Visiting the Thumb

To celebrate our anniversary this year we took a short trip to the thumb of Michigan. Before moving to Michigan I had never heard this expression in reference to the state. However, when you look at the map of Michigan you can see that the lower peninsula does look like a mitten and – yes- the eastern part does look like a thumb.

We stayed at Port Huron where we could look over and see Canada. Unfortunately the border between our country and Canada is still closed. It was nice to see our flag and the Canadian flag flying together on both sides of the Clinton River which celebrates the two nations.

In 1836 the US established a Port of Entry and commercial ferry service began from Port Huron to Canada. It was not until 1938 that a bridge was built and opened to automobile traffic. Today the bridge is referred to as the Blue Water Bridge and is a twin-span international bridge connecting Interstate 69 and 94 in Michigan to Highway 402 in Ontario. Since moving to Michigan it has been our goal to cross this bridge and explore Canada. However, the Covid 19 has made that impossible for now. Hopefully in the future we can do that. Still, we enjoyed looking across into Canada and the bridge at night with its lights was beautiful.

We had a great lunch at Vintage Tavern. The food was great and the building built in the 1800’s was beautiful. They had the original tin ceiling with hardwood floors and brick walls throughout. There were also leaded stained glass windows and three fireplaces.

Thomas Edison lived here as a young boy and there is a museum commemorating his time in Port Huron.

As a student at Port Huron a schoolmaster called Edison “addled.” Furious, his mother took him out of the school and proceeded to teach him at home. Edison said many years later, “My mother was the making of me. She was so true, so sure of me, and I felt I had some one to live for, some one I must not disappoint.”

In 1859, Edison took a job selling newspapers and candy on the Grand Trunk Railroad to Detroit. In the baggage car, he set up a laboratory for his chemistry experiments and a printing press, where he started the Grand Trunk Herald, the first newspaper published on a train. An accidental fire forced him to stop his experiments on board.

While he was in Detroit Edison would visit the large library there. He said, “I didn’t read a few books, I read the library.”

When he was 19 Edison moved to Kentucky and continued with his experiments. By the time of his death in 1831 he had a record 1,093 patents: 389 for electric light and power, 195 for the phonograph, 150 for the telegraph, 141 for storage batteries and 34 for the telephone.

Another interesting stop in Port Huron was the Great Lakes Maritime Center. Here we found a wealth of information about the history of shipping on the Great Lakes.

We also learned about the underground tunnels that run under the St Clair River allowing trains to make the crossing from Port Huron to Sarnia, Ontario. This tunnel was the first full-size subaqueous tunnel built in North America allowing a railroad to pass beneath a river. Before the tunnels were built trains would come to Port Huron where they would have to be loaded on a barge and carried across the river to tracks in Sarnia.

Along with all the interesting history of shipping on the Great Lakes, the Center was a nice place to just sit and watch the ships on the river as well as again glance across at Canada.

We finished our visit to the Thumb by checking out the Fort Gratiot lighthouse. This fort was built in 1914 during the War of 1812. Occupied by the United States Army until 1879 it stood guard over the juncture of St. Clair River and Lake Huron. In 1823 the lighthouse was built here and it is the first lighthouse in Michigan and the second oldest on the Great Lakes.

We enjoyed sitting here and watching the large ships coming from Lake Huron to the St Clair River.

The keepers house is large and looks beautiful although we were not able to go inside.

You can climb the stairs in the lighthouse and I only imagine what the view would be like. But my arthritic knees prevented me from climbing the 94 stairs to the top.

As always on our trips, there was so much more we wanted to see but time did not permit more exploring. There is much more to discover on the Thumb and hopefully we can return again and explore more.

A Desert in Michigan?

When I think of sand, I think of the desert.  But how neat to enjoy sand dunes right here in Michigan – right alongside a beautiful lake!

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We explored the sand dunes at Silver Lake.  They are located along Lake Michigan between Muskegon and Ludington.  Over 2,000 acres of sand, the dunes are part of the Silver Lake State Park.  The park also includes four miles of shoreline along Lake Michigan, a mature forest, hiking trails and a sandy beach.

The state has set aside 450 acres for off-road vehicle rides.  Riders can bring their 4 x 4’s or they can rent off-road vehicles specially designed to meet the challenge of driving on sand.  An ORV (Off-Road Vehicle) sticker and a ten-foot orange flag is required to drive on the area.

There is also a section set aside for pedestrians to walk or sand board.

The southern section is reserved for those who do not want to drive or walk on the sand dunes but do want to explore them.  Mac Wood’s Dunes Rides has leased this section from the state park since 1930 and takes visitors on a great ride.

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My husband and I chose to take the tour and it was quite a ride.

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Our driver was a retired school teacher who has been driving the buggies every summer for 20 years.  The ride was about forty minutes and covered seven miles of up and down and around corners.  Although he never went faster than 35 miles (I was sitting next to the driver and kept an eye on his speed), it seemed much faster.  When we got the top of a hill he would speed up just before we headed down.  The kids on the ride loved that and screamed with delight.  We were entertained with silly stories by our driver and he also shared some of the history and ecology of the sand dunes.

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Along the way were things designed to give a laugh like this pair of legs sticking out of the sand.

We stopped at the top of one of the biggest hills and got out to take some pictures.

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Some of the information he shared with us explained a little of how the dunes were formed.  His explanation was simple, but here is a more detailed explanation for those of you who are interested.

When you think of sand dunes, you commonly associate them with the desert. If Michigan is not a desert, then why do we find dunes here? The answer lies in the Great Lakes, primarily Lakes Michigan, Superior and Huron. All along the shores of these
beautiful lakes, wave action sorts the sediments in the near-shore area. As the waves pound the beach, much of the finer-than-sand-sized materials are carried out into deeper water while the sand-sized grains and larger particles and pebbles are moved nearer to the beach. During storms, large quantities of sand are moved past the beach. Eventually these piles dry out.  Until the sand dries, water between the grains holds the sand together. The adhesive quality of the water makes the sand temporarily immobile. The adhesion does not remain after the sand dries. The dry sand can then be transported and winnowed by the wind.  The wind carries the sand inland, where it is deposited as a dune.  A plant or some other object may deflect the wind. The deflection causes the wind velocity to decrease, and the sand is dropped or deposited. This leads to the formation of a larger and larger mound that will eventually become a dune. In time the mound may
become big enough to cover the object that started its formation.  In Michigan the supply of sand is not constant. So, in time, the dunes become covered with grasses and other forms of vegetation – even trees. In fact, some of Michigan’s sand dunes look more like “tree dunes”.  The climate encourages this vegetative cover. The presence of ground water near the surface further promotes vegetation. When vegetative cover prevents
the wind from moving the sand, the dunes are stabilized.  However, if the protective vegetation is removed, or if there are exceptionally high winds or the groundwater
level drops, the sand is exposed to wind erosion, and movement or migration begins again. The area where migration begins is called a blowout. Renewed dune movement can bury anything in its path, even the forests which once may have stabilized the dune. An example of a buried forest can be seen at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park.

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Michigan’s Lighthouses

I have always loved lighthouses.  When my husband and I took vacations to the east coast we always visited the lighthouses.

Recently moving to Michigan I was so happy to find out the state, with 3,288 miles of shoreline, is home to more lighthouses than any other state in the USA.  Although Old Man Winter is showing up this week with a snow storm and we will not be able to do much traveling right now, come spring I’m heading out to check out these lighthouses.  As the maps below show that will probably keep me busy for a long, long time.

In the meantime, thought you might enjoy some interesting facts about lighthouses:

  • A person who likes lighthouses is said to be a pharophisle.  (Not really sure about that one – the word is not in the dictionary but there are plenty of lighthouse lovers who insist this is a word.  Collins English Dictionary says it is a word “pending investigation”.)
  • The United States has more lighthouses than any other country – 37 states have lighthouses.
  • The tallest lighthouse in the USA is Cape Hatteras Light on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.  It stands 193 feet tall.
  • The tallest lighthouse in the world is in Saudi Arabia.  Jeddah Light is 436 feet tall.
  • The east coast of the USA has 391 lighthousesas opposed to only 94 on the west coast.
  • A lighthouse keeper was sometimes called a “wickie” because in the days before electricity the oil lamps were used for a light.  The lighthouse keeper was responsible for keeping the wicks trimmed and the light burning.

I think one reason I love lighthouses so much is the very idea of their existence.  They were created to serve as a navigational aid and to warn boats of dangerous areas.  As a girl I loved the song “Jesus is The Lighthouse.”  The Bible also talks quite a bit about Christians being lights in the world.

Here’s the song sung by the Heritage Singers.  Note that it is from 1976 – but I hope you will take time to listen to it.

And you can bet come spring I’ll be posting about the lighthouses of Michigan.