MACKINAC ISLAND (1998)

By Jug Varner

About 300 miles north of Dearborn is a fascinating place known as Mackinac Island (pronounced Mackinaw by the locals). On the way, we detoured over to the east coast of Michigan to see beautiful Glen Lake and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, an unusual geological site with rare wooded growth on the dunes.

Another quick side trip took us across the five-mile Mackinac Suspension Bridge to Sault Ste.Marie, Mich., for a brief look at the famous Soo Locks that raise and lower ships crossing the straits from one lake level to another. The area is the terminus for Lakes Michigan, Superior and Huron, as you may remember from your eighth grade geography lessons. We also crossed an older bridge into Sault Ste.Marie, Canada, so my wife could purchase the Canadian Beanie Baby Maple bear before retracing our route south to Mackinaw City, Mich.

The last ferryboat of the day was ready to depart from Mackinaw City pier when we arrived. Leaving our car to be parked, we boarded the Arnold Line's jet-powered Catamaran for a smooth 13-minute ride across to another place in time — Mackinac Island — the storied summer place where there has never been an automobile collision. The fact that it is still in its horse and buggy days, and cars and trucks are not allowed, has something to do with that unusual record.

A horse-drawn “taxi” met us at the ferry landing for a leisurely ride to the local yacht club where we were guests of a member. Some of the other local members enriched us with their non-tourist viewpoint of the island. There are a variety of hotels and bed & breakfast accommodations available here and in the surrounding towns.

Mackinac Island's star attraction is the famous 1879 Grand Hotel, with the world's longest veranda. As in generations past, guests sit and rock gently amid potted red geraniums and enjoy the splendid view through the tall white pillars. The Grand has hosted many famous people through the years. Presidents Truman, Kennedy, Ford, Bush and Clinton have stayed here. Film stars Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour made “Somewhere in Time” here in 1980 and Esther Williams made “This Time for Keeps” in 1947. (The serpentine pool is named in her honor.)

Guests flock to the Grand Hotel in great numbers during its brief May-through-October season, but making reservations a year in advance is sometimes necessary. This queen of hotels may be old, but she keeps in style with updated decor and constant care. Alighting from our carriage, we were impressed by the striking red carpeted stairs up to the veranda entrance and into the lower lobby area. Carpets in other areas are also vivid and colorful, setting off many antiques, works of art and historic displays. Its horses and carriages, driven by costumed liverymen, set a tone of quality unequaled by others.

We enjoyed a wonderful brunch — a gastronomical treat offered from a 16-table array of artistic and delicious selections that rivaled or exceeded luxury liner quantity. It was a bit pricey at $30 per person, but we skipped the evening meal after that gormet experience. Some prefer partaking of the fine High Tea served in the afternoon, rather than the bulging buffet. Next time!

While it is a rather small island (an 8-mile road encircles it) and most people prefer walking, jogging, or bicycling as a means of transportation, others call for a horse-drawn taxi to take them anywhere for $3 per person. This provides a different sort of view and sometimes an odorous trip in the bargain! The island is famous for its fudge, and if you like to shop there are plenty of places for browsing. Sightseers enjoy the historic Victorian homes and cottages, flower-laden nature trails, limestone formations, and the famous Fort Mackinac, built by the British in 1780-81. Military music, cannon firings, reenactments and other presentations occur daily. Horse-drawn island tours are available every day.

A two-day visit is too brief a stay for such an enjoyable place but far better than missing out on an interesting exploration and unique adventure.

See also http://www.mackinacisland.com/