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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Stars Did Not Align

Editor’s note: this post should have preceded the post entitled Restoration East of the Mississippi. Apologies for the inadvertent geographical diversion. 

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Just outside Star City is Cane Creek State Park. We arrived on a sunny and warm afternoon. The drive from Lake Catherine had been short and it was just past 1 p.m., early for check in. The woman in Ranger Headquarters said she wasn’t sure our site was free yet. We drove past and it didn’t look like anyone had thought about hitching up yet.

We needed a place to wait. Jim had looked at the map and saw there were two roads, one led to a boat launch, the other to the picnic area. Both roads were shown to have loops at the end. We headed down the road to the picnic area only to discover to our dismay that here was no loop, just a dead end. Uh oh.

At the picnic area, there was a small parking lot near the bathrooms and Jim pulled in. Some folks were sitting at one of the picnic tables. We figured they were probably wondering what the heck we were doing. Choosing to flee this potentially volatile scene, I headed to the rest room and left Jim to it. When I emerged, he had managed magically and gracefully to get turned around in the small parking lot. We had to laugh. Those people at the picnic table must have thought he just happened to drive me to use the ladies room with the trailer hitched even though we had a bathroom in the trailer. It was pretty funny.

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Right on time, the previous tenants pulled out of our site and we got backed in and settled. This campground is pretty small, only 24 sites and most were unoccupied. It was wooded and shady which felt good in the warm afternoon air. The lake was just visible through the trees down a hill from our site. Given our concerns about ticks, we did not set up the mat or our chairs outside. The great outdoors held little charm for us.

The ranger had warned me right up front the ticks were bad. Having just had an upsetting tick experience, we weren’t really anxious to get on the trails. We lounged around for the afternoon and managed to get the weather before the tv began pixilating wildly. A big thunderstorm was predicted.

It was a boomer and a banger all right. The lightning and thunder were impressive and the rain prodigious. It was still spitting the next morning. We spent the morning reading the paper and cleaning the trailer. We had just enough cell signal to send emails, hot spot and even make calls.

The park rented kayaks and I walked back to the ranger station to inquire about rentals. Due to the rain, they weren’t renting any that day. I had been obsessing over the tick issue since we left Lake Catherine. I was so worried about Dakota and totally grossed out that we seemed inundated with ticks. I asked the ranger if she thought I was over-reacting. She was most commiserative and sympathetic. Rangers have to do many things in their jobs, I guess therapy should be added to the list.

Lunch was an appropriate rainy day meal of soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. Right after lunch, I headed in to Star City’s sole laundromat to do the laundry. It was actually a pretty nice laundromat. Having spent quite a bit of time in various iterations of laundromats in the last few months, this was a happy surprise. I was so content sitting there knitting, I didn’t even notice when the wash cycle ended.

Late in the afternoon the skies cleared. Dakota and I took a (hopefully) tick free walk down to the fishing pier. The air was incredibly fresh and clear. Some couples were taking pictures down at the dock in full prom regalia. They seemed very happy and excited. I would expect prom is a pretty big deal in a very small town like Star City.

Since hiking the trails was off the list, the next day we decided to drive up to Pine Bluff. For some reason Pine Bluff sounded terribly familiar to us. Jim had done some research and discovered they had a series of murals painted on the walls of buildings in the downtown area in the 90’s. The walls depicted scenes of local history.

Pine Bluff was about 40 minutes north and we drove through open country. We followed the signs for the downtown and parked the truck. It was a sunny and comfortably warm day. Jim had noted the locations for all the murals and we decided to make it a walking tour.

The murals were still there, but Pine Bluff’s downtown was deserted and the buildings were crumbling. It was beyond creepy. Store windows were boarded up. We walked the sidewalk past a couple of store front lawyers’ offices proximate to the county courthouse. Otherwise, there was nothing left.

Going out of business signs decorated the fronts of buildings which were now roofless with walls beginning to collapse inward.

Railroad tracks split the downtown. A train signaled its approach and we stood by as it rumbled past us through the desolate town.

The Historic Depot Museum was defunct. We peered through windows to see the empty lobby. The ticket desk displayed its open hours and pamphlets were littered across the counter. It was as if the people had simply disappeared one day.

North of the tracks there was still some activity. A few small and dilapidated houses stood. The convention center was flanked by a now-closed hotel. A government building stood next to the post office. We turned back towards the downtown and passed a recently erected brick structure housing the Arts and Science Center for Southeast Arkansas.

We spied a deteriorating brick building. Painted on its side was the legend “Tear Me Up.” Not “Tear Me Down”, but “Tear Me Up.”What did that mean? Was it a plea for restoration? Was it a protest against the rampant neglect? A cry of anguish from a heart wrenched by loss? Another building seemed to sport the beginning of the same plea, but it remained unfinished. What happened?

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Back in the truck, we drove through some depressed residential areas and up to the campus of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. This is a predominately black institution with just over 5,000 students. The campus included a stadium, some dorms, academic buildings and, while not architecturally outstanding, it appeared to be in good shape.

We were deeply saddened at the state of Pine Bluff. The city is 75% black with about 20% of inhabitants white. The median income in the city is $30,413 and almost 1/3 of the population lives below the poverty line. How had this been allowed to happen to these people? They had been abandoned by all appearances as their city collapsed around them. In 2013 CNNMoney reported the crime rate in Pine Bluff was second only to Detroit. Recently the city was awarded $2 million to stimulate development. Hope for the future?

We drove back to Star City. Back at the park, we walked down to see Cane Creek Lake on the park road. Standing on the dock, Dakota began ferociously scratching at his leg. I checked only to discover a large tick embedded in his flesh. We walked briskly back to the trailer to perform yet another tick check.

While we were in Arkansas, a big story on the national and local news was that state’s plan to execute inmates on death row before the expiration date on their death serum. Popular opinion in the state seemed to hold that this would bring closure to the victims of heinous crimes. Others suggested taking a life under even these circumstances was unacceptable. This was not the first time that we experienced the collision of local and national news. It always made for thought-provoking juxtaposition and this was certainly the case in this instance as the state did successfully carry out four executions, two in one evening, during our stay.

The next day we would head back to Mississippi and we were glad of it. Arkansas had been a difficult state for us. We had been beleaguered by ticks. We felt uncomfortable and often unhappy. It seemed a strange state with scenic lakes anchored by hulking power stations and cities left desolate and crumbling. It was a state where even the truckers seemed malevolent. Was it us or was this really a state where good and bad seemed to fit into the same glove?