Eben Ice Cave

Eben Ice Cave.  The cave is formed as melting and seeping groundwater trickles over a rock overhang and freezes.  This cold winter was great for ice formation!

Eben Ice Cave. The cave is formed as melting and seeping groundwater trickles over a rock overhang and freezes. This cold winter was great for ice formation!

This winter, everyone was talking about the Lake Superior ice caves up in Bayfield, Wisconsin.  I thought about going, even tentatively planned to go, and then it got so popular that they were seeing crowds of 10,000 or more on the weekends!  I visited the Apostle Islands last summer, and had had the opportunity to kayak out to those “sea caves” in a small group.  I thought that it would be pretty neat to see them frozen, but that the huge crowds might detract from my enjoyment of wild nature.  Of course, if this weather keeps up, the big lake will stay frozen all summer and I’ll get to go see them in July…  just kidding!

Instead of making the three-hour drive to Bayfield, I took a 1.5-hour trip to Eben, Michigan, in the Upper Peninsula, south of Munising.  There is a rock overhang there surrounded by seeps which turns into an “ice cave” of its own every winter.  On the day we visited (slightly warmer than average for this winter), there were maybe 150 other people there while we were, including the half-mile hike in and out.  It was quite windy and lightly snowing, which meant that this 3/4 mile through the woods was infinitely more pleasant that a half mile out on the open ice of Lake Superior would have been!  The cave itself included spectacular formations, and was well worth the visit!

From the inside, looking out

From the inside, looking out

These kids have obviously been exploring the Eben Ice Cave for quite a while!

These kids have obviously been exploring the Eben Ice Cave for quite a while!



I love these falls of ice seeping out from the wall under the overhang!

I love these falls of ice seeping out from the wall under the overhang!



The cave is on public land, but within a federally-designated wilderness area, which means no motorized use is allowed. The access is on private land, thanks to a generous landowner.  From the tiny town of Eben, small signs point the way to the parking lot.  Someone, perhaps the landowner or perhaps the Forest Service, had set up portable toilets for the crowds to use, and a donation box for them, and there was a small private concession stand in the parking area as well.  The first part of the walk parallels the snowmobile trail across an open farm field, and after that it enters the Hiawatha National Forest, Rock River Wilderness.

The ice at the very top of these interior seeps was clear enough to see through like glass

The ice at the very top of these interior seeps was clear enough to see through like glass

More ice forming...

More ice forming…

These stalactites of frost grew off the ceiling of the cave

These stalactites of frost grew off the ceiling of the cave

National Forest Wilderness Areas are intended to be managed free of human input, so no vegetation management (eg: timber harvest, trail clearing) is allowed, and there are no facilities for those recreating in the area.  For me, this makes for an ideal adventure.  There were plenty of down trees for my dog to jump over and under, side trails to explore (if the snow weren’t so deep…), steep ravines, and old-growth trees.  It is a beautiful hike, but will take some effort!  Snowshoes are likely to be unnecessary, since the trail is so well-packed, especially on weekends.  Ice cleats (or commercial ice-walking grips) are highly recommended… but we didn’t have them and didn’t feel that we needed them, either.  [Note to readers: three weeks ago I slipped on ice and broke my leg, so I advise that you do as I say, not as I do!]

Check out that slippery floor!  It was awesome to get to walk around among these formations!

Check out that slippery floor! It was awesome to get to walk around among these formations!


Still Winter

It has been warm for the past few days, but today snow fell again, to remind us that winter hasn’t let go just yet.  I’m getting antsy for spring to begin, but in the meantime I’ll continue to showcase the joys of the winter wonderland we live in, here in the frozen North.

A couple of weeks ago, I took a morning to go cross-country skiing on a trail system I’d never visited before, in Niagara, WI.  Afterwards, I headed across the river to Michigan to hike the trail in to Piers Gorge, and check out some more frozen waterfalls.  I thought I’d share some of the experiences of that day.

IMG_0056The trails in Riverside Park feature 17 winding km of groomed classic skiing.  Despite living only 20 miles away, I hadn’t even known that this trail netweek existed, until I went onto SkinnySki to look for some new adventures.  I highly recommend that site for information about trails near home or in unfamiliar locations, at least in the upper Midwest.  The trails lead through some pretty scenery, from IMG_0053recent aspen clear-cuts and red pine plantations, to fields, spruce swamps, marshes, and riverfront.  There are some hills, but most of the terrain is flat (in the Menominee River floodplain), or rolling at best.  Despite being just outside of town, it feels like skiing in more remote parts of the Northwoods (which I’ll get to in later posts).  My only criticism is that it could use some maps.  There are a lot of loops, most of which eventually connect up at some point, but it would have been nicer to have been able to plan the journey better.

A view of the frozen Menominee River from a spur of the Riverside Trails in Niagara, WI

A view of the frozen Menominee River from a spur of the Riverside Trails in Niagara, WI


IMG_0074Though tired from skiing, I wanted to see how some of the more turbulent portions of the river were looking in frozen condition.  I crossed over into Norway, MI, and hiked up the snowy trail to Piers Gorge.  It is beautiful in any season, and this was no exception.  It’s hard to capture the intricacies of the ice buildup without more sunlight to provide contract… which should be an excuse for you to come and visit it yourself sometime!IMG_0078









IMG_0272While I’m on the subject of frozen waterfalls, I saw a beautiful one the other day!  On a whim, I drove up to Bond Falls, a spectacular multi-level falls on the Ontonogan River near Paulding, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  It is located within the boundaries of the Ottawa National Forest, but the park facilities are managed by the Upper Peninsula Power Company, which operates the dam just upstream, and designated by the Michigan DNR as a State Scenic Site.  None of that matters much to the casual visitor though – we are more impressed by the scope of the falls – a 50′ cumulative drop and over twice that wide at the bottom!


Though it’s been quite cold at night, it has been warming up enough during the days to keep most of the ice off the face of the falls.  There was still a lot of accumulation from the spray, and in more slowly-moving sections, which was impressive in itself.


It had gotten cloudy on the drive over, but a few rays of sun came out for about two minutes, and I got some great shots of the spray hitting the walls of ice at the bottom.


In fact, one of the best parts about this falls was how slowly it moved.  As a result, there were many small currents and eddies to see, and the rock was mostly visible under the clear water, without clouds of foam and bubbles to obscure it.


In one section, it was clear that some concrete structures had been added , both to shore up the banks of the river, and within the bed of the river/falls itself.  We speculated that it might be intended to slow the water down for safety, or to enhance the appearance of the waterfall (unlikely to be done IMG_0301nowadays but a common enough practice earlier in our history).  We figured that it must be somehow related to the dam near the top of the cascades, but couldn’t quite figure out how.  It piqued my curiosity, and I did a little research.  It turns out that, when the dam that created the Bond Falls Flowage was built, all the water from the natural river was engineered to go through the power dam, and the falls actually dried up in some seasons, so they had to divert water back in order to make it keep flowing.  Since it flowed more slowly than before, with lower water volume, they put in the structures along the banks to keep all the water IMG_0386heading to the main falls, and the structures in the river for the sake of appearance.





On a warmer day, I could have sat on the banks and just watched for hours as the water poured over the IMG_0291rocks, pooling here, flowing there, turning around and seeming to flow back up hill before rushing over another ledge.  Of course, on a warmer day there would have been crowds of people there to change the experience.   This is by no means a “wild” falls – not only has it been slightly domesticated by the structures explained above, but the viewers are “tamed” as well, constrained the a wooden boardwalk at the bottom (offering excellent views while keeping everyone safe) and handrails on the trail up along the river (useful on the steep sections and to remind the foolhardy not to step closer to the rushing water).  However, given its history it might not exist at all, had someone not recognized its value and kept it flowing strong for the rest of us!



Five Months Later… A Different World


A couple of weeks ago, I went back to Pictured Rocks to see the spectacles blanketed in snow and ice. Munising, MI had gotten quite a bit of snow, compared

Miner's Falls Road, Munising, MI

Miner’s Falls Road, Munising, MI

to points just a little farther inland, but even so it was nowhere near the potential for that area in late winter. “Lake effect” snow falls on the band of land along the Great Lakes, a result of slightly elevated temperature and moisture content, as well as air currents. Munising’s average annual snowfall is around 152″.  I don’t know exactly what the snow depth was on March 3rd, when I was there, but I would estimate around 2′ or slightly more. Today, Munising comes in at 34″ on the ground; the deepest snow depth ever recorded for Marquette, just down the road, on March 15th, was 63″and today they’re at about 20″- so we’d have a long way to go this year. Still, I was less interested in exploring the snow than the ice – frozen water at its finest covering the largest lake in the world and its surrounding waterfalls.
I only had a couple hours between when I arrived and when the sun was scheduled to set. I stopped in at the Interagency Visitor’s Center, and the woman at the desk said that the best waterfall to see would be Miner’s Falls, but that the road was only plowed part of the way in. The rest, she said, was used as a snowmobile trail, and it would be a two mile hike down it to the falls. At least that was how I understood it… reality turned out to be a little different, with the full hike to the falls over 3 miles. The snowmobile “trail, ” too was more heavily-used than I’d expected. It was really a road, long and straight, and as I hiked along the edge, snow machines came whizzing by at over 60 mph, stirring up a mist of snow and leaving an acrid exhaust in their wake. I was happy to finally turn off onto the side road to the falls after 40 minutes of trudging anxiously alongside them.

Snowdrifts in the woods on the hike to Miner's Falls -almost as striking as the waterfall itself!

Snowdrifts in the woods on the hike to Miner’s Falls -almost as striking as the waterfall itself!

I got to Miners Falls as the sun was setting, so I didn’t have much time to explore, just to stand in the observation area and shoot a few photos. The formations of ice and snow on the falls, the frozen river, and the trail’s ridge were beautiful and amazing!

Miner's Falls and Miner's River, viewed from above

Miner’s Falls and Miner’s River, viewed from above



When I got back out to the snowmobile road, it was getting dark, and the traffic had slowed considerably – in fact only one group of four sleds passed me on my walk back to the car. By the time I arrived, full dark had set in, and the stars had come out in the peaceful cold stillness of the Upper Peninsula. Miner’s Falls is beautiful in winter, but I’m not sure it is worth the hike all the way in. However, snowmobile seems like an excellent way to explore the National Lakeshore in winter- you can access many sites in a day. Hiking out on the rugged lake ice (with plenty of windproof clothing!) would be a unique way to see the beautiful rock formations. There are far fewer people than in summer, and the austere light and colors of winter make for great photographs. I may just have to try renting a sled next year and seeing what I can find!


Lake Superior’s Shelter Bay, dotted in fishing shacks, with the beginning of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore to the northeast.

White Sand Beaches

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn a perfect fall weekend late last September, I found myself exploring the “North Coast” of Lake Superior at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  My chosen timing was a little bit of a crapshoot – it could have just as easily been 40 degrees and drizzling, as the sunny and high-in-the-60s that I got instead.  Unfortunately, that brought with it the complication of itinerary-planning.

At Pictured Rocks, as at many National Parks, backcountry camping is allowed only at designated sites, and only by permit.  Pictured Rocks is a day’s drive from both Chicago and Detroit, not to mention all the points between, so its 15 or so backcountry sites can be booked far in advance.  I figured that with my post-Labor Day travel, the sites wouldn’t all be reserved.  Though I wasn’t wrong about that, by the time I arrived at the Visitor’s Center late on Friday, the pickings were slim.   I had to scrap my initial plan, as the more popular sites had already filled up for all three of the nights I had planned to be there.  I wound up making a tour of the Beaver Basin Wilderness, a valley of inland lakes and maple-beech forest, and spending the bulk of the weekend in a less-busy area of lakeside cliffs.  I never really saw the eponymous “pictured rocks,” except from a distance, but got a good taste of the rugged beauty of the landscape.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI arrived at the Beaver Basin Overlook in the late afternoon, and met a group of bear hunters coming off the trail.  I couldn’t take long to chat, though, or to observe the fabulous view – I had four miles to go before the sun set!  I walked down an old road grade into the valley, and flushed a couple grouse in a grove of young aspen near the crossing of Lowney Creek.    I couldn’t stop by the babbling rapids, but pushed on, up a rise, and onto a broad plateau of maple woods.  This was the least interesting part of the walk, but it eventually transitioned into an older-growth forest, with large beech and yellow birch interspersed with knobby old sugar maples.  Finally the flat woods ended, and I began to push uphill – the end of my power-hike finally near!  I meandered along the increasingly-sandy trail, and the hemlocks that had transitioned into red pines became white and jack pines in turn.  The ostrich ferns and wildflowers wereOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA replaced with bracken ferns, blueberries, and short grasses.  Within moments I had gone from a northern mesic forest to a sand barren and finally to a north-facing cliff….where I arrived just in time to watch the sun set over Lake Superior!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

First view the next morning

First view the next morning

I spent that first night, as well as the second, at Pine Bluff campground, along with three other groups the first night, and only two the second.  I could hear

My campsite

My campsite

the waves crashing from my tent, but was sheltered enough from the wind.  There’s plenty of fresh water there, too… the only catch is you have to wade out waist deep in the big lake to get at it! So I waited in my tent until I was too warm in the morning, then I ran down there clothed in long underwear, clutching my water bottles and filter.  In late September, the lake is still pretty close to its high temperature for the year… but the air temperature has gone down a

Sevenmile Creek flowing into Lake Superior

Sevenmile Creek flowing into Lake Superior

bit.  After a few minutes of pumping my filter, trying to keep it under the waves but above the sand, I had a couple bottles of water, but couldn’t feel my toes anymore!  I ran back up the hill to get my blood moving, changed into dry clothes, and prepared for the day.  I hiked east to Sevenmile Creek, enjoyed lunch by the creek, and walked around on the beach.  The beaches looked tropical, with white sands and clear, bright blue water… but the winds were a good reminder of fall in The U.P.!    I filled up all of my water bottles in the creek and hiked them back to the campground… didn’t want to take another chilly dip that night!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Land of Clear Blue Waters!

Land of Clear Blue Waters!

The next day, I hiked westward towards the Coves campground, named for the numerous rocky inlets near it.  I took a couple of breaks along the way, one of whch was over an hour of lying on a sun-baked rock, reading a book in one of these sheltered nooks.  I got closer and closer to the outcrop of the pictured rocks, and though I never got all the way there,  I OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAenjoyed the colors and the formations of the cliffs I was on.  The Coves campground was nearly deserted on a Sunday night in late September, so I was able to relax after my long and exhausting hike.  The next morning, I regretted not

Weatherbeaten rock in a Cove

Weatherbeaten rock in a Cove

Rock on the inland edge of a Cove

Rock on the inland edge of a Cove

having swim in Lake Superior since my arrival, so I decided to take a real dip – I kept my long underwear on again (a poor substitute for a wet suit!), but I actually ducked all the way under the water for at least a few seconds.  It was a lovely morning, and the “swim” was only part of it, but it helped to energize me for the trek back to civilization.  The hike out was long, but mostly pleasant,  I took the west side of the inland lake this time, with somewhat more varied woods, and a break for lunch on the swampy shores of that lake.  When I got back to my car and looked out at the Beaver Basin Overlook, I found that the foliage had become noticeably more orange since my first look a few days earlier.  As I drove south away from the coast, I saw the “fall colors” begin to “peak” as I neared home.  A beautiful end to a lovely weekend!

The "Pictured Rocks" at sunrise on my last morning

The “Pictured Rocks” at sunrise on my last morning

Beaver Basin Overlook on Monday afternoon

Beaver Basin Overlook on Monday afternoon


Yesterday  I had a few hours to kill and decided to do some exploration.  I had my kayak on my car, and thought it would be nice to put it in the water, so I set off so find a small lake to paddle around… somewhere between Sagola and Iron Mountain, Michigan.  Knowing me, it wouldn’t be any fun unless I drove my car a few miles down a road that isn’t really meant for anything without high clearance… even though there was an easier way to access the same body of water!  I found myself at one of the Groveland Mine Ponds, within the Copper Country State Forest, in Dickinson County, in the western Upper Peninsula.  The crumbling iron ore processing plant itself was visible at a distance, out of operation since the 1980’s.  The ponds used to be used as reservoirs to hold water for use at the plant, but they, and thousands of acres around them, were given to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources after the mind permanently closed.

At first glance it didn’t seem like much, and the 5 boat trailers in the parking lot made me wonder if I’d be able to get any peaceful paddling in with all the fishermen around.  A flooded forest made up much of the lake, and provided obstacles to dodge – sometimes a veritable field of small stems, other times widely-spaced larger pines, birch, etc, recognizable by the forms, wood, or scraps of bark hanging on. By the time I’d gotten around most of it, though, I was pretty happy with my new find.  In fact, I wished I had my camera to get photographs of some awesome events, like an osprey buzzing my boat, so close that I could see every feather in its breast and tail!  Or the deer that waded out nearly to meet me, deciding that my drifting boat wasn’t a threat, and idly using its white tail to shoo away flies, rather than raise the alarm.  So… even as all the other boats were pulling out in the face of an impending storm, I went back to the boat landing and grabbed my phone, so I could take a few shots of the wonders of the Pond.

View from the boat landing as I headed back out into the lake. The storm to the west and south made for some impressive scenery, but never actually hit the pond.

Choppy “seas”

There were 3 or 4 gulls that flew around the lake, sometimes being chased by tenacious swallows a fraction of their size, but they came back to roost in this grove of stumps, trading position on the prize – a comfortable seat 8 feet above the water.

Can you see the loon? It’s that tiny dot at the center, near the tree line! This bird swam around this sections of the lake the whole time I was out there, but any time a boat got much closer than this, it dove under and, second later, came up several hundred yards away.

Grove of stumps

The trees above the water are bleached by the sun. Below, they are stained by the accumulated tannins from decomposing vegetation. The water in this lake is so clear in part because of the presence of Zebra Mussels, an invasive species that eat many of the plants that otherwise provide cover, food, and oxygen to the fish and native invertebrates that live in aquatic ecosystems.

Some of the neat rocks cliffs that rise out of the water – these would have been the tops of hills before the land was flooded.

After the storm passed, the water was like glass, and I could hear some of the quieter songbirds that had been drowned out by the wind. In this bay, the Hermit Thrush, one of my favorites, was able to make himself heard over the crying Red-winged Blackbirds and warbling White-throated Sparrows.