Monday, August 25, 2014

Michigan's Upper Peninsula: Sault Saint Marie

Hello again! We just got back from Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and I thought that if I didn't post right away I might never get around to it, a fact that has been thoroughly proven over the past few months. Ha!

The U.P. has a distinct regional identity and well-preserved natural beauty that we have been eager to explore since moving to Wisconsin. What a week to remember--who knew that in the heart of the Midwest lies such a treasure? It's part East Coast beach town, part National Forest wilderness, and part quirky tourist-friendly small town America. We LOVED it!

We started off our trip the way we start all of our camping trips: leaving later than expected and setting up camp in the dark. We brought along the camp food staples like brats and dogs, grilled pizza, walking tacos, spaghetti, and lots of pancakes and eggs! We tried the super-sized marshmallows for the first time and decided we're not fans. Go classic with the s'mores.  
Camp chores earn your keep!
After staying in Hiawatha National Forest for a night, we settled down in a hotel for a couple nights to sandwich Sunday, so we'd be clean for church! Of course the pool and hot tub were hits. Lots of capture the flag and races. Max loves to swim and often tells me, "Mom. Look at me the whole time!"
Sunday we attended the Sault Saint Marie, MI branch. Our five kids almost tripled the size of the Primary (from 3 to 8!). The members gave excellent lessons and talks, and afterwards they invited us to their Potluck Sunday. We grabbed some food from the van to contribute and talked with the branch members for an hour or so. What a blessing to be part of a worldwide faith family--we loved our Sunday there!
We crossed the border into Ontario that afternoon and walked along the boardwalk and talked.
Here's sweet Michael peering over St. Mary's River. At BYU they called this the "LTL"--Loose Tie Look, inevitable condition post-church Sunday.
The next morning we boarded a Soo Locks Tour boat. It was Adam's 5th birthday, and I told the ticket lady about his birthday as I faced the sign reading "Ages 4 and under: FREE." I thought that she would smile and say that birthday boys could ride for free. She didn't say that, and I was out $9 for his fare. Later my family members pointed out that Adam was born at 5 p.m. and since our tour was at 11 a.m., he was technically still age 4 and FREE. But the $9 had been spent and the ticket issued and I had to apologize to the family for spending good trip money with no respect for birth times. If I were a ticket salesperson, I would have smiled and given the nearly-5-year-old a hearty handshake, a free fare, and a piece of gum. I don't think it would put me out of business! I also think that if I were in the tour business I would go around giving away free fares until I ceased to make a profit, so maybe it is good that I'm not in that line of work.
We went through the locks twice. The speed at which the locks fill amazed us--we could feel ourselves being lifted up or lowered down. People stood on observation decks on land to witness the locks in operation while we enjoyed our up-close view from the boat! Here is the MacArthur lock:
The beautifully blue water looks Caribbean, just about 20 degrees F colder! Still, I wish we could have jumped in and enjoyed the lock as a private swimming pool for a while. You could see clear to the bottom.
We thought it funny that so many businesses spelled "Sault" as "Soo" and that people referred to the twin cities of Sault Saint Marie, MI and Sault Saint Marie, ON as "Soo Michigan" and "Soo Ontario."
We loved the Soo and our memories of the pretty city, including the century-old Edison Sault Hydroelectric Plant:
Ticket to Ride will be so much cooler now.

Michigan's Upper Peninsula: Castle Rock and Mackinac Island

After exploring the Soo we set up camp in Castle Rock, MI, where we celebrated Adam's birthday with a tent party
and cake (a purchased cake--ha ha--I did not decorate that on a picnic table).
The campsite was right on Lake Huron and we heard the waves throughout the night.
The next day we set out on one of the highlights of our vacation: a day trip to Mackinac Island! We boarded the ferry with our bikes
and set out for what would become over 6 hours of biking! No motorized vehicles are permitted on Mackinac, so the streets are lined with bikes and horses.
Eric said the island reminded him of Disneyland, but it was even more breathtaking--it's real! People live here and have for hundreds of years, yet it's beautifully preserved. The entire island is a National Historic Landmark.
I was shocked at the younger kids--I wonder how many times they had to pedal those 12" bike wheels in 6 hours of biking? They were champs--we rode up the entire eastern shore and then back through the center of the island.
It rained for a few hours, but we ponchoed-up and had a great time. Here we are after parking the bikes and hiking up to Arch Rock. 
We also detoured to build cairns on Lake Huron (there were thousands lining the shore!),
climb a few trees,
explore around the Revolutionary War–era Fort Mackinac,

and see various other historic sites like this bark missionary church.
Pulling into the downtown area, Adam knew that there was fudge ahead.
The endearing term "fudgie" is used to describe Mackinac tourists, after the island's trademark treat. "Fudgie stripe" is what they call the stripe of mud left on the back of a fudgie's shirt after biking all day. We definitely had "fudgie stripes" by the end of the day, which I didn't think to photograph! This was a day for the books. After 12 years of marriage, Eric continues to make my dreams come true in daily, happy ways. Being on Mackinac Island with Eric was a standout dream-come-true day!
The kids loved it too.
We closed out our time in the Castle Rock area with rainy morning Skip-bo over a tent floor that felt like a waterbed!
Then we made the climb up Castle Rock
(who thinks of attractions like this?)
shot a picture with Paul Bunyan and Babe,
and set off for more adventure in the northern U.P.

Michigan's Upper Peninsula: Painted Rocks National Lakeshore

We spent the last portion of our trip at a Michigan state park near Painted Rocks National Lakeshore. Hands down, it was the most perfect camping spot in the history of Brinton family camping. The restrooms, water pump (a hand pump!) and trash bins formed a triangle around the perimeter of the camp. We had a huge lot with a lakeside view and gorgeous trees...
not to mention our private beach!
The first night we ate right with Frito pies and watermelon,
but when food supplies were running low, the kids decided to take things into their own hands and dive for mussels!
Here are the tough Mussel Men braving the 60 degree F water fearlessly! We cooked seven for lunch but were glad we also had some leftover brats in the cooler. :)
I also swam, but not for mussels. I wanted so badly to wash my hair and soap up that I overcame my aversion to cold water, for a few minutes at least.
Later we scored a trunk full of cheap firewood and the kids built a small bonfire.
Our principal interest in the Lake Superior side of the U.P. was to see Painted Rocks, over 40 miles of sandstone cliffs that have been "painted" with mineral-rich groundwater seepage:
We explored first on a 3-hour boat tour
whereon we ate two large grocery sacks full of snacks (I told you about the food shortage earlier, right?!).
Then of course we had to get out and touch Lake Superior for the first time. My favorite fact: if you took the water in Lake Superior and used it to fill a 5-foot-deep swimming pool, the pool would cover the entire continental United States!
The next day we explored by way of the beach, on a hike to the Au Sable lighthouse.
Max noticed the groundwater seepage that gives these rocks their distinctive coloring.
Hiking is tough, but not as tough as holding a tree over your head. Alright Zach!
We read stories about a dozen shipwrecks near Au Sable Point, and we actually saw the exposed boards and nails from three of them. The shipwrecks are what kept the kids going on the hike.
I was interested in the lighthouse at the end. A ranger took us up into the 140-year-old lighthouse, where we saw the original prisms that once reflected a small kerosene lamp's light. We also saw the keeper's quarters.
Here's the view from the top. If you look in the background you will see a stretch of sandy dunes.
That was our next and final stop. The Log Slide was used in the 1800's to send timber down, and legend says that the logs generated enough friction to catch fire on their journey down the 500+ foot dune--yes, that puppy is steep! It seems nearly vertical. I only let the younger boys go down part way--some people took about an hour to make the climb up, and signs warn that many people are rescued each year because they can't make it back up. Yikes!
Eventually we decided to go for it. Eric went down with the two older boys, then the boys went down again with me. They climbed up in 8 minutes! Eric and I were each a few minutes behind, and totally exhausted! What a rush, down and up! 
Max threw a fit when we had to leave, saying he wanted to go back to the "running-down sand box." I told him that I felt the same way--it was a sad day to leave the U.P.! After coming home, cleaning out the van, and doing 10 loads of gross camp laundry, I think we're recovered from the vacation and ready to jump into the school year. Well, almost. Every time a summer ends I feel as if a dear friend has suddenly moved away and I am left alone.