive. Unlike Interlochen, the sites at Burt Lake were large and well-spaced. Overall this park was a bit smaller with about 300 sites, still pretty big.

Burt Lake is one of Michigan’s largest inland lakes. Formed over 25,000 years ago as glaciers carved a series of lakes across the north, it is a vast and lovely lake. The campground has extensive beach and this makes it another great place for families to frolic. I was tempted to swim myself.

Our intent while here was to visit Charlevoix and Petoskey. And that we did. Charlevoix was the most distant and we headed there first. Unlike Frankfort and the Crystal Lake area, both Charlevoix and Petoskey were quite developed. Too developed really for our taste.

We sauntered through Charlevoix’s downtown lined with shops and down to the marina. The marina waterfront was nicely built out as a park with an amphitheater, benches, picnic tables and a lovely promenade. We walked its length and then turned back to the main street. It was lunchtime and a little gourmet deli shop was just what we needed. Dakota and I waited outside the shop and were treated to the drawbridge opening.

The waterway to Lake Michigan beckoned and we strolled out towards a red lighthouse. Next to the lighthouse was a very nice beach and park. We enjoyed our sandwiches watching children splash in the waves.

Heading back to our truck, we passed some lovely old houses in excellent condition.

We headed back north towards Petoskey and stopped off at a beautifully maintained rest stop. People were combing the beach for Petoskey stones and there was a memorial to seven Air Force personnel based out of Westfield AFB in Massachusetts who lost their lives during a training exercise in 1971.

Charlevoix had fulfilled our desire for traffic and downtown shopping so we headed back to our campground. Dakota and I reconnoitered the beach area while Jim took a nap.

Been There, Dune That

We did get to visit Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Jim did some careful research and pinpointed a nice trail to a dunes overlook which was very dog friendly. This checked all of our needs.

The Empire Bluff Trail IMG_2322 (002)is a 1 ½ mile loop up and down hills and through the woods. It proved very popular with people and their dogs. We got there later in the afternoon which was a good thing as many people were leaving the crowded parking area.

The weather was again perfect and we hiked briskly along the trail to the dunes overlook. It was a very pretty sight.

An alarming number of people on the trail were sporting flip flops. While this was not a hugely demanding or long trail, I can’t quite imagine negotiating it in flip flops. The trail map at the trail head warned of mosquitoes and poison ivy. While we did not encounter many of the former, Jim brought a bit of the latter home with him. Happily, it does not seem to itch.

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Revisiting Childhood Memories

We were sad to leave Brighton and our family, but excited to begin our northward journey through Michigan. Next stop would be Interlochen State Park. This was the closest we could get to the Crystal Lake and Leelanau Peninsula.

Interlochen is actually Michigan’s first and oldest state park. It is located adjacent to the Interlochen Arts Camp. Because it is an older campground, the sites are fairly small and close. Large trees shade the campground providing an extra challenge when backing into a campsite. The park was our launching pad for discovery and, as such, it worked just fine.

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Our first day, we headed west to see Crystal Lake. Some of my oldest and fondest memories are of family vacations at the Blue Anchor in Crystal Lake. We stayed in cabins and swam in the lake. We had sailing lessons and, for a big treat headed in to Frankfort for olive burgers and root beer floats at the local A&W.

In fifty years or more, much has changed at Crystal Lake, but it remains a beautiful lake. The Blue Anchor must be long gone replaced by vacation homes, but the A&W is still there and they don’t seem to have changed a thing! Sitting outside at a picnic table, we had a delicious lunch of Lake Michigan-caught white fish at the Port City Smokehouse.

Afterwards we intended to take a walk in a dog-friendly part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore but ended up on a long drive around the area including a stop at Point Betsie Light House. We would have to leave Sleeping Bear for another day, but took a walk on a rail to trail in Sutton’s Bay.

Leelanau Cheese Shop was recommended to us by Renee and we followed that with a stop at the Sutton’s Bay Ciderie for a tasting.

It was a long, but thoroughly enjoyable day with more adventures sure to come.

Frost Family Fun

Brighton Recreation Area was an unanticipated treasure. Originally chosen as the closest decent campground to Ann Arbor, Northville and Livonia—all key concentrations of Michigan Frosts, it ended up being a super place to camp.

We spent three days catching up with Jim’s brother, Phil, his wife, Renee, Jim’s sister, Linda, and her spouse, Lisa. We also were fortunate enough to catch Chris and Sarah, Jim’s nephew and his partner. And, of course, the main event was seeing the matriarch of the extended Frost family, Jim’s mother, Betty.

Many delightful hours were spent chatting. Phil and Renee were tremendous hosts offering us tasty treats and libations. Dakota was happy relaxing on their deck listening to the conversation. Betty seemed as tickled to see Jim as he was to see her.

On our last full day, Linda and Lisa joined us at Brighton to continue enjoying the perfect summer weather and each other’s company.

We sat and enjoyed our fire long into the summer’s evening.

Motoring Through PA

After three days of driving, we’ve almost hit Ohio. Goodness there is a lot of Pennsylvania. We have regained our travel legs and everyone is enjoying the journey.

Our first night we stayed at Promised Land State Park. We had a lovely site in the Pickerel Point Campground. It was a perfect afternoon/evening and we were so happy to be back in the trailer. About 5:30 the skies darkened and a big thunderstorm hit. This is when we pity the tent campers. The blue skies returned and we enjoyed the rest of the evening.

We made it to Woodland, PA for the second night and stayed at a nice commercial campground. Biggest catastrophe to date were the bumps that made our over-filled freezer open and dump everything on the floor. Nothing a little duct tape can’t address.

The third night we stayed at the nicest commercial campground we have ever seen. Rocky Springs Campground had a lot of seasonals, but everything was immaculate.  The rolling western PA hills were gorgeous. The campground was enormous with kids running everywhere having a magnificent time. They had a heated inground pool, playground and the sites were widely spaced. We don’t prefer commercial campgrounds, but this one broke the rules. We had a delightful evening by the fire.