After spending two peaceful weeks in the U.P., where at times we had beaches, trails, and the road all to ourselves, we went into a bit of culture shock as we made our way to the tacky tourist spot of the Mackinac area.
On our way to the Mackinac area we stopped at the Seney National Wildlife Refuge in Seney, MI in search of wildlife that Mike could capture with his new lens. Seney Wildlife is noted for birds, especially migrating birds, and the park is a nice one [singlepic=720,270,270] Southeast to St. Ignacewith a 7-mile road the loops around the various areas within the refuge and has stopping areas with spotting scopes to help visitors view the area. While the area was a pretty one and Aidan and I had fun exploring some of the short trails and seeing a few swans, loons, and osprey, the sightings of animals were pretty limited. I was disappointed for Mike that he wasn’t able to capture as much as he was hoping to with our new lens, but hopefully next time he’ll have better luck.
Leaving Seney we debated about which direction to go. I really wanted to see the Taquamenom Falls and go out to Paradise, MI (just the name of it sounds so inviting); however, the little man was chomping at the bit to get to our next place (a hotel) so we could go swimming–his whines–I mean his persuasiveness–won out. So, we decided to head down to US 2 and drive along the shoreline of Lake Michigan as we drove into the Mackinac area. Let me say there is really nothing on this road for quite awhile! Hungry and tired, we were all a bit cranky as we tried to find a restaurant. We finally found a little diner in the small town of Naubinway that helped energize us enough to make to our hotel.
We opted to stay in St. Ignace, which technically is still in the U.P., but believe me the area feels radically different than what we were getting accustomed to way up north! Here there were souvenir shops lining the road, traffic cruising the main drag, and people mingling about on the sidewalks. We stayed at the Best Western on Lake Huron and even though our room was small, we had awesome views of the lake and the hotel was more resort-like with two pools and evening bonfires on the beach. We stayed over the 4th of July holiday and tried to embrace the culture of the place–we swam a lot, walked the boardwalk in St. Ignace, watched the local parade (which was simply awful), and enjoyed front row seating on the beach of our hotel to watch the fireworks.
We did spend one full day over at Mackinac Island. Mike and I enjoyed the ferry ride over. The lake was shrouded with fog and had a eerie, but neat feeling to it. Aidan was a bit disappointed in the ferry ride because we had selected the Mighty Mac ride which was supposed to go under the Mackinac bridge, but with the fog on the lake, they had to abandon that voyage. We docked and headed out to find a breakfast place. (It was an early outing for us at 11am, and Mike and I didn’t have our coffee, nor did we have time to grab food beforehand). As we meandered down the main street, I was taken back by all the bicycles! I knew this island was car-free and knew that bikes were very popular, but the number of bikes waiting to be rented was unbelievable! And the “brrring, brrring” of the bikes’ bells instantly brought me back to our days in Japan. It was very cool and surreal at the same time.
We found a cute pancake house and enjoyed breakfast. (Aidan had 10 silver dollar blueberry cakes–that’s 2 orders!) After breakfast we decided to check out Fort Mackinac, a fort from the American Revolution. We spent several hours exploring the fort–watching the cannons being fired, witnessing a re-enactment of a court martial, dancing along with the bugle music, and just walking the grounds of the original buildings. We all enjoyed the fort and the history and interactive activities it provided. After the fort we decided to head over to the Grand Hotel to see just how grand it is. Boy, is this hotel big! As we approached we were informed that unless we were guests of the hotel we could not continue past a particular sign–that is, unless we paid for the self-guided tour. After shelling out $25 (yes, 25 bucks!!!), we were permitted to walk through the entire premises–both inside and the outside grounds. I have to admit, while the place is huge, there is definitely an air of pretense, and I wasn’t that impressed. While I’m glad to say I’ve seen the place, I would not recommend the tour. After all our walking and the tours, we grabbed some dinner and bought a few souvenirs and headed to board one of the last ferries for the evening. Eight hours of exploring Mackinac Island was enough for one day. Perhaps if we come back again we’ll opt for the bikes and ride the 8-mile loop around the perimeter of the island, stopping to see some of the more natural beauties of the Mackinac Island State Park.
Our departing day from St. Ignace led us to a little Native American museum that focused on the Ojibwa tribe. The Museum of Ojibwa Culture is a free museum right on the main strip of St. Ignace, and I have to say I was impressed with the place. We ended up spending several hours watching the informative videos and looking through all their interactive displays, including a smaller version of a longhouse and a tepee out on their grounds–a good way to end our stay in the Mackinac area.
Next stop: Traverse City and the Sleeping Bear Dunes.