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

Mid-April weekend

Just like last weekend, when we were in the mid-fifties on Saturday and 85 on Sunday, the weather was a big story this weekend.

Saturday was one of those days when few sane people venture out. It was around 50 degrees, raining most of the time, and the wind was blowing around 30 MPH out of the east with much higher gusts. The wind was so bad that thousands of people lost power due to power lines being knocked down. Did that stop me? Of course not, only sane people stay indoors on days like Saturday. To me, bad weather is a bonus, I have the outdoors all to myself.

I walked a park close to home, and other than some golfers, who are even crazier than I, I didn’t see any other people I saw outside. What I did see, which surprised me, were quite a few birds and squirrels, I would have thought that they would have been taking shelter somewhere out of the rain, but they were out feeding as if it were just another day. I tried getting a few pictures, but the birds wouldn’t sit still, they were focused on finding food, hopping from branch to branch looking for something to eat. With the clouds and the rain, any pictures would have been just so-so anyway.

I was about a third of my way into my walk when I spotted a small herd of deer off in the distance. Two or three were standing, but the rest were still lying down. I snapped a couple of pictures, but gave them a wide berth, as I didn’t want to frighten them off. That’s one of the things I love about walking or hiking in the rain, I can sneak along as quietly as a mouse. The dampness takes all the crunch out of the leaves, and even though I know how to walk quietly, the softer ground helps out even more.

Most people walk so that their heels land first, with a thump, or whatever you want to call it. I can hear it, and even feel it, and I am sure wildlife can not only hear that, but feel it as well. Watch a doe that thinks that she may have seen you, but isn’t sure, and you’ll see her stomp the ground with one of her forelegs every once in a while. Not only can you hear it, but the vibrations travel through the ground and you can feel it as well.

The woods are seldom truly quiet, if you listen closely, you’ll hear leaves rustling as birds and squirrel dig through the leaf litter on the forest floor while searching for food. Any breeze will have the trees swaying, and branches rubbing on each other. Squirrels and other animals break an occasional twig, as will the wind. So, you don’t have to be perfectly quiet in the woods. What you don’t want to do is not make any human sounds, like slamming your heels into the ground with each step you take, or talking, or having things in your pockets rattle.

After seeing the first herd of deer, I was in a much better frame of mind, continuing on my way, watching the birds, and noting the huge piles of trash left in the woods from when Buck Creek flooded a couple of weeks ago. That’s always a downside to suburban hiking or kayaking, seeing all the trash we humans leave behind. Buck Creek is particularly bad in that respect, because it flows almost entirely through developed areas. Everytime it floods, it picks up all the trash from along the edges, moves it downstream, and then deposits all the trash in log jams in and along the creek as the flood waters recede. If I were really gung-ho, I would try to organize a clean up of the creek, but I don’t have any idea on where to even start such a campaign, there is so much trash in the floodplain that it overwhelms me. There are some place where the trash is stuck in fallen logs and you could easily fill one or two giant trash bags from just that one spot, but if you did, I don’t know how to carry it all out.

 The trash was depressing me, luckily I came up on two more herds of deer as I was walking the boardwalk along the creek, putting me back into a good mood. That continued as I walked along the eastern edge of the park, part of the time I was walking in a flock of geese as they walked ahead of me on the bank of the creek. There was no honking like last week, these geese just moved along as if I were one of them. I have no idea why, but it was cool.

Goose

You can see this one was feeding as we went along. I was also seeing deer on the other side of the creek, so all was well. I crossed back over the creek at the next little bridge there in the park, and went looking for the deer I had seen from the east side, and I found them. I even shot a video of one laying down, chewing her cud. I wish I cold post it here, but I can’t. I can post a picture though.

Whitetail Deer

This isn’t the one chewing its cud, but is one that I was able to take a clearer picture of. So that was my day Saturday, I saw more deer in one day than I have in a long time. I don’t know how many in total, as I wasn’t counting. When I got home, I checked the weather forecast, and Sunday was supposed to be partly sunny, and the stiff east wind we had on Saturday was forecast to swing around to the west, and increase in strength.  That sounded like the perfect forecast to head for the Lake Michigan shore for the day.

I have been wanting to get over to the lake to take some more pictures of the lighthouses along the shore, and it sounded as if Sunday would be the perfect day for that. I got up early, had breakfast, and headed for the lake. I had planned to stay on the expressway until I got as least as far north as the Little Sable Light, then head for the shoreline. Things didn’t work out that way. It was cloudy as I started from home, but I could see breaks in the clouds off to the west, towards the lake. The farther I went, the more sunshine there was, until I got to Muskegon and turned north on the US 31 expressway. By the time I was to the north end of Muskegon, the clouds had rolled in, and it started to snow, hard. I didn’t want to photograph the lights in bad weather, and the farther north I went, the harder it snowed.

I cut over to the lake, if the snow continued I figured I would hike Muskegon State Park, or if the snow let up, I would take the back roads north to kill some time before I made it to the first of the lighthouses. As it was, I just made it to the shoreline of Lake Michigan, and the snow ended, and I could see clearing off to the west over the lake. I hadn’t planned on stopping at the White River Light, but since it was now on my way, I did. I first went there in the 70’s, when it was shuttered. It is now open as a museum during the summer months, and a family lives there in the light keeper’s quarters to maintain the light and the grounds. If you do go there, have some courtesy for the residents please.

White River Lighthouse

 

 Then, I headed down the breakwater to get some shots of the waves crashing into the pier, but the waves weren’t all that impressive, despite the wind. I did snap a few.

Wave crashing into the White River Pier

When I got back to my explorer, I was almost numb from the wind, not cold except my hands, but the roar of the wind had been so loud out there that it took me a couple of minutes to recover. I continued on up the coast, I stopped at Meinert Park, I had read an article in the press about the park, and how it had just doubled in size due to a gift from a land trust.

That’s the problem with my taking the back roads, I see so many places and things I want to stop and check out. Meinert Park is a place I know I will go back to and spend a day exploring it, but as I continued up the coast, I saw more signs for more parks, and little dead end roads that could lead to nothing, or could lead to some hidden treasure of a place to go. I was on a mission to photograph the lights, so I didn’t check out any of those other places, but went on to the next light, Little Sable Point, with just a quick stop at Pentwater to see if there was a light, or waves, worth photographing. There wasn’t, so I made it to Little Sable Point.

I had noted when I was photographing the White River Lighthouse that the 70 to 360 mm lens I have for my Nikon wasn’t the greatest for trying to get the entire lighthouse in the picture. I could have really used a shorter lens, but there is a very long story to why I have only one lens for the Nikon, which I won’t bore you with here. It turned out to be a problem with every light except the one at Ludington. I also learned that what I see through the viewfinder of the Nikon is not what the finished picture looks like. I made sure I had the entire light in view in the viewfinder, but in the pictures, the bottom was cut off in every picture from the Nikon. The photo above was taken with my Canon, sure glad I did use both.  But as you can see, the weather had turned out great for photography, even if the waves were no where near the 10 to 15 feet that they had been predicting for Sunday. I think it was because we had the strong east winds the day before, and the wind didn’t have the time to build up the really big waves you would expect with winds gusting into the 40 MPH range.

With Little Sable Point done, the next stop was Ludington, and as before, I saw many places to explore further on trips when I have more time. I avoid the Lake Michigan shore in the summer, it is far too crowded for my tastes. But, I haven’t been there as much in the off-season as I should have, too many great places here in Michigan. When I got to Ludington, there was a steady stream of cars entering the city park on the north shore. People would drive in, park where they could see the waves breaking on the breakwater for a few minutes, then leave. I was one of only a few people who actually got out of their vehicle and walked the short way to the breakwater.

Ludington Light

 With the winds as high as they were, the waves breaking on the breakwater should have been a lot more impressive than they were. There were three foot rollers inside the breakwater, that’s pretty impressive, but such is life, you don’t always get what you want.

 The next scheduled stop was the Big Sable Point Lighthouse, which is in Ludington State Park, just to the north of Ludington itself. It’s been a long time since I have been in the Ludington area, and I have to say I was totally amazed! The city used to be a run down, dumpy looking industrial city, but that has changed. The outskirts are not pretty, but downtown itself looks like a very nice, well kept place, with lots of things to do and see. I am not a big tourist type, but I do like it on occasion, and Ludington is a place I may well go on one of those occasions. Part of that is because of what the DNR has done with Ludington State Park as well. Just like I have “re-discovered” Muskegon State Park, I did the same with Ludington on Sunday.

We used to go to that area a lot when I was a kid, my parents and my aunt and uncle even rented a cottage on Hamlin Lake for a week when I was young. I know my uncle Ted had a trailer there for years, as he loved fishing Hamlin Lake, and Lake Michigan on occasion. Over the years, I have turned to less developed areas, like the Pigeon River Country, and it was very surprising to see how much the entire Ludington area has changed over the years. I really need to win the lottery so I can devote all my time to exploring Michigan, weekends just aren’t enough time.

Anyway, to get to the Big Sable Lighthouse, you have to park in Ludington State Park and walk to the light. I grabbed a trail map a the entrance, and discovered what may be a set of trails I’ll like even better than Muskegon. I parked at the lot that was open as close to the light as I could get, as it was already getting late in the afternoon and it was a two mile walk to the light. The dunes there are low and much more open than other dune areas I hike, it was like being in a sea of sand, like a desert. I loved it!

Big Sable Point Lighthouse

I got to the light, took some pics, and headed back, stopping at the shipwreck on my way. I forgot to mention that, didn’t I? As I was walking to the light, there was a sign there explaining a shipwreck found on the beach there a few years ago. It had been covered in sand, and with lower lake levels, and the shifting of the sand, part of a wrecked ship was exposed. There wasn’t much there to see, except another sign, and a few pieces of weathered wood that you could tell were very old and had been worked with very old tools. Also on the way back, I met two young couples on their way to camp at the walk-in campground there in the park. Those four kids were loaded down with more stuff and bigger packs than I have ever seen in my life. I swear, the way the one girl rattled as she went by me, she was even packing the kitchen sink, luckily it is only a mile from the parking lot to the camp.

So, the weekend turned out great, lots of deer and wildlife on Saturday, and I got pictures of the lighthouses Sunday. If it were a perfect world, the waves would have been more impressive on Sunday, but nothing ever goes 100% as planned. As it was, I found even more places to explore another day, especially the trails at Ludington State Park. I want to do the Island Trail, if you looked at the map I linked to above. I found out that I need at least one more lens for my Nikon to get shots of large scale subjects like the lighthouses. I found out carrying two cameras is a really good thing. I found I don’t have as much time or money as I would like, as if that just dawned on me this weekend.

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