Sunday, March 12, 2006

Munising (March 10 - 12, 2006)

Melanie and I departed work at 2:30 PM, Friday, on our long-awaited trip to Munising, Michigan. Our reservations at the Sunset Motel on the Bay were made, despite the big Ski-Doo snowmobile rally going on, so we were prepared for a perfect, winter weekend on Lake Superior. I'd purchased extra thermals and packed all my warmest clothes in anticipation of the weather being cold, and we were shocked to find the forecast called for much warmer weather. We would not know how much this would impact and impede our trip until it was too late.

Our first disappointment was Seguin's being closed on the ride up. We missed it by one hour. It's a sad way to start the trip, without our cheese and ice cream to keep up our energy on the long drive.

For dinner, we stopped in Escanaba at Hereford & Hops, where we enjoyed a tasty meal and some microbrewed rootbeer.

The drive to Munising was fairly tiring, all seven hours, and we arrived in town at 10 PM. Though I couldn't see much of Lake Superior, my heart raced and my eyes filled with tears of joy at the nearness of my true love, the lake. There wasn't much to see at such an hour, so a tour of the area for Melanie would have to wait until daybreak. We fell asleep fairly quickly, no doubt worn out from the long ride.

Melanie and I arose early to make the lengthy drive to Grand Marais, for the sole purpose of French toast at the West Bay Diner, which was well worth the drive. The forecast called for rain and temperatures to be in the 40s, but we were blessed with no precipitation aside from some fog, and an early day that was quickly turning into a warm and sunny afternoon. Breakfast was delicious, and we took in the view from the harbor.

I believe they call these "ice pancakes."

Some pretty substantial ice and snow had formed on the breakers in the bay, which was the picturesque hangout to some of the local seagulls.

I stepped out onto the pier to snap some pictures of the Grand Marais Harbor Light, like the one below, only I didn't remember that the smooth snow I was standing on was two feet of melting slush covering the jagged rocks along the pier. After a moment or two of standing on the melting, compacted snow, I found that I started sink, and every attempt to move pushed my feet down into the quagmire that seemed to know no bottom. I panicked, remembering that I was on top of the rocks that were used for the breakers, shaped highly irregularly, so each time my foot sunk down into the snow, I didn't know if it was going to continue going for another two or three feet to be wedged down between two rocks, or if I'd find I was fortunate enough to be standing on top of a flat rock. I managed to get out of there and find some solid ground where the snow had melted down to the gravel, and this is the resulting photograph.

It was recommended to us by the owner of the West Bay Diner, that we avoid returning to Munising on H-58, the scenic route, for it was not plowed and mainly was used by snowmobilers. My foolish guess was that some parts of H-58 had been plowed, and we'd be able to get to Sable Falls. Not so. The thick snow that the snowmobilers had been riding on was compacted enough that I might have been able to navigate it with a 4x4 if it wasn't in the process of melting. My poor car got stuck on the slippery surface of the melting snow and we quickly turned around and took the long way back to Munising, missing out on all the good scenery along the lakeshore.

Back in Munising, we decided to take in a sure thrill, Munising Falls. Much to my surprise, the path leading back to the falls was not only full of snow, but it was packed tight, two feet above the path. The split rail fences that lined the trail were but mere knee rails as you walked along. We were walking evenly with the benches, and stared comically at the tops of the garbage cans that were half-buried. This situation was made precarious because the temperatures were quickly climbing to the upper 40s, and this thick snow was giving way under the weight of our treads. As you can see from the shot below, the snow came up to the second rung of the split rails, and we were walking on top of that, careful not to step on a weak spot and find ourselves tumbling over the barriers.

Munising Falls is a delightful waterfall that forms an ice cylinder in the winter. If you are there when the cylinder is still solid, you cannot even see the water falling, but you can hear it beneath the massive columns of ice. This trip, we were greeted with a half-melted/half-formed ice cylinder, with water rushing down the center of it.

The canyon is steep, some 40 feet above us, and the snow and ice covering the water is thick enough to completely disguise the landscape it follows. For the first time in the six years I've been visiting Munising, I took a brave step and went around the barriers to follow narrow path of weakened snow that led right up to the falls themselves. It was quite magnificent to see it all up so close, but when my foot sunk down two feet to a muddy bottom, I quickly retreated back to the semi-safety of the viewing platform. You cannot see from the picture below, but the green tree on the left side was an obstacle I walked around and managed to get behind, for some very close-up sights of the ice falls.

We met a couple who were also originally from Illinois, both having just relocated to Munising. They were very sweet and it gave me hope for my own relocation dream. This is a sight I want to have access to everyday of the year!

From Munising Falls, we drove down to Sand Point, which is one of my favorite spots in all of Munising. The East Channel Lighthouse is visible on Grand Island in the distance.

View from Sand Point, looking into the East Bay, with Grand Island visible on the right.

Across the channel is Grand Island, which I've never visited, but gazed at with adoration from many locations on the mainland. The massive icicles hanging from the cliffs on the island are quite a sight!

At Sand Point Beach, there were many shanties visible as the ice fishermen were busy trying to make use of the fleeting opportunities to remain on the water before the ice melted. Four weeks of ice fishing only this year, and they were prepared to pack it in due to the spring-like temperatures.

They kind of look like outhouses to me.

Sometimes, you don't even need the shack to ice fish.

A quick and pointless trip to one of my favorite spots, Wagner Falls, revealed the path was plowed in with 4½ feet of melting snow climb over. While we were tempted to find an alternate route, it was not proving possible. With regret, Melanie and I had to give up the plans to visit Wagner Falls this trip.

We were also greeted with disappointment at Miners Castle, which was also not plowed and completely inaccessible without a snowmobile. Two of my favorite sights were now denying me access, and I was really mad.

Wanting NEEDING another waterfall to keep the trip alive, I took Melanie to AuTrain to see the small but fun, Scott Falls.

I really like this small falls. In the warmer weather, you can walk down to the falls and go into the cave behind it. It's one of the few falls I know of in the area where you can see it from front and back. Though it was not possible, obviously, on this trip, it is still a cute little falls.

We stopped in Christmas for some souvenirs, did some gift store shopping in Munising, ate a cone of some of the best ice cream we've ever had at the Falling Rocks Cafe, then grabbed an early dinner at the Dogpatch Restaurant and headed back to the room for the night. The rain that was forecasted all day finally showed up in the form of drizzle just after sunset. I took the opportunity to snap some moody shots of the view from the Sunset Motel property, with the recently set sun and storm clouds in the west.

This is the dock provided to the guests of the Sunset Motel.

The bay is beautiful, even when frozen and covered in snow.

This was just a fun shot of the office window at the motel, with me playing with the light effects of a long shutter exposure.

Melanie and I stayed up a while watching episodes of "Iron Chef America," and some show on the Style Network about wedding planning, while munching on popcorn. We still managed to turn in early while the rain continued drizzling outside.

Sunday morning we rose early again for breakfast at the Dogpatch, where we enjoyed some really yummy biscuits and gravy. We drove on to Marquette for some more scenery and hopes of some shopping in the downtown specialty stores, but we were greatly disappointed to find that NONE of the stores were open on Sunday. It was like the entire town had called in sick! We were amazed.

We drove through Presque Isle Park, which is always gorgeous and provides stunning views of the landscape.

From there, we returned to Downtown Marquette to find only the bookstore open. This is not a disappointment to two book-loving library employees! I purchased a copy of Lost in the Woods, which is one of my all-time favorite children's books by Carl Sams and Jean Stoick, who also created another of my favorites, Stranger in the Woods. It was only appropriate that I purchase this book in the U.P., because the authors/photographers are from Michigan themselves.

With few options left open to us, I decide to take us on a short side trip to Ishpeming to visit Da Yoopers Tourist Trap, which is always a few giggles, at least. This was where I had to explain to Melanie the meaning behind some of the Yooper jokes. Well, the ones I understand, anyway.

Sad to admit defeat, we headed back down 41 to make our way toward home. There was really nothing left to see and do the weather in the upper 40s and the snow being so troublesome to traverse. As a last second decision, I pulled into the Rapid River park area to check out a quaint little scenic area that's not usually on my itinerary. It was a very pretty sight. The half-frozen, half-flowing river was full of tannin, as always, and the amber water flowing around the pure white snow was just beautiful.

Thanks to the ice and snow, the already small rapids on Rapid River were made even smaller.

Amber water, white snow.

This was the pathway leading from the parking area to the river, which I thought was pretty funny.

Though there was snow everywhere, the temperature was so high and the sun was so warm, that we were running around in T-shirts and jeans all day. So much for needing thermals -- we didn't even need our jackets! Of all the pictures I took this weekend, this one of Melanie hopping in the snow at Rapid River is my favorite.

The ride home was fun, and we stopped at Hardee's on the river in Oconto (one of my own traditions) for dinner, and loaded up on cheese at Seguin's. (YAY cheese!) Traffic started getting irritating just before we hit Milwaukee, and it just got worse the rest of the way back. I dropped Melanie off at about 7:30 PM, and made it home to my place by 7:45, just as a violent thundestorm rolled in. Wouldn't it figure, the most extreme weather we experienced all weekend was right here at home?

How soon before I can go back again? I miss it already!


Anonymous said...

Now that's the kind of prompt photo posting we expect! Looks like you got a bunch of great shots despite the uncooperative weather. And those cliff icicles are amazing!

Leelu said...

The Melanie photo is excellent, but for sheer prettiness, I have to go with the shot of the tiny bridge, fourth one down that you posted. Very tranquil and zen-like.

Glad you had a good time! :)

Skye said...

Great pictures.

Happy Villain said...

A-V Boy:
It's too bad I'm a chicken-shit, because where I stood to take the cliff icicles pictures was right near where they do the ice climbing in February, and if I had been brave enough to walk on a beach of melting snow and ice, I could've seen the great icy cliffs of Pictured Rocks. I guess I'm going to have to go back next winter when it's colder for that. :)

The whole place is scenic and zen-like, if you can believe it. Every time I go there, I run into other IL enthusiasts who have fallen in love with Munising too. It's hard to leave that place. Thanks for the compliments.

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

For a trip that was a bit disappointing, it sure was beautiful.

If you love the cold, have you ever considered Canada? Or is that a rude question?

Envy from Tassie.

Happy Villain said...

Lib Nervosa:
Yes, I have considered Canada, and continue considering it on a regular basis. However, my love of the cold and my love of the water are closely tied. Lake Superior is the love of my life and if I could find an area on the Canada side that was as inviting as Munising, I'd be there in a second.

Anonymous said...

Really gorgeous photos once again. I agree that there hasn't been nearly enough winter this year. These photos have certainly helped!

Don in Centennial CO (USA) said...

Loved these!