A wild, wooly, wonderful week (almost) in the Pigeon River Country
I’m back, a couple of days early due to the weather, but it has still been a great vacation. I could have titled this post The week of Lost Opportunities, but that would imply that I didn’t have a great time, when I did. But, there were some opportunities I missed which I will point out as I go. I am going to break the week down by days, so that I can remember everything that I did this week.
Day one, the arrival
For some one that works second shift, I got a fairly early start last Saturday, and the trip up there was the typical almost 4 hour drive, with a stop for lunch in Cadillac. I arrived at Round Lake State Forest Campground, which may or may not close. It was scheduled to be closed on the 23rd of May, but that has now been delayed as the state looks for ways to keep all 23 campgrounds they were going to close open. This morning I read that Lime Island is being shifted to a state park rather than a state forest campground, and that the legislature is working on an emergency funding source to keep the other 22 open.
It didn’t take long to set up camp, as for the first time in several camping trips, there wasn’t a gale blowing as I put the tent up. I guess I’ve had enough practice at that for the time being. Round Lake was the same as it has always been, the prettiest little campground in Michigan. With lots of light left, I went looking for new access sites to use for fishing on the Black and Pigeon Rivers, which both flow very close to Round Lake. I drove over to some possible sites I had marked on my GPS unit on the Black River, I swear, the Black flows through the worlds largest tag alder swamp! I keep telling myself to fish the Black more often, but every place I find access to the upper sections, it looks the same. The river is 20 to 25 feet wide, with tag alders overhanging the banks so far as to leave only a few feet of the river open enough to even walk in right down the middle. I would love it if I still fished with bait, but I’m not sure how any one can successfully fly fish that stretch of the Black. Farther downstream, near Clark’s Bridge, it looks wide, deep, and slow, with many fallen trees in the water. I think that I am prejudiced since the Black lives up to its name, the river runs almost black due to the tannins in the water, and I’m spoiled by the clearer water I normally fish. Farther yet downstream, near Crockett’s Rapids, the Black looks to be more inviting, next trip!
I cut back over to the Pigeon, above the Song of the Morning yoga club, the group that has been responsible for several fish kills on the Pigeon. I found 2 good spots, both involved fairly long hikes back in to the river, and they are close enough together that I could fish from one to the other, and walk back to my vehicle. But, I wasn’t wearing waders for my exploration trip, I did take my rod and make a few casts at each site just to try them, no hits, no fish, but that wasn’t surprising. The river was still quite high and stained from earlier rain, and I thought that with the weather forecast, that the river would be just right by the middle of the week. I thought it best to not wear waders for exploring, I didn’t know what I was going to run into, and waders aren’t the easiest footwear for hiking if you have to climb through fallen trees or things like that. I marked the spots on my GPS and headed back to camp for the night. As the sun was setting over the lake, I took this picture.
Since I had been up early, I was dead tired by sunset, and while I didn’t hear any coyotes, the spring peepers and owls were in full song as I drifted off to sleep.
Day two, the nature preserves
One of my goals for the week was to visit some of the nature preserves that the Little Traverse Conservancy holds and maintains along the Pigeon River, just north of the PRC. I learned of this group last year, and over the winter, I became a member. While I am most interested in the lands they hold along the Pigeon, many of their other preserves are on my list of places to go. If you’re looking for wild places in northern Michigan to explore, I suggest you start with some of their preserves.
First up for the day was the Agnes S. Andreae Nature Preserve only because like an idiot, I forgot my brochure that has the list of major preserves and maps, so I had to find them from memory. That brings up another point, I had marked the preserves with waypoints in the software that works with my DeLorme GPS unit, but since the upgrade to the software and the unit firmware, waypoints don’t always transfer like they should.
I am going to go off on a little rant here about my DeLorme GPS unit. While I love the capabilities it has, the functionality sucks. I had looked up the locations of the preserves I planned to visit in the software that goes with the unit, and saved that with other information I wanted to take with me on this trip, but very little of it transferred to the unit itself when I synched it with the handheld unit. It ticks me off, because the same thing happened in reverse when I got home yesterday, things I had marked while I was up there didn’t transfer to the software when I synched everything last night. I may have won the DeLorme Challenge back in November, but if I had to do it all over again, I think I would go with a Garmin unit instead. I get more frustrated with the unit and the software every time I use it, and the rechargeable battery pack I picked as part of my winning the challenge is about useless. On the day I hiked Green Timbers, which I will get to later, the rechargeable battery went dead in less than three miles, you can not depend on it at all. Battery life with any type of batteries is poor at best, and the rechargeable lithium that I won is the worst. I even had problems keeping it charged with it plugged into the charger all the time I was driving to and from these places, I had to play with the unit and the charger by turning the unit off, unplugging the charger, then plugging it back in, and turning the unit back on, or it wouldn’t charge. It took me a couple of attempts to figure out the correct procedure to get it all to work. That wouldn’t be so bad, but when you are recording a track and have to do that, then the track gets broken up every time, and also when you stop to change batteries.
Other pet peeves about the unit is that I can’t hear the audio signals it sends when it errors for some reason unless the unit is right next to my ear, and it errors often, either due to low batteries or that it has lost its fix, which also ruins the track I am recording. I was in an Email conversation with DeLorme’s technical help, but after I sent them detailed information about all my complaints, they stopped responding, not a good thing. I guess it is all part of the learning curve, I wouldn’t be without a GPS unit now that I have used one, but from everything I have learned, and heard from others, is that the manufacturers still have a lot of work to do to perfect everything. As it is, I have several hours of work ahead of me getting all the information that I want into both the handheld unit and the software that goes with it.
Now, back to the good stuff. I set off from camp taking the back roads towards the preserves, stopping first at a huge bog and lake along Osmun Road. I could hear dozens of Sandhill Cranes all over in the bog, but couldn’t see them. A portion of the High Country Pathway runs along the bog, so off I went looking for the cranes. The bog is at least ten acres, I would say it is closer to twenty acres, not counting the lake in the middle. I hiked the path all the way across the north end of the bog and back, and never saw a crane, but I could hear them the entire time. The cranes and dozens of other birds who were all in full song, just like in the campground that morning as I was drinking my coffee. The problem is, that when the males are singing, they tend to perch in the tops of trees, making it difficult to take pictures of them.
I stopped again at Osmun Lake, there was a pair of loons there, too far away for a good picture, so I crashed through the brush on the shore to try to get closer, but they are too shy to let any one get close. I thought about launching my kayak, which I had with me, and chasing them around the lake, but I knew they wouldn’t sit still for that. I did see schools of bass, good-sized ones a that, swimming in the shallows along the shoreline, that was cool. I thought about breaking out a rod and catching a few, but I wasn’t sure about the fishing regulations, and I had preserves to explore.
The Andreae preserve was all it was cracked up to be and more! I parked at the gate, put my backpack on, and spent several hours exploring the preserve. You start down a two-track that goes to the area near the cabin that is there. The cabin is available for free to non-profit groups like the scouts to use for camping. There’s a very nice picnic area near the cabin, which I made use of after my hike. You cross a footbridge over the river, then there is a one mile marked trail that loops to the north, which I did. Then I went exploring on my own, using a picture I took of the map they have posted on site as a guide. That’s another little pointer for hikers, if you don’t have a map but there is one at the place you are hiking, take a close up picture of the map, then you can view it on your camera for reference. The Pigeon is always a beautiful river, but especially so in the preserve. I am so glad it has been protected forever! The forest is typical of the region, a little of everything, from some magnificent old growth pines to mixed hardwoods, all growing along the high banks of the Pigeon as if flows north to Mullett Lake.
After a light lunch at the picnic area, I hiked back up the two-track to my vehicle and headed to the Helmer’s Dam/Robert D. VanCampen Preserve a few miles upstream. There is just a two-track back to the river at this preserve, and hundreds of wildflowers along the way. I found some of these near where I live, but the woods here had thousands of them, yellow Trout Lilys.
Using my GPS unit, I poked around in the preserve until I thought I had covered most of it’s 200 acres, but I was wrong. I’ll have to go back again to explore the rest of it, like I needed an excuse to go back. As I was poking around the preserve, I found the remains of what used to be an old house or cabin of some type, I’m not sure what it was. I saw what turned out to be a metal fireplace insert off in the woods, and a large pile of rocks. When I got close enough to recognize what it was, I realized it used to be a large stone chimney for a dwelling, but there were no signs of the dwelling left, and the trees had grown up to be a large size where it had once stood. I run into these kinds of ruins all over up there, and I often wonder about the stories of these places and the people who used to live and work there, but more on that later.
I thought there was a third preserve in that area, which there is, the Vivian VanCampen Preserve, and I must have driven right past it, or there is no sign. But I couldn’t remember the details, and since my GPS unit had let me down, I didn’t explore that one. Yet another reason to go back! The Andreae Preserve is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, and that’s saying a lot. I am sure I will go back many times in the future.
One thing I try not to do up there is travel the same road twice in one day, although that can be tough since there are so few roads. I decided to take a different route than the one I had used to get there to go back to the PRC proper, and I got lost, really lost. That’s part of what I like about the area, it is big enough and wild enough you can get lost, and you never know what you’ll find when you’re lost. On this day, I swear the roads spiraled in slowly until they finally ended at a gate to private property, that happens some times. The maps on the GPS unit are just a guideline, there are no good maps of the roads and trails, you can’t even trust the ones the DNR gives out.
I finally got on a two-track that seemed to be going somewhere, where I wasn’t sure, when I found this.
It isn’t marked, named, or anything else from what I can tell, but it is an impoundment on the Little Pigeon River, and a pretty little spot, which I ended up coming back to later in the week, and I’ll go into more detail then.
I continued down the two-track until it intersected another, and remarkably, there was a road sign there, and I knew where I was again. It was the intersection of the Grass Lake and Pickerel Lake Trails, so I took the Pickerel Lake Trail back through the campground on the lake to Sturgeon Valley Road. By now it was evening, and I was near the pipeline, so I thought it would be a good chance to try for a good picture of an elk. There are actually many pipelines that crisscross the PRC, but if some one mentions the pipeline, they mean the one that is open to vehicles between the Sturgeon and Pigeon Rivers, where many people go to see elk. The DNR plants several fields along the pipeline for “habitat improvement” but it is more like baiting the elk and deer so people can view them. I parked, and walked back along the edge of the woods until I found a spot I thought would give me the best chance of getting a good picture, and sat down against a tree to wait, and promptly dozed off in the warm evening sun. I fought to stay awake, but couldn’t, I kept dozing off, so it seemed like a good idea to go back to camp, eat supper, and turn in for the night, which is what I did.
Day three, the sinkholes and missed opportunities
As I was drinking my morning coffee and thinking about getting lost the day before, I thought it would be a good idea to stop at the PRC headquarters and pick up copies of the latest maps, which is what I did. I also went inside and talked to Scott Whitcomb, the unit manager for the PRC for a few minutes. I let him know how displeased I was about Round Lake closing, and he told me it wasn’t certain yet, but he also said that it was his favorite campground too. He filled me in to why it was selected for closure, and part of the problem is theft if you can believe it. People have been stealing the fire rings, picnic tables, even the trash cans in the park. That and so many people stay there and don’t pay. Come on people, I know the campgrounds are overpriced, something the DNR admits, but stealing the trash cans? We had a good conversation, I don’t agree with all the decisions he makes, but overall, Scott does a great job of managing the PRC, and there’s no way to please every one.
With my maps, I headed off for the sinkholes. They aren’t in the PRC proper, they are east of there just a few miles east of M 33. I took the long way around to the north to save time, at least I was driving on paved roads rather than two-tracks. On the road to the sinkholes I passed a swamp on the side of the road, and saw two beautiful male wood ducks take off from within 20 feet of the road. There was no way I could get the camera out in time, darn. I made note of where the swamp was for later in the day. I got to the sinkholes, put on my backpack, and did the long loop around them. To tell you the truth, they didn’t seem like all that big of a deal, other than there are so many so close together, and that these have remained dry. The PRC is full of little sinkhole lakes, Lost Lake, the Twin Lakes, Ford Lake, Section Four Lake, etc. All those lakes and more were formed in the same way as the sinkholes, water has dissolved the limestone rock formations deep underground, which causes the ground above to collapse down into the void left where the limestone used to be.
It was a nice enough trail though, well worth the hike. I think another thing that I didn’t like about the sinkholes is that you never have a clear view of them, they are filled with trees that block your view for the most part. There is a set of stairs going down into one, and coming back up them is a work out, you’ll need a break when you get to the top. The stairway is about the equivalent of a 10 story building, if that gives you some idea how deep the sinkholes are.
After my hike around the sinkholes, I went across the road to check out the campground at Shoepac Lake, then drove down to the campground on Tomahawk Lake. They are both nice campgrounds, a little too built up for my taste though.
Now that a few hours had passed, I thought that maybe the wood ducks would have returned to the swamp where I had seen them earlier, so that was my next stop. I parked along the road a good distance from the swamp, and walked to where I had seen them on the north side of the road. As I was sneaking along, fixated on the north side of the road, I heard a cluck from the south side and turned to see a ruffed grouse not 20 feet from me in a grassy clearing on the edge of the swamp there. Of course it flew off before I could even get a picture. That’s when the idea of lost or missed opportunities began to really take hold. If I hadn’t been so fixed on seeing a wood duck, I probably would have noticed the grouse in time to get a picture. Sort of the same thing had already happened a couple of times this week, once when I was looking for a woodpecker I heard very near me and spooked a deer that was also close by. Part of that is due to the nature of the PRC itself, for a photographer, it is a “target-rich environment”. There is abundant wildlife to photograph, and it is easy to spook one critter when you are after another. It doesn’t help that the animals are more skittish there than they are downstate where I live. There are two reasons for that, one is poaching, there are a lot of people who live almost a subsistent life in the area since jobs are few and far between, and the other reason is the number of predators there. It is like a wilderness with a true predator-prey relationship going on there. The predators aren’t suppressed the way they are here in lower Michigan. The prey species have to be more alert or they end up as a meal for either humans or predators.
Anyway, another portion of the High Country Pathway runs right past the swamp I was at, so I thought I would follow it for a little ways to see where it led. I only went a short way until I came to a boardwalk of sorts, I took just a few steps on it and decided it was no place for some one my size to be walking, which brings me to another point, who laid out the High Country Pathway? OK, so that’s a rhetorical question, sort of. It seems like every time I run into a section of it, it is near a swamp, bog, or some other type of wetland. Just as I used part of it to search for the cranes in the bog earlier in the week, it went through wetlands here where I was looking for wood ducks. Either the people who laid it out love wetlands, or they chose to follow the wetlands to reduce the amount of up and down hiking people would have to do if the trail was laid out differently. The boardwalk I came to here was old and severely rotted, I could see boards missing or loose, and during the few steps I did take on it several of the boards that looked sound turned out not to be. I know I’m not a little guy, but there is no way any one should be using that section of trail. I am not sure, but I think there is an alternate trail now, but I would be prepared for some detours and bushwhacking if you were to decide to hike the entire trail. Here’s a blog by some one else who did hike the entire High Country Pathway.
Since I couldn’t go that way, I went the other way instead, and found a series of small swamps connected by very small streams. I would guess that in the summer the streams become seepages and bogs more than streams, but it was a nice area. I’m glad I was there before the mosquitoes were out though, I doubt if I would have found it so nice in the dead of summer. I know, I am almost as strange as who ever laid out the High Country Pathway next to and through all those wetlands in the first place. I like swamps, bogs, and wetlands, in the spring, fall, and winter when there are no bugs. I avoid them in the summer.
I decided to take the back way, albeit shorter way, back towards the campground, and I am glad I did. My first “discovery” was Canada Creek, which I have read about but never been to before. Canada Creek is one of the major tributaries of the Black River, and at least the part I checked out this day looks to be as big and more open than the Black itself. I didn’t suit up and get serious, but I did make a few casts here and there, and I will be back to get serious about it soon.
The next discovery was Bear Den Lake, a small lake out in the middle of nowhere that has a DNR access site. It looks like a good fishing lake, not that I do any lake fishing any more, but the osprey must find it to be good for fishing, for as I was looking over the lake, I saw one perched near me.
After he flew off, I drove off, stopping on the way for a snack in a nice shaded area right next to the road. I guess I should mention the weather. In the morning it was cold, not freezing, but close enough that the propane tank on the Coleman stove became frost covered. In the afternoons, it was warming up to be shirt sleeve weather, then as the sun set, it would cool off rapidly.
My last stop of note was Inspiration Point, at the intersection of Osmun and Clark’s Bridge Roads. There is a scenic overview there that requires a short walk, less than half a mile. I have been there before, several times, and sometimes in May, the apple trees along the trail are in bloom, and gorgeous, I wasn’t so lucky this time. As cold as it has been, the buds were still closed. The view from Inspiration Point is well worth the short walk, although I was there the wrong time of the day for the best lighting for this picture.
One other thing about Inspiration Point is the old building foundations there. Just like the fallen Chimney at Helmer’s Dam, there are a number of ruins of old buildings scattered about the Inspiration Point area. What they all were, I am not sure. Given the number of apple trees there I would assume it was once an apple orchard, but there seems to be a lot of foundations and other ruins for just an orchard. There is a book out about the history of the PRC, and I suppose I should break down and buy a copy, even though I doubt it tells the stories that I am wanting to hear. But I spent some time up on the ridge finding more and more old foundations and other old ruins there, and trying to figure out what they used to be. I was also hanging out there because the DNR had done a controlled burn of what I call wildflower valley just to the east. I call it wildflower valley since it is usually filled with the flowers of the open fields. I was somewhat disappointed to see it had been burned, but I know the flowers will be back better than ever later on. The other thing is that I thought maybe the deer or elk would come out of the forests to feed on the new growth taking hold there, since the new growth has a higher protein content and apparently tastes better to the critters, but it didn’t happen while I was there. So I headed back to camp for the night.
Day four, small storms, big trees, bigger views, hiking Green Timbers
Sometime just before dawn, I was awakened by what I thought may have been thunder, but wasn’t sure. As I was lying there, the tent lit up from lightning, and then I knew it had been thunder that woke me up. I made a quick trip to the outhouse just in case I had to hunker down in the tent for an extended amount of time, then went back to sleep. I woke up hearing thunder a couple of times, never close, but all around me. When it got truly light out, I brewed coffee and listened as the storms continued to roll through the area. It was raining most of the time, it would rain hard for a minute or two, then let up to sprinkles, then pick up again. I don’t mind rain, I don’t even mind thunder showers, but I am a lot more selective about what I will do and where I will go when there is lightning in the area. Since I was still hearing thunder off in the distance, I thought it would be a good time to run into town, fill the gas tank of the explorer, pick up a bag of ice for the cooler, and check out the Elkhorn Grill for breakfast. A couple of mushroom hunters I ran into told me that the Elkhorn served good breakfasts, so it seem to be the thing to do. Sure enough, they do serve a good breakfast at the Elkhorn, and that gave me a chance to check the radar on my smart phone. I could see the thunderstorms were about over, but I had an extra cup of coffee just to be sure.
Why I didn’t decide to go fishing escapes me now, and all logic, but I didn’t, I decided to hike Green Timbers instead. I am not saying the hike was bad, far from it, but in hindsight, I should have gone fishing this day instead of hiking, another lost opportunity. I am going to write this next section somewhat differently, as I will also use it as part of my hiking places series of pages, so bear with me please, I don’t want to type the same thing twice.
Anyway, Green Timbers is a 6,388 acre tract that was adopted as part of the Pigeon River Country State Forest in 1982, and is closed to all motor vehicles, including snowmobiles. Here’s a link to Detailed Map of Green Timbers.
Green Timbers, so named in 1942 by Don McLouth of McLouth Steel, was developed and used as a hunting and fishing resort. Prior to the McLouth ownership, the southeastern portion was used as a recreational retreat by Titus Glen Phillips, while the north portion was owned by Cornwall Lumber Company. The land was extensively logged, burned, and then grazed by both sheep and cattle prior to the 1958’s when McLouth purchased the property.
The first thing you should know about Green Timbers is nothing is marked, there are no signs, other than the ones that say no motorized vehicles along the borders. There isn’t even a sign for the parking lot at the trailhead. Fortunately I can remember back to the large arched sign that used to be there when it was still in private ownership. It is about seven miles east of Vanderbilt. If you are looking for it, it is on the west side of the Sturgeon River on the north side of Sturgeon Valley Road, right where it curves to go over the Sturgeon. The stone walls at the entrance are still there. Also still on the property are two of the cabins that were used when the it was still a hunting and fishing resort. For how long, I am not sure, for the local kids are obviously using both of the cabins as party places. The DNR is leaving them for now for use as shelters for people hiking, snow shoeing, or cross-country skiing.
The trail starts at the Sturgeon Valley Road trailhead and heads basically north for just less than 2 1/2 miles until you get to the first cabin, called the Green Timbers Cabin. The trail is an old two-track, easy to follow and easy to hike, with no hills at all to speak of. The forest is mixed second-growth pine for the most part along this section of the trail. You’ll know when you are about to get to the cabin when the trail makes a sharp turn to the right. If you go left for a few hundred feet, you’ll come to the Club Stream, so named because it flows through two of the old hunting clubs that used to be there, one of which is now Green Timbers. Club Stream is also an excellent trout stream.
When you make the turn to the right, you will see the bridge over the Sturgeon River just ahead of you. The cabin will come into view as you cross the bridge, and it will be easy to see why they chose to build a cabin on this spot. it is surrounded by big red pines, I don’t know if they are old growth pines or second-growth that have gotten that large, but it is a very pretty setting right along the river.
You are free to spend the night in the cabin, or anywhere with in Green Timbers, but you may want to obtain a free camping permit from the Pigeon River Country headquarters just in case. I can’t tell you if one is needed, but I would assume so, since they are required on all state forest lands.
After you leave the Green Timbers Cabin, the trail winds more, and climbs up and over a ridge on the east side of the Sturgeon River. After you go over the ridge, the walking is easy again, through more open scrub and Jack Pines. The trail still heads to the north, and when it “T”s, go to the left, which is west, and climb up over the ridge again, it will be well worth the climb! As you cross the top of the ridge, the Honeymoon Cabin will come into view, and the Sturgeon River Valley beyond it.
These were taken in May, before the trees had leafed out, but I’ll try to go back in the fall when the foliage should be as spectacular as the view is. The distance from the Green Timbers cabin to the Honeymoon cabin is about 1 1/2 miles, making it 4 miles from the road, and about an 8 mile round trip. When I took the top of the ridge trail back, the distance that I came up with on my GPS unit was just over 7 miles total.
For the return trip, there is a trail that runs right on top of the ridge and offers some great views on the way back. The trail isn’t marked, or shown on any maps that I have seen, but you’ll see it on the map I post at the end of this. It is easy to spot, it runs straight south along the top of the ridge. I wouldn’t suggest taking it up to the cabin, it isn’t as easy to find on the south end, and it would involve a very steep climb up the ridge.
Don’t pay any attention to most of the roads on this map, as most of them aren’t there anymore. The DNR closed them long ago, and they are overgrown and impassable, and the DNR would fine you if they found you driving on them anyway. You can click on the map to get a larger, printable version.
When I started this hike it was raining steadily, but the rain ended, and the sun came out, after I had taken the pictures of course. I thought about going back, but I’ll do that in the fall when the foliage should be spectacular. It also warmed up, in a hurry. I was wearing my winter parka, a flannel shirt, and a heavy T-shirt, but I stopped and striped down to just the T-shirt on my way back and was still plenty warm!
After the hike, I went back to the campground for supper, then drove over to the Blue Lakes Road Bridge where it crosses the Black River. I had seen an elk herd there last fall, and had heard that they feed in the field there quite often. All the way over there I saw deer and elk crossing the road ahead of me, but at a good rate of speed. I lost count of how many. As I approached the bridge, sure enough, there were elk in the field where I expected them to be, but also on the south side of the road and a lot closer. I yanked the wheel to the left and hit the down button for the passenger side window to get a shot through that window, but I couldn’t get turned far enough to do that, so I shot this one of the last elk before it took off to follow the rest of the ones that had been there through the windshield.
Not very good, but I tried. The herd out in the field on the north side of the road were too far away to get good pictures of them. I waited for a while to see if any came closer, but that didn’t happen. Then it was back to the campground and bed.
Day five, the Big Storms!
As I was drinking my morning coffee, I noticed the birds weren’t acting quite the same as they had been so far, and I had a funny feeling about the weather. Nothing I could put my finger on, I think it is something, an instinct, that I have developed from being outdoors so much. The forecast was for afternoon or evening storms, and no word about them being severe. I thought it best to check, I only had to drive a couple of miles to get cell phone service, so I did, and I am sure glad I did! There were two lines of storms headed right for where I was. No problem I thought, I’ll go into town for breakfast, and wait out the storms. The storms weren’t moving very fast, because I made it to town, and was just finishing my meal when some one came in and announced that it had just started to rain. I could see the storms on the radar on my phone, and as I finished my coffee, I thought that I would drive around north of Green Timbers and look for more access sites on the Sturgeon River.
That’s one thing I was a little disappointed in the day before when I hiked Green Timbers, other than at the first cabin, I didn’t find any good places to get to the river. My GPS unit and the maps I had from the DNR showed several roads north of there that either ended at the river, or came close enough to it that there could be access to it. So much for the well laid plans of mice and men, and maps as well. Almost as soon as I started into the area from the main road, I found that this was the area I had gotten lost in a couple of days before!
By now the first storm was hitting the area, making things even tougher. I found one of the places the maps showed there could have been access, but I didn’t dare venture out too far with lightning bolts filling the sky. I did go far enough on foot to see that any river access involved climbing a very steep, very high ridge, not fun in waders. At every turn, intersection, or even the appearance of an old road I would stop and consult the three maps I had and my GPS unit, none of them matched, and none were correct. None of those possible access site exist any more.
I was close to the impoundment on the Little Pigeon River I had found a couple of days before, so I went there and wandered around enough to find an old beaver pond, and some other interesting places to check out another time, but the second line of storms was approaching, and I didn’t want to be struck by lightning. When I had taken the top of the ridge trail the day before, I had noticed a number of trees that showed lightning damage, and more that had been destroyed by lightning.
Some one I talked to, either a mushroom hunter or some one in town had told me about a new road the DNR had built a few years before, so I thought I would find it and check it out as the storm passed. I found it OK, it is called Fisherman’s Road, and it used to be a dead-end road. The DNR has extended it out to Webb Road to the north. Cool, it runs along the Pigeon River, maybe I’ll find some access sites to it, rather than the Sturgeon, so I thought. I had only gone a short way when all hell broke loose! The winds picked up, the rain was coming down in buckets, and trees and limbs were falling all around me. I didn’t bother looking for any access sites, I just wanted to get out to a main road and some semblance of safety. I had to stop twice to remove small branches from my windshield wipers, and a couple of times small branches came crashing down on the explorer. As hard as it was raining I was worried that the road, really a two-track, would become impassable before I made it out to Webb Road, but eventually I did.
The strange thing about the storm is that the winds picked up even more after the lightning and thunder had passed by. It was getting worse rather than better, and even more tree limbs and trees were coming down. Now that I had made it to a real road, I was worried my tent would be blown away, but I had to go the long way around the outside of the PRC to get to the campground, or risk the two-tracks again. I opted for the main roads, even they were partially blocked in places by fallen trees. At one point I passed an opening in the trees for one of the many pipelines in the area, and the wind blew the explorer a couple of feet sideways, the wind was so strong. At another spot there was a lake with whitecaps, which wasn’t strange with that wind, but the whitecaps were being blown up in just a few feet of open water, not all the way downwind like they normally are. Then I came to a tree that did block the entire road. I had just started breaking off some of the smaller branches to make a way through, when some one drove up from the other side. We didn’t say much, just went to work clearing the road. He had a carpenter’s saw, and I got my bow saw out, and we sawed our way towards one another. We met in about the middle, but it was raining too hard to hold a conversation, we just thanked each other and headed back to the safety of our vehicles.
I came to one other small tree I had to saw through, then one old dead tree that had to be moved on the road to the campground, but the worst was over by then. I was both surprised and relieved to see my tent still standing and in one piece when I did finally make it to the campground. Columbia must make a good tent, and I know how to set it up, because that was the worst wind I have ever seen while camping, and I hope to never see it again. As I was checking everything at the campsite over, a small branch about an inch in diameter and maybe two feet long hit the ground with a loud thud not more than twenty feet from where I was standing. The last close call of the day.
What do you do after a storm like that? You go fishing, at least I did. If you catch it just right, the fishing can be great during the rising water after a rain, but I was too late. The Pigeon was already high and getting muddy from the rain. I fished hard until dusk and never had even a hit, and I never saw even a small fish rise, even though there was a hatch going on.
Day six, decision day.
Part of my plans for this week was a kayaking trip with friends down the south branch of the Au Sable on this coming Sunday, but the weather forecast was not looking good for that trip. Added to the things I had to balance out was when I was going to pack up to come home. If we did the kayak trip, I was going to pack up on Saturday, get a motel for the night, do the kayak trip on Sunday, then drive home and unpack on Monday before work. With the weather forecast calling for rain all weekend, with falling temperatures and high winds Sunday, I decided to call off the kayak trip and come home early. I don’t mind hiking, fishing, kayaking, or even camping in the rain, but, I do mind having to pack up a tent and other camping gear in the rain, or when it is still wet from rain. No matter what you do, no matter how many towels you use, things are still damp when you pack them, and you have to then unpack and air everything out to dry as soon as you arrive home, or you will end up with mildew in your gear. I still have to unpack and air things out, but I don’t have to do it all right away, since everything was dry when I packed it this time.
Besides, most normal people don’t like paddling when it is 50 degrees, raining, and with the wind howling, my question would be which way is the wind coming from? A tailwind most of the time wouldn’t be too bad, but I wouldn’t paddle into a headwind under those conditions unless I had to. My kayaking friends aren’t so hardcore, they prefer normal weather for kayaking. And, I didn’t see a good window to pack up in unless I did it on this day.
I sent out an Email letting people know the trip was cancelled, then started getting my stuff dried and ready to be packed up. I thought that I would have time to do a short hike on the Shinglemill Pathway while things dried out, but that didn’t happen. The temperature was climbing rapidly, and there was a good breeze blowing, so everything was drying quickly. As each item dried, I packed it up, then went on to the next. Not even the tent or the tarp I put down under the tent took very long to dry, so I was done in a short time, and headed for home.
The wrap up
While I missed a number of chances for good pictures, I took almost 300 good ones, and several really good ones. I didn’t catch any fish, but that happens. I spent too much time early in my vacation doing the side trips and taking photos rather than fishing, but the weather didn’t pan out the way I thought, or the way it was forecast to be. The fishing has been too good the last couple of years, so good that I was forgetting that I could be shut out completely, and now, that’s happened and it will make the next fish I do catch that much more special. I had a great time this week, saw many beautiful sights, saw lots of critters of all kinds, found some new spots to fish, and more new places to explore even further. I even got invited to go mushroom hunting with one of the locals up there, which doesn’t mean much to any one who doesn’t understand that most of the locals dislike and don’t trust flat-landers, which is what they call the residents of down state Michigan.
But, the best part of coming home early is that I will be able to attend a Trout Unlimited function tomorrow afternoon on the Rogue, hosted by Dick Pobst. Dick used to own the Orvis shop in Ada, and I spent a lot of time there drooling on his tackle and trying to learn all I could about fly fishing many, many years ago. It will be good to see Dick again, and learn more about the sport from a true master. Missed opportunities? When one door closes, another opens.
Hello- great blog! I was actually searching the internet for information on Helmer’s Dam which I visited last year while in Michigan and found your blog. I was excited to see your post regarding the chimney and ruins that you found near the site of the old dam. I am working to confirm but believe that is actually the site of a small home that my grandfather was born and spent some time in as a child.
April 22, 2012 at 12:09 am
Thank you for visiting my blog and leaving a comment! I wish that I had more information for you, I did read something else about the Helmer’s Dam area that I meant to include in a later post, but I have forgotten where I read it, and can’t find it again. It may have been in a newsletter from the Little Traverse Conservancy, I’m not sure. That area, the Pigeon River valley, is my favorite place in Michigan. There’s so much history there, that seldom gets told, and is being lost forever.
April 22, 2012 at 10:55 am
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