The Mighty Mac
That’s what they call Michigan’s famed Mackinac Bridge, which meets at the junction of Lakes Michigan and Huron and connects Michigan’s lower and upper peninsulas – two separate states of mind, and the divide between the “Yoopers” (those in the Upper Penisula) and the Trolls (those who live under the bridge). The bridge opened to traffic in 1957, and is considered an engineering marvel (due to the extreme cold and wind conditions it must withstand in winter) and is even featured in a PBS documentary called Building the Mighty Mac.
According to it’s website, at 26,372 total feet, and 8,614 feet of suspension bridge, the Mackinac Bridge is the longest suspension bridge in the Western Hemisphere, and 5th longest in the World. It is only 54 feet wide, and at its tallest point the road stands 200 feet above the water. In the highest wind conditions, the bridge is capable of moving a full 35 feet east or west. The two inside lanes are open grates (the outer lanes are concrete), to reduce wind resistance. The bridge is so daunting to some that the Bridge Authority offers a “driver’s assistance program” to drive cars across for those too uncomfortable to drive themselves.
Here’s a picture of the Mac from the Mackinaw City side.
We conquered the Mac early in our visit, driving over on our way from St. Ignace to Colonial Michlimackinac (try saying that three times fast) in Mackinaw City. The weather was perfect, and the wind low. We found our drive over the Mighty Mac to be without incident. A bit of a letdown really. Sriram was driving and said it wasn’t much different than driving over any other big bridge. The open grate made the car shimmy a bit, which felt awkward, but not unsafe. Our return trip was much the same.
We arrived at Colonial Michilimackinac with the intent of popping in for a quick visit. Colonial Michilimackinac is located at the Mackinaw Straits, which historically, was a meeting place for Native American tribes, followed by the fur traders and later by the French, English and American militaries. The Fort itself was built for trading purposes, and later became the scene of conflict during Pontiac’s Rebellion and later during the War of Independence.
We ended up finding it far more interesting than we imagined and stayed for a couple hours. The Fort had a lot of historical information about the fur trade, the various conflicts that took place there, and the area in general. Costumed staff provided further information in various areas of the Fort. The best comparison I could make for my Massachusetts readers was that it was like going to Old Sturbridge Village, but I found it more charming. They weren’t trying as hard. On my visits to Sturbridge, I’ve always felt very much like I was watching a performance, which is OK, as it essentially is. But at Michilimackinac, if you happened upon a “town’s-person,” they’d chat you up for a bit about what they were doing, as if you’d simply bumped into a neighbor.
We watched a cannon demonstration just outside the fort before entering the walled community. Inside the fort we explored the still active gardens (both floral and vegetable) and visited a home of a town’s woman who was making pie in a cast iron pot over the fire, using fresh ingredients grown at the Fort.
We stopped in to discuss the fur trade with another town’s person and got the current exchange rates for furs. In case you’re curious, beaver still beats everything but bison.
Special exhibits, as well as audio-visual displays throughout tell the often tragic story of the Fort and the lives of those who lived there. While most of the buildings are recreations, there are some areas that are preserved from when the British burned down the fort as they abandoned it during the Revolutionary War. Part of the powder magazine survived the destruction of the fort, and is now on display. Additionally, some other underground areas have been excavated as well and can be seen through glass panels and display cases. It was a fascinating place. We very much enjoyed our visit there.
Soon after our visit to the Fort, we headed to the ferry dock and over to Mackinac Island (it’s pronounced Mackinaw, by the way). The Island has 8 miles of shoreline and less than 4 square miles in total land area and is a very popular tourist destination. Sensory overload greeted us upon our arrival. The dock was so crowded with passengers looking to get on the ferry for their trips off the island that we quickly vacated the area because it was too daunting to be in a crowd that big. The smell of horses and manure was also very prominent. Between the crowds and the odors, I did not consider it a pleasant welcoming.
Cars are not allowed on the island, so horse drawn carriages provide island tours as well as transport goods (in fact, UPS delivers in horse drawn carriages). I’m not a big fan of the carriages, so we moved on. Our stroll away from the crowds led us to some nice views of the bridge from the island and some beautiful homes. Once we were sure the chaos had passed, we headed back to the main road to take in the shops and atmosphere, with an ice cream cone in hand. When we were done with our snack we rented some bikes to explore a bit more of the Island. It was Sriram’s first experience on a one-speed bike. He’d never had to back peddle to stop before. My attempt at capturing his ride was not very good.
We rode through town, enjoying the view, and then parked our bikes and climbed to the top of the Arch Rock – a natural limestone arch on the island. It was difficult to get a great shot of the full arch, and we forgot to ride down the road to try to get it from the bottom (in our haste to return our bikes on time), but you get the idea.
With our bikes returned, we went in search of a Mackinac Island sticker for the roof box, and walked in and out of 90% of all the shops on Main Street before finally choosing one. Too soon it was back onto to the ferry for a beautiful sunset ride back.
Life on the Road
Our second day in St. Ignace was spent dealing with some of the less glamorous aspects of our trip. Laundry, shopping for supplies, packing up and sending home some things we’ve realized we didn’t need, and organizing our little traveling circus just a bit more. A more routine day, full of common chores. But necessary to keep things running smoothly. But we also found time to take a walk around town, which we hadn’t done before.
St. Ignace is the last city in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, just before the bridge. It’s a small community on Lake Huron with a small downtown area and a few shops and restaurants. Though we took the ferry from the Mackinaw City side, St. Ignace also provides transport to Mackinac Island. The major point of interest in town are the Father Jacques Marquette Mission and the Museum of Ojibwa Culture, which we visited on our final morning. For the day we merely strolled along the waterfront, enjoying the beautiful, sunny day.
Our final morning in St. Ignace we awoke to a beautiful sunrise just outside our room.
After getting a bit more sleep we packed up our things and headed back into town. On our way out of town we stopped into the Museum of Ojibwa Culture to explore the exhibits. A very interesting place, that tells the story of Michigan’s Ojibwa (Chippewa) Tribe.
Next stop … Christmas?
Please feel free to leave comments or ask questions. We love getting feedback on the trip.