Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Ghost Forest

Photo below by Andrea

A fascinating place to visit while hiking lies within Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Located in the northwestern part of Michigan's Lower Peninsula, Sleeping Bear Dunes is home to beautiful beaches, historic lighthouses, wilderness camping, spectacular views of ocean-like Lake Michigan, miles of rolling sand dunes, and dozens of trails. Sleeping Bear Point Trail is particularly interesting because it is where the Ghost Forest appears to unsuspecting hikers.

The sand that makes up the landscape of the Sleeping Bear area is constantly moving. This phenomenon is not necessarily noticeable from one day to the next, but year after year the tiny quartz grains shift little by little. Constant winds blow off of Lake Michigan causing the dunes to migrate and expand, and for new dunes to grow.

Over time, the drifting and accumulating sand will bury whatever is in its path. This is true for man-made structures such as the U.S. Life-Saving Station (now a maritime museum) which had to be moved in the 1930s due to encroaching sand, and natural objects such as trees.

When migrating sand moves into a wooded area, it gradually engulfs and kills the trees. As the years pass and the sand continues on its journey, the trees are eventually uncovered. Those that manage to remain standing appear as ghosts – dead, white, and stripped of their branches.

A group of ghost trees haunts Sleeping Bear Point Trail somewhere around the halfway point and is a captivating sight especially if one is not anticipating such an encounter.

These trees once lived happy forest lives but were killed, perhaps hundreds of years ago, when westerly winds blew across Lake Michigan and slowly buried their woodland home in sand. Who knows how long these enduring phantoms will remain, wraith-like as they withstand the elements, surprising innocent hikers and plotting their revenge...

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Snowshoeing In Metro Detroit

Stony Creek MetroparkThe Metro Detroit area is roughly bordered by Huron River to the south and west, and Clinton River to the northeast. Following these rivers and including Southeast Michigan's five major counties, Wayne, Oakland, Macombe, Livingston, and Washtenaw, a park system provides recreation opportunities year-round.

The Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority was created in 1940 to provide residents of Southeast Michigan opportunities to enjoy the outdoors within a relatively short driving distance. To this end, thirteen Metroparks were developed and serve to protect the area's natural resources.

The HCMA believe their efforts “are guided by the belief that the use of parks and exposure to natural environments enhance society's health and quality of life.” I was very happy to discover the existence of this park system a few years ago, primarily for winter activities.This part of Michigan typically doesn't receive a large amount of snow (so far this season is proving to be a wonderful exception), but when a storm does comes through and blankets the region with a nice layer of fresh white powder, it's great to have a few decent trails within an hour's drive.

So far I have only explored two of the Metroparks, Kensington and Stony Creek, which also happen to be the largest at over 4300 acres each. Last Sunday, following a whopper of a snowstorm that lasted the entire day before, I drove to Stony Creek Metropark in northern Oakland County with my snowshoes, camera, camelbak, and, of course, kleenex. It's such a bummer to forget that cold air makes the nose run and not come prepared.

After paying the $4 entrance fee, I drove north very slowly on the snow-covered road that winds through the park past a golf course to the west (presently used for cross-country skiing), a fitness trail, and several designated picnic areas along the east shore of Stony Creek Lake. The lake is fed by Stony Creek and has three distinct segments; the southernmost is the largest and the center of activity at the park. The middle section hosts a few stray picnic areas, and the northern section exists within a quiet nature study area where activity is limited to hiking or mountain biking. This was my destination. The nature center at Stony Creek provides interpretive displays showcasing the area's natural points of interest and is home base for a handful of trails that wind through this section of the park. I chose the East Lake Trail which is a small network of four connected trails along the eastern shore of Upper Stony Creek Lake. On the western shore, Osprey Trail loops through an area which was part of an osprey re-introduction program that began in the late 90's.

Because of the heavy snowfall the previous day, the mixed forest surrounding Stony Creek was so serene that I couldn't help but smile as I looked around. I thought I would stumble upon the secret entrance to Narnia at any moment. I spent a very peaceful two to three hours walking through the arresting wint
er woods. The trail loop is only around 3 miles long, but when practically everything I see begs to be photographed, progress tends to be very slow.

I am very much looking forward to exploring more of the trails within the Metroparks in my area. As I write this, another day's worth of snow is accumulating outside making this weekend another prime opportunity.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Ice Storm of Yore

A couple of years ago in January, Southeast Michigan was hit with an awesome ice storm. Even though it is a bit sad to see many trees damaged by the force of the ice, the scenery created is so beautiful that it is difficult to avoid falling in love with the sparkling aftermath.
I was working in the Ann Arbor area at the time and during the days that the ice was present, my commute was treacherous due to everyone's eyes (including my own) focusing on everything but the road. The diamond encrusted trees along the way transformed the normally boring 45-minute stretch of concrete into a gleaming crystal highway.I spent a few hours ("visiting clients") walking along the Huron River through Gallup Park and Furstenberg Nature Area marveling at this amazing frozen world - a situation that obviously made it impossible for me to work on that particular day. Projects and clients would still be around tomorrow; I couldn't say the same for the ice with any certainty, so my priorities were clear.Although it was mid-January and winter was well underway, a few trees still had their leaves including an Oak whose leaves had turned bright orange instead of the typical brown during the past fall. Suspended in a clear icy coating, they shone in the bright sun and made me wish I had come better prepared for taking photos.A few swans and mallard ducks braved the chilly water of Geddes Pond as I crossed the adjacent bridge and slowly followed the slippery path through the woods along the north bank of the river.
The ice encapsulating grasses, bushes, branches, berries, and leaves gave a distorted look to everything around me. Buds and leaves seemed magnified, and scenes like the one below gave me the impression of watercolor paintings due to the surreal quality the coat of ice gave everything.I returned to this park the following day but the temperature had warmed up just enough to begin the melting process and it just wasn't the same. The ice storm's time had passed but I was very happy to have been able to enjoy it while it lasted.