Journal Categories
Journal Tags

Entries in Michigan (5)


Photos 215-219/365 (series: Holland vacation)

Holland, Michigan, that is.


Grand Haven

When we were coming home from Italy a few years ago and were nervously going through our first return trip through customs (because if you live in Michigan, Canada doesn't count), the nice man who interviewed us gave us an outsiders view of our home state. "Where are you from?" he asked in his all business, no nonsense tone. "Michigan," Jon replied in his slightly shakey, I've never done this before tone, to which the officer replied "Michigan!" his tone immediately turning to one of astonishment, "Got some troubles over there. You still have a job?" I guess to some, our state economy is at best a mystery, at worst a complete horror. 

But there is so much more to our home than the outsiders view of a suffering economy. Michigan is a beautiful land of water and woodland. Our lake shores feel as vast as the ocean but without the salt and the sharks. I love to travel and experience new plances every chance I get, but I love coming home, and I'm also always happy to take a vacation right here: if not quite a staycation, then a statecation.

We were on the road again last weekend, this time for a family wedding on Jon's side that took us to the beautiful "west coast" of Michigan where the soft, fine sand stretches over small dunes and into the lake. There we soaked up time with family we hadn't seen in years. We buried our toes in the sand while watching the sun sink toward the horizon behind an unmarred span of lake. We attended a chilly but sweet wedding and danced into the evening. We broke bread and drank wine together. We came home refreshed and invigorated. 


Camping 2014

There are few places I love as much as my home state. It has its ups and downs, and of course there are lots of great places to visit in the country and the wider world, but here we are surrounded by a simple, quiet, understated beauty that cannot be matched. Water, water everywhere; soft, white, sandy beaches; majestic trees. The wildlife is plentiful and mainly friendly (as our new neighbors who came from Alabama like to put it, there really isn't much here that can kill you). Brilliant sun in the summers, sparkling snow, when we're lucky, in the winters. The Pure Michigan campaign, now in its eighth year, really nailed it on the head. I'm sure there are plenty of people itching to get out of dodge, but we truly love our home, and we do our best every year—especially every summer—to take advantage of the beauty around us, and not take it for granted.

Last weekend was our annual camping trip with our good friends who have a daughter exactly two days older than Calvin. We started this tradition when the kiddos were just 3. That first year we packed up all our gear (which thankfully was limited at the time) and drove to a site less than an hour away, figuring that if the trip was a complete bust we could still make it home in time for some decent sleep. But it was a big hit—really big—and in the years since we've upped our game to a five hour drive and four nights away.

We feel like regulars now at our favorite campground. This is drive up camping (not like our backpacking trip last year), and our favorite two sites have a lake view and easy access to the beach, the water pump, and the bathroom without being right in the middle of camp traffic. They also come with a resident Thirteen Lined Ground Squirrel. During the day we watch him scurry around, scoping out our contributions to his layout, at dusk we sit around the campfire waiting for the bats emerge, and in the cool mornings we lean back in our chairs and sip hot coffee while listening to the loons.

In all these years, this was our first trip that was less than ideal weather-wise. We arrived Friday afternoon, a day ahead of our companions, and enjoyed a beautiful evening on the lake after setting up camp. The rain storms held off until about four in the morning, when wind, thunder, and a driving rain woke us in the hours before dawn. Or the wake up call might have been the campers in the tent behind us who were screaming, and giggling, at finding themselves in a not-so-weather-proof tent.

By the time we got up in the morning the rain had passed, leaving cool, damp air and a chilly wind behind. While our neighbors went about stuffing all their possessions into garbage bags in preparation for a trip to the laundromat, we had coffee and cereal and planned a morning hike. Jon discovered a point labeled Mt. Nebo on the trail map, and that's where we headed because...well...because Mt. Nebo. The four mile hike was wonderful. Possibly my favorite part of the whole trip. We found birds, toads, frogs, bugs, and mosquitoes, and the cooler air was perfect for the exercise. Back at camp we fired up the stove for a sausage and pancakes lunch and watched the sun burn off the remaining mist and clouds. By the time our friends arrived the air was warm enough to play a bit on the beach before assembling chicken fajita foil packets to cook around the fire.

Our second night was much quieter, and our second full day more eventful, our friends having arrived. Since it was still too chilly for swimming (a situation that remained in effect the whole trip), we instead went into town for putt putt golf, ice cream, and sweat shirt shopping (the funny thing about kids is that they outgrow their warm clothes every year). Back at camp—sand play on a sunny beach followed by dinner. One of the ways that I can tell we've improved our camping skills over the years is our culinary prowess at the campfire. Dinner number two for us was corn and steak.

On Monday we ate cold breakfasts, packed lunches, and headed over the bridge into the U.P. to see the Soo Locks up close. We were fortunate enough to see an osprey, too, and on the way home we stopped at Castle Rock—our tourist trap for the year. Back at camp it was still too chilly for the beach, so we spent more time with ice cream in town and outfit each of us with new shirts (why should the kids have all the fun!) before heading back. When we got back our tent neighbors were packing up and heading out. The forecast was promising heavy rain and storms in the middle of the night and on into the next morning. Since it was our last night, we decided to the same—the air wasn't getting any warmer, and the idea of having to pack up in a pouring rain was less than desirable. So we started a fire with our remaining wood and packed up while the kids played, then ate one final meal and roasted one final dessert. And would you believe it, the rain started just as we climbed into our cars to head south.

So we spent our final night of the trip in a Holiday Inn Express, and our final morning swimming in their pool instead of the lake, but at least we got some swimming in.

And because we had extra time on our final day—no packing up to do and we were already part way home—Jon and Calvin and I decided to make the most of our trip home and visit a zoo we'd never seen. Scattered storms blanketed most of the state, and we were driving in and out of rain the whole way, but when we got to Potter Park Zoo (in Lansing), the radar said we had about 20 minutes before the next storm hit. It's a small zoo, and we made a dash around all of the outdoor exhibits, then broke out our ponchos to go from building to building, taking in the indoor exhibits. It worked out perfectly, even if we were a little wet, but we'll have to go back sometime because we never did get to see the baby moose, our main reason for stopping.

Now we're home, and with rain still dotting the landscape in unpredictable patterns, all our camping gear is spread out in the garage, waiting for a dry enough day that we can set it up and clean it out well for the year. It's slowly dissipating, but it makes the garage and laundry room smell like camp—wood smoke and pine—making me already eager for next year.


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.


Camping Michigan, 2012

Although we are still on vacation, enjoying beautiful Northern Michigan away from the heat at home, we have come to the end of our first real camping trip, and enthused enough to label the trip with a year, because we are already planning an even longer trip for next summer.

This year's trip was three night's long, spent with friends in Wilderness State Park in a camp site that was nestled between the lake and the pine forest. It was beautiful and peaceful, and even had pretty clean bathrooms and showers, and the weekend was practically charmed. We slept in tents, we cooked over a propane stove and over a fire, we listened to the waves at night, or the wind in the trees, and we swam in the lake at almost every free moment.

We also took the boat to Mackinac Island for a day. We brought our bikes with us and biked the eight miles around the Island, stopping many times to explore and play, and half way around to eat lunch with the sea gulls. We visited the Grand Hotel (from the outside, of course), the Governor's residence (also from the outside), and Historic Fort Makcinac (also, outside), and we hiked the Island's hills to see the traditional geographic sites, like Arch Rock and Skull Cave. We took a horse-drawn taxi, we enjoyed a seafood dinner, and we brought home a box of Island fudge. We came home on almost the last boat, and watched the sun setting behind the Mackinac Bridge.

And who can go camping without a little hiking? Wilderness State Park has some beautiful hiking trails, and, armed with camera, binoculars, bug spray, and nature books, we spent an afternoon exploring one of them. One of the great things about our weekend was that the afternoons were warm, and the evenings were cool, but it never really got too hot or too cold. Of course, woods hiking requires long pants, socks, and shoes, and it left us sweaty and tired, but we were rewarded with some exhilerating wildlife sightings: Green Frogs, butterflies aplenty, moss and wildflowers, towering trees, chipmunks, squirrels, deer tracks, a Yellow-Bellied Sap Sucker, and a family of Belted Kingfishers playing together over the pond. Awesome.

We marked our final night with popcorn over the campfire, and our final morning with eggs on the campstove. After packing everything back up we took one last dip in Big Stone Bay and headed south to our favorite stop in Harbor Springs, and that is where you will find us still, hiding away from the heat wave smothering our own city back home. And so the vacation story is to be continued.

Tenting with a view of Big Stone Bay.

Pouring over nature books and taking notes.

Hiding from the few sprinkles that fell just after we set up camp.

But it doesn't say 'no seagulls'.

Splashing around in the bay.

Art we found on the beach.

Roasting our first dinner over an open fire.

Roasting our first dessert over an open fire.

Watching the sun set over Big Stone Bay.

On our way to Mackinac Island.

On the boat to Mackinac Island.

Island fudge!

Setting out on our bike trip around the island.

Mile one, we stopped to explore the stoney beach.

Nearing mile 2, we stopped to enjoy Arch Rock from the bike route.

Around mile 3.

Nearing mile 4.

Mile 4, half way around, we stopped at British Landing for lunch.

Actually an 'unposed' picture.

Back in town, outside the Grand Hotel.

Playing in the sprinkler at the Governor's Island residence.

Outside Fort Mackinac.

At Skull Cave.

Above Arch Rock.

Above Arch Rock.

Marquette with a seagull on his head.

The main street on the island.

Taking a horse drawn taxi.

Watching the sun set behind the Mackinac Bridge on the boat ride home.

Hiking Wilderness State Park: Green Frog,

Monarch Butterfly on Swamp Milkweed,


Belted Kingfisher,

Identifying wildflowers,

strange, strange, birch tree,

Kingfishers playing,

and a chipmunk.

Cooling off in Big Stone Bay.

A game borrowed from the camp office 'book nook'.

Watching one last sunset over Big Stone Bay.

Morning on the bay.

Eggs for breakfast.

Heading out, looking a little scruffier than when we arrived.

Polo match in Bliss.