Friday, October 17, 2008

Munising, MI: October 2008

(Photos posted about this trip were taken both by Boyfriend Extraordinaire and me. Many links will lead to more photo albums of similar pictures at my Tabblo pages.)

Friday, October 3 started as close to being on time as Boyfriend Extraordinaire and I can usually manage. Our 10 AM ETD was only off by about a half-hour, delayed further by a trip to the bank for cash, so we were literally on the way at about 11 AM. B.E. did a fabulous job of helping load the car, sleepy though he was. The trunk was full to the max, covered in a thick layer of coats and sweatshirts for B.E.'s warmth. The backseat was packed with coolers, our bags of groceries, and things we needed access to while driving. Even the glove box was crammed with things. You'd have thought we were staying for a month instead of a week.

Fall felt like a long way off in Illinois, with the temperature around 60ยบ and the sun blazing. Predictions everywhere said the fall colors were about to peak in the Upper Peninsula, and it seemed like a world away where we were coming from.

On the way to the expressway, we actually saw a falcon and a few blue jays. These are not common sights in my neck of the woods and perhaps it was some kind of indication that our trip would be full of wildlife.

The drive north on 43 is long and tiresome, so we usually stop at the rest area just south of the Sturgeon Bay exit. You'd have thought it was still summer with all the blooming flowers and buzzing bees. Here we see B.E. teasing one bee who was too busy stuffing himself silly to care.

Construction wasn't all that bad until we arrived in Oconto County, but Oconto had another distraction to offer drivers. TOILET PAPER.

It wasn't until we stopped for our usual lunch at the Hardee's by the Sea (the Oconto River) that we received an explanation for the fact that the ENTIRE TOWN had been recently T.P.'d. Turns out, this was part of the local high school's homecoming shenanigans. B.E. asked if the town was now having to wipe with newspaper because all the T.P. was in the trees. Evidently not. Yet it still seemed as if the entire county had been wiped clean (no pun intended) of toilet paper for the purpose of hanging it from every tree in town.

Even the library got hit! OH THE HUMANITY!

A quick stop at Seguin's in Marinette, WI gave us some string cheese to fuel our dairy and protein cravings, and then a quick refuel at a gas station gave us hope that gas prices were going to be cheaper the farther we headed north. Menominee, MI offered gas at $3.49, whereas it was $3.69 at home when I fueled up on the way. It's never cheaper up north, but I wasn't going to remind anyone of this, lest they raise the prices.

I don't think I've ever felt so little stress and anxiety making the drive up to Munising before. There always feels like a crazed rush to reach town before nightfall, and this makes for a long, long drive. Not so on this trip. I let go of the anxiety and it seemed like the travel time flew by. What a nice change! Even though the drivers in Wisconsin were so infuriatingly bad, I managed to keep a cool head while B.E. sang songs to their lack of driving skills. Crossing into Menominee was a relief to be on the road with normal drivers again, but I still felt quite relaxed either way.

We did stop briefly at Rapid River Falls, which is always pretty, but the color wasn't very impressive yet, so we pushed onward to Munising.

Around Trenary, MI, things really started looking like autumn. Maybe it was the farms in the fading sunlight, because only some of the trees seemed to be showing their flare.

The closer we got to Munising, the more color there seemed to be. Hiawatha National Forest was gearing up for some major shades of orange and red, and we would likely get to watch it ripen. I was totally stoked!

And then we made it! OUR FAVORITE PLACE TO STAY: The Sunset Motel on the Bay! We got our favorite room, Room 221, and despite my exhaustion, I was beside myself with glee. We were there! The Sunset Motel! In Munising! In the fall! It was absolutely perfect!

Despite the fact that we were on a strict budget and brought our own food to eat, I had to splurge on the first night and get salads from the local pizza place. They make a MEAN salad, complete with hard-boiled eggs, which B.E. and I look very forward to, so we sat in our wonderful room eating our delish salads, watching Food Network shows into the late night, periodically stepping out onto the deck out of our second floor room to check for Northern Lights, stray moose, or just to enjoy the fabulous sound of soft, lapping waves of Lake Superior, just feet from our door. We could not have asked for more.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Our first full day in Munising started off slow. It rained in the morning, though the weather predictions were, at the time, stating that it should have been sunny and warm. I sat in the room eating my English muffin, staring out at the wet and foggy Munising Bay, and I worried about the fact that we didn't bring any rain gear. Boyfriend Extraordinaire slept in quite late, which I let him do because I wasn't in a hurry to start our vacation off in the pouring rain. At around noon, the clouds cleared and the sun came out, so I lit a fire under him and by 1 PM we were finally out of our room.

We drove through town and found that gas was $3.69, as it was at home, so I suppose we were no worse off. B.E. wanted to check out some local garage sales, which there were few of, and we headed out of town, through Christmas, MI, to see Scott Falls. There aren't many times of the year when Scott Falls isn't plunged into darkness, and this was not one of those times, so we headed back to Munising to enjoy the sun before committing to the darker areas.

We lunched briefly back at the room and headed to Sand Point Beach, our favorite beach in the world. The sandbar that protruded from the beach, about 50 yards out into the lake, seemed to have been washed away, but I wasn't about to dive into the water in October to find out.

Around mid-afternoon, we decided to tackle the Sand Point Marsh Trail, which we call the Bog Walk. When we were here last, it was a dried up wasteland, in the middle of one of the worst droughts the area had seen, and we were looking very forward to creating new memories of the place bursting with life. We were not disappointed.

The area rebounded from the drought just fine, with the glorious, towering pines looking as strong as ever.

The morning rain left us a few sprinkles of scattered drops where the sun hadn't touched to steal the water back.

Even the dead birch trees were alive with fungi, amusingly arranged like a step ladder to the top.

I was just goofing around when I took this picture. Using my macro lens, I tried to focus on a huge glob of pine needles, and the effect was kind of fun.

We saw some nuthatches, blue jays, an abundance of ducks and a blue heron fishing in the pond, which is a stark contrast to the lack of anything in the animal kingdom we saw last year. The bog has great resilience.

We always hope to see a fox, coyote, or anything else mammal, but it has yet to happen. There is a large beaver den in the middle of the main pond, but no beavers in sight. At one point, B.E. made a loud announcement that I jumped into.

BE: Attention beavers! We mean you no harm!

Me: We are from the beaver census. We are here to count your beavers.

BE: Heh, so please, send us your beavers.

Me: We just want to see your beavers.

BE: We love beavers.

We were giggling too much at that point to continue. Alas, no beavers came forward.

B.E. also found his favorite plant in the woods: wintergreen. Of course, I was chewing wintergreen gum, which he didn't know, and he kept announcing that he smelled wintergreen everywhere we went. Finally I broke the news to him and blew a big wintergreeny bubble. He was quite disappointed that we weren't surrounded by wintergreen, but he did delight breaking a leaf to share the fresh scent with me. Not that I needed that. My breath already smelled just like it.

We emerged from the bog walk to find a very beautiful sunset at Sand Point Beach, which we watched happily as if it was our first sunset ever.

B.E. loves to get creative with his sunset shots and take them from the perspective of a snake. It's fun to watch him crawling around in the weeds to get shots like this.

Other shots he takes effortlessly from the passenger seat of the car. With the heat blasting while he has the window down, of course.

Back to the room we went that night, enjoying a cheap meal of beans, rice and cheese from the handy microwave. Strangely, the budget food didn't detract from the perfection of the trip. Go figure! Perhaps it helps that we stayed up late watching the Food Network, living vicariously, watching people on television eating fancy food.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Sunday, which is still a garage sale day to Boyfriend Extraordinaire, saw us escape our room at about noon, to search for more garage sales before heading down the highway to Au Train.

We arrived at Forest Lake to find it mostly secluded and absolutely pristine.

Though the leaves were just beginning to peak, the ground was covered with leaves already.

We kicked around the shore for quite a while, watching the snails suck on rocks in the shallow water, and B.E. always, always, always looking for artifacts. Some of the things he likes to find are old glass bottles, things that look like they might have been created by Indians, and anything metal. He found one old bottleneck, but we quickly realized that Forest Lake, despite how beautiful it is, seemed to be a dumping ground for beer bottles. They were everywhere. Walking in sneakers was dangerous because of all the broken glass on the edge of the water. We needed hardcore boots to be safe here. Why and how this happens, I don't know. I've never seen an area in the U.P. with so much crap dumped in the woods. It's a shame, and it kind of made me want to leave.

We crossed the highway, where the power company dams off Forest Lake and controls the flow down the river to Au Train Falls.

Lower Au Train Falls is a fun place to visit with its slow flow of water across a wide basin, leaving a shallow amount of water falling over the shelves of rock, with bright green algae and plantlife constantly thriving in the bright sun and regular water.

One of the most fascinating parts of Lower Au Train Falls is a wall of rock next to the falls, where water drips constantly over the edge about 10 feet above the path, creating a smaller version of Au Train Falls on this slimy wall. We have dubbed it The Wall of Ook.

Click below to see the rest of the photos on my Tabblo page.

Tabblo: Au Train Falls and Forest Lake

After Au Train Falls, we decided to zip to Miners Castle for the sunset.

We stuck around until well after sunset, chatting with a couple from Chicago, then we had to hustle back to the car, up a steep and winding path through the woods, by moonlight.

It was freezing, but B.E., wearing his infamous down coat that's as big as a tent seemed to be fine while I was shaking from the inside out. Returning to the warmth of the room was great, and we settled in for another late night of TV and pajamas.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Monday we got up and out earlier than usual, which probably caused Boyfriend Extraordinaire much pain. (So sorry, Schwee.) With the hopes that the touristy areas wouldn't be as crowded on a weekday, we headed to Wagner Falls.

I love this falls and will stay there for hours if I can. It's just magical.

There are so many places where rocks protrude from the water, and it makes for perfect pictures of slow shutter and running water photos. Add some colorful leaves and you just can't beat it!

I've even got B.E. doing it!

Not to say that the actual waterfall itself isn't glorious, because it surely is!

B.E. is a little, tiny bit obsessed with my partially blue hair, and on this day he took oodles of photos of the back of my head because I wore my hair in pigtails.

More photos of Wagner Falls can be found below at my Tabblo page.

Tabblo: Wagner Falls

It started getting crowded, so we decided to leave. The hills surrounding Wagner Falls were bright orange and we could tell that we hit the area at the exact right time.

More waterfalls to explore!

I was having a brave moment when I decided to take B.E. to a new waterfall, one that frightened me too much to try before. Tannery Falls just sounded like a dangerous hike from the descriptions I read, so it took a few years to get up the courage to try. This was the day for me!

You wouldn't know it, but this little stairway on the side of the street hides the best waterfall in Munising!

There were a few moments of panic when I think I snapped at B.E. who was trying to help me past some very high spots when I had doubts that I could go on, but we both made it. WOW, was it worth it!

This is a waterfall not to be missed!

The walk to and from the waterfall is awesome. You walk on a narrow, sandy path with a tall canyon rising above you, almost encasing you in a cave of rock with a canopy of trees on top. The rock is gorgeous, with nooks and crannies, and beautiful plantlife growing from it. On your other side is a steep drop, so far you cannot see the bottom, and I don't like to think about this part of the walk, so I'm not going to talk about it. However, it's quite scenic, secluded, and it remains cold and dark from a lack of direct light.

B.E. looked closely at some of the tiny things growing on the canyon walls and realized they were actually tiny alligators. See? We could've been eaten by a million little alligators!

The rock itself is typical of the area, composed of limestone and stained bright colors from the minerals that seep through or drop over. This is the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, after all.

More photos of Tannery Falls can be seen at the Tabblo page below.

Tabblo: Tannery Falls

Despite having an awesome day that was just packed with fun, we decided to tackle another of our favorite spots: The Tree Graveyard. This is actually Sand Point, but due to all the trees that wash ashore here, we have renamed it.

For many years, there has been an island of sand in the middle of the bay here, and a few brave swimmers will risk the riptide danger to visit this island, inhabited by many seagulls. However, this year, the sand distribution at Sand Point has shifted dramatically, and many of the half-buried trees have been unearthed, while the sand that once buried them has moved along and connected to the sand island in the bay. There is now a huge sandbar jutting out into the bay, much to the dismay of the seagulls who viewed this as a haven.

I was quick to get out there, chasing off the gulls, eager to be somewhere new and to have a view from the center of East Munising Bay. This is my view from the end of the sandbar, looking back at B.E., slowly sauntering over, bundled up in his quadruple layers and massive coat.

Then it started to rain. We didn't stay long after that, but it was totally cool to be in the bay thanks to some beach erosion.

What a trip! Already full of all kinds of new adventures, even though we have been there many times over many years.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

We had big plans for Tuesday: get up early, drive to Grand Marais for breakfast (FRENCH TOAST!) at our favorite breakfast spot, the East Bay Diner, a visit to the Grand Marais sights, and a trip to the Seney National Wildlife Refuge. The problem was getting Boyfriend Extraordinaire up early. When the alarm went off, I had this mental image of wrestling and arguing with him for an hour, trying in vain to get him up, until we were leaving too late to get breakfast and I'd be in a bitter and rotten mood for the rest of the day. So I looked at the clock, decided that I didn't want to struggle on this trip, and turned the alarm off, rolling over and sleeping in with him. When we finally got up two hours later, B.E. was sad but grateful that we slept in, and instead of going to Grand Marais, we had breakfast in the room and just went to Seney.

Seney Wildlife Refuge is a gigantic area of preserved land, and a sanctuary to all native wildlife. In addition to a number of hiking paths, there is a road that winds through a section of the refuge that is about 7 miles long, but we have never made this loop in less than two hours. We cannot drive more than 10 miles an hour because there is so much to see, and we're constantly pulling over to investigate things more closely, so I knew that skipping Grand Marais would actually give us more time to explore Seney, and it really wasn't much of a loss.

The first thing we noticed was that the dragonflies were practically in plague numbers. I invented a slogan for Seney, which they're welcome to steal if they like it.

"You know you're driving through the Seney Wildlife Refuge when there are hundreds of dragonflies flying next to your car, and they're going faster than you are."

We got out of our car to check out a pond with swans, and the dragonflies seemed to think this was an invitation to hang out with us.

Although it wasn't peak color, there were definitely some signs that it was soon to occur.

The most abundant creature you see in Seney aside from the Canada geese are the swans. They are everywhere. And they clearly are in charge. I watched this pair of swans swim seemingly peacefully with the geese until one decided to chase off the geese, and the partner joined in. They started honking and went after the geese.

When the geese flew off, the swans settled down and owned the pond again.

Mostly, what we saw were swan butts. Hungry critters, they are. Always digging for food.

Pied-billed grebes! Look at those cute, stripey bills!

This squirrel sat very near us munching on a pine cone like it was an ear of corn. It doesn't get much cuter. If you're not in love with the fluffy tail, the big, beady eyes or the adorable little ears, you have to love those awesome fingers!

Isn't it late in the year for caterpillars? This is a woolly bear caterpillar, which turns into an Isabella tiger moth.

Sappy, drippy pine cones.

One of my FAVORITE creatures in the world! The stunning! The beautiful! The WOOD DUCK! Woohoo! *applause*

Awwwwww, a baby pied-billed grebe! This one routinely dove down below the surface and swam underwater like a little speed demon, probably looking for food, or just playing with us. I couldn't tell.

Despite the fact that Seney is a wildlife refuge, there is no guarantee you're going to see anything at all, thought it is the perfect setting. We were a bit disappointed that we didn't get to see any larger animals, and only one mammal -- a squirrel. So, we decided to take a second trip through the park. The second time around, we met up with more birds, like blue jays, a kingfisher, and we were yelled at by a number of squirrels and chipmunks.

Two trips through took us over 5 hours. That's 14 miles in 5 hours. It was like being home and driving in rush hour traffic, only no other cars slowed us down.

On the way back to Munising, I went looking for a restaurant that was recommended to me a couple years ago by a young woman who lives near Munising. Randi found my blog one day and sent me an email, telling me to stop off at her sister's restaurant called the Boot Lake Bar & Grill in Shingleton. I looked it up online earlier that day and thought I located it on the map, but when we drove up the road where it was supposed to be, it was nowhere to be found. I don't know if it closed or if I somehow missed it, but we weren't able to visit. So sad.

However, Shingleton was ablaze with color, highly visible even in the dim light of dusk. It was a great drive.

We might have missed out on the best French toast in the world at the East Bay diner in Grand Marais, and we also missed out on untold goodness at the Boot Lake Bar & Grill in Shingleton, but we had a great day. Truly. Seney is always worth it.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Wednesday we planned to spend the day in Marquette because it was supposed to be rainy and gloomy, but it really wasn't. We went anyway.

The drive from Munising to Marquette west on 28 was gorgeous. The trees were vibrant and it contrasted dramatically with the deep blue of the sky and the lakeshore. We were certainly seeing this area during its peak.

Once in Marquette, we weren't quite sure where to start our day of exploring, so we drove through town and hit the thrift stores that Boyfriend Extraordinaire likes to visit. Afterward, we went through the downtown area so I could stop off at the touristy gift shops as well. In a farmer's market store, I found some Cortland apples, which are MY FAVORITE apples and kind of hard to find, so we had to pick some up. I also found some reasonably priced beads in a bead shop, so I also picked up some of those. Otherwise, my budget had no room for souvenirs this trip. Looking is fun, but I feel guilty for having nothing to contribute to the economy when I don't buy anything. How screwy is that?!

While driving down the lakeshore, I spied something in a nearby tree and yelled, "SCHWEE! There's a big-ass bird in that tree!"

He said, "Holy crap! I think that's an eagle! Turn around!"

So I did. And so it was! Only, it was an immature bald eagle who hadn't gotten his signature white head and tail yet.

Scruffy guy, but that profile is unmistakable.

From there we went to Presque Isle Park, where we parked by the harbor light and had an in-the-car picnic of PB&J sandwiches. Let me tell you, it is a delight and a luxury to have a big cooler full of ice and cold cans of Coke with you at all times. Whew! That was great! So, we had lunch, did a crossword puzzle, watched a ship unloading at the big dock, and then headed off to further explore the park.

From our lunching spot, the big dome was visible across the bay.

After lunch, I'd attacked one of those Cortland apples right away, and B.E. refused to throw out the core, saying it was food for an animal and shouldn't be wasted by going into the garbage, so he hung onto it until he found a beggar. It didn't take long. This fellow was eager for scraps and it turned out he was a huge fan of Cortland apple cores.

We hung out at the rocks at Sunset Point in Presque Isle Park for a while, then drove through to get to Jilbert's Dairy before they closed. Mmmmmm, cheese curds!

In the parking lot is an area where gigantic cows watch you eat your purchases. It's a little strange. I felt like I was being spied upon.

The view down the shore from the east side of Marquette is scenic in an industrial kind of way. B.E. does love to take photos of smokestacks.

The old ore dock is photogenic still, particularly in the setting sunlight with sailboats bobbing nearby.

It was quite a busy day in the harbor by the active ore dock. We saw four different ships visit the dock that day, and this was one patiently waiting in the distance for her turn to unload.

B.E. did a good job with the golden light of the end of the day, spotting art shots everywhere at the marina.

We hung around the dock until it was dark, and the patient ship got her turn. I'd never taken night pictures of a ship at the ore dock, so we walked a ways to get to the dock from the parking area, and shot hundreds of pics of this cool scene.

Thankfully, B.E. had bought me a way-cool Mag Lite and we were able to find our way back to the car without breaking an ankle or worse. Whatever would I do without him?

By the time we left the dock, it was really late and we had an hour drive back to town. We stopped at our favorite sandwich shop, Jimmy John's, to pick up a sandwich each for the room when we got back, and headed back to Munising. In the comfort of our room, we dined on JJ's, snuggled under the blankets, and watched more TV into the wee hours. Aren't vacations fabulous?