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Shores of the Great Lakes

We are just back from a week long trip that was both delightful and exhausting in its own peculiar way. The trip consisted of a circling of Lake Michigan, taking us to Michigan's Upper Peninsula by way of Chicago, then home again by way of Harbor Springs. It consisted of big city shopping, back country camping, a wedding and photography, national parks, and a handful of tourist hot spots. It started in temperatures upwards of ninety degrees and took us through storms and into nights that dropped to the low forties. Now that we're at home there is more laundry to be done than I usually have to do in a month, and while that is an exaggeration, it isn't one by much.

The seeds for such a trip were planted months ago when my brother asked me to assist him in photographing Julie's brother's wedding, and, since the wedding was to be in Marquette, to turn the visit into a longer stop that included camping. Over time camping became backpacking and the destination became Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore, then Jon and I tagged a few more activities onto our list, and it became a week-long ecology vacation.

What is an ecology vacation? For the couple of weeks before the trip, Calvin and I did a unit study of sorts on the Great Lakes. Living in Michigan we often take them for granted, and while we've spent many a happy afternoon enjoying the lakes, we had spent precious little time understanding them. Our two weeks of study were enjoyable; we covered their geographical history, their prehistory, their pre-European history, and ultimately their place in current events. Of course we also spent some time on the wildlife and environmental makeup of the area. I learned a lot. Calvin became enamoured with the idea of seeing a bear, a sturgeon, and/or the real deal bell from the Edmund Fitzgerald. One of those things happened.

We planned to visit all three National Parks Lake Shore Sites, including Indiana Dunes and Sleeping Bear Dunes on Lake Michigan and Picture Rocks on Lake Superior, and the trip went off very well, even with a few monkey wrenches thrown in. On our first day we hiked Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in 92 degree heat. We saw a lizard, several bird species, and opted not to swim when we saw that the bay was flanked by ominous factories on both sides. 

We joined up with Curtis and Julie in Chicago that night and left together early the next morning for the Upper Peninsula where were to camp for two nights in the back country of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Even that far north it was miserably hot when we reached the trail head and geared up. Our campsite was 3 miles in, and the hiking was beautiful, but buggy, rugged in area, and hot, hot, hot. We pitched tents in the early evening, managed a fire in spite of damp wood, and enjoyed dinner through exhaustion while swatting bugs and listening to thunder. We were in bed by eleven, and the first big storm hit around 3am. I've never heard such long, drawn out peals of thunder, and the rain pounding the tent was deafening, but we were surprisingly snug and dry in our little tent. Three storms later it was still drizzling when we all staggered out of bed around 9am, most of us working on only a couple hours of rest. It's hard to sleep with all that noise.

Wet wood, no sleep, and an increasingly iffy trail in wet weather were all concerns, but it was the debilitating swarms of mosquitos that clinched it, and in the morning we packed up our gear in an unrelenting rain and re-hiked the three miles back to the car. It was not a defeated move, though. Even as we arrived back at the trail head in a steamy, mocking, freshly emerged sun, swatting at mosquitoes while trying to remove and wring out completely soaked clothing, I think we all felt accomplished. Plus, later in Marquette, after a warm welcome at Julie's dad's, we relaxed in his pool with beers (except for Calvin, who had water) and watched the storms continue to roll in and felt vindicated in our decision. Life was good.

We spent our time in Marquette at a charming hotel downtown (another change in plans, since the continuing strong storms and dropping temperatures talked us out of our previous plan to camp there as well), exploring the area's beautiful parks and enjoying family and friends. We swam more, I tried out target shooting, we hiked Presque Isle, we witnessed a stunning rainbow. Weddings are always joyful and this one was no exception. When we left at the end of the weekend, we did so feeling more rested and with a pile of good memories.

After Marquette, Jon, Calvin, and I headed back to the lower peninsula by way of Whitefish Point, where we saw the bell from the Edmund Fitzgerald at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, and the Soo Locks, where we took a boat tour of the locks and the Canadian steel plant. This turned out to be doubly fascinating because, while at Whitefish Point, we studied a real-time radar display of ships passing through the area, then met up with two of those enormous ore boats in the locks as we went through. After the Locks came the Mackinac Bridge, and a night at our favorite place with our favorite person in Harbor Springs.

Our final day took us to the final of the three National Parks. After a restful night and relaxing breakfast with Aunt Lonnie, we headed through Petoskey to lunch in Traverse City and an afternoon at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. So very different than the rocky outcroppings on the shores of Lake Superior, and so much more vast than the dunes in Indiana, Sleeping Bear is the pride of the lower peninsula, or it should be. We swam it, we hiked it, we took the scenic drive. And then, because none of our trips are truly complete until there's one last day of cramming in every event imaginable, on our way south we drove through the tiny town that my grandparents called home when I was growing up and sought out the house and land I so loved to visit and had not seen since they left it twenty years ago. It was a nostalgic cherry on top that got us a bit off schedule, so after a late dinner at Maggie's Tavern in Cadillac, we headed home under a gigantic rose colored moon. Calvin dropped off to sleep while Jon and I played trivia all the rest of the way home.

And now we need a vacation from our vacation, but those piles of laundry keep reminding me that there is no rest for the weary.

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Reader Comments (1)

Love the photo blog of our trip! I think I could use a vacation from our vacation too! :) Preferably one without mosquitos...

Also those shots of Calvin with the deer are really adorable.
July 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

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