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

Northern color tour, 2014, Part I

Well, I’m back from my trip up north. As per usual, things did not go as I had planned, but it was great to get away for the weekend. And, I learned a great deal about photography, myself as a photographer, and places to go here in Michigan. I’ll touch on all three of those things as I go.

I started out from home just before noon on Saturday, later than I would like, but with my work schedule, that’s the best that I could do after getting everything loaded into my Subaru. Traffic was quite heavy for a weekend, a portent of things to come. I also saw a few scenes along the road that I would have liked to have stopped to photograph, but between the traffic, and wanting to make it to Petoskey with enough time left for photography, I didn’t stop until I got to the rest area on US 131 north near Cadillac, Michigan.

The weather was living up to the forecast, raining more than not, and windy. So, when I stopped at the rest area, I thought that it would be a good time to get my landscape camera body set-up for the conditions, while stretching my legs.

Camera set-up shot

Camera set-up shot

While I was playing with the camera settings on the one body, I heard, then saw, a flock of sandhill cranes flying over, so I grabbed the second body with the 300 mm prime lens and Tamron 1.4 X tele-converter on it for this shot.

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Hearing the croaking warbling of the cranes still gets to me the same way that hearing the call of a loon does, hence the rather poor image of the cranes compared to others I have posted recently.

Back on the road, I passed a juvenile bald eagle perched just above the highway, and an American kestrel that was also in range of the camera had I stopped. But, silly me, I wanted to get to my destination, and didn’t want to take the time to stop for them, or the gorgeous displays of fall colors that I was seeing while driving.

When I got to Petoskey, it was a madhouse, much like when I went to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore last summer, complete with traffic jams, and just way too many people for my tastes.

Every year, I read about how beautiful the drive along M 119 from Petoskey, north to Cross Village is during the fall, and apparently, so have thousands of other people. As a matter of fact, M 119 is known as the “Tunnel of Trees Scenic Heritage Route”, which has me wondering how it received that designation. Don’t get me wrong, it was a lovely drive, except for the traffic, and no places to pull over and photograph what scenery there was. I would guess that the route is best viewed as a passenger in a vehicle, rather than as the driver.

M 119 is a narrow, twisty road, and after two days of heavy to moderate rain, many places along the road were covered by water. That made dealing with the traffic even worse, as a lot of people were trying to avoid driving through the puddles, and hogging what little pavement that there was to drive on. So, I didn’t have much of a chance to really take in what few views that there were. In my opinion, there are many other back roads in the area that offer as good or better views, with a lot less traffic, and with places to pull off the road to enjoy the views.

However, the drive wasn’t a complete waste, as along the way, I saw a sign pointing to a nature preserve owned by the Little Traverse Conservancy, of which I’m a member. Actually, they own several preserves along M 119, but I only stopped at this one.

Thorne Swift Nature Preserve.

Thorne Swift Nature Preserve.

A great place to escape the traffic, and stretch the legs out, even if it was raining moderately hard at the time. I started by visiting the interpretive building….

Elizabeth Kennedy Nature Center

Elizabeth Kennedy Nature Center

Elizabeth Kennedy Nature Center

Elizabeth Kennedy Nature Center

Elizabeth Kennedy Nature Center

Elizabeth Kennedy Nature Center

Elizabeth Kennedy Nature Center

Elizabeth Kennedy Nature Center

…amazed by how much stuff that they packed into that small building. I also had a chance to talk to the resident manager of the preserve, he was very informative. Then, despite the rain, I set off for a short walk down to the Lake Michigan beach and back.

Thorne Swift Nature Preserve

Thorne Swift Nature Preserve

Thorne Swift Nature Preserve

Thorne Swift Nature Preserve

Lake Michigan beach looking south

Lake Michigan beach looking south

Lake Michigan beach looking north

Lake Michigan beach looking north

Thorne Swift Nature Preserve

Thorne Swift Nature Preserve

Thorne Swift Nature Preserve

Thorne Swift Nature Preserve

Thorne Swift Nature Preserve

Thorne Swift Nature Preserve

Because of the rain, I didn’t take my tripod, I should have. I did take my umbrella, which the wind destroyed the first time that I opened it. Without it, I had a hard time keeping the lens free of rain drops, so I didn’t linger over any of the photos, I simply pulled the camera out of my rain jacket and shot as quickly as I could.

I was a bit surprised at how small the waves were on Lake Michigan, as strong as the wind was, but that shore is in the lee of Beaver Island, and somewhat protected from the gale that was blowing at the time. Because of the rain and fog, I couldn’t see the island well enough to attempt to photograph it.

Not wanting to deal with the traffic on my way back to Petoskey, I took the back roads, and doing so planted a seed in my brain that I should have allowed to grow faster than I did. On the way, I stopped to shoot these three deer in a field, using a wide-angle lens to also get the trees behind the deer.

Northern Michigan in the fall

Northern Michigan in the fall

I should have gotten the exposure right, but I thought that I would end up deleting that image, but it plays into what I’m learning.

A little further down the road, I came to an open marshy area too good not to photograph, despite not being able to keep the rain off from the lens. 😉

Northern Michigan marsh

Northern Michigan marsh

Northern Michigan marsh

Northern Michigan marsh

Northern Michigan marsh

Northern Michigan marsh

Northern Michigan marsh

Northern Michigan marsh

If there had been less wind or rain, I would have gotten out my tripod and shot the scene to create HDR images so that I could have gotten the sky exposed correctly. But, I still wasn’t allowing that seedling that had been planted in my brain to grow, after all, this was just a no-name marsh in the middle of nowhere in northern Michigan.

I made my way back through the traffic jams in Petoskey, and continued to the southeast to East Jordan, Michigan, where I stopped for a bite to eat before continuing to the Graves Crossing State Forest campground, where I spent the night. I slept in the back of my Forester, which isn’t the most comfortable arrangement, but I used my skills as a truck driver to make it work. To be a good over the road driver, you need to be able to sleep anywhere, anytime, and besides, the back of my Forester was dry. I woke up several times during the night, and it was still raining every time that I did wake up.

At 6 Am, I did roll out, and I could see stars above me, so I fired up the camp stove and brewed a pot of coffee. While I was drinking the coffee, I shot a few photos in the campground, using the flash, since it was still dark.

Stump in the dark

Stump in the dark

Fungi covered stump in the dark

Fungi covered stump in the dark

Neither are very good, but at least I didn’t get my feet in the second one. 😉

As soon as it was light enough to see, I wondered over to the Jordan River, set-up my tripod, and shot these.

The Jordan River looking upstream

The Jordan River looking upstream

The Jordan River looking  downstream

The Jordan River looking downstream

My goal on this day was to shoot the Jordan River valley from the Landslide and Deadman’s hill scenic overlooks, and as I starting driving to get to the Landslide area, it began to rain. I stopped to shoot this one on the way, just to be sure that I could get a shot under the conditions at the time.

On my way to the Landslide

On my way to the Landslide

The low fog had me worried, so I stopped again for these.

On my way to the Landslide

On my way to the Landslide

On my way to the Landslide

On my way to the Landslide

Not great, but it was just light enough to see, and it was raining lightly, so I thought that I was good to go.

I didn’t mention it earlier, but the previous day, I had stopped at Deadman’s Hill to check to see how far along the colors were, and the parking lots were jam-packed! There are two parking lots, one for long-term parking for people hiking the North Country Trail, or the Jordan River Valley Trail, which is a loop off from the North Country Trail. The second lot is for people visiting the scenic overlook, and like I said, there wasn’t a place to park in either lot the day before.

I could tell by the lack of tire tracks in the dirt two-track that leads to the scenic overlook that I was the first person to drive back to the Landslide area that morning. So, I parked, strapped my camera gear to myself, and started the short hike from the parking lot to the scenic overlook. That’s when panic set in!

The Jordan River Valley from the Landslide scenic overlook

The Jordan River Valley from the Landslide scenic overlook

NO! The sun was coming out! Not only that, but there was uneven lighting all across the valley, what the heck do I do? I’m not prepared for this at all!

I told myself to calm down, but it didn’t help much. I tried going small, shooting just small parts of the valley at one time.

The Jordan River Valley from the Landslide scenic overlook

The Jordan River Valley from the Landslide scenic overlook

The Jordan River Valley from the Landslide scenic overlook

The Jordan River Valley from the Landslide scenic overlook

The Jordan River Valley from the Landslide scenic overlook

The Jordan River Valley from the Landslide scenic overlook

The Jordan River Valley from the Landslide scenic overlook

The Jordan River Valley from the Landslide scenic overlook

No, no,no! The last one, shot with the 70-200 mm L series lens wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t what I wanted either.

I was at a complete loss as to how to set-up to shoot the entire valley. I told myself that this view was one of the reasons that I had purchased to Photomatix software to create HDR images, but I’ve never had a chance to shoot such a large view as the one before me since I had purchased the software. It wasn’t as if I could shoot the scene, run the images through Photomatix to see how they turned out, adjust my settings and try again.

To make matter worse, the clouds began to roll back in, so the lighting was constantly changing. I would think that I was set-up correctly, but when I went to actually shoot the images, the light had changed again. I did the best that I could.

The Jordan River Valley from the Landslide scenic overlook

The Jordan River Valley from the Landslide scenic overlook, HDR image

I tried again.

The Jordan River Valley from the Landslide scenic overlook

The Jordan River Valley from the Landslide scenic overlook, HDR image

Oh no! Now there’s something else going on, the sky and clouds are turning pink as the sun rises! Now what do I do?

Try again.

The Jordan River Valley from the Landslide scenic overlook

The Jordan River Valley from the Landslide scenic overlook, HDR image

I sure wished that I knew what I was doing! That could have been the shot of the trip, but I blew it, so I tried again, but by this time, the clouds had closed in for more even lighting.

The Jordan River Valley from the Landslide scenic overlook

The Jordan River Valley from the Landslide scenic overlook, HDR image

Thoroughly disgusted with my lack of ability, I gave up. I had a lot of respect for really good landscape photographers before, now, I have even more!

I tried to console myself by thinking that I didn’t know how the HDR images were going to turn out, and that I may be pleasantly surprised when I processed the images once I arrived back home. But, my mood was not helped when I blew a great shot of a northern harrier, with help from the 300 mm prime lens.

Male Northern harrier in flight

Male Northern harrier in flight

I had seen the harrier coming towards me as I was driving to the Deadman’s Hill area, and managed to get pulled off the road and stopped in time to get the harrier in the viewfinder as it was passing me. But, the darned 300 mm lens would not focus on the harrier thirty feet from me, it insisted on focusing on the trees 100 yards behind the harrier. I couldn’t get the bird in focus until it had pulled up, and turned away from me, but then, I didn’t have time to adjust the exposure correctly.

I arrived at the Deadman’s Hill area early enough so that I was just the third vehicle there, much better than the day before. I grabbed my photo gear, and headed up the hill for these.

The Jordan River Valley from the Deadman's Hill scenic overlook, HDR image

The Jordan River Valley from the Deadman’s Hill scenic overlook, HDR image

The Jordan River Valley from the Deadman's Hill scenic overlook, HDR image

The Jordan River Valley from the Deadman’s Hill scenic overlook, HDR image

The rest of these are as they came straight out of the camera.

The Jordan River Valley from the Deadman's Hill scenic overlook

The Jordan River Valley from the Deadman’s Hill scenic overlook

The Jordan River Valley from the Deadman's Hill scenic overlook

The Jordan River Valley from the Deadman’s Hill scenic overlook

The Jordan River Valley from the Deadman's Hill scenic overlook

The Jordan River Valley from the Deadman’s Hill scenic overlook

The Jordan River Valley from the Deadman's Hill scenic overlook

The Jordan River Valley from the Deadman’s Hill scenic overlook

The Jordan River Valley from the Deadman's Hill scenic overlook

The Jordan River Valley from the Deadman’s Hill scenic overlook

The Jordan River Valley from the Deadman's Hill scenic overlook

The Jordan River Valley from the Deadman’s Hill scenic overlook

Still not great, but I’m making progress, these are ten times better than the photos that I shot the last time I was there in the fall.

One thing that I learned was not to use the live view mode to shoot landscapes, I can’t see the details well enough on the small screen to get my compositions correct. I did much better when I used the viewfinder, even if it’s a pain to do so when the camera is on the tripod.

I’m getting better at setting the camera up to get images to be processed in Photomatix for HDR images, but I need more practice. The same could be said for my shooting large-scale landscapes like the Jordan River Valley overall, and in processing the images later.

I thought about reshooting both places, but I was frustrated at that point, so much so that I knew my second effort would be even worse than I had done already. And, it was already 11 AM and I was hungry. So, I decided to head back into East Jordan for breakfast, and to do a little birding, and that’s where the next post will begin.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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32 responses

  1. Beautiful shots =)

    October 8, 2014 at 2:51 am

    • Thank you very much!

      October 8, 2014 at 10:05 am

  2. Amazing colours, I wouldn’t want to miss this post. Thank you!

    October 8, 2014 at 3:50 am

    • Thank you very much Dana!

      October 8, 2014 at 10:06 am

  3. I’m definitely having fall color envy. We just don’t quite get the variety of colors here in central Ohio.

    October 8, 2014 at 6:33 am

    • Thanks Bob! I just wish that I could do justice to how beautiful the scenes were.

      October 8, 2014 at 10:06 am

  4. To me, all the shots are wonderful but I now know what a perfectionist you are and can sympathise with your frustration. I’m sure you’ll get there in the end! I was also struck by what you said about the cranes calling and saying that hearing loons got to you as well. I understand that feeling because I feel the same when I hear loons (we call them divers), curlews, oyster-catchers and willow warblers. A really emotional feeling – half happy, half sad. I am looking forward to your next post.

    October 8, 2014 at 8:02 am

    • Thank you Clare! The cranes were nearly hunted into extinction for their feathers, to see and hear flocks of them is something special.

      October 8, 2014 at 10:09 am

  5. Loved joining you for your weekend tour, what stunning autumn colours you photographed, wonderful!

    October 8, 2014 at 8:20 am

    • Thank you Susan!

      October 8, 2014 at 10:07 am

  6. It’s crazy how quickly the colors change in a scene. The sky looks quite threatening in several of your photos, then bright and welcoming.

    I envy you seeing the flock of sandhill cranes. I get a little thrill every time I see one – they are magnificent.

    Did you photograph the eclipse this morning? Out here on Lake Superior, it was spectacular. Russet colored, and perfectly clear. I was very sad not to be able to take any photos, but there are severe limitations to what I can do with my phone!

    Great batch of photos, thanks.

    October 8, 2014 at 10:20 am

    • Thank you Judy! The light was driving me crazy, going from full sun to full clouds and back in the span of a few minutes for a while. The skies were threatening most of the time, and delivering on those threats. Some places received almost 4 inches of rain from Friday to Sunday.

      If you like seeing cranes, you should check out Cranefest which is scheduled for the middle of October every year in a park near Marshall. Thousands of cranes arrive their on their way south.

      I missed the blood moon, I slept right through it since I didn’t go to bed until after 3 AM.

      October 8, 2014 at 1:37 pm

      • I’ve cycled past the cranefest area, but not when the cranes are there. It would be incredible. We’ve been gone at that time for the last two years, but I think it would be worth staying home to see.

        3am! Wow! I thought I was a night owl, because I’m rarely in bed before 1:30. I salute you. 😉

        October 8, 2014 at 9:23 pm

      • I’ve seen flocks of around fifty cranes near both Ludington and Muskegon, especially in the spring, but the thousands are an incredible experience.

        I work nights, and don’t get home until around 1 AM, I’d just as soon be up early if I could.

        October 9, 2014 at 2:32 am

  7. Beautiful color! Reminds me of my native New England. We don’t see color like that in western Oregon unless someone has planted a non-native species of maple. Leaves turn yellow or brown, and quietly slip away with the daylight hours.

    October 8, 2014 at 10:22 am

    • Thank you very much Lavinia!

      October 8, 2014 at 1:31 pm

  8. This is a great post; you are such a perfectionist! You should realise that you have entertained us to a wonderful selection of autumn colours. It is no wonder that traffic is really heavy in this area at this time of year, but you have found the time and space to show how wonderful it is. I always thought that New England was the place for autumn colour but you have opened my eyes. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

    October 8, 2014 at 3:39 pm

    • Thank you very much! I think that New England is more famous for fall color, but Michigan is just about as good.

      October 9, 2014 at 2:17 am

  9. I loved those pictures of the autumn (can’t quite bring myself to say ‘fall’!) leaves. They look pretty good to me – but I can see how challenging it could be with the light changing all the time. I was trying to photograph the moon earlier this evening (no eclipse here in the UK though) and it made me think of your post about photo editing, as I was trying to work out how to get the moon and the clouds both in focus. I didn’t manage it, but it was fun experimenting anyway.

    October 8, 2014 at 5:53 pm

    • Thank you very much! There are subjects that are extremely hard to get a good photo of, and what you were trying is one of the most difficult.

      October 9, 2014 at 2:18 am

  10. It’s too bad it rained but you sure got some great color shots! The shots from the Jordan river valley are my favorites. I know what you mean about the light changing so fast. I’ve been going through the same things here too. It looks like your colors might be about as far along as ours or maybe a little more so.
    I’m glad I’m not the only one who gets his feet in photos! That and the wrist strap on the camera!

    October 8, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    • Thank you Allen! I’m not sorry that it rained, it brought out the colors much better than full sun would have. I hope that you get a chance to post some photos of the fall colors in New Hampshire, since your state is famous for that. The 10-18 mm lens has such a wide angle of view that even when I check, I still get my feet or shadow in the frame. But, I have learned to keep the camera strap under control, as it blowing in the wind has ruined some photos that I tried.

      October 9, 2014 at 2:25 am

  11. Moan, moan, moan. And that’s just me looking at your pictures and thinking why can’t we get colour like that.

    Landscape photographers don’t spend any time looking at birds and suchlike. They just look at landscapes and often get up very early and go to the same place and look at the same view many, many times until they get the perfect conditions. You can’t have everything.

    October 8, 2014 at 8:05 pm

    • Thanks Tom! Sorry that you don’t have the same trees there that we do here, with your hills, the views would be fabulous! You’re right about true landscape photographers, I know that they may spend hours getting one photo. I’m not sure that I have the patience to do that.

      October 9, 2014 at 2:29 am

      • I certainly don’t although I wish that I did.

        October 9, 2014 at 6:46 pm

      • Me too.

        October 10, 2014 at 2:15 am

  12. plantsamazeme

    Hey we went through the tunnel of trees on Sunday and almost stopped at Thorne Swift Nature Preserve. I didn’t care for the tunnel of trees, too many cars, such a narrow road. The trees along the highway were beautiful. We stayed on Mackinac Island for three nights, the weather was iffy but we still had a fun time.
    🙂

    October 9, 2014 at 12:47 pm

    • Thanks Chris! M 119 is beautiful, but over-hyped, and way too much traffic to enjoy it. You’d love the Thorne-Swift Preserve in the spring and summer, they have many rare plants there.

      October 9, 2014 at 1:49 pm

  13. So sorry about the rain – what a bummer! But you did get to see some magnificent color!

    I didn’t realize you were up there this past weekend, the same time I was with my sisters for our annual sisters’ retreat. We went to Frankenmuth and the dismal weather ruined ALL the plans my sister who was hosting this year had made. Frankenmuth was just as packed as Petoskey, it sounds like. Bumper to bumper traffic and elbow to elbow on the sidewalks. Not the kind of thing I enjoy, but it was fun being with my sisters for the weekend. I had wanted to blog about it, but the weather washed out all the fun plans so I ended up taking only a small handful of photos. 😦 My sister had planned a corn maze and a riverboat cruise, both of which I was looking forward to, but we ended up spending the entire weekend shopping and eating instead!! Not really any photo ops in those activities.

    I really enjoyed this post and glad I got to see some of the fabulous colors through your photos since I won’t get up there in person! Thanks, Jerry!! I remember my parents talking about the “old days” when they camped on the Jordan River, back before I was born when they were in a camping club. Looks like a place we need to visit.

    October 9, 2014 at 9:06 pm

    • Thank you Amy! Not to worry about the rain, other than keeping it off from the lens, it actually helped. Wet leaves, especially red and yellow ones, stand out better when they are wet. And, I’m not sure that the waterfowl would have been as calm as they were if the weather had been good. I see more birds and other critters when it is raining lightly most of the time. I think that it’s because there are no other humans outside then.

      Sorry that your sister’s plans had to be cancelled, but it sounds like you had a good time!

      October 10, 2014 at 2:25 am

  14. Just gorgeous! I love this time of year! And, as usual, so nice to see the never-ending beauty of Michigan. 🙂

    October 11, 2014 at 9:22 am

    • Thank you Lori! Michigan has its faults, a lack of natural beauty is not one of them. 😉

      October 11, 2014 at 9:39 am