While anticipating a mid-October vacation to the Outer Banks of North Carolina a year ago, I thought I should have a back-up destination — just in case a hurricane was churning in the Atlantic toward the coastal communities of Kill Devil Hills, Duck or Ocracoke.
As I searched the Internet for second place travel plans, I discovered that Alpena, Mich., hosts the Great Lakes Lighthouse Festival each year in October.
It immediately went to the top of my travel list, not just because I’d never been to a lighthouse festival, but because it was a much shorter drive than last year’s 3,600-plus mile journey through 10 states.
Back in May 1999, a friend and I did a complete tour of the lighthouses of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and a decade ago — in May 2003 — my folks and I traveled to Mackinac Island and then followed the western shoreline of the Lower Peninsula to see the Lake Michigan lighthouses.
This time around, the lighthouses of focus were those on the eastern side of the state, along Lake Huron.
With cattle in the yard to keep Dad busy on the farm, Mom and I set out for Port Huron, Mich., on a Monday morning earlier this month. By the end of our first day on the road, we were in great need of relaxation. Getting through Chicago traffic is enough to make any traveler weary — especially this farm girl who likes her two-lane country roads!
We overnighted in Michigan City, Ind. (which, by the way, has a lighthouse — we’d seen it in May 2003), and set out Tuesday morning on the Interstate, destined for the Port Huron Lightship.
Greta Garmin brought us to our initial destination by early that afternoon, and we were pleasantly surprised by the beautiful blue waters of the port, and the black-as-coal squirrels foraging around for food in the park.
The Port Huron Lightship is located in Pine Grove Park, and houses a museum that is open during the summer months.
According to my lighthouse reference book, “American Lighthouses: A Comprehensive Guide,” the Huron was the last lightship to serve on the Great Lakes. From 1921 until its decommissioning in 1970, the lightship spent much of its time at Corsica Shoals in Lake Huron, guiding ship traffic in and out of a narrow channel.
Just a couple of miles down the road from the lightship stands the Fort Gratiot Lighthouse. Also closed for the season (workers were painting the weathered wood of the keeper’s quarters while we were there), we were free to walk around the grounds.
The Fort Gratiot Light is the oldest light station in Michigan, built in 1825 — 12 years before Michigan became a state. The original light lasted just four years, and was rebuilt in 1829. That structure still stands today.
After leaving the Fort Gratiot Light, it was two-lane travel for nearly all of our remaining travel through Michigan.
With several hours of daylight remaining, we headed north from Fort Gratiot to see the Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse, which is located at the tip of the thumb if you consider that the Lower Peninsula is shaped like a left-handed mitten. The 89-foot conical tower was constructed in 1858, replacing a structure that was built 10 years prior.
Like most lighthouses, Pointe Aux Barques was automated, and now emits a bright white light that can be seen 18 miles out into Lake Huron.
After walking around the grounds and watching a couple of kayakers maneuvering the shoreline, we climbed back into the car and headed back down the thumb to Frankenmuth, Mich., to end the second day of our travels.
Check back soon for the next blog sharing the story of my Michigan travels.