Fire, Ice, and Copper

This afternoon I logged into my Flickr account to check out the beautiful images my contacts there had shared. As always, there were several good ones, and one from my friend Aaron that pushed my “I need to catch a sunset on the dunes” button. This is a frequent occurrence for me, and I am usually successful at staving off photographic attacks. For instance, I follow several photographers who live in Iceland, and I have major travel pangs thanks to them…but I have not (yet!) made my way to Iceland.

But Aaron lives in northern Michigan, and even though his photo is from an hour or so southwest of my house, similar landscapes are within half an hour. I was ready to put this urge on the shelf, but the light this afternoon was so beautiful…as viewed from my chair in the living room. When I mentioned it to Tony, he suggested that I go.

At first I wavered, but not for long. Thank goodness, too, because the light wouldn’t linger much longer. I grabbed my pack, tossed on my boots, and hit the road. I had plans to hike to Sleeping Bear Point, but as I got nearer, I spied a path up the dunes and it seemed so much closer. I pulled in, parked, and began a swift ascent up the trail.

Only it wasn’t so swift. If you’ve ever climbed up a mountain of sand, you’ll understand. It was 38-degrees when I parked, and I was wearing heavy winter boots + more than 20-lbs on my back. I was sweating before I inched over the first leg of the journey, not a quarter-mile in. I eyed the giant bowl in the dunes, and caught my breath for a second while taking an iPhone pano:
Spoiler: The top of that rise is not the top at all.

Then I continued the hike. The first bit wasn’t so bad, as it was down and then gently up. But then I really started to climb. My steps got closer, and my legs caught fire. My breath grew ragged as the cold air froze my lungs and I tasted copper. I considered how much easier the ascent would be without my gear – much – but then why go?

Look at my steps near the bottom of the photo! And see those two shrubs just to the right of the trail? They’re the same ones on the left side of the trail in the pano above.
Eventually, after a few false dawns, I arrived at the top. You know what I did then? I descended a little, because the view was better.

Celestial Imperatives

Looking down from near the top. Mom – this is where I stopped to take a photo and you were talking about Uncle Dick stocking up on pudding :)


On August 2, several rounds of fierce summer storms swept through northern Michigan. We won’t talk about how I didn’t get out in time for the really awesome photos of one of the rounds of storms (not that I’m still upset about missing my opportunity or anything). Ninety mile-per-hour winds accompanied the last round that rolled through, with several notable downdrafts. The storm is reported to have been the worst one the area has seen in at least 25 years.

We got lucky, losing only a few small limbs off our trees, but nearby areas did not fare so well. Today, we decided to hike one of the still-closed trails, taking the signs as more of a “you can’t sue us if you get hurt” warning.

The trail started off mostly clear, though we could see huge sections of forest on either side that had been laid over by the winds. Soon, though, we came across more substantial devastation.


Not long thereafter, our trail was lost entirely to a labyrinth of trunks and branches. We scrabbled on for a bit – finally turning back after a minor mishap that separated group like we were in a scary movie. (We all made it back to the car safely, though not entirely unscathed.)

It is sobering to see the tops snapped off huge trees and to see so many uprooted. It’s haunting to see trees fractured near the base of their trunks, and to see the scrapes the trees collected as they crashed to their deaths amid their longstanding peers.

On a lighter note, just before we rejoined the trail, we came across a fledgling squirrel. The tiny thing wasn’t moving well enough to run away from us, but it didn’t seem hurt either. Petey was super curious, so we allowed him to approach slowly. He jumped back every time the baby squirrel twitched at all, but he gently sniffed it, and then we went on our way.


Whoever said pit bulls are inherently dangerous obviously never met this one.

Meeting Strange Men at Night

That’s where I’ve been.

Really where I’ve mostly been is buried in work. Re-launching a major product at work, which required a major work shift as my normal pile of stuff continued to mound up, has meant that I’ve been badly behind since April. I’m still not entirely caught up, but I’m close enough and it feels good! I’ve even started to visit blogs again, and that feels even better :)
(Are you feeling nerdy and want to know what I sound like and perhaps what I do for a day job? Part of that re-launch included me creating tutorial videos, etc. for the new product roll-out. Feel free to have a look/listen if you’re feeling especially bored ;) )

iPhone collage of some of our recent moody skies

But, I lured you here on the promise of seamy intrigue, and so:

The other day, one of my Flickr buddies, Aaron, posted a cool photo of a shipwreck. Thinking it might’ve been the one we hiked to last summer, I inquired about its location. The short version is: “Yes it’s the same shipwreck, and would you like to shoot together sometime?” To which I replied: “Sure! I have no idea who you are besides some Ephemeral Internet Person, this sounds like a great idea! Let me grab the bear spray!” We hashed out a plan to keep an eye toward the weather, and – naturally – meet up for some star time.

We’ve been having a rather Pacific Northwest-like summer, so when yesterday brought both clear skies and a new moon, I contacted Aaron and another visiting photographer friend (who we bumped into while walking Petey the other morning – she’s in the area from her home northern Illinois), and we settled on a loose plan. Golden hour rolled around, and the three of us met up in the parking lot behind the maritime museum in Glen Haven.

Star trails over Sleeping Bear Point

We hiked between the poison ivy vines and over the dunes, and landed on a stretch of Lake Michigan shoreline that we called home for the next few hours. The conditions weren’t as idyllic as we had imagined they would be, but we had such a nice time together – chatting over image creating, thoughts on editing, funny stories. Landscape photographers, preferring the company of Mother Nature over fellow humans, tend to be loners. I’m no different, but for a few hours, it was nice being among friends – even new friends who feel like old friends thanks to a shared passion. I didn’t even bring the bear spray ;)

The iconic DH Day Barn under stars and light pollution

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.

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.

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…