Another beautiful morning and after deciding NOT to return to Mackinac Island we found ourselves without a plan for the day! But have no fear, I pulled out my “list” of places to see and do around the local area and was more than ready to provide a quick suggestion for explorations to other areas in the Upper Peninsula! This time; to the furthest point on the eastern shore of the UP – De Tour Village! This will take us along the Lake Huron Shoreline!
This portion of the UP narrows and dribbles off into a series of peninsulas, points and islands. It’s simple, has a pretty feel and just provides a laid back sort of feeling, and LOTS of trees. We read the whole area is often overlooked in guidebooks and this probably is fine with the locals and summer cottage owners I would think! Our “game plan” was to stop and visit all the little towns/villages along the way to De Tour Village – so this necessitated TWO stops along the 50-mile trek! Well, three if you count a stop to check out an RV park along the way – Loon Point RV Resort.
The first stop was in the little village of Hessel. We saw we had just missed (by a few weekends) the Antique Wooden Boat show that apparently draws huge crowds to come to the harbor area and walk around admiring the boats people bring from all around to be part of the show. I was a bit surprised at some of the cute and quaint little shops around this VERY small town. Thanks to one of the many summer residents who retired here, downtown is now spiffed up and functional. The Hessel Grocery & Deli spares the locals the drive to the next town of Cedarville to buy the necessities and is PACKED with a little of this and a little of that to chose from. But the town’s “character” comes from Bonnie Stewart Mickelson, an Akron native and lifelong summer resident who bought the grocery store and made it into a crisp, improved version of “the way it used to be”.
But the main find was reading that Bonnie is the celebrated cookbook author of her bestselling classic “Hollyhocks and Radishes” drawing on life wisdom, vegetables and family recipes. The book is based on the area’s fresh produce, fish and game, and it has the charming line drawings of life in Les Cheneaux. As luck would have it, the store she sells her book in “Pickle Point Fun Things to Do Shop” was closed when we were there and again, when we drove back by on our way home. So, Jerry is indulging me that on Tuesday we’ll go back if I call and find out the shop will be open! Yahoo!
We walked around the marina area just enjoying the Les Cheneaux Islands before us. “The Snows” is what the locals call them, though the real name for these islands is Les Cheneaux (lay-shen-O), French for “The Channels”. And there are channels aplenty. Like shards of glass, 36 long and narrow islands lie splintered just off the southeastern shore forming a maze of calm channels and protected bays in this region of northern Lake Huron. As you can imagine, this area is a delight for boaters; tall sailboats, classic cabin cruisers, and simple canoes all share these waters as they have for more than a century. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a boat with us, or access to one, so we were only able to admire the islands from the shore and am sure pictures will not do it justice. When we stopped at the Loon Point RV Resort, I did manage to take a picture of the islands for a better overview and better appreciation of these islands along the shoreline.
We kind of ‘sailed’ through Cedarville – and didn’t really see any shops that caught our attention or marina either. But it did count as a stop because this is where we decided to put the top down on the Jeep. Then we continued heading due east hugging the shoreline with many pull-offs to admire the pretty coastal shore of the Lake. And oh my goodness, the lighthouse I NEVER thought we would see was there for us to zoom in upon at our first pull off, what a fluke! There before us was the Martin Reef Light! It’s a tad grainy I fear in the pictures because of the distance off the shoreline, but still fun to behold nevertheless. This lighthouse was built in 1927 and is owned and operated by the US Coast Guard and not accessible by the public.
We arrived in De Tour Village – the end of the road, where one takes a “detour” and returns the way one entered! This simple village of 400 overlooks De Tour Passage and the site of St. Marys River that leads from Lake Superior and Sault Ste Marie and empties into Lake Huron. Definitely a fishing community and the town hails back to the French Canadian times. It became an important firewood fueling station with the opening of the Soo Locks in 1855. “De Tour” means the turning place and here voyageurs’ canoes and later ships, turned sharply from the river to head for the Mackinac and the Straits. The word, if pronounced correctly the French way, would have the accent on the second syllable – “de-TOUR”, but everybody says “DEE-tour”. When Detroit was still a blank spot on the map, De Tour Village was busy guiding ships with a navigational light dating as far back as 1848.
Across from De Tour Village is Drummond Island – a LONG stone’s throw across the passage, but large enough to allow the huge ships to pass through on their way to Lake Huron.
We knew there was the De Tour Reef Light to find as well. The lighthouse was originally placed at Point De Tour in 1847 and then moved offshore in 1931 and marks the mouth of St. Marys River. This lighthouse sits 83’ above the water and is 63’ tall Classic revival style. Was automated in 1974 and in 1997 was declared excess property by the US Coast Guard and added in 1998 to the National Trust for Historic Preservation of Americas Most Endangered Historic Places and an example for all Michigan Lighthouses. And in Aug 2010, Michele Obama designated De Tour Reef Light Preservation Society as a ‘Preserve America’s Steward Volunteer Program’ to preserve the nations historic places.
Okay, so we ask at the local IGA “Can you tell me where to find the lighthouse?” – I probably got more than five variations of directions – NO ONE there knew how to tell us to get there (and a few acted like they didn’t even know there was a lighthouse in the local area). The local history museum was closed on Saturdays – so that was a dead end, and not a lot of folks strolling the streets to stop and ask either. So, we set off on our own to find this lighthouse following the culmination of directions provided. Finally, after we exhausted all the well-meaning directions, we got back on the main drag heading back to St. Ignace. Jerry pulled over to get a soda from the cooler and there ‘it’ was – so we finally managed to get some pictures of the De Tour Reef Light to add to the ‘collection’!
Till the next time . . .