Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Pure Michigan...

Since we had driven all the way to Grand Rapids for the Wedding Of the Year, we might as well take a few days off in the area. The "Pure Michigan" commercials had been working on us, and we explored their website for ideas. Knowing that the weekend of the 4th would be filled to the brim with activity and excitement, I was looking for a quiet hammock in the shade, water fun to include beach and fishing, and photographic opportunities not available to me in the hills of Pennsylvania. We found just what we wanted in Presque Isle, Michigan. In fact, two of the lighthouses were featured in this lovely ad. Watch for the boy running up the interior stairs of the Old Presque Isle lighthouse, and the next one they show as well; we saw them both.

We drove the several hours from bustling Grand Rapids to the quiet of Presque Isle, (pronounced, Presk eel) and a simpler lifestyle. Folks in Michigan "talk with their hands", so I'll describe our location in the same terms. Since Michigan looks like a mitten, the approximate location of Presque Isle would be near the tip of the index finger. Right on Lake Huron, with Grand Lake mostly separating it from the "mainland" the area gets its name from the fact that it is "almost an island"- which in French is Presque Isle. Not so much a tourist mecca, this is where people come to unwind.

Our host at the Presque Isle Lodge, Robin, gave us a tour as soon as we piled out of the van. Across the road from the lodge there was access to Grand Lake, with a pier and a canoe for our use. The main lodge was charming and rustic, having been built in 1920. The original owner even made most of the furniture in the building, with sturdy log construction that has lasted through the years. Just up the road, about three miles, was a small grocery, the Portage store, where, according to Robin, the kiddie-size ice cream cones were still more generous than he could eat. Across the street from the store is a pizza shop and a restaurant right on the harbor. Beyond that by another mile or so are the lighthouses. The old lighthouse had been built too short and in the wrong location to be seen clearly by the ships on that portion of the lake, and had to be replaced by the new lighthouse further out on the tip of the "isle".

Our first evening we got a pizza and some ice cream and kept it simple. Jim and Isaac bought bait for a morning fishing trip, and when Isaac and Bekah went to the pier to throw a line into Grand Lake they discovered that there were only 1 of the promised dozen worms to be found in the box. I was reading and Jim was visiting with Robin in the lodge when Isaac told us about it, and Jim left to go back and get replacement bait. I then overheard as Robin went into the office and made a call to the store. He told them what had happened and that Jim was on his way. "I told him you'd take care of it" he said. Then, "...and could you send along a quart of orange juice with him? I just checked and we're running low. I'll be by to pay for it in the morning. Thanks."

We have entered Small Town America, and we're going to love it here!

Each morning began with breakfast made by Robin, who joined us the first two mornings since we were the only guests. (Note to self- booking a B&B for the days immediately following a big holiday weekend may insure a quiet visit...) The first morning Erin and I woke up early and went for a 4 mile run on the lovely and flat road that runs in front of the lodge. Jim and Isaac, however, had woken even earlier and were out in the canoe on Grand Lake by the time Erin and I hit the pavement.

At breakfast we decided where to go and what to see. Our first day we borrowed bicycles from the Portage Store to ride to the lighthouses. You read that right- borrowed the bikes. Yup. We enjoyed the slower pace and had a lot of fun. Many, many photos were taken, and many, many stones were skipped or simply tossed into Lake Huron. The afternoon found us at the bit of sand beach in Presque Isle Bay.

The next morning we took a hike to find another vantage point from which to photograph the old lighthouse, and we found the stones on the beach and the scenery in general to be fascinating and beautiful even though it was overcast and hazy. That afternoon we went into Alpena to see the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary's Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center, where we learned a lot about the Great Lakes and the shipping industries- and hazards- over the past couple of centuries. We then explored Alpena and found some cute shops in which to browse.

The third day we went into Rogers City to visit the Great Lakes Lore Maritime Museum. Since it was rainy an indoor activity was just the thing for us. This museum is dedicated to preserving the memories of three particular shipwrecks on the Great Lakes that involved men local to the area. All having occurred within living memory, we were shown photos and relics by a former sailor who had sailed on one of the ships before the wreckage, and another gentleman, who was one of two survivors of one of the wrecks, told us the stories of the actual wrecks. We began to realize how profoundly this area has been affected by the Lakes. One wreck left more than 90 children without fathers and over 30 women were widowed. This is a community of people who count on one another and carry each others' burdens with love and concern.

After lunch the sun came out and a beautiful blue sky spread above us. Perfect for seeing another lighthouse and beach. We went to 40 Mile Point Lighthouse, which features the remains of a shipwreck on the beach. The day was lovely and warm and we enjoyed every moment out there. From there we went to Ocqueoc Falls, (pronounced ok-ee-ok). We weren't the only ones thinking of the Falls on that warm afternoon, and there were lots of folks cooling off in the refreshingly lovely water. We regretted leaving our bathing suits at the lodge!

Each evening we went to a beach overlooking a Westward view of Lake Huron, in hopes of seeing (and photographing) a sunset. The first three nights had been duds, really, and we now had one last chance. After dinner we wound down at the lodge for a little bit before gathering ourselves for the beach one more time. And what a marvelous light show we found. Slowly, but surely, as the sun sank toward the horizon, the colors spread across the sky in a magnificent display. Isaac skipped stones, Kate and Jim found some interesting angles for some shots, and we all enjoyed the view. For more photos, you may view the album here.

A perfect ending for a perfect week.

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