A Tale of Two Lighthouses: Crisp Point & Whitefish Point

August 4, 2015

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The day after my four-mile-which-felt-like-four-billion-mile hike in Tahquamenon State Park, I decided to take things easy.

I should probably mention here that almost every time I decide to “take things easy” my plans backfire on me and I end up doing something ridiculous and grueling and really stressful. Like climbing every single sand dune at Sleeping Bear Dunes.

My “take it easy” plan for the day was to sleep in and then go to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point, about twenty miles away from where I was camping in Tahquamenon Falls Rivermouth campsite.

Now if you’ve ever attempted to sleep in while camping you probably thought one thing while reading about my plan: HAHAHAHAHA NEVER GONNA HAPPEN. And it totally didn’t happen because even though I was planning to sleep in, some stupid water birds on the river beside my campsite must have decided to designate themselves my very own, personal, nature-alarm-clock. They started squawking somewhere around six o’clock in the morning and didn’t shut up.

So with a few hours to kill before the museum opened, I decided to drive out to Crisp Point Lighthouse, also another twenty miles from my campsite. Even though the Shipwreck Museum has its very own lighthouse, I had figured you really can never visit too many lighthouses in a day while in Michigan. I think that might be a state law or something.

The brochure I had picked up about Crisp Point Lighthouse described the lighthouse as “one of Michigan’s best kept secrets” and an “adventure.” Maybe, MAYBE, this should have been a tip-off that a trip to this lighthouse wouldn’t be the leisurely excursion I had been hoping for.

Or maybe, MAYBE, the tip-off should have been the part of the brochure where it explained that you should follow the map on the brochure to get to the lighthouse and not your GPS as your GPS would take you down “narrow two-track roads that can be impassible.”

What it didn’t explain was that instead of taking you down narrow, two-track impassible roads, the map route would take you down narrow, two-track roads that were just barely passable. Like hardly at all.

The road to Crisp Point Lighthouse. Mind you, this was the really GOOD part of the road. I was too scared to take my hand off the wheel to take pictures during the bad parts.

The road to Crisp Point Lighthouse. Mind you, this was the really GOOD part of the road. I was too scared to take my hand off the wheel to take pictures during the bad parts.

As my car bumped over the rutted, dirt backroads on its way to the lighthouse, I couldn’t help remembering a news story I had read earlier in the year about two women who had gotten stranded in the Upper Peninsula, and had survived by eating Girl Scout Cookies. I seriously started to wish I had packed more cookies. Sure, I had an entire car full of food and water for my camping trip, but why hadn’t I thought to pack some Thin Mints or Tagalongs??? And now I was going to DIE out here because I hadn’t packed enough cookies! OH, THE IRONY! Live by the cookie, die by the cookie, as they say.

The last seven miles of the trip were particularly treacherous — winding and pitted with huge holes and just big enough for my car to get through. Not that this was much of a problem as I didn’t see a single other car on the road the entire time I was on it. I guess everybody else had read the part of the brochure that called the lighthouse “Michigan’s best kept secret,” and decided they would really rather keep it that way.

When I finally arrived at the lighthouse, a good hour after I had set out, I felt the same relief that lighthouse keepers in the days of yore must have felt when they arrived at their remote posts. Of course, back in the olden days the only way to get to a lighthouse was by boat and you had to risk treacherous waters and the possibility of shipwreck to get there. But, seeing as my car is roughly the same size and shape of a boat, I figured there was a very real possibility I could have gotten shipwrecked myself. And, again, without enough cookies for sustenance, who knows what could have happened to me out there?

The lighthouse! Finally!

The lighthouse! Finally!

The lighthouse stood on a pretty, if rocky, beach. The few other visitors who had managed to make it out there were taking selfies on the beach or milling around the small museum or hyperventilating in the bathroom wondering how the heck they were going to get out of there alive. Actually that last one might have just been me.

The lighthouse itself was white with just enough chipped paint to remind you that it was really, really old.

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See you guys? Super old!

Inside was a narrow, spiral staircase that you could climb up to the light at the top.

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I climbed this staircase. Because I had almost already died that day. Why not test my luck again?

You could even walk around on the balcony outside of the light and take some terrified, wind-blown selfies. Just like, I’m sure, old-timey lighthouse keepers used to do.

That look in my eye: terror. Sheer terror. And probably a little bit of "How the heck am I going to get out of here???"

That look in my eye: terror. Sheer terror. And probably a little bit of “How the heck am I going to get out of here???”

I spent my time taking terrified selfies and bumming around the beach looking for agates, which are supposedly quite prevalent on the beach and also really hard to find if you don’t know what they look like. After about an hour, I felt like I was finally ready for the harrowing trip back.

Looking for agates. Whatever the heck those are.

Looking for agates. Whatever the heck those are.

Later that day when I visited the Shipwreck Museum and Lighthouse at Whitefish Point, I would marvel at how easy it was to get there. The twenty-mile drive from my campsite barely took twenty minutes. The road was paved — PAVED! — and big enough for not one, but two whole vehicles. It almost seemed too easy if you asked me. I mean, how was this teaching our younger generation what lighthouse life was really like?

As I was buying a ticket for the museum in the crowded lobby, I saw a sign saying you could climb the tower of the Whitefish Point Lighthouse. The fine print informed me that you had to sign a waiver, ensure you were physically fit and wear appropriate footwear. There were even restrictions on the sturdiness of your camera neck-strap. Waiver? Physically fit? Appropriate footwear? Sturdy camera neck-straps? WHAT? This was not the rough and tumble, devil-may-care-about-your-footwear attitude I had come to expect from lighthouse living.

The sign. Note the abundance of fine print.

The sign. Note the abundance of fine print.

At the Crisp Point Lighthouse there had been no talk of waivers and footwear and neck-straps. The only restriction I had seen was that people under sixteen needed to climb the tower with an adult.

Back in the olden times, I’m sure lighthouse keepers didn’t go around signing waivers and worrying about their shoes. They were too busy keeping the lighthouse lit and scanning the horizon for shipwreck. And, as I would later learn in the museum, trying to prevent espionage. Yes, ESPIONAGE!

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ESPIONAGE!

In the end, I declined the chance to climb the Whitefish Point Lighthouse. Partly on principle. And partly because I had no intention of changing out of my flip-flops.

Besides, I had already taken enough terrified, wind-blown lighthouse selfies for the day.

Instead I had to settle for not-terrified-but-still-ridiculously-wind-blown selfies of me in front of the lighthouse.

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I’m pretty sure my hair was trying to climb the tower. Even if I wasn’t.

Have you ever climbed a lighthouse tower? Where and when and how completely terrified were you?

P.S. You guys, while I was writing this story, I researched the story about the two ladies who got stuck in their car in the Upper Peninsula and had to survive off of cookies. They were exactly where I was! Omigod, I totally could have died. Next time I go to the Upper Peninsula, I’m packing a LOT more cookies.

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I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

  1. On August 4, 2015 at 4:06 pm Edward Kimble said:

    Bravo brave warrior. My similar GPS attempt in Cape Cod ended in darkness on an unmarked 200 foot cliff overlooking some nasty rocks…. The lighthouse had washed away!!! On a less knuckle white note, agates, typically and uncleaved, are highly uniform grey oval or round rocks with a pitted sand like outer exterior and a hint of blue grey. The surf often rubs them to a telltale surface slightly shinier on the tips of the sand protuberances than other nearby rocks. And the uniformity is odd. Tilting them in the sun you can sometimes get the impression there is something glowing within. Cutting them on a diamond saw reveals the unseen beauty which is so easy to see on the internet. I had some that Great great grandpa More had collected along lake Superior, but alas, they have merged into the noise of our lives, most probably never to be seen again. Ebay, you can often buy them on Ebay or Etsy. Don’t set them in a stand by the window to admire their beauty, in a breeze they will fall over and break. 🙂

    • On August 5, 2015 at 8:29 am Sally said:

      They had some agates in the lighthouse museum (I saw them AFTER I went looking for them), and the unpolished ones were brown and very distinctively agate-looking with different bands of color and translucent bits (not that I would be able to find one even now that I know what it looks like).

  2. On August 4, 2015 at 9:41 pm Meg said:

    Is lighthouse-keeper still a job? Because I kind of think a lighthouse with wifi would be the perfect job.
    Meg recently posted..Essential Chinese: Frappuccino

    • On August 5, 2015 at 8:26 am Sally said:

      It’s no longer a real job anymore. Most of the lights are automated now (or just not used as boats have GPS and don’t really need a lighthouse to show them where the shore is). And the Coast Guard has taken over the life-saving functions. BUT you can be a volunteer lighthouse keeper. A lot of the lighthouses in Michigan have preservation groups that run volunteer lighthouse keeper programs. In exchange for doing work around the lighthouse, you get to live there (some programs have a fee that you pay… others are free). I met a woman who was doing it at the Au Sable Lighthouse in Pictured Rocks and it sounded SO COOL. It’s definitely on my list of things to do.

  3. On August 5, 2015 at 1:45 am Jenni said:

    There is exactly one winery here on Maui. Their website used to have instructions that said ‘follow these instructions and don’t use GPS.’

    And now it just says ‘there is only one way to get here – there is no short cut.’

    Good job on taking the road, windy staircase and lighthouse less traveled!
    Jenni recently posted..Where I Went on My Summer Vacation: Door County, Wisconsin

  4. On August 6, 2015 at 3:04 pm Carolyn said:

    If you have not seen it already, google “Fodor travel alone” for an article about … how great it is to travel alone. It’s from early July.
    It only seems logical that solo travel will become more popular — lots of single people with enough money to travel — or just go to a restaurant for gosh shakes — and anyone who could use a little time Away.

    • On August 7, 2015 at 8:48 am Sally said:

      There’s actually been quite a few popular articles about solo travel — even Oprah magazine ran one. I think it’s becoming much more commonplace and not just something that single people do.

  5. On August 13, 2015 at 4:33 am Choi Kum Fook said:

    I have not seen lighthouse tower in my country so far, only some buoys can be seen near the shore or the places indicate in danger.May be due to high cost in building and maintenance, government seldom involve them nowadays.Miss Sally your hair style is marvelous! It is extraordinary, seldom to see!Where you created your style?

  6. On September 4, 2015 at 8:53 am Dominique said:

    This story reminded me that visiting Crisp Point is still on my Michigan Lighthouse bucket list. I’ve climbed several lighthouse towers and lived to tell the tale 😆 Some I’ve even climbed several times in the past (like Point Betsie and Grand Traverse), but my favorite ones are the towers I can climb and take a photo of Tim from the top of the tower to rub it in that I climbed the tower and he did not! Tell you what…you want a angst-ridden climb, try visiting the Split Rock Lighthouse in northern Minnesota…the real climb isn’t in the tower…it’s from the base of the tower and on down the stairway to the beach below (which is about 175 steps down…AND BACK UP! http://www.midwestguest.com/2010/07/minnesotas-split-rock-lighthouse-celebrates-centennial-year.html
    Dominique recently posted..Photo Friday: Castle Hill Light, camera club winner

  7. On October 13, 2016 at 2:34 pm Mary Ann Starus said:

    Hi…last week I drove to Crisp Point, thinking I could get to Whitefish Point that way (NOT!!…my old map showed a little road, but … None now.) I had the added thrill of going thru huge pond-like puddles due to lots of rain. My Honda Fit did a great job, but I was nervous. Should have done this when younger! I’m 66…no cell reception, but a nice couple stopped and asked if I needed help while I was stopped looking at my map. It was definitely an adventure, and worth it!! 🙂

    • On November 12, 2016 at 11:47 am Sally said:

      My map had that same non-existent mystery road. I quickly learned that didn’t exist. Glad to hear you had a fun time. And I definitely think a Honda Fit would be much more equipped for the job than my car!

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