On the Hunt: Petoskey Stones
Found nowhere else in the world except northern Michigan, Petoskey Stones are actually fossilized pieces of coral, dug from the bedrock during the last glacial period and revealed as glaciers slowly receded. While staying in Bay Harbor, hunting for the elusive rocks, is a uniquely northern Michigan experience, and a souvenir to treasure forever.
Though it's hard to imagine, most of the United States was actually underwater and closer to the equator, and most of our state was a shallow sea in pre-historic times. This warm, shallow sea and subtropical climate produced large coral reefs all across Michigan. As tectonic plates shifted the land north, the sea dried up, leaving behind a desert-like environment, the reefs fossilized into limestone that lies more than 120 feet below the land the Inn is built upon, and large deposits of the corals were concentrated in this very area. The most distinctive characteristic of the Petoskey Stone is the six-sided sunburst patterns, which come from the skeletons of ancient coral polyps of the species Hexagonaria Percarinata. When the rocks are dry, the hexagonal patterns can be nearly invisible and the stone resembles ordinary limestone. But once the rock is wet or polished, the mesmerizing starburst pattern is made apparent and the stone's unique qualities shine through.
Land of Legends
The name 'Petoskey' comes from an Ottawa legend. In 1787, a French fur trader and his wife, an Ottawa princess, had a son, and his father named him Petosegay, meaning "rays of dawn," or "sunbeams of promise," for the rays of sun that illuminated his face. In keeping with his name, Petosegay did grow up to become an important man, later becoming recognized as Chief Pet-O-Sega as he settled land in the area for his people with his Ottawa wife by his side. The city of Petoskey was named in his honor in 1873. A bronze statue of Chief Petoskey was erected and placed on a bluff overlooking Little Traverse Bay near the Gaslight District. The distinctive sunburst pattern, native legend, and fact these fossils are only found in this region and are especially plentiful in this area, led to the naming of the unique Petoskey Stone, and its induction as Michigan's official State Stone in 1965.
An "Up North" Souvenir
Spring is one of the best times to hunt for the stones since many are pushed toward the shorelines from sheets of ice, but any time between spring and snow, one could get lucky. Finding Petoskey Stones does not require much, only patience and a sharp eye. Nearby to the Inn, East Park, Petoskey State Park, or along the shores that line the Little Traverse Wheelway tend to yield impressive findings, but simply searching along the Inn's lakeshore beach may also provide you with great results. When you find your keeper, polishing the stone is often recommended in order to enhance the markings. Use sandpaper of progressively finer grit until perfectly smooth and all white spots disappear, then add a dash of polishing powder and lightly rubbing the stone with a soft, damp cloth. You'll be left with a perfectly shined piece of history and finding your next one will be something to look forward to the next time you visit this special corner of northern Michigan.