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Saturday, 20 June 2015

Bathtubs & Drones!

Bathtubs & Drones! - June 19th, 2015

Whenever we are due to get our car serviced (in Sault Ste. Marie), we try to make an early appointment and add a trip to Lake Superior to make a complete day of the journey. We are never disappointed. 

The mist over the many lakes up here is always a sight to behold - and is one of the reasons we like to leave early. 

Early morning mist over Horne Lake

Today, we made Bathtub Island our destination. We had been told about this little gem of the North two years previously, when we were visiting the nearby Pictographs.  At that time, when we first waded across the water dividing it from the mainland, the water was warm  - but the same cannot be said for today!

Found just south of Katherine Cove, on Hwy. 17, Bathtub Island gets its name from the depression on one end of the island that fills with water from the waves. Approached through a short trail through the trees, you are met with lots of sand dunes through which you pass to get to the sandy beach. This beach stretches for well over a kilometre along the shore of Lake Superior to just past the Sand River. 

Anticipating a nice, sunny day (though cool, with expected temperatures of about 18 degrees Celsius), we made sure we packed our bathing suits and towels, a couple of snacks, and our books so we could settle in for several hours. We already have a couple of beach chairs which we keep in the trunk of our car during the summer. ('Be Prepared' - as my scoutmaster used to say!).

We noticed that there were several people already in place when we arrived, so we ventured to a more secluded area to get changed, then chose our spot, staking our territory by the action of firmly planting the chairs in place! 

Just before we were ready to cross the shallow water space to the island, we heard a sound like the buzzing of a large insect. Looking up, we found the source of the sound - it was a drone! This was the first time we had seen one in real life, and we made haste to chat to the young man who was controlling it. Curtis generously shared his knowledge about drones, how they worked, cost of purchase and running costs etc. It was interesting to know the the model he had was capable of traveling 2 km from its control panel, and that it could travel really fast. The landing gear was raised when in flight so that the camera could have a 360 degree, unfettered view. It was fantastic! 

We learned that it runs on lithium batteries, which usually last for about 15 minutes. Curtis has only had his 'new toy' for a couple of months, but he has already put in 100 hours of flying time. We watched him fly it for about 10 minutes and then exchanged e-mail addresses so he could send us some pics and short movies that he took of us! We loved the way he could make it fly out over the lake and around Bathtub Island, while looking at the view from above on his iPad, attached to the control panel. 

Leaving him to his fun, we braved the coldness of the lake water and made our way over to the island. The water didn't reach our navels, so it was only the lower part of our bodies that went numb! 

The wispy clouds made for a very photogenic view of the panorama that surrounded us. It's such a beautiful spot, and the natural 'bathtub' is magical, though rather cooler than the first time we visited. Mark was hoping for some time for us to have the island to ourselves, so we went back over to the mainland to bide our time. 

One of our pleasures is to sit in nature and quietly read our books. This was the moment when I realized that I had left my reading glasses in the car! Having come to terms with the reality that I had robbed myself of this pleasure, I decided to replace it with another and went for a long walk along the water's edge until I reached Sand River. On the way, I met a man and his son who had been fishing. We got chatting, and found that they lived in Barrie - just around the corner from where we used to live before we moved to Elliot Lake! Small world! 

Upon my return, I found Mark still engrossed in his book. When I asked him how long I'd been, his response was, 'About 3 chapters!' Mark is always quick on the uptake! 

By now, although there were several people on the beach, the island was un-peopled and ready to be claimed! Once again, we braved the cold water, and made our way over. Where the rocks meet the water, it can be a little slippery.
For about 45 minutes, we had the island to ourselves and were able to explore it from different angles. It truly is one of the most amazing places, and we've pledged to return here in August, when the water has had a chance to warm up a bit more. 

This short panoramic video captures the beauty of the island and surrounding area. 

On the way home, we saw some wildlife - a bear, a couple of moose, and a deer (much to Mark's delight). A stunning sunset followed us as we approached the turning for Elliot Lake. 

Courtesy of EarthSky

We were treated to a magnificent view of a crescent moon, with Venus and Jupiter appearing above it in a clear evening sky. Our phone/camera doesn't take pictures well at dusk, so this is taken from the EarthSky website

It was a fitting end to another perfect day. 

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Sunday, 14 June 2015

Michigan Road Trip - Day 3 - June 13th - Mackinac Island

Michigan Road Trip - Day 3 - June 13th 
Mackinac Island

We had a few reasons why we chose Michigan for this road trip. The first one was to visit the Bear Ranch, and the second one was to take the ferry over to Mackinac Island. We had heard so many good things about this island, and what attracted us, in particular, was the fact that there were no motorized vehicles on the roadways. It would be like slowing the pace down, stepping back in time to the days of horses and carts, with only bicycles to remind us of later days.

We left St. Ignace on the 8:30 crossing which took just 16 minutes. (The entrance to the ferry looked very different from the time we were here in January, 2014 - as can be seen below!!)

Throwback to January, 2014

On our way

The sky was fairly clear and we had chosen this day out of the four, as it was the most promising, weather-wise. The ferry ride gave us a superb view of the Mackinac Bridge, as well as Mackinaw City and St. Ignace, all rolled into one.

The first glimpse up close of the island was dominated by the Grand Hotel, sitting proudly upon the cliffs. More about that, later.
The Grand Hotel

The first thing you notice, when you disembark, is the lack of vehicle sounds (motor horns, tires on tarmac etc.) which are replaced by the gentle whir of cycle tires, and the clip-clopping of the horses. Also obvious, is the fragrance left by the horses on the roads which, in due course, get cleaned away as soon as possible by some dedicated shovelers! The number of people on bikes reminded me of a town in Holland, where the flatness of the land makes cycling the preferred mode of local travel. 

Myriads of rental bikes - wherever you go!

We hired two bikes so that we could travel the perimeter of the island - a trail which covered 8.3 miles in just 2 hours. The silence of the bikes allowed us to hear the birds singing in the trees, and the bull-frogs announcing their presence in a couple of pond areas that we passed. 

The perimeter trail

Garbage Collection - Island Style!

We'd heard about this while visiting St. Joseph's Island in Ontario

Some of the buildings we passed along the way were resplendent - both in style and colour. Once again, we noticed the pride with which people kept their properties in top shape, with manicured gardens and frontages.

We loved the Arch Rock, to which we returned after lunch to climb to the top. We were not disappointed, even though there were 207 steps to negotiate!

207 steps

The Lilac Festival was in full swing
We had not realized that it was Lilac Festival on Mackinac - a fact that became crystal clear as these beautiful bushes and trees met us on every curve, wherever we went - not least in the town, itself. Together with the fresh blossoms, it was a pure joy to be here at this time of the year.

Bistro on the Greens
We ate lunch at the Bistro on the Green on the waterfront, sitting outside drinking in the view of the lake, the putting course, and the stalls set up for wine-tasting to celebrate the Lilac Festival. Our waitress, Eneila - from Jamaica - was most pleasant, and did all she could to make our meal a memorable one. 

Back in town, we strolled around, noticing the number of stores selling sweet stuff - especially fudge, for which the island is reknowned. The smell of sugar wafted out on the streets as you passed by. The town, itself, is very photogenic, and is overlooked by the great Fort Mackinac

Fort Mackinac

The Taxi Office - people waited here to 'catch' a horse and buggy to their destination

Of particular interest was St. Anne's R.C. Church, splendidly sporting its tall steeple, which could be seen clearly from the ferry upon entrance to the docks. 

The interior was highly decorated with art work and sculptures. The altar area had a picture of the last supper in relief, and was canopied by a brightly coloured, heavenly painting.
In stark contrast to this, the earliest Protestant Church, though just as magnificent on the outside, was totally under decorated, with the pulpit front and central, emphasizing the Protestant focus on the Word, as opposed to the Catholic Sacrament of the Eucharist. 

The interior of the Trinity Episcopal Church was reminiscent of so many Anglican equivalents in the U.K. 

We rather liked the replica of an old mission chapel.

The road gradually led us up to the Grand Hotel. This magnificent building stands out and can be seen from the Mackinac Bridge on the main land. It has an impressive approach and entrance way. 
The Grand Entrance
The room rates start at $750 per night! We paid our $10 to enter and tour the hotel and decided that we would never want to stay there. It was not to our taste, and we saw one of the rooms which, if we had booked it, would have been the cause of disappointment. In my personal opinion, the hotel is overstated and a little on the pretentious side. It does, however, afford some wonderful views over the lake. 

A little pretentious, to my way of thinking

Chandelier at the Cupola level

View from the Grand Verandah

We loved the Phlox on the bank - lots of it on the island

Just before leaving, we saw the arrival of the Grand Hotel's horse and carriage, bringing newly arrived guests from the ferry docks.


After sitting on the Grand Verandah for a few minutes to take in the view, we descended back into the town to catch the ferry back to St. Ignace. 

Would we return to the Island? You bet! We still have to tour the Fort, and take a look at some of the sights in the interior of the island. We saw some lovely B & B places to stay. 

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Saturday, 13 June 2015

Michigan Road Trip - Day 2 - June 12th

Michigan Road Trip - Day 2 - June 12th

Well, today was planned as a 'down' day as the forecast had shown rain for June 12th over the last two weeks whenever we checked. In fact, we nearly postponed the trip until later on in the month. However, we decided to go ahead and thought we could read in our hotel, go out for lunch, and then take in a movie on the one rainy day of the trip. 

When we woke this morning, the sky was overcast and the ground a little wet, but we decided to head out to explore a few towns in Michigan's Lower Peninsula. Not only were we blessed with gradually improving weather (which blossomed into a perfect, cloudless, sunny day), but we were totally unprepared for the sheer beauty we would discover along the way. 

Crossing the magnificent Mackinac Bridge into the Lower Peninsula, we turned off to visit Mackinaw City - a lovely town with unique buildings and one-of-a-kind shops that lined both sides of the wide street. People here are so friendly, and will greet you in the street!

Gateway to Mackinaw Island

Tribute to a Soldier

We'd love to stay at this B & B!

The ONLY time I'll put my hand in a shark's mouth!

You never know what you're going to find among the irises!

Surprised to see 'The Canada Store'!

All Smiles!

Part of the Mackinaw Crossings Shopping Centre

The blossoms were breath-taking

From here, we opted for a route to Charlevoix that would follow the coast line as closely as possible. The first stop was a lighthouse at McGulpin Point. Although surrounded by trees, it has been relisted as a working lighthouse, using LED lighting. 

What really surprised us was that the coastal route took us through a scenic area called, 'The Tunnel of Trees', which was so aptly named. So many times, the canopies of both sides met over the top of the well-maintained, narrow roadway. (This is going to be a 'must return in the Fall' event for us!)

With the sun emerging, it was a resplendent sight with some very interesting homes dotted along the way; and all the time, we were accompanied by Lake Michigan on our right, shimmering in the same sunlight. We were so lucky to have stumbled upon this little gem of a route, and would thoroughly recommend it to anyone as an alternative to the highway. 'The road less traveled...' comes to mind!

I think this may be 'Indian Paintbrush' - but I was surprised to see them this far east. Am I right? 

As we were quite high up above the water level, we marveled at this mini 'funicular' that enabled the occupants of the home across the road to reach the beach area at the bottom of the cliff without the complication of climbing hundreds of steps. I bet they were grateful for the ascent after a refreshing swim!

Frolicking lambs added to the ambience of the surroundings

The route took us to the picturesque town of Harbor Springs. The approach affords terrific views of the town, and when you reach water level, it is a place that invites you to stay in order to appreciate. Unfortunately, we had to move on to reach Charlevoix before the Chamber of Commerce closed for the day. We needed a particular map from there which would give us the directions to our reason for traveling there. As we had stopped so many times along the way for photo-ops, we told ourselves that a return visit to Harbor Springs would also be added to our ever-growing bucket list. 

Finally, we reached our chosen destination - and were in time to pick up our map. Charlevoix is a superbly attractive town, positioned in between Lake Michigan, and the Round Lake, which leads into Lake Charlevoix. As such, it lends itself to continual clicking of the camera, with vista after vista. We had noticed how litter-free it had been along our journey - and this town was certainly no exception. People seem to really take pride in their town, and we remarked to each other about how the homes and gardens were so well-kept, and picture-perfect! We were pleased to be given the opportunity to express our appreciation to one person who was planting in her garden, and who stopped for a while to chat with us. 

These flower beds lined the roadway along the entrance to the town

Where the waters of Round Lake join Lake Michigan

Mark shows where we had our picnic lunch

After a picnic lunch by the harbour, we made our way to the Mushroom Houses, following the map we had obtained at the Chamber of Commerce. These homes were all constructed by Earl Young, who used large stones to create buildings that are reminiscent of the Hobbits of Middle Earth. We've just included a few pictures here, but will create a slide show to share the many pics we took of these pretty abodes. 

Having fulfilled another item on our wish-list (the Mushroom Homes), we began our return to St. Ignace, traveling along the South Arm of Lake Charlevoix, through East Jordan, Wolverine, and the I-75. 

Crossing the Mackinac Bridge back into the Upper Peninsula, we quickly visited a viewing spot to take some shots of the bridge, now bathed in the evening sunshine. 

Click the picture above to listen to an audio about facts and figures on the Mackinac Bridge (2:30 minutes)

It was a fitting end to another perfect day - in spite of the weather forecast! 

Looking forward to visiting Mackinaw Island tomorrow!

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