Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Mackinac Island, Michigan

There were two reasons to visit Mackinac Island, located in the northern Michigan. Firstly, it is among very few places on earth, where no motor vehicles are allowed (in fact, you can see the entire list from here). And secondly - I had previously heard that this place has no chain-ed restaurants on the island, which meant a complete break from the daily life (more on that later). Ever since I moved to Warsaw, I wanted to visit Mackinac Islands, which I finally did on the weekend of 4th July in 2011. Some magazines have also rated Mackinac Island in the world's top ten islands to visit. 
Tips for a better trip -
1. Park the car in the parking space of the ferry service. They allow it for a minimal fee. The ferry takes you to the island which is a 45 minutes drive (We used Arnold's Transit). Do watch out the Mackinaw Bridge. It's huge and very beautiful.

Hotel Chippewa, Arnold Transit Carrier and Mackinaw Bridge

2. You can stay either in the island or in the Mackinaw City or St. Ignace City and take a ferry to ride to the island daily (In case if you cannot part away with the regularities of life for even 2 days). We stayed in the island in the waterfront hotel, hotel Chippewa.
3. Be prepared to walk, or cycle, or may be even horse ride. There are no vehicles in the island. Also be prepared to cycle / walk on the uphills and downhills.
4. While on the island, do not miss eating fudge. The island is very famous for the chocolate fudge and has many venues where you can have one (We had a lot in Ryba's).
5. Do eat at the Pancake house (we had our breakfast here because it was next to our hotel, but it is a great option for really heavy breakfasts) and also at The Woods (Awesome upscale restaurant with great German food)!

Modes of Transportation in Mackinac Island

What not to miss - The Destination Guide

A map of the island can be picked up in the visitor's centre and it shows approximately 7 or 8 trails through which the island can be explored. We began our journey with eight mile circumference, known as M-185 Lakeshore Boulevard, of the island on a bicycle on the first day (I rode a cycle after 8 long years and while I shivered at first, it was the most enjoyable experience). The island has some great sights all along the way, with rugged hills on one side and water on the other. You can stop and take rest anywhere on the way and there are some interesting historical and natural spots which keep coming all along and this makes the journey much longer and worthwhile.

Scenes along the Eight Mile Lake Shore Boulevard Ride of the Island

Scenic beauty is not the only attraction in Mackinac Island, it has some natural formations of geological importance as well. Arch rock formation is perhaps the most famous destination on Mackinac Island, because it offers some enchanting views of the island and while I saw it in the noon, I am sure sunrise and sunset would be gorgeous here. Also, reaching to the rock is easy by walk and cycle too. Other limestone formations include Devil's Kitchen, Sugar Loaf and Skull Cave, which are all neatly mapped out and can be reached without much difficulty. 
Historically, Mackinac Island is renowned for being the land for French Fur Trade. Britishers built Fort Mackinac to combat any French invasion. Two battles from the American Civil war were fought here before USA finally took over it. Some of this rich history can be found in various museums in the island, most famous one being the Fort Mackinac

Limestone formation called Arch Rock
Historic Site of British Landing, Fort Mackinac and
natural formations of limestone like Sugar Loaf and Skull Cave

Mackinac Island can be best enjoyed in summer and fall times and usually it offers winter sports as well, but the population decreases considerably during winter and spring time. It is worth mentioning that there are no chained restaurants in Mackinac Island (at least they managed to escape my eyes). The only chain I saw there was Starbucks. This especially makes a trip to Mackinac memorable, because it allows to forget the world for sometime!

Statue of Liberty replica donated by the Boy Scouts and Scenes from the downtown. 

Among the many views of the island, some of the best views can be seen from the Fort Mackinac. From an elevated point, Fort Mackinac overlooks Marquette park and the waterfront near the visitor's centre. It is a gorgeous view that should not be missed. There is a beautiful cafeteria as well on the fort, which offers similar view and some great food. 

Views from Fort Mackinac 

Among the many luxuries which Mackinac can offer, Grand Hotel is probably the most famous one. The rooms are slightly costlier than the rest of the accommodations and dinners are for the dressed people mostly. But it stands like the pride of the island, with all notable people often staying here and some films shot on the premise as well. Also, somewhere, deep in the wood is a restaurant The Woods. Like I mentioned earlier, it is some money well spent on food here.

Hotel Grand and the restaurant The Woods

Mackinac also offers some water sports, ground sports and has some enriching gardens like the Butterfly conservatories. Depending on your interest, you can make this trip worthwhile. It sure does have something for everyone. If you can, make a plan right away, for this is a trip that you will not forget ever. 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore - Michigan, USA

What began as a general interest gradually was turning in to a full fledged passion. I was exploring more and more than ever. A good thing in USA is that there is no dearth of parks - state and national. You just have to google it. Living in midwest is often ridiculed by many (I mean desis) because midwest doesn't boast of a NYC or a DC, neither does it have the glamor of LA or Vegas. Yes we do have a Chicago, but that's about it. However, lack of the biggest names is the very catch of midwest. It has more unspoiled and less-populated beauty around to look for. Lake Erie and Lake Michigan sprawling across the states of Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois have such dramatic landscapes, that are no where to be seen in the rest of the country. One such very little known national lakeshore is the Sleeping Bear National Park (I say little known because national lake shores are present only in Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin, and hence it is much lesser talked about, or visited by in comparison to the biggies like Smokies, Grand Canyon or Yellowstone).
We visited the Sleeping Bear National lakeshore in May 2011, which is about 5 hours north to Warsaw, IN. Michigan was already on my hit list as I was really impressed with the scenic beauty in Holland, MI. Sleeping Bear has enough to do to occupy the long weekend or, even if cut short, it is a satisfying experience (like we had). Please be ready with handy maps, as the GPS will not really function here. 
We began our trip with an absolutely romantic dinner at one of the restaurants chosen by my then fiance (I will update the restaurant's name as soon as I remember it, surely because it is a good one and people should definitely go there)We only had one day with us to explore the place and we tried accommodating as much as we could in a day. So, it all began with losing out a trip on a ferry to a nearby "South Manitou Island" by just 2 minutes. Not having known what else to do, we went to the relatively unplanned places. We set out to explore the "Empire Bluffs Trail". This trail is approximately 1.5 miles long and offers amazing views of the Sleeping Bear Dunes. This trail contains a lot of steps to reach a look out point from where the South Manitou Island and the Sleeping Bear Dunes appear clearly. The look is spectacular and the shades of green and blue water make it more heavenly. After this trail, we set out on the car to the "Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive". 
Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive contains approximately 12 view points in a 7.5 miles of the drive in Glen Arbor Township. People usually drive very slow here, so you might as well stop in between and take photographs. The drive is extremely smooth, green and instantly soothing. It starts with a covered bridge and soon shows the Glen Lake, South Manitou Island, Sleeping Bear Dunes, Beach Maple Forest and Lake Michigan Overlook. The curves on the drive are not steep, so visitors can easily afford to turn their heads around to appreciate the amazing vistas. The best point among all these is the Lake Michigan Overlook, which includes a walk on a deck about 150 m above the lake. As we reached there, it was all foggy (at 3 00 PM) and the lake was invisible. For a moment, it felt like we were standing on nowhere. So the only other way to proceed was to get down on the dune and feel the lake right on the surface. Now, this was something I was doing for the first time in years (The last I did was near Jodhpur, India sometime early in 90s)
Descending down on the dunes is easy and ascending is tough. But these dunes were not ordinary. The dune was so freaking-ly steep that if not careful you could slip and roll to the bottom. Although it is not prohibited, but there are warnings and advisories against it. However, like many people there, we overlooked the warning and started our journey downwards the dune. It took us approximately 30 minutes to reach to the bottom, but that was because we really were putting a careful step forward, otherwise it doesn't that long! The view of the Lake Michigan was magnificent and limitless. At the mid-point it was almost like you were standing in between fog, land and overlooking water everywhere you see! The beach at the end of the dune was a small one and it does feel scary to be there for long (although there were many people enjoying themselves and there were loners too, sitting at some eerie corner of the beach, all alone and lost!). The uphill climb took us a good 1.5 hours with a few stops in between, but every minute was worth it. After completing the scenic drive, we drove back to the cottage and went straight ahead to the Glen Haven Beach, putting our trip to the end. Among the little known gems of the midwest, Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore is a super delight that should not be missed!

      A couple resting near Lake Michigan and the beautiful sunset as seen from the restaurant     

Pictures from the Empire Bluff Trail overlooking South Manitou Island and the Sleeping Bear Dune
Different scenic points from the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive - A Covered Bridge, Glen lake, Lake Michigan and the Sleeping Bear Dune
Pictures from the descent and the ascent on the dune while overlooking Lake Michigan, amidst all the fog. 
Ending the trip on a calm note at Glen Haven Beach