To South Manitou Island

Day 63

LOCATION:  Empire, Michigan
CAMPGROUND:  Indigo RV Park
WEATHER:  Cool on the island (64); warm on mainland (78)

The naming of Sleeping Bear Dunes comes from a Native American tale about a mother bear and her two cubs swimming across Lake Michigan from Wisconsin to Michigan to find food.  As they neared the shore near Empire, the babies drowned from exhaustion.  They  came back to life in the form of two islands – South Manitou and North Manitou.  Today we took a ferry to spend the day on South Manitou Island. 

We picked up the ferry in Leland, about 30 minutes north of here..  There are no amenities on the island.  It is popular among campers who like to camp in back country.  The passengers were a combination of those campers with their huge backpacks and a few of us day-trippers.  The islands are now part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park.

We left at 10:00 and the 1.5 hour ride was pretty choppy.  There was a group of young boys standing on the bow, screaming with laughter as they got soaked by the frigid waves splashing across.

When we arrived, we had our picnic lunch sandwich and then joined a little tour.  There is just one gravel/dirt road that goes on part of the island.  We climbed aboard a little trailer and were pulled by a tractor. 

Our tour guide did a lot of double-duty, helping with mooring/untying the boat, selling snacks and drinks during the ferry ride, and then narrating this tour. 

The three-hour tour was very interesting.  European settlers arrived here in the 1800s with almost no supplies.  Their first industry was forestry.  Wood-fired ships traveling on the lake would stop here for supplies.  It was a thriving island.  At its peak, there were about 98 residents. 

We first visited the one-room school house, serving about 30 children from kindergarten through 8th grade. 

Then, we stopped at the remains of several old farms.  After the lumber business ended (after they had chopped down most of the trees and the ships converted to coal-burning), they turned to farming. 

Cut off from most of the world, they were quite ingenious to survive.   This is their granary and icehouse

The last residents left the island around 1920.

A highlight of the tour was unexpected……As the tractor slowly drove down the dirt lane, we saw something in the middlle of the road…..a mother snapping turtle digging a hole to lay her eggs!  She was not happy to see us, and stared at us with beady eyes. 

We rigged up a stick with a cloth as a marker so that other tractors in the next few days won’t run over her eggs. 

After the tractor tour, we visited the Visitors’ Center, a former home/store/post office, and the lighthouse. 

We climbed the 107 steps to the top and were rewarded by beautiful views.

The boat left South Manitou Island at 4:00, and we arrived back in Leland at 5:30.  The ride was choppy at first, but got smoother. 

DINNER:  Chili over a baked potato.  Side was a lettuce & tomato salad. 

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