The Manitou Islands

Approxametely 15 miles west of Leland, the Manitou Islands rise from Lake Michigan. This archipelago is a vital part of Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, yet very few visitors ever get there. A few weeks ago, Diana discovered a trip that the Leland Historical Society was taking to both North and South Manitou Islands on the same day. Ferry riders normally get to choose between one or the other, and the transit schedule North Manitou requires overnight tent camping. This once-a-year trip offered both islands! Seeing that we had never been to either one, we decided to join the tour. Joining us would be our friends Camilla, Lane and Patti. The trip was supposed to take place on Tuesday, August 23, but it was delayed two days because of strong southwesterly winds. As luck would have it, that put the trip on Thursday, August 25th…the 100th birthday of the National Park Service!

We arrived at Fishtown in the village of Leland, ready for adventure! For those who have never been to Leland, Fishtown is the historic dock where Lake Leelanau empties into Lake Michigan. Some of the old fish processing shanties have been turned into a collection of gift shops, while others still house fisheries.

Our vessel for this special trip was the 52 foot Manitou Isle. Built in 1946, she has seen a lot of use in her 70 years. The larger and newer ferry on the left is the one that is used daily.

On the way to the islands, we passed the North Manitou Shoal Light Station. This lighthouse was built in 1935 and was the last manned offshore light on the Great Lakes when it was automated in 1980. It sits in 26 feet of water and the focal plane of the light is 79 feet above the surface of the lake. The sea birds sure appreciate it! The lighthouse is currently up for auction, with a bid of $10,000 already posted online. If you are considering bidding on it, be warned that it is still active…including the fog horn. 🙂

As we approached our first stop, the South Manitou Light Station came into view. 

After years of visiting this region, we’ve finally made it to South Manitou Island! The smaller of the two isles, South Manitou is 8.2 square miles. There is a ranger station that houses a few seasonal workers, but no permanent residents. That’s not to say it was always that way though. The island has been home to lumbermen, farmers, lighthouse keepers, and lifesaving crews. 
 

This relief model of the island shows how the western side is dominated by dunes. Both North and South share this feature, as do the Fox islands to the north, as well as most of the shoreline of the mainland in Leelanau County. The model also shows the crescent-shaped harbor, which is the only natural deep water harbor between Buffalo, NY and Chicago. The football-shapes in the water are shipwrecks. The one on the right is the latest shipwreck, the Francisco Morazan…a 234 foot steamer which ran aground in a November gale in 1960. Most of the vessel is still visible above the waterline. Time constraints did not allow us to visit the wreck or the giant 500 year old cedar trees that stand west of it.

If you recall in my previous post, Port Oneida Fair, I spoke of a ship owner named Thomas Kelderhouse. On this day, we were honored to have our tour guide be his great-great-great granddaughter, Kim Kelderhouse! Here she is explaining the legend of the Sleeping Bear, which is how the dunes and the national lakeshore received their names. According to Native American folklore, a mother bear and her two cubs were driven into Lake Michigan by a great forest fire in Wisconsin. Knowing their only escape was to get to the other side, they swam day and night. The cubs lagged behind and drowned just off the Michigan shore, where their mother waited for them. The Great Spirit eventually covered the cubs with sand, creating the Manitou Islands. As the mother bear slept, he also blanketed her, creating the Sleeping Bear dunes. As Kim stated, it is indeed a sad tale.

After leaving the dock area, which is where the former lifesaving station stands, we split up into two groups. One group headed to the farm and cemetery, and our group headed with Kim to the lighthouse.

South Manitou Light Station was first established in 1840. The original tower was replaced in 1858 by the cream brick structure in the photo above, which had a lantern room on top. It was deemed that light was too short (64 feet), so the current tower was built in 1872, closer to the water. It has a focal plane of 104 feet above the lake surface.

Kim explained how the spiral staircase is only supported in the center. If it were attached to the sides, the tower would crumble as it shifted in the wind and the stairs pulled at the walls. I’ve been to many lighthouses over the years and never knew that fact. Learn something new every day!

The third order Fresnel lens is a replica. The light shines nightly from May through October.

Here’s the motley crew on the lighthouse gallery!

Kim took us into the keeper’s quarters, which is awaiting restoration. The windows were recently replaced, thereby stabilizing the building.

The lack of a ceiling upstairs allowed us to see this interesting twist in the chimney, which made it possible to exit the roof without disrupting the rafters.

From the lighthouse, we headed back to the boat and headed off to North Manitou Island.

Just a couple of kids out for a boat ride.  🙂

As was the case at our previous stop, North Manitou Island’s dock is near the lifesaving station.

The unique thing about this location is that it is the only remaining station to have buildings that were used from the beginning of the Lifesaving Service through the Coast Guard.  This boathouse is the only remaining example that used the original 1854 standardized plans, and it was built that same year.

The 1877 Lifesaving Station was a combination crew quarters and boathouse.  It was later converted to quarters and a storehouse by the Manitou Island Association, and then to a dormitory by the National Park Service.

As was the case on South Manitou, North started out in the lumbering business selling cordwood to passing steamers.  When the trees were exhausted, the Manitou Island Association formed, which farmed the land.  A large barn from the farming era still exists to the north of the village near the dock.

A unique feature on North Manitou is Cottage Row.  There are 10 parcels that were owned by successful Chicago business owners who vacationed  here in the summer months.  The cottages on these lots were built between 1893 and 1924.

This cottage, the Monte Carlo, was designed by a 26 year old Frank Lloyd Wright when he was employed at the Sullivan firm in Chicago.  It was built in 1894.

Also built that year was the Trude-Fiske cottage.  It remained in the family until 1979.

The Wing Cottage was also built in 1894 and was owned by several families over the years.  Note the fieldstone foundation.

The Riggs-Londergan Cottage was built in 1924.  The Manitou Island Association purchased it in 1958.

This is the Katie Shepard Hotel, which is currently being restored by Preserve Historic Sleeping Bear volunteers.  It was built in 1895.  Although plans aren’t firm, the thought is that visitors will be able to use it as an alternative to tent camping, similar to a hostel.

There are a few other cottages, including one that was ordered out of the Sears catalogue.  Diana found it interesting that, of all the places these wealthy city dwellers could have chosen to spend their summers, they decided on an island in northern Lake Michigan without electricity or running water.

From North Manitou, we headed back to the mainland to the dock at Fishtown.

Camilla took one of her famous selfies to document our safe return!  What a great day with friends!

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Port Oneida Fair

In the mid 19th century, northern Europeons began settling into the area between what is now known as Pyramid Point and Glen Arbor, along the shores of Sleeping Bear Bay. Thomas Kelderhouse, the owner of several cargo ships on Lake Michigan, realized the potential of the area’s timber during a stopover on South Manitou Island. He made a deal with a local landowner on the mainland, Carsten Burfiend, where Kelderhouse would build a dock if Burfiend would donate the property adjacent to it. The resulting port was named after the one of the first ships to arrive, the S.S. Oneida.

Over time, the land was cleared of it’s timber and farmed.  The sandy soil wasn’t the best for crops, but the longer growing season along Lake Michigan helped sustain the community for a time.  Eventually, most of the buildings were abandoned.  When the National Park Service first acquired Port Oneida in the 1970’s, the policy was to remove the buildings and let nature retake the land. Fortunately, the funds weren’t available at that time to remove the structures.  Eventually that policy was changed, after the public realized that the county roads were going to be removed also….thereby eliminating access to the area beaches.  As a result of it’s time in limbo, Port Oneida is one of the largest examples of a pre-modern rural community in the United States.  The buildings are now being preserved, as is the history of those early settlers.

Each August, the National Park Service partners with the nonprofit Preserve Historic Sleeping Bear for the Port Oneida Fair.  The event showcases rural life as it would have been in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. This year’s fair was held over two days, up from the usual one day event.  Admission is free, although a park pass is required to be on the grounds.

Spread over five seperate farms, there were many different demonstrations as to how things were done in the past.  Above, a man rides in a horse drawn buggy across a field at the Dechow farm.

Oxen in their yolks, ready to do some work in the fields!

A young boy using a shaving horse and a spoke shave to shape a piece of wood.

This woman was demonstrating the art of spinning wool.  She was really good at it.  🙂

This display from the Empire Area Museum had two hand-cranked phonographs; the one on the right was an Edison.  A far cry from listening to music on your iPhone. 😀

There were several bicycles on display.  This one was actually a predecessor to the high wheeler.

We found this oil-burning headlight to be interesting.  Note the red lens on the left side.  The right side is green, just like a boat would have.

This little McCormick-Deering gasoline engine was chugging along.  It was connected to a water pump.  They had several examples of old engines, one of which was powering a Maytag washing machine.

A pair of beautiful draft horses.  The front one is a Belgian and the one behind is a Percheron.

Just across M-22 from the Dechow farm is the Olsen farm.

This home is the showcase of Port Oneida.  It doubles as an information center for the historic district.

This gentleman was playing a hammer dulcimer.  To me, they are one of the prettiest sounding musical instruments ever made.

This man was explaining the uses of the flax plant.  In his hand was a by-product of the processing of flax, called tow fibers.  This was timely for us, as Diana had just mentioned earlier this week that she wondered where the term ‘tow head’ came from for blondes.  Well, he explained that the term came from the similarity of the color of the fibers to blonde hair.  He also told us that the fibers were used to make rope, hence the term ‘tow rope’….and towing your car, and so on.  Pretty cool.  🙂

The woman with him was spinning tow.  Both of them were wearing clothes made from tow.  Sorry about the angle of the photo: that’s a fiber spindle, not a flute.  🙂

From the Olsen farm, we continued down the road to the Burfiend Barn.

Outside the barn, children and adult volunteers were making wooden barn pegs. They drove the wood through cylindrical tubes with wooden mallets.  Each new peg drove the last one out of the tube.

Inside the barn, the string band Carter Creek was putting on a show.  We really enjoyed listening to them, especially when they played an old favorite of ours…John Prine’s ‘Paradise’.

We really enjoyed our day at the Port Oneida Fair.  If you are ever visiting Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore the second Saturday in August, be sure to save the afternoon for this event.

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Alligator Hill 

A year ago on August 2, a powerful storm packing winds in excess of 100 miles-an-hour rolled off of Lake Michigan and took dead aim at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Fortunately, no one was killed and very few people were injured. While there were dozens of homes and businesses damaged, the majority of the devistation was to the canopy of trees in the area.  A prime example of that is Alligator Hill.

Named for its resemblance to a resting alligator, this rise of thickly-forested land lies within the boundaries of the national lakeshore.  A series of hiking and cross-country skiing trails, totaling over 7 miles, traverse the length of the hill.  The winds from the storm raked along the ridge, funneling into the ravines on either side and laying 150 year old trees into piles exceeding 10 feet in height.  The trail system was closed following the storm and was only recently reopened to hiking.  After our friends Lane and Patti hiked it, we decided to go check it out on our anniversary this last Saturday, August 6th.

As the map at the trailhead suggested, we snapped a photo to take the map with us.  It’s nice that these signs are clear enough to be able to read on a smartphone.  The NPS really does a good job at Sleeping Bear, and we appreciate it.  Our route for the day would take us to Islands Lookout and Big Glen Lookout.  Including a side trip to view additional storm damage, we totaled 4.7 miles.

Once on the trail, we were greeted by the cool canopy of trees that made up the majority of the path, prior to last August.  Having not hiked here before, we aren’t sure if the two-track appearance of the trail existed before the storm.  A lot of equipment had to come through this area to reopen the upper portions of the route.

Before long, we started to see some of the downed trees.  There was no doubt that this was the result of straight-line winds, as these giants were all dropped in an easterly direction.

After a short stretch of blown out forest, we returned to the canopy  of trees.  It was there that we came upon one of the best views we’ve ever seen at Sleeping Bear…the Islands Lookout.

Look at that water.  One of the hikers at the overlook commented that it reminded him of the Carribean. We never get tired of looking at these waters, and this particular viewpoint really puts it all in perspective.  Off in the distance is South Manitou Island to the left and North Manitou Island to the right.

Continuing around to the right, you are able to see just how wide the vista is here.  Looking with the naked eye, I spotted something on the horizon between the islands.  I zoomed my camera in as best I could, but I still couldn’t tell what I was seeing until I got home.

It was a fairly large Great Lakes freighter steaming north towards the Straits of Mackinac!

Leaving the viewpoint, we headed towards Big Glen Lookout.

This is the ‘spine of the alligator’, so to speak.  This area was hit hard, as you are able to see.  Still, it was interesting to see how other plant life was coming up from the forest floor.

Common Mullein were sprouting up everywhere!  

Again, we entered an area of forested canopy before we arrived at our next viewpoint. 

Big Glen Lookout overlooks what is considered to be one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, Big Glen Lake.  Almost perfectly round and surrounded by high hills, the lake doesn’t have a lot of big waves, making it a boater’s paradise.

Heading back towards the trailhead, we took the path that runs below the ridge on the south side.  This is the area that the storm hit first.

It looked like a war zone.  The National Park Service is contemplating what to do with the timber.  One school of thought is to leave it natural while the other is to remove it to lessen the extreme fire danger.  Either way, it was an amazing thing to see!

These trees were shattered.  It was interesting to see how the core of the tree seperated from the rest.  We saw several examples of this.

We can’t imagine what it would have been like to have been on the trail that day, as there was nowhere to hide.  It’s humbling to think of the power the storm was packing.

It wasn’t too long before we were back at the trailhead and our vehicle.  What would have normally been a nice hike to a couple of great viewpoints has become a lesson in the tremendous forces that nature unleashes from time to time.  We are really glad we did this hike and we recommend it to anyone visiting Sleeping Bear.