Out of the Storms and into the Other Storms

Since we last talked, Tony and I decided to sell our house, and we took a trip to Ohio. If you’re really interested in details, I’m happy to share, but the short version is: we want to live closer to where we seem to spend all of our time when we’re not inside the house. Obviously, working up to that decision and then prepping for selling has taken up much of the time that we weren’t visiting family in Ohio. So, that’s where I’ve been whilst neglecting this blog.

But you’re here for adventures, right? The weather has been rather stormy for summer in northern Michigan, with far more rainy days that we’re accustomed to. We’ve taken to scheduling outdoor activities during brief periods that we don’t expect inclement weather rather than just days of outdoor fun.

Initially, Saturday afternoon looked like a great time to take a trip up to Wilderness State Park with Jess, Jim, and Jackson. But then Saturday arrived, bringing a long string of storms to plague the Tip of the Mitt at least through the evening. Tossing that idea in File 13, Jess suggested we look south to a shipwreck we had both recently learned about.

Frankfort beach hike

We all arrived at the beach south of Frankfort to a lovely, sunny stretch of mostly empty beach. Winds blasted the shore, whipping Lake Michigan into an ocean-like fury – beautiful, but with lots of rip currents. Not great for swimming, but terrific for a beach hike.

Frankfort beach hike-2

Unfortunately, clouds darkened the sky just a couple minutes into our trek, threatening rain with each additional step. We were a determined group, though, so we pushed on. However, a few of us might have been wishing for less summery clothes.

Frankfort beach hike-3

Happily, the ship’s remains rested a short distance down the beach. We marveled at the size of the old boat, and wondered about its past.

Curiosity sated (well, only regarding the shipwreck’s appearance), we turned back north with hopes of returning to our cars before the weather really got ugly.

Frankfort beach hike-13

Jackson might say otherwise, but the hike back was more comfortable thanks to the wind on our backs instead of our faces.

I even took a few moments to linger with some exposed beach grass roots, appreciating their anti-erosion effects.

Frankfort beach hike-15As often is the case, the trek back seemed shorter than the journey there. Once more at our trailhead, we were all grateful for the warmth found a few steps up and away from the water – not least of all Jackson, who quickly returned to his happy, talkative self.

Not only did we make it safely back, but we also took the clouds away from the beach with us: the sun reappeared before we got back on the main highway. Such is life…and such is life Up North that we all stopped at a different beach after dinner to enjoy some funtime in the sunshine. And if I can get it together, I’ll share some photos from that soon :)

Edit: A quick Google search reveals some interesting info about the 1886 shipwreck of the Schooner Marinette.

Fourth of July in Pictures…and a Rant

Independence Day is a big celebration Up North. Not that it isn’t everywhere, but the weekend of July 4th really marks the true beginning of Tourist Season. Thankfully, this worst part of the season lasts just a few days. I nearly put worst in quotation marks above, but then thought more honestly about it.

Warning: I’m going to be all crankipants for a moment, so if you’d like, just skip to the next bit below. Although I am somewhat of a hermit, I genuinely don’t hate tourists. I’ve said this before, but it’s worth mentioning again. I am not sure what happens to people on this weekend each year, but it’s deeply unpleasant. Our sleepy, ultra-rural area turns into something akin to Panama City Beach during spring break. The roads around the south end of Torch Lake are lined in both direction with cars, and throngs of mostly young drunk people roam in the road barefoot carrying coolers. And if they just partied and kept mostly to themselves, I wouldn’t even do much more than roll my eyes (because I just cannot relate). But they don’t. Every year, I pick up piles and piles of garbage…and there are trash cans at every single public access point (where I find the litter). Sadly, it’s not just confined to the Torch River Bridge. You should see the photos of the Traverse City beaches. It looks like a garbage truck spilled over. I will just never, never, ever understand how a person can vacation at a place like this, where it must be the natural beauty that draws one here, only to behave in a way that is detrimental to its continued existence. Sigh. I will be helping with clean-up efforts, and will continue to pick up after folks who lack good sense.

Rant over.

In an effort to avoid The Fourth crowds, we headed farther north on Friday. We hiked a couple miles at the Headlands Dark Sky Park, and were nearly run off by mosquitoes. Well, I guess we were kinda run off. About a mile in, we gave up and headed back for the car (the hike we were on was optional) before rejoining the lake. The beach was open, and the winds kept the bugs at bay, so we stayed for a bit before landing on a nearly empty beach on the outskirts of Mackinaw City.

The scenery was stunning: clear skies, smooth stones, a few boulders, and copious crashing waves. Petey met a few other dogs, and splashed around in the clear water. We didn’t end up having a very close view of fireworks over the Mackinac Bridge, but the serenity and sunset more than made up for any shortcomings – which admittedly would have come from unfounded preconceived notions.

For the record: we left only footprints and took only pictures. (More of which I’ll be adding to my photography site and Facebook over the coming days)

A Clear Forecast with a 0% Chance of a Hike

Despite cool temperatures, Tony and I had decided last evening would be perfect to revisit a hike in the Sleeping Bear Dunes. Clouds had cast a pall on the landscape all day, but the forecast promised clear skies shortly after work, so we packed up Petey and headed for the west coast.

The clouds parted about five miles into our drive, and we basked in the sun’s warmth. However, as we neared the park, threatening skies loomed and we checked the radar. Our 0% chance of rain had been upped to 40%, and a small system was clearly blowing in from Lake Michigan. Not wanting to get caught in a rainstorm two miles into a hike, we altered our plans. Instead of walking the Dune Drive, we opted for a few shorter treks, starting at North Bar Lake.

This is what it looked like from the overlook on November 3, the last time we saw it (we went again at the end of November, but it was snowing too hard to make anything out).

We followed the short trail from the parking lot down to the lake, and then skirted along the edge.

This is the little lake in the photos above: North Bar Lake
North Bar Lake
Winds picked up as we climbed the dunes separating the Big Lake from North Bar, and rain sprinkled down. We decided to take in just the high view of the lake instead of venturing down farther into the wind. But we were in good company. An eagle was perched on high as well, surveying the lake for dinner. Glad it wasn’t us ;)

Next, we retired to the Empire Beach, our old standby. Even if the weather is downright yucky, you can sit in your car, protected from the elements, and enjoy the view…which is exactly what we did for a bit.

I did get out of the car for this one, just not for long. Yes that is still ice on the lake.
Empire view

I’m not entirely sure why, other than it seemed like a good idea at the time, but after I grabbed my pre-sunset shot, we decided to head down the road. I think we were hoping for a chance to hike around near the shore while waiting on sunset. Things had not worked in our favor so far, but we decided that if we returned to Traverse City, we’d arrive right along with the rain we were currently waiting out. So, south we went, where we were hoping the rain would surely, eventually pass.

We were rewarded almost immediately. It didn’t suddenly get warm, and the winds didn’t die down, and the rain didn’t leave, but a beautiful sunset was waiting for us at the end of the road. I meandered with the camera, Tony meandered with Petey, and the sun meandered toward the horizon.

Again, probably because it is in my nature to wander, even though were in a delightful location, I thought it would be a good idea to travel farther down the beach. Just on the other side of Otter Creek. When you come down the road to the beach, you have two options: park right at the beach, or park off to the left before the beach so that you can explore Otter Creek. Instead of moving the car, though, we just decided to walk (it’s not very far, and we were glad of a chance to move). Just as we started making our way back out toward the open water, the rain really let loose. Tony – gentleman that he is – took Petey and went back for the car while leaving me to my photographic devices.

rainbow tree silhouette

I clambered through low shrubs and downed trees, making my way to the creek and lake. As I stood capturing tree silhouettes in the falling rain, I looked over my shoulder, hoping to see a rainbow. Given how the trip had gone, I wasn’t hoping very fervently.

double rainbow

For once in the evening, the weather cooperated. And then Mother Nature decided enough was enough. She turned off the faucets (mostly), and let the light shine. I set up a few places along the bluffs, thoroughly amazed at the progression of the setting sun. The area around the sun was dressed in vibrant yellow, the clouds overhead were bruised purple, and a short-lived shower over the lake absolutely glowed red.

This is one of many great shots I got. I’m not done processing them, but they’ll be making their way to my Facebook page and my photography site over the coming days, so keep your eyes peeled :)
amazing sunset

As the pink tinge faded out of the sky, Tony popped up over the dunes behind me. I grabbed one last image before running to greet him, (you can’t see him, but he’s in the photo – dressed in black against the black background) grateful for the evening if not for our broken hike.
Otter Creek and mountainous bluffs

On the Ice at the Grand Traverse Lighthouse

Recap: We played on the ice for two hours at Gills Piers Road, where the news had apparently identified some awesome ice caves. We enjoyed the people way more than we thought, but our curmudgeonly instincts eventually kicked in and we left.

A couple of the kindly folk we met on the ice mentioned the clear ice they had previously seen at the Grand Traverse Lighthouse. In four winters here we had yet to witness this phenomenon, so it was kind of a bucket list item. Considering the location of the lighthouse – not directly on the coast and exposed to the winds we assume created the massive ice formations there – we were shocked to see mounds of ice fairly close to shore. After all, we were just there a month ago, spying nothing quite so dramatic.

A few other explorers probed the ice, and before long we joined them on the slippery, knobby surface. It was a relief not to be surrounded with our fellow humans, but this also meant picking our own way among the treacherous ice mountains instead of following a well-worn path.

After viewing the ice from above, we decided to join a few others down on the flat ice below the giant formations we’d been climbing. Though we only spotted one good place to walk out, it was obviously the place as it was a wide clearing between walls of ice. We shuffled across the glassy surface, seeking possible caves to the south. Before long we were rewarded with two toothy finds. I clambered around as I do, but Tony and Petey declined to join in the fun instead remaining in the open with Petey’s new-found friends (Neville and Jasper, in case you’re keeping track). Farther south – a good bit farther – a larger possible cave beckoned, but north faced more into the wind, also calling. As the sun was lowering in the sky, and a group of boisterous adventurers headed to the cave (including Petey’s friends), we ventured north.

Shards of glassy ice I spied on the way in won my attention on the trek out. I stopped for a couple photos, and then we headed across the clearing.

We had previously watched the boisterous adventurers run and slide across the ice, and were able to see that it was about twice as thick as the recommended safe thickness, but it was still unnerving to stand upon such clear ice. (Mom: not only did we get close to the edge, but we kind of walked over it…)

We didn’t discover any caves during our northerly expedition, but the ice formations were still breath-taking. Large, fangly icicles twisted from the escarpment, hinting at the windy conditions under which they were created. Unlike the crystal-clear ice we had just crossed (which is also the strongest kind), these appeared to be frozen marshmallow fluff.

No caves, then, but still very cool stuff, including some icy overhangs that look like frozen waves from just the right angle. (I tried to set the gallery up so that each photo of me below is followed by the picture I was taking/my viewpoint.)

We wanted to continue both north around the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula (haha – that’s a long trek), and back to that ice cave that still tugs at my shutter finger, we knew we still had to climb the ice mounds to get back to the car. Though it was hard to drag myself away, it was the smart thing to do. And with nigh on 200 photos, it’s not like I needed to stay our there ;) (Speaking of which, you’d think with 36 photos in a blog that I’d have shared them all, but I haven’t. I’ll be posting more on Facebook and my photography site in the coming days. After I sleep. Because even though it’s 1:00am, I just got word the aurora is doing its thing again, so off I go!)

Famous Lake Michigan Ice Caves

I may have talked a time or two (or every.single.recent.blog) about my wanderlust. On even the dreariest weekend, my feet pull toward the door, itching for an adventure. Yesterday, we awoke to clear skies, and before we had even started breakfast, I told Tony to hurry it up, because we were leaving.

We grabbed sandwiches from a little place in town, careful to avoid the Winter Comedy Arts Festival, which was probably fun, but not on our agenda. Instead, because of the brilliant blue skies, we were headed out for what’s become our weekend tradition: to find some ice caves on the Lake Michigan coast.

At some point in our travels, I checked the internets, and an acquaintance had suggested I head to a particular location on the Leelanau Peninsula, because it had been featured on the news. As luck would have it, we had been aiming in that general direction, and decided to stop. The first place we tried was so busy that we were afraid we’d end up getting blocked in, so we did a U-turn while waiting in a long line and instead set our sights a bit farther up the beach. That spot was busy, too (the road we opted for crossed our first attempt), but there was ample parking and room to move. Normally we eschew busy places, because we are hermits, but this time we decided it would be fun. And also, decided that like going to the beach up here in warm weather, even if it seemed busy we’d be able to find some space to call our own.

Given that we normally run into a scant handful of folks while we’re out winter-adventuring, it was astonishing to see people of all ages and walks of life pouring out onto the ice. The news piece must have really talked up the incredible ice formations. After jostling around a few people who obviously thought they were the only ones headed out, we struck out for a bit of solitude.

Tony and Petey and I walked up the coast a bit, and then crossed the first layer of ice mountains heading toward open ice (what would normally be open water beyond the leading edge of ice, but is now frozen solid thanks to this bitter, bitter cold winter). We explored mini-caves and overhangs. We climbed to the very edge of the exceptionally tall ice and wondered how we’d get down. Eventually we found a spot that the three of us could safely traverse and made it to flatter ground ice.

We walked north along the huge ice cliffs, exploring the edges, looking at the overhangs and caves. We examined the ice under our feet (yep, very thick and sometimes clear enough to see into the water). And then I saw a heap of ice farther out that called for closer examination.

Petey didn’t much care for walking on this ice; the upheaved sheets were tricky to find footing on, and required careful foot placement. Don’t worry – I may look like I ventured far afield, but I didn’t go anywhere that I didn’t see lots of footsteps, and there were folks much farther out than I would have fathomed.

After his time out on Tony’s lap, we decided to delve into the crowds we had avoided at first. Along the way, we stopped for a few in-cave photo ops. I do generally prefer to have nature outings to myself, but even I’ll admit that the crowd generated a festive atmosphere that surely rivaled anything we’d missed downtown. Petey kindly kissed a couple dozen admirers, and cheerfully greeted about a dozen dogs. I offered to take photos of four or five different couples who clearly hadn’t been on such a high adventure in ages (based on things they said; not on their demeanor). Everyone was gracious and cheerful, and while I wanted to begrudge the news for publicizing something we previously enjoyed nearly alone, I instead found that I was grateful that all these people were out enjoying something I so dearly love.

After two hours out in the blazing sun (seriously, I didn’t zip my coat at all and still found myself sweating despite the 14F [-10C] temps), we climbed off the ice and trekked back to the car. As the day was still young, there was still exploring to be done.

I took nearly 200 photos, and will probably keep around 150 of them. I don’t expect I’ll share all of them on the blog, so if you want to check out more, check my Facebook page or my photography site. <–New and I’m very nervous and excited about!
Since I’ve already written enough words for a three-page essay, I’ll leave the rest of the day’s explorations for another blog. :)