My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Thanksgiving weekend, 2010

While my original plan for the weekend, going to the UP to paddle out to Saint Helena Island were ruined by the weather, it was a terrific weekend never-the-less!

First, about the weather, we never got the storm they were predicting for the weekend, at least no real snow, but it was cold with a bitterly cold wind blowing most of the time. I know they have calculations that are supposed to tell you what the wind chill is, but those figures are just an attempt to quantify what I don’t think can be quantified. The wind was brisk this weekend, but I have been out in stronger winds and not felt as cold as I did this weekend at the same temperatures. This happens a lot, sometimes it feels warmer than the stated windchill, other times colder. I don’t know if it is the humidity or what other factors come into play, but it was down right nasty this weekend. I was keeping my hands in my pockets, with my right hand around my camera to keep it warm, and as soon as I pulled the camera out of my pocket, it felt as though it was frozen, and my hands with it. The air temps were around 30 on Friday and Saturday, a little warmer and some sun on Sunday, not all that cold, except for the wind.

On Friday I went to Palmer Park, only a couple of miles north of where I live. It is a nice park with a number of trails to walk, Buck Creek flows through it, and there are some wetlands along the creek. I went there the for the first time a couple of weeks ago because of the Novemeber DeLorme Challange, and I liked it then, so I decided to check it out more this weekend. According to my GPS unit, I managed to walk almost five miles on Friday, it isn’t that big of a park, but it is almost a mile long. I started out walking the trail that runs along the western edge of the park, all the way to the boardwalk along Buck Creek, to the end of the Boardwalk. There wasn’t a lot going on as far as wildlife or things to see, but it was a pleasant walk, despite the cold wind. Once I got to the end of the boardwalk, I turned back, and at back at the creek, I went east into the golf course section of the park, well, the edge of the golf course. The creek and wetlands separate the golf course from the rest of the park on the northern end. There isn’t a marked trail there, but I went along the edge of the golf course, because it is the highest land in the park, and I was able to look down on the wetlands. I saw a few birds, some ducks, and a pair of muskrats, but surprisingly, no deer. I say surprisingly, because when I got to the bridge over Buck Creek to get me back off the edge of the golf course and into the main part of the park, I saw deer. There were 4 of them there, a couple of them standing, and a couple laying down. I got some pictures, not the greatest though. I continued back up to the north along the low side of the wetlands, and saw more deer back in the swampy sections, too far back to get any pictures of them. By the time I got back to the start of the boardwalk the second time, it was getting late, so I walked back to my car right down the center of the park, and saw more deer there. It’s kind of funny, I saw a group of 5 deer browsing their way through the park at a right angle to the direction I was heading. I saw a couple of people walking towards me, so I stopped behind some trees so I wouldn’t scare the deer away, and the people would be able to see them. The people walked up to me, and I asked if they had seen the deer, they had walked right passed them, but they didn’t see the deer, until I pointed them out. Some people are about blind I guess.

On Saturday, I headed over to Muskegon State Park. I have a love/hate relationship with Muskegon State Park, and the area in general. Of course, the Lake Michigan beach there is beautiful, as beautiful as any beach in Michigan. I learned to swim there, it was where we went a lot when I was a kid. Muskegon Lake is a fantastic fishing lake, I had my best day of bass fishing there if you go by the number of fish I caught that day, it must have been close to 100. Mostly small to medium-sized bass, a few larger ones, but I caught them all in just a couple of hours, nearly one every cast. But, Muskegon is an industrial city, old and ugly, and the paper mill on the southern shore of the lake reeks! The acrid smell is so bad, that there were a few times when I was fishing that my eyes started to burn and water from the paper mill fumes, and I had to move to another part of the lake to continue fishing. I think the paper mill closed down a couple of years ago, and while I feel sorry for the people who worked there, all I can say is GREAT!

Anyway, I checked out a couple of trail maps early on Saturday, and had a plan for which trails I would walk that day. If I knew how great the trails were, I would have planned to do more, which is what I’ll do the next time. I started out at the Snug Harbor area, where the boat launch and picnic area is, it is also the trailhead for a couple trails there in the park. There are a couple different maps available online for Muskegon State park, this is the best one I found. I did the trail to Lost Lake, it is a cool trail, you start out walking through a “tunnel” through pine trees growing in a swampy area, then pop out to more open hardwoods. The trail runs right along the base of a large dune, so I was sheltered from the wind. Lost Lake is noted for its plant life, of course November isn’t the time of the year to check that aspect of the lake out, but I will next spring for sure. The lake and the trail are nestled in at the base of the dunes, so you get the feeling of isolation that I like so much. After checking out the lake, I cut over to the Scenic Ridge trail to head back to my vehicle. That is an awesome trail! You start out climbing one of the dunes, and you just keep on climbing, slow and steady, right up the spine of the dune. The farther you go, the better the views get! It reminds me of a smaller scale version of some trails I have done out west, where the one side of the trail is almost a vertical drop, and the other side is down a steep hill. According to my GPS unit and the topo maps, it was a climb of 263 feet, not huge by any means, but that’s not bad for Michigan. The view along the way is very good, but not great for taking pictures, as you are looking through trees most of the time. I am glad I hiked it the direction I did, the climb was slow and steady, but not the decent, that is quick, and the trail is washing away in places because it is so steep. I imagine it would be a fairly difficult trail doing it the other direction. On the way back to my vehicle, I walked over to Muskegon Lake itself, and there were dozens of swans! I am pretty sure there were over a hundred, maybe close to two hundred, but they were scattered all over the northern edge of the lake, and I wasn’t going to bother trying to count them all. Not ready to go home yet, I checked out a couple other trailheads in the park, including the “Blockhouse”. It was built to look like an old fort, and is on the top of one of the dunes between Lake Michigan, and Muskegon Lake, so the view is great, if you can get in it. It was locked up Saturday, so I couldn’t get in to take pictures.

It is only a few miles from there to one of the newest state parks in Michigan, Duck Lake State Park. I have been going to Duck Lake and the beach there since I was in my early twenties, but I hadn’t been there since the state park was built there. In a way, I am sorry I went back. The park itself is nice enough, but it is trashed! Every where I looked were piles of trash, it was disgusting to see what people have done to the area. I know not all the trash is local, some of it is trash that has been blown over from Wisconsin, like all the balloons and such, but the majority of it was from people being pigs. Pop and beer cans everywhere in the brush, garbage bags all over, some full, some ripped apart by critters, old junk tires, you name it, people have “disposed” of it there. I tried to shoot a few pictures, but every time I fired up the camera, I would see trash in the viewfinder, so I didn’t take any.

Still not ready to return home, and needing something to put me back into a good mood, I stopped off at the Muskegon River channel to Lake Michigan. The USS Silversides is moored up there at a museum on the channel. The Silversides is a WWII submarine that has the 3rd highest total of Japanese ships sunk during WWII of any American submarine. It was re-assigned to the Great Lakes Naval Reserve after the war as a training ship. When it was de-commissioned, a group from Muskegon bought it, and are restoring it as part of their efforts to preserve a little of our history. I think it is open for tours, but I didn’t check on that, but you can here.

The USS Silversides

Which brings us to Sunday. Except for the trash at Duck Lake, it had been a great weekend so far, I really thought Sunday would be a bust, but what do I know. I am the leader of a kayaking group, and I have 3 trips on the schedule for next year that either I haven’t done at all, or haven’t done in years, and I needed to confirm some things for those trip. And, since it is deer season in Michigan, which limits where I feel safe walking, I thought Sunday would be a good day to do the road trip to check things out.

The first stop was the Silver Lake area. I have been there lots of times, mostly running dune buggies and 4 wheelers in the dunes, never kayaking. From my memories of the area, I thought we could kayak on Silver Lake, then run down Silver Creek to Lake Michigan, and if the winds were light, go from there to the Little Sable Point Lighthouse via Lake Michigan. In case you have never heard of it before, the Silver Lake area is party central during the summer. The beaches and dunes attract people from all over the country, and it is the only place in Michigan that I know of where you are still able to take off-road vehicles on the dunes. During the summer, traffic is bumper to bumper, in the winter, it is like a ghost town, with almost everything boarded up. Since it is November, I had the area pretty much to myself. I parked at the tail of Silver Lake, where Silver Creek flows out of the lake, and walked the trail, and the road, all the way down to Lake Michigan, where there is a small county park. The good news is that I was right, you can kayak the length of the creek, the bad news is we may not be able to get near it in the summer, we will see. I continued walking down the road to the Little Sable Point Lighthouse, less than a quarter of a mile from where Silver Creek enters Lake Michigan. The lighthouse was built in 1874, and while it is a minor lighthouse in the grand scheme of Great Lakes Navigational aids, it is still pretty cool never-the-less. The only thing left standing is the light tower itself, the keepers quarter’s were torn down in 1954.

Little Sable Point Lighthouse

Little Sable Point Lighthouse

Silver Lake dunes

 

It seems my memory isn’t as bad as I had feared, the plan for that kayaking trip will work out very well if the weather cooperates.

The next stop was the Big Sable River, which I haven’t canoed since I was a kid. Back then, I didn’t drive, so I wasn’t sure of which section of the river we did. The Big Sable flows into Hamlin Lake near Ludington, Michigan. In case you’re wondering why the word sable shows up so many times in Michigan location names, it is the French word for sand I believe, and that is one thing we have a lot of in Michigan, especially near Lake Michigan.

I have a flyer from the USFS for the Big Sable River that I picked up at the ranger station for the Huron-Manistee National Forest. It is a good one, listing all the bridges that have access to the navigable section of the river. I stopped at most of them, and I found out that the section I had originally planned to kayak was tight with a lot of logjams. The middle section of the river is much better, much like the Pere Marquette as far as size and flow. That also avoids the crowds closer to Ludington, as in the summer, the Big Sable is a popular river to float in tubes, especially for the people staying at Ludington State Park. At one of the bridges, I saw a good-sized trout take off as I walked up to the railing to look down in the river. I have heard that this is a good trout stream, I guess I will have to try it out to see for myself.

When I was pulling up to one of the bridges, there was a Michigan Conservation Officer lecturing a group of 5 to 8 deer hunters. I have said it before in another blog, but it deserves to be repeated, the men and women who are COs deserved to be thanked every chance we get. They are a fine group of professionals who are on call 24/7/365 days a year, and they know they are likely to be facing groups of armed citizens on a daily basis. Each CO is assigned a territory,and they answer all calls in their territory. It doesn’t matter if they’ve spent the day testifying in court, if a call comes in at 3 AM about some one poaching deer, they answer the call. After he finished with them, he stopped by and chatted for a few minutes, they don’t have a lot of time during deer season. I could see his jaw drop as I thanked him for his work, I don’t think that had ever happened to him before. I sensed he wanted to continue the conversation, but he had two other calls to investigate, but he did tell me the Big Sable is a great trout stream, and off he went.

My last stop was the Little Manistee River, and what can I say about the Little Manistee that hasn’t been said already. It is a beautiful little stream, probably the best trout stream in Michigan! Steelhead reproduction is so good in this river that the DNR operates a harvest weir on it to collect eggs and milt for the state’s hatcheries. As far as I know, all steelhead raised in Michigan hatcheries come from the Little Manistee. They also collect eggs and milt from salmon in the fall, but salmon are not allowed to continue past the weir like steelhead and trout are. I could be wrong, but I don’t think salmon were ever planted in the Little Manistee, and that the salmon that do run it are like those in the Pere Marquette. The PM was never planted with salmon, a few “lost” fish found their way up the PM and established a breeding population on their own. I know there have been calls to install a fish barrier, or weir, on the PM to stop the salmon from returning. It is thought that blocking the salmon will result in even better trout fishing.

Back to the Little Manistee. I consider the stretch from 9 Mile Bridge to 6 Mile Bridge to be the most challenging water to run in a kayak or canoe in the lower peninsula, and I am not alone in that opinion. That section of the river is as fast or faster than either the Pine or the Sturgeon, the two fastest rivers in the lower peninsula. To make it even tougher, the Little Manistee is less than half as wide as the Pine, and even tighter than the Sturgeon. There are lots of very tight corners with logjams everywhere, and every twist in the river has tricky currents that will spin you around like a top, or throw you into one of the logjams if you’re not on your toes.

I made stops at the 9 and 6 Mile bridges, just to see if the access sites had been improved since the old days, they have been a little, not much, at least there is some parking at each of them now. Then I headed off to the DNR weir, and that’s when things started getting interesting. I took a little side trail on a lark, I don’t even know why I turned there. There was the typical USFS numbered signpost at the corner, but after I made the turn onto the trail, I saw a second sign saying “Link’s Pond”. OK, I thought to myself, I’ll check out Link’s Pond. The 2 track only went a short distance before it was blocked off, so I got out of the explorer to look around. It was blocked at the top of a steep hill with a powerline running across the valley and the river at the bottom of the valley. I thought it would be a good photo-op, but you couldn’t see the river through the trees. There must have been a magnet at the bottom drawing me down there, because I decided to walk down to the bottom of the valley, even though there was really no reason to, other than curiosity about Link’s Pond.

I get down to the bottom of the hill, and off to my left I see this strange concrete structure that looked like it could have been a water trough at one time, and off to my right, I see a small man-made pond covered in duck weed and algae. I thought to myself, “That must be Link’s Pond” and I continued down the path, trying to get a view of the river. As I go past a tree, I suddenly see a large sign off to my right, and past that, an eagle gliding along at a very low altitude with the sun shining on its white head and tail, a beautiful sight! I start fumbling for my camera, thinking what a great shot it would be, but he landed in a tree before I could get the camera ready to shoot. So I took a few shots of him in the tree, and I am trying to look around at the same time, as the sign was about a larger pond there, and the eagle had been flying over it when I first saw it. The second pond was also manmade, but not a little hole dug in the ground, but it was formed by damming a good-sized stream. As I’m looking around, I see several more concrete structures, some strange pipes and other signs of human activity, but what it was all about, I have no idea. I kept looking back at the eagle, hoping to get a good shot of it in flight, but one of the times I turned around it was gone, I didn’t see where it went. I finally did see the river from down there, a small view looking down the stream that formed the pond. It was getting late in the afternoon by then, I am definitely going back one of these days to explore the area a lot more. Not only to try to figure out what the man-made structures are all about, but it is a beautiful little spot, with the hills, the stream, the pond, the river, and pretty groves of trees on higher ground between the wet areas.

I made it back to my vehicle, checked out the DNR weir, then took the back roads starting for home. The weir is open to the public, even when it is in operation, if you want to see a lot of large trout andor salmon, you should stop in some time and check it out. As I am driving along what was little more than a 2 track, I see a white bird on the ground along another 2 track. At first I thought it was a fake, a decoration for some one’s driveway or something, but as I was looking back over my shoulder at it, I saw it move, it was no fake. I slammed on the brakes to continue looking at it, my first thought was that it must be a seagull, but then I saw it was no seagull, I wasn’t sure what it was. I was reaching for my camera as I put the explorer in reverse, and of course the bird took off. I snapped a picture hoping to catch it in flight, but some how or another I missed, it didn’t show up at all. I lucked out though, it landed in a nearby tree, and I was able to get one so-so picture of it before it flew away.  From what I could see, it was a partially albino red-tailed hawk. I have seen goshawks, it wasn’t one of those, the only color this hawk had on it was brown, not grey as goshawks are. I walked over to where it had been on the ground, it had been feeding on a deer carcase, so I thought it might be back. I drove down the road a ways, then waited for a while, and walked back to where it had been, but it wasn’t there. I hid out for a little while, but by then, it was close to dark, so I doubted if it would return.

The unknown raptor

 I suppose it could have been an osprey, but it was a lot more white than even they are, and it looked too big to be an osprey. Looking at it now, it does look a lot more like an osprey than it did when I was seeing it live, it may have been due to the lighting at the time.  But even osprey have brown wings with a white body, this bird is almost all white except for a few small brown patches, mostly on the wings. Either way, I am happy to have seen it, and gotten a picture.

 So what more could I ask for on a long weekend? Nothing, it was nearly perfect. One day of walking close to home, seeing lots of deer and other critters, one day of hiking the dunes with some fantastic scenery and trails, one day exploring places new and and old, and finding more places to explore at length, and a little history thrown in what with the USS Silversides and the lighthouse, and it was my idea of the perfect weekend.

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