Friday, August 14, 2015

Chapter 41 - Shell Lake to Mackinaw City, Michigan

Monday, August 10th:
We left Shell Lake and our friends Lee and Dotty Swan about 8 am with a plan to drive around 4-1/2 hours and spend one night only at the Summer Breeze Campground near Iron Mountain, Michigan.  Iron Mountain which is near the Wisconsin Michigan stateline is approximately half the distance between Shell Lake and Mackinaw City. While Minnesota claims the credit for being the Land O'Lakes, northern Wisconsin has its plentiful share of lakes as well. Our drive across Wisconsin allowed us to view many log cabins and cottages on numerous small picturesque lakes that at times reminded us of both our cottage on Seneca Lake in New York's Finger Lakes Region as well as our own log cabin in Blue Ridge, Georgia.  It was an easy drive on a two lane road but with frequent passing lanes.  We passed through numerous small towns many only two blocks long containing a small bar, a restaurant, a grocery store, a gas station, a church, and then quickly the speed limit returned to  55 mph. Iron Mountain was a nothing special city of 7,700 residents. It was at one time a mining town due to nearby iron ore deposits, but that resource has been depleted and since the 1930s the town's population has been gradually diminishing.  Once setup in our campground, we drove into Iron Mountain, did a little shopping, did not take any photos, and then retuned to our campground. We had no internet service at our campsite nor did we enjoy cable TV coverage.  We both read a little and went to sleep early. On the positive side, our campsite was well shaded and private (no immediate neighbors) and the night time temperatures were in the mid-50s; we slept well.

Tuesday, August 11th:  
We knew this morning that after a short drive we would be passing into the Eastern Time Zone and we would be officially "back east" at least in a manner of speaking.  Since we had gone to bed a little earlier than usual we decided to leave by 7:00 am which of course would quickly change to one hour later when we crossed the time zone. Funny how our electronic devices like our telephones, iPads, and our Garmin all automatically adjust for time zone changes but not my brand new cheap Walmart wrist watch nor the clock in our modern car. Despite the loss of one hour of our day we had a very pleasant drive over to the Straits of Mackinac especially when our highway passed along the north shores of Lake Michigan.  The photo above was taken just before our arrival at the Mackinac Bridge where I-75 crosses through the Straits of Mackinac at the connecting point of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.

The bridge cost us $6.00 to cross; we are now official taxpayers in the State of Michigan. We were a little nervous as we started up the bridge as a sign at the toll booth warned of the high winds passing down thru the strait.  I guess we must be used to our car swaying as we pull our trailer since if the winds were causing the bridge to sway, we did not even notice it.  The Mackinac Bridge was kind of neat to cross.  It is 26,372 feet long and rises to 200 feet over the water below.  According to a website that we read, the bridge can sway up to 35 feet east and west in high winds. Wow, hard to believe that we would not notice a sway of that magnitude.
The Mackinac Bridge is the fifth longest suspension bridge in the world and the longest in the western hemisphere.  And we crossed it.

After crossing the bridge we exited immediately into Mackinaw City, a tourist town like we have rarely seen with hotels and tourist shops everywhere. We then continued down the coastline of Lake Huron for a couple of miles before arriving at our new home for the next two nights, Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping.  Our campground lay right on the shoreline of Lake Huron and we could hardly believe our luck when we realized that we had landed a full hookup site that had an almost direct view of the water and in the distance, the Mackinac Bridge that we had crossed only minutes earlier. This campground is by far the largest we have stayed with over 600 sites with 200 of them being full hookup.  Furthermore the campground was close to capacity which meant that the residents here in Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping outnumbered the roughly 900 full time residents of the nearby Mackinaw City.

Not surprisingly with all of the campsites and visitors we found that the WiFi in the park was worthless except right at the general store and even there it was slow. Furthermore despite the size and scope of the campground they have yet to make available a cable TV hookup.  I guess we should not be surprised as we are sure that the vast majority of visitors here want to get out and spend the day visiting the attractions.  What is on TV or on the internet can wait until they return home.  After getting our travel trailer all hooked up and taking a long walk along their grass covered "beach" area which was actually more like a city park complete with benches, we decided to again drive downtown, check out their Main Street, and stop at the local grocery store for a few supplies. We returned by five o'clock and spent the rest of the evening sitting under our "front porch" awning area enjoying the setting.

Wednesday, August 12th:
This morning I jumped in our car at around 5:30 am hoping to be able to upload today's addition of the Wall Street Journal over at the campground store. Despite our long cross county journey, I still love to read the Journal every morning over a cup or two of hot coffee.  Old habits do not die. As I started up the car for the two minute drive over to the store, I had to stop the car right in front of our trailer for the sunrise was much to beautiful not to record "on film" (so to speak).  This was the same view that I had seen a few minutes earlier just before climbing out of bed. The view of the sunrise in person was so much better than this photo has captured.

After a few cups of coffee, a great egg and Wisconsin cheese breakfast prepared by Kathy, and a 6 gallon hot water shower in our 18" x 24"' tub in our trailer, Kathy, Cabo, and I headed for metro Mackinaw City around 8:00 am for an early start to sightseeing before the rest of the crowds.  Naturally most everything was closed until 9:00 am so we drove around checking everything out before stopping in a park nearby the Mackinac Bridge and I took this photo of Kathy spying on drivers on the bridge.  Today the wind was calm and the sun was shinning.

On the way to the museum and gift store located directly under the bridge we walked by the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse that was constructed in 1889 and operated until 1957 when the construction of the bridge was completed and the lighthouse was no longer needed.  The building is now on the National Register of Historic Places and it is opened to the public for a small fee.  We enjoyed looking at the exterior for free and reading the history of the lighthouse on the historical marker in front of the building.

Our next stop was at a small museum and gift store which was the welcome center for a recreated old fort that was named Fort Michilimackinac.  The original fort was built by the French around 1715, and later taken over by the British but was ultimately abandoned in 1783.  While Cabo was allowed into both the museum as well as into the recreated fort, we elected not to visit the fort both because the admission fee was rather expensive but more importantly, because the fort was not real.  For those of us who have visited numerous authentic forts like Fort Niagara in Youngstown, New York which consists largely of the original buildings constructed during a similar time period as the original Fort Michilimackinac, visiting a make-believe fort for an $11 fee each just did not seem to be worth the time nor the money. We enjoyed the museum and Kathy enjoyed their gift shop.

In keeping with our quest to find historic buildings in this mostly new tourist oriented city we decided to drive a few miles southwest of the city to visit another old lighthouse, the McGulpin Point Lighthouse.  Construction of this lighthouse began in 1868 and it remained in operation until it was rendered obsolete when the Mackinac Point Lighthouse was placed in operation around 1890. I did have a chance to climb up into the lighthouse banging my head on part of the winding steel stairs as I climbed only to discover that many of the surrounding trees blocked part of the view of the otherwise magnificent scene of Lake Michigan and its far off northern shores.  The interior was beautifully restored and furnished with period appropriate furniture. 

We spent the rest of the morning walking through the downtown streets of Mackinaw City. It is almost unreal that almost nothing in Mackinaw looks more than a few years old including the dozens of hotels, the many stores, and even the homes.  It is as if the tourists of Michigan suddenly discovered the area and Walt Disney stepped in and built everything overnight. I am obviously exaggerating although the construction of the bridge in the late 1950s was undoubtedly the impetus that drove the hordes of tourists to this scenic area. While Kathy loved the many stores downtown, I must admit I far prefer the older and more historic towns we have visited during the past few months. As you might see in the above photo of Kathy looking into the windows of the Trails End General Store, Mackinaw did a reasonably good job of making their stores look like they might have been built 100 years ago.

We returned to our campground in the early afternoon for lunch followed by an afternoon of relaxation. Kathy is reading a new book, The Oregon Trail written by Rinker Buck, which she read for several hours while sitting in a gazebo out by the shoreline of Lake Huron.  This has to be one of the best parts of traveling.  

Tomorrow we are heading due south for the first time since our trip began back in late May. We have enjoyed traveling in the northern states not only because it is an entirely new experience for Kathy but also because both of us are enjoying the mostly cool weather.  It is really great not to have to use our noisy air conditioner.  Kathy actually selected our next campground located in Frankenmuth, Michigan.  Neither of us have ever heard of Frankenmuth but we have heard of the highly rated franchised Jellystone Park campgrounds so having a nice home site for the next two nights is good enough for us.

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