Mackinac, UP

20 May 2015 – That “UP” may give it away to a few people — but just a few, in a tight geographic cluster. I only learned today that “UP” is local slang, meaning “Upper Peninsula,” with the further explanation “– of the State of Michigan, USA” neither provided nor needed.

All of which may suggest I am not at the moment tucked up in my usual Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

And I am not. Could I have taken this photo in Toronto?

outside the Mackinac Island police station

See? I am definitely elsewhere. I am, in fact, spending the day on Mackinac Island in that curious northern peninsular bit of Michigan that butts against Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

No cars on Mackinac; transportation instead by bicycle or horse-drawn carriage. I’ve always been curious — as I am about almost any island — but not at all informed about the island’s history.

A plaque provides that history, pared down to the essentials. (Well, no, not quite all the essentials. It does leave out the aboriginal history.)

historical plaque on Mackinac

When my very dear friend Danna & I were plotting our spring get-away to Mason City, Iowa — home of the North Iowa Marching Band Festival every Memorial Day weekend — we decided to included Mackinac Island in our itinerary. It meant a 12-hour drive from Ottawa (her home) to St. Ignace (ferry jump-off for the island) on Tuesday, a feat requiring us to “get up before we went to bed” as one friend likes to put it.

But totally worth it.

Group-of-Seven-scenery all along the Canadian portion of the drive; a U.S. border guard who lit up with delight when she learned we were headed for a marching band festival (“I was in a marching band in high school myself!”); and a cheerful motel room next to the ferry docks, with a lake view.

So I will not complain about the fact that, on May 19, it was only a degree or two above freezing. (Anyway, as a Canadian, I’d be embarrassed to complain about feeling cold in a country south of my own…)

This morning, onto the ferry, and on to Mackinac Island.

map of Mackinac Island

Choices galore. Jump into a tour-carriage; yield to the gob-smacking array of shopping opportunities; perhaps spend our time in the butterfly conservatory? We don’t do any of that. We decide we are there to walk some trails. So we do.

We start from the ferry docks in the bay in the south end of the island, & follow the main drag east toward Mission District out there where the island curves to the north-west. The barrage of tourist shops fades away as we walk east; other island characteristics become more apparent — the horses, the bikes, the grand, grand homes.

Lake Shore Blvd, approaching Mission District

A tour-carriage is heading toward us, pulled by the usual troika of heavy horses; a workman’s bike  (with some plumbing supplies in the boxy cart) is propped up outside one of the homes; tourists fill the sidewalks; fine homes line the street; the spire of Ste. Anne’s Church (1874) rises in the distance.

This is what I mean by a “troika of heavy horses.”

horses pulling tour carriage, Mackinac Island

Aren’t they wonderful? Team after team, patient & strong, steady of nerve. Sometimes smaller carriages with just two horses, but most of the ones we see have three.

I mentioned grand homes, and that’s what they are. Many are now some variety of tourist accommodation — enough of them that, presumably to avoid confusion, private homes often have a neat sign to that effect at the gate. This home, for example.

private home on Lake Shore Blvd

No confusion about some tourist accommodation, however! Mission Point Resort was purpose-built to be exactly that, a resort in the grand tradition.

Mission Point Resort

We pivot around the point of land, head north-west on up Lake Shore Blvd., along the shores of Lake Huron. Lots of rocks, which here — as in Canada, as in Iceland, as I suspect everywhere else — means inuksuks. Where there are rocks, people will pile them up.

inuksuks on Mackinac Island

More shoreline, then up many-many-very-many steps to Arch Rock high on the bluffs. Given the formation, the name was inevitable.

Arch Rock, Mackinac Island

We visit one more of the tourist destinations up here in the woods, a limestone stack given the equally inevitable and descriptive name of Sugar Loaf Rock.

But, mostly, what we do is walk trails. There is a lot of forest up here, entirely another world from the retail/tourist world below. And just as beautifully presented: good trails, maintained but not over-groomed, and well sign-posted.

And, oh, the names!

Just one of the Mackinac Island trails

Plus Juniper Trail, Tranquil Bluff Trail, Crooked Tree Road, Beechwood Trail, Watch-Your-Step Trail, Soldier’s Garden Trail …

We meet only two other people, as we weave around, and both live here. Each provides further tips about favourite trails and secluded parts of the island. The friendly residents and enjoyable trails lead to wonderful discoveries, none of which bears a price tag.

For example, trilliums up and down the slopes …

just a few of the trilliums in the woods

two Jack-in-the-Pulpit …


and a tree trunk with the most glorious fungi I’ve ever seen. Danna tells me the nickname for this particular one is Artist’s Conk …

Artist's Conk (fungus)

because, she explains, you can incise a design on its underside when it is fresh, which it will retain  when it dries.

Finally, we leave the wooded heights, drop down to town via Garrison Rd., and Custer St., and Turkey Hill Rd. (with its warning that its steep slope is dangerous and not to be attempted by bike or in a horse carriage without brakes).

There is time for one more turn around a few lower-level streets before catching the ferry back to St. Ignace.

And one more bit of proof about how deeply these heavy horses are part of the island psyche. Even grand, lakefront homes show their love.

door with horse motif wreath, Mackinac Island

Confession: at first I think it is a misshapen, left-over Christmas wreath. Silly girl, of course not! It is a very deliberate, very elegant, silhouette of a horse’s head.

Itinerary: we leave St. Ignace Thursday morning and, within hours, “UP” Michigan — in fact, all of Michigan — as we head farther south-west and inland.

On to Mason City in a day. Or two. I’ll let you know what happens.



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  1. What wonderful photos!!!! Thank you so much for sharing. Have fun!

  2. Love the horses. And the wooden houses and the church, which look similar to Norwegian buildings to me. Beautiful.

  3. sylvie greeniaus

     /  21 May 2015

    how interesting! Mason city? So far away! What is going on there?

    • Thanks for the compliment, Sylvie. You ask, what’s going on in Mason City? I am about to tell you…

  4. I have learned a new word today – inuksuk! I have seen these trail markers, or cairns, all over the world, but never knew the Inuit word for them. So thanks for the language lesson! I DID know “UP” because I live close enough to hear it used by all my vacationing friends.

  5. Love the Trilliums…it’s the name of our sailboat.

    • Thanks for this, I’m glad to do honour to your sailboat’s name. The trillium is also our provincial flower, so I love it too.


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    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

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