Saturday, June 24, 2006

Munising, 2006

On 6/9/2006, Boyfriend Extraordinaire and I embarked on our summer trip to Munising, Michigan, my favorite place on earth. With an unusual luxury of renting a house for the stay, we were spoiled and lazy most of the time, filling in the long days with some adventures and some basking. The weather was great, despite my complaints about the heat, sun and my uncharacteristic tan, and I really wouldn't have changed anything if I could.

We were supposed to be home on 6/18, but as is usually the case, we dawdled too much and couldn't make it back in time, despite the really long daylight hours and the strict budget. We stayed an extra night and finally returned home on 6/19.

Our photos and stories follow.

Friday, June 9

Boyfriend Extraordinaire and I departed my humble abode in IL very early to head north to Munising, Michigan and Lake Superior. It is a love affair we two have with this area, which never disappoints. The drive was long, and our departing weather was in the 60s, so I was looking forward to a cooler climate and some much-needed peace.

Boyfriend Extraordinaire is a garage sale junkie, so the amount of stops we made on the way up were many, which added a few hours to our travel time. There were 42 advertised garage sales in Oconto, Wisconsin alone! We did not visit them all, but we did visit quite a few before our regular stop for lunch/dinner on the Oconto River at Hardee's. They must not see many vegetarians in this area, because whenever I order a sourdough burger for B.E., they stare at me for a while and then have to walk in the back to personally explain the order to the cook. Occasionally, they claim to remember us because of this special order. Evidently there are no vegetarians in Oconto. We too our food outside to eat at the picnic table on the river. The meal was quick and the weather was cooling off in the fading sunlight, so we ushered ourselves back into the car and on the road again. (We did wave west toward Oconto Falls, which is the hometown of one of my sweet readers, who was transplanted to Texas. This is now a tradition as well.)

From there, the stops were fewer. (Thankfully.)

As we drove up M-35 from Menominee to Escanaba, we saw our first eagle soaring in the sky above us. I've never seen an eagle that far south and without any massive cliffs nearby, but the sight thrilled us all the same.

We approached Rapid River, Michigan as the sun was about to set, so we made a quick stop at Rapid River Falls, which is a delightful little falls and a fun place to stop and climb on the rocks that parallel the river.

Rapid River Falls

As you approach Munising driving up 94, it's mostly flat or slightly hilly land, heavily forested with occasional lakes and streams visible from the road. About 5 or 6 miles from Munising, you can suddenly see massive, forested elevations in the distance, with the range lights towering from the tops. This makes my heart race. I can see the evidence of the Ice Age, the effect the glaciers had on the land, and I know my favorite lake is near. Munising is near. It is my Promise Land. I might just be the only person who celebrates the Ice Age and all it gave to us with my passion for this particular region of the Great Lakes.

We arrived in Munising just after sunset, and appropriately enough, were fast on our way to the Sunset Motel on the Bay. If you ever go to Munising, you must stay here! The view is beyond words. And we were lucky enough to be renting one of the Sunset Motel's cottages. This cottage was bigger than my home is! Three quaint bedrooms on the upper floor and a sprawling front room, dining room, large bathroom, massive kitchen, mudroom and a sunroom, plus a furnished deck and grill were all ours for 10 days! It was magnificent!

Our Cottage
Photo taken by Boyfriend Extraordinaire

We unloaded the car and turned in for the night after watching some "Law & Order", "X-Files" and The Weather Channel.

Ahhhhhhhh... vacation!

Saturday, June 10

Our first full day in Munising was very leisurely. We slept late, got moving late, and it was afternoon before we even saw the first sight.

First up is almost always Sand Point. Sand Point Beach is fantastic, and behind that is the Sand Point Marsh Trail, which B.E. and I refer to as the Bog Walk. The trail is about a half-mile of boardwalk through the marsh and forest, where educational signs abound to instruct visitors that there are countless species dwelling within the area. Never before have we even seen anything other than some common birds and plantlife, but the walk is really beautiful. On this trip around the marsh we were accompanied by a dragonfly who seemed to truly enjoy our company.

Our Friend, Dragonfly #1
Or perhaps he was aware that the biting insects lust after my blood and he was waiting for an easy meal or more.

The reflections of the plants in the water, with the glistening sunlight always captivates me.

Plants, reflecting

The water lillies in the wetlands and ponds where I live are all circular, with a slit as a radius, making them resemble Pac Man. They also bloom with white flowers. The water lillies in Munising on the Bog Walk were heart-shaped, with yellow blooms. However, not a frog atop a single one of them was evident.

Heart-shaped water lillies

As we continued along the boardwalk, we heard a bird squawking loudly, in alarm and looked up to see a bird which resembled and sounded like a crow, cawing and flapping frantically, trying to chase off an offending visitor. The visitor flew effortlessly through the air, as if making an attempt to appear unmoved by the crow's shenannigans. It soared overhead for quite some time before finally leaving the crow to return to her nest and regain her composure. Thanks to the invasion, I was able to capture my first photo of one of my favorite creatures in the world.

A bald eagle

We were a bit disappointed that we were unable to see any other wildlife in the Bog Walk area, so we headed to Sand Point.

The view is always breathtaking.

Looking west into the bay with Grand Island in the distance

Looking east at the Pictured Rocks:
a sandbar in the foreground,
Miners Castle in the far left corner

From Sand Point I took B.E. to the Grand Island Scenic Outlook, which is high atop one of the hills that hugs the town of Munising to the lake. My fear of heights did not stop me and I walked all the way to the edge of the platform to take pictures of the view.

Foreground: Grand Island and the East Channel Lighthouse
Background: Pictured Rocks (Indianhead and Miners Castle)

At that point we reached a time that B.E. likes to call Coffee Break. For Coffee Break, he requires coffee and something sweet to be consumed at a scenic locale, with water present. At home we search for a lake or river to gaze at during Coffee Break, but in Munising, just about everywhere will suffice. On this day, we chose the city fishing pier, where we were alone, watching the fish leap out of the water, the ducks swim at the shore, and the gulls diving and soaring overhead as they looked for small fish for their own meals. It was a peaceful and beautiful Coffee Break. We walked out onto the pier to stare into the water looking to identify some fish, but none were showing themselves. As we left, a man and his daughter came to fish off the pier and the scene was really cool with the gulls flying over his head.

Fishing at the city pier

It was a perfect day.

Sunday, June 11

Since almost everything is closed in the Upper Peninsula on Sundays, it was the perfect day to see and do things completely unrelated to commerce.

First we went to a scenic beach in Au Train.

Given that the temperature was still in the 50s and 60s, B.E. was bundled up like it was the middle of winter. He stood out a little bit on our expeditions in his down coat over multiple layers of clothing. Note the blaring sunlight in the photo below. It wasn't that cold, folks.

B.E. about to leap over Scott Creek
where it empties into Lake Superior

It was becoming a tradition to meet up with a dragonfly who wanted to befriend us. They are strange insects.

Our Friend, Dragonfly #2

I just thought the texture that the sand and water made in Scott Creek was fascinating.

Worms? Or just an illusion?

There was a bit of debris on the beach and B.E. explained that the pieces of foam-like stuff with a layer of shiny backing were really some kind of insulation on boats that had come off. Being the joker that he is, he used twigs and various other pieces of debris on the beach to fashion a tiny debris sailboat.

B.E.'s artistic debris sailboat

Launching B.E.'s debris sailboat into Scott Creek

He made at least three debris sailboats, and all but one made it across the vast expanse (haha) of Scott Creek.

The view down the beach, beyond the sand, was quite picturesque.

Au Train shoreline

From the beach we crossed the street to visit Scott Falls, which is a small but interesting waterfall because you can walk all around it.

Scott Falls

Once you descend the semi-muddy embankment and cross the creek using the well-placed rocks for steps within the creek, you can actually walk around behind the falls, into a mossy cavern and see the waterfall from behind.

B.E. ducking into the cavern behind Scott Falls

These photos are out of order a bit because as soon as I got to the embankment, I scurried across it and ran around the back of the waterfall, before B.E. even approached it. There's something so cool about being able to go behind one that I am unable to slow down enough to enjoy the front view before I'm bounding around for a rear view. (Jokes can be kept to yourselves here.)

Scott Falls, seen from behind

The next stop was the Bay Furnace in Christmas.

Christmas Bay Furnace

This historic site contains a dilapidated remnant of a bygone era. The bay furnace was erected in 1867 to smelt iron ore and turn it into "pig iron". What's left of the burned-down operation is a curious kiln of sorts, and all around the area you can still find the byproducts in the form of slag, from the smelting process that took place here. The slag is quite beautiful to me. You can find it in small pieces or large chunks, varying from green to purple in color, shining like glass in the sun. Below you can see the crystal-like shapes of the slag protruding from the sand along with other, more natural beach presences.

Slag among the rocks

Of course, where the water splashes on the rocks, I find beauty.

Rocks and water

On the beach by the Bay Furnace, a father and his two children were playing in the sand. Much to my approval, the father attempted to bury his children alive. True to most their age, the children would not be silenced or their spirits slowed despite being covered in earth. Can you see the daughter in the photo below? All that was visible was her left arm, and yet she continued talking nonstop beneath her protective hood (covering her face) and pounds of sand.

Children buried in the sand

After our Christmas adventures, we returned to Sand Point for a more in-depth exploration down the beach, which we like to call the Tree Graveyard.

Tree Graveyard at Sand Point

At the Tree Graveyard is my favorite piece of driftwood. Seriously. I have a favorite piece of driftwood. I'd take it home if it wasn't so gigantic and buried in the beach. It is the shapely, upturned, water-stripped and bleached roots of a tree, half-embedded in the sand. There's something about the shape of this natural sculpture that makes my heart sing. I just love it. I wish I knew if it was a fallen tree that washed ashore here or if it lived on this beach and fell as the lake took it's life.

My favorite piece of driftwood

We wandered down the beach at Sand Point, climbing over fallen tree carcasses and losing sight of all the familiar landmarks like Grand Island and the Pictured Rocks. We were so deep down the shore that we ran out of beach, climbed onto land, and wandered down a forest trail for so long that I feared we were well off the beaten path, and into a seldom used area of the wilderness. The trees were strikingly tall, red pines and hemlocks, older than the two of us put together. I do so love red pines! There was little growing on the forest floor here due to the sunlight being completely blocked out by the canopy of towering conifers. When sunlight penetrated, it was really something.

Lost in a conifer forest near Sand Point

As is typically the case when on an adventure with me, I had to pee. I think that we are forced to leave each and every place we go because I must find a bathroom with running water and toilet paper. The woods will not suffice. I am spoiled and vain that way. We found our way back to the car and hurried home (to the cottage) so I could go to the bathroom, and that was the end of our day after a quick shower and a nice dinner out.

Monday, June 12

Originally, we had planned on spending Monday in Marquette, but the weather was predicted to be overcast and cloudy, so I insisted we postpone the Marquette trip until Tuesday and visit some waterfalls while the sun and shadows were not going to ruin my pictures. It was warming up considerably (upper 60s with a chance of breaching the low 70s), so I was able to finally dig out the shorts I brought with. B.E. was bundled up in multiple layers again.

The first waterfall was Au Train Falls.

The view down the road to Au Train Falls

As you walk down the road to the falls, there is a wall of rocks on the left that is hard to describe. It rises about 10 feet from the ground, and for about 25 feet or so, water trickles and runs down the rocks. The constant runoff here, though it is just a trickle, makes this wall of rock very wet and drippy, creating a perfect environment for moss, lichens and algae to grow all over the rocks. It gives the rocks a bugery look, which is quite entertaining to me. We named this the Wall of Ook, which B.E. says is named after a local Indian named Ook.

Close-up of the Wall of Ook

Just as I was really starting to enjoy the idea of my overcast and warm day, the stinking sun came out. All the clouds disappeared and the showers that were predicted for the day went away. I know I am about the only person on earth who hates the sun and cannot wait for the overcast days, but to yank one from my grasp is just mean! After that, my pictures were disappointing because of all the shadows and blinding light. Stupid sun!

This is an elongated view of the Wall of Ook, with the sun ruining the shot.

Length of the Wall of Ook

Au Train Falls are a series of shallow, yet wide falls that are controlled by the power company at a dam upstream.

Lower Au Train Falls

The shallow falls, the limestone and sandstone riverbed and the slowly flowing water are inviting to possible waders, but look at the layer of slimy and slippery gunk that covers the rocks. I would not chance it.

Green, ooky river rocks

As I was walking down the trail that is adjacent to the river, I saw a massive sandhill crane in the water ahead, who was spooked by my presence and flew away. Sandhill cranes are fairly common in the area, but their size and color always rattle me. They're gigantic birds which range from a dull grey color to a bright orange, depending on the amount of clay they've preened into their feathers. They are very cool creatures.

My trip to Au Train Falls was cut short because the bugs were really irritating me and I had to pee. I left B.E. and started wandering back up the road to my car. On the way to the car, I passed a man and woman with fishing gear, and the man said that I had missed out last month when there had been a lot of rain and the falls were so big and the roar so loud that nothing else could be heard. Darn it! These people walked down the trail where I left B.E. and he met up with them as they were fishing. As luck would have it, the woman fishing caught a beautiful northern pike, and B.E. was there to watch and photograph it.

Northern pike
Photo taken by Boyfriend Extraordinaire

On the road back to the car, as I wiggled my anti-pee-pee dance and fought off the mosquitoes, two swallowtail butterflies seemed to be following me. They let me get really close whenever they landed and I snapped a couple shots of them. What pretty insects!

Two swallowtail butterflies stalking me

I started to worry that B.E. fell into the river because it was taking him so long getting back to the car. I was also beating the bugs out of my car, where I was sitting and waiting for him. Bees, flies and mosquitoes were driving me insane, and I finally decided to walk back down to the falls to find my missing boyfriend. Thankfully, he was on his way up the road.

From there we went back home to use the bathroom. Guys have it easy and every time B.E. peed somewhere in the woods, I glared with jealousy. It's just not fair!

Next stop was Wagner Falls. The sun was still out and I was not happy about it (particularly because I left most of my filters at home, including my neutral density filter -- stupid me!) and the waterfalls would all be shining brightly in the sunlight, restricting me to taking shots with a fast shutter. Ugh. What's the point?

It was still pretty.

A smaller creek that joins Wagner Creek

Sunny Wagner Falls

Some of the areas where the water was in shadows, I was able to take some slower pictures.

Slow shutter rarity of water and rocks

Water and rocks at Wagner Falls

While we were at Wagner Falls, two photographers joined us on the boardwalk and we chatted about the places we'd been and about our cameras. It seemed we were all stopping to take the same pictures of the same scenes, so B.E. dubbed us all members of the Fern & Log Club.

B.E.'s contribution to the
Fern & Log Club
Photo taken by Boyfriend Extraordinaire

He also took this photo of a strange plant I'd never seen before. No idea what it is.

Alien-like plant
Photo taken by Boyfriend Extraordinaire

Waterfall Destination #3: Munising Falls.

This is one of my favorite places on earth. The height is amazing and the canyon is tremendous, considering it's right off of a well-traveled street, and buried only about 800 feet into the woods. The accessibility is what amazes me most. It's quite a sight considering how easy it is to get to.

With the sun setting behind us and the top of the waterfall burning bright in the sun, I was really disappointed with what I thought was going to be a bunch of burnt-out photos or poorly lit ones.

Munising Falls in the setting sunlight

Two of the mere four people we
encountered on this beautiful day

What isn't obvious in this journal or in the photos I'm publishing is the fact that we spent a minimum of an hour and a half at each waterfall area, often much more than that. There were few other people around and we tried to explore every inch of the area while being quiet enough to spot wildlife. Sometimes this pays off.

Setting sun reflecting the peach sandstone colors
of the canyon in the water below

Vibrant colors at the base of the falls
More peach water from the canyon reflection
Mini peach waterfall
Colorful waterfall base
As the light softened and the bending rays of the remaining sunlight hit the falls, the conditions did improve and the colors were quite beautiful.

Last shot of Munising Falls as the sun set

Despite the sun and the bugs, it was a stellar day in Munising.

Tuesday, June 13

Sticking with the plan to go to Marquette on Tuesday, I was enormously disappointed that it turned into a cloudy day. Those clouds were supposed to be there for my waterfall shots!

Anyway, it looked like we were going to be rained on and we wore our warmer clothes just in case. B.E. had his down coat, to be on the safe side again. How anyone can wear a down coat in June, when the temperature is in the 50s and 60s is beyond me. He admits he has lizard blood. I'm starting to think it's true.

On our way to Presque Isle Park, we stopped at a parking lot near the lighthouse to enjoy the hazy view.

Marquette Lighthouse

There happened to be some teenagers in the water playing a game with a tennis ball, trying to catch it while submerged. Kids are made of a material much tougher than adults. These teens were in the water up to their waist wearing only shorts and T-shirts. The temperature outside was in the upper 50s and the lake water couldn't have been more than about 40ยบ.

The gulls and the hazy fog made it even more moody to watch.

B.E. captured the gulls overhead as the
teenagers played in the cold Marquette water
Photo taken by Boyfriend Extraordinaire

I snapped this shot of the same kid skipping rocks on the water.

Skipping rocks

From this location, I could see a huge ship approaching the ore dock. Again, our luck was good as we were then able to watch it load up.

Approaching the ore dock

The Kaye E. Barker, loading up
at the Marquette ore dock

From there we drove to Presque Isle Park, which is probably the single more gorgeous park I've ever been to.

Presque Isle Park rock formations

Is this some kind of surfboard? I don't think I've ever seen this before. It was like a combination of a surfboard and a gondola. How is this fun?

Mystery surfing technique

While we were climbing and sitting on the rocks, a family was nearby grilling and having a family day. The two young boys appeared very comical to B.E. and me, with their shaggy, feathered, blonde hair. He said they appeared to be wearing wigs and they were henceforth referred to as the Wiglettes.

Here is the younger Wiglette tossing rocks into the water from a small craig.

Wiglette tossing rocks

From there we returned to the beach area adjacent to the loading ship at the ore dock, and we wandered up and down the sand for a while, waiting for the ship to leave. It was there for hours and we got impatient. We never did see it leave. It could still be there now.

What we did find were hundreds of little yellow clam shells, ringed and textured like none we'd ever seen. They were really cute, so B.E. created a monolith in their honor and I "sang" the theme to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Yellow clam shell memorial

The visit through downtown Marquette was fun. We met many characters who own stores and chatted the afternoon away. One of the things I love most about Marquette is the casual urban atmosphere of it. Many of the downtown stores have one employee working in them, and that employee's dog. I met a gorgeous golden retriever named Leica in the store Superior View (which is a favorite store to visit, with their gigantic collection of old photographs of the area), and she was more than accommodating when I wanted to pet her and rub her belly. The presence of dogs in the shops of Marquette makes the area all more endearing to me. Why did I not take a picture of that sweet dog? I'm still trying to answer that.

The owner of Leica recommended stopping at the Brownstone Inn in Au Train for a meal, which I'd been curious about for a few years, but never stopped in. This time I took his recommendation and we had dinner there on the way back from Marquette. OHMYGOD, the food was excellent! It may very well be my favorite restaurant in the area now. Inside the Brownstone Inn, the decor is as charming as the view. We loved this place so much that we returned for our last meal again on the night before we left.

On the way back to Munising from Au Train, we stopped at a few of the scenic waysides to watch the sunset. And what a beautiful sunset it was!

Au Train sunset

While we were wandering the beach, there appeared a giant bare, human footprint, which I took a photo of. B.E. was talking about it being a sign of Bigfoot and I said, "That's scary," thinking of a yeti being somewhere in my favorite region. B.E. misunderstood me and thought I said, "That's Gary." So, now Bigfoot has a more personable name: Gary. Earlier in the trip, I had also accidentally said "foottrack" instead of "footprint", so whenever we came across a track or footprint, B.E. made fun of me and called it a "foottrack." Thus, the discovery of the large foot imprint in the sand became "Gary's foottrack."

Gary's foottrack

At the next scenic wayside, a little farther down the beach, the sun was almost gone and the scene was just as pretty.
More sunset

And at last, I gave up and took one final sunset shot through the trees.

Last sunset shot

When we got back to our house, we were stuffed, we were exhausted, and we were ready for some more "X-Files" before turning in for the night.