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

New Years Day weekend

I am taking a break from my fly fishing story for a little while. I am not entirely happy with the first installment, and I have 3 drafts of the second installment started, and don’t like the way any of them are going, but I promise, I will get it done soon.

In the meantime, I have to tell you about the New Year’s Day weekend I had. I was hoping to go up north for the weekend, but between gas being $3.20 a gallon, and with my limited funds to stay at a motel, I thought it best to stick closer to home for the weekend. And, when you are a truck driver, as I am, and you drive 350 miles a day for work, driving isn’t how I like to spend my weekends.  Besides, they have had a lot more snow up north, and while I love my hiking boots, they are only 4 inches high and I hate getting snow in my boots. I need to find another pair, but taller. I do have snowshoes, but the snow has to be deeper than a foot to make it worth the effort of wearing them.

Finding good gear is the hardest part of staying comfy outdoors in all kinds of weather. I used to have a pair of Red Ball all rubber boots that came up to mid-calf, and I wore them for close to 30 years before they finally fell apart. I wonder how many miles I put on those boots, it would have to be in the thousands. They were completely waterproof and the rubber soles made for quiet walking in the woods. I wore them all the time for hunting of every type, and for cold weather fishing when I wasn’t wearing waders, like when fishing off the piers for salmon and steelhead. I also wore them every day in the fall, winter and early spring while I was running my hunting dog, or just out hiking or snowshoeing. When they finally came apart, I tried to find another pair just like them, but the closest thing I could find weren’t nearly as comfortable, and only lasted a couple of years before they fell apart. They don’t make things the way they used to, and the Red Ball name means nothing anymore. I found out afterwards that the original Red Ball company had gone out of business, and some other company bought the name.

I have purchased, or been given, many pairs of leather boots over the years, and I haven’t found a pair that I really like. I still have a couple of pairs of expensive leather boots in my closet that I never wear. They are heavy, and no matter what I try to make them waterproof, my feet always end up wet in leather boots. A couple of years ago I found a pair of New Balance synthetic leather boots that I love. They are light, the pair together weigh less than any one of the leather boots I have, they are warm, and they are waterproof. I can walk down the Lake Michigan beach in the water, and my feet stay dry, unless I step in water too deep. They didn’t require any breaking in, and they don’t need to be treated all the time in order for them to remain waterproof, I love them!

As for snowshoes, those little things they sell now-days with the aluminum frames are a joke. I see people using them, but they aren’t really snowshoes. They don’t really keep any one using them on top of the snow, and when I see people struggling in deep snow while wearing them, I am glad I have the ones I do. I have an old pair I bought back in the early 70’s with wooden frames in the Michigan pattern. They aren’t as long as the Alaskan Pattern snowshoes, but they are longer than the bearpaw snowshoes. They work really well in deep snow, but they are a lot of work in just a few inches of snow.

Anyway, since I decided to stay close to home this weekend, I considered going kayaking on Friday. It was warm, in the 50’s, but as I was drinking my coffee on Friday morning, a line of thunderstorms moved through the area. I am hard-core, but I won’t paddle in thunderstorms, that’s asking to be killed. As it was, when ever I thought about heading out, another line of heavy rain would move through the area again. There wasn’t any more thunder and lightning, but I wasn’t taking any chances, and while I don’t mind a little rain, when it did rain, it poured. That’s good, we needed the rain around here, and I needed a day of doing nothing anyway.

Saturday morning when I got up the wind was already howling out of the west, pushing cold air into the area. Now wind I don’t mind, unless I am going fly fishing, so I headed off to Muskegon State Park for a day of hiking. As I wrote in an earlier post, about my weekend exploration trip over the Thanksgiving weekend, the trails they have there are some of the best I have ever hiked on, and I promised then to go back and explore more of the trials. So I checked out the map again, and planned for the day as I was drinking my coffee that morning. Since I am not completely familiar with the area, and the trails I took the first time were really good, and the map not quite 100% correct, I planned on doing the same trails again this time, but turning off on another loop near where I ended the first time.

It was a typical winter’s day here in Michigan, mostly cloudy, a few breaks in the clouds now and then, and intermittent snow showers, whether there were clouds or not. I don’t know how it is in the rest of the world, but here in Michigan, we can get snow from clear blue skies. The wind crossing the relatively warm water of Lake Michigan picks up enough moisture to create snowflakes that freeze out of the air to fall on us. I was glad I had chosen the trails I did, the dunes were blocking the worst of the wind. The parking lot I started from is about half a mile from Lake Michigan, but as I was starting out, I could hear the roar of the waves breaking on the beach off in the distance.

 I started up the Lost Lake trail, and I’ll tell you, there is nothing so desolate to me as a freshly frozen lake or pond.

Lost Lake

That reminds me, now that the holidays are over, I have to come up with a better way for all of you to view my pictures. WordPress is very generous with the amount of free space they provide, but if I were to upload the full-sized, high quality versions of my pictures, it wouldn’t be long before I had filled my quota of free space, and I plan on this blog being up and running for the rest of my life. The other thing is that I had problems at one of the social networking sites with some one “stealing” my pictures. I won’t go into detail other than to say some one tipped me off that they were seeing my pictures for sale on some one else’s website. Sure enough, some one had been copying my pictures to their website and trying to sell them as their own, so I am a lot more careful with my pictures these days, maybe too careful, but I am sure you can understand.

 Back to the hike, the trails were as pretty as I remembered from the first time, maybe pretty isn’t the right word, I am not sure what the right word is. Enjoyable works, but they are more than that, scenic works in places along the trails, but it isn’t as if there are grand vistas at every turn. If you are into all things nature as I am, then there is always something along the trails to capture your attention, even if it is a tree growing in an odd way.

A tree that had a hard time deciding which way is up

 I ran into a few other people out there, not many, but one couple I talked to bear mentioning. They had taken a wrong turn on one of the trails, gotten turned around, and were lost, with no compass or anything else. I don’t know how long they had been trying to find their way out, but it must have been a while. When I told them how to get back to their car, the guy asked how far was it, looked at his watch, and made a comment about how much daylight they had left, and she thanked me about a dozen times for pointing them in the right direction. I guess they were worried they weren’t going to make it out before nightfall. It can happen to any one, especially on a cloudy day with limited visibility like Saturday was. I asked them if they heard anything right then, and they both replied “no”, so I asked if they could hear the waves crashing on shore in the distance, and they said “yes”. I told them that the direction that sound was coming from was west, so they would have something to go by in order to tell what direction was which. The looks on their faces was the classic, “Wow, I never thought of that” type look.

That reminds me, I should do an entry here about the emergency stuff I carry with me all the time now, but I will save it for the time being. I left the lost couple and continued down the trail, which crosses one of the two main roads in the park. I could see all the way to the beach when I was crossing the road, so I walked towards the beach, planning to come back to the trail. It was not the most pleasant part of the day. The wind-blown snow and sand from the beach stung as it hit my face, and it was even worse when it got in my eyes. I was squinting the entire time, and walking backward when I could. I know the “lost couple” made it out, as they drove past me and honked the horn on their way by. I got to the beach expecting some huge waves since you could hear them breaking from so far away, and how strong the wind was, but they weren’t as big as I expected. It could be that the wind hadn’t been blowing strong enough long enough. It was certainly strong enough, but the wind had just come up that morning, and it takes some time for the waves to reach maximum size.

Lake Michigan waves at Muskegon

I headed back to the trail, it was a lot nicer with the wind at my back and with out the snow and sand getting in my eyes. The rest of the hike was pleasant, sheltered from the wind by the dunes.

I didn’t plan on going back there on Sunday, but I lost the “track” on my GPS unit when I went to transfer it to my computer. I am not sure how I did that, but it happened. As I wrote about earlier, I won the November DeLorme Challenge, and my winnings were updated software and a lithium battery set up for my GPS unit. Overall, I am very happy with the software and firmware updates, but I am still learning the new system as time goes on. The memory management on the device itself is much easier, as far as how it handles both the internal RAM and the SD card. Exchanging data between the handheld and the computer is a little trickier, there isn’t room for, nor do I want everything I have stored on my computer to be transferred to the handheld unit every time I exchange any data, which is the default. For some one who doesn’t use it much, it is probably a good thing. I’ll get it figured out, and not lose any more tracks. The Lithium battery is a different story. I am sure glad I got it for free, as it only lasts a couple of hours at most. It won’t hold a charge long enough to complete a five-mile walk, not a good thing if you forget to carry spare batteries. Since my camera and the GPS unit use the same batteries, that isn’t a problem for me, I always carry spares. I am sure the lithium battery pack will get lots of use, I carry that as a spare to the regular batteries I use, and it will work very well on my driving/walking explorations where I can keep the lithium battery charged up with the car charger between my short walks to check out the sights. On the other hand, my new camera is great! The battery life is at least twice what it was with the older model. I finally got around to reading the manual between Christmas and New Years, some of the controls have changed and I couldn’t figure out how to do some of the things I did with the older model. Now that I know how to set it the way I want, I am happier than ever with it. If you are looking for a good compact digital camera to use for nature photography, I highly recommend the Canon Powershot SX 130! It fits in a jacket pocket, has a 48X zoom, and takes really good pictures.

So, since I lost Saturday’s track, I went back Sunday to do the same walk over again. That actually worked out very well, as the sun came out on Sunday, it was a beautiful day, even if it was on the windy side yet. I don’t normally walk the same trails two days in a row, but I am glad I did. One of the first things I saw on the trail was a fallen log, not usually all that interesting, but, with all the rain we had on Friday, and the quick cold snap, the water flowing through the log came out of the log here and there where there were woodpecker or insect holes, and it froze. 

Water escaped from a fallen log, and how it froze

 It also worked out well in that I had missed a planned turn off on Saturday when I was there, as I said, the map isn’t 100% correct. On Sunday, I found the turn off, and continued on along the Muskegon Lake shoreline almost to the channel to Lake Michigan. It is another beautiful trail, even if you can see the industrial section of the city of Muskegon from time to time. I stopped at the site of what was the Bay Mills Indian Village along the shore of Muskegon Lake, of course there is nothing left but memories, but it was still an interesting point on my walk. The Natives sure knew how to pick a great site for a village! As I was hiking along the trail, I could look out over Muskegon Lake and see large flocks of waterfowl of many kinds. One flock I saw I thought was a couple of families of loons, but I don’t think they were loons after looking at the pictures more. Now I am thinking they were either mergansers or a duck I am not familiar with. The one male had a white throat band, which is what led me to think they were loons, anyway, here’s a picture for what it’s worth.

The unknown waterfowl

As I was walking, I ran into a couple of people and talked at length with them about the park. One of the guys lives near the park and walks there often, so it was nice to get the local perspective and some hints about what times of the year are best for each section of the many trails there. He also told me about an eagle’s nest, and watching the young eagles grow up the year before. I made sure I swung past the place he told me about, and sure enough, there was an eagle nest there. As I was looking up at it, an eagle flew right overhead! It landed in a nearby tree, and as I was working my way around some deadfalls in hopes of getting a picture, I saw that there were two eagles! I never got a good shot of the second one, but here’s a picture of the one that I could get a clear view of.

An eagle on a bright sunny day

I had seen an eagle on Saturday evening, just before I got back to my vehicle. It was being chased across Muskegon Lake by a flock of gulls, which I thought was interesting since it is winter. It isn’t as if the eagle had been preying on young gulls, so I am not sure why the gulls were chasing it. The eagle wasn’t carrying a fish or anything that I could see. I tried for a picture, but they were too far away for any one to make out that it is an eagle, and I didn’t get any of the gulls in the frame either. It was nearly dark, and hard to see them on the display when I snapped the pictures.

This was my third time hiking in Muskegon State Park, and I have still to cover less than half the trails. I am glad I have taken a map with me each time I have walked there, and even more glad I am saving the tracks on my GPS unit. With the number of trails, and the way they are laid out, it will take me many more trips to cover them all. In fact, if I wasn’t trying to get this entry to my blog finished, I would be walking there again today.

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