Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Hartwick Pines State Park

In the late 1920s, 8000 acres of land near Grayling in Michigan's Lower Peninsula were donated to the state as a memorial park. Included in this land were 85 acres of old growth white pine, which had been spared during Michigan's booming logging industry days. Only 49 acres of this original growth forest remain today as a fierce wind storm destroyed nearly half of these massive trees in 1940.
Interpretive displays at the park visitor center tell the story of the park and surrounding Au Sable River Valley. Trails leaving from the visitor center wind through the park allowing hikers to observe maple, beech, oak, birch, hemlock, and red and white pine trees. The Old Growth Trail loops through its namesake stand of 300-400 year old white pine.When I arrived at the park after leaving Wyandotte Lodge, the morning continued to be cold and crisp. I was thankful for the hat and gloves I had thrown in the car at the last minute. Although the early October weather had been warm and sunny so far, this could change at any minute and I had to bundle up as I set out to walk through the forest. The sunny sky above the tree canopy shone a bright blue, but the thick covering of leaves did not allow much warmth to penetrate to the forest floor. Patterns of light and shadow on the green, yellow, and orange leaves created a beautiful display as I walked through the cold and quiet woods.Trails throughout the park are open year round and some are groomed in winter for cross country skiing. Despite the beautiful fall day, I began to experience the onset of Winter Fever. Another old growth stand of pines can be found in the Upper Peninsula in Tahquamenon Falls State Park, and I had the pleasure of snowshoeing the Giant Pines Trail a few years ago after a beautiful snowfall. Hartwick Pines State Park would be another ideal place to visit during the cold months for an undoubtedly stunning winter hiking experience.

Also observed along the Old Growth Trail is Chapel Of The Pines: a log Chapel built in 1953. The tiny but beautiful Chapel sneaks up on you as you curve through the forest and is a fun diversion from the trail. Inside, below the structure's most dominant feature – a large cross-shaped window – visitors can read “Nature's Prayer”: a plea for guidance in protecting our natural heritage.

The last stop before returning to the visitor center (or the first depending upon your direction of travel) is the Logging Museum. Two log structures were built in the 1930s to display exhibits and artifacts from a time in Michigan's history where the log industry generated more money than all the gold extracted during California's gold rush. One building houses tools, photographs, and displays showing how the trees were cut and moved from the forest to the Au Sable River which was used as a highway to transport the huge logs. The other building shows how loggers lived in a typical Michigan logging camp. On the grounds surrounding these two buildings one can observe various pieces of old equipment used to cut and transport felled trees.

Hartwick Pines State Park is located just northeast of Grayling, close to I-75. The park and visitor center are open year-round; the Logging Museum is closed November-April.

October 2008: Fall Color In The L.P.

Part 3: Back on the RoadA sparkling layer of frost covered the ground when I woke up the next morning and walked out onto the back deck of Wyandotte Lodge. The Au Sable River flowed quietly as the sun rose behind me in the east and began to illuminate the tops of trees that were just beginning to turn color. My breath fogged around me in the cold air – my favorite kind of morning. I imagined the scene would be really beautiful in a week or so. I always seem to have trouble timing this fall color thing.After dining on one of the best omelets I've ever eaten (the owner of Wyandotte Lodge is a retired science teacher-turned construction worker who also dabbles in cooking) I hit the road heading west toward Hartwick Pines State Park - the subject of the next post.
Unfortunately, most of the growth here was young, but these short, new trees were bursting with color. I pulled over several times to photograph bright red and yellow oak leaves, and to wait for wild turkeys to cross the road and waddle around in the tall brown grass completely unimpressed with my presence.

October 2008: Fall in the L.P.

Part Two: Old Mission PeninsulaThe tip of Old Mission Peninsula sits at the 45th parallel: a latitude shared with Bordaux, France which gives it the distinction of being near the heart of Michigan's wine country.Known for its cherry and apple orchards, vineyards, and a handful of wineries, this narrow finger of land makes for a scenic and leisurely fall drive. I stopped to take a look at a few of the orchards (some of which have a U-pick policy at certain times) but the extremely windy conditions of the day made it difficult to get many good photos.
Cherry season was long over, but apple season was in full swing and many types of apples are grown in this region. Local growers operating roadside produce stands are prevalent in this part of Michigan and I took advantage of this, buying a few enormous Honeycrisp apples which ended up as my dinner once I got back on the road later and didn't feel like stopping to eat.

On the peninsula, one can shop for supplies and food (including locally-grown canned items) at Old Mission General Store which has been around since the mid-1800s. A tiny white schoolhouse from the same era is also still operational nearby. Driving all the way to the tip of the peninsula brought me to Old Mission Lighthouse. Built in 1870, the light helped guide ships around the rocky point once shipping in the area had grown significantly. A log home built in the 1850s by early settlers sits in the woods just west of the lighthouse. Historically speaking, Old Mission Peninsula has many interesting things to offer.

Heading south and back down the peninsula, I stopped at Ogdensburg Cemetary to crunch through the fallen leaves and view old headstones from the 1800s. Nearby, the vineyard of Chateau Grand Traverse Winery provided a striking vista stretching out from the road toward a stand of forest in the early stages of fall color and the blue water of West Grand Traverse Bay.

Overall, fall color was not yet at its height here due to the proximity of Lake Michigan and Grand Traverse Bay. I always forget that it tends to stay a bit warmer (although it may not feel like it) along the lakeshore because large bodies of water retain the heat they absorb during summer. This phenomenon causes the fall season to extend a bit longer.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

October 2008: Fall in the L.P.

Part One: The Drive NorthI decided to take two days, travel north a few hours, and hopefully see some nice fall color. Planning any kind of color viewing in Michigan can be tricky as any slight change in the temperamental weather can speed up or delay the color changes. Since our weather has been very warm over the last month, I waited until the second weekend in October to venture out.
I drove north to Grayling, then headed west toward Traverse City intending to complete a circuit which would include a trip up Old Mission Peninsula – a narrow strip of land running North and South that bisects Grand Traverse Bay and is known for its orchards. The following day would be spent at Hartwick Pines State Park in the morning before heading back home.About an hour and a half or so south of Grayling, the color along I-75 started to explode. I admit to being a very bad driver for some of this trip because of all the rubbernecking required to ogle the trees. No matter how many autumn seasons I've enjoyed, I will never be able to get enough fall color. It amazes me.I picked up lunch at Grayling Restaurant – that day's special: Hot turkey sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy. It was a very windy but relatively warm and sunny day so I decided to eat outside at Au Sable Park. The parks sits on a narrow stretch of the Au Sable River near a couple of canoe liveries.Heading west on M-72 I stopped to photograph a really cool abandoned barn and house in a big empty field of knee-high grass. Unfortunately I am still kicking myself for being a complete sissy and scaring myself out of getting a good look inside the barn. I approached the torn-out section and got a brief glimpse of what was probably lots of interesting stuff inside but retreated once horror movie images of things that could happen in abandoned barns in the middle of nowhere assaulted my brain.

The house next door was basically demolished inside and all its windows were gone. What happens to places like this and why have they been vacant but still standing for so long? After struggling to keep my tripod and camera still in the high wind I returned to the car to find that another person had pulled off the road to photograph the barn as well.

Backpacking Grand Island National Recreation Area:

Day Four: Trout Bay to Williams Landing

On day four we found ourselves ahead of schedule. We had planned to spend 2 nights in the North Point area so that we could have a day of relaxation and enjoy the beach. However, since the campsites weren't overlooking the water, we had decided to move on. Now that we had a perfect beach campsite, we needed to decide whether to stay on Trout Bay another night or to finish up on the fourth day. Williams Landing and the ferry dock were only around 5 miles away, and we didn't really see the point in packing up and staying at another campsite along that route for our final night since the Little Dune sites were so good. I voted to stay put and spend the day reading on the beach with periodic breaks to go swimming or nap in the tent. Craig is more stir crazy and wasn't sure if he could relax all day without getting bored. In the end, we compromised and planned to spend an unhurried morning eating breakfast, drinking coffee, relaxing, and eventually leave for Williams Landing around noon.

Just as we started to break camp, I spotted a couple of backpackers making their way down the boardwalk with the look of hoping against hope that our site was available. We occupied the last one, and we knew everything else was full. Upon spotting me, the woman's shoulders sagged and she turned to her male companion who pulled out a map and looked depressed. Remembering how Craig and I felt the day before, after trudging all the way to this very place, I ran over to let them know that we were clearing out and the site was theirs. They nearly cried and immediately dropped their packs and set off for the shore. A half-hour later we waved goodbye to the couple on the beach and began the last leg of our trip.

Unfortunately, we had to walk back down that stretch of road which was unprotected from the sun, now high in the sky and beating on our heads. While making our way down the road with our heads down, a shadow suddenly floated across the trail in front of
us. We both looked up in time to see a magnificent bald eagle soar directly over us just above the tree line. I missed this perfect photographic opportunity because for once I did not have my camera in hand. The eagle was a beautiful sight, gliding silently against the clear blue sky, and it's presence brightened the slightly boring stretch of trail.
The trail curves sharply south and runs past Duck Lake - a small inland lake with a viewing platform – before reaching Murray Bay Beach which features picnic areas for day use and campsites for overnight stays. Various historic sites grabbed our attention along the shore of Murray Bay. The Stone Quarry Cabin, built in 1845, is one of the oldest standing structures on Lake Superior and was home to various workers such as stone cutters in Michigan's early history.

It is near this spot that we encountered the largest pile of bear scat we have ever seen. The size of a small mountain, it held evidence of a diet of berries and seemed fresh. Would we be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the undoubtedly huge fellow who released this impressive bomb? Did we really want to? Was he, right at that moment, hiding behind a tree and watching the ridiculous humans gawk at his excrement, wondering how we made it to the top of the food chain? We looked around nervously but saw no sign of a large omnivore lingering to receive praise for his accomplishment.

Further south we passed the decrepit remains of tennis courts which used to be part of a resort operated by an iron mining company in the early 1900s. The main hotel is gone, but some of the cottages still remain and are privately owned.

Once back at Williams Landing, we again encountered the forest service volunteers from the day before and chatted about our trip while waiting for the ferry that would return us to Munising. When the boat reached the dock, it unloaded a new group of visitors including a couple of backpackers with their dog who was suited up with her own pack.

We nearly broke down on the water when a huge tree branch that had been floating in the bay lodged itself in the pontoon boat's motor causing us to stall halfway to shore. Thinking fondly of showers and whitefish sandwiches, we returned to town and spent a few days relaxing before beginning the long drive home.