Friday, December 9, 2011

Mackinaw City, Michigan

If you like to travel to out of the way places, side roads and discover something new for yourself, consider coming up to Mackinaw City in the winter. If you don’t like crowds, this is the time to come. Just because it’s frigid outside, the heaters work well. The majority of the hotels are closed during this time, but there are still a few open.

The last time I was here, I stayed at the Comfort Inn, paid extra for the lakefront view. So I wanted the same thing. Unfortunately the Comfort Inn is closed. I wanted the Clarion Suites, they were closed, so I was sent to the Hamilton Inn.

It’s comfortable and the heat is amazing, when I came in this afternoon after running around in the cold, the warmth was palpable and welcome. They don’t heat the hallway though; I thought I saw my breath this morning.

I got a free breakfast buffet, the sausage was overcooked and hard, the eggs were powdery and the best thing was the waffles, which I had to make for myself. The two 12yo kids who were making their waffles before me didn’t make a mess, I the adult, made a mess. I recount this tale of making a mess because the woman who was working the breakfast this morning was surly and uncommunicative. I don’t know if I’ll be back tomorrow. I’m afraid to see her again.

After October, Mackinaw City is a virtual ghost town. Hotels, restaurants and activities are closed for the season. The restaurants in walking distance are closed and uninviting. There are a few open, a pizza joint and Burger King. So rather than enjoy some fine dining, I sit in my room eating sandwiches and cup o noodle soups. But it’s all worth it in my mind. The drive is long; the air is dry and frigid. The streets are empty like a post-apocalyptic story. Yet, there are a few hardy souls who venture here, I’m one.

It’s just curious to drive through streets that I remember being full of people walking along the sidewalk and traffic jamming the small two lane Huron Street, where most of the hotels hug the shore of Lake Huron.

There was a small little park that gave me a great view of the Mackinac Bridge.  Although I couldn’t drive my car in, I parked just inside the driveway, out of traffic and slogged through the snow in my sneakers. I enjoyed tracking my solitary footsteps through a dusting of snow into a park clearly marked closed.

There is a dignity to the trees in winter. Stark and empty, they stand against the iron sky like an argument that won’t die. I know in the summer, with their branches full of leaves, they will have an entirely different look, softer, warmer, and more inviting. But today, it is December, the off-season, the tourists are gone, but the trees remain.

The views are just as beautiful in the winter as they are in the summer and spring. I’ve tried before to come during the Fall and bask in the colors. But for me, Fall was always a hit and miss situation. I either come too early or I come too late.

I decided to make the shots black and white, just because the starkness of the season leant itself well to black and white. 

Western view of McGulpin's Point
There is this hidden little place, the main area is Central Ave, follow that all the way west until you deadend at Wilderness Park Drive. Make a right turn and follow it to McGulpin’s Point Lighthouse. There was a sign that if you called a certain phone number you could get a self-guided phone tour about the lighthouse. I was too cold to push the buttons on my phone. I think the caretaker lived next door to the historical lighthouse, because I saw a couple pull up, took one look at me and continued into the house next to the lighthouse. But I wasn’t sure if I had just driven up into their back yard.

Mackinac Bridge view from McGulpin's Point
The one thing that I like about this area is that at a certain point you are at the meeting place of Lakes Huron and Michigan. They meet under the magnificent Mackinac Bridge. Yet, who decided years ago, “This one we’ll call Huron over there is Michigan”?

Before you leave, make sure you take the unpaved road to McGulpin’s Point, it’s a 10% downgrade, but my sedan took it easily. It was too cold for me to walk down; there was plenty of room for my lone car at the point. It’s a bit off the beaten spot so maybe it’s just a locals area.

But you get a magnificent view of both Michigan and Huron as well as the Mackinac Bridge. Don’t miss it. The best part of the point is that if I didn’t want to leave my car, I could sit and take photographs in the comfort of heated seats.

Then when you leave follow Wilderness Park Road all the way until you dead end at Trail End Road, make a right turn and directly ahead is an unmarked park, I didn’t see a sign, but I didn’t see any gate or chain, so I drove in. When I saw the public restroom, locked for the season, I assumed this was a public area. Most of the areas around the coast are private homes.

This was a lovely but "no-bodyguards-swim-at-your-own-risk" area. This was a more challenging area since I had to leave the car to walk to the beach. It was worth it. I’m rarely concerned about traipsing around on my own, you can’t imagine the treasures I’ve found.