Tag Archive | michigan

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








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

Top 10 Places I Want to Go Next

It has come to my attention that what started as a “travel” blog has morphed into a “nature” blog.  This is because I have been traveling primarily locally – to those who don’t live here, it is probably just as interesting as anything else, but for me it has lost the zing! of “something new.”  Rather than focusing on the specifics of my routes, my campsites, the novelties witnessed, I’ve been looking a little more closely – at the flowers in bloom, the curious insects that cross my path, the riffles of water babbling over bedrock.  Now that the flush of spring and the annual “newness” of nature is fading into the laziness of summer, I’m going to turn over a new leaf (so to speak), and profile my travels a little more.  To kick it off, on this rainy day,  I’m going to do a little dreaming about my next vacations – some shoe-ins (I already have the plans in place), some a bit more of a stretch (might be years down the road).   I heartily welcome tips for travel to these locales, features not-to-be-missed, and ideas for great road food along the way!

1. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore – Upper Penninsula of Michigan.  Natural wonders, backpacking trails, and if it’s timed right, swimming in Lake Superior!  I hope to get there in mid- to late-August of this year, when the water is as warm as it’ll get (though it still takes my breath away)!

2.  The Everglades, Florida.  I wanted to see it before the wetlands were consumed by the rising sea levels, but it appears that the Burmese Pythons have beat climate change to the destruction of this global treasure.  The sooner the better, to see the amazing flora and fauna of these swamps.  I hope to schedule a trip this winter for a 7-10-day exploration of the area – at a time when the heat is at a minimum!

3.  Central America.  At this point I’m thinking of the Dominican Republic, to combine some eco-tourism with Caribbean beaches and tasty Latin food, plus exercising my Spanish a little bit.  Can I do the Everglades and the Caribbean in one winter?  I doubt it, but we’ll see!

4.  Sawtooth Mountains and Salmon River, Idaho.  I loved this place from the first moment I saw it – and I got to see it for a full 24 hours, because my car broke down and needed some new electronics installed in Ketchum (in 2001!).  I’ve been working on finding the time to head back there, plus a partner for a wilderness backpacking trip, ever since.  I’m ready to actually put some energy into it now, and am hoping to get something in place for next summer.Challis Stream

5.  The Carolinas.  North or South, it doesn’t much matter at this point, because I’ve never been to either… working on that quest to hit All 50 States.  Plus I have heard they are beautiful.  Suggestions very welcome for this one!

6.  Ashland, Wisconsin and the Bayfield Peninsula.  Until a year ago, I had never been to this cool town and awesome natural areas surrounding it and jutting out into Lake Superior.  Then I went for a day for work, and whetted my appetite.  I hope to get back this summer or fall for a long weekend, maybe to take in some music at the Big Top Chautauqua or just camp, hike,  swim, and check out the historical and cultural attractions in the area.

7.  Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Milwaukee?  Yes!  Every time I go there, I have fun and get to see something new.  I want to spend a good 2-3 days there and have some a couple nights on the town.  It has all the culture, history, and charm of an old industrial Midwestern city, but it isn’t quite as big and bustling as Chicago!  Great food, great beer, lovely lakeshore, good music, museums, and baseball!.  I already have plans to head there in July, so keep watching for updates!  Recommendations on favorite restaurants are particularly welcome here – I have loved the Comet Cafe every time I’ve been (you should try their bacon pancakes -delish!), but want to try something new!

8.  Louisiana.  I went to New Orleans for the first time a few years ago, to visit my sister and explore the town.  It was great fun, but I want to explore some of the natural areas in the vicinity a bit more.  I’ve always wanted to go to Tab Benoit-sponsored  Voice of the Wetlands concert – blues all-stars uniting for the preservation of Louisiana’s bayous and traditional culture.  I’d love to rock out to great blues music, dine on oysters, and explore the amazing natural treasures on our southern coast!  If not this year, then next!

9.  Is it #9 already? Man, what to choose?  Or, more specifically, what not to choose?  Can I cop out, and make this spot into a whole category?  Well, sure I can – it’s my blog, I make the rules!  So I’m going to choose “Places I want to revisit” – and include Berlin, Germany; south-central Alaska; and the southwest desert all in one!  Since I don’t have any of these vacations even mentally in the works yet, they’ll have to get separated out more once a few more of the destinations above get knocked off.  I’m looking forward to it, though!

10. A new continent. Yes, another cop-out.  Technically, I have never been to most continents.  But if I can get to one new one in the next 5 years, it’ll make me happy.  Asia and Antarctica top my list of potentials, but I wouldn’t sneer at a free trip to Africa or Australia, either!  It appears that I only have “A” continents left in my never-visitied category…

How about you ? Where to next?  Or must-see places that I left off my list?

It’s Not the Destination…

…but the journey that takes you there.

I’m not sure who said that (and I’m sure it’s a poor paraphrase), but that certainly proved true last weekend.

I had to go to Target to return something that was nearing its 90-day deadline, and I thought I’d take the scenic route.  The nearest store is in Marquette, Michigan, a destination that had two advantages, in addition to the convenience of Target: 1) it is in Michigan, which has the exotic appeal of being a different state (!) and 2) I had never been there.  Marquette is normally about an hour and a half from my house, on the highway.  It somehow took me almost five hours, which included a stop at a delicious brew pub in Ishpeming and driving a good ten miles on what I think was an ATV trail, sure that it would pop me out on a road again somewhere, until I concluded that my Toyota Camry was not an all-terrain vehicle, and I would do well to turn around.  I slowed down at every little wetland that looked “moose-y,” but never got to see one on this trip.  I spent five months in Alaska and only saw moose twice, so I can’t realistically expect to see one every time I cross the river into the Upper Peninsula.

Roadtrip! I like taking the scenic route, and I was pretty sure this road would get me where I wanted to go…

…It was around this point that I finally concluded that I was not on an actual road. I went another half mile or so, to make it an even 5 miles in, then turned around and headed back out to the forest road.













Back out on the road I intended to be on, heading north between Crystal Falls and Ishpeming, through the Escanaba River State Forest.






Poor road conditions make for beautiful roadsides!



















Not a moose to be seen…






























A stretch of road north of the State Forest, in an industrially-owned forest, shows a marked difference in timber types – much more old growth here, mostly maples, hemlock, and yellow birch.



No moose, but I saw this Kingfisher catch a snack and then go to perch on a dead spruce branch.

I got to Marquette in the late evening, only to find that it was all-of-a sudden actually nighttime, because somewhere in the middle of the State Forest I had crossed into the Eastern time zone and lost an hour.   I followed the “main drag” all the way into downtown, then spent another half hour trying to find my way back out, heading west along the Lake Superior shoreline to where I hoped to camp that night.  Marquette was full of things that I haven’t seen much of in a month or two, such as stoplights and more than eight cross-streets in a row, and I found it thoroughly confusing.  With a little effort, though, I navigated my way out and onto the county highway I’d been seeking.  After driving back and forth for a few minutes, I found a small parking lot, grabbed my backpack, and hiked in towards the beach a little ways.  To camp in Michigan State Forests, unless it is in a prohibited area, all you need is a permit, which you can print from the internet at home (or a friendly library), fill out, and hang at your campsite.  Now that I know that, I’m going to keep a few blank permits in my car at all times for the last-minute get-aways!  I found a flat, soft spot, and pitched my tent under the pines but within earshot of the big lake, and spent the night listening to Superior’s waves crashing against Michigan’s rocky shoreline, reflecting on all the twists and turns I’d taken to get to that peaceful spot!

Sunset reflecting off of the water and sky behind Little Presque-Isle, just a few hundred yards from my campsite.

Isle Royale – Farewell

Day 14

September 12, 2010

Mile 795 – 845

Isle Royale National Park, MI to Grand Marais, MN

I finally got myself out of bed early this morning, in order to take one last short hike over to nearby Lake Mason, in hopes of seeing wildlife or at least getting a few more moments of solitude.  The hike was shorter than I’d thought, and there was no wildlife, but it did make a nice, peaceful place to sit and enjoy the morning.  Technically, I had seen the sun rise from my shelter (and a beautiful view it was), but I got to see it actually come up, sitting on a rock next to Lake Mason, blinded by the light glinting off of wet branches.  The dew and fog never quite got around to burning off back in that lake (probably because it was

On the dock at Chippewa Harbor, waiting for the boat

actually leftover rain, not really dew), before I had to head back down and get myself packed up.

My tent had mostly dried in the night, and I made myself some breakfast and a Nalgene of tea while loading my pack for the last time.  Waiting on the dock with the guys from Detroit, I reflected on how different my trip was from what theirs would be.  For all of my concerns of being ill-equipped for the trek, I was far better off than they were.  Moreover, my journey had been a solo one, with minimal human contact.  I can’t say that it would be better or worse to be hanging out with my buddies the whole time – just different.  A different interaction with myself, and with the world around me.

Before long, the Voyageur II came along to pick us up, and I got my last view of Chippewa Harbor as we pulled out into the Lake.  The sun had started heating up the day by that time, causing the

Voyageur II arriving in Chippewa Harbor

winds and waves to pick up a little, and by the time we got to Malone Bay, the calmer harbor waters were welcome.  The Detroit guys had been impressed by the distance we had traveled in about an hour – and a bit nervous about having to walk that whole distance back again!  I felt a little bit satisfied with myself for having already hiked that – and more, and was looking forward to impressing myself with the distance we had yet to travel to Windigo.

By the time we got to that next harbor, a little under two hours later, it felt as if two days had elapsed – the boat pitched and rolled with the high waves, water crashing against the decks and leaking in around the window frames.  The mate referred to the lake as a “roller coaster” that day – I might have called it a bucking bronco – but I guess it depended on whether we were headed directly into the waves or were hitting them on the side.  Neither way was particularly fun, though the former provided a little more predictability.  Focusing all of my mental and physical energies on not getting nauseous, listening to the clanging of deck doors and hearing the slapping and washing of water along the length of the boat, I found myself dredging up repressed memories of my journey across the Pacific.  Truly, I thought that I didn’t remember anything of that day and a half of seasickness, half asleep and half puking, but vivid mental pictures of the Navarino’s storm-tossed cabin and deck came back to me!  Perhaps if I had had the coves and ridges of Isle Royale to fix my gaze on then, I could have avoided it after all!  As it was, I was very relieved to make it to the calm waters of the bay around Windigo.  It was really beautiful, threading through the many smaller islands that surround that harbor, and I found myself thinking it would be fun to paddle on a calmer day (there are a few boat-access campsites out on those islands, too).  After loading up the rest of the boat with passengers and their cargo, we headed back another wave-tossed two hours to the mainland, and I was happier to reach Grand Portage than I ever thought I would be!  Kudos to the captain and crew for getting us there as quickly and smoothly as possible – I know they weren’t enjoying it any more than we were.

Lake Superior on a windy, windy day. If you look closely, you can see the island's coastline on the horizon (I hiked all you can see, and more)

After seeing nothing but water streaming down steamed-up windows for all of that time, it was a bit surreal to step out into a warm and sunny, if breezy, day.  It made for a nice drive back down 61 to Grand Marais.  I treated myself to a good dinner (and an overpriced, but delicious, beer), and realized for the first time that I was ravenous – and exhausted!  I hadn’t planned on being so tired after a day of doing nothing but sitting on a boat… but I also hadn’t planned on using all my strength to stay in my seat!  I headed out of town and decided to stay at the first campground I came to, at Cascade River State Park, a few miles south of Grand Marais.  I could still hear the waves of Lake Superior (along with cars passing on the highway, and folks laughing around campfires), but a couple cushy pillows in my tent made all the difference, and I fell quickly asleep…

Isle Royale – Inland Lakes

Day 12-13

September 10-11, 2010

Isle Royale National Park

The last two hiking days of my trip were lovely, but uneventful.  I didn’t see anyone between leaving Hatchet Lake on Friday morning and after dinner at Chippewa Harbor on Saturday night.  Quite a bit of wolf scat, but no more large mammals crossed my path.  I got some awesome views of the island and beyond from the top of the Greenstone Ridge, near Mt. Siskiwit.  Around Chickenbone Lake, Lake Livermore, Lake LeSage, and Lake Richie I saw really nice forest.  It rained much of the day on Saturday, which brought out all the different greens, browns, and blacks of the foliage, and it gave me a beautiful view at Chippewa Harbor, as the sunset coincided with the clearing skies.  I’m going to let the photos do the talking for me:

Chickenbone Lake, viewed from near Mt. Siskiwit

Lake Siskiwit, largest lake on the island, looking south from near Mt. Siskiwit. Lake Superior lies beyond.

Where I've been... (looking west from near Mt. Siskiwit)

Where I'm going... (looking down towards Lake Richie from near Mt. Siskiwit)

Beautiful swampy forest in the rain on the trail from Lake Richie to Chippewa Harbor

Chippewa Harbor, looking out towards Lake Superior in the mist.

Chippewa Harbor, after the sun came out

Arriving at Chippewa Harbor around 6 pm, I found the place deserted and had my pick of the shelters.  I went for the one with the best view, if not the best actual shelter from wind.  A couple hours later, some hikers and a couple of paddlers straggled their way into camp, and I chatted with the former for a while: a group of guys up from the Detroit area for a week.  I went to bed gazing at the bright stars through the shelter’s screen, hoping to wake up early enough in the morning for one last hike before heading back to the Minnesota shore.