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

Posts tagged “History

A change of pace

As I wrote recently, I’ve been feeling the need to photograph something other than birds lately. So on Sunday, I drove to Ionia, Michigan to photograph a few of the historic buildings in that city. Ionia was the capital of Michigan for a short period of time in the 1800’s not very long after Michigan was admitted to the Union. It was at one time larger than it is now as far as population, but when a few of the large employers closed down after World War II, many people moved elsewhere to find jobs.

Ionia, Michigan is east of where I live, about the same distance from me as Muskegon is to the west of me.

Every day when I drive for work, I see the old railroad station which has been restored, as I pull into my first stop of the day.

The railroad station in Ionia, Michigan

It’s a privately owned building these days, so I didn’t go inside. In the background, you can see the steeple of an older church, and the dome on the county courthouse. Seeing those things every day piqued my interest, so I did a little research online, and learned of a few other places to check out. I had stopped on my way to Ionia to shoot this old farmhouse, which I imagine was a cut above the rest back when it was built.

Old farmhouse outside of Ionia Michigan

It’s in pretty bad shape now though.

I shot the railroad station from the other side, but I had to shoot across parking lot, so I’m not posting it, even though the background is better. Instead, I moved on to the Ionia County Courthouse.

Ionia County Courthouse historic marker

I’d say that the people of the county got a lot for their $42,380!

Ionia County Courthouse

Here’s a closer look at the entrance.

Ionia County Courthouse entrance

I also zoomed in on one of the carved faces to show the detail.

Ionia County Courthouse

So far, all of the photos were shot with my 60D body and the 15-85 mm lens as a test of sorts as I wrote about before. The images are all HDR images as well, and I used the perspective correction in Lightroom to make the buildings look as they should. However, I shot the courthouse dome from a distance using a 7D and the 100-400 mm lens, and these are straight out of the camera more or less.

The Ionia County Courthouse dome

A closer look.

The Ionia County Courthouse dome

My next stop was what is known as the Blanchard house.

The Blanchard House marker in Ionia, Michigan

Here’s the best view of the front of the house as I could get with the trees in the front yard.

The Blanchard House

Here’s a closer look at the entrance.

The Blanchard House entrance

I walked around the house, admiring the colors of the sandstone, as well as the patterns in it, used on the outside of the house, and shooting a view of the side of the house…

The Blanchard House

…and the rear.

The Blanchard House

I liked the fact that the landscaping looked like it probably did when the Blanchards lived there.

Again, all the exterior shots of the Blanchard House were shot with a tripod mounted 60D camera and the 15-85 mm lens, and are HDR images to compensate for the camera’s lack of dynamic range.

I did pull out the 7D and 100-400 mm lens for a couple of close-ups of the details of the exterior.

The cornice of the Blanchard House

 

Details in the carved sandstone

 

Since the house wasn’t open to tours yet, I checked several other old buildings out, but they were in poor repair, so I didn’t bother photographing them. The Blanchard House was open when I returned, and I ended up spending far more time inside than I imagined that I would.

The hand-carved walnut door of the Blanchard house

The Ionia County Historical Society has done a wonderful job of restoring the interior of the house!

The Blanchard House

A few pieces of furniture are pieces that the Blanchards owned, but most of the furniture that you’ll see has been donated to the historical society, which is why the pieces don’t all match.

Inside the Blanchard House

 

Inside the Blanchard House

 

Inside the Blanchard House

 

Inside the Blanchard House

I felt like a bull in a china shop, literally. ūüėČ

Inside the Blanchard House

Even when using my speedlite (flash unit), I was having trouble getting good photos inside the house. One problem was the lack of light, the other was that they have too much stuff inside the house. The people of Ionia have been very generous in donating items to the historical society that owns the Blanchard house, and they have run out of room to display everything. So, I wasn’t able to get far enough away from some of the things that I would have liked to have photographed.

I wanted to get photos of the fireplaces, but my view was blocked by furniture in most cases.

Fireplace mantel and items on display

I did find one fireplace that I could get a photo of, but for some reason they had placed a framed collage in the fireplace, so the lights and my flash are reflected back towards me in the photo.

Fireplace in the Blanchard House

Like the idiot that I am, I forgot to read the information about this urn, but I loved the way that it reflected light.

Unidentified urn object

I was also mesmerized by the original light fixtures in the house…

One of the unique light fixtures in the Blanchard House

…but I didn’t photograph them very well.

Another of the unique light fixtures in the Blanchard House

I’m not used to shooting inside, or using a flash, and I struggled a good deal with the dynamic range issues that photographing lights that were on presented. But, that was true everywhere inside the house.

The master bedroom of the Blanchard House

I have the flash exposure set to -2 stops so that the flash doesn’t over-power the existing light, and throw harsh shadows on everything. Most of these images were shot with shutter speeds slower than 1/60 second, in fact, I was overjoyed if I saw that the shutter speed would be 1/60 second before pressing the shutter release. Even then, I had to bump the ISO up to 1000 to get these images. They told me that I could use my tripod if I wanted, but there wasn’t really room to set it up anywhere. And, it would have taken me forever to get these photos if I had used the tripod. As it was, I got by relying on the Image Stabilization of the lens, the wide angles I was shooting at, and the strobe effect of the flash unit.

I have a few more photos of the main living quarters of the house.

Baby grand piano

 

Unusual chair

That also shows the walnut shutters on all of the windows in the house.

 

Another very ornate chair

The only place that the Ionia County Historical society has to store or display any items that they have is the Blanchard House, unfortunately. I say unfortunately, because they have the basement of the Blanchard House packed to the brim with items that have been donated or purchased.

If things were a bit cramped for space in the living quarters, then you can imagine what the basement was like. It was difficult to get far enough away from anything to get a photo of it.

Watch repair tools

 

The largest cash register I’ve seen

 

A blurry photo of the switchboard used at the Ionia State Prison

Even though I have only three photos from the basement, I spent a considerable amount of time there with one of the members of the Ionia County Historical Society getting the grand tour, and talking about the history of Ionia, Michigan, and the United States in general. We also discussed their efforts to keep the Blanchard House as close to how it was originally and how well they have been doing that overall.

Another topic of discussion was the craftsmanship of the people who built the house, the furniture, and many of the items in the basement, the watch repair person’s desk and tools being a great example of that. While we think that we’re more advanced than our ancestors, and as far as technology that may be true, we have lost as much knowledge as we have gained in some ways.

Now then, this post is almost done, and I’ve neglected to say anything about John Blanchard, who had the house built.

John Blanchard was an attorney originally from New York who came to Ionia, Michigan with a brief stop in Detroit, Michigan on the way. Once in Ionia, he branched out and became a business man as well. If you’d like a little more information, here’s a link to the Ionia County Historical Society’s website.

To sum it up, being a history buff, I thoroughly enjoyed the hours I spent there at the Blanchard House.

Now then, on to some boring talk about photography. I said that this trip was a test of sorts, to determine which lenses I’ll need when I purchase a full frame sensor camera. Since my 15-85 mm lens on a crop sensor body is the equivalent of a 24-105 mm lens on a full frame body, I’m happy to report that all the photos that photos in this post were shot with the 15-85 mm lens except as noted. There were a few times that I was tempted to go wider than 15 mm, but I was able to get the shots that I wanted for the most part. I was worried that to get the entire buildings that I shot in the frame, I would have to go wider, but I didn’t.

By the way, Lightroom does a magnificent job of correcting the perspective distortion that you can get when photographing buildings or even the interior of rooms when shot with a very wide-angle lens. This isn’t the best way of illustrating that, but I think that you’ll get the idea. Here’s a photo that I shot handheld just to see if I could get the entire Ionia County Courthouse in the frame.

The Ionia County Courthouse, no perspective correction

And, here’s the shot from above when I used the tripod, leveled the camera, and used Lightroom to correct the perspective. To make it easier for Lightroom to perform the correction, I stood as close to the center of the building as I could, and tried to keep the plane of the camera’s sensor parallel with the front of the building.

Ionia County Courthouse

You can see that the building doesn’t appear to fall away from you in the second image. Short of using a platform or a drone to get higher off the ground, the perspective correction in Lightroom is the best way to deal with the distortion. You can also see how much creating a HDR image helped to even out the exposure and bring the true colors of the building to life. I don’t use HDR to kill all the shadows, but I have Photomatix set to produce an image close to what I can see with my eyes when I shoot the photos. One thing to remember if using the perspective correction in Lightroom is to leave room on the sides of the building for the correction to be done without losing some of the building due to the cropping that takes place when you use that correction.

I applied the perspective correction in Lightroom after I had created the HDR image of the building. I did that because Photomatix, the software that I use to create HDR images sometimes crops a small amount from the images used to create the HDR as it aligns the images. I have no control over that cropping if it occurs, so I waited to apply the correction in Lightroom so that all three images I used to create the HDR image would be as close to the same as possible. I was afraid that the perspective correction in Lightroom may be slightly different for each of the three images I used to create the HDR image, resulting in alignment problems when I went to create the HDR image.

You can also see why I shot the dome of the courthouse from a distance using the 100-400 mm lens. If I had tried shooting it from where I was standing when I shot the entire building, I would have had the camera pointed nearly vertical, and much of the detail of the dome would have been hidden.

Overall, I’m very happy with the way that my images of the exterior of the buildings turned out. The same is true of the interior images as well, given the difficulties I faced when shooting them, they turned out better than expected. I could have used a wider lens inside though to leave more room for the perspective correction in Lightroom that I did to the full room shots. As it was, a few of them ended up cropped more than I would have liked, but they still convey the elegance of the Blanchard House quite well. The way that I used both the flash and ambient light from both the light coming through the windows and from the light fixtures was a wise choice. There’s no harsh shadows as there would have been if I had shot with the flash unit set to full power, and I was able to get the shots without using a tripod as I would have had to if I hadn’t used the flash.

One thing that I need to work on is learning the depth of field that I get while using a very wide-angle lens. I shot most of the interior photos at f/7.1 so that everything would be in focus. I may have been able to go wider with the aperture to let more light through the lens, but I’m not sure about that. If I had been able to use a wider aperture and keep everything in focus, then the images would have been even better. I was too busy trying to decide how best to shoot what I did to play around taking many test photos of each subject. None of my images are very creative, but they do show what I wanted them to show, and that’s the best that I can hope for right now. After all, interior photography isn’t my forte.

Another thing that I need to learn is how to do panorama images well. I don’t think that buildings would lend themselves to panoramas, but they work well for landscapes from what I’ve seen. Lightroom will do panoramas, and I’ve done a couple of them with good results for a rookie that doesn’t know what he’s doing. I shot a couple of landscape photos around Ionia, however none of them are good enough to appear here. I shot them with the 15-85 mm lens just to see how wide that lens is, so that I can use that information to help me choose the right lenses for a full frame camera.

From the images that I shot this day, I think that I’ll be able to get by with just two cameras and lenses at least 95% of the time. If I have the 100-400 mm lens on the 7D Mk II, I’m set for almost anything that I see in nature that requires a long lens. With a 24-105 mm lens on a full frame body, then I’m set for landscapes and other times when I need a wide-angle lens. That means a lot less weight than what I often carry with me now, which will be a good thing on longer hikes. If I learn to do panoramas well, then that will lessen my need for an even wider lens, at least for the time being.

It was a great day, not only did I see a good deal of history, but I learned a lot as well. Who could ask for more? I can, as while I did learn a lot, there are still more things that I need to learn about photographing some subjects. I’m not about to quit photographing nature, or change the direction of my blog. However, I would like to go back to mixing a post such as this one now and then from now on. Because of that, I would like to learn how to photograph the things that I see even better.

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

 

Advertisement

My vacation in the UP, Fayette Historic State Park

When I left off this series, I was in the Porcupine Mountains, and running very low on energy. It was Thursday morning, and I was as far from home as I could be and still be in the State of Michigan, so I decided that it was time to turn for home. That would give me time to recharge a little, stop for some real food for the first time that week, and make a stop on Michigan’s Garden Peninsula, which is where Fayette Historic State Park is located.

I’ll start with a few facts and figures about the park from the Michigan DNR’s website.

Fayette Historic State Park houses a Historic Townsite, a representation of a once bustling industrial community.¬†On the second Saturday of August the annual Heritage Day is held in Historic Fayette Townsite. The event celebrates the “hey-day” of Fayette as a bustling iron smelting company town. Activities for the day include period displays, food, and music. For more information contact the park.

Once a bustling industrial community that manufactured charcoal pig iron from 1867 to 1891, Fayette offers visitors the unmatched serenity of a Lake Michigan harbor, white cliffs and verdant forests. This well-preserved museum village features 20 structures including the furnace complex, charcoal kilns, machine shop, office, hotel, town hall, company store, superintendent’s house, and employees’ homes.

 A modern visitor center, museum exhibits and walking tours recall another time when Fayette was a noisy dirty company town with an immigrant population that shared daily hardships, joys and sorrows. Located in Fayette State Park, Fayette Historic Townsite is administered by the Michigan Historical Museum System in the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Located within the Historic Townsite is the Snail Shell Harbor. approximately 300 feet of lineal dock provides overnight or day use boating opportunities. The protected waters of Snail Shell Harbor are deep enough for larger pleasure crafts.
Scuba diving is allowed in Snail Shell Harbor during certain times of the day. A fee and use permit is required for this activity so all divers may participate. All submerged artifacts are to remain in place and nothing is to be removed from the harbor bottom.

I do enjoy history, so this was a must stop during this vacation, which was a scouting trip in a way for future vacations when I can spend more time in each area. I will definitely be returning to the Garden Peninsula for the birding, but more on that later, first up is the main attraction of Fayette Historic State Park, the iron smelting complex and the “ghost town” surrounding it.

Fayette Historic State Park

Fayette Historic State Park

Fayette Historic State Park

Fayette Historic State Park

Fayette Historic State Park

Fayette Historic State Park

Fayette Historic State Park

Fayette Historic State Park

In this next photo, the smelting complex is to the right, you can see the harbor and limestone cliffs in the middle, and then some of the town’s buildings to the left. This was an ideal place for an iron smelting operation, with a safe harbor for shipping ore to the smelting operation, and iron from it. The limestone was quarried to use in the smelting operation, and the forests surrounding the area were cut to be turned into charcoal for use in smelting the iron ore.

Fayette Historic State Park

Fayette Historic State Park

Fayette Historic State Park

Fayette Historic State Park

Fayette Historic State Park

Fayette Historic State Park

Most of the interior displays were behind glass partitions, making photographing the displays almost impossible, but here’s two shots from inside one of the buildings that weren’t glassed off to give you an idea of what’s inside the buildings.

Fayette Historic State Park

Fayette Historic State Park

Fayette Historic State Park

Fayette Historic State Park

Fayette Historic State Park

Fayette Historic State Park

While walking through the wooded section of the park, I couldn’t help but notice hundreds of migrating birds in the trees overhead. The only lens I had with me was the 15-85 mm, so I couldn’t get a close up of any of the birds, but I shot this one to remind myself of having seen so many birds.

Unidentified warbler

Unidentified warbler

I thought that rather strange at first, since the Garden Peninsula is a peninsula after all, and I wondered if the birds had made a wrong turn in their migration. Then I remembered that there is a chain of islands extending from Michigan’s Garden Peninsula to Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula, so I began to form a theory that the birds were working their way south down the Garden Peninsula, then would “island hop” to Wisconsin. Later research confirmed that theory.

Fayette Historic State Park

Fayette Historic State Park

This cedar tree expressed how I was feeling.

Smiling cedar

Smiling cedar

The limestone cliffs at Fayette State Park

The limestone cliffs at Fayette State Park

The superintendent's house

The superintendent’s house

Inside the superintendent's house

Inside the superintendent’s house

Even though I had to shoot through a glass partition, I had to take this photo to show a little of the interior of the superintendent’s house.

Inside the superintendent's house

Inside the superintendent’s house

Then it was on to the smelting complex itself.

Furnace complex at Fayette State Park

Furnace complex at Fayette State Park

Informational sign

Informational sign

Informational sign

Informational sign

Inside the casting room

Inside the casting room

Inside the casting room

Inside the casting room

One of the furnaces

One of the furnaces

One of the furnaces

One of the furnaces

Charcoal kiln

Charcoal kiln

Charcoal kiln

Charcoal kiln

What it looked like in operation

What it looked like in operation

Informational sign

Informational sign

What it looked like in operation

What it looked like in operation

Oven

Oven

Informational sign

Informational sign

Informational sign

Informational sign

I’ve only scratched the surface here as far as what there is to see within this park. I wish that I could have posted more photos from inside the buildings, as that’s where you can get the best insight into how people lived, worked, and played back when Fayette was a bustling little town.

Other than just a paragraph about birding, I haven’t touched on the recreational opportunities that one can partake in while in the area. There’s camping within Fayette Historic State Park, along with a boat ramp for boating or fishing. There’s world-class fishing in Bay DeNoc for smallmouth bass, trout, and salmon. I’ve never kayaked Lake Michigan in that area, but I plan to in the future, as there are more limestone cliffs in the area that I would like to see, and there are several other nearby places to launch a kayak, other than the state park. There’s hiking and cross-country ski trails within the park, and nearby areas. But, I’ll have a little more about the Garden Peninsula in a future post. For right now, here’s a map of the area.

Map of the Garden Peninsula and island chain

Map of the Garden Peninsula and island chain

I selected the view in the map above to show how the Garden Peninsula ends in a chain of islands that extends south to Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula, which is where Green Bay, Wisconsin is located. Ships plying the Great Lakes and were bound for cities in the area, like Fayette when it was still active, Green Bay, Wisconsin, or Escanaba, Michigan have to navigate through the islands to make it to those ports. Many ships were lost in the area, and there are several museums and lighthouses in the area that serve as monuments to the ships and men who lost their lives in those shipwrecks. I didn’t have time on this trip to explore any of them.

That about winds this one up. I fell in love with the Garden Peninsula while I was there, and where Fayette Historic State Park is located. I feel as if this post is extremely lacking, as I only had time to do a quick tour of the historic buildings, but very little else in the park.

I also stopped in Fairport that evening for more birding, there’s a township park on Sac Bay with a few trails that I strolled, seeing eagles and hundreds of migrating birds along the shores of Lake Michigan.

I spent the night at the Portage Bay State Forest Campground, which is on the other side of the Garden Peninsula, across from Fayette State Park. Some of the photos from there have already been posted in previous posts that I’ve done on my vacation to the UP.

So, I suppose this is as good of a place as any to end this one.

Here are links to the previous posts I’ve done on my vacation to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

My vacation in the UP, the highlights

My vacation in the UP, Sunrise, sunset

My vacation in the UP, the bridges

My vacation in the UP, Tahquamenon Falls State Park

My vacation in the UP, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore by land

My vacation in the UP, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore by boat

My vacation in the UP, the Keewanaw Peninsula

My vacation in the UP, Porcupine Mountains

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


My vacation in the UP, Porcupine Mountains

I’ll start with a few facts and figures from the Michigan DNR’s website.

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park (60,000 acres) is one of the few remaining large wilderness areas in the Midwest. Towering virgin timber, secluded lakes, and miles of wild rivers and streams make a visit to the “Porkies” a trip to remember.

Areas of attraction within the Porkies include Lake of the Clouds (ADA accessible viewing area), Summit Peak observation tower, and the scenic Presque Isle River corridor which hosts the states second largest waterfalls.

Back to me. It’s been decades since I last visited the Porkies, things have changed, probably for the better. To make the Porkies more of a wilderness experience, the state has closed most of the roads and two tracks through out the park. Most of the scenery is now accessible only by hiking and/or backpacking. I wasn’t quite prepared for that, and I didn’t know it when I first arrived at the east entrance to the park, but I was about done in by four solid days of being on the go, and hiking around ten miles per day to see the sights that I’ve done posts on already.

So, I had to change my plans, they changed even more the next day, but I’ll get to that soon enough. My first stop was to the visitor center for maps and other useful information. It was there that I learned that other than Lake of the Clouds, and the Presque Isle Falls, all the other scenery required longer hikes. Some can be done during a day hike, others require true backpacking to reach. A quick check of the maps, and the time, I thought that I could hit Lake of the Clouds, then hike to the summit of Summit Peak to catch the sunset. Then, I would drive around the south border of the park to camp at the Presque Isle area, and photograph the falls first thing in the morning, then pick other attractions to see with short walks.

So, I was off to Lake of the Clouds.

Lake of the Clouds

Lake of the Clouds

Lake of the Clouds

Lake of the Clouds

Lake of the Clouds

Lake of the Clouds

Lake of the Clouds

Lake of the Clouds

If only I had planned my vacation for a week or ten days later! The colors would have been fantastic! But, the view is still very good.

Between the Lake of the Clouds and the trail to Summit Peak, I stopped to shoot this photo of a fog bank over Lake Superior.

Fog bank over Lake Superior

Fog bank over Lake Superior

Then, After a short hike to top of Summit Peak, I caught the sunset.

Summit Peak

Summit Peak

The view from Summit Peak

The view from Summit Peak

The view from Summit Peak

The view from Summit Peak

The view from Summit Peak

The view from Summit Peak

The view from Summit Peak

The view from Summit Peak

The view from Summit Peak

The view from Summit Peak

The view from Summit Peak

The view from Summit Peak

The view from Summit Peak

The view from Summit Peak

The view from Summit Peak

The view from Summit Peak

The view from Summit Peak

The view from Summit Peak

The view from Summit Peak

The view from Summit Peak

The view from Summit Peak

The view from Summit Peak

After stumbling back down the mountain in the twilight, I reached my Forester, and drove around the south boundary of the park to the Presque Isle area, to camp for the night.

I was up at first light, as I had planned. Most of the waterfalls you’ve seen in these posts are on rivers that run south to north, meaning that in the afternoon, one is usually looking toward the sun to see and photograph the falls. That had been giving me problems all week, I wanted to photograph the Presque River Falls early in the morning in order to avoid that. It almost worked.

Presque Isle River Falls

Presque Isle River Falls

Presque Isle River Falls

Presque Isle River Falls

The Presque Isle River Falls are actually a series of cascades that end just before the river empties into Lake Superior.

Presque Isle River Falls

Presque Isle River Falls

Being an idiot, I followed the signs and arrows to start at the lowest of the falls, and began to work my way up. I figured out later that it would have been much better to go the wrong way, start at the upper falls and work my way down, but live and learn.

Presque Isle River Falls

Presque Isle River Falls

The river was low, this would be more impressive during spring runoff, but I found the rocks to be interesting in their own right.

Presque Isle River Falls

Presque Isle River Falls

Presque Isle River Falls

Presque Isle River Falls

Presque Isle River Falls

Presque Isle River Falls

Presque Isle River Falls

Presque Isle River Falls

Presque Isle River Falls

Presque Isle River Falls

Presque Isle River Falls

Presque Isle River Falls

Presque Isle River Falls

Presque Isle River Falls

Not only had I been fighting the sun all week long, but at many of the falls I photographed, the view from the designated viewing areas were often blocked by trees. At Sable Falls earlier in the week, I had jumped the fence, then hung out over the bank while holding onto a cedar tree, hoping that the cliff below me wouldn’t give way. It was the same with these falls, I jumped the fence in several spots to get good views of the falls.

Presque Isle River Falls

Presque Isle River Falls

Presque Isle River Falls

Presque Isle River Falls

I shot this photo of the upper most falls using the 70-200 mm lens, even though I planned on continuing to hike the path all the way to the upper falls. But, I had run out of food the day before, so I hadn’t had any breakfast, and I hadn’t even brewed a pot of coffee that morning before setting out to photograph the falls.

Presque Isle River Falls

Presque Isle River Falls

I was feeling light-headed, I couldn’t even remember how to adjust the exposure compensation on my camera, but I pressed on. I saw a sign warning of rugged terrain, and a poor trail ahead of me to get to the upper falls, but I had passed many of those signs while I was up there. I rounded a corner, and was confronted with a near vertical clay bank 30 to 40 feet high, with a tangle of exposed tree roots covering the trail. I didn’t tell my body to stop, but it did so of its own accord. I stood there trying to compel my body to continue on, I did manage to make it three or four more steps, then my brain joined my body in a revolt, with both of them telling me that they wouldn’t proceed any farther.

My body was telling me that it was out of energy, and needed food and rest to recover from how hard I had been pushing myself. My brain was telling me about the same thing, but it added the thought that I would most likely slip on the clay bank, and break one of my cameras or lenses.

I had done it again, just like during my spring trip this year, I had worn myself to a frazzle, to the point where I could go no further.

OK, this was a scouting trip anyway, I had picked up all the information on the park that I could get at the park visitor center the day before, and had a much better idea of what the area was like than I had been able to learn on the web. Looking at the map, there was no place close by for me to get something to eat, other than the park store, and everything there probably would have been very expensive. Here’s a map to show you just how undeveloped the area is.

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

It was Thursday morning, but I was a long way from home, after all, it had taken me five days to travel that far, although much of the time I was hiking, not driving.

So, I decided to start back toward home a day early, and stop off at the Garden Peninsula and Fayette Historic State Park as planned, with a stop for real food on the way. Even though I had just dipped my toes in the Porcupine Mountains, I was in no shape to take the plunge. That’s OK, I’ll be back, and it won’t be as long between this visit and the next one as it had been since the last time I was there.

Here are links to the previous posts I’ve done on my vacation to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

My vacation in the UP, the highlights

My vacation in the UP, Sunrise, sunset

My vacation in the UP, the bridges

My vacation in the UP, Tahquamenon Falls State Park

My vacation in the UP, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore by land

My vacation in the UP, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore by boat

My vacation in the UP, the Keewanaw Peninsula

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


My vacation in the UP, the Keewanaw Peninsula

I’m going to begin this post with a few facts on the area from Wikipedia.

The Keweenaw Peninsula is the northernmost part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It projects into Lake Superior and was the site of the first copper boom in the United States.

The ancient lava flows of the Keweenaw Peninsula were produced during the Mesoproterozoic Era as a part of the Midcontinent Rift. This volcanic activity produced the only strata on Earth where large-scale economically recoverable 97 percent pure native copper is found.

The Keweenaw Peninsula and Isle Royale, formed by the Midcontinent Rift System, are the only sites in the country with evidence of prehistoric aboriginal mining of copper. Artifacts made from this copper by these ancient Indians were traded as far south as present day Alabama. These areas are also the unique location where Chlorastrolite, the state gem of Michigan, can be found.

The northern end of the peninsula is sometimes referred to as Copper Island , although this term is becoming less common. It is separated from the rest of the peninsula by the Keweenaw Waterway, a natural waterway which was dredged and expanded in the 1860s across the peninsula between the cities of Houghton (named for Douglass Houghton) on the south side and Hancock on the north.

Beginning as early as seven thousand years ago and apparently peaking around 3000 B.C., native Americans dug copper from the southern shore of Lake Superior. This development was possible in large part because, in this region, large deposits of copper were easily accessible in surface rock and from shallow diggings. Native copper could be found as large nuggets and wiry masses. Copper as a resource for functional tooling achieved popularity around 3000 B.C., during the Middle Archaic Stage. The focus of copper working seems to have gradually shifted from functional tools to ornamental objects by the Late Archaic Stage c. 1200 B.C. Native Americans would build a fire to heat the rock around and over a copper mass and, after heating, pour on cold water to crack the rock. The copper was then pounded out, using rock hammers and stone chisels.

The Keweenaw’s rich deposits of copper (and some silver) were extracted on an industrial scale beginning around the middle of the 19th century. The industry grew through the latter part of the century and employed thousands of people well into the 20th century. Hard rock mining in the region ceased in 1967 though copper sulfide deposits continued for some time after in Ontonogan.

The Keweenaw Fault runs fairly lengthwise through both Keweenaw and neighboring Houghton counties. This ancient geological slip has given rise to cliffs along US 41 and Brockway Mountain Drive north of Calumet.

The peninsula receives copious amounts of lake-effect snow from Lake Superior. Official records are maintained close to the base of the peninsula in Hancock, Michigan, where the annual snowfall average is about 220 inches (560 cm). Farther north, in a community called Delaware, an unofficial average of about 240 inches (610 cm) is maintained. At Delaware, the record snowfall for one season was 390 inches (990 cm) in 1979. Averages over 250 inches (640 cm) certainly occur in the higher elevations closer to the tip of the peninsula.

OK, back to me.

The drive on US 41 between the twin cities of Houghton and Hancock to the south, and Copper Harbor to the north is one of the most scenic roads that I have ever driven. However, I have few photos from that stretch of highway, because I couldn’t find places to pull off the road safely in order to take photos. The road is twisty and undulating, due to the rugged terrain that the road passes through, and there’s no shoulder to the road for most of the drive.

For much of the distance between Houghton/Hancock and copper Harbor, the road runs along the bottom of a valley, with sheer cliffs several hundred feet high towering over the road to the west. Even though the trees were just beginning to change color for the fall, the views were magnificent, even if they were inaccessible for photography.

So, I’ll begin this tour with a photo I shot coming into Houghton, and then a few from the other side of the ship canal that separates the twin cities of Houghton/Hancock.

Coming into Houghton, Michigan

Coming into Houghton, Michigan

IMG_0837

Looking back at the fog shrouded valley

IMG_0835

Looking back at the fog shrouded valley

One of the few places where I could pull off the road and take photos during the drive north was at Lake Medora.

Lake Medora

Lake Medora

Lake Medora

Lake Medora

From there, it was just a few miles to Copper harbor. My first stop was Fort Wilkins Historic State Park.

The U.S. Army occupied Fort Wilkins, located east of Copper Harbor, Michigan on the strait of land between Copper Harbor and northern shore of Lake Fanny Hooe, in 1844. The troops stationed there were intended to help with local law enforcement and to keep the peace between miners and the local Ojibwas, some Chippewa opposed the Treaty of La Pointe that had ceded the area to the United States in 1842-1843.

However, the fort proved to be unnecessary. The Chippewa largely accepted the influx, and the miners were law-abiding. The Army built 27 structures,including a guardhouse, powder magazine, 7 officer’s quarters, two barracks, two mess halls, hospital, storehouse, sutler’s store, quartermaster’s store, bakery, blacksmith’s shop, carpenter’s shop, ice house, four quarters for married enlisted men, stables, and a slaughter-house, all to house the operations of two full-strength infantry companies. Several of these structures still survive. Others have been rebuilt following archaeological excavations.

Here’s a few exterior photos of the fort.

Fort Wilkins Historic State Park

Fort Wilkins Historic State Park

Fort Wilkins Historic State Park

Fort Wilkins Historic State Park

Fort Wilkins Historic State Park

Fort Wilkins Historic State Park

Fort Wilkins Historic State Park

Fort Wilkins Historic State Park

I’d love to show you the interiors of some of the buildings, and the displays inside, but they are all glassed off to prevent theft. I ran into the same problem later in the week while at Fayette Historic State Park, trying to take photos through glass partitions doesn’t work well.

So, my next stop was the Copper Harbor Lighthouse.

Copper Harbor Lighthouse

Copper Harbor Lighthouse

Copper Harbor Lighthouse

Copper Harbor Lighthouse

Copper Harbor Lighthouse

Copper Harbor Lighthouse

The Copper Harbor Lighthouse was built on the tip of the eastern point of land that hugs the harbor. The lighthouse aided in the transport of copper from the Upper Peninsula.

Funding to build the light was approved in 1847. The first tower was constructed in 1848 and resembled that at Old Presque Isle Lighthouse. The Stone Masonry was dismantled, and the stones used as the foundation for the replacement lighthouse built in 1866.

The current lightkeeper’s dwelling house is a survivor of the first light tower. An improved lighthouse, which also survives, was raised in 1866 three years before the installation of the Copper Harbor Front Range Light and the Copper Harbor Rear Range Light. The steel light tower in current use went into service in 1933.

From there, I took M 26 as my route back, as it runs along Lake superior…

Lake Superior shoreline

Lake Superior shoreline

Lake Superior shoreline

Lake Superior shoreline

…and there are several waterfalls along the way, starting with the Silver River Falls….

Silver River Falls

Silver River Falls

Then Jacob’s Falls

Jacob's Falls

Jacob’s Falls

And finally, Eagle River Falls.

Eagle River Falls

Eagle River Falls

Eagle River Falls

Eagle River Falls

Then it was on to Eagle Harbor, and the historic lighthouse there.

Eagle Harbor Lighthouse

Eagle Harbor Lighthouse

Edward Taylor was the first to realize the commercial potential of Eagle Harbor, building a short timber pier in the bay in 1844 from which to supply the growing number of miners in the area. A rocky ledge with only eight feet of water above it spread across the harbor entry, and represented a barrier to vessels of deep draft. However, the copper boom saw an increasing number of vessels visiting the dock, and Taylor began to lobby for federal funding for improving the entry into the harbor.

The original Eagle Harbor Light was built in 1851. The structure took the form of a rubble stone keeper’s dwelling with a square white-painted wooden tower integrated into one end of the roof. The tower was capped with an octagonal wooden lantern with multiple glass panes, and outfitted with an array of Lewis lamps with reflectors. With the lamps standing 21 feet (6.4 m) above the dwelling’s foundation, the building’s location on high ground placed the lamps at a focal plane of 47 feet (14 m) above lake level.

By 1865, a total of four new Keepers had worked at the station, with two of them removed from office, one resigning, and one passing away after only seven months at the station. The structure was deteriorating and was replaced in 1871 using a design that had previously been used for Chambers Island Lighthouse in Wisconsin; and McGulpin Point Light in 1868. It was thereafter used at White River Light in 1875; and Sand Island Light (Wisconsin) in 1881. The octagonal brick light tower is ten feet in diameter, with walls 12 inches (300 mm) thick and it supports a 10-sided cast iron lantern. The Lighthouse was manned by a head keeper and two assistant keepers.

Eagle Harbor Lighthouse

Eagle Harbor Lighthouse

My last stop for this post was McLain State Park, located on the shores of Lake Superior at the entrance to the Portage Lake Ship Canal.

The waterway was dredged in the 1860s, extending a small river previously used by natives for transportation and fishing. The effort was a joint venture between the United States Government and several mining corporations. Legislation for construction of the canal was passed in 1861. This legislation created the Portage Lake & Lake Superior Canal Co. The company began construction of the canal in September 1868. The canal starts at the mouth of Boston Creek and continues on to Lake Superior.

The expanded canal allowed freighters to haul copper from the rich copper mines of the Keweenaw Peninsula out through Lake Superior to larger cities. It also enabled supply boats and freighters to reach the cities of Houghton and Hancock, which supplied goods to most of Michigan’s copper region. The expanded canal and shipping lane has a depth of 25 feet (7.6 m), deeper in some locations. As the waterway connects Lake Superior to itself, there are no locks needed.

The only land route across the waterway is US 41/M-26 across the Portage Lake Lift Bridge. My reason for stopping there was to get a photo of this rather dull looking light.

Portage Lake Ship Canal Light

Portage Lake Ship Canal Light

But, it was a fortuitous stop for me, because that’s where I photographed another lifer for me in my birding quest, a Lapland Longspur.

Lapland Longspur

Lapland Longspur

There you have the quickie tour of the Keewanaw Peninsula. Here’s a map of the area for reference.

Keweenaw Peninsula

Keweenaw Peninsula

And a road map to help even more.

Keweenaw Peninsula

Keweenaw Peninsula

I wish that I had more time to spend there, the area certainly deserved more time, and photos, but I was short of both time and money on this trip. But, that gives me an excuse to return again at another time.

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


My vacation in the UP, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore by boat

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is a U.S. National Lakeshore on the shore of Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, United States. It extends for 42 miles (67 km) along the shore and covers 73,236 acres (114 sq mi; 296 km2). The park offers spectacular scenery of the hilly shoreline between Munising, Michigan and Grand Marais, Michigan, with various rock formations like natural archways, waterfalls, and sand dunes.

Pictured Rocks derives its name from the 15 miles (24 km) of colorful sandstone cliffs northeast of Munising. The cliffs are up to 200 feet (60 m) above lake level. They have been naturally sculptured into shallow caves, arches, formations that resemble castle turrets, and human profiles, among others. Near Munising visitors also can view Grand Island, most of which is included in the Grand Island National Recreation Area and is preserved separately.

The U.S. Congress made Pictured Rocks the first officially-designated National Lakeshore in the United States in 1966.

This is the second of two posts that I do on the Pictured Rocks area, this one covers the cliffs that give the park its name as seen from a tour boat, the first is what I saw while hiking.

Pictured Rocks Cruises offers daily trips from Memorial Day weekend through October 10.

Sea kayaking is a popular method of exploring the park. While this may be the best way to see the natural formations, it is a serious trip in dangerous and cold water, which should not be undertaken lightly or without proper equipment. Guides are available. The most efficient port of entry to Pictured Rocks, for a sea kayak, is from the harbor at Munising.

I’ll start with a photo of one of the other tour boats that we passed as we were headed back to port.

Pictured Rocks tour boat

Pictured Rocks tour boat

Now, it’s the photos of the Pictured Rocks themselves, in no particular order. I shot well over 200 photos, whittling that number down to 40 for this post was extremely difficult.

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

IMG_0673

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Chapel Rock

Chapel Rock

Chapel Rock

Chapel Rock

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Bridalveil Falls

Spray Falls

Bridalveil Falls

Spray Falls

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Bridalveil Falls

Pictured Rocks

Bridalveil Falls

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Here’s a map that covers the area.

PRNL

Here are links to the previous posts I’ve done on my vacation to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

My vacation in the UP, the highlights

My vacation in the UP, Sunrise, sunset

My vacation in the UP, the bridges

My vacation in the UP, Tahquamenon Falls State Park

My vacation in the UP, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore by land

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


My vacation in the UP, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore by land

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is a U.S. National Lakeshore on the shore of Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, United States. It extends for 42 miles (67 km) along the shore and covers 73,236 acres (114 sq mi; 296 km2). The park offers spectacular scenery of the hilly shoreline between Munising, Michigan and Grand Marais, Michigan, with various rock formations like natural archways, waterfalls, and sand dunes.

Pictured Rocks derives its name from the 15 miles (24 km) of colorful sandstone cliffs northeast of Munising. The cliffs are up to 200 feet (60 m) above lake level. They have been naturally sculptured into shallow caves, arches, formations that resemble castle turrets, and human profiles, among others. Near Munising visitors also can view Grand Island, most of which is included in the Grand Island National Recreation Area and is preserved separately.

The U.S. Congress made Pictured Rocks the first officially-designated National Lakeshore in the United States in 1966.

This will be the first of two posts that I do on the Pictured Rocks area, this one will cover what I saw while hiking, the second one will show more of the cliffs that give the park its name as seen from a tour boat.

I’ll start at the east end of the park, near¬†Grand Marais, Michigan and work west to Munising, Michigan, which is where I boarded the tour boat.

So, first up, the Grand Sable dunes.¬†The Grand Sable Dunes, at the eastern end of the Lakeshore, are a¬†perched dune¬†formation. Sand washed ashore by¬†wave¬†action was then blown up slope by northerly¬†prevailing winds¬†until it came to rest atop a glacial¬†moraine. The Grand Sable Dunes today form a sand slope that rises from Lake Superior at a 35¬į angle. The summits of the tallest dunes are as high as 275 feet (85 m) above lake level.

Grand Sable Dunes

Grand Sable Dunes

Grand Sable Dunes

Grand Sable Dunes

Sable Falls – Sable Falls tumbles 75 feet (23 m) over several cliffs of Munising and Jacobsville sandstone formations on its way to Lake Superior.

Sable Falls trailhead

Sable Falls trailhead

Sable Falls

Sable Falls

Sable Falls

Sable Falls

The Au Sable Light Station was built in 1874 on Au Sable Point, a well known hazard on Lake Superior’s “shipwreck coast”. The Au Sable Point reef is a shallow ridge of sandstone that in places is only 6 feet (1.8 m) below the surface and extends nearly 1 mile (1.6 km) into Lake Superior. The Au Sable Point reef was one the greatest dangers facing ships coasting along the south shore of Lake Superior during the early shipping days when keeping land in sight was the main navigational method. The Au Sable Point reef was known as a “ship trap” that ensnared many ships, including the passenger ship Lady Elgin which was stranded there in 1859.

The shoreline in this area is considered one of North America’s most beautiful, “but in the 1800s it was considered one of the most deadly because of unpredictable features below the surface and violent storms and blinding fogs above.” The reef extends nearly a mile out as a ridge of sandstone a few feet below the surface. The shallow water caught many a vessel following the shore. Turbulence was common when the lake was “pushed in by violent storms out of the north and northwest.” Thick fogs resulted form the mix of frigid lake air and warmth from the sand dunes. “As early as 1622, French explorers called the region ‘most dangerous when there is any storms’.”

Au Sable Point Lighthouse

Au Sable Point Lighthouse

Au Sable Point Lighthouse

Au Sable Point Lighthouse

Au Sable Point Lighthouse

Au Sable Point Lighthouse

Miners Falls drops 50 feet (15 m) over the sandstone outcrop.

Miner's Falls

Miner’s Falls

Chapel Falls cascades some 60 feet (18 m) down the sandstone cliffs on its way to Chapel Lake.

Chapel Falls

Chapel Falls

Chapel Falls

Chapel Falls

Chapel Falls

Chapel Falls

Miner’s Castle.

Miner's Rock

Miner’s Castle

Miner's Castle

Miner’s Castle

Munising Falls, a 50 feet (15 m) waterfall over a sandstone cliff.

Munising Falls

Munising Falls

Munising Falls

Munising Falls

I’ll include a map and more details when I do the second post, the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore as seen from the tour boat.

Here are links to the previous posts I’ve done on my vacation to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

My vacation in the UP, the highlights

My vacation in the UP, Sunrise, sunset

My vacation in the UP, the bridges

My vacation in the UP, Tahquamenon Falls State Park

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


My vacation in the UP, Tahquamenon Falls State Park

I spent way too little time at Tahquamenon Falls State Park, I arrived Sunday night, and left soon after photographing the falls for which the park is most famous for, on Monday mid-morning.

Here’s what the Michigan DNR’s website has to say about the park.

Tahquamenon Falls State Park encompasses close to 50,000 acres stretching over 13 miles. Most of this is undeveloped woodland without roads, buildings or power lines. The centerpiece of the park, and the very reason for its existence, is the Tahquamenon River with its waterfalls. The Upper Falls is one the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi. It has a drop of nearly 50 feet and is more than 200 feet across. A maximum flow of more than 50,000 gallons of water per second has been recorded cascading over these falls. Four miles downstream is the Lower Falls, a series of five smaller falls cascading around an island. Although not as dramatic as the Upper Falls, they are equally magnificent. The falls can be viewed from the river bank or from the island, which can be reached by rowboat rented from a park concession. The island walk affords a view of the falls in the south channel.

This is the land of Longfellow’s Hiawatha – “by the rushing Tahquamenaw” Hiawatha built his canoe. Long before the white man set eyes on the river, the abundance of fish in its waters and animals along its shores attracted the Ojibwa Indians, who camped, farmed, fished and trapped along its banks. In the late 1800’s came the lumber barons and the river carried their logs by the millions to the mills. Lumberjacks, who harvested the tall timber, were among the first permanent white settlers in the area.

Rising from springs north of McMillan, the Tahquamenon River drains the watershed of an area of more than 790 square miles. From its source, it meanders 94 miles before emptying into Whitefish Bay. The amber color of the water is caused by tannins leached from the Cedar, Spruce and Hemlock in the swamps drained by the river. The extremely soft water churned by the action of the falls causes the large amounts of foam, which has been the trademark of the Tahquamenon since the days of the voyager.

It had been nearly a decade since I had last visited the falls, I had forgotten how beautiful that they are, and what a wonderful area that the entire park encompasses.

I could have, and should have, spent an entire week there hiking the many trails in the park, seeing the wildlife and scenery, and enjoying the quiet that the park affords once you are any distance from the falls. In addition to the trails created by the state for hiking and cross country skiing, the North Country Trail runs through the park as well.

I camped in the Rivermouth Rustic Campground, I was up before first light, and was rewarded with a beautiful sunrise!

Tahquamenon River sunrise

Tahquamenon River sunrise

Tahquamenon River sunrise

Tahquamenon River sunrise

Tahquamenon River sunrise

Tahquamenon River sunrise

Tahquamenon River sunrise

Tahquamenon River sunrise

It was a frosty start to the day.

Frost on the pumpkin (colored) mushroom

Frost on the pumpkin (colored) mushroom

After driving over to the falls viewing area, I set off down the boardwalk to the falls, a delight in itself.

Cedars forming a canopy of the boardwalk

Cedars forming a canopy of the boardwalk

And I paused to shoot a few photos of these guys.

Red-breasted nuthatch

Red-breasted nuthatch

Then, the lower falls came into view.

Lower Tahquamenon Falls

Lower Tahquamenon Falls

Lower Tahquamenon Falls

Lower Tahquamenon Falls

The walk through the woods between the smaller cascades of the Lower Tahquamenon Falls was quite scenic as well.

On the trail between falls

On the trail between falls

On the four mile drive to the upper falls, I had to pull over to photograph this hawk along the road.

Red shouldered hawk

Red shouldered hawk

I was hoping for more color in the trees, but the falls are magnificent any time of the year!

Upper Tahquamenon Falls

Upper Tahquamenon Falls

Upper Tahquamenon Falls

Upper Tahquamenon Falls

Upper Tahquamenon Falls

Upper Tahquamenon Falls

Upper Tahquamenon Falls

Upper Tahquamenon Falls

A few more notes before I end this post. Tahquamenon Falls State Park offers a range of options as far as camping or renting cabins as far as a place to stay with in the park. (Click the link near the top of this post for more info) There are a few motels nearby, but they run on the small side, and one can never be sure if they are open, both because of the seasonal nature of their business, and because they seem to change hands often.

The falls and the park are less than 60 miles north of St. Ignance, Michigan or about the same distance west of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. (Pronounced soo saint marie, or just The Soo to the locals) Much better lodging is available in either of those cities. The same is true for gas stations, there is one in Paradise, Michigan, at the entrance to the park, but you’d be better off topping your gas tank off in either of the aforementioned cities.

Area map

Area map

Be prepared to deal with crowds, especially during the summer months. I had to wait in line for an opportunity to photograph the falls at most of the viewing spots even in the end of September. Away from the falls, the park’s character is completely different, much more of a wilderness type experience.

Since this was a scouting trip of sorts to me, I only hit the falls, then I was off towards the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

A couple of side notes. Just to the north of Tahquamenon Falls State Park, just off the map above, is Whitefish Point. There is a shipwreck museum there, along with the restored lighthouse and a park. It is near that spot that the¬†730 feet (222.5¬†m) long freighter, the¬†SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank on November¬†10, 1975. That remains the largest ship to have been lost on the Great Lakes, and it claimed the lives of 29 men, as imortalized in the song¬†¬†“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot.

In May 1976, the U.S. Navy dived the wreck using its unmanned submersible, CURV-III, and found the Fitzgerald lying in two large pieces in 530 feet (160 m) of water. Navy estimates put the length of the bow section at 276 feet (84 m) and that of the stern section at 253 feet (77 m). The bow section stood upright in the mud, some 170 feet (52 m) from the stern section that lay face down at a 50-degree angle from the bow.

Also on the tip of Whitefish point is an Audubon Society bird observation area, as birds migrating south out of Canada cross Lake Superior to arrive at the closest land in Michigan.¬†Whitefish Point is a narrow peninsula that reaches several miles into Lake Superior toward Canada. The geography of this location makes it a natural “funnel” for birds of all kinds as they migrate between their northern breeding grounds in Canada and warmer wintering grounds to the South. The distance between the Canadian coast and Whitefish Point is about seventeen miles.

Here are links to other posts I have done about my week long vacation in Michigan’ UP.

My vacation in the UP, the highlights

My vacation in the UP, Sunrise, sunset

My vacation in the UP, the bridges

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


My vacation in the UP, the bridges

While not really nature photos, I couldn’t help but to photograph two of Michigan’s more famous bridges, including of course the Mackinac Bridge, which spans the Straits of Mackinac, and joins Michigan’s lower and upper peninsulas.

The other bridge is the Cut River Bridge, which is known as much for the scenery that surrounds it as the bridge itself. I’ll start with a few fun facts about the Cut River Bridge, as provided by an MDOT sign at the bridge.

Cut River Bridge facts

Cut River Bridge facts

Then the bridge itself.

Cut River Bridge

Cut River Bridge

And, a few of the views from the parks on both ends of the bridge.

Cut River Bridge scenery

Cut River Bridge scenery

Cut River Bridge scenery

Cut River Bridge scenery

Cut River Bridge scenery

Cut River Bridge scenery

Cut River Bridge scenery

Cut River Bridge scenery

If only I had timed my trip better and gotten the full color of fall. ūüė¶

Now, for the real star of this show, the Mackinac Bridge.

The Mackinac Bridge is a suspension bridge spanning the Straits of Mackinac to connect the Upper and Lower peninsulas of Michigan. Opened in 1957, the 8,614-foot (2,626 m) bridge (familiarly known as “Big Mac” and “Mighty Mac”) is the world’s third-longest in total suspension and the longest suspension bridge between anchorages in the Western hemisphere.

The Bridge, as every one calls the Mackinac Bridge these days, is at least the unofficial boundary point between lakes Michigan and Huron.

Mackinac Bridge

Mackinac Bridge

Before the bridge was built, travelers by car had to use a ferry service that ran between Mackinac City on the tip of the lower peninsula, to St. Ignance, on the upper peninsula. Around the opening day of deer season in Michigan, cars full of hunters would line up for miles to wait for the ferry service.

Mackinac Bridge

Mackinac Bridge

The Straits of Mackinac are a busy shipping lane, here’s an upbound freighter passing the St. Helena Island Lighthouse on its way towards the Mackinac Bridge.

Freighter passing the St. Helena Lighthouse

Freighter passing the St. Helena Lighthouse

The height of the roadway of the bridge at mid-span: approximately 200 feet (61 m) above water level.

Freighter coming out from under the Mackinac Bridge

Freighter coming out from under the Mackinac Bridge

A few more facts and figures about the bridge.

Height of towers above water: 552 feet (168 m)

Max. depth of towers below water: 210 feet (64 m)

Depth of water beneath the center of the bridge, 250 feet (76 m)

Total length of wire in main cables: 42,000 miles (68,000 km)

The photos so far where all taken from the south, lower peninsula end of the bridge. As I was crossing the bridge to the UP, the sun began to break through the clouds. The view was amazing, but there’s no stopping on the bridge for photos, so as soon as I had paid the toll, I parked in a viewing area on the east side of the bridge. The trouble was, the great lighting was on the west side of the bridge. I could have driven a few miles to St. Ignance, turned around, and come back on the west side, but I was afraid that the light would change before I could do that. So, I grabbed my camera bag, and ran across 4 lanes of I 75 traffic to get these shots as the sun came out and hit the bridge.

Mackinac Bridge

Mackinac Bridge

Mackinac Bridge

Mackinac Bridge

Mackinac Bridge

Mackinac Bridge

Mackinac Bridge

Mackinac Bridge

I then walked back to my Forester, crossing I 75 on foot again, went into St. Ignance to buy a sub, then came back to watch the sunset….

St. Ignance sunset

St. Ignance sunset

…and photograph the bridge at night, when it is all lit up.

Mackinac Bridge

Mackinac Bridge

Mackinac Bridge

Mackinac Bridge

Mackinac Bridge

Mackinac Bridge

Mackinac Bridge at night

Mackinac Bridge at night

Mackinac Bridge

Mackinac Bridge

Mackinac Bridge

Mackinac Bridge

Photographing the bridge at night was a great way for me to learn how to use the mirror lock up and self timer to prevent any camera shake. That served me well while shooting the sunrises and sunsets from the last post.

This is but one of many posts from my vacation, here are links to the other posts I’ve done so far.

My vacation in the UP, the highlights

My vacation in the UP, Sunrise, sunset

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


My vacation in the UP, the highlights

I’m home a day early from my planned vacation. For one thing, I have a huge task ahead of me sorting photos. For another, I also had a lot of stuff to do when I got home, so it made more sense to cut my vacation a little short, and not have to rush around on Sunday to complete everything. And, as I always seem to do, I ran myself ragged trying to hit every spot in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in just one week. By Thursday morning, I was so worn out that I couldn’t even remember how to operate some of the features of my camera.

I was up at first light every morning, and on the go until after sunset, which is when I did most of the distance driving that I did, rather than the short hops between photo ops that I did during the day. You’ll get an idea when you see the photos.

Well, I’m not going to list excuses, but I’m going to post of few of the photos that I shot this week, and I think you’ll see that I was on the go all day, every day. Most of the subjects in the photos required hiking, from 1/4 mile up to 3 1/2 miles one way, 7 miles round trip. I think that I averaged 10 miles per day on my feet.

I slept in my Forester, which saved time messing with my tent. It was cramped, but it worked. Subaru makes a terrific vehicle, I averaged 30 MPG for the trip, which included a lot of twisty, hilly, dirt and gravel roads. The Forester handled the back roads with its typical sure-footed nimble handling due to its excellent all wheel drive system. Enough of the advertising.

I shot well over 1,000 photos, this post will serve as a highlight reel for what’s to come.

Mackinac City Lighthouse

Mackinac City Lighthouse

McGulpin's Point Lighthouse

McGulpin’s Point Lighthouse

Mackinac Bridge

Mackinac Bridge

Tahquamenon River sunrise

Tahquamenon River sunrise

Lower Tahquamenon Falls

Lower Tahquamenon Falls

Upper Tahquamenon Falls

Upper Tahquamenon Falls

Grand Sable Dunes

Grand Sable Dunes

Au Sable Point Lighthouse

Au Sable Point Lighthouse

Chapel Falls

Chapel Falls

Miner's Rock

Miner’s Rock

Munising Falls

Munising Falls

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Teal Lake sunset

Teal Lake sunset

Eagle Harbor Lighthouse

Eagle Harbor Lighthouse

Eagle in the early morning fog

Eagle in the early morning fog

Emily's Lake sunrise

Emily’s Lake sunrise

Just a lake

Just a lake

Fort Wilkins State Historic Park

Fort Wilkins State Historic Park

Rocky Lake Superior shoreline

Rocky Lake Superior shoreline

Lake of the Clouds

Lake of the Clouds

Porcupine Mountains State Park sunset

Porcupine Mountains State Park sunset

Fayette Historic State Park

Fayette Historic State Park

Portage Bay (Lake Michigan) sunrise

Portage Bay (Lake Michigan) sunrise

Raven in flight

Raven in flight

Spruce grouse

Spruce grouse

Red-breasted nuthatch

Red-breasted nuthatch

Otter

Otter

Flaming gull

Flaming gull

Lapland Longspur

Lapland Longspur

Not bad for just the tip of the proverbial iceberg so to speak.

I’m still deciding if I should post by day of the week that I was up there, or do posts on lighthouses, waterfalls, wildlife, bridges, parks, etc. No matter how I do it, I have enough photos to last me for quite a few posts.

I had wished for more color in the foliage, but green isn’t a bad color for backgrounds, it beats bare trees all to heck.

I had hoped for more wildlife, but one can’t have everything.

So, I need time to sort and organize, I hope that you have enjoyed this teaser of sorts.

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


Memorial Day weekend, the Lake Huron lighthouses

These are the photos I took of three Lake Huron Lighthouses over the Memorial Day weekend, 2013. I shot so many, and varied photos this weekend that I have to break them up into several posts. The lighthouses are the easiest ones to post quickly, so I’m starting with those.

I’ll have several more posts about this weekend, one of the flowers I saw, one on each of the two state parks I visited, and birds galore! I’m still working on Identifying many of the species of birds that I photographed, that may take me some time, as many are warblers or shorebirds, both of which can be very hard to ID.

Anyway, I’ll do the lighthouses here, and I’ll post a link to more information and detailed directions for any one interested, starting with the Sturgeon Point Lighthouse.

Sturgeon Point Lighthouse

Located just off US 23, just a few miles north of Harisville, Michigan.

The Sturgeon Point Light Station is a lighthouse on Lake Huron in Alcona County. Established to ward mariners off a reef that extends 1.5 miles (2.4 km) lakeward from Sturgeon Point, it is today regarded as a historic example of a Cape Cod style Great Lakes lighthouse.

History: In 1854, Perley Silverthorn established a fishing station and cooperage at this site. The dangerous reef that extends 1¬Ĺ miles east from Sturgeon Point presented a serious hazard to ships so one of the earliest lighthouses in Michigan was built in 1869 and placed in operation in 1870. Mr. Silverthorn, the first Keeper, served from 1870 until 1874. In 1939 the lighthouse was electrified and automated and in 1941 the last personnel departed. The lighthouse fell into disrepair due to neglect and vandalism. In 1982 the Alcona Historical Society, under the leadership of Floyd Benghauser, leased the Keeper’s house and Lighthouse and restored it to its 1890s grandeur, using mostly volunteer labor. The light with its 3.5 order Fresnel lens, no longer used by the Coast Guard, is kept operational by the Alcona Historical Society for boaters.

Sturgeon Point Lighthouse

Sturgeon Point Lighthouse

Sturgeon Point Lighthouse

Sturgeon Point Lighthouse

Sturgeon Point Lighthouse

Sturgeon Point Lighthouse

Sturgeon Point Lighthouse

Sturgeon Point Lighthouse

Old lifeboat at the Sturgeon Point Lighthouse

Old lifeboat at the Sturgeon Point Lighthouse

Sturgeon Point Lighthouse

Sturgeon Point Lighthouse

For more info…

http://www.us23heritageroute.org/alcona.asp?ait=av&aid=6

The Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

Located just off from US 23, roughly 15 miles north of Alpena, Michigan.

The Old Presque Isle Lighthouse is one of the oldest surviving lighthouses on the Great Lakes. Built in 1840 by Jeremiah Moors of Detroit, the harbor light operated until 1871 when the keeper transferred to a new, taller, coastal lighthouse a mile to the north. The Old Presque Isle Lighthouse park is a complex composed of two main structures, a keepers dwelling and a light tower. The stone and brick tower measures thirty feet tall and eighteen feet in diameter. Visitors can climb the hand-hewn stone steps for a panoramic view of the Lake Huron shoreline and Presque Isle Harbor. Nearby is the one-story side-gabled brick keeper’s dwelling which serves as a hands-on museum. Here, visitors can blow foghorns and examine other interesting artifacts. They can also ring the bell from the Lansing City Hall clock tower. Tipping the scales at an impressive 3,425 pounds, this bronze behemoth is much bigger than the Liberty Bell, which weighed 2,080 pounds when cast. Visitors may also pose for the perfect photo opportunity with head and hands in an old set of punishment stocks.

Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

Scenery at the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

Scenery at the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

Scenery at the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

Scenery at the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

Scenery at the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

Scenery at the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

IMG_4231

Light keeper’s quarters at the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

Scenery at the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

Scenery at the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

Scenery at the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

Scenery at the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

Old Presque Isle Lighthouse light

Old Presque Isle Lighthouse light

Lake freighter passing by the light

Lake freighter passing by the light

A link to more info…

http://www.us23heritageroute.org/presque_isle.asp?ait=av&aid=326

The new Presque Isle Lighthouse

Presque Isle Light Station is a complex of three historic buildings including a lighthouse tower and two keeper’s residences. Located on the Lake Huron shoreline near Presque Isle Harbor, the “New Presque Isle Light” is the tallest lighthouse tower accessible by the public on the Great Lakes. Built in 1870, it replaced the 1840 harbor light. The light station complex is part of a 99-acre township park that includes a playground, picnic area, pavilion and nature trails. A gift shop is located in the original keeper’s quarters connected to the tower. Visitors, for a nominal fee, may climb the 130 steps to the top of the tower for a spectacular view. An unattached 1905 keeper’s dwelling has been painstakingly restored. It is now a museum that provides visitors with an opportunity to learn about local history, as well as how keepers and their families lived.

The new Presque Isle Lighthouse

The new Presque Isle Lighthouse

The new Presque Isle Lighthouse

The new Presque Isle Lighthouse

Lightkeeper's quarters at The new Presque Isle Lighthouse

Lightkeeper’s quarters at The new Presque Isle Lighthouse

The new Presque Isle Lighthouse

The new Presque Isle Lighthouse

The new Presque Isle Lighthouse

The new Presque Isle Lighthouse

The new Presque Isle Lighthouse

The new Presque Isle Lighthouse

Lifeboat

Lifeboat

Canon

Cannon

Lake Huron at the new Presque Isle Lighthouse

Lake Huron at the new Presque Isle Lighthouse

A link to more info…

http://www.us23heritageroute.org/presque_isle.asp?ait=av&aid=20

Well, that’s about it for this one. I had photographed the lights before, using my old Nikon and the lens I had for it, but wasn’t completely happy with the results. This time, I used my Canon and my 15-85 mm lens, and I’m still not completely happy with my photos. I tried to compensate for the distortion that I knew I was going to get with the wider angle lens, but the buildings still look somewhat askew. Sorry, I am not going to buy a tilt-shift lens just to photograph a few lighthouses. ūüėČ

Thanks for stopping by!


Grand Haven, Michigan, urban birding

On Saturday March 30, with the promise of some beautiful weather, I made a trip to Grand Haven, Michigan to spend the day birding. Grand Haven is the largest of three municipalities on the banks of the Grand River where it eventually empties into Lake Michigan. The other two are Ferrysburg on the north bank, and Spring Lake to the east.

I didn’t carry my GPS unit with me, as I was in town 100% of the time, so I don’t have a map of my walking that day, but I did take a photo of a map that shows the majority of the ground that I covered.

Map of Grand Haven, Michigan

Map of Grand Haven, Michigan

You can click on the photo for a larger photo with more details. You can see an extensive system of walking/bicycle trails, many right along the Grand River or its offshoots.

It’s been years since I visited Grand Haven, it used to be a place that I went very often, as the Grand River bayous are well-known for good bass fishing. It also serves as a good port to access Lake Michigan for salmon and steelhead fishing on the big lake.

I began the day on Harbor Island, part of which is shown on the map above. I don’t know if it was a real island, or if it was turned into one by dredging a channel through a marshy area to create more mooring slips for pleasure boats. You’ll get a better idea as I post more photos of the area. Since this post is about birding in the Grand Haven area, most of the photos will be of birds, but I’ll throw in a few of the other things to see and do as well.

I had just parked and gotten out of my vehicle, and I could see a few waterfowl in the south channel that makes Harbor Island an island.

Bufflehead ducks

Bufflehead ducks

DSC_9363

Common Mergansers

I was standing on top of a railroad trestle for those, and the pilings from an earlier bridge caught my eye.

Bridge pilings

Bridge pilings

I walked most of the circumference of Harbor Island, it is a very marshy area, and I was hoping to catch a few early wading birds, but other than a few killdeer, none where to be found.

Killdeer

Killdeer

With the water level of Lake Michigan near an all time low, the ribs of an old boat that had been beached and left to rot have been exposed.

An old boat left to rot

An old boat left to rot

And since the next day was Easter, I thought this to be a fitting shot.

Cross and flag

Cross and flag

The flag and cross are atop a dune that rises above one of Grand Haven’s claim to fame, the world’s largest musical fountain. It’s quite impressive when they do their evening shows, but that’s all I have to say about it here.

I did spot a few more ducks as I walked the shoreline of Harbor Island.

Hooded Mergansers

Hooded Mergansers

Red head ducks

Red head ducks

There were other things to photograph as well, the tugs used to push barges of sand and gravel from a mining operation…

Tugboats moored together

Tugboats moored together

Tugboat

Tugboat

….another old boat left in the mud…

Old boat wreckage

Old boat wreckage

…and the old railroad swing bridge, which is still in operation.

Railroad swing bridge

Railroad swing bridge

Railroad swing bridge

Railroad swing bridge

It was a beautiful day, with birds singing everywhere…

Song sparrow living up to its name

Song sparrow living up to its name

Male northern cardinal in full song

Male northern cardinal in full song

…but I didn’t try very hard for better photos, I didn’t want to spook the birds and lose the music they were providing me. It’s been months since I’ve heard their songs, it was a day to enjoy them. Adding to the songbirds’ music was the warbling croaks of huge flocks of sandhill cranes headed north.

Sandhill cranes headed north

Sandhill cranes headed north

And the chattering of a pair of kingfishers who kindly made sure I got good photos of them by flying past me repeatedly.

Belted kingfisher in flight

Belted kingfisher in flight

Having made it all around Harbor Island, I drove to downtown Grand Haven to walk the breakwater there.

The south breakwater in Grand Haven

The south breakwater in Grand Haven

I began at the Coast Guard Station in town.

Coast Guard plaque

Coast Guard plaque

It was there that the red-throated loon made my day by flying past me for a great photo-op! I saw the loon, but it was really too far away for good photos. If as it knew my predicament, it launched itself into flight and flew past me at about the optimal height and distance for some very good photos, if I do say so myself. There was a couple standing near me, and after the loon had flown past, they asked if it had been a loon. My reply was yes, and it had made my day, for things were not going the best as far as getting good close-ups of birds. That didn’t change a lot, other than the loon.

Red-throated Loon in flight

Red-throated Loon in flight

Some people would say that it was much more likely that the loon took flight because the Coast Guard boat pulling out of its slip disturbed the loon…

Coast Guard boat

Coast Guard boat

…but I’d like to think that the loon was being nice, since it was the reason I went to Grand Haven in the first place. ūüėČ

I walked all the way to the end of the breakwater.

Grand Haven lighthouse

Grand Haven lighthouse

On my way, a small raptor flew past me at speed, landing in a tree on the other side of the channel. I’m not 100% positive, and my photo isn’t very good, but I think that it was a peregrine falcon, which make their home in Grand Haven.

Peregrine falcon?

Peregrine falcon?

I wasn’t quick enough to catch it in flight, and that shot is cropped severely to show the bird. I should have brought my binoculars, but they were sitting in my Subaru, a great place for them while trying to ID birds.

After walking the breakwater, I headed over to the Pere Marquette Railroad display.

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

Pere Marquette Railroad museum

As always, there were plenty of gulls around who were willing to pose.

Ring billed gull

Ring billed gull

Ring billed gull

Ring billed gull

If you notice, the bottom of that last photo is darker than it should be, I think that my Nikon is dying. ¬†About halfway through the day, the shutter began making odd sounds when I was shooting, by the end of the day the camera was giving me error messages that I really didn’t want to see.

The turkey vultures must have sensed the imminent death of my Nikon, for a few of them began circling ominously close.

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

Thinking that I should give the camera a rest, and escape the vultures, I headed up to Mona Lake, and Lake Harbor Park to shoot a few photos of red breasted mergansers in flight.

Red breasted mergansers in flight

Red breasted mergansers in flight

Male red breasted merganser in flight

Male red breasted merganser in flight

Female red breasted merganser taking off

Female red breasted merganser taking off

Other than the mergansers and a sky full of gulls, there wasn’t a lot to see there, so I went on to the Muskegon Channel to see what I could find. Nothing really special at first.

DSC_9670

Long-tailed duck

DSC_9674

White winged scoters in flight

DSC_9682

Greater scaup

I kind of like the effect of my shutter going bad made to this photo of some ducks too far away to ID.

DSC_9688

Distant ducks on ice

I sat on a bench to take a break and soak up some very rare sunshine when a male mute swan decided to declare war on younger male who was some distance away, and minding his own business. The older male came at the younger one like a freight train!

DSC_9693

Swan wars

The older swan had a head of steam behind it, I got the feeling that all the younger one wanted to do was to escape and be left alone, but that didn’t happen. It wasn’t much of a war, the older one was beating and biting the younger one, who was doing all it could to get away.

DSC_9694

Swan wars

DSC_9695

Swan wars

DSC_9696

Swan wars

DSC_9697

Swan wars

DSC_9699

Swan wars

DSC_9700

Swan wars

DSC_9701

Swan wars

DSC_9702

Swan wars

DSC_9703

Swan wars

Swan wars, the victor swims off

Swan wars, the victor swims off as the loser sulks

That’s all the photos for this one, but I do have a few more words to add about Grand Haven. It is a very popular summer destination for thousands of people, from both Michigan and surrounding states all week long, but especially on weekends. There will be a steady stream of boats going up and down the channel, and people will be shoulder to shoulder on the breakwater in town. It is not a place will you will find peace and quiet if that’s what you’re seeking, nor many waterfowl during the summer. That’s not a knock, but I think that you should know that it is a typical beach town, sleepy in the winter with many businesses closed, and a bustling city in the summer. You can see yacht from all around the world moored at the many marinas along the Grand River during the summer months.

Even on this early spring day, there were enough fishing boats going in and out of the channel to keep the waterfowl population at bay. If you’re thinking of birding in the summer, there are probably better places to go, but over the winter months, with the migratory waterfowl using the open water of the river as a rest stop, it can be a very good place to go.

One last thing, for most of the day I was wishing I had brought my kayak to get around rather than walking. I probably should have, it would have been a great day for it, although I’m sure that the water was still mighty cold! I’m thinking of going back there at least once during the early spring so that I can get back into the bayous of the Grand River. I picked up the crossbars that fit my Subaru when I had it in for its service, so I’m all set for kayaking this summer!

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


The Big (photo) Dump, the leftovers

These are a few of the pictures I have leftover from my trip to the Pigeon River Country and beyond over the Labor Day weekend. I’ll start with a couple of the new Presque Isle lighthouse tower.

The new Presque Isle Lighthouse

It’s the tallest lighthouse on Lake Huron. I don’t know who the guy up there is, but it gives you some idea how big the tower is.

The new Presque Isle Lighthouse

I’ll bet it looks even taller from where he’s standing. ūüėČ

Next up, a shot through the trees of the surrounding country taken while driving in the rain.

Pigeon River Country

The only reason I included it is that the small opening in the trees along the road is one of the few times you get any kind of sense of the scale of the place, and the hills. It isn’t rugged country, it is over 100 square miles of forested rolling hills cut by three deep and wide river valleys. The area is also peppered with sinkholes, some that fill with water, like Lost Lake.

Lost Lake in the Pigeon River Country

Darn trees again, blocking my view of the green water in the lake.

Lost Lake in the Pigeon River Country

Then there are the swamps and marshes. There is a difference between the two, swamps are flooded forests, and marshes are flooded fields. In the PRC, some of the marshes were at one time forests, until the beavers dammed small streams to create beaver ponds. The trees that were there have died from being flooded and underwater all the time, leaving a marsh like this one.

A marsh in the Pigeon River Country

Eventually the beaver pond fills in with sediment, the beavers move on, leaving the marsh to the wildflowers.

A marsh in the Pigeon River Country

Most of the flowers don’t show up well in these wide shots because the flowers are so small.

A marsh in the Pigeon River Country

But I hope that gives you some idea about the area and why I love it, swamps, marshes and all.

Osmun Lake in the Pigeon River Country

That’s Osmun Lake, one of several man-made lakes in the area from the logging days.

The 40 Mile Point Lighthouse

That’s the 40 Mile Point Lighthouse, it has been fully restored and is now a museum.

The wreck of the Joseph S. Fay

That’s the wreck of the Joseph S. Fay that you can find at the 40 Mile Point Lighthouse Park on the shores of Lake Huron.

Those are far from the end of the pictures I took that weekend, but I’ll be going back and getting better ones, so I will leave it where it is for now. Thanks for stopping by!


Pigeon River Country weekend, day three

I woke up on Monday morning stiff and sore all over, it was a struggle to crawl out of my sleeping bag and get dressed. I think some of it was from old age creeping up on me, but most of the stiffness and soreness was from having spent way too much time driving the day before. Maybe part of it was from the change in the weather as well, for with the rain the evening before, the cooler air had finally arrived. I forgot to mention that in my previous post, but then, I forgot to mention many things in my previous post.

Back in the late 1980’s, I had a boss tell me that I “was too results oriented”. I didn’t know what he meant back then, it is finally starting to sink in now. I started the previous post planning on going into more details about the places I stopped, and even adding some information about things I saw but didn’t stop for, like Grand Lake for example. It is a large lake, with several very good access sites, and it looked like a great place to spend a day, maybe two kayaking. There are many bays and islands to explore, even though there are quite a few homes around the lake.

That’s where good intentions run into my obsessions with results and efficiency, and that actually started to hit me Monday morning when I got up. Of course that didn’t stop me from falling back into the same old me when I started yesterday’s post.

As I was typing it, I realized that I was going to go back to every place I visited on Sunday, and that my descriptions from the Sunday scouting trip were going to be the same for every place I stopped. I got out of my explorer, did a quick walk around the place, shot a few pictures, then went to the next stop on my GPS unit. So if I am going to go into much more depth when I revisit these places, and spend enough time at each one to write an in-depth report on them, why bother doing a quickie on each one now?

Another place I didn’t mention in my previous post, the Rockport boat ramp. I assumed it would be just a boat ramp for access to Lake Huron, it is more like a park than an access site. There are picnic tables and lots of room to spread out there.

Rockport, Michigan access site

I didn’t shoot a picture of the park itself, just a few of the old docks, and the shoreline.

Lake Huron shore at the Rockport, Michigan access site

One could easily spend half a day, maybe an entire day, wandering along the beach, and eating a picnic lunch there at the park. My reason for stopping there is that the access site is the best place to put a kayak in to paddle out to Middle Island, which lies 2 miles off the shore where the access site is located. There is another historic lighthouse on Middle Island, that you can only reach by boat of kayak. After visiting the access site at Rockport, I think it is worth a visit in its own right, even if one doesn’t use it to reach the lighthouse.

So, back to Monday morning. I was pacing the campsite, trying to work all the kinks out as I was drinking my coffee, and re-running the previous day’s scouting excursion through my mind when I noticed waves on Round Lake. There was a cool breeze blowing, but Round Lake is so small and so sheltered that you seldom see wind generated waves on that lake. That meant something other than the wind had to be creating those waves, so I grabbed a camera to check it out.

Trumpeter swans

It turns out that the waves were from a pair of trumpeter swans that had landed on the lake!

Trumpeter swans are native to Michigan, and they are the largest native North American bird, if measured in terms of weight and length, and they are, on average, the largest living waterfowl species on earth.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the trumpeter swan was hunted heavily, both as game and a source of feathers.  These birds once bred in North America from northwestern Indiana west to Oregon in the U.S., and in Canada from James Bay to the Yukon, and they migrated as far south as Texas and southern California. The trumpeter was rare or extinct in most of the United States by the early twentieth century. Many thousands survived in the core range in Canada and Alaska, however, where populations have since rebounded.

Early efforts to reintroduce this bird into other parts of its original range, and to introduce it elsewhere, have had only modest success, as suitable habitats have dwindled and the released birds do not undertake migrations. One impediment to the growth of the trumpeter swan population around the Great Lakes is the presence of a growing non-migratory Mute Swan population who compete for habitat.

You can tell trumpeters apart from the more common mute swans by the color of their bills and feet. Trumpeters have black bills and feet, whereas mute swans have orange bills and feet. The mute swans were brought here from Europe, after the Europeans had all but wiped out the trumpeters. In Michigan, the mute swans are now considered an invasive species, and the DNR is trying to control the number of mute swans so that the trumpeters can increase in numbers and re-occupy its traditional range. Here’s a photo of a pair of mute swans and their young, you can clearly see their orange bills.

Mute swans

The two trumpeters on Monday were giving me fits. They weren’t all that shy as far as me being there was concerned, but they seemed to go out of their way to avoid being in direct sunlight. I never did get a great picture of them, just some good photos.

Trumpeter swans

They seemed to be teasing me.

Trumpeter swan

These shots would have been so much better if the swans had been in the sunlight rather than the shade!

Trumpeter swans

I needed another cup of coffee by then, and I thought that as the sun climbed higher in the sky, it may burn off some of the clouds and throw more light on the swans.

As I was drinking my second cup, one of the guys from the campsite next to mine walked by, and I pointed out the swans to him. He thanked me, grabbed his camera, and went to the end of the lake where the swans were then. On his way back to his site, he stopped by to chat, and that started what turned out to be a long conversation.

We started exchanging Pigeon River Country stories, turns out his name is Ryan, and like myself, he began going to the PRC as a kid with his family, fell in love with the PRC, and continues to return as often as he can. Somewhere in there, the swans took flight and made a couple of laps around the lake.

Trumpeter swans in flight

Beautiful birds!

Ryan and I went back to our conversation, and soon we were joined by his friends, Meagan and Andy. That was actually the first of a couple of long conversations over the course of the day, they are three of the nicest people I have ever met. I hope to run into them again someday.

Talking to them reminded me of the past, when I would be camping there with other people, mostly Spud, but there were others as well. I began thinking about how it all fit together, the way that I am always on the go when I am up there, the way that I camp, how I had jammed too much driving into the previous day, and how I couldn’t just sit down and relax and enjoy the peace and quiet. Maybe I am one of those people who needs some one else along to make me slow down.

I almost didn’t take my tent with me for this trip, to save the time it takes to set up camp, then to pack it all back up again at the end of a trip. “Too results oriented”, I am beginning to understand what you meant, Dick, finally.

Even as I was thinking about it, I couldn’t sit still. I was either pacing the campsite or taking short walks on the roads to the campground. Maybe some of that is because of my job. Often, when people offer me a seat, I tell them, “No thanks, I sit for a living”. That about sums up a truck driver’s job, sitting behind the wheel of a truck for a paycheck. But that doesn’t explain why I used to do about the same things as I do now long before I became a truck driver. I have always been on the go, and have always camped as light as I could so I would have more time to be on the go.

You may have the mental image of me as one of those people who is always going 100 MPH in every thing I do, that’s not the case either. I may be on the go, but slow. That’s why I noticed the things other people pass by without seeing or hearing. In fact, most people who I hike or kayak with go at a much faster pace than I do. Larri used to say I dawdled, I think she just liked using the word dawdle ūüėČ , but I do go slow. I am like the tortoise in the story the story of the tortoise and the hare. I may not move fast, but I am always moving, well, except for while I am shooting photos or examining something in depth.

One of the things people would have heard often when Spud and I were out in the woods or fishing would have been “Whacha looking at?” We were both easily amused, and it didn’t take much for either one of us to stop and examine something closely, like a bird, a flower, a rock, a tree, a cloud, you name it. When we noticed the other had stopped, that was the standard question, “whacha looking at?”, and then we would most likely examine it together and discus it.

There is an upside to going as slow as I do, when every one else is worn out and ready to call it a day, I am still ready to keep going. In that way, I am like the Energizer Bunny, I keep going, and going, but at a tortoise’s pace. That’s the problem, I do keep going, and going. I don’t need some one to slow me down, I am slow already, I need some one to make me stop!

So, is there a point to all this rambling? I hope so. First of all, I have to apologize for the quality of my last post, it is not what it should have been. I rushed it to get on to the next project, and parts of me feel I should re-do it, but I know the same thing would happen again. It will get re-done in a way anyhow, when I put together the pages for exploring the Lake Huron shoreline. I know I have promised in the past not to rush posts, and I should know better than to make promises I can’t keep. So this time I am going to promise to try not to rush posts.

Secondly, it was so great chatting with the Terrific Trio, my new nickname for Ryan, Andy, and Meagan. Talking to them has convinced me that I have taken this solo thing too far, and that I would love to sit around a campfire and swap stories with some one else. Heck, I don’t even have campfires when I go solo, and what is camping without a campfire?

I am going to buy one of those folding camp chairs and have campfires again, maybe even roast some hot dogs, and look for some one to share them with. I am not going to be able to see all there is to see in Michigan in one day, no matter how hard I try, so I need to stop trying. Here’s a map from my Sunday scouting trip, you can click on it for a larger view. The green pins are places I stopped, the red ones are places I haven’t been to yet.

Click for a larger view

And even after all that, I stopped at two places trying to see elk, and several spots that were so cool that I wish I would have had more time that day to even note them on my GPS unit.

I sure covered a lot of ground that day, but it was worth it in a way. I gathered some good information about the places I want to go back to, and a saw a lot of beautiful things.

Wildflowers blooming in a marsh

And these.

Yellow wildflower

But, I am never going to do that again, at least I hope not. I don’t want to wake up the next day in the same shape as I did on Monday!

If I hadn’t been in such bad shape on Monday, I would have never met the Terrific Trio, or realized what I am missing out on doing things the way that I have been. It pays to sit still now and then, I am going to have to do it more often.


Pigeon River Country weekend, day two

I have no idea what time I woke up on Sunday, except it was already light out when I woke up. Between the heat, the distant thunder, and the fact that I’m getting too old to sleep on just a foam pad, I hadn’t slept that well. The rain from the night before had ended, and there was some mixed clouds and sun. Here’s the view from my tent that I was treated with when I got up that morning.

The view from my tent

I fired up the stove to brew coffee, and started to plan my day. I wanted to take advantage of the sunshine for photography purposes, and there was already a good breeze blowing, which meant that fly fishing could be tough. Besides trying to get a good photo of a bull elk, my other goal for the weekend was to check some of the places along the Lake Huron shore for some future trips I am planning. What tipped the scale was the sunshine. I won’t say that I am tired of the flower and insect pictures I have been taking around home, but I really wanted to take some scenery pictures for a change.

Since I have never seen the Ocqueoc Falls, and they are only a few miles north of the Pigeon River country, I decided that the falls would be where I headed to first. If I headed north on Osmun Road, I could also stop at Inspiration Point and get some pictures there in some good light for a change. After that I would go to the closest point that I had marked on my GPS unit, and continue on from there.

So after finishing my coffee, I headed for Inspiration Point, one of the highest points in the Pigeon River country. It is also one of the few places that isn’t completely forested, so you have a great view of the area.

The view from Inspiration Point

That’s looking west, and the water that you can just barely make out is the Cornwall Flooding. Here’s the view to the south.

The view to the south from Inspiration Point

This is looking to the west again, zoomed in on the Cornwall Flooding and several bright white birch trees near it.

The view from Inspiration Point.

It is only a quarter of a mile walk from the road to the top of Inspiration Point, through what I believe is an old orchard. There are dozens of old stunted apple trees, a few cherry trees, and many crab apple trees along the path. Mid-May is a great time to go there when the fruit trees are in bloom. Since this was Labor Day weekend, the trees weren’t blooming, but the wildflowers along the path made up for that.

Wildflower

That’s just one of thousands, I don’t have room to post all the wildflower pictures I took along the path, as I have so many great photos from the day to try to fit in this post, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

I started north again, and decided that since I was going right past Osmun Lake, I would stop to see if the loons that live on the lake were within range of my camera. I didn’t see the loons, but I did see a butterfly that I tried to get good photos of, but it would not turn the right way for me, and eventually it flew off. I turned around, looked down, and saw that I was nearly standing on a northern water snake! As soon as I began to lift the camera, it took off swimming, under water.

Northern water snake

Now that’s some clear water! That’s what I love about the Pigeon River Country, it seems so pure and unspoiled by humans, it is hard to believe that just over 100 years ago it was a burned over desert of sorts. Some people find it boring, since it isn’t developed at all except for a few campgrounds, and it is mostly heavily forested. There are few grand vistas like the one from the top of Inspiration Point, 99% of the time, you are in the woods. It is a subtle area, you have to love forests, in all their many types. You will catch glimpses through the trees of deep, wide valleys and distant high hills, but you have to use your imagination to pull those glimpses together to form a mental picture of the terrain.

I was going to go on at length about the Pigeon River Country, but I am going to save that for the post about the third day of this three-day weekend.

From Osmun Lake, which is on the northern edge of the PRC, it is only a 20 mile drive to Ocqueoc Falls, the Bicentennial Pathway, and a state forest campground. The route to the falls is well signed, maybe too well. The place was jammed with vehicles and people, and there was no room left for me to park. The Bicentennial Pathway to the falls was closed for repairs, but that wasn’t stopping people, some were using the trail, some were wading the river to get to the falls, even though the DNR had tried roping off the river trying to prevent people from doing so. The campground is nice, somewhat developed, not like Round Lake, and it was about full.

I didn’t want to fight the crowd, there was no place left to park anyway, so I edited the info about the falls and campground in my GPS unit, then looked for the next closest spot I had marked. Surprisingly, it turned out to be 40 Mile Point Lighthouse and the park there. I took N. Ocqueoc Road north from the falls, and as soon as I came to the junction of that road and US 23, I saw a sign for an access site at the mouth of the Ocqueoc River where it enters Lake Huron.

The Ocqueoc River flowing into Lake Huron

That wasn’t marked on my maps, it is now! It will make a great spot for kayaking, either the river or Lake Huron. My next stop was a scenic overlook on US 23.

Lake Huron

There were several scenic turnouts on US 23 on my way to 40 Mile Point Lighthouse, but I don’t have room for all the photos I took. I also found an unimproved access site on Lake Huron that would be OK for kayaking at Hammond Bay, right next to the federal Hammond Bay Biological Research Station there on Hammond Bay. The research station is dedicated to lamprey control, they give tours there, maybe someday I’ll stop by again and check it out.

I arrived at the 40 Mile Lighthouse Park.

40 Mile Point Lighthouse

This is a cool park! I just did a quick walk around since I was going to try to hit as many places as I could, and this park was somewhat crowded as well. They have a lot of stuff there at the park, including the wheelhouse from the Calcite, one of the old “Lakers” that used to ply the Great Lakes.

Inside the wheelhouse of the Calcite

That’s the only structure I went into, I’ll save the rest for a future trip, and I’m sure there will be many. If you are into lighthouses, Great Lakes shipping history, or shipwrecks, you have to check this place out! That reminds me, there is the wreck of the Joseph S. Fay there at the park as well, a very short walk from the lighthouse.

The wreck of the Joseph S. Fay

OK, so there’s not a lot left of the wreck. There is enough to give you an idea how ships were constructed back in the day, and also a sense of how small those ships were back then. They weren’t like the 1,000 footers on the lakes today. Those were brave men who worked in all types of weather on small ships in big storms.

I edited the info in my GPS unit, and headed off to the next spot I had marked, which turned out to be the old Presque Isle Lighthouse.

The old Presque Isle Lighthouse

That is another very nice park, and once again, I just did a quick walk around, then it was off to the New Presque Isle Lighthouse.

The new Presque Isle Lighthouse

It is the tallest lighthouse on Lake Huron, and sits in another great little park. I did a quick walk around the outside of the buildings, then checked out several other of the park’s features, which you can find if you click the link above.

I found most of the information for this trip at one web site the US 23 Heritage Route. It is a fantastic source of information about almost everything there is to see or do in the counties along Lake Huron in northern Michigan. Most of the time these websites are all ads for local businesses, and there is some of that on that website, but it has surprised me how much information they have that appeals to some one like me as well. If you are at all interested in visiting the northeastern Michigan area, you should check it out.

I am leaving many of the things I found this day out of this post, simply because I could go on forever with what I saw. I went past several state parks that I am sure that I will visit in the future, like P. H. Hoeft and Thompson’s Harbor State Parks. Thompson’s Harbor really looks interesting, from what I saw, it is mostly coastal marshland. That may not sound appealing, but they are beautiful areas filled with wildflowers, many of which grow nowhere else in the world, like the dwarf lake iris. I didn’t find any of them, too late in the season, but when I was wandering around another coastal marsh later in the day, I did find these.

White wildflower in a coastal marsh

and these.

Blue wildflower in a coastal marsh

And if you have never seen a Great Lakes coastal marsh, here’s what one looks like.

Lake Huron coastal marsh

Those pictures were taken at Isaacson Bay, just outside of Alpena Michigan, which was my last stop on my trip, so I have sort of jumped ahead of myself here. Oh, I do have to go back to this photo though!

Red tailed hawk

I shot that photo through the sunroof of my explorer. The hawk heard the bird chirping sounds my camera makes when I turn it on, and the hawk thought that maybe I was bringing him supper, or wondering why I was chirping like a bird.

I am not going to write any more about the other things from this day trip right now, because I will be going back when I can spend more time at each of the places I checked quickly on this day.  I did find a better access site to Misery Bay than I knew of before this trip, but I missed a couple of spots to check out somehow or another. Misery Bay is part of  the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, where there are over 200 shipwrecks, some of which can be seen from a kayak or while swimming. In addition, Misery Bay is a cool place to kayak in its own right, with many islands and marshes to explore. To top it off, there is also a giant karst sinkhole in the bay. So I will write more about all those places when I am able to spend more time there exploring them fully.

It was getting late in the afternoon by the time I got to Alpena, so it was time to head back to the PRC for the evening. I took the back way in, going through Atlanta, Michigan, and then north to Clear Lake State Park, and into the PRC from the southeast side, which I had never done before. Of course I found even more places I wanted to stop and wander around, but there wasn’t time, and the weather had turned somewhat nasty. It had been warm with a lot of sun all day, but then the wind picked up and was driving intermittent rain showers into the area. I shot this picture of a marsh as it was still raining, but the sun was also coming out from the clouds at the same time.

A marsh in the rain

I stopped at a couple of the fields the DNR plants that I had learned about from the couple on the ATV’s the night before. I walked back into one, found a nice tree to sit down against, and the rain started coming down hard again. I didn’t have a good way to protect my Nikon from the rain, other than tucking it under my rain jacket, so I walked back out, then drove to a spot where I could remain in my vehicle and see most of that field. No elk appeared at all. Note to myself, from now on, do two things, carry the case for the Nikon, and check the state’s hunting seasons! When I got home, I saw a news story that the early season elk hunt had ended on the Friday before Labor Day, and that the hunters had been very successful!

No wonder I wasn’t seeing very many elk or deer for that matter. The DNR doesn’t issue many elk permits, but any hunters at all are going to make the elk a lot more wary than they are to begin with. Oh well.

I went back to the campground, ate supper, and turned in for the night.

I have left out a lot of pictures I wish I could add, I may do a post of “leftovers” after I finish a post on the third day of the weekend, I haven’t decided yet. I know I spent too much time on the road this day, or did I? In some ways it seems like a wasted day, but on the other hand, now I have some solid information to go on when I do future trips along Lake Huron.

That’s one of the many things I was thinking about on the third day up there, so I will leave this where it is, and continue on in my next post.


Pigeon River Country weekend, day one

I got a late start, due to sleeping in later than I had planned, but still managed to make it to Round Lake State Forest campground at around 2:30 PM. I was quite surprised to see that the campground was almost full. I know that it was the Labor Day weekend, but last year, there were only a couple of people camping there over Labor Day. I guess the publicity about it almost being shut down this spring helped to bring more people to the campground. I did notice that most of the campers there were younger people, I’ll have a lot more to say about that later on, in my post about the third day up there.

It didn’t take me long to set up camp, but I did work up a pretty good sweat while I was doing so. Lesson one this weekend, despite computer models, radar, and satellites, weather forecasters today are less accurate than they used to be. What they forecast played out more or less, but at a completely different time frame than they forecast. I should know by now, going by forecasts has messed with my plans the last couple of years, time to go old school and bring clothes for all types of weather, then go with the flow.

Anyway, I sat at the picnic table to cool off, and enjoy the surroundings. Even with the campground near capacity, it was still quiet and peaceful, and the scent of pine, maples and oaks helped to rejuvenate me. That didn’t last long though, I was in the Pigeon River Country, and that meant there were places to go, things to see, photos to take, and fish to catch! I couldn’t help myself, I couldn’t sit still and relax, I found myself pacing the campsite, so I went for a walk around the southern end of the lake, and down the cut-off from the High Country pathway for a way, then turned around and retraced my path back to my campsite.

Looking across Round Lake to my campsite

Here’s a closer look at my campsite, you can make out the picnic table and my tent.

My campsite on Round Lake

People sometimes ask me why I don’t go in for backpacking when I do so much hiking. There are several reasons. One is that the super lightweight gear for backpacking is too expensive for my budget, too many other things to spend money on, like more fishing gear. Another reason is that I have found that I miss way too many things if I go from point A to point B. I find that when I walk the same path backward, that it puts a completely different perspective on the trail, and I notice many things that I missed on my way down the trail the first time, even though I try to remember to look behind me often. When I do trails that loop, I do the loops in the opposite direction every time that I hike them, that way I get to see everything along the trail sooner or later.

When I got back to my campsite, I decided that since it was warm and muggy, it was a good afternoon to do some fly fishing. In weighing where to go, I kept in mind that one of my objectives for the weekend was pictures of a bull elk with a rack. What better place to try to catch fish and pictures of elk at the same time than the Black River at the Blue Lakes Road bridge? None that I could think of, so that’s where I went.

Technically, that isn’t in the Pigeon River Country, it is right on the edge. The land north of Blue Lakes Road is owned by the Black River Ranch, but no one has ever kicked me off the river when I fish there. I managed one small brookie, and one other hit while fishing on Saturday. I don’t know what I do wrong when I fish the Black. It looks like great trout water, the river has a reputation for big brook trout, but I have never done well fishing it.

While I was fishing, I was listening for the sound of bull elk bugling, but I never heard one. I did hear that there were suddenly a few cars driving down the road, which meant it was time for elk watching.

That’s one of the things you can rely on while in or near the Pigeon River Country, every evening, cars come out of nowhere with people driving slowly along the roads and two tracks looking for elk. I have learned that driving isn’t the best way to see elk, finding a spot where they are likely to feed in the evening, and waiting for them to show up is.

I went back to my explorer, put my fishing gear away, got out my cameras, and sat on the guard rail to the bridge to wait for the elk to show up, and they did.

Elk in the distance

There is a bull elk in that picture, but you can’t really tell, even if you click on it for a large view. As always, they came out of the woods just at dusk when the light was fading, and as always, they stayed in the back corner of the field about as far from the road as they can be.

Every so often a car full of people would drive up slowly, look at the elk for a few minutes, then continue on down the road. At some point, a couple about my age drove up on ATV’s, and we talked at length about places to see elk herds. Since ATV’s are not allowed in the Pigeon River Country proper, they stay on the edges on the southeast side of the PRC, the one area I have never explored fully. They told me of several places the DNR is doing plantings of fields of crops to attract the elk and deer that I wasn’t aware of. I know of a couple of fields planted by the DNR closer to where I normally stay, but I haven’t had great success at them, either. But, since I have heard that the elk herds are larger towards the southeast corner of the PRC, I think they may be worth checking out. In fact, I did, on my second day up there, I’ll get to that story in my next post.

As it was, the field where I was watching the elk was full of wildflowers, like this.

Wildflower

It was getting too dark for any photos, so it was time to head back to camp. I ate supper, then was sitting at the picnic table when this guy hopped up to me.

Bullfrog in camp

If I couldn’t get a photo of a bull elk, at least I could get one of a bullfrog. ūüôā

I wasn’t really tired, since I had slept in so late in the morning, but I went in my tent and laid down on my sleeping bag anyway, hoping I would be able to sleep and get an early start in the morning. It was way too warm and humid to sleep though, and it wasn’t long after I laid down that the tent lit up from lightning, and then I heard the thunder off in the distance. I was hoping the storm would cool it off, but the storm missed us for the most part, all we got at the campground was rain.

I eventually drifted off to sleep, and at some point during the night, it cooled off enough that I crawled into my sleeping bag rather than on it.


A grand day kayaking the Grand River

Probably the most under used recreational outlet that there is in West Michigan is the Grand River. That’s certainly true among us kayakers, the Grand is hardly the first river that comes to mind when you think about rivers to kayak. It’s slow and it’s muddy, but it isn’t nearly as polluted as most people think, especially above the city of Grand Rapids. I know, it looks dirty, but that’s not pollution or the river’s fault, the Grand is a large mature river that carries tons of sediment each day.

Because the Grand is a large river, the largest and longest in Michigan, it has a very large flood plain by the time you get near Grand Rapids. That’s a good thing in a way, because few houses have been built on the floodplain, leaving the river looking very natural and undeveloped.

The Grand River near Ada, Michigan

As you can see, there are no signs of human encroachment in sight, and there are miles of the Grand just like this.

This trip started simply enough, my buddy Mike asked me if I wanted to go kayaking this Sunday, and my reply was that it would have to be close to home as I am saving money for my Labor Day trip to the Pigeon River Country to go elk “hunting” with my cameras. So, I suggested the Grand River near Ada, since I had grown up in that area and it has been at least 30 years since I have paddled that stretch of the Grand River. I made the mistake of suggesting that we paddle upstream to the Thornapple River, and then up the Thornapple to the dam, then drift back. It turns out that Mike has an aversion to paddling upstream, which I am going to have to cure him of. ūüėČ The mere mention of paddling upstream was enough for Mike to back out, but he didn’t tell me why until after I was back.

That left me on my own, which is one of the reasons the Grand River is great for a solo kayaker, it is almost as easy to paddle upstream as it is to go downstream since there is very little current in most places. I’ve done some tough upstream paddles in my day, I did¬†four miles up the White River a couple of years ago as an example, and I’m getting too old for that kind of paddling.

My plan was to put in at Roselle Township Park, since I had read that they added a canoe landing to the park. As you will see on the map that I’ll post here later, Roselle Park is on Grand River Drive, about halfway between Ada and the DNR access site on Knapp Street. I was going to put in at the park, paddle up to the Thornapple, then drift back to the park.

I say “I was going to” because when I got to the park, my plans changed. They built the canoe landing, they even built a road going to the landing, but they have the road closed, leaving you with a half mile carry to get your canoe or kayak to the water. It’s a great park, on what used to be the Ada Beef Company property that was donated to Ada Township. Why they don’t allow you to drive to the canoe landing is beyond me, the landing is about worthless the way it is now. (Since I wrote this, I received a reply from Jim Ferro, the¬†Ada Township Planning Director explaining why the landing and access is the way it is. You can read the explanation as a comment below the main body of this post)

Since I didn’t feel like carrying my kayak half a mile, I put in at the Amway DNR access site instead. I don’t think that its official name is the Amway access, but it is on land next to Amway’s headquarters, on land that Amway donated to the state for the access site. It is on M 21 also known as Fulton Street in Ada, on the north side of the road, and not signed. You turn into the east gate for Amway, just before the bridge over the Grand River, then veer right to the access site just before the Amway gates.

You can see where the Thornapple River joins the Grand from that access site, and it’s an easy paddle up the Thornapple. My day started well, once I got on the river, there was a great blue heron hunting on the flats where the two rivers meet.

Great blue heron

It was so focused on food that it paid me no mind at all as I paddled past it and started up the Thornapple.

Starting up the Thornapple River

It may be hard to believe, but this is right in “downtown” Ada. The only signs of development that you see are the three bridges that cross the Thornapple. One is the current automobile bridge, one is the old railroad bridge, and between them is the old historic covered bridge.

Historic Ada covered bridge

About 3/4 of a mile upstream on the Thornapple, you come to the first of many dams on the river.

Dam on the Thornapple River in Ada, Michigan

You can portage the dam, there’s a trail there for you to do so, but the impoundment above the dam is surrounded with wall to wall waterfront homes, and normally filled with jet skis and people waterskiing.¬†The portage is mainly used for people going down river anyway, not crazies like me going upstream. That was as far as I wanted to go on the Thornapple anyway, so I turned around and drifted back to the Grand, watching the kingfishers and hawks hunting over the river.

Redtailed hawk

It was a beautiful late summer day. Sunny skies, temperature around 80 degrees, and a light wind. I drifted back to the Grand River and just let the current carry me along slowly, about the only paddling I did was from one side of the river to the other to get a better view of something on the bank. I think I saw one house and two places of business along the way, the rest of the river is heavily forested and you would never know that you were on the Grand River just outside of Michigan’s second largest city other than some occasional traffic noise.

Different people paddle for different reasons, some like fast whitewater rivers like the Pine where the paddling itself is the focus. Some people like slower rivers such as the Thornapple or the Flat so they can hang their feet over the side of the kayak and relax. Some people prefer inland lakes, and some prefer the Great Lakes. Me, I love them all and then some. I’ll even paddle swamps and marshes if there is enough water to float my kayak and a way to get on them.

This day was a hang my feet over the side of the kayak and relax kind of day, and floating down the Grand works great for that. However, it is also a good river to get the paddling muscles in shape on, if you paddle upstream. I met at least a half a dozen other kayakers who typically paddle the Great Lakes working their way upstream. Talking to them, they were there because it was close to home and a way to stay in shape for when they go out on the big lakes. They all had the long, narrow, open water boats rather than the type of kayaks one normally uses for rivers.

Did I mention it was a beautiful day?

A beautiful day on the Grand

The large floodplain and forests along the Grand River also makes a good home for many types of wildlife. Like this spiny softshell turtle.

Spiny softshell turtle

It, along with many other species of turtles were out basking in the sunshine all up and down the banks of the river. There were also wildflowers on the banks, like this cardinal-flower.

Cardinal flower

Of course there were frogs, like this leopard frog.

Leopard frog

And as I was chatting with another group of kayakers, this flock of sandhill cranes flew past us.

Sandhill cranes in flight

I drifted all the way downstream to the canoe landing at Roselle Park in order to check it out from the water, and so I would have some idea how far I had gone, and how long the paddle back upstream was going to be. The float down was about as good as it gets, but I knew the paddle back was going to take some work, so Roselle Park is as far down as I went. If Mike had joined me, we would have left a vehicle at the Knapp Street access site and floated all the way down to there, a total of about 6 river miles from the Amway access site.

As it was, I turned around and started back up the river. It isn’t hard going at all, the Grand is like a long narrow lake rather than a river. I did stop a couple of times¬†for a break, and a couple of times for pictures like this one.

Bald eagle on the Grand River

That about sums up how great of a day it was, being able to get that close to a bald eagle as it was perched waiting for a fish to get too near the surface.

A couple other wildlife notes. There were reports of a black bear living along the river in this area a few years back, I haven’t heard of any lately though, but for as close to Grand Rapids as it is, the river itself is pretty wild. I saw a lot of clam shells in the shallow parts of the river, and along the banks, that’s to be expected. But, I also saw many clam shells on rocks and stumps out in the river. That leads me to believe that otters may have returned to this stretch of the Grand River! There are lots of raccoons living along the river, I saw their tracks all up and down the banks, in places, it looked like a raccoon super highway. And, raccoons are known to feed on clams, but I don’t know that they swim out from the bank, grab clams, and then eat them on rocks and stumps that are in the river. That sounds like the eating habits of river otters to me, but I could be wrong about that. It would not surprise me to see one there though.

I made it back up to the boat ramp at the Amway access site and called it a day, a grand day! Here’s a map of the area along with the GPS track of my paddle.

The Grand River, click on the map for a larger view

There are many options for you to choose from if you would like to give this section of river a try. The entire stretch of the Grand River from Ada to the Northland Drive bridge is like you see in the pictures, forested with very few houses or other signs of human development. The only road that crosses the Grand in this stretch is Knapp Street, otherwise it is about 12 miles of wooded undeveloped river. In fact, of all the rivers I have ever paddled in Michigan, this may be the least developed of any but a few, like the Jordan or the Pigeon. There are a couple of houses near Knapp Street, and some development as you approach Northland Drive, but that’s it.

For solo paddlers, it works great. I know, I did it backwards, you should paddle upstream then drift back, but even my trip was easy enough. But you can put in at either the access site at West River Drive (it is shown on the map above) or Knapp Street and paddle up as far as you want, then drift back down. If you want to use more than one vehicle, you can go downstream between any of the access sites, depending on how far you want to go, and how long you want to stay on the river. It may not be sparkling clear water, and there may not be much current, but if you are looking for a place close to home to spend a relaxing day on the water with abundent wildlife to watch, then the Grand River may surprise you as to how good it can be.


The John James Audubon Exhibit at the GRAM

I made it, one day before the exhibit closes. The Grand Rapids Art Museum has had an exhibition of thirty of the original hand colored etchings done by John James Audubon and London, England engraver, Robert Havell.

For those of you who don’t know, John James Audubon spent¬†years travelling the United States drawing and painting birds in their natural habitat. His goal was to draw every species of bird that lived here. Between 1827 and 1838 Audubon and his engraver Robert Havell produced 435 hand-colored and engraved plates of scope and standard never before seen in ornithological recording.

John James Audubon

Audubon was not the first to undertake the mission of painting every species of bird in the United States, he followed in the footsteps of Alexander Wilson. The difference between their works was that Wilson painted birds on a stark, bare background, whereas Audubon painted birds surrounded by their natural settings.

John James Audubon Californian Partridge

Audubon developed his own methods for drawing birds. First, he killed them using fine shot in his shotgun. He then used wires to prop them into a natural position, unlike the common method of many ornithologists, who prepared and stuffed the specimens into a rigid pose. When working on a major specimen like an eagle, he would spend up to four 15-hour days, preparing, studying, and drawing it. His paintings of birds are set true-to-life in their natural habitat. He often portrayed them as if caught in motion, especially feeding or hunting. Audubon based his paintings on his extensive field observations.

He worked primarily with watercolor early on. He added colored chalk or pastel to add softness to feathers, especially those of owls and herons. He employed multiple layers of watercoloring, and sometimes used gouache. All species were drawn life-size which accounts for the contorted poses of the larger birds as Audubon strove to fit them within the page size. Smaller species were usually placed on branches with berries, fruit, and flowers. He used several birds in a drawing to present all views of anatomy and wings. Larger birds were often placed in their ground habitat or perching on stumps. At times, as with woodpeckers, he combined several species on one page to offer contrasting features. He frequently depicted the birds’ nests and eggs, and occasionally natural predators, such as snakes. He usually illustrated male and female variations, and sometimes juveniles. In later drawings, Audubon used assistants to render the habitat for him. Going beyond faithful renderings of anatomy, Audubon employed carefully constructed composition, drama, and slightly exaggerated poses to achieve artistic as well as scientific effects.

The scope of “Birds of America” is amazing in and of itself. Audubon¬†painted every species life-sized, even the larger species such as Canadian Geese, Eagles, and Turkeys. Working from Audubon’s paintings and drawings, copper plates were etched to print the outlines, then each page was colored by hand. The shear size of the book is something to see, the pages are 39 X 26 inches and there are 435 plates depicting 497 species of birds. The book is as large as my kitchen table, but the copy they had at the exhibit was in a case so you couldn’t touch it to turn the pages. Another part of the exhibit is a slide show of all 435 original water colors that Audubon painted.

This is a travelling exhibition, on loan from the Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, Vermont. If you get the chance to see it, I would recommend it, it isn’t often that you get a chance to see something like this.


Rainy day, dream away

I don’t know why, but I have always liked rainy days. Maybe it is because my extended family were mostly farmers, who depended on the rain to water their crops, and drought meant hard times. Maybe it’s because my parents never minded the rain, my dad thought it was the best time to be out as that’s usually when we would see the most wildlife. The rain never seemed to bother my mom, either.

I remember a time back in the 60’s, we were vacationing in the Pigeon River Country. My dad had just bought a 1966 Ford Bronco that you could remove the top from. It had been hot, so we had taken the top off and gone for a drive to cool off and look for deer. We were caught in a summer shower and soaked to the bone before we got back to Round Lake Campground.

On the way back to the campground, my siblings and I were whining about being cold and wet. My mom told us to stop whining, we’d get back to the campground, dry off, have a hot cup of tea, and we’d be fine. As usual, mom was right, in fact, it was a great feeling after getting dried off, and that tea sure tasted good.

There was another time when staying at D. H. Day State Park when about the same thing happened, and we survived that one as well. That was back before the Federal Government took over what is now the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and D. H. Day was a state park, and we still camped in state parks.

Maybe I like the rain because when I would be helping on one of the family farms, rainy days were play time. That was back in the day before tractors had enclosed cabs, and farmers didn’t work their fields in the rain. There were still chores to do, like feeding the livestock and such, but for the most part, rainy days on a farm were lazy days with not much work that could be done.

Maybe I like the rain because early on in life, I learned fish bite better in a rain.

Rainy days in the spring help melt the snow away, and give rise to the first plants of spring poking up out of the ground in search of the sun. The rain releases the scent of spring that has been buried under the snow for months, you can smell new life beginning as well as see it.

Rainy days in summer bring relief from the heat and humidity most of the time, it’s as if the rain refreshes the world. During an extended heat wave such as the one we’ve been having here, it feels like the entire world is being beaten down, everything moves at a slower pace, dragging along just hoping for the end of the misery. The rain washes away the dust that has collected on everything stationary, and it is as the weight of the dust is what has been holding everything down. There is nothing so refreshing as a long summer shower. Nature comes out of the doldrums and is once again vibrant and new.

Fall rains can be blustery and cold, but they serve to restore the aquifers and bring the salmon and some trout to the rivers to spawn, and helps to prepare nature for the snows that will follow.

It was during one of those blustery fall rains that it hit me just how much I love what most people consider to be nasty weather, I do love it so!

It seems as if all of nature likes a good summer shower, except adult humans. The birds are digging it, they’re out there getting a shower and a chance to cool off. The plants are loving it, each drop of rain seems to return more of the green to the leaves and grass that were wilting¬†and turning brown in the heat wave. Kids love to play in the rain, it is only as adults that we develop “enough sense to come out of the rain”.

I think that the late Jimi Hendrix summed it up best in his song “Rainy day, dream away

Rainy day, dream away 
Let the sun take a holiday
Flowers bathe and I see the children play
Lay back and groove on a rainy day.
Rainy day, rain all day
Ain’t no use in gettin’ uptight
Just let it groove it’s own way
Let it drain your worries away yeah
Lay back and groove on a rainy day hey
Lay back and dream on a rainy day.

And today we are having one of those rainy, dreamy days. A steady rain for the most part, an occasional rumble of thunder every once in a while, and rejuvenation falling all around. It may not break the heat wave for good, but at least it’s a reprieve for a day from the oppressive heat we’ve been having. It’s a good day to relax and dream.

To dream of what could have been, and what we hope will be. To dream of places we’ve been, and places we’ll be someday.

Rainy days are great times to plan future trips to places we have been, and to places we would like to visit, so I am going to get back to work on my page for trips to the Lake Huron coast. As I expected, the more I research the area, the more places I am finding to visit. I may just get lost on the Internet today, clicking links to lighthouses, parks, shipwrecks, and who knows what else. I have added a lot of information to that page already, and it seems as though I am just getting started.

This is the way my research and planning goes. I had already added a lighthouse and state park to my list, along with some basic info on each. But in looking up something else, I saw a link to more information on the park that the lighthouse is in, and a bike/hiking trail that connects to the state park and the hiking trails there. So I click that link to learn about the connector trail, and find a wealth of information about the lighthouse, and a ship that wrecked within sight of the light. That led me to the story of the Joseph S. Fay, and the history of the ship and when it wrecked. Part of the ship is still there on the grounds of the park that the lighthouse stands on.

We are truly blessed in Michigan, with beautiful natural places to go, but there is also a rich history as well. I need to dream of winning the lottery so I can devote all my time to discovering both.


They’re Back! Hiking Muskegon State Park

I couldn’t go the entire long 4th of July weekend without at least one day trip someplace farther from home than Bysterveld Park, so I headed over to Muskegon for an afternoon of hiking, and an evening of watching fireworks.

I decided on Muskegon for a couple of reasons. The first one was that the previous two evenings, we had absolutely spectacular sunsets, and I was hoping for a three-peat so that I could get a good picture with something other than a retail development in the foreground.

Sunset

The same sunset over Lake Michigan would have made a fantastic picture, this one is OK, but hardly what I would have liked to have captured. My back up plan for the Muskegon area was the evening fireworks over Muskegon Lake that they shoot off for the Summer Celebration that is held there. If I couldn’t get pictures of nature’s fireworks, I would get pictures of manmade fireworks. The other reason for choosing Muskegon is that I hadn’t been there in a couple of months to see the eaglets or to continue exploring the trail system in Muskegon State Park.

I arrived at the Snug Harbor boat launch/picnic area around 5 PM, and it was just beginning to cool off a little from the heat of the day. In fact, it felt very pleasant there with a nice cool breeze coming in off from Lake Michigan, as is usually the case during the summer months. I fired up my GPS unit, strapped on my daypack, and put the boat anchor known as my Nikon camera around my neck, and started off down the trail that goes west from the parking lot.

My plan was to hike the Dune Ridge Trail, which I had intended to do earlier this year. But, on the day I was there to hike it, snow conditions made the hiking very difficult to say the least. After struggling along the Devil’s Kitchen Trail to get to the Channel Campground and the south trailhead for the Dune Ridge Trail, I decided to walk back to Snug Harbor on the road instead of any of the trails.¬†It turned out to be a good thing, because the trail is a lot more difficult going the direction I intended to go on that day. The trail guide from the DNR describes the Dune Ridge Trail this way…

“Park either at south end of Snug Harbor of at the Channel Walkway. This trail is for the heartiest of hikers and not recommended for those with heart or respiratory problems. The trail leads you through open and wooded dunes with views of Muskegon Lake, Lake Michigan, inter-dunal ponds, and the Channel with its lighthouses.”

I wouldn’t say it is a particularly difficult trail, but it is through dunes, which means sand, and it is a lot more work than a paved trail or one that is on hard packed ground. On the day I was going to do it before, there was 18 inches of snow on the ground that had been hardpacked, but was then melting, making walking through it extremely difficult. As it is, I would recommend starting out at the Snug Harbor end, rather than the Channel Campground end, unless you want a real workout climbing a couple of large sand dunes to get to the top of the ridge. The trail up from Snug Harbor is through the forest, so the sand is a lot firmer for walking.

First I had to make a slight detour from the Dune Ridge Trail to check out the eagle’s nest. I had only gone a short way when I met the only other people I saw on the trails all day, a couple coming back from the eagle’s nest. We talked for a few minutes, and they told me the young eagles were there by the nest, waiting for the adults to deliver more food. A good sign! I got to the nest, and sure enough, the young eagles were there.