Fall Adventures with an Elevated Twist
My edible buzz was on point as the plane touched down in Pellston and we rolled toward a tiny mountain lodge style airport. Pellston is a tiny town in north Michigan. After retrieving my bag from a small carousel flanked by fire features and stuffed animals, I hopped a shuttle to lakeside Mackinac City and boarded Shepler’s ferry to Mackinaw Island.
Founded in 1780, Mackinaw is an island that sits in Lake Huron. The Native American Odawa tribe was the its first inhabitants. They named the island ‘Mitchimakinak’ which means ‘Big Turtle’, a nod to the shape of the island and what it resembled. It was a place of commerce for the fur trade and a Fort was built by the British in 1812. It acted as a strategic outpost during the American Revolutionary War. Mackinaw Island and Mackinac Island are the same place, different spelling – one of British and one of French persuasion. On a flight back home to California now milligrams deep from a gifted Kushy Punch gummi…drifting, thinking, and the following words come to mind as I reflect on my Mackinaw Island Time: Horses, Carriages, Fudge, Arch Rock, White Fish, Pink Ponies and Butterflies.
Let’s dive in.
DAY #1 – Time Travel
We arrived to the island, I disembarked and strolled waterside down the dock toward Main Street. I asked a local for an inside tip. Something cool, not super touristy that he had in the hip pocket. He responded with, “The Pink Pony! Take the side alley entrance, hot tub and drinks with a view.”
Cool, thanks man.
Main Street was quaint with pops of color from the flowers. The streets were decorated with old-timey shop signs, horse drawn carriages and front basket bicycles. First impression, I had never been anywhere like it. A bit hokey at first feel but the jury is out and I’m interested.
Automobiles aren’t allowed on Mackinaw Island. They were banned in 1898 due to their negative impact. I liked that upon hearing it and loved it upon experiencing it. Permitted modes of transportation today include bicycle, horse, foot, horse drawn carriage, cross country skis or snow mobile. I was reminded on this trip that a community without automobiles is a community that is less isolated and more connected. Sort of like traveling back in time…
I pulled out some cash from an ATM and grabbed a house drawn carriage up to the Grand Hotel. Still elevated from the edible, the clop-clop-clop of the horse hoofs and the sweeping theatrical approach was pretty epic. The Grand Hotel commands a strong first impression. It is indeed Grand, but in a not-so-grand kind of way. It needs fresh wind in its sails.
If you have a reference point for luxury fine dining, then I suggest skipping the shirt and tie song and dance dinner option at The Grand Hotel. Go instead for a pre-dinner toke of a munchie inducing strain and track down the Peel and Eat Shrimp at the Stage House restaurant or Sea Biscuits Café on Main Street. While on the Island there are two must try cuisines:
- Whitefish, the local signature dish. Try it twice, prepared two distinctly different ways.
- Fudge. Taste, taste, taste and take a slice to go for the road. *HIGHLY recommended
I dropped my things at the room and headed back down to Mainstreet feeling joyfully out of step with the modern world. I enjoy a couple Ole Fashions while I caught up on work, then walked back to the hotel and turned in for the night.
DAY #2 – Joyfully in the Moment
Today was my favorite day on Mackinaw Island. Work in the morning was interesting and by noon I was able change into comfy clothes, pop an edible and venture about the island. I headed toward Main Street on a lakeside boardwalk path with a horse drawn carriage tour on my mind. How many times in life will I have a horse and carriage island tour at my fingertips? I walked up to the ticket booth and opted for the inner loop carriage ride and tacked on a butterfly garden experience. Next tour departed in 45 minutes.
With time to kill I wandered Main Street taking in the shops and vibe. I was beckoned into a shop that claimed to have the ‘creamiest and best fudge on Mackinaw Island’. Sure, why not? I sampled different fudge flavors as someone would sample ice cream or frozen yogurt. Pumpkin fudge hit the mark, and I purchased a half slice for the road, a tasty treat for later in the day.
The time had arrived, we boarded the carriage and were on our way. My high was starting to peak and it was euphoric. It was the kind of buzz that puts you on the cusp of laughter at any moment, one of my favorite cannabis effects. People watching my fellow horse and carriage tour passengers took center stage as entertainment. What an interesting species us humans are. I enjoyed the banter, accents, mannerisms and awkward but friendly introductions of the tourists. I sat quiet with sunglasses on and a smile on my face, taking it all in and keeping my laughter in check.
My tour guide was from Romania and spoke superb English. She delivered some good humor and explained to the group that this was her fifth-year summer season working the Island. She was a seasonal horse driver. She was drawn to Mackinaw because of her love of horses and the need to bank some money. Mackinaw Island was the perfect fit for her for summer season at this time in her life.
We headed up Main Street then hung a right and headed inland. The guide shared fun facts about the history of Mackinaw Island and explained how Mackinac State Park was the 2nd designation of its kind in the United States, right behind Yellowstone. We peeked into the tourism supply chain of Mackinaw Island as we passed the horse stables and carriage storage area. They were located a ridge or two back from lakeside in a flat meadow area suitable for such storage and staging needs.
We rolled into a beautiful valley with stunning trees casting beautiful shade shadows onto the green grass. It looked like a painting. I could feel cannabis magnifying the moment. I exited the tour carriage and made my way toward a row of carriages inside of a pristine warehouse. This was my favorite surprise of the trip, a carriage museum. Horse drawn carriages were the pre-cursor to automobiles, and these were made by Studebaker. The Studebaker Carriage Museum was transportive and educational, a great combo. Enjoying my cannabis high, I geeked out on horse draw carriages for a good hour or more, snapping photos, reading historical information and channeling a different time and place.
Next came the butterfly garden experience. A greenhouse of plants and flowers with colorful creatures flapping about. Whether awkwardly flying or sunbathing, butterflies are extraordinarily beautiful. I took a seat on an iron bench and enjoyed the magic of observing the nuances of a butterfly garden. Good vibes.
Next up was Arch Rock, a limestone formation that is iconic on the island. The view offers deep blue lake water framed by a beautiful arched rock sculpture. It reminded me of the Roman bridges in Italy. Equally impressive is the lakeside vista view from the perched platform behind Arch Rock.
I hopped off the horse and carriage tour at the Fort and walked down to Main Street. I’m glad I did. The path down hugged the Fort wall and offered vista views of the island and sparkling sun-kissed water. The path led me to Marquette Park. I laid down on the grass and enjoyed the sunshine as I took in the scene and snacked on some pumpkin fudge.
The Pink Pony insider tip from the day before crossed my mind, and I decided to check it out. The Pink Pony restaurant and bar was vibey with distinctive art and decor. Any visit to Mackinaw should include a Pink Pony cocktail and twenty minutes. I found the side alley as instructed and the side gate that led to a large inviting hot-tub with lake views. Hell yes, so good. I claimed a lounge chair, changed, dropped my stuff, grabbed a draft beer and eased into the hot water. The Pink Pony experience = highly recommended; bring your own towel.
For dinner on day-two I landed at Sushi Grand and chowed down on nigiri. The food was eh. It scratched the sushi itch, especially the Yellowtail nigiri, but it was far from what I’m used to in California. Back to the Grand Hotel and off to bed, dreaming of carriages.
DAY #3 – Well Done
Departure day. Packed up, checked out and grabbed a greasy spoon breakfast on Main Street. The ferry ride was a nice way to wake up as I sat in the open-air roof top section, enjoyed the wind in my face and munched down a few infused-mints in preparation for my time at the airport and flight home.
And with that, another elevated travel and dining experience was added to the list…and forever etched into the story of a life I’m doing my best to live well. Here’s to you achieving the experiences that fulfill you, too.