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Michiganders love to show off the tip of the northern peninsula to visitors and we are no different. Just because we don't actually live in Michigan any longer doesn't mean we don't sometimes act like the Michiganders we were for years. When our friends, Judy Akins and Cec Conway, mentioned that they were going to visit Michigan for the first time and that they would be entering the state from Wisconsin, we felt it would give us the perfect opportunity to show them a little of the northern Michigan area.  We agreed to meet at Mackinaw City and made reservations at the Mackinaw Mill Creek Campground which is just a little east of Mackinaw City; we had stayed there many times and enjoyed the large sites, the closeness to town and the view of the Mackinac Bridge. 

By the way, Mackinaw and Mackinac are pronounced the same (mack-in-naw). It has something to do with the British and English who fought over the area and the way each spelled the name. The fort in Mackinaw City, Michilimackinac, means "large turtle" which was what the Native Americans of the area called Mackinac Island because they thought it looked like a large turtle.

We had arrived on a Wednesday and our original plans were to go to Mackinac Island on Thursday, but the weatherman did not cooperate; we woke up to a cool, dreary rain that promised to keep up all day long. So we switched gears and took off for the Whitefish Point. The girls had seen signs for Tahquamenon Falls and were interested in seeing them too so we included that in our plans. Our first stop after crossing the Mackinac Bridge was St Ignace. Our favorite place to get pasties (a meat pie which is a traditional part of visiting Michigan's upper peninsula) is a little bakery in a gray building across from one of the ferry docks downtown. Don't ask me the name; I never remember, but I can go right to it. 

We got back on to I-75 and continued north until we came to Michigan Route 123 which goes northwest. It is easy to find the falls. There are two overlooks. The lower falls is a series of five falls which cascade around an island in the Tahquamenon River. They are not dramatic but pretty in their own right. Because of the dampness caused by the light rain, the woods leading to the falls were heavy with a musky, woodsy fragrance that I couldn't seem to get enough of. After being in the dry west for so long, it was refreshing. Even as we drove the short distance to the Upper Falls overlook, I felt a sense of calm with all the lush greenery around. And again as we walked to the overlook, I kept inhaling deeply to fill myself up with the aromas of the woods.


We had been to the falls before and remember them as being wonderful, but quite frankly after having been in the west and seeing the really great waterfalls in the contiguous states, these falls suddenly looked small. Listed as one of the largest falls east of the Mississippi, it has a drop of nearly 50 feet and is more than 200 feet across. A characteristic of both the lower and upper falls is the redness in the water. It is caused by all the tannin leached from the cedar, spruce and hemlock in the swamps drained by the river. 


Judy, Ron and Cec at the upper falls
I didn't take any pictures at Whitefish Point because it was raining too hard and most of our time was spent inside. We spent an hour or more reading everything in the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. Deceivingly  beautiful Lake Superior's unrelenting fury has earned the reputation of being the most treacherous of the Great Lakes. There are artifacts and exhibits which tell stories of sailors and ships who braved the waters of Superior treacherous coast near Whitefish and those who were lost to its menacing waves. One of the ships featured is the Edmund Fitzgerald which was lost just 17 miles northwest of the Point on November 10, 1975.

Friday looked like it would be another dreary day and even though the weatherman promised sunshine in the afternoon, it sure didn't look like it would clear so when we went to Mackinac Island we did not take our bikes. Biking around Michigan's crown jewel is something we had looked forward to. There is a easy and beautiful 8.2 mile shoreline road around the island and there are lots of bicycles for rent, but we wanted our own. Other than walking, the only other means of transportation on the island is horse-drawn carriages since automobiles are banned on the island. There are three ferry services which whisk people over to the island and back. Arnold, Star Line and Sheplers have big docks in both Mackinaw City and St Ignace (in the upper peninsula on the other side of Mackinac Island) and run about every half hour in the summer. We boarded about noon with jackets on. 


One of the ferries                           Ron, Cec and Judy
The short trip to Mackinac Island was pleasant in the comfortable ferry. The view of the five mile long bridge which links the two peninsulas is spectacular from the ferry and I was excited to catch the picture below of a freighter going under the bridge. 
As we neared the island that view was also magnificent. The Grand Hotel (where Somewhere in Time was filmed) is huge in the panoramic sight and eight or ten other large mansions sit smugly on the top of the island facing the sailboat filled port. 

Once on the island we walked up and down the main street and went in many of the shops. The main commodity on the island is fudge. There are about seven major fudge brands and in total they have about 17 stores on main street alone. Visitors to the island are called "fudgies" by the people who live and work there. Yes, we sampled lots, watched the gooey mess turn into creamy bricks as they were kneaded on marble slabs and purchased our fair share. It is tradition. 

To see some of the three-mile by two-mile island we took one of the horse-drawn carriage rides. We rode past the Grand Hotel and its golf course, past many Victorian houses, and  out in the country. 

One of the stops was at Arch Rock which looks out onto Lake Huron. Look closely and see the road below. That is the road that goes around the island and where we always gazed up at the rock before. It was neat to see it from a different angle. 

Arch Rock           Judy and Cec from the top of the island

Judy, Cec and I left Ron home on Saturday while we shopped all of the stores in Mackinaw City. It had changed a lot since Ron and I  were there a few years ago. There were more stores including a new shopping district which included the Center Stage Theater. It was fun to browse, but we didn't buy much---just a little more fudge; it is so hard to resist.

Saturday evening we went to the Center Stage Theater for the show, Lost in the Fifties which was excellent. It was fun to hear the old songs we grew up with and the group was so energetic that it was contagious.

Sunday morning we left Mackinaw City and caravaned to Empire, Michigan, which is very close to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The drive was easy; we took I-75 south to west M-32 then south on US 131 to M 72. We had made reservations at the Sleepy Bear Campground because they were one of the few in the area with hookups. The sites were very large and we enjoyed that. We didn't enjoy the price ($29.00 per night for water and electric) or the showers that would run for only four minutes for a quarter (we used our own, thank you). The attitude of the management was not very good but we were where we wanted to be.

While we were in the Empire area, we showed the girls the dunes. We climbed them, and  viewed them from the overlooks on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. Dunes and beaches cover much of this park's 37 miles along Lake Michigan near Empire. Dunes as high as 460 feet high tower over the lake. An Old Indian Legend tells of the mother bear who lost her two cubs as the ice was breaking up in the spring. The Manitou islands represent her lost cubs and she still waits for then on the dunes. We played in the Platt River one day and floated down to the big lake. It was warm and sunny and we enjoyed the warm, shallow river and its swift current. 


A panoramic view of Lake Michigan, the dunes and Glen Lake


Cec, Ron and Judy at one of the overlooks             Cec and Judy on a big dune

The Sleeping Bear

We drove up and around the Leelanau Peninsula (Michigan's cherry country) and introduced them to our friends who had moved up there from Lansing a little after we went on the road. We even showed them where our property used to be. We were going to build a house after a year or two on the road but ended up selling it long ago. And we visited the Casino near Suttons Bay, Leland, Northport and all the quaint areas in that peninsula.

Northern Michigan is a lovely place to visit but it is best to go right in the middle of summer. The nights were getting cool when we were up there and the trees already showed their fall colors in some areas. If you have never paid a visit to that part of the country we encourage you to put it on your list. 


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