Day 6: September 1, 2011
A Day on the Island
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I really was ambivalent about going to Mackinac Island. For one thing, it would be time consuming and I feared it might be overly hokey. Only one of those turned out to be true. I ultimately decided to go partly because I was staying about a mile from the ferry docks so it took me no time to get there. Then I took what claims to be the fastest ferry and spent just about the minimum amount of time there short of a Griswold family drive by. It still consumed a day. It wasn't hokey.

Star Line ferries have hydro-jet drive which they say makes them faster and which certainly makes them stand out. Of course, they operate in a slow no-wake mode while near the shore but once we cleared the docks the hyper-jet came on and we shot off straight in to the sun.

Bicycle rentals jumped at me before we hit the dock. The Village of Mackinac, urged on by proactive carriage tour operators, outlawed "the running of horseless carriages" back in 1898. A Locomobile was brought on to the island in 1900 and bolstered the tour operator's predictions of disaster by frightening horses and injuring horses and carriages. The next year the Mackinac Island State Park Commission outlawed automobiles in the park, too. The happy carriage tour operators have been joined by a legion of happy bicycles rentals and horse drawn taxis.

Although I don't think I saved a whole lot of money, I purchased a carriage tour and fort admission along with the ferry ride. As I stood in line to board the carriage I snapped a shot of one-half of the vehicle's power plant getting a drink. I learned later that his name is Dylan and his partner's name is Brenda. Our driver was a girl from Sidney, Ohio, named Marah. The island is pretty much shut down in the winter and Marah and the other drivers will be leaving in a week or so. I told her of my recent stop at The Spot and she said she was looking forward to being there soon herself. Many, of the drivers are college students and this is a great summer job for horse lovers. It's not easy. Each driver takes care of their own teams and the work days are ten to twelve hours long. But the pay is apparently good and you can't beat the atmosphere.

Marah told us the story behind just about everything we passed but I only got a few pictures. The big white building is the famous Grand Hotel. Non-guests can tour the hotel for $10 during the day or free after 6 PM provided they are dressed formally. That $10 can be applied to the Grand Luncheon Buffet which was $45 a year or two ago. I'm not sure what it is now since this picture is as close as I got.

After the village tour, passengers switch from a two horse to three horse carriage for touring the park. After dropping us off, Marah, Dylan, and Brenda get to rest a bit. The building where the switch occurs contains some shops and a nice little display of carriages and sleds. There is a butterfly display down the hill. I had to settle for looking over the carriages since the package I purchased didn't include admission to the butterfly house. And you thought butterflies were free.

For the second part of the tour, I had Tim as a driver with power provided by Buzz, Wade, and Woody. That first and last pictures show the view I had most of the time but I did get a look at the other end of our horses when we stopped to see Arch Rock and they got some water.

I did have a ticket to the fort so bid farewell to Tim when we stopped there. Tim is an English major with, I'm speculating, a minor in comedy. One or the other of those should lead to a rewarding career.

Fort Mackinac and the entire island have a lot of military history and I won't attempt even a summary. Pertinent information is that the appearance of the current fort is intended to represent the fort as it appeared in the 1880s. It was part of a national park then. Yellowstone became the world's first national park in 1872. Mackinac became our second national park in 1875. Twenty years later, it was determined to be too small and too remote so the federal government turned it over to the state. Docents at the fort today are anchored in the middle of the national park years.

The fort has a commanding view of the harbor and could have lobbed some cannon balls in the general direction of any naval assault on the park. But the available artillery was from the Civil War and not quite state of the art even for 1885. Today I got to see the firing of a big gun and a couple of small guns and I was able to look out the holes through which the small guns would have been fired had there ever been a need. One cannon now protects diners at the Tea Room Restaurant. The Tea Room is operated by the Grand Hotel and offers a fraction of the grandeur at a fraction of the cost. On the other hand, I'm not sure those cool yellow umbrellas are available at the Grand Luncheon Buffet.

I happened to catch a pair of three horse carriages lined up by the entrance when I left the fort to walk downtown. Six horses side by side is just not as common as it used to be.

After checking out most of the spots downtown, I settled on Millies on Main for lunch. Both the beer and whitefish were quite good. The beer I had was Lighthouse Amber from the Cheboygan Brewing Company. The waitress said they had just reopened after eighty years and I assumed it was another prohibition victim but their website says it was actually 100 years and their closing was at least partially the result of the diminished local lumber business. Excellent beer. Too bad they took that century off. For desert, I got ice cream at the Velvet Candy Store on Marah's recommendation. She didn't mention a flavor but after I'd narrowed it down to two, the clerk voted for Toasted Coconut. Killer!

The ice cream made my visit complete and I headed for the return ferry. We got to see a parasailer on our way to the mainland and also got a glimpse of the bridge. Not to worry that it was a very foggy glimpse since I got a better and closer view soon after I retrieved my car.

A bit of a oddity on the return ferry ride was the fact that there was never a rooster tail behind the boat. I asked the captain about this after we docked and learned that the hydro-jet drive had almost overheated on the trip out to the island and he had turned it off. Maintenance folks would be looking at it before it left the dock again.

I considered some other routes, including staying north and west of Lake Michigan through Chicago, but in the end I settled on following the Dixie Highway Northern Connector. The Dixie Highway was really a network of roads with numerous connectors routing travelers to one of the two mainlines which led from Chicago and Detroit (ultimately Sault Ste Marie) to Miami, Florida. The Northern Connector splits from the eastern mainline near Mackinaw City on what is now US-31. For the most part, this is pleasant two-lane running near the shores of Lake Michigan. A few miles west of Petoskey I slipped off of the current US-31 to follow an older alignment for about three miles. I assume, but don't know for certain, that this was also once Dixie Highway.

I probably should have known of the giant pie at Charlevoix but I didn't and it was a wonderful surprise. In 1976, the town set a world record by baking a fourteen foot cherry pie and the pan they used is displayed in a little park at the west edge of town. I think I'm almost as impressed with the nicely varnished picnic tables as with the pan. The recipe is here for anyone wanting to duplicate the feat. The fine print below the recipe contains the curious sentence, "It was the first world's largest cherry pie in the USA." There will be more pie discoveries tomorrow.

While I can't be positive of the older alignment in the previous panel was Dixie Highway, I can be sure of this one. The shortest path involves some well maintained gravel road but it is possible to reach the nearly seven mile long segment on pavement. I came upon this mystery structure near the five mile mark. It looks like a stone silo and I suppose that is what it could be though it's quite unusual. My position when I took the picture was N 45 08.689 W 85 21.947. Insights are invited.

This is the point at which I returned to middle earth. I failed to mention passing a similar sign going north on Monday.

A little card in the motel lobby led me to the Right Brain Brewery website and that led me to the brewery itself -- barely. I had the address but there is nothing like an illuminated sign to mark the place. I might have given up the quest had I not spotted a couple sitting outside at a dark table with big mugs. The custom painted mugs belong to members who receive discounts and other considerations in addition to drinking from something really cool. One of the beers I tried was the Mangalista Porter the preparation of which included boiling a couple of Mangalista boar's heads. Others commented on the "bacon finish" but I barely found it. Perhaps the vinegar & salt did it in. The brewery sells only their own beer and a few locally produced items including some popcorn and chips. I had sampled some vinegar & salt potato chips just ahead of the porter and they may have suppressed the bacon flavor. Good beer in any case.

As I passed within a block of the brewery the next morning, I drove by to get this picture of the brewery's unadorned exterior. The sign high on the building is for another business and the lights pointed at it weren't on anyway. The brewery is identified only by the yellow and white sign in the window.

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