On Island Time
Mackinac long has been the main attraction. Mist veils the ivory-columned Grand Hotel and the cream-colored stone walls of the 19th-century Fort Mackinac, surveying the straits from bluffs above the harbor.
The morning's soft light lends a dreamy quality to this island, where wealthy cottages outlawed automobiles and other motor vehicles more than a century ago. You almost expect to see ladies in swishing skirts and high-button shoes sipping tea on the wide, gingerbread-trimmed porch of the Windemere Hotel, one of the elaborate Victorian summer homes converted to bed and breakfasts.
Hooves echo on narrow streets, as draft horses pull creaking delivery wagons past tree-size lilacs, dripping with blooms. French missionaries brought the first bushes here almost 3 centuries ago.
Along Main Street, aromas drift from Murdick's, one of the original makers of the island's legendary fudge. While batches simmer in giant copper kettles, an aproned cook wielding a paddle shapes a 10-pound slab of the confection on a marble table.
A thunderous boom splits the air, and a puff of smoke floats over the battlements of Fort Mackinac. American "troops" dressed in 1880s uniforms fire the cannon and drill on the parade grounds, as if British men o'war again were converging on the island, coveting its strategic location. A new exhibit in one of the fort's 14 original buildings recalls Mackinac's history, from the Ojibwas, the island's original summer visitors, to the first vacationers, who started coming from the mainland in the mid-1800s. Beyond downtown, woods cover most of the island.
You can explore on foot, rent a bike at the harbor or hail a fringe-topped, horse-drawn carriage.
Tunnels of trees bearing bright-green new leaves arch over lanes that meander through the interior. Delicate trillium, lady's slippers and other spring blooms peek from pools of shade.
"The woods change overnight at this time of year," driver Melissa McNabb advises, urging a pair of stout Belgian horses uphill. They seem to know they're in for a climb--to Fort Holmes, the island's highest point.
Along the 8-mile road circling Mackinac, Arch Rock, one of the formations that the Ojibwas revered as sacred, towers overhead. Waves break gently against a deserted beach.
Surrounded by this calm offshore, the red-and-white Round Island Lighthouse looks as pretty and frivolous as a dollhouse. Aboard sight-seeing cruises that come and go from Mackinaw City, passengers hear harrowing tales of the raging storms and the treacherous waters that spurred the building of more than a dozen beacons that guard the straits to this day.