We've taken vacations all over the place in the past - to New York and North Carolina and Iowa and Colorado and South Dakota and Kentucky and Pittsburgh - but we hadn't ever taken them around our own state. The kids have been saying for a couple of years that they really want to go see Mackinac Island, and neither Juanito or i had ever been there either. And so!
We first headed up to the Sleeping Bear Dunes/Traverse City area, because it's beautiful, and while both Juanito and i have been there separately, we've never been there together, and the kids hadn't yet been there.
This summer has been really dry. Everyone keeps commenting on how little rain we've gotten. And so, of course, it rained and rained and rained for the first two days that we were camping. The weather was nice enough to hold off raining while we started putting up the tent, but then halfway through, Juanito was all, "Oh. We don't have any tent pegs...." and so he ran off to Menard's to get some giant nails to use as tent pegs while the kids and i finished setting up what we could and then going down to the lake to see the view. (We were literally just a staircase away from the lake. It was awesome.) Before Juanito got back, though, it totally started raining, so the kids and i all sheltered in the tent and played Uno and Skip-Bo. When Juanito got back, it was pouring, so he finished setting up the tent in the pouring rain, getting absolutely drenched. (He's so nice.) We basically just huddled in the tent for the rest of the day and eventually decided that we'd just go ahead and go to Burger King, because at least it was dry.
The next morning dawned drizzly, but it cleared up and gave us sunshine for a couple of hours. We tried to take full advantage of the sun, and drove up Mission Point peninsula to the lighthouse and beach. The lake's level is really high this year, so all of the beaches are really small, which was disappointing. But it was still beautiful. And then we drove over to the Leelanau Peninsula and up to the Grand Traverse Lighthouse. That beach was nearly non-existent, and so at this point i started totally doubting my memory, and asked one of the ladies working there if we were at the right place. She seemed confused, but an old man standing nearby was all, "Oh! You want Peterson Beach! Just turn by the purple trees!" And Peterson Beach was totally cool, and the kids loved looking all over it for rocks, but it's not the beach i was thinking of. Weird. We all looked and looked for Petosky stones or really any pretty rocks, but none of us had any luck with actual Petosky stones. (Juanito did later realize that he had totally found one, not recognized it as a Petosky stone, and threw it away. Bummer.)
While we were at Peterson Beach, it totally started raining again, so we stopped at a couple of places (the 45th parallel, the world's biggest cherry pie pan, a place where a guy has giant bare metal statues), and then headed back to the campsite. Juanito managed, with a lot of effort and even more lighter fluid, to start a fire with all of the wet wood, and so we ate hot dogs in the rain and eventually all ended up in the warm, dry car and decided that we just needed to find someplace dry to sit for a while. So we went to Bud's for ice cream.
By the next day, the rain had stopped and the sun was shining, and lo, it was So! Much! Nicer! We drove over to the coast, stopping first at the Cherry Bowl Drive-in theater, where they have a whole ton of crazy statues and whatnot outside, and then to a gravity hill, where things roll up hill (not really, but they seem to) (and i'm not sure we actually found it, but it was still fun trying), and then we asked the GPS to take us to Gwen Frostic's, and instead it took us to a muddy little two track that went off into the woods. Juanito was all, "Um. We're totally going to get stuck. This CAN'T be it." We got out and walked up the track, and it really was just more woods leading to a field with a whole bunch of beehives and beyond. We did eventually find the place, and it had a real parking lot and everything.
And then! Pierce Stocking Drive! For anyone who hasn't been to Sleeping Bear Dunes, this is the scenic drive that you kind of have to take, because it leads to spectacular views and ridiculously giant dunes that nobody sane would ever go down (there are literally signs saying, "Don't do it. It'll take you 2 hours to get back up, and if you can't make it, then you have to pay to get rescued."). There were also smaller dunes that could be climbed, and those we did climb. The boys had fun running full-tilt down the dunes. Katrina ran down in a more controlled fashion. I usually had my camera and was perfectly content to walk down.
Everyone climbed "The Dune," a huge-but-not-as-insane dune just up the road from Pierce Stocking drive. At the top, the kids dug a giant hole while Juanito carved a heart into the sand. I originally thought that they were going to go up and then come right back down, so i was all, "Go ahead! I'll stay here," but then they never came back, so i ended up going up after all, just in time to take pictures and catch my breath and then head back down. We walked out over the dunes at Sleeping Bear Point to the beach, and the kids played in the lake for a little while. We'd originally planned to walk out to the ghost forest, but Houston and Katrina were both pretty finished by that point, so we called it a day.
On Sunday (the next day), we packed up camp and drove up to Mackinaw, stopping at random places along the way. The first, unplanned, stop came when we drove past a store with a giant bear, and all of us were like, "Oh my gosh!!! That is the creepiest bear EVER! We need to go back!" So Juanito turned around and we took pictures, and then the kids all found sweatshirts for $15-$17 that they wanted to buy, and so they did, and they wore those sweatshirts every single day for the rest of the trip. (OH! Also! On day 2, i realized that Zane had brought exactly zero (0) shirts with him and would have to wear the same shirt every day. Awesome.)
We then stopped at a giant trout fountain, a random unicorn on the side of the road, Deadman's hill overlook, and Petosky on our way to our campground in Mackinaw City. Our campground was right on Lake Huron and had an awesome view of the Mackinac Bridge. The kids loved it, because there was a beach and a playground and horseshoes and basketball and volleyball. And they actually played all of those things.
Monday morning we woke up and went to Mackinac Island. The ferry out there is a slow ferry, and it takes you right under the Mackinac Bridge. It was really cool. Houston even made up a song about it, and it might have been the most annoying song that has ever been sung - at least, it was after the first 10 minutes.
The first thing we did when we landed was to go and rent bikes, which we then mostly walked up to the top of the hill where the big fort was. Once up there, we rode down the middle of the island, which was mostly downhill (awesome!), until we got to the highway that runs around the perimeter of the island, and then we took that back to town. Along the way, we stopped a few times at beautiful views, at the Devil's Kitchen, and at trees growing straight out of giant cliffs. We then returned the bikes and sat in the park to eat some lunch. (Me, while riding bikes: "Don't let me forget to take pictures of us with the bikes!" And...i totally forgot. Sad me!)
From there, we hiked out to Anne's Tablet, Arch Rock, Sugar Loaf Rock, Fort Holmes, a buggy museum, and the Grand Hotel (we came down the street from the back, and so we totally got to see the Grand Hotel for free. If we'd come the other way, we would have had to pay and totally wouldn't have gone in.). It was a lot of walking, and a lot of it was up and down hills and stairs, and usually none of that would have been a problem. As i was planning the trip, i was all, "Our family is great at walking all over for long distances!" What i didn't know was that Zane's left foot has been hurting him when he walks long distances (you have to tell me these things, child!!!) and so he was miserable for a lot of the walking. Poor kid. He kept asking, "Are we almost back to town? Can we go taste the fudge now?"
We did eventually get to town and walk around and taste lots of fudge, and all three of my kids were disappointed to realize that...they don't like fudge. (So then they were all like, "I just won't get any more samples," to which i was like, "What?! No! Get them and give them to me!") We walked through some of the stores, until they all seemed to be kind of the same thing, and then we collectively decided to be finished. It was already after 7:00, anyhow. We took the fast boat back - on the top, front seats, and it was really cool and also really windy.
The next morning we packed up camp, went into town to buy some fudge for ourselves and my parents, and then headed up to the Upper Peninsula. We wanted to both go over the Mackinac Bridge and also let the kids be able to say that they've been to the UP. We stopped at the "Patriotic Moose" and a fairly stupid store that has a giant Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, but they're surrounded by a chain link fence and are also kind of dumb. We stopped and got pasties for lunch, because when you're in the UP, you have to eat pasties. And then we went back across the bridge and headed home. Along the way, we stopped at a store that claims to have "a man-eating clam," which was...fine, but it also had a whole lot of other incredible-ness - a giant bear, a hammerhead shark you could pretend was eating you, creepy-ish fisherman mannequins and pirate mannequins and all manner of bizarre merchandise.
And then we stopped at the world's largest crucifix and nun doll museum. I had no idea what to expect, but it was honestly pretty interesting. There were a few definitely creepy dolls, and it was kind of weird that there were some that were Barbie dolls and some that were regular dolls and some that were human-sized, but it was really interesting to see how many different kinds of habits there are.
And then a giant beer bottle and Robinson's Scenic Garden, which is a yard filled with a whole bunch of weird or cute or creepy statues. The creepiest, by far, was the clown head with giant horns like a bull. I don't even know what to do with that.
And then HOME! Real beds! A good shower! A roof and a stove and a refrigerator! Yay!