When I heard the news of the dark sky park opening I knew it was something that I would do sooner than later. When we decided to go to Mackinac Island a stop in the west side of Mackinac City was a must.
The Headlands is a 600 acre lot with more than 2 miles of undeveloped Lake Michigan Shoreline. The Headlands is open year round-24 hours a day. During the day visitors can hike, bike, cross country ski, and come in contact with some the native animals of Michigan inculding black bear, coyotes, bald eagles, and white tail deer. This has been a place for nature photographers to come for years.
More recently the International Dark Sky Park opened on the shoreline of Lake Michigan. White light is prohibited, that includes phones, flash on cameras, or lights on trail. The only light that is allowed it red light, which can be obtained by buying a red light or using the tape to fix tail lights on cars over a flashlight. There is parking lot which you are guided into by employees using these red lights. When you get out of your car and you are reminded of the no cell phone use. Upon entering the park there is some light showing you which direction to go, but then the park becomes pitch black. It takes about 10 minutues for your eyes to adjust.
After the lights disappear you hope to be around another visitor that has a red light just to see where you are walking. You come to the end of the 1.5 mile trail and there is a park employee that tells you which directions to go next. She explains you will be walking downhill, you’ll turn right onto the beach front and walk across a rocky area until the beach opens up some. Then you are all alone trying to figure out which dark spots are people lying on the beach or what is a bush or drift wood from the lake. It takes a lot of concentration, and let me tell you I have THE WORST night vision. I was tripping and tip toeing around hoping I wasn’t going to step on another visitor. It is silent on this beach. You hear only the sound of the waves. Couples and families are laying all over the beach, some are wrapped up in blankets, others have sleeping bags, sleeping pads, air mattresses, and folding chairs. Everyone has the same idea and the all eyes are looking up at the sky.
We found a place to set up about a half mile down the beach. We laid out our blanket and put on our sweatshirts and started to look up. The milky way extended down the center of the sky, and there were millions of stars on either side. It was hard to see all the normal constellations, the big dipper, the little dipper, etc. because those constellations were surrounded by so many other stars we aren’t used to seeing in metro Detroit.
We laid out under the stars for a little over an hour, saw countless shooting stars, watched the stars twinkle and move. It was magical and something you don’t get to see every day. I was hoping Phil would get to see the Northern Lights while we were there but they weren’t out. I was unable to take any pictures because I couldn’t see the buttons on my camera to turn the flash off. These pictures are all from the Headlands website. Before you go make sure you pack warm, layer, and program your camera to the settings needed. Its a beyond beautiful place, not utilized enough, and is only a short 3.5 hours away from Metro Detroit.
Headlands- International Dark Sky Park
15675 Headlands Road
Mackinaw City, MI 49701