Category Archives: Lake Superior

The Porcupine Mountains

Looking over the Porcupine Mountains

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.

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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.

Sun setting over Lake Superior

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.

Acrobatics of a Least Chipmunk

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.

Milkyway in Porcupine State Park

A Snowmobiling Adventure

Last winter I had so much fun snowmobiling in Northern Wisconsin that I couldn’t wait to do it again so this year the plan was to go earlier almost guaranteeing enough cold and snow to fly across the wintery landscape. As luck would have it the upper Midwest has been relatively warm with precipitation falling as rain instead of snow once again bringing questions of trail quality and snow cover. As the planned day arrived a fresh coat of snow fell bringing many of the trails into great condition for snowmobiling. Let the fun begin!

Getting ready to hit the trails

After a brief check of the snowmobile it was time to hit the trails for a day of adventure through the forests of the North. Thankfully it was a warm winter day under a bright blue sky dulled only by a few wispy, white clouds making for perfect weather to fly on top of the snow covered Earth. As the day progressed miles kept flying by bringing different beautiful landscapes around the next corner.  Portions of the trail glide through dense forests while others are wide open fields with the occasional lake added in to keep the picture ahead changing.

Cruising along on the snowmobile trails

As sunset approached the mileage was reading almost 150 miles clocked during the daylight hours. It was definitely fun amassing those miles through every turn and hill set before us including one that was a little sharper than expected causing a sled to cruise through the corner almost flipping over and running over a few small trees before stopping to allow damage assessment. Fortunately there was none except maybe to a little tree or two which had to be removed before the snowmobile would move under its own power once again.

Taking a few moments to watch the sun set

With the sun now down below the horizon it was off towards our final destination of the day ending at a hotel for a few hours of rest before returning the snowmobiles for the weekend. As the trees flew by the sky continued to amaze with beautiful colors changing from yellows and oranges to reds and pinks distracting from the trail in front.  Fighting through that distraction came yet another one with a full moon rising above the horizon bringing with it a reminder that there was suppose to be a partial lunar eclipse but probably not visible at this Northern Wisconsin location. As daylight turned to darkness this partial eclipse shown across the face of the moon continuing the challenge of focusing on the trail ahead.

Watching a full moon rise partially eclipsed

A quick stop to refuel and off again into the darkness of trees reaching over snow covered trails meandering up and down and side to side until my snowmobile continually slowed down even though the throttle was pushed until it stopped and a small pop came from under the hood. Now what do we do here with nothing but trees as far as we could see. After a half hour of trying to get it restarted without success we decided our current adventure was complete and unknowingly a new one was about to begin.

Thankfully our second snowmobile was a two person sled so we moved the dead snowmobile off of the trail and headed for the nearest town to hopefully secure a place to stay and figure out what to do with the broken one. As the night progressed we learned how to disable the drive on snowmobiles and how to tow them all thanks to Youtuber’s. Grabbing a tow rope we headed back to the disabled snowmobile, disengaged it’s drive belt and towed it back to the rental place over several hours in complete darkness with only the flashlight of our phones to see what we were doing as the moon was now covered by a layer of clouds. Once completed we fell, exhausted into our beds for the night ending this Northern Wisconsin adventure.

Preparing for Isle Royale

In my previous post on ‘Planning for 2017’ I wrote briefly on going back to Isle Royale. I find this desire to backpack here very humorous because the last time I did this with the rest of my family I was adamant that backpacking was not for me and I would never do it again. I was glad to have experienced it once but that was enough. And now I can’t wait to return and hike further and for more days. What happened?

One of the shores of Isle Royal

Either I’ve gone crazy or have gained more knowledge on backpacking. First lets figure out why there was no desire to backpack again. Most of this came from hiking with a lot of extra weight on my back causing pain in my shoulders and back every time my pack was hoisted back onto my shoulders. The second reason is that sleeping was cold and uncomfortable leaving me tired much of the time longing for a good nights sleep. Other than that, I enjoyed the time on the island.

Getting up close to a moose can be very exciting if done safely for the animal and the viewer.

So what’s different now? A number of things have changed my opinion of backpacking bringing on an excitement to do it again. First is all of the information and experience I’ve gained since then increasing the confidence to be able to hike with extra weight and actually enjoy it. I now have a good idea of what is involved in preparing for an extended hike which includes hiking locally with a heavy backpack for a couple of miles each time along with biking a couple of days a week for several miles putting me in better shape. Also I have a nicer camera that I really enjoy using and Isle Royale is a great place for beautiful photographs adding to my excitement to be there.

A portion of the beautiful trails on Isle Royale

If I do this right the training backpack will be heavier than my actual pack making it seem like no big deal to carry all day long. Add to this increased muscle strength to be able to carry the weight while working around rocks and tree roots, using trekking poles to keep better balance and weight distribution, and bringing fewer items reducing my overall back pack weight should combine to make a fun hiking experience.

Sleeping in the solitude of Isle Royale can be difficult to get use to.

A few weeks after returning from Isle Royale the last time I began to go through our supplies and determined how I would pack differently another time to reduce the weight I was carrying. It was amazing how much different things felt for each pound we removed either in food or water weight making the pack lighter. We definitely brought too much food last time and heavy food at that. That is an easy place to reduce weight by several pounds. Also, sleeping gear last time was heavy lugging small air mattresses, cotton sheets, and blankets. This time a sleeping bag, light sleeping pad, and maybe a small pillow which should eliminate more weight. My only concern is increased weight in camera equipment so I will have to watch that part. As far as sleeping goes, I know there won’t be great sleep so I’m prepared for that so it should be less of a concern.

One of the Entrance Stations of Isle Royale

Training for hiking in the Rocky Mountains in 2016 and how successful it was and I was at completing a couple of 10 mile + hikes at higher elevations has proven to me that I can adequately train for this trip and go the distance with my backpack. In fact, at times I would even forget I was carrying my backpack loaded with clothing, food, and water all as a result of training before hand. The pack will be heavier this time as it will include more food, a tent, sleeping gear, and probably more clothing so I understand what I need to do to prepare. I’m so looking forward to this but there is much to do before then.

The Frozen River

After a day snowmobiling through Northern Wisconsin we (my cousin and I) wanted to take in a waterfall or two coated in fresh snow so off to Gooseberry Falls we drove. That was the last weekend of the season the trails were open for snowmobiling as it worked out. How fortunate for us?! I was expecting the river to be flowing freely surrounded by fresh snow for some very picturesque landscapes. To my surprise the ice was still well intact over much of the river and waterfalls. For a comparison I’ve included a photo of these same waterfalls during the summer.

Surrounded by Ice

I’ve never been to this area during the winter to see what the waterfalls look like iced over so this was interesting to explore in a completely different perspective. Seeing the waterfalls frozen made me wonder what the process looks like during the winter as the ice gets thicker and thicker. I was also surprised how many people were visiting the falls and taking in a beautiful winter day exploring this state park.

Gooseberry Falls in the summer

Most of the visitors were hiking around the falls, which is what we were doing while some were there to photograph the ice covered waterfalls and one individual was climbing up and over the frozen portions of the falls. Taking some time to talk with him, he says this is his winter version of rock climbing, an activity keeping him out and about enjoying life. It was fun to watch as he picked through the ice with axes and cleats.

Climbing the ice walls

While hiking through the state park I discovered trails in locations I wasn’t aware of trails before. I’ve been to this state park a number of times and never discovered a trail on the opposite side of these waterfalls on top of the cliff overlooking this gorgeous landscape. The views from this newly discovered trail are well worth the extra distance required to get to them. That’s were many of these pictures were taken from. You can see the different angles between most of the waterfall photos and the summer shot.

Peering inside the layers of ice covering the river.

Because one of my goals for 2016 was to photograph snowflakes, I’ve started to look more closely at some of the details in the ice and snow this year. Especially melting ice and snow. The picture above shows the layers that make up ice covering the river as portions are beginning to melt. Some of the freshly fallen snow was beginning to melt and gliding down the ice creating interesting trickles across the several inches of ice still coating the river.

More layers of melting ice.

As we continued our hike around a portion of the Gooseberry River I found a few other locations providing a snapshot into the layer upon frozen layer of water making up this thick sheet of ice. In the above photograph you can see the layers underneath the top layer which is still coated in snow. The darkest portions are running water flowing underneath all of this ice. I believe the water depth in this area is several feet so while it looks relatively shallow, that look is deceiving.

Waterfalls frozen in place

Making our way to the lower falls you can see the magnificent rocks covered in all of this ice. in our explorations we confirmed water running under much of this as there were a few spots open to the water underneath as well as sounds of rushing water muffled by layers of ice. There were some great shapes created from the freezing and thawing during the recent days. It’s interesting to look at all these little details that combine together to make this amazing ice walls. Sometimes I forgot I was standing over running water as I was attempting to photograph these small icicles and crystals and their curious shapes.

One of the many icicles making up this huge ice wall.

Darkness was approaching on this already cloud covered light and the wind was growing colder so it was time to exit this beautiful ice river and falls. Before we did I was amazed further by the resilience of trees that grow out of these rock ledges as in the winter they are also ice covered. How they continue to grow surprises me and I work with plants almost every day. These tree roots and icicles clinging to the side of this stone wall made for a sight you don’t expect to see.

Tree roots growing through ice and rock

Gooseberry Falls State Park has a beautiful visitors center with great information about the North Shore of Minnesota but was unfortunately closed as we were exiting. In the absence of park personnel, we were sent on our way by some of the park residents. Although they seemed to prefer our departure instead of wanting to be interacted with.

Local resident deer sending us on our way

Fun in the Snow

In early January there was a discussion on getting out on snowmobiles this winter with my cousin and brother for a guys weekend in Northern Wisconsin. Well, that was unless my wife decided she wanted to join us. The first weekend in March was the date set but as warm as winter was we weren’t completely sure there would be enough snow on the trails to go. A couple of weeks before the chosen date we were a little more comfortable so we reserved a couple of sleds, since my brother was unable to go, with the option of canceling if the snow melted before the first weekend in March which was entirely possible as forecasts called for 50’s or warmer the weekend before with possible rain to follow and no snow in the forecast to replenish what melted.

Stopping in front of the Apostle Islands

As the day approached my cousin and I kept a close eye on the trail reports wondering if the trails would remain open for us. Two nights before we decided to reserve our hotel room as well because the trails were most likely going to be open and our day in the snow at 70 miles per hour would be on. We were expecting icy trails especially on the turns making the snowmobiling experience a little less exciting but a day on the trails is still better than a day working. Soon after getting the sleds and hitting the trails we found the trails to be in great shape with no ice and a good base of most of them. To make it even better, fresh snow fell while we were out tearing across the trails. In the photo above you typically would see some of the Apostle Islands, home of the famous ice caves, behind us but the snow was falling heavily enough it blocked the view of them.

The freshly covered snowmobile trail

For me, it was an amazing adventure as it has been a few years since I was last on a snowmobile. Way too long! I had forgotten how much fun it is to weave through the forests of Northern Wisconsin near Lake Superior with nothing but the roar of the engine and the wind smashing against your helmet. There’s an excitement when your moving at 60 miles an hour flying by trees and feeling the sled wobble beneath you giving you the feeling that a slight wrong move could cause you to lose control. It sounds dangerous and it can be. There are only specific situations to get going that fast and hope that a deer doesn’t bounce in front of you. At those times it is a very freeing calmness and heightened awareness of what’s in front of you.

A great way to see the forest of Northern Wisconsin

The rest of the time you are traveling around 30 miles per hour maneuvering around turns and climbing up and down the hills enjoying the sights passing you by. It was a challenge for me not to stop every couple of hundred feet and take pictures of the amazing landscape covered in a fresh blanket of falling snow. The choice was to explore more trails or stop more frequently to photograph the sights currently around us. Most of the time I opted for exploring more trails.

Flying through the snow on a one horse open sled

For a short time I attached the GoPro to the snowmobile for a different perspective. In the photograph above you can see white streaks in front of the sled. These are snowflakes capturing the headlights on the snowmobile. It kind of looks like preparing for warp speed through space. Using the camera on the sled was a little challenging because the constant vibrations would shake it loose and I didn’t bring the appropriate attachments to secure it better.

A fresh snowfall brings out the winter wonderland along the Brule River

In one area there was a bridge which spanned the Brule River. I did have to stop and turn around to photograph this scene. It just looked like the perfect scene of winter. When I imagine a winter landscape it either has mountains in it or a river flowing through a forest covered in snow. Pretty much what you see in the picture above and below. This was a great adventure that I hope to repeat next winter!

Beautiful Northern Wisconsin landscape

Superior Respect

Earlier this summer we had the opportunity to host a French Exchange Student for a couple of weeks. During this time it was decided a trip to see the largest freshwater lake in the world would be appropriate since it is only a few hours away. There was only about 24 hours to take in this vast Lake Superior shoreline and unfortunately rain was forecast for most of these 24 hours. The forecast proved extremely accurate. With that rain came wind and the occasional thunderstorm but we managed to take in views of Lake Superior the demand respect from anyone on the water.

Four Foot Waves Crashing

There warnings all along Minnesota’s North Shore to stay out of the water. So no swimming, kayaking, or other small boat activities were advised. These photos give you an idea of the dangers of Lake Superior at certain times which is why respect for this ocean like lake is needed.

Waves Crashing Against the Shore

The nice thing about being around the shoreline on these rainy days is that during the busiest tourist season of the year there weren’t very many people taking in the sights. A raincoat/rain suit and an umbrella makes it possible to still enjoy this amazing lake.

Wave after Wave Rolling Towards Shore

At time the waves get big enough to create a small tube. At certain times of the year people put on wetsuits and go surfing on Lake Superior , usually in the late fall and winter, enjoying the large waves that can be created.

Creating a Tube on the Water

Going to the Beach

Ice Covered Beach on the North Shore

Usually when someone thinks of going to the beach in the winter they have images of a white sandy beach in the Caribbean, Hawaii, or the Seychelles.  I had a slightly different opportunity to start the New Year. A trip to Northern Minnesota to view the picturesque shore of Lake Superior. It was a beautiful January afternoon with temperatures just above 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-15 degrees Celsius) which felt warm compared to the cold of the previous days and days to follow which where anywhere from 10 to 30 degrees colder with brisk winds. Yes, I did take a quick dip in the lake since this is a beach with open water (if you consider sticking my hand into the water, which was warmer than the air this day, a quick dip) even if the beach is ice covered.

Ice Covered Shoreline of Lake Superior

This was the first opportunity I’ve had to take in the North Shore of Minnesota during the winter and it was worth the effort to dress appropriately for a couple of hours in the cold. Surprisingly, I was not the only person on this beach this day. One of my neighbors joined me in climbing ice covered rocks and exploring this winter wonderland. We did encounter other people also taking in this winter wonderland that was missing it’s snow blanket exposing the many colors contained in this rocky shoreline.

Icicles Adorning the Shoreline Cliffs

Large waves had made their mark here earlier evident by the ice covered rocks and shrubs but on this day Lake Superior provided a relaxing, calm motion in the water giving great opportunities to explore the shoreline. Icicles hang abundantly off of the rock ledges from all of the water running towards the lake before this area became a frozen spectacle.

Ice Covered Shrubs

I could only imagine what it must have been like to be in this area when the waves where large enough to come crashing over the shoreline high enough to coat everything in a thick layer of ice creating these amazing ornaments only visible during winter time. In reading other accounts of the ice sculptures created by Lake Superior I could not fully appreciate what they were writing about. Now those experiences have become clearer and much more exciting to see.

Ice Sculptures Created by Lake Superior

Only a couple of miles to the north there was 6 – 8 inches of snow on the ground and to the south there was an inch or two but here…. snow was missing on this day. For me it was fortunate to be able to have the contrast of the ice and colorful rock all around. I’m sure there is a whole different beauty here when it’s all covered in fresh snow.

North Shore Winter Wonderland

Lake Superior always gave away it’s location during these colder days because of the constant cloud cover created by the steam coming off the warmer water. A mile inland could be sunny but there were always clouds on one of the horizons. Fortunately there was just enough wind to blow this cloud cover away from the shore allowing the sky to clear a little overhead during these afternoon hours. It didn’t last long.

Calm Waters Colliding with the Rocky Cliffs

For a few minutes while the sun was out I was wishing for a comfortable lawn chair to be able to set up on the beach and just take in the quiet, calm solitude of this incredible landscape. These blue waters just begged to be touched and so I obliged by removing my two layers of gloves and soaking my hands. Sure the water was a little colder than I prefer but it wasn’t unbearable. It helped that I was kept warm by climbing up and around the boulders and trees of this shoreline before testing this water. I don’t recommend wading or swimming during the winter but a quick rinse of the hands is typically harmless.

Shoreline Highlighted in Ice Near the Water

While hiking through the woods this member of the local wildlife kept posing as if to tell us it was alright to take a picture. We were mere feet away and it just sat there like we were of no concern. Why would I pass up such a situation? I pulled the camera from it’s case and snapped a few photos. After a couple of shots it was time for red squirrel to move on to his daily routine.

Wildlife Posing for a Picture

After hiking for a few miles we came to this point, looked out over this Great Lake and decided it was time to begin our trek back.

Icy Evidence of Higher Water and Waves

On the return trip we noticed the clouds on the horizon appeared to be bringing snow and we were due back to our camp shortly so making our way to the vehicle became a little more hurried. Once snow covers the roads it can greatly increase the difficulty in traveling so using the dry roads seemed like a good idea. A few miles north we encountered this snow along with colder temperatures and increased wind. Yet, passing by this area again later in the week showed the snow never reached here. The beauty of Lake Superior is such a privilege to be able to take in and winter appears to be no different and with a lot fewer people joining you.

Approaching Snowstorm