06.26.2014Personal Tech

#VZGreatLakes Roadtreking Tour: Bois Blanc (Boblo) Island

The Great Lakes has about 35,000 islands. Some are major tourist destinations, others mostly unvisited, except by a few passing boaters. Others are serviced by ferry boat.

All beckon, don’t they?

As we were rounding the Lake Huron shoreline of the Michigan Mitt and driving through the northeastern town of Cheboygan the other day, we saw a sign that directed us to the ferry dock.

The Straits of Mackinac were right off our righthand side as we made our way north on US 23, but this ferry was not for Mackinac Island – the state’s most popular tourist destination – but another island officially known as Bois Blanc Island, but called by the locals “Boblo.”

I’ve gazed at its wilderness shoreline from Mackinac many a time. Now it was time to visit. After all, unlike Mackinac Island, motor vehicles are allowed on Bois Blanc. That meant it had shoreline to drive.

So we made a spur of the moment decision: Let’s go!

We loaded our Roadtrek E-Trek motorhome on the ferry operated by Paunt Transportation and, 45 minutes later, pulled off into a different world.


Loading on to the ferry.

With a full time population of about 60 and measuring roughly 12 miles long and six miles wide, the island has no paved roads, no traffic signals and few stop signs. Deer outnumber permanent residents by about 20 to one.

Cottages and summer homes help push the summertime population to a couple of thousand. But during our visit, the only time we saw other people was when we passed the bar or visited Hawks Landing, the combination general store-restaurant-gas station and real estate office that serves as the island’s nerve center.

Right inside the door is mounted a Verizon 4G LTE router. Instead of a landline, the residents all rely on cell phones. I was amazed that night, camped on the shore of Lake Huron without another human anywhere in sight, to have four bars of high speed connectivity, enough to send a video out to YouTube to document the ravenous mosquitoes trying to get inside our Roadtrek after the sun went down.

One local we met named Clover attested to the fact that despite living on the island with very few other residents, her wireless connection through Verizon is great and "there are very few spots where it won't work."

There’s some disagreement over the name of the island. Bois Blanc means "white wood" in French - he color of the prevalent birch tree bark and the basswood tree's white underbark that was extensively used by Native Americans and the French-speaking fur traders who first came to the island to make canoes.

Why, then, do the locals call it “Boblo?”

They have as long as anyone can remember. The term is believed to be an English corruption of the French pronunciation of the name.

The Great Lakes has several other islands called Bois Blanc, including one in the Detroit River that used to be the location of a popular amusement park. All those other Bois Blancs are also called Boblo by the locals.


Tai enjoying the Bois Blanc coast.

At any rate, we found the place a delightful, low-key and out of the way place. What it lacked in amenities, it more than made up for in tranquility, beauty and a jaw-dropping display of stars in a sky totally devoid of light pollution.

Check out our video, here:

Next up on our #VZGreatLakes Roadtreking Tour will be Lake Huron’s Upper Peninsula coastline. Look for that soon.

And don’t hesitate to send us the places you’d like to have us visit. After we make our way around Lake Huron, we’ll head west from Saulte Ste Marie along the Lake Superior coast.

You can tweet me (@roadtreking) using the #VZGreatLakes and #PureMichigan hashtags.

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*Disclosure: Verizon has compensated Mike for partnering with us on the Great Lakes Tour, but all opinions are his own.