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“We are not going to Mackinaw City.”

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My mom and I took a vacation “Up North” in Michigan in June of 1990. I had completed 8th grade, and was due to change buildings to start scary high school in the fall. My 80’s perm that I had finally gotten caused my hair to become dry and frizzy, and I didn’t have the good sense yet to cut it of. My hair would never be as long again until my future wedding. I still toted my New Kids on The Block book with me, and of course my stuffed animal Barfeys.

Turning in for the night with the essentials

Turning in for the night with the essentials

We were only going for three days. My mom decided we would travel up the west side of the state. This was a change from trips we had taken Up North in the past. Usually we were gone for four days, to allow for more sight-seeing, and we usually traveled up the east side or the middle of the state.

“We are not going to Mackinaw City.”

This was my mom’s statement, over and over again, as we planned out the trip. Mackinaw City, and with it the Mackinaw Bridge, are two of my mom’s favorite things in the world. We had been there before. But I think she made the statement for two reasons.

  • I think she wanted to see something new we had not seen before, which is why we went up the west side of the state.
  • How she travels, then this took longer, and I don’t think she had enough money for us to have another night’s motel stay.
  • And she did not want to drive all the way home from Mackinaw City in one day.

Wait. That is three reasons. But they are all related to each other.

We headed off at the end of June. My mom must have thought I was old enough to pack for myself, because I went without a jacket. It is summer! It is June! Who needs a jacket!

That was the gloomiest, rainiest, coldest end of June, until 2015. Since then, I have learned that it is always colder the further north you go, and near the water. Either way, it was still colder than it should have been. My mom told me to layer my T-shirts, so I did. It did not really help to keep me any warmer.

Our first major stop was Holland, Michigan. It was really awesome to see an actual Dutch windmill. There were dancers who wore wooden shoes. They were impressive. Even with wearing layers and layers of socks, I still figured that must be the worst summer job in town.

We traveled through Muskegon that day, and spent the night in Manistee. I kept thinking how much it sounded like “manatee.” We went to sleep and dreamed of warm days and sunny skies. But the dawn brought only more clouds and rain.

In the morning, my mother reminded me, “We are not going to Mackinaw City. We need to start heading back down for home tonight, so we will not have a long drive tomorrow.”

We traveled through Frankfort and spotted a lighthouse across the water. Lighthouses are my favorite. If I recall correctly, my mom found a condo parking lot she drove through to get a better look at it. The Frankfort light may have been the first one I ever saw with a breakwater attached to it. The way the rough waters splashed up against it was impressive. I could have captured it better with a digital camera, but they did not exist yet.

Frankfort Breakwater Light, Frankfort, MI 1990

Frankfort Breakwater Light, Frankfort, MI 1990

We stopped at Sleeping Bear Dunes, another of my favorite places. Not so much when it is blowing and cold and rainy though. The first time we had ever been there, I was like eight years old. My mom wasn’t spry enough to climb the dunes with me, and I was too young to climb them by myself. Now, I was old enough to go up myself, but the weather was just too crappy. We bought me a souvenir T-shirt in the gift shop, to add to my layers of warmth. (I was wearing all the shirts I had brought for the entire vacation every day.) It was neon pink and three sizes too big, because I was not done with 80’s fashions yet.

The wind is blowing my shirt, but it looks like something else...

The wind is blowing my shirt, but it looks like something else…

If you think this is just a post about me whining about a gloomy trip, please stick with me. I am almost to the part where the cloud bank lifts and the angels sing. Actually, it was a band playing, but you get the idea…

We went to Traverse City. We drove out on Old Mission Point and found another lighthouse. We couldn’t go inside or climb this one either, but at least we could take pictures out front.

Old Mission Point Lighthouse, near Traverse City, MI 1990

Old Mission Point Lighthouse, near Traverse City, MI 1990

Then a strange thing happened.

My mom got on the road to Mackinaw City (Route 31, most likely). We passed through little towns. We passed by convenience stores selling fudge. We passed through the big cities of Charlevoix and Petoskey.

She kept driving. I kept quiet. Sure, I was the navigator with the map, but she had to know we were headed for Mackinaw City, right? After all, there were road signs that indicated we were nearing it. Billboards advertising the various ferry companies, Arnold, Sheplers, and Star Line, became more and more prominent.

Another funny thing happened. The clouds began to clear.

But she was the mother, the adult, and she had said, “We are not going to Mackinaw City.”

Had she lost her mind? Taken leave of her senses?

Either way, I was keeping my mouth shut, because I really really DID want to go to Mackinaw City. I figured if I didn’t say anything, we would just end up there and it would be too late.

And that is just what happened. We rolled into Mackinaw City. And while I wouldn’t say the sun came out, the rain stopped.

The weather improved enough that the kite store was flying a long string of colorful kites up into the sky, all tied to one another. It was like a fabric rainbow after the rain. The scent of fresh fudge hung heavy in the air. Next to the Straits of Mackinac in the park at the end of the street, a huge band started to set up. When they began to play, the music drifted down the street, where cars were parked along the center boulevard as they probably had since the 1950’s, and souvenir shops lined up next to each other. Since the 4th of July was only a few weeks away, they had many patriotic songs mixed into their selections. I guess it made sense that they were playing in the town square, since it was a Saturday evening. But I was on vacation, and had lost all track of time.

Actual program from that night's performance

Actual program from that night’s performance

I just think back on that night so fondly. It is one of the moments in my life that I will cherish forever. That may be one of the most relaxed and happy times of my life, right then. My mom and I walked the shops until the lights shined brightly inside and the sun fell below the horizon, in the shadow of the giant bridge, connecting the the two peninsulas like a neck connects a head to a body.

In the morning, the sun shone brightly in the sky (of course!). We made one last visit to my mom’s favorite park by the bridge, then started off on our long trip home.

Mackinac Bridge, Mackinaw City, MI 1990

Mackinac Bridge, Mackinaw City, MI 1990

Years later, I admitted to her that I knew where we were headed but I hadn’t said anything. “Oh, I knew where we were going. But we were that close, and I just couldn’t help but head up there.”

Still, I think she may have been in a vacation daze. If I had said anything, who knows, it may have snapped her out of it. Then we never would have gone to Mackinaw City. I wish I was there right now. With a jacket, just in case…

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My Love of Lighthouses – Part 2

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For Part 1 of this post, please visit: https://imnotstalkingyou.com/2014/08/05/my-love-of-lighthouses-part-1/

Pretty standard picture you will see on postcards and mugs of Point Betsie Lighthouse.

Pretty standard picture you will see on postcards and mugs of Point Betsie Lighthouse.

After the first two excursions, my mom, and later my husband, would feed my enthusiasm for lighthouses of the Great Lakes. Whenever there was one on the way to our destination (which can happen surprisingly often when traveling in Michigan), they would let me stop. I also got a book that listed all the Michigan Lighthouses and how to reach them. This was very handy in the days before the Internet and Google.

That is how my future husband and I managed to find Point Betsie, one of the most photographed lighthouses.

I wondered how it could be the most photographed when it is not the easiest to find. We had to turn down a little unmarked road. Where we turned, we could not even see that Lake Michigan was ahead of us. Point Betsie was still active and run by the Coast Guard when we visited in 1998. This meant there were no signs screaming “Hey, must see tourism attraction here!”, because the Coast Guard didn’t want any. The road ended at the lake, where a make-shift sand parking lot had been created from all the lighthouse buffs driving over and killing the sea grass.

Once again, I desperately wanted to go inside. But there were signs posted all over stating “Coast Guard Property. No Trespassing.” It made it more difficult to bear by the fact that Coast Guard employees seemed to be living in the keeper’s house and coming and going.  How great would it be to LIVE in a lighthouse!  (Nowadays I mean, where the work is minimal.  I wouldn’t have wanted to schlep oil up and down the stairs on a cold Michigan night.)

My future husband knew this was killing me. He knew I would never disobey the signs. Not on my own, anyway. So, he went over to the lighthouse first. He stood by the tower. I took pictures of him. He kept egging me on until I stood by the tower so that he could take my picture. All the pictures you ever see of Point Betsie (postcards, calendars, mugs, etc.) are from the south side. But I have some from the north side, that totally prove my guilt beyond a shadow of a doubt. But it was so much fun!

The naughty, totally trespassing side of Point Betsie.

The naughty, totally trespassing side of Point Betsie.

And Point Betsie really is a beautiful lighthouse. But I still think Marblehead is more picturesque.

My husband so let me indulge in my lighthouse obsession that I turned our honeymoon into a lighthouse tour of Michigan. Not only did I make him stop at every other lighthouse (and even a few range lights) on the way to the Upper Penninsula, but we actually spent three nights at the Big Bay Point Lighthouse, which was one of only two lighthouses in Michigan at the time that served as a bed and breakfast.

Big Bay Point Lighthouse, Big Bay, Michigan.  My husband and I stayed on the second floor, in the window on the left in this pic.

Big Bay Point Lighthouse, Big Bay, Michigan. My husband and I stayed on the second floor, in the window on the left in this pic.

It was awesome!

It still an actual working beacon maintained by the Coast Guard. But you can crawl all over the tower and lamp room. The first night my husband got to see the Aurora Borealis from the tower. I stayed in our room because I was too exhausted to climb all those steps and the tiny rung ladder again.

To this day, I still have not seen the aurora borealis 😦

From the front.  Most publicity pics are from the side.

Big Bay from the front. Most publicity pics are from the side.

It was so cool to know that a working lighthouse was beaming out across Lake Superior as we slept. The second night, it was too foggy to see much at night. The third night, we could almost make out the surrounding lighthouses flashes in the night. One night we sat in the parlor/library with some of the other guests. My husband drank coffee, I had hot cider. While other people took normal books off the shelf to browse, I selected the giant white binder on lighthouse preservation. The whole first half of the book was about how to stabilize your structure and prevent further damage from the elements and vandals while you tried to get funding to restore it.  I felt like I had found secret insider information that I was not meant to see as a paying guest.

During our stay, my husband and I also got a couple’s massage in a screened hut on the edge of Lake Superior. The waves crashed below us against the cliff. It was awesome.

I could go on and on about lighthouses. I would love to make a whole page of my blog be photos of lighthouses I have been to. But that would probably eat up too much storage space. But that doesn’t mean I still won’t do it someday.

Looking at the book I have, Michigan Lighthouses by Penrose, published in 1996, it strikes me how the authors are lamenting over structures that have been ignored for decades and are about to crumble when the next seagull perches. But, interest in lighthouses has only increased. The cries of the Penrose family, and others, has indeed raised awareness in recent years.

When my husband and I stayed in Big Bay Point Lighthouse, it was a rare opportunity. Nowadays, it is becoming common. I mentioned that when I visited Point Betsie, it was a Coast Guard residence. Now you can rent the whole place out for yourself. The keepers house for the Charity Island light was literally being ripped apart piece by piece for firewood by campers. It has since been rebuilt and is also a rental.  There are more towers open to the public to climb as well.

To the best of my recollection, this is a list of the lighthouses that I have seen firsthand:

LAKE ERIE
Marblehead Lighthouse*
Old Port Clinton
Turtle Island
South Bass Island

LAKE HURON
Tawas Point
Old Presque Isle*
New Presque Isle*
Presque Isle Front Range
Forty Mile Point
Cheboygan Crib
Bois Blanc Island
Round Island
Round Island Passage
Old Mackinac Point*

LAKE SUPERIOR
Whitefish Point Light and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum
End of the Road Front Range
End of the Road Rear Range
Munising Rear Range
Munising Front Range
Marquette Harbor Light
Presque Isle Harbor (Marquette)
Point Iroquois**
Big Bay Point*

LAKE MICHIGAN
St. Helena Island
Old Mission Point
Grand Traverse*
Charlevoix South Pier
Manning Memorial
Point Betsie
Frankfort Breakwater
Ludington North Pierhead
Holland Harbor
Manitowac

LAKE WINNEBAGO
Fond du Lac*

ATLANTIC OCEAN
2nd Cape Henry
1st Cape Henry

* Tower climbed.
** Tower climbed while I was pregnant. That should totally mean extra bonus points.

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