As I mentioned in an earlier post we have now camped in all of the fifty states. We are often asked what is our favorite place. We don’t have a favorite place, but I think we would both consider Michigan our favorite state. Maybe that is because we are from here and we still call it home. Michigan is a special, unique place. As one of our early explorers once said, “If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look around you.”
This year we had a special reason to return home. My sister’s husband passed away in April and we came to help my sister put on a “celebration of life” to memorialize her husband’s life. Gerry was very generous with his time and resources. As well as I knew him I was even more impressed as some of the 150 guests shared their stories with us. I know my sister will continue to grieve her loss, but it was our honor to help her to celebrate Gerry’s life.
From there we headed to Bad Axe, to Pat’s brother’s place, where we “moochdocked” in his backyard. Pat’s sister and brother in law from Milwaukee pulled in the next day with their trailer and our niece and nephew from Florida. From then on the pace got rather hectic. We all went to the cottage the two brothers have near West Branch. A couple of days later we went to the Detroit Wayne County Airport to pick up our oldest son, Scott and his twin daughters, Sierra and Clarissa.
We all had a great time at the cottage. There was way too much food to eat and it was all delicious. We went swimming, kayaking, and tubing in Rifle Lake. I was able to get in some good time on my small sailboat and Scott and I serenaded the gang on the deck of the cottage, overlooking the lake. Unfortunately I had to drive Scott back to the airport on July 5th, but we were able to keep the twins with us!
On July 9th we drove back to Bad Axe, where the Pat took the twins to enjoy Bad Axe Days. Sierra was even featured in the local newspaper!
North of Bad Axe is Port Austin and Grindstone City. These are a couple of the most popular tourist attractions in the area. We walked out on the breakwater in Port Austin, looked for old grindstones and geocaches in Grindstone City.
Grindstone City is a collection of homes and a few businesses clustered around a crescent-shaped harbor a bit off of the beaten path of M-25 as it traces its way around Michigan’s Thumb. This natural harbor drew Captain Aaron Peer to Grindstone City in 1834 when his schooner, the Rip Van Winkle, found safe harbor here during a storm on Lake Huron. The ship’s crew went ashore to explore the wooded wilderness and found some unusual flat stones along the waterfront. Peer’s sailors rigged up one of the stones to use for sharpening their tools, and Peer decided the stones would make excellent grindstones.
In 1836, he purchased 400 acres of land to establish a grindstone quarrying and manufacturing operation. The outcropping of Marshall Sandstone that Peer discovered was an abrasive stone with a very fine grit, unique to Grindstone City, and perfect for grindstones and scythe stones. Worldwide demand soon earned the town the nickname of Grindstone Capital of the World.
Our highest priority was the Grindstone City General Store, they have the largest ice cream cones I have ever seen. The cones in the pictures are “Kiddie” size.
Later in the week our daughter, Elisabeth, drove up from Raleigh, NC. She met us in Bad Axe and we took the trailer to Mackinaw City, where we were met by our son, David, from Lansing, MI. The campground was a short drive outside of Mackinaw City and we walked along the shore of the Straits of Mackinac and checked out some fudge shops (a must do activity in Mackinaw City).
From the beach at the campground we could see the Mackinac Bridge. As night fell the bridge lit up like a chain of jewels suspended above the water.
Our plan was to make a day trip to Tahquamenon Falls, but the weather didn’t cooperate so I met a fellow geocacher and his wife for coffee while everyone else went shopping (and more fudge tasting). That afternoon we went to an indoor water park where everyone had a great time.
The next day we woke up to beautiful weather and took the Shepler ferry to Mackinac Island. Mackinac Island is a unique place. When the first horseless carriage arrived on the island in the early 1900’s it scared the horses and the local carriage companies lobbied to have them banned from the island. That ban continues today and the only motorized vehicles on the island are fire engines and one police car. Because everyone travels on foot, bicycle, or by horse there aren’t a lot of high speed pursuits.
We signed up for a carriage tour and our guide told us that there were seventeen fudge shops on the island. She said if we tasted the fudge in every shop we would eat about one and a half pounds of fudge! My wife, Pat, and I have visited the island several times and have never visited the stables. Here we discovered more about the history of the island and the horses on the island.
One of the most popular stops on the tour is Arch Rock. The Indian legend goes like this:
“A long time ago, a beautiful young Indian woman named Ne-daw-niss (She who walks like the mist), while gathering wild rice, met a handsome young man who was the son of a sky spirit. They fell in love, but she was forbidden to marry the non-mortal by her cruel father. He beat her and tied her on a rock high on a bluff on the Island of the Turtle. She wept softly for her lover. Tears flowing down the bluff washed away the stone and formed the arch. In time the young man returned, untied her and took her in his arms. Together they returned to the home of his sky people.”
This could be why some believe the arch is a way for departed souls to cross over to their resting place.
Our final stop on the tour was Fort Mackinac. In the 1800s the Straits of Mackinac were a center for commerce. The French built Fort Michilimackinac on the southern shore at what is now Mackinaw City as part of the French-Canadian trading post system. In 1761 the French relinquished the fort along with their territories to the British. In 1781 the British decided the wooden fort was too vulnerable, moved to Mackinac Island, and constructed the present limestone fort. Americans took control in 1796. In July 1812, in the first land engagement of the War of 1812 in the United States, the British captured the fort. It was returned to the United States after the war under the Treaty of Ghent.
The fort remained active until 1895. During these years Mackinac Island was transformed from a center of the fur trade into a major summer resort. The stone ramparts, the south sally port and the Officer’s Stone Quarters are all part of the original fort built over 225 years ago. In 1875 Mackinac Island became the nation’s second National Park. Like Yellowstone, as a National Park, it was operated and maintained by the U.S. Army. In 1895 the fort was decommissioned and turned over to the State of Michigan to become a state park. The buildings have been restored to how they looked during the final years of the fort’s occupation. Interpreters depict U.S. Army soldiers from this same period, dressed in distinctive uniforms.
We all enjoyed touring the fort and watching the demonstrations, such as marching and cannon firing. The girls really enjoyed the “Kids Barracks” that provide hands-on activities for kids.
One stop the girls found fascinating was the American Fur Company Store. Here they were able to learn about how on June 6, 1822, an employee of the American Fur Company on Mackinac Island, named Alexis St. Martin, was accidentally shot in the stomach by a discharge of a shotgun loaded with a buck shot from close range that injured his ribs and his stomach. Dr. William Beaumont, the surgeon at Fort Mackinac treated his wound, but expected St. Martin to die from his injuries. Despite this dire prediction, St. Martin survived – but with a hole in his stomach that never fully healed.
Beaumont recognized that he had in St. Martin an unusual opportunity to observe digestive processes. Dr. Beaumont began to perform experiments on digestion using the stomach of St. Martin. The girls looked at every one of the displays about this. After a stop at the blacksmith shop, we took our tired bodies back to the ferry.
Back in Mackinaw City we had one last opportunity for souvenir shopping, and then we treated everyone to a northern Michigan specialty – pasties. The girls had never had one before, but gave them their seal of approval.