Saturday, November 8, 2008

Day 5: Mackinac Bridge and Island

Main street. The fort can be see poking above the buildings.

Everyone we talked to about Michigan said we had to visit Mackinac (pronounced Mack-in-ahhhh) Island. While touristy, they said it was a unique experience. No cars are allowed on the island and the tourists get around in horse drawn carriages and on bicycles. The exclusion of cars is a less than successful attempt to keep the island locked in a Victorian era. I am not sure why people romanticize that era. Women were trundled up in corsets, certainly could not vote, and lord help us, but there were no feminine hygiene products. Give me the future any day. I am anxiously waiting for the Enterprise transporter to whisk me off to Paris for dinner and give me the perfect body while at it! While horses have a smaller carbon footprint compared to a gas-guzzling, car-smashing Hummer, they do stink, which definitely intrudes upon the romantic air the island would like to project to the outside world.

Driving over the Mackinac Bridge

Shepler's Ferry

Before heading to the island, we decided to drive over the Mackinac Bridge, which is the largest suspension bridge in the world. This was a cheap thrill but the views from the bridge made the $2 toll worth it.

Main street heading east. Park on the left is just below the fort

Being a former Naval Officer, I was really looking forward to the ferry ride to the island. What is nice about the place we were staying was the fact that they handled all of our luggage so we did not have to worry about getting it to the hotel. We found out later that we paid a hefty $12 per person, regardless whether we had bags or not for this privilege. It took about 20 minutes to cross to the island and cost $17 per person round trip. That was with my military discount, so you’ll pay slightly more. I did enjoy being out on the water and seeing the Grand Hotel come into view.

(Left: One of the ubiquitous fudge shops. Most of the store clerks were young kids who were less then friendly. ) There are four major attractions on the island, the Grand Hotel, which I will cover in detail in my next post, the main shopping drag, the bike route around the island, and the fort. We managed to do all of these things in a day and a half. Frankly, the only one worth doing was the Grand Hotel. We had actually planned on staying there but a huge convention had booked all the rooms. This was probably for the best because the rates at the grand hotel are $300 per person per night. That would have been $900 per night for three of us. Not many places in the world are worth that kind of money. That price did include breakfast and dinner. The pictures of the rooms I found on the Internet were also very unappealing…more of that kitschy Victorian stuff. Still, as you will hear in my next post, the Grand Hotel is THE attraction on the island. Don’t bother going to the island if you are not considering staying there or at a bare minimum spending a lot of time there.

The famously photographed limestone arch. The hike up is short and the views very nice. The carriage tours take the less active visitors there directly.

View of Lake Huron from the arch

The main shopping drag turned out to be surprisingly short and very monochromatic. The stores consist of Fudge shops and more fudge shops and T-shirt joints. I was expecting something a little more upscale to be honest.

Walkway up to the fort. We wanted to have a hot drink at the Fort Mackinack cafe. You have to pay admission to the fort to each there. The guide books say this cafe is in the lower level which is misleading because that implies that is below this walkway. It is not. There are two "levels" within the fort itself.

Renting a bike and cruising the island would normally be a very pleasant diversion but on our day, it was butt-numbing cold and I was chilled through despite my many layers. My two companions proclaimed me to be a total wimp since they did not seem bothered by the weather at all. It costs $35 a day to rent a bike and the ride around the island is only 8 miles. There are other interior routes, but because I was begging for something hot to drink we opted for the fort vice a mono-speed climb over the interior hills and dales. As such we really did not get our money’s worth that day, but I can image that on a spring or summer day, such a jaunt would be idyllic.

There are three ferry lines that service the island. This one shoots out a jet. They are easy to spot transiting the straight.

I had received a Navy fix on the ferry ride over but also received an Army fix at the fort, which has a commanding view of the waterfront. Alas, we did not have nearly enough time to spend at the fort because we wanted to catch the $42 lunch buffet at the Grand (we missed it), but I did get to see the Officer’s Quarters and the cool animatronic figures depicting the attack in 1812 (shudder but they surrendered w/o a shot being fired). I don’t know what is wrong with the Army today. Back then, the fort was commanded by a 1LT, who made enough money to hire a small platoon of servants to keep house for him and his family. When I was a LTJG/1LT I was sleeping on an air mattress because I could not afford a real one. There is a large and impressive museum as well that we breezed through. You could easily spend several hours there if military and early American history interests you.

The rest of that first day was spent at the Grand Hotel, which I will cover in my next post.

Lighthouse viewed from the western side of Main street. Note the handles of all the bikes.

I suppose everyone needs to visit Mackinac Island at least once, but in retrospect I wish we had stayed near Munising. There was much more to do in that area. As crowded as it was on the Island in October, I would hate to see the mobs in the summer.


Nina said...

I'm actually sorry that Mackinac Island was so heavily recommended to you. It is hyped up and exceedingly touristy. Not that it's a bad place, but I think your assessment was accurate. Good Ol' Commander William Hull! I do hope you tried some mint fudge though.

Anonymous said...

You missed a couple of things...

I agree with the 'touristy' image on the island, as that is what all the out-of-towners come for. As a resident of the mitten for my whole life, I can tell you that the island has its more peaceful and picturesque [sp?] parts.

For instance, if you are willing to huff it out, it's a mild bike ride to the very top point of the island, at which you are looking out over the fort, over the Grand Hotel, and straight through the Mighty Mac and into Lake Michigan.

I could also use a few less tee-shirt shops, and the fudge [while highly regarded as the best] can have its shortcomings, pending on where you go. But the sound. If you stop, and you listen, and you sit for five minutes and take in the atmosphere and it's surroundings, that is why there are few automobiles [emergency cars only] on the island. It's very peaceful, and I would recommend a trip around the island and 'through' the island moreso than the 'main drag + hotel' trip.

sylvia murphy said...

HI Dickshnee,

We did rent bikes and cycled around the island. On a pleasant summer's day that would have been idyllic. On the day we went, however, it was butt numbing cold. By the time we were done, we headed in doors quickly for some hot tea.

I agree that almost anywhere you go, if you escape people and walk 10 feet into the woods, your experience will change. Mother Nature is grand.