Thanksgiving {Hiking} Traditions

For the second year in a row, in the spirit of starting traditions, Tony and I took Petey for a hike at the Sleeping Bear Dunes as a family Thanksgiving outing.
empty snowy trail

We walked from the parking lot at the entrance to the Scenic Drive, and hiked the snowy road in to a few overlooks.
Empire Bluffs

The Dunes always offer spectacular views and a place to be engulfed by nature. I couldn’t pick a favorite season for a visit, but I love how the park feels absolutely silent in the winter. They close the scenic road to vehicle traffic, and a carpet of snow hushes any wayward echoes. The quietude is splendid.
desolate dunes

As you near the lake, though, the tranquility doesn’t last. In fact, being perched atop 450-foot sand dunes facing incoming gusts, the wind screams in your face, tears at your clothes, and flings sand in your eyes.

We stayed out on the precipice long enough for me to run to the very top of dunes to grab this shot of a lake effect spotlight on the Empire bluffs, and then we jogged back to the relative warmth of the tree cover.
Empire-Bluffs-Spotlight-blog

Lest you think it sounds too cold or inhospitable, I will say that 4+ miles of trekking in the snow keeps you warm. Don’t believe me? Here’s proof:
so cold its hot

We got back to the car shortly before sunset, and decided to hop over to the Glen Haven Cannery (a few miles west). I was going to take a shot of the pilings there, but alas, they are covered by the higher lake levels. I can’t decide if I wish we’d just stayed or skipped the detour altogether, because on our way back home just minutes later, the sky did this.
glowy-sunset

We pulled over at a random spot between Glen Haven and Empire, because we knew the moment would be fleeting, and I am a photo addict. It wasn’t as short-lived as the lake effect spotlight, but gosh that glowy sunset burned out quickly!

To top off an already wonderful day, we arrived home to find that our neighbors had lit their home and fence. Let the twinkly lights photos commence!
lit fence

Summer Lovin’

Despite the weather being cooler than we’d like, our summer has progressed so smoothly, so easily this year that I can hardly believe we’re over halfway through August. By this point, we’ve usually had so many visitors that we feel like we run a bed-and-breakfast. This year, although we scheduled the normal full summer of visitors, we had a few cancellations so that the recent visit from my sister, mom, and nephews counts as the sum of our guests.

My sister and her boys – taken on our last trip to Ohio, because I wasn’t so quick with the camera while they were here, apparently!
Steph and boys

As we near the end of our fifth northern Michigan summer, we’re pretty good at playing tour guides. I think every trip the boys have come we’ve taken them to new places. Not all new places, but at least one new place each time. And this trip, we even found ourselves in a new place.

We spent the afternoon everyone arrived at the conservancy Tony and I recently discovered north of Elk Rapids. After a long day driving, it was nice to unwind on an empty beach. The boys – all three of them (I’m counting Petey) – splashed heartily in the water, while us sensible adults stayed nearer the shore, with gentle waves lapping at our ankles. On second thought, I think the boys had it right.

Again, slacking with the camera. This one is from our last trip there, though conditions were much the same.
Wilcox-Palmer-Shah Preserve beach

Friday afternoon we headed for the open water on Lake Michigan, along with everyone else in northern Michigan. The beach we had initially chosen was busier than we had ever seen it, so we relocated to another beach. It too was far busier than we’d seen it, so we decided just to park and walk in. Even when the parking lots are full, the expanse of beach available offers more than enough space to spread out. We strolled along the sand, built sand castles that washed away in errant waves, and played frisbee – all on a mostly isolated stretch of coast.


When the heat finally began to ebb out of the day, we headed to the dune climb, where I did actually take my camera out and play photographer for a bit.

The boys wanted to climb the 150-foot tall pile of sand, so I invited Petey to join us, and on the off-chance asked Mom if she wanted to give it a go. In short:

Three cheers for Mom! Your hard work is paying dividends!

Saturday morning, we all woke early to catch the ferry over to South Manitou Island. When Tony and I went last year, the ride was bumpy and splashy. This trip could not have been much different.

After the incredibly smooth boat ride to the island, we claimed a picnic table for a bite of lunch. Then, we set out for the four-mile round-trip hike to the Francisco Morazan shipwreck.


Only, the signpost about a tenth of a mile in said that the shipwreck was 2.8-miles away. I covered the sign, and we didn’t tell the boys that we had just added 1.6-miles to their legs ;)

The hungry mosquitoes (have you gathered that this a theme this year?) were about the only complaint on the entire journey. Well, aside from some tired feet. But we arrived back in plenty of time to play in the cool lake, which is the best antidote I’ve found for poor, sore paws.

South Manitou Island Lighthouse from water

We rounded out their trip with more beach time, ice cream, and pizza – the perfect Michigan vacation trio. The only thing I don’t understand is why the adults don’t want to join the boys for their visit in the winter…

Tuesday’s Gone – A Midweek Dune Climb

It was tough to tell on Tuesday who was more restless: me or Petey. For some reason he was a friskopotamus, and I was having trouble sitting still because it was warm (slightly above freezing) and dazzlingly sunny. Eventually we decided it would be best for all of us if we took a hike. Half an hour later, we were on our way to a trail in the Sleeping Bear Dunes that we hadn’t hiked before, though we had hiked near it to a shipwreck. Of course, half an hour later, unpredicted clouds had also besmirched my bluebird skies. You win some, you lose some.

Again, as on previous winter hikes, we parked on a road and then trudged through snow to get to the trailhead. There had been enough snowshoers ahead of us, though, that the walk in wasn’t too bad – especially considering the half a foot of snow we had just gotten. I can’t say that I prefer the clouds, but at least they were the kind that brings interest instead of flat, featureless grey (that’s what we had yesterday, so I can say this with certainty).

See? Look at that drama

We crested a dune – which are far easier to scale when frozen than when the sands are sliding beneath your toes – and were astonished at sweeping view. I took pictures, but didn’t keep any of them, because every stitch of water in the vista was frozen and capped with snow – a good reason to go back :) Still, Tony and I happily took in the view while Petey happily ignored it any the wildlife cavorting in the distance. He was taken by the grasses poking up directly beside the trail.

We followed the snowshoe path down through a valley to the shore…where the view wasn’t much different than from above. We climbed out a short distance onto the ice, but the earlier sun had melted some of the fresh snow, and it had puddled.

Above and inside an ice cave


The upshot is that the view of the shore was pretty cool, and one we don’t often get a chance to see.
pano

Deciding that we didn’t want to wander on the ice – a combination of possible hidden puddles and other potential dangers hidden under the snow – we began the ascent back up the dune.

Though the hike was enjoyable, it felt a bit stunted. After we emerged from the snow-pack, we walked along the road simply enjoying the ease of movement on the cleared pavement before we began our drive back home.

Since it’s on the way, we stopped in Empire for a glimpse at the sunset. Tony and Petey stayed in the car, while I traipsed about with the camera. Cautious because of the sun and heat, I stayed on ice over water I knew wasn’t deep. I was exceedingly glad I did. After I finished taking the last photo in the gallery below, I set my sites on the beach, and began making my way there. As I climbed over a small ice mound, I slipped, and my foot punched through the snow into one of those cold puddles I feared. I pulled it out, re-situated myself, and promptly repeated the fun with my other foot. Though my heart was racing and my feet were soaked and freezing I wasn’t panicking. But I was exceptionally glad that I was only over water that would be up to my knees even in the summer. Phew. Hope you have a warm, dry week :)

A Snowy Hike and a Surprise Thanksgiving

With our family 500 miles south, Tony and I planned to spend our Thanksgiving day together, with our fuzzies. Giving consideration to weekend busy-ness (What a joke – like trails up here are busy in the winter!), we opted to re-visit the Dune Drive on Thanksgiving rather than the official weekend. With our recent lake effect pummeling, we figured the trek would paint quite a different picture that it did at the beginning of the month.

We awoke this morning to a bit more snow than we had yesterday, with a couple more inches forecast through the evening. Where we were headed was expecting four to six additional inches. Interesting. Off we went :)
driving in a snowstorm

The roads weren’t great, but not terrible either – just typical roads for winter Up North. In due time, we parked at the trailhead and packed on our gear: ski pants, coats, gloves, hats, boots, and camera. I had a scarf, too, but I ditched it shortly after we started walking.

We followed in another hiker’s tracks from earlier in the day, beside some cross-country ski tracks. The snow fell lightly at times, and poured down at others – typical for winter Up North.

The hush as we walked was palpable, broken only by the occasional chattering of the naked trees, and the swish of our pants. We made good time, and drew upon the first stop in our tour quicker than we’d expected. As predicted, it looked a bit different than it did on November 3.
North Bar overlook

With not much besides a whole bunch of snow to look at, we didn’t linger long. But we also weren’t undeterred. Even if the next overlook was buried under falling snow (likely, but there are also unexpected breaks in lake effect bands sometimes, so you never know), it would be worth the visit.

Okay, so no break in the clouds, but there’s something awe-inspiring knowing what’s just over the precipice…and not being able to see it for the wall of falling flakes.
sweeping Lake Michigan overlook-2
I’m still gobsmacked that we had this place to ourselves – twice in one month!


We meandered in the snow and sand long enough for my fingers to freeze, and then continued along the drive. Previously, we hiked the trip in an out-and-back fashion, but decided to make a loop of it yesterday. Fortunately, enough snow topped the steep icy road, about which we had been a tad trepidatious, that it was no longer slippery. Down we trekked, and then turned off on a short-cut through the woods.

Back at the car, we munched on almond butter and dried mangoes (which will result in me getting diabetes if I don’t rein it in!) while Petey chowed kibble. Tummies sated, we piled into the car, and aimed homeward.

A quick stop in Traverse City on our way back

Which is almost the end of the story, but not quite. You see, we had planned to be alone on Thanksgiving, and we were okay with that. We had already shared loving messages with friends and family, and were prepped for a happy day. But our neighbors. We have the best, kindest neighbors who knew we were going to be alone, and so they invited us to their family Thanksgiving celebration. I won’t lie and say I didn’t get a little weepy at their consideration; I did. We joined their gathering after we returned from our snowy hike, rounding out our day in the most appropriate way possible – full of gratitude and love (and wonderful food!).

Walking the Dune Drive

Following several days of dreary drizzle, this morning dawned bright and cheerful. Clear skies overnight made for a thick frost on the grass, resembling snow in my predawn fogged eyes. After putzing around the house, enjoying some fireside time with the bad-old-cats (battle cats?), we dressed for our planned hike with the Cliftons.

We met up at main entrance to the Sleeping Bear Dunes – the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive – which happens to be closed to vehicular traffic at this time of year. Jackson was recovering from some afternoon sleepiness, which was aided by vanquishing some foes me repeatedly. (Don’t worry; I recover quickly, and stick-swords and plentiful in the forest.)

Soon everyone was happy, chattering as friends do about things important and unimportant, and generally enjoying the time outside.

The air was chilly but invigorating, and the golden light warmed us from inside. Though we had meandered at Jackson’s pace, we arrived shortly at the North Bar Lake overlook. Many of the trees have shed their fall adornments, but this place is lovely dressed in any attire.

Feeling pretty certain the next big overlook was within reach (keeping in mind that the sun would leave us at 5:30), we ventured onward.

A few brief paces delivered us to the sandy bluffs perched above Lake Michigan, shimmering and blue below.
Sleeping Bear Dunes

We traipsed up and down the empty dunes, luxuriating in the vast, deserted landscape that is normally teeming with visitors, but today just held us.

We poked around the observation areas, and lingered at the trail’s edge, taking in details that might be overlooked while trying to avoid blocking a fellow visitor.

Eventually noting the time, we sequestered Jackson – who was mastering the art of rolling down the sand – and began the trek back.

Once more at our cars, we parted ways, though I’m pretty sure we converged again for one last shot of the day’s beauty before nightfall. Darkness arrived early, but it was a day filled with plenty, and in November that’s all one can rightly ask for.
Empire sunset