Tag Archives: hiking

September Solitude in Michigan’s U.P.

One nice thing about the late summer and early fall is that summer vacation has ended and the kids are back in school so the parks are virtually empty and it’s easier to find a campsite.  Traffic is thinning out at the popular attractions and the pace is relaxed.

The second blessing is that the lakes are still warm enough for a refreshing dip.  The water of the Great Lakes cools down more slowly than the air temperature in the fall, so though the days are cool and comfortable and nights are getting chilly, the water is still enjoyable.

Here are some quiet spots where you will likely find the crowds thinning out after Labor Day.

Whitefish Point

There is a world-class Shipwreck Museum that’s part of the complex at Whitefish Point Lighthouse north of Paradise.  The state forest campgrounds are still open into October, and there are abundant vacation rentals and cabins in the area.

Whitefish Point HDR boost

DSC_0007
Want a historical adventure?  Stay overnight at the old Coast Guard Station at Whitefish Point.

Crisp Point Lighthouse

It’s best not to attempt the road to Crisp Point with a low-slung sedan.  You’ll be bottoming out several times on the one-lane 19-mile logging road that is rough and sandy and takes an hour to drive one way.

Your reward for the tedious drive is a remote lighthouse on a mostly deserted stony beach.  The site is tended by volunteers who stay in their campers next to the beach.

Crisp Point Lighthouse edit
Rock hounds love the pickin’s at Crisp Point.

Au Sable Point Lighthouse

The trailhead to the isolated lighthouse is at the Hurricane River Campground that is part of the large Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  The 1.5-mile hiking trail hugs the shore just above the rock ledges and stony beach.  The road through the national lakeshore is nicely paved but winding, so your average speed will be about 35 mph getting there.  Don’t rush.

Au Sable Point HDR boost

AuTrain Bay, AuTrain

This tranquil shoreline is super easy to reach as highway 28 runs right along the lake here just a few miles west of the little village of Christmas.  Pull off at one of the beautiful roadside parks where there are restrooms and running water.

The sandy beach is walkable for nearly a mile and the water is shallow enough for wading and swimming.  Rocky outcroppings bookend the beach at both ends.

DSC_0041

Scott Falls is visible from the highway, but pull into the roadside park at the east end of the bay for an easy walk across the road to this personable little falls where you can walk right up to it… or behind it.  On a warm day it may seem to invite a shower, but you are in for a bit of a shock, as the water is not as warm as the lake.

Scott's Falls lomo

This is a great time of year to explore the wilderness of northern Michigan, but the window of opportunity is short.  By October 1st the lake will likely cool beyond the tolerable range and a tranquil dip in Lake Superior will be out of the question.  Snow isn’t unheard of in this part of the world during the month of October, and the warm pasties will warm body and soul at the local restaurants in Munising.

So get while the gettin’ is good.

Life’s a Trip – When You Are Alone

Life’s a Trip, Part 5

Not everybody likes to be alone.  Extroverts and socialites have a hard time understanding why anyone would go out of their way to be by themselves.  But introverts and loners get it.  Sometimes it requires solitude to refuel the emotional tank, and there is nothing lonely about it.

I have lived in urban locations where the only place I could be alone was sitting on the toilet.  But that’s doesn’t satisfy if you are anxious in small spaces.

These are some locations where I have been able to find solitude outside of the bathroom.  Some of these take a lot of effort to get to, while others just take some strategic planning and/or timing.

The Alaska Highway

Yukon mountains
The Alaska Highway is 1500 miles of rugged mountains, valleys, forest and tundra.

Okay, this is a big challenge.  You will have to block out a couple of weeks to make this drive… and that’s just one way.  Double that if you are driving it both out and back.

The aloneness that I sensed in the middle of the Yukon was so intense that it made me nervous.  Hundreds of miles to the nearest mechanic.  But if you want to be alone, you will have your way out here.  Sometimes, when I would pull back onto the highway after a fuel stop or overnight camp, I would look both directions for traffic and not see another vehicle.  Not one, as far as the eye could see.

I think your solitude quota will be satisfied easily while you travel the Alaska Highway.

DSC_0017
We had the campground entirely to ourselves at Coal River Roadhouse, Yukon Territory.

For more on the Alaska Highway, read my related post here.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

SBDNL solitude edit

This is a popular northwest lower Michigan destination for families with kids.  Try hiking,  beach combing, dunes climbing, and a 27-mile-long bike path that runs through deep forests and dunes.

You will be with crowds at the popular Dune Climb and the Scenic Drive which lands you at the top of the dunes 400 feet overlooking Lake Michigan.  What a view!

But there is a solitary spot at the top of Sleeping Bear Point, although at sunset there will be a few folks who will trek out to see the million dollar sunset over Lake Michigan.  From Glen Haven, take the blacktop road west to the end and then drive down the gravel lane to the trailhead parking lot where there are restrooms. You might want flip flops for about a hundred yards until you reach the foot of the dunes, then go barefoot.

The national lakeshore also includes two large islands, South Manitou Island (seen in the distance in the photo above) and North Manitou Island that have many miles of deserted beaches and unspoiled forests.  Take the boat from Leland, Michigan; advance reservations are necessary.

The Channel Islands, California

Channel Isles solitude edit
Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands.  Hard to believe it is almost within sight of Los Angeles.

Call ahead or go online for reservations on the passenger ferry from Ventura Harbor, Ventura.  You may be accompanied by dolphins on the cruise over.  Cool.

Once you disembark there will be a short orientation talk from the ranger, then you are free to wander about the island without distraction from crowds of hikers.  The trails on the high cliffs are impressive and the drop-offs intimidating, so mind the edge.

DSC_0174

Valley of the Gods, Utah

Valley of Gods pickup campsite crop

During the day, an occasional SUV will pass by as you settle in at your free campsite in the desert just about 30 miles from the famous Monument Valley Tribal Park where there are bus loads of visitors swarming the overlooks.  At Valley of the Gods, you will be alone most of the time and at night the quiet and solitude can be almost unnerving.

Once the sun sets over the cliffs nearby, the wind will completely stop – along with that awful moaning sound in the top of the butte that towers over the campsite – and you’ll be in the dark.  If you ever wanted to film the Milky Way above, this will be the spot without any interfering light from the nearest city over a hundred miles away.

Bob V.O.G. Milky Way corner fix 2

Bryce Canyon National Park

Queen's Garden cover crop

This one calls for some strategy.  Bryce is second only to Zion National Park for the number of visitors in the desert southwest.  That means you’ll have to find the more remote hiking trails to find solitude.

Or go at night.  This was my strategy when I was looking for those trails with the tunnels cut through the rock; I was looking for a certain photo setting, sort of an Indiana Jones theme.

The Queen’s Garden Trail was busy with hikers as I headed down off the rim into the canyon in the late afternoon, but as dusk fell they disappeared.  I was totally alone for my evening photo shoot…  and for the entire climb back to the rim after dark.

The White Rim Road, Utah

DSC_0524

Again, Canyonlands National Park is heavily visited, though not quite as much as Arches National Park nearby.  But there are hiking trails off the rim that are only sparsely traveled.

And if you drive below the rim, you will find even more isolation.  The park service puts a quota on the number of visitors on the White Rim Trail, so you will have to plan ahead. You can make campsite reservations as much as 4 months in advance on their website.

Be advised, this drive is not for the faint of heart.  The drop-offs are hundreds of feet.  A Jeep or SUV with four-wheel-drive will work the best and they can be rented by the day from the outfitters in Moab nearby.

If you really want to be alone, take the Potash Road from Moab and, once you leave the pavement onto the gravel, you will be able to get to the White Rim without meeting another vehicle.  Stop anywhere along the way for a solitary view of the Colorado River a thousand feet below or the massive cliffs and dry creek beds through which you will be driving.  (See my 11-minute scary video of the White Rim Road here.)

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Saturday, February 10, 2007 (44)

Again, this is a hikers’ mecca and the trails that skirt the cliffs 200 feet above Lake Superior will be busy with adventurers.

But, if you drive east from the town of Munising along the shoreline, you will find the less traveled county road H-58 that wanders through the forests above the lake connecting scenic overlooks with rustic campgrounds.  Hike to Au Sable Point Lighthouse and see a scant few other wanderers, and linger at Sable Falls on your way to a campsite at the little village of Grand Marais or one of several national forest campgrounds that are carved out of the deep woods.

____________________________

So, there are lots of locations where one can be alone, but sometimes they are difficult to find.  These are just a few of the sites I have found… and now you know about them too.

An Alien Adventure at the Arches

Southwestern Safari  Milepost #7

I met a Star Wars stormtrooper while hiking in Arches National Park. He was posing for his young son who was shooting photos  under a rock formation that looks strangely like Darth Vader. They had driven over from Colorado to get that photo (above).

That says a lot about the bizarre magnetism that Arches exerts on artists and adventurers – not just from the next state, but from all around the world.  There were buses full of tourists and hikers who were anxious to experience the otherworldly landscape that is reminiscent of the desert planet Tatooine in the Star Wars movies (those scenes were actually filmed in Tunisia).

Young Liam steps to the side while tourists snap photos of his dad, Brack Lee, as the stormtrooper.
Young Liam steps to the side while tourists snap photos of his dad, Brack Lee, as the stormtrooper.

My encounter with the movie character did not actually surprise me in the least as I rounded a bend in the trail on the back side of the North and South Windows.  I had actually searched for an affordable costume on Amazon when I was planning my expedition;  I could easily visualize a Star Wars character in this setting with no real stretch of the imagination.  The most authentic costumes were quite expensive and I ultimately built my own cowboy and Indian costumes instead, which also fit the desert theme.

A small group of hikers lingers in the huge eye of North Window.
A small group of hikers lingers in the huge eye of North Window, another bazaar formation.
South and North Windows glow from the reflected light on the back trail where I met the storm trooper.
South and North Windows glow from the reflected light on the back trail where I met the storm trooper.
Double Arch is short distance from Darth Vader rock... and actually did show up in Start Wars movies.
Double Arch is short distance from Darth Vader rock… and actually did show up in Start Wars movies.

A rock shaped like Darth Vader is only the beginning when one continues to explore the geological wonderland that is Arches.  The park sits on the huge seismic Moab Fault, but it must not have been active for a very long time or hundreds of these fragile formations would have collapsed by now.

Rock strata have slipped several feet along the Moab Fault made visible by the rock cut for highway 191 across from the park entrance.
Rock strata have slipped several feet along the Moab Fault made visible by the rock cut for highway 191 adjacent to the park entrance.
There are hundreds of precarious balanced rocks which will be vulnerable to the slightest jarring earthquake.
There are hundreds of precariously balanced rocks which are vulnerable to the slightest tremor.

I can only imagine how drastically the landscape will change if ever this region is jarred by a major earthquake.  The park holds more than 2000 arches and as many balanced rocks and in fact, a few of them collapse without provocation every year.

I had to get myself in a shot with Landscape Arch before it collapses and is gone forever.
I had to get myself in a shot with Landscape Arch before it collapses and is gone forever.

One of the most frail spans, Landscape Arch is longer than a football field but only 11 feet thick at its thinnest point.  Hikers are not permitted beneath the arch since a 70-foot-long slab fell from it a few years ago.  I noticed an awed hush among the hikers near the span, as though the slightest noise would produce a vibration that would end the structure.

Of course, the signature formation in Arches is the aptly named Delicate Arch, so famous a landmark that it appears on the Utah license plates.  It is as ironic as it is iconic, as the hike is all uphill and steep, making this famous place almost out of reach to the general population.

I found the view quite worth the hike.  This was one of two sunset hikes for me inside the park.  South Window, where I met the stormtrooper, was the other where I returned for nighttime photography.

Delicate Arch is as popular as it is prominent on a high outcropping of red rock.
Delicate Arch never reveals itself along the trail until hikers reach the high amphitheater after a strenuous climb.
Fans of Delicat Arch hike uphill for a mile-and-a-half to gaze at the rock until sunset.
Fans of Delicate Arch hike uphill for a mile-and-a-half to gaze at the rock until sunset.
The trail hugs the cliff face behind the mountain before arriving at the high amphitheater where the arch stands.
The trail hugs the cliff face on a ledge behind the mountain before arriving at the high amphitheater where Delicate Arch stands.
Park Avenue is bordered by high rock walls called fins. Balancing rocks line the ridges.
Park Avenue is bordered by high rock walls called fins. Balancing rocks line the ridges everywhere.

While hiking back to the trailhead with a stormtrooper and his son, I was also scouting the landscape for some night sky photography and I was pretty sure I had found the best spot at South Window.  I checked the compass on my iPhone to discover that its orientation situated it crosswise to the Milky Way, which would be perfect for my picture, but of course, I wouldn’t know for sure until the sun went down.  Grabbing some supper in the camper, I then hiked back to the spot around behind the formation before sunset and waited for dark.

I climbed up into Double Arch but decided it didn't face the right direction for night sky shots.
I climbed up into Double Arch but decided it didn’t face the right direction for night sky shots.

I had talked to other photographers at the trailhead and they were headed for Turret Arch and Double Arch, but when I reached my spot on the backside of South Window, I was all alone.

And I was not disappointed.

As the light faded, the Milky Way slowly came into view – exactly where I had predicted.  I set up the tripod, got the camera automatically doing its thing and then climbed up into the huge rocks to “paint” the arch with some warm light from an old dive light I had saved from my scuba diving years.  It had a soft diffused beam that would work better than a focused flashlight.

There is something truly awesome about being alone in the desert at night adding my own touch of artistry to the universe.

There is something truly awesome about being alone in the desert at night adding my own touch of artistry to the cosmic canvas.

For me Arches National Park lived up to its reputation as a land of intrigue and unforgettable experiences.   High hikes to fantastic panoramas,  encounters with other enthusiastic hikers along the trails, and a  dark night under the stars — after an encounter with a Star Wars impersonator — all added up to an epic life experience.

Hooray for adventure!

stormtrooping hiker img_0553

M-22, A Redliner’s Delight

Milepost 8-17-15                    Empire, Michigan

My road atlas shows the secondary roads in red.  Those are the narrow two-lane county blacktops that pre-date the expressways and the superhighways.  And it is where the historical sites and nostalgic gems are still found.

M-22 is a redliner’s treasure, as it winds through mature forests and over sand dunes, outlining the Leelenau Peninsula, Michigan’s virtual “pinkie” finger as it were, the lower peninsula being shaped like a mitten.  It is punctuated by 150-year-old lighthouses and roadside farm markets offering sweet black cherries and other organic delicacies.

M-109 is a road trip within a road trip, a side spur from M-22 that skirts the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
M-109 is a road trip within a road trip, a side spur from M-22 that skirts the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

A side spur from this rural delight is another gem, M-109, which winds lazily through the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, an expansive park that is managed by the National Park Service.  It is the home of a well-preserved ghost town.   Glen Haven is an old fishing village with a historic inn, general store, blacksmith shop, fishing cannary and other buildings.

M-109 heads off through the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
M-109 heads off through the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

The National Lakeshore is a wonderland of perched sand dunes, thick forests, abandoned farms and old vacation homes.  The shorelines are gorgeous.  If there is magic where land and water meet, then this peninsula is entirely enchanted.  Shifting sand dunes rise more than 450 above the turquoise waters of Lake Michigan.

Nature lovers and adventurers experience a rush of enthusiasm for a plethora of hiking trails, bike paths, scenic drives and beaches.

Here is a line-up of photos I captured while on a recent visit to the area:

Perched sand dunes loom over the beaches along the Leelenau Peninsula.
Perched sand dunes loom over the beaches along the Leelenau Peninsula.
The scenic overlook provides a gander at Lake Michigan and the distant South and North Manitou Islands, also part of the National Lakeshore.
The scenic overlook at Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive provides a gander at Lake Michigan and the distant South and North Manitou Islands, also part of the National Lakeshore and desirable backcountry camping (backpacking) destinations.
DSC_0345
Visitors see the lake from 450 feet above the water.

DSC_0354

Sleeping Bear N. Bar Lk view
The view of the Empire Bluffs from an overlook on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive includes North Bar Lake in the foreground.
The Dune Climb is one of the most popular hikes in the park.
The Dune Climb is one of the most popular hikes in the park.
The Platte River is perfect for kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding and the like.
The Platte River is perfect for kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding and tubing.
Rock collectors on the beach
Lapidaries and rock collectors search for mineral specimens and fossils like the Petoskey Stone, Michigan’s state stone.
Sleeping Bear N. Bar Lk edit
Families with kids love the warm waters of North Bar Lake which is separated from Lake Michigan by a narrow sand bar.
Paddle Boarding Lake Michigan
Water sports enthusiasts find plenty of opportunity on Lake Michigan and several inland lakes.
Glen Haven is a ghost town, nicely preserved by park service historians.
The port town of Glen Haven is now a ghost town, nicely preserved by park service historians.
The Sleeping Bear Inn ran for more than a century until 1972.
The Sleeping Bear Inn ran for more than a century until closing in 1972.
The fish cannary still stands at the water's edge in the historic port town.
The fish cannary still stands at the water’s edge in the historic port town.
Glen Arbor is alive with tourism during the summer... and dead the rest of the year.
Art’s Tavern in Glen Arbor is entirely decorated with school pennants on the walls and ceilings.
Patio at Art's Tavern, Glen Arbor
Glen Arbor is alive with tourism during the summer… and pretty much dead the rest of the year.
The Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail is a premiere cyclist's destination that winds along the shoreline for 27 miles. It's a steep one with grades of up to 11%.
The Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail is a premiere cyclist’s destination that winds along the shoreline and through deep woods and open meadows for 27 miles. It has a few steep hills with grades of up to 11%.
Beach walkers are not disappointed along the many miles of beautiful beaches flanked by dunes.
Beach walkers are not disappointed along the many miles of beautiful beaches flanked by dunes and surf.
Sunset at Sleeping Bear Point
This is a land of million dollar sunsets and folks show up all along the shore to enjoy the show across the dunes and Lake Michigan at sundown.

The spectacular sunsets are not lost on the many enthusiasts who show up on the dunes and the beaches every day at sundown.

Point Betsie Lighthouse is near the south end of M-22 not far from the port of Frankfort, Michigan.
Point Betsie Lighthouse is near the south end of M-22 not far from the port of Frankfort, Michigan.

Being over 50 miles from the nearest freeway, M-22 is not on the way to anywhere… except adventure and natural splendor.

My travel tip:  If you can, avoid the crowds of the later summer and visit the area in September when the parks are nearly empty and you have your pick of campsites – or cabins.  The lakes are still relatively warm and accommodating for water sports like kayaking, paddle boarding and swimming.

After that, the maple forests light up with the vivid yellows, reds, and oranges of autumn.

And after that,  it gets nasty out here when the gales of November start whipping off of Lake Michigan and the early snows set in.

Rapere Aestate!  (Seize the Summer!)