Trolling the U.P.

Hold onto your lederhosen; it’s about to get photo-happy in here! (All of which you can click to embiggen 🙂 )

Last week, Tony and I took Friday off of work and went gallivanting in the Upper Peninsula. We got a bit of a late start, on account of having double-booked ourselves Thursday evening. We arrived at our hotel around 2am, but were happily eating pasties (pass-tees) for breakfast the next morning. (As long as it’s before noon, it counts as morning, right?)

On previous trips to the Yoop ( = U.P. … Upper Peninsula), we’ve both hiked and driven like banshees. This time, we determined we’d have a more sensible trip. We picked out a few waterfalls scattered throughout Alger County to visit. We stopped at Alger Falls (not pictured), Wagner Falls (above on right), Au Train Falls (below on left), Laughing Whitefish Falls (the big set that follows), Scott Falls (no water…not pictured), and Tannery Falls (last one before the star shot).

The super-bright skies made for harsh lighting, but that’s the last you’ll hear me complain. Fall color was very pretty, though not quite peak, and the weather was to-die-for. Okay, I exaggerate. But seriously, it was in the 70’s and 80’s all last week. It was 45, windy, and rainy today.

We stopped at various places along our waterfall route, basking in the summer-in-fall, and simply enjoyed the trip. One of us gets a bit goal-oriented, especially when it comes to tracking down the perfect photo. Ahem.

Just for fun, before calling it a night, we dropped by the famous Miners Castle overlook. It’s stunningly beautiful, but almost a mundane sight as it is the Pictured Rocks shot. Still, it’s always worth a visit. Two in our case, as the aurora came out to dance after the sun went to bed.

Content with our gallery of waterfalls, we opted for a longer hike on Saturday along the Pictured Rocks escarpment. Going in a touch better informed than the first time (when we hiked around 12 miles instead of what we thought was less than half that), we headed to Grand Portal Point. I had a spot in my head that I wanted to revisit, which was somewhere near there.

Some other hikers shared the trails, but we still enjoyed mostly empty wilderness.

We walked along the cliffs perched above Lake Superior for about 5.5 miles, occasionally stopping for photos, before we arrived at my remembered destination. We chowed down on the pasties we packed for lunch, and then began the journey back.
Pictured Rocks escarpment pano

Even though we were closing in on 11 miles, we were still feeling great, and the sun was still high in the sky. We spoke to a ranger at Chapel Rock, who told us Spray Falls was about a mile-and-a-half away (but to tack on another half mile for the best view). We decided to go for it.
Pictured Rocks Chapel Beach

The falls – 2.2 miles away – fall thunderously over a 40-ft drop directly into the lake. Next time we’ll aim for a morning arrival for better viewing, but how impressive is that? And did I stand in the river/creek near where it dropped off the edge? I’ll never tell.

Somehow, even though we knew we’d get back before dark, we ended up hiking the trail out with a swiftly sinking sun. No worries – we had dinner in hand shortly after dusk 🙂

Sunday morning, we awoke before the birds in hopes of some awesome sunrise shots over nearby inland lakes. Again, clear skies didn’t bring much interest, but the absolute stillness of the lakes was awe-inspiring.
Mocassin Lake pano
After our last excursion, we popped one last time into Muldoon’s for pumpkin pie pasties. Well, I got pumpkin pie. Tony probably got veggie or something reasonable. And then we were off to cross back under the bridge to rejoin our “troll” compatriots in the Lower Peninsula.

Back to Pictured Rocks

On our third morning in the U.P. we talked to a few locals regarding the government shutdown and what was going on with the park. After hearing that people on the cruises (These run on the Lake Superior shore along the escarpment, but are not actually in the park, so they were not shut down.) reported waving to folks inside the park at various overlooks, and that park rangers were giving warning tickets, we decided to venture in.

The Miners Castle overlook was the most seriously barricaded with a few widely spaced orange barrels and some broken tape marking the entrance. We shared the parking lot with another vehicle, but didn’t see any people associated with said vehicle. After admiring the view (of which I did not take photos because it was shrouded in morning shadows, but I did last year if you want a reminder – Miners Castle last August), we headed down the hill to Miners Beach.

We strolled in the untouched sand between the Miners River and the gently lapping waves of Lake Superior for half an hour before anyone joined us. Afterward, we drove further into the park’s interior for a shorter version of the hike we accidentally undertook last year.

Though the parking lot to our preferred trailhead was blocked, it was blocked in such a way as to indicate “Park over here and walk in.” So we followed the lead of other visitors and parked in the clearing just outside the cones.

Aside from an elderly couple we saw who had thrown in the towel on the muddy first part of the hike, we didn’t see another human the entire four hours we walked. Ensconced in clear blue skies, Technicolor leaves, and warm light, we hiked inside a caricature of autumn.

Also, I spotted lots of good mushrooms 😉

Our path loosely followed the Mosquito River (thankfully, a misnomer in October) as it wended toward the lake.

We took a moment in serious contemplation on the last bridge before we spilled onto the coast. Okay, so it wasn’t serious, but we did take a moment to enjoy our woodland surroundings.

Living in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, I forget sometimes that the rest of the state isn’t necessarily a sand box. Some of it has actually been mushed into sandstone that is spectacularly beautiful.

Perched on the banks where the river meets the lake, we munched on apples and trail mix in the surprising heat of the October sun.

By late afternoon, we were back in the car angling toward our final Pictured Rocks destination – a short hike at Sable Falls. Only about a quarter of a mile, this trail again follows a rather scenic little creek.

Whereas I was marginally disappointed by the abundant water in the Presque Isle River, the additional flow in the Sable River only enhanced the beauty (in my eyes) of the Sable Falls.

After snapping just the right number of photos of the river, I joined Tony and Meg on the rocky beach. We could’ve spent the rest of the afternoon wading and rock hunting/skipping, but decided to wrap up our trip so that we could stay awake for the car ride home.

So, Upper Peninsula excursion not as planned, but a success anyway. Hooray for spontaneity and adaptability! How about you? Any plans get derailed only to get rerailed better?

The Porkies Pay Off

After our morning stops, we arrived at the Porcupine Mountains State Park and prepared for a Lake of the Clouds hike. We tossed some health food (crackers, pepperoni, and highly cheese slices) and water in our packs and consulted a map. From a previous trip, we knew we wanted to see a few things in the park, so we opted for an out-and-back walk along the escarpment adjacent to the Lake of the Clouds instead of a giant loop.
Carp River - Porcupines

Fall color is a funny thing close to the lakeshore. Move inland just a bit and red and oranges abound. But near the coast, where the water moderates weather changes, and the leaves retain much of their green pigment.

Lake of the Clouds

I’m not sure what the winds were like elsewhere, but terrific gusts accompanied our trek. The trail meandered onto rocky outcroppings and through hardwood forest. The leaves overhead clattered, but the woods still seemed quiet by comparison to the blustery exposed trail.

The wind holds Meg up. You know how you can blow across the top of a bottle and make it whistle? I have a photo of Meg doing this same thing by turning her open mouth just so in the wind. I’m a decent friend, though, so I only shared it with her. But, seriously, it was windy.
Meg at Lake of the Clouds
Lake of the Clouds-2

At some point, we checked the time and decided to turn back so we could enjoy some different scenery. Not that this was hard on the eyes – we just had limited daylight and another hike beckoned.
Lake of the Clouds pano

After a wrong turn, we arrived at the southwestern end of the park in late afternoon. The normally tame Presque Isle River roared with input from recent rains. I had looked forward to playing in the riverbed, but I didn’t struggle to enjoy this unexpected change in scenery.

We arrived on the shores of Lake Superior in the golden hour before sunset. Should we stay to watch the show, or head back on the other side of the river while there’s still sun to light the trail? Sunset.
sunset promise

awash in gold

Tony and Meg sidled up to a piece of driftwood, and I wandered around with my camera.
best seat in the houseLake Superior Sunset
liquid and gold

Lake Superior Sunset-4

We loitered on the beach until only the last vestiges of light remained, safe in the knowledge that we could walk the nearby paved road back to the car.
Lake Superior Sunset-3

We snacked on the remains of our healthy munchies in full dark before beginning the long drive back to Munising. As we crossed back into cell phone territory, our phones all chimed with missed notifications – the kind of thing you generally ought to ignore when you’re with real people. But not when the notifications alert you to aurora, and you’re near the Lake Superior coast, and seeing the aurora is on your friend’s bucket list.

aurora over Lake Superior-2
aurora over Lake Superior-3

We didn’t catch the brightest showing of the lights on Lake Superior, but wrapped in fleece blankies among the gentle shoreline breezes, we enjoyed what we could see. And as my friend Carol says, that’s enough. More than enough, actually.

See the Big Dipper?
aurora over Lake Superior-4

If you want to check them out, many of these images are available larger and in much higher quality in my Upper Peninsula Flickr set.

Fudgies Head North

In no particular hurry last Monday, we tossed some hiking clothes and toiletries into our suitcases and departed for a quick trip to the U.P. sometime around 11:00am – which just happened to coincide perfectly with a Petoskey lunch at Polish Kitchen. Since Polish food (at least what we ordered) is sleepy comfort food, and because it takes only the barest of excuses, we wandered across the street to grab coffee before climbing back aboard for our northerly voyage.

shaggy manesOur route took us up the coast, along Michigan’s locally-famed Tunnel of Trees. A gorgeous drive at any time of year, it’s particularly pretty in fall. Because it’s perched directly above the lake, the color comes late to the Tunnel, but gold is creeping into the leaves. Even if it weren’t one doesn’t need fall color to enjoy the sweeping views high above Lake Michigan.

As we neared the Tip of the Mitt (for those of you from afar: that’s the top of Michigan’s lower peninsula, which is sort of shaped like a mitten), we hopped out to stretch our legs (and perhaps find an appropriate repository for the processed coffee) at Wilderness State Park. Sure, there’s a lovely beach there, but did you see those mushrooms? 😉

We made another stop on the south side of the Mackinac Bridge in Mackinaw City. Aside from the bridge and Fort Michilimackinac, Mackinaw City basically consists of hotels, flavored popcorn, and fudge. We left the hotels and popcorn behind (though I can attest that the Oreo popcorn is far better than it looks), but did pick up some fudge.

Mackinac Bridge – can be embiggened
Mackinac Bridge - storm front

Meg giving a clinic on how never to grow up 🙂

Views while crossing the bridge. Just pretend that those spots from my polarizing filter aren’t visible in the upward looking shot.

We were officially in the U.P., but still had many miles to go. Even on the deserted northern Michigan highways, we expected to be driving for two more hours, which is just too much in one go when you’re transporting a badly jet-lagged friend. (If you didn’t catch yesterday’s blog, Meg flew in from Maui the previous night.) So once more, we hopped out of the car at a pretty place and played for a few minutes before finishing up our driving for the evening.

Cut River Bridge. A trail goes all the way down to the lake, but we stayed up top.

Autumn color is (or at least was a week ago) exploding in the central part of the U.P. Unrelated outbursts about trees and hillsides and the general fall beauty that enveloped us amusingly punctuated our conversations. Soon enough, we were in Wetmore – practically to our destination – and since the evening was fading, we stopped once more to take advantage of the remaining light.

Alger Falls
Alger Falls

It’s at this point that we learned an interesting thing. You see, the tiny Mackinac Island reportedly exports over 10,000-lbs of fudge a day (it’s not open to tourists year-round). We’re just not that into fudge, so I didn’t understand this, but I know it’s a thing because locals often call tourists fudgies…which according to Urban Dictionary are tourists

to the northern lower, or eastern upper peninsula of Michigan, especially the Mackinac area. Often these tourist are from lower parts of Michigan, and are usually on vacation “up north”. The name “fudgie” comes from the fact that many of these tourist like to spend lots of time in the many fudge shops in northern Michigan.

I just didn’t know of any. Until Meg joined us. That skinny lady in the above photos ate half a pound of fudge in the two hours it took us to get to Munising! I’ll leave you to decide whether her 2:00am bedtime was a result of the jet-lag or the sugar overload.

Post sunset lavender, seen from a few steps west of our bay-facing room
Sunset Motel sunset

Keweenaw Harbors and Other UP Sweet Spots

Since I’ve already posted nearly 2,000 words about our UP trip, I’m going to wrap it up here, mostly in pictures.

Saturday we made our best attempts to see the lighthouses at the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula. We had decided that we would not be adventuring, but would take photos from the car. We shoulda known better. Our very first stop we decided it would be a great idea to scramble out on the massive mountains/shelf of ice on Lake Superior. We were in no danger of falling into the lake. Which is not to say we were in no danger of falling. Continue reading