Travel 2013: More Lighthouses, More Stories

Middle Island Light and keeper’s quarters, near Alpena, Mich.

Ever since I was a kid, I dreamed of getting my feet wet in the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean. Living in the middle of farm country, the oceans are fascinating to me, and I guess the same is true for the lighthouses that dot the coastlines.

I’m intrigued by the stories of lightkeepers who worked tirelessly to guide ships through treacherous waters, whether they were traversing the saltwater seas of the ocean, or the freshwater Great Lakes.

So many of the lighthouses today are automated, but the stories of the ships they guided — successfully or not-so-successfully — live on in the displays we find as we visit these American treasures.

Since May 1998, when I crossed the state line from Washington into Oregon and discovered a brochure inviting me to visit the lighthouses of the Oregon coast, I’ve been on a mission to see as many lights as I can.

I purchased a lighthouse guidebook soon after that Oregon trip 15 years ago, and I’ve been writing in dates and checking off lights ever since.

Sturgeon Point Light, Michigan.

After my trip to the eastern shoreline of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula earlier this month, I can now say I’ve seen 73 lighthouses in seven states.

Some of the stops have included a few photographs and a scribbled date in my book, while others have been a bit more memorable.

Of the 11 lighthouses and one lightship my mom and I saw on this particular journey, two of them left me with lasting memories.

The first was Sturgeon Point Light, which features a white building with red trim and a matching conical tower.

Mom and I arrived fairly early in the morning — at least before others were around — and parked among a grove of trees near a path that lead to the lighthouse.

As I enjoyed the morning solitude, I suddenly heard a rustling in the trees.

“Mom? Mom? Where are you?” I asked in a bit of a panic.

“Over here,” she said.

As I feared, she called from the opposite direction of where I heard the noise.

I would have gone on thinking it was deer (although I won’t deny visions of a Sasquatch in my wandering mind!), but then mom said, “Maybe it was a bear.”

“Why would you say that?” I wailed, eager to walk the trail back to the car at this point. “Besides, they don’t have bears around here!”

Middle Island Light, captured from the porch of the keeper’s quarters. One of the groundskeeper’s suggested taking the photo from this vantage point to frame the light.

Several hours and a few lighthouse visits later, we checked into a mom-n-pop motel in Alpena. There, just above the check-in counter, was the mounted front half of a black bear, fangs showing and claws stretched out.

“Is that from around here?” I asked the guy, almost afraid to hear the answer.

“Oh yeah, it was shot about a mile and a half south of here,” the guy said. He then pointed to another mount behind me — this one a full-bodied bear standing on his hind legs. That one, too, was shot a short distance out of town.

Mom laughs about the potential bear incident at Sturgeon Point Light, but I will always wonder what could have been. I’ll also think twice before hiking through unknown surroundings when no one else is around to hear my screams!

The second memorable lighthouse we saw on our journey was to Middle Island Lighthouse — a light that isn’t even included in my lighthouse book. Because we timed our trip to coincide with the Great Lakes Lighthouse Festival, we were able to take a charter boat to the island to view the light.

The wooded trail leading to Middle Island Light.

The short, 10-minute ride across the choppy waters of Lake Huron was an experience in itself (I love boat rides!). Hiking the two-thirds mile across the island to see the light was another. The island is home to sink holes, so we were directed to stay on the marked trail. There’s nothing like random sink holes to convince a group of tourists not to wander!

The Middle Island Light Keepers Association is raising money to restore the conical tower on the island, as well as the keeper’s quarters. One of the buildings was transformed into a cabin-style home away from home, and people can pay to stay on the island for a night or a few nights or a week.

If I was ever in need of total seclusion from the outside world, I just might consider staying there some day.

Then again, I probably wouldn’t get any sleep as every little rustling in the trees will convince me there’s a black bear out there coming to get me!

Pointing the way to the Middle Island Lighthouse.

2 Responses

  1. I am so glad that you got to go to Michigan! And so glad too, that you had a good time. (I’m also glad that you’ve been to WA and OR! There is an island – Patos – in Puget Sound near where I grew up that has a lighthouse – I’ve never been there but I’d love to go! I have a book on it if you’d like to borrow it!) There is something about lighthouses, isn’t there? So cool.

    1. Julie Buntjer

      Thanks Gretchen – my mom and I had a fun time getting away for a while!
      I only wish I’d been interested in lighthouses when I was in Washington. Our first destination that May was Seattle, with plans to go south to Sacramento to visit family. While in Washington, we went north to Fidalgo Island, taking a ferry and then a charter boat ride for a whale-watching excursion. We never did see a killer whale, but it didn’t matter – I was so thrilled to see porpoises and sea lions “in the wild” for the first time in my life. I fell in love with the area, and I think if I hadn’t been constantly reminded of how often it rains out there, I just might have stayed. 🙂 I will have to look in my lighthouse book to see if the lighthouse of Patos island is included in there. Who knows, maybe some day I’ll get back that direction!

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