Northern Winter Beaches, Changes and Playtime

Friday. Jeff’s day off. Sunny day. Off to South Haven and Van Buren State Park on Michigan’s western coast. A very favorite place of ours in all seasons, especially not in busy summer – when it is crowded with people, dogs, and bugs. We went to three beaches: the state park, and South Haven’s south beach and north beach.

It was briskly-cold. City temp was 30 degrees with a wind chill of 17. But there on the beaches, the wind roars mightier, and the temperature is colder yet. After only a few minutes of photographing waves, my iPhone simply shut down. It couldn’t stand the cold. So I stuck it in my jean’s pocket to warm up. Have you ever held a baggie of ice in your pocket? Similar feeling. Makes your eyes go cross.

The water level is high, with some docks in the channel marinas being washed over with incoming surges. (Earlier I also posted about the high water level four hours north of us in Leelanau County, at Fishtown. I wonder if the high water is also happening across the pond in Wisconsin?)

But with all the changes, and a day off now and again with cooperating weather, we still love to play outside (Jeff skipped ice on the lake.) We hiked the narrowing beaches, listened to the lapping waves, and talked to hungry gulls…well, I talked, anyway.

Jeff skipped flat ice vs rocks.

The splashing waves onto the pier rails seemed nature-artsy. There were a number of other people out and about taking photos, including a man in waders on the south beach.

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Besides the seasonal variations, our western coast has changed over the past couple of years. For example, Van Buren State Park beach has vanished, due to high water and erosion. Part of me wants to say how awful this is; another part knows this is nature.

A Before Shot of the beach, which doesn’t even show the end of the sidewalk; and a couple shots taken this weekend, showing how the sand is eroding underneath the sidewalk’s end.

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Michigan’s shoreline has Critical Dunes. That means they move – with the wind, with the snow, with the rain. Here is a favorite little building of ours, taken in both summer, and this past winter weekend. Seems like this particular critical dune is moving ever so slowly in on the outhouse, soon to make it a buried house. Bye-bye, sweet little, dependable house.

 

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Life is full of changes. A dramatic one for us is happening this year as we move this fall to the other side of Lake Michigan. That will be a big change with plenty of unknowns, but will also carry with it family, exciting new adventures, and more places to explore.

Redundant River Revisited

Battle Creek River Riverwalk, East of Bailey Park — Revisiting the Redundant River!

There’s a reason why people need sunshine and blue skies: It lifts one’s spirit. There’s a reason why day after day of overcast, low gray clouds is depressing. It nails one’s spirit down. Last Friday — too gloppy for woodland hikes, and too tired of mall walking — we finally got out among some woods and water, onto the Battle Creek Riverwalk.

 

Jeff usually gets a day off each week. On Friday, the iffy, hovering around freezing with precipitation kept us from wood trails (too muddy) or traveling to a larger city to walk a new mall or window shop (no new things, please), or visit a museum (surrounded by lots of walls). So we chose a section of the Battle Creek Riverwalk.

The people factor.

Hiking within city limits is sure to draw out the people factor. This was our second time parking at the tiny playground area. The first time, a nervous, pacing man near the parking lot made us linger getting back into our van…because there was a woman and child playing on the playground, and the guy was just acting suspicious. After another car arrived, he climbed into the backseat, was handed something, and then got into his own car and they both drove away. Had we just witnessed a drug deal?

This time, when we arrived at the parking lot, there were two men with heads down and close together, with their hands over their mouths. Smoking or sniffing? On our return, another seemingly empty car was in the lot. As we climbed into our van a hand rose from the backseat and reached towards the front. I don’t even have a suggestion as to what that behavior was about.

Sadly, there were also car tracks on the walkway. They caused the thinner snow sections to ice over. On the other hand, the rough tread marks made it easier to walk upon without slipping.

The people factor also made us ponder why a dam was necessary here.

When outdoors, there is always the animal factor. With civilization across the road, we heard barking dogs On our side, the woodland side, we saw ducks and geese swimming, and one black squirrel scurrying across the ice to another tree.

 

We certainly don’t hike for the other people factor. The animal factor can sometimes interesting, especially in wilderness. But the geographical factor is mostly why we continue – the water, the land, and the trees giving our eyes, ears, lungs, and heart some rest. We find that even during a gloomy mid-winter stretch in Michigan, there is still beauty in the gray.

Return to Fort Custer

Our last three Fridays (free days) have been kind of bizarre. With the January bleak-and-dreary weather and drippy trees with muddy-slushy ground, we haven’t done much hiking. Today, though, we were blessed with a 90-minute hike at Fort Custer recreation area. Besides a ranger removing a life jacket from a drain and an orange-capped hunter in a car, we had the park to ourselves. Blessed.

With the snowy-melted-refrozen ground, every step was a crunch.

We did discover something new to us: At the group campsite area, which we have passed through dozens of times in the past 16 years, we found a lake access spot. It’s sloped down to the lake and only good for kayaks or canoes to be put in. But new discovery!

It was a quiet hike (except for our crunching steps). Nothing much to comment on, so here are some other photos from today:

 

Allegan State Game Area, Swan Lake Trail

Since our “hike” this past week was to walk around and do Christmas window-shopping, and the snow on the ground is rather light, anyway, I thought I’d post an adventure we took one October (and again, one spring), halfway around Swan Lake in the Allegan State Game Area (DNR), in Allegan County, near…you guessed it…the town of Allegan, MI. And guess what else? There are even swans on the lake! Well named.

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This is an out of the way place to find and to hike in, and were you to blink, you’d pass right by the hidden trailhead. But simply wonderful for Carlson adventures. In fact, going on the nearby backroads (even on residential roads) our van’s GPS map only showed our little you-are-here marker blinking in the green wilderness of the screen.

The hill trail around the lake is difficult to capture with photography. On a long stretch, one slippery step, and into the lake we’d go. The lake is just out of the first picture range. We would have grabbed trees on the way down, of course. If. But no need.

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Part of the trail takes you through the woods and out of sight of the lake for a while. Squirrels, birds, mice, deer. This detour away from the lake is in order to get to a place easy to cross over the stream leading into it. I would imagine in springtime, the snow-melted stream would require passage over this bridge.

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There were also some of the barkless trees we’ve spotted throughout Michigan, revealing the petroglyphs in the ancient language of Wormtongue. <– Jeff’s term. I’m pretty sure this one refers to a bison.

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Because the trail was unkept, both times we could only travel halfway around it before decided to turn back. The area is intended more for hunters and fishers than for hikers.  After climbing over and under and between branches, and assending steep hills to get around several downed trees on the trail, after an hour we decided it would be easier to return than to proceed further into the unknown. Besides, climbing around fallen trees gave us a good workout besides just hiking. The second time doing it, besides different fallen trees, the ground eventually became too soggy to proceed.

But I would hike this trail again and again, hoping someday to complete the route around the lake, enjoying every moment of solitude (with hubby and swans), and deciphering the Wormwood codes, no matter how much of the trail we covered.

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Merry Christmas to all! Stay safe and warm.

 

 

Kellogg Experimental Forest, Lemmien Loop in December

The 716-acre W. K. Kellogg Experimental Forest, managed by Michigan State University, lies between Augusta and Richland, MI. There are several trails in the Forest, including the North County National Scenic Trail. We did hike on a short section of that particular trail last Friday,

but our goal was the entire 2.5 Lemmien Loop I’m familiar with nearly every step of the loop, knowing the ups and downs, the twists and turns, the connecting trails, how far from the pine “nursery” to the lean-to or sugar maples. But as we hadn’t hiked it in two or three years, we chose it for our Friday hike.

I tried my hand at black and white photos. Did I catch some essence of the woods?

Winter is a good time to hike, as any mosquito types (that I know of) hate the cold. The last time we were there, we returned home to learn of the killer EEE mosquitoes in our county. Friday, we had the trail to ourselves. Unfortunately, we also saw no wildlife. No mosquitoes, deer, fish, chipmunks, squirrels, or even birds. We’ve seen them all before. We heard crows in the distance, but could not see them. It made for a very peculiar woodland hike indeed. I found a deer hoof print, slightly melted into a shape of a heart.

Jeff noted green leaves still clinging to a tree.

The keyhole tree was still there.

The True Fir Test area had grown a bit from the waist-high trees we’d seen the first time we hiked this 16 years ago.

New signs had been added since our previous visit, including information of the planned harvesting of the so-straight and tall red pines (trees used for telephone poles).

Because it was the longest hike we’d taken in a while over not-flat terrain (because of my bum-now-healed knee), it proved to be an Advil night. Well worth it, along with the photo memories from the hike through a lovely woodland area.

 

 

 

 

 

Fall Hike Revisited; Leelanau County Parks

 

I traveled to Wisconsin over last weekend, which meant no Friday hike with my awesome hiking partner. so I shall revisit two short hikes we took at the end of October up in Leelanau County, near Empire Michigan: Chippewa Run Natural Area and across the road (M22) to the Beaver Pond Trail.

Because of my aching knee, we only hiked part of the Chippewa Trail, through the field, into the windy woods, and over the creek crossing and just beyond.

We lingered around the creek, as we became engulfed in the beauty and natural silence of fall.

We crossed the road just to check out what Beaver Pond Trail was like. It was just a sampling of the trail, but, as always in Leelanau County, well worth even the taste.

 We lingered a while overlooking the beaver pond in reflective silence, away from sights and sounds of other humans.

It also rained every day up there (with gale warnings and power outages), but that couldn’t stop us from getting outside. Also, rain grows mushrooms!

It’s always great to discover mushrooms. I’m now on chapter three of a fantasy dealing with mushrooms. They can be very inspirational, don’t you think?

 May you find time to hike in nature or sit and rest in the out of doors. May you find peace at this season.

Hiking During Hunting Season

(Deer photo by FB Colorado writer friend, Roni O’Connell)

Generally speaking, hiking during hunting season (with gun) is not recommended. Bow-hunting time is another matter, for it takes longer to reload, and wearing orange seems sufficient. Not so with guns. And, I’m sad to say, some hunters are simply careless. I have heard rapid gun fire hiking during hunting season, assuming that the hunter spotted a deer, shot, missed, shot again, repeat. My concern is that I’ve known stories of hunters doing this very thing, focusing on trying to shoot the deer, and not seeing another hunter nearby while the deer passes. So…where to hike on a Free Friday during gun hunting time?

Marshall Riverwalk, and the North Country National Scenic Trail!

  

Although a familiar “hiking” spot, and late fall, Jeff spotted a shivering, camouflaged blue heron this time ’round. It’s always fun to spy animals in the wild.

I realize I’ve blogged about this “hike” before, This time, I dint even need hiking poles. Even though I’ve written about it before, it’s safe to walk outdoors here during hunting season. Plus, it’s lovely any season, summer, spring, or fall. Haven’t tried it in winter. Would rather be in the woods.

     

This Marshall Riverwalk is a super easy hike (not much up and down at all), and always different in each season with the constant flowing stream.

  

I was a little concerned this time with what looked to me like an oil spill on water areas near oil pipeline markers.

There’s always the worry here, especially after the largest inland oil spill in the continental USA, in 2010, broke/started just northeast of this location. Wish I could have done more back then besides clean oil off a few turtles. Our land! We are the stewards. Or need to try to be.

Above the dam, the sound of rushing water stilled.

 

I imagine a blue sky reflected in the river-lake would have been quite pretty. Someday.

Along with the browns and grey, there were spots of red berries and orange lichen and orange barkless tree in the river’s edge.

 

I also spotted some more turkey tail mushrooms on our 90 minute walk. Then I found these other mushrooms on a sawed log. Didn’t realize till later–only after zooming in–that they, too, are turkey tails. They’re everywhere, I tell you. Everywhere!

Even out walking for such a short time is refreshing and calming to the soul. May you, also, engage in outdoor adventures for refreshment for your soul.

Scenic North Country Trail…Again. The Blue Bridge

 

I know they are giving out awards for people who have hiked 100 miles of the Scenic North Country Trail in 2019. Do we get a thumbs up for hiking 30 miles?

Last Friday, with overcast and wet ground, and in the lower 30’s all morning, we chose a close-to-home hike on the Scenic North Country Trail, starting at Helmer Road and going west along the Kalamazoo River — that wonderful river which flows past the ghost town of Singapore (which I wrote a historical fiction about, The Town That Disappeared), and draining into Lake Michigan.

We’ve hiked this trail before, and ridden it on bikes. Each time is unique.

And did I mention overcast Friday morning? Did I mention in the lower 30s? Did I mention the wind? No? Well, at the beginning of our hike, there was a nippy wind greeting us, from 5-15mph, so said the Weather Channel. Chilly but undeterred, we hiked on.

 

We carefully trod over the lichen-covered blue bridge, a bridge I’d seen from across the river for over a decade before we finally hiked to it. Poor blue bridge. Did I mention covered with lichen? It was. Did I mention the boards are rotting and quite slippery? They are.

 

We saw a tank painted on the walkway. Jeff commented that as a solo tank, it was ungrateful. Two would have make it…tanks (thanks).

 

There were also some amazing mushrooms at the base of a fallen tree. I’m working my mind around my next story which will be concerning mushrooms. But then on Friday, Jeff finished the fourth of my War Unicorn Chronicles books, and asked for more (unicorn tales). Such a dilemma.

 

Oh. And while walking alongside the Kalamazoo River near mowed areas, don’t be looking around at the pretty nature sights. Instead, mind your step, or you may just land in some goose poop. And those rust streaks are old, stained goose left behinds, but old enough not to be squishy.

Funny how about an hour after we got home, the sun burst forth at last. But the temp was still in the lower 40’s. I imagine the sun brought people out into the great outdoors. During our overcast and chilly hike, Jeff and I had the trail to ourselves. Also, with the bonus of no mosquitoes!

 

May your days be mostly sunny, but may you also walk briskly through the overcast, chilly days.

Good Ole Fort Custer (near Augusta, MI)

 

Gloomy day. Overcast (no cloud distinctions in the white-grey above) with borderline freezing temps (30-32 degrees). Ice, a concern because of knee. But, hey! One day off a week = get outside when and if you can! We assumed the area Riverwalks would be too snowy/icy and the forest trails too soft/muddy. I suggested walking around the Fort Custer campground, thinking the gravel road might be rough enough. Jeff suggested parking walking the overlooking-the-lake picnic area. It was settled.

Sliding over the icy park roads, he commented how our outing might just end up being a pretty-drive day. (Insert a Sandy frowny face.) He also mentioned he was glad he grew up driving on snowy-icy Wisconsin roads, wishing we had a four-wheel drive vs automatic. I, too, was glad for his skills, for my heart fluttered drifting over that ice.

We found the park unusually crowded for a wintery Friday, with many trucks scattered throughout. The signs on one side of the road in the park read “No Firearms November 15-30” the signs on the other side read “No Hunting”, but we did notice a number of hunters (dressed in orange) out and about. Hopefully, just bow,

Still, after we reached our destination, I had to get out of the van. The parking lot was icy from melted packed snow. With my cross-country ski poles for sliding prevention, I wanted to make it to the untrodden snow off the lot.

Jeff grabbed his hiking stick which has a hunter-orange band around it, and since I was already wearing my colorful-goofy winter cap and red gloves, I grabbed my emergency-orange cap, and tied it to my ski pole strap. We also wisely decided to stick to open territory vs the woods, to be more easily seen by hunters.

Winter/Snow hikes are quite different than in any other time of year. You notice things unique to winter, like footprints and pawprints and hoofprints. I also try to estimate how long ago a track was made. It makes for a fun winter hiking game.

Here is my boot print to the left, and a man’s print to the right. Can you spot the difference in time? (e.g., iced heel, slightly eroded edges, leaf)

Besides boot prints, dog prints and a few smaller paws (raccoon perhaps?), there were also the distinctive deer prints.

One unbeknownst thing to me, which Jeff spotted right away, was a blood trail. I think I looked around for a huge bloody area, possibly deer kill, which had then been dragged off. But what former hunter Jeff spotted were the tiniest specks of red blood here and there. Perhaps a wounded deer?

We took a low gage trail down to the beach.

 Stopping at a picnic table for a shot, I was thinking in my head, just as Jeff said it out loud: “Carlson picnic”. Yes, we have brushed snow off table and benches to have a picnic in our past. But not this day.

I found the ice patterns and leaves along the shore pretty, and even spotted fowl prints.

 

We found canoes and boats simply left outside in the open. (FYI, canoeing or kyaking in winter has not been a known Carlson activity.)

Bushwhacking back up the hill to our van to avoid the ice, we did not get the expected hitchhikers (burrs) clinging to us, probably because we wore blue jeans and nylon coats. But the unexpected part was sinking a deceiving 7″ below the snow-dusted surface of snow-grass to terra firma, and consequently lifting my knees high with each step. Very difficult to capture a photo of this. I found it easier to follow in Jeff’s prints, even with his wider-longer stride.

No matter what the weather, I encourage you to get outside, but stay safe, both on the snow-packed-icy roads, and especially if walking through hunting territory.

(BTW, I’m honored when people tell me face-to-face how they enjoy going on our weekly hikes with us. It’s our pleasure to share God’s wonders.)

 

 

Another Friday, Another Hike (Ionia State Park)

Last week held another Friday, Jeff’s day off, and therefore another hike. Hurray. A hike. In fall. With Jeff. Triple hurray. I told him I was glad to have him as my hiking partner. He replied, “Your Hiking Viking!” Perfect.

It’s bow hunting season within Ionia State Park, so I just wanted to make sure I wouldn’t be mistaken for a deer. You may think me silly in bright hat, gloves and vest, and also carrying cross country ski poles as hiking sticks — good for balance, muddy or icy ground, and leaf collecting. But the only other hiker we met during our 2-hour hike was a woman and her dog, both dressed in hunter orange. Not so silly after all, huh?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At 33 degrees out, for the first time in months I dressed in layers. I felt like Linus in Charlie Brown — so bundled, but well worth it. Wasn’t cold a bit. Couldn’t move much, either, but I wasn’t cold.

Only really sub-zero temps, wildfires, tornadoes or hail deter us from hiking through God’s creation. Jeff even got to play improv frisbee golf.

The sights of being in the woods during late fall is glorious, and so refreshing. We started our hike in sunshine, still 33 degrees. By the time we’d stopped for third lunchies, there were light flurries (snowflakes) drifting around us. Can’t help but love the variety of nature.

From crazy mushrooms, to tall trees, to babbling brooks and flitting snow, Ionia is beautiful in the fall — or any time, actually.

 

So why do I journal my hikes on a writing blog? Settings. Experience. Nature’s eye candy. All valid reasons for various reasons, including writing.

So why don’t you, too, get outside. Experience nature. Breathe. Enjoy.