Recently I had the opportunity to meet a friend I went to college with for a few days camping at Porcupine Mountain State Park which resides in Northern Michigan otherwise known as the U.P. I was hopeful to see a porcupine since I assumed that’s where the name for this park came from. As we learned while there, the name actually comes from the shape of the mountains. They look like humped over porcupines. It is possible to see a porcupine in this area but not overly likely.
Yurts are available for rent at this state park making it so a tent or camping trailer is not necessary. There are cabins also if a person prefers that. One of the nice things about the cabins and yurts is they are more remote than the rest of the campground giving you your own little area all to yourself. The challenging part of these yurts and cabins is lack of running water or electricity so using a bathroom with both of these things requires a bit of a walk to get there. Our camping spot was next to Lake Superior. Fortunately the weather was nice and calm so the lake was also. At night we were lulled to sleep by the waves lazily crashing against the shore for a peaceful nights rest.
There are several ways to spend your time at Porcupine State Park with several miles of trails to hike leading to mountain tops or waterfalls, Lake Superior providing water activities such as boating, kayaking, or swimming in the warm summer months, or just sitting next to your fire watching the flames dance between the logs. While spending some time at our campsite a Least Chipmunk would entertain us with its acrobatics off and on as it collected ripening fruit from several nearby trees.
In July the sun sets quite late in this part of the United States so it didn’t actually get dark until after 10 p.m. Eastern time. That really threw my time off because it seemed so late but was still light out to make an evening meal and eat it in the waning light. By the time stars began making their appearance it would be getting really late. One night we decided to find an area to view the Milky way and take some photographs instead of going to bed. After a few hours of doing that there was discussion on whether we should go to bed or find a place to view the impending sunrise. Thankfully our senses returned as it was off to bed for a good nights rest. Spending time in the U.P. of Michigan was definitely peaceful and relaxing.
While getting ready to enjoy an evening of Fireworks to end the day of Independence Day celebrations another type of fireworks began. Storms off in the distance began displaying beautiful cloud lighting which became a distraction from fireworks being set off from the ground. It was a difficult choice deciding which one to watch as they were going off at the same time and both were interesting and beautiful to watch.
Most of the time I tried to pay attention to those being set off by nearby cities anticipating these approaching storms would continue after their fireworks were done. I did keep an eye on local radar just to make sure we weren’t in danger of storms catching us before the ground fireworks were complete. Once they ended I decided to drop off the family in the safety of our home and head out with the camera and try to capture this amazing display in the sky. Expecting rain to begin within 20 minutes of setting up I moved quickly to get the camera settings and focus correct and attempted to photograph some of this lightning. As it turned out the rain stayed away for over an hour while the lightning continued to flash in the sky resulting in some nice images.
With just on hour of daylight left on our first evening in Yellowstone National Park, we took off exploring the several walkways built around Mammoth Hot Spring Terraces. During research ahead of this trip these hot spring terraces weren’t an exciting feature that I was in a hurry to see so this seemed like the right amount of time to quickly explore the area. Upon first viewing these formations I was surprised at how white they were and the formations creating all of these little, unique pools. Something I’ve never seen anywhere before.
Apparently this extreme white comes from calcium being brought up with the springs and deposited as water from these springs cools which means these terraces continually change. This means that the terraces viewed last summer are not the exact same as the ones I saw this summer which will be unique next summer for different visitors. That’s kind of fun. Still, after walking around these features for a little while I felt I’d seen enough to call it a night and return to the hotel for much needed sleep. That’s when the photographer inside of me kicked in.
Shapes, textures, colors, and living and dead trees creating interesting objects began to appear. Yes, they were there the whole time but I didn’t really see them individually. Algae and bacteria living in this hot water add colors to the pure white calcium deposits creating amazing patterns in the terraces. Add to that trees which have been overtaken by these mineral deposits provide another layer of texture to this scene. Soon I realized I could spend a lot of time here catching these items as the light continues to change highlighting different features of each terrace formation ending in beautiful photographs.
Now there wasn’t enough daylight left to capture the Mammoth Hot Springs the way I would like to. As we continued to explore different areas, the springs became more and more fascinating with their little calcium ridges flowing over past living trees turned into decaying artwork and colored different shades of orange and brown as light continued to fade from the almost clear sky. Other areas provided trees a place to grow as a hot spring would become dormant providing more interesting features. With renewed energy it was off to see more areas and discover more of these steam filled deposits creating calm pools of water waiting to cool as they seep from one to another.
Eventually the sky became dark enough to prevent further photographs highlighting these great colors and textures so we returned to our car for the trip to the hotel before crashing into bed for some much desired rest. These Mammoth Hot Springs became more interesting than I would have imagined and every time we passed them on the way to see another location there was a temptation to stop and get more photographs in better light. However that would come at the cost of seeing more of Yellowstone. One advantage to visiting the terraces later in the evening is we really didn’t have to deal with crowds. With this being our first night here it was a false sense of navigating through Yellowstone in mid June. The next day would quickly change this with vastly larger numbers of vehicles and people.
Yellowstone National Park was one of the most eagerly anticipated parks on our National Parks Monopoly board from the beginning of our adventures and has definitely lived up to its name. We chose to stay in Gardiner near the North Entrance so our first experience in Yellowstone was to go through the symbolic Roosevelt Arch. The arch itself if beautiful but seems quite out of place now so it must be symbolic as it does not fit the surroundings very effectively. When it was built in 1903, according to a nearby sign, it must have been a grand entrance into this scenic and adventure filled land and now remains as a piece of history here.
This is a vast and continuously changing landscape and as such requires some time to drive through, when you can drive through it as half of the year snow covers many of the roads closing them to most vehicles. During the peak summer months of June, July, and August there is much to see and do but require some additional attributes for vacationers. First you need to bring a lot of patience as travel is relatively slow due to numerous other visitors all stopping along the road to see the incredible views and wildlife, many times without consideration to those behind them.
Secondly be able to accept many things that you can not control. Most of this is from people wanting to get a certain picture of wildlife, the numerous hydrothermal features, special group shot, or that all important selfie. Other times it can be from people trying to catch up to their group or kids being clueless to their surroundings. Relaxing and understanding other people have different priorities and schedules can help enjoy this beautiful time of year to explore Yellowstone. One tactic to get around some of these annoyances is to start really early in the morning and/or staying later in the park when most others are headed back to their residence for the day.
We had four days to explore this massive place and each day brought something new to see with some of these days packing in more than can be taken in for a single day. Fortunately that’s what pictures and maps are for, to recall what each day provided. Before heading to Gardiner I spent several hours doing some research of what makes this National Park special so that while driving around we wouldn’t miss these things. The most recognizable piece of Yellowstone National Park is the hydrothermal features created by molten lava a short distance under the Earth’s crust as a large portion of this area is basically inside a caldera of what is now a dormant volcano.
The next highlight is the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone which has the Yellowstone River rushing through it. This river falls over a 300 foot cliff resulting in a thunderous crash heard for miles as the water continues on into the canyon. With above normal snowfall this past winter melting at a fast pace, the flow over this waterfall is faster and louder than normal. Yellowstone Lake is another of the grand pieces to explore with many doing so either by fishing, kayaking, or boating. Be careful as the water is still cold even during the warmer summer months being able to cause hypothermia which occurred a week before our trip here. While these are destinations within the park, arguably the biggest highlight of Yellowstone National Park is the wildlife. Unfortunately, seeing many of the different wild animals residing here is unpredictable so the only way to have an opportunity to see it is to be on the lookout while driving from one location to another or hiking into some of the back country areas with safety precautions understood and accessible. I’ll continue to go into detail on many of these highlights in later posts.
Actually it’s both because this National Monument is located next to the Little Bighorn River which flows into the Bighorn River which hopefully makes more sense. This was one of the few remaining destinations on our National Parks Monopoly board which we visited recently. This is an interesting but solemn place memorializing a battle between Lt. Col. Custer with his Calvary and 5 different Indian tribes taking place over June 25th and 26th, 1976 as well as the location of Custer National Cemetery.
This battle was won by many different Indian tribes working together led by Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse to defeat the U.S. Army’s 7th Cavalry in a final victory before being forced onto reservations a few short years later. Photos above and below show a beautiful memorial to this battlefield where Indian tribes came together at this location for one cause – preserving and remembering their way of life. It’s sad and unfortunate that this battle had to take place due to the greed of those further east over control of the land and it’s resources, but if it hadn’t happened in 1876, I’m quite certain it would have happened at some point in a desire to possess land by those with wealth and power.
Little Bighorn is a popular National Monument with more people entering hear than I’ve seen at other National Monuments of this size.When asking about this popularity, as this was not the only battle between the U.S. Army and Indians, the response was increased attention due to the high profile people involved such as Custer, Sitting Bull, and Crazy Horse along with this is the only battle that has markers in the exact location where each person died during the battle. Additionally it is a National Cemetery so there are visitors seeking out those buried there.
After this battle was over, those who survived buried those who died where they were found a placed markers so each persons location which is unique. These people have since been moved to different burial locations but the markers have remained and been replaced with the inscribed stones seen in the photo above and below. Red are for Indians and white for U.S. Calvary. There are far more white markers throughout the park than red ones reinforcing how one sided this battle actually was. This gives historians and visitors a more detailed map of what took place on this battlefield over two days.
I couple of weeks ago I was awakened by a bright flash of lightning. After watching out the window for a few minutes I realized the storms were passed us and then I saw a light flash. Being still partially asleep I wasn’t sure I saw that little flash of light as it was 12:30am and fireflies are typically done lighting up by this time.
Becoming a little more awake I continued to look outside only to confirm fireflies were indeed flashing in our back yard. A few minutes later I was out on the deck watching them flash repeatedly. More than we’ve ever had in our backyard. The following night I decided to head out to more wooded areas to see if the fireflies were putting on a show. The first location I tried really wasn’t providing as many fireflies as I wanted so I decided to try another area close by.
Luckily they were putting on a nice show but then another issue arose with a nearly full moon lighting up the landscape making it difficult to see any fireflies flashing. I was able to find a shaded area and get some nice pictures of the fireflies that night. Over the next couple of weeks I’ve been going to different spot when I can and photographing these interesting beetles as they displayed different flashing sequences and colors. Hopefully you can see their trails in the photos in this post. My next goal is to photograph a single beetle lighting up. We’ll see as that is a difficult task as they don’t like to stay in one place very long.
During the past several weeks I’ve been out enjoying the active wildlife and taking hundreds of photographs. Some of the most prevalent subjects have been dragonflies which are fun insects to photograph with all of their different colorations and patterns. People tend to get a little bored with dragonfly photographs as there are a lot of them.
In the main photo above I believe that is called a widow skimmer which is also in the second to last photo from the bottom. Directly above is a four spotted skimmer. After photographing a dragonfly it can be a bit of a challenge to identify it but fun to try and fun to learn what each one is.
These insects are amazing fliers often able to out fly birds to keep from being eaten and also catch insects for their next meal which is a great thing for those that don’t like mosquitos. Their acrobatics can entertain and amaze for hours on a nice summer afternoon.
Above is a blue damselfly hiding amongst the grass. While many people consider it a dragonfly it is actually a different insect in a group known as damselflies. Damselflies have their wings behind them while at rest and are not as skilled at flying as dragonflies. Also they typically are not as big.
During my time attempting to photograph these fun insects, one of my goals was to capture them in flight which proved more difficult than expected. Most of my pictures of dragonflies in the air out of focus or have a portion of their body cut out of the photo or missed them entirely as my reaction time is slower than their takeoff time.
In the picture above rests a 12 spotted skimmer. These didn’t seem to rest much while I was there so there is only a picture or two of them.
Above is another widow skimmer and below is an ebony jewelwing damselfly. These are probably my favorite damselflies because their coloration changes depending on the light they’re in and because of their black wings which flutter softly from leaf to leaf. There will probably be more dragonfly photos yet this year as I continue to have fun capturing them with a camera.
A year ago I was able to wonder around in a nearby forest taking in wildlife. You can read about it here if you would like. There have not been as many opportunities to get out with my camera this spring but recently I did get to spend some time taking in the ever greening forest in search on new life. On this particular outing my goal was to see if a mother coyote had taken up residence in a familiar spot to raise her little ones again and to find out if Eagles had once again laid eggs in their nest from last year.
While slowly making my way in the woods attempting to make as little noise as possible I heard a low growling sound coming from nearby. Scanning the area I saw a head hanging out of a hole in the tree. Watching for a minute or two I noticed this raccoon ever so gently resting its head in this hole looking exhausted from the day.
Enjoying this raccoon for a short time I heard a noise in leaves up the hill from me but couldn’t see what was making the noise. Shortly after a little deer made its way near me but hadn’t noticed me yet. Fortunately I was standing on a log right next to another tree so there was no shuffling of leaves to slowly turn to watch it. As I began to rotate, the deer spotted my movement causing us both to stop immediately. It was so dark in the woods that taking pictures of moving animals was a challenge and I was in a poor position to steady my camera so all I could manage was a few blurry shots and it was gone. This was ok because I wanted to focus more on the raccoon.
Once the deer had disappeared I hopped onto another fallen tree nearby trying to keep the noise down as I moved closer to this hollow tree being used for a home. Once on this tree I quietly removed my backpack and took out the tripod in order to steady my camera in hopes of getting sharper photos. While doing this out pops a bunch of tiny heads trying to figure out what I was doing. Now I understand why this larger raccoon appears to be so tired as to be almost lifeless. It was a mother with several little ones to tend to.
Almost settled in with my backpack and tripod, there was another rustling in the leaves near where the first noise came from but this time it sounded slightly different. I quickly frozen, standing on this log trying to look for movement and then I heard a sound – a turkey. Wow I’ve never had turkeys walk up to me. I always seem to come up on them and scare them away before getting a decent picture. Now what do I do? In order for me to get to cover so they wouldn’t recognize me I would have to move significantly. I decided to concentrate on these baby raccoons but tried to remain steady as to not disrupt the turkeys too much. They did eventually move on away from me so I could once again focus on these little critters right in front of me.
Now I was able to get the camera set up on the tripod and sit comfortably on the log I was just standing on and shoot away as this family would pop in and out of this larger hole in the tree. Enjoying my time watching these little fury creatures I heard another noise off in the distance. It sounded like thunder! I didn’t think there was really any storms in the area so I dismissed it as possibly an airplane overhead or something. Than I heard it again with a much longer rumble. That had to be thunder so I pulled out my phone all while being watched and check the radar. Now what should I do? I can pack up and try and get out of hear or wait it out since it appeared I was on the edge and may only get a little rain. Waiting it out seemed like the better idea as I could see sun near the horizon so this couldn’t last very long. Back to taking pictures of the raccoons.
While sitting there defying the weather, the thunder got closer and more numerous causing me to question my decisions to stay. Finally when it was almost overhead I decided it was time to pack up and leave. It must have been the right decision as the raccoons had all retreated back into their tree as well. Getting out to the edge of the woods I could see the storm which appeared to have just passed overhead. Now the wind was picking up at my back so the approaching cold front must have just came through. Do I go back to the raccoons or continue on to the eagles nest or keep going towards the car? My answer came in the form what sounded like a strong wind gust. But it wasn’t wind. I new my time was up and my choice now was to seek shelter among a clump of large maple trees just as heavy rains began pounding down. After a short downpour I decided to continue to the car and enjoyed watching the sun set behind this small spring storm. Definitely worth getting wet for.