Sunday, August 2, 2009

Our Island Adventure (without leaving Ohio)

For a summer vacation before I start school again, my girls and I headed north three hours to Put-in-Bay, Ohio, a small town (400 permanent residents) on a small island (three-ish square miles) in Lake Erie off Ohio's northern coast. We left on a Monday morning, ate lunch in Sandusky, Ohio (which is on the coast, as well as being the hometown of the newspaper company that owns The Standard-Examiner where I worked in Ogden, Utah, and Sandusky is also the home of Tommy Callahan, the protagonist in Tommy Boy) and then drove to the ferry boarding station.

The ferry carries all sorts of cars, buses, trucks and people back and forth from the mainland to the island. A boat packs up and leaves every 30 minutes. It was fun to ride along on "big water" without having large waves or salty stickiness on everything (not that I don't love the ocean, but this is a great alternative).

This is what the ferry looked like.

And here is our car parked aboard.

You can notice our gold Accord loaded with our bikes and Clara's bike trailer. With the island being so small, we parked at our campsite at a state park and then just rode around as we explored the island. The biking was a lot of fun and the island is pretty flat, so it was relaxing instead of strenuous.

Here are the girls on the ferry. I was glad Crystal wore a sailor-style shirt for the trip!

When we got to the island, we set up camp and then rode into town. Unfortunately we didn't take any pictures of our camp, nor of us on the bikes. The campsite was great, though, under lots of big trees for shade (and hanging a hammock!) and we got to use our new tent, which comfortably fit our things, our air mattress and Clara's portable crib. A 30 foot cliff to the lake was about 200 feet from our camp, so we could look out over the lake while still not having to worry about Clara making a break for a swan dive. Also, flush toilets and hot showers were right next to our site, so all in all it was really easy camping. It rained pretty hard the second night and a few things got soggy, but we three stayed dry and were able to sleep pretty well.

In town, we first went to Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial, a 350-foot monument which commemorates the Battle of Lake Erie, a key part America's victory against Britain and Canada during the War of 1812. Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry, who commanded the US ships in Lake Erie, defeated a British/Canadian fleet and stopped them from being able to transport supplies across the lake. This defeat allowed the Americans to maintain their borders as they were and has helped create peace between the three countries ever since. In fact, the flags of all three countries are flown at the same height at the monument in honor of this peace.
There is a neat visitor's center at the memorial, but the big highlight was riding up the elevator to the top of the tower. Luckily, we rode to the top only five days before the tower was closed for a two-year renovation project. It has stood since 1912 without major renovations, so, while it is still structurally sound, the National Parks Service wants to make sure it stands safely for another 100 years.

From there, we could see all over the island, as well as over to the mainland and to a Canadian island. Here is a great shot of the island, with the main part of the town and the harbor in plain view. The Harbor was really nice and it was fun to watch the boats come in and out. There was also a good restaurant on the boardwalk where we had some yummy seafood (including a great Lake Erie Perch sandwich for me).

Outside the monument is an example of what most Put-in-Bay parking looks like - it is almost all golf carts. That is how people get around the island, mostly, and it was fun to see all the different styles of the little buggys. Someday it would be fun to rent one, but it was also a lot of fun to ride bikes.

Other island attractions include two caves, across the street from each other. The first, called Perry's Cave was the source of clean drinking water for Perry's men during the War of 1812. He discovered the cavern and sent his men down to get water. Now it has a tour and a gift shop and mini-golf course above it.
Across the street, under a winery, actually, is the Crystal Cave, which isn't really a cave - instead it is the world's largest geode. The crystals inside the cave are all huge and reminded me of the fake caverns where Superman goes in the movies. The geode is about as big as our bedroom and can fit about 20 people inside at once!
Here are some pictures from inside Crystal Cave.

Our tour of the cave included a tour of the winery, which wasn't really interesting to us, but it was cool to see how the bottling machines work, and we did enjoy the grape juice they gave us. For only $3 we bought a big bottle of 100 percent grape juice, no sugar or water added, which we have been enjoying at meals. The juice is really good.

Down the road from the caves (the island is so small, everything is "just down the road") is a chocolate shop which advertises a chocolate museum. It was a two-room affair with videos about chocolate and some vintage candy displays. There was nothing specifically Put-in-Bay about it, but it was interesting, and free. We did get a couple cute shots of Clara pretending to be in some famous Hollywood chocolate-based moments.

We also toured a neat museum about the island (Did you know Put-in-Bay, in the '60s, was the last American town to close its streets to car races?) that talked about life on the island and how it has changed. In the early 20th Century, there were several huge hotels on the island, but they all burned down (the firefighting on the island suffered from a lack of water pressure and good equipment, apparently), so now visitors camp or stay at one of the cute bed and breakfast establishments on the island. The museum is a place I would have liked to spend more time, but Clara's patience for history and displays she can't touch is limited. She was particularly inclined to grab the many neat models of ships and boats which have operated at the island.
This is what would have happened if we had let her grab everything she wanted to!
The last thing we did was visit the home of the Doller family, headed by Valentine Doller, who was the first shopowner on the island and one of the political and business leaders for a long time. He lived in a beautiful house right on the water in downtown, and now that house is a tourist stop. It has been added onto in the past 30 years, but the additions are tastefully done in the original style and add a lot to the property.
Here is one of the rooms from the Doller house.

And this is what Clara decided to do as we explored.

Overall, we were very pleased with how exciting, close and fun this trip was. It could be done in a (long) day trip from Columbus, so if anyone wants to come visit we'd be glad to take you.

Clara would welcome some company in the back seat!


Ali said...

I love ferry rides! We used to take them across the Puget Sound in Bremerton when I was growing up in Washington. I Lu-OVED them! I would be game for doing this in a visit with you guys! Camping and all the site seeing sounds like a blast too! I am also loving Clara's curls- too cute!

Clarkson said...

Looks like fun! I remember that I Love Lucy chocolate episode.

Michael said...

Sounds like a blast, and very well written to my mind!

Anonymous said...

I agree ferrys are the way to travel. Really enjoyed the pictures and info. I didn't realize that Put-in-Bay had such an effect on the War of 1812. Time to get a few history books out. Loved the cow pictures and the pasta!

Rachel Ann said...

That looks like a lot of fun! I would love to take a family vacation sometime.

Elisabeth said...

Clara just keeps getting more and more beautiful! Also, I think you guys should put pictures from the Harry Potter party up! I want to see them!