Tuesday, August 15, 2017

There be cliffs! Michigan's Niagara Escarpment

Heading across the interior of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, I had been climbing sand dunes and seeing plenty of lakes and wetlands, but not much in the way or rocks.  That is, until the North Country Trail took me alongside this substantial rock outcrop.

They call it the Niagara Escarpment because it is apparently part of the same formation that produces Niagara Falls.  Here it was dry - an impressive cliff in a pretty stretch of woods dominated by sugar maple.

That was the highlight of the three days it took me to get to the shores of Lake Superior.  Well, it actually took five days, but I've already reported on the other two.

Other sights here in the north woods did include the obligatory lakes and wetlands, including a vast grassy bog that reminded me of Florida's Hopkins Prairie.

Hat 44 posed in front of pretty Trout Brook Pond.

Hat 45 chose a smaller wetland pond.

And for variety, Hat 46 set itself in the midst of some of the driest, most parched looking of Michigan's landscapes.

Soil in places is so sandy and so poor in nutrients that nothing but lichens grow.

I've been waiting to get a distinctive photo of one of my favorite north woods trees, the paper birch, and finally got this shot.

The woods of Michigan, like every other woods in this country, was all clear cut and hauled away more than a century ago.  Up here there are still stumps from what I believe would have been the virgin forest.

And up here the spruces are a favorite object for the formation of bulbous growths of burl.  It's pretty common, but here's an extreme example.

Finally, the blueberries are out.

They are fat and juicy this year because of the abundant rains.  Every now and then I've given in to the urge to just stop and 'graze,' eating my fill without wandering more than a few feet from where I stop.  Yum!

For the most part, I've been blessedly remote from civilization, and I love it that way.  But there was one man-made sight that caught my fancy.  This is a genuine working two-seater privy on the trail at Pine River, near the primitive campground.

Two seater!  What luxurious accomodations!

Okay, one last photo - from the 'nature-as-art' department.

Now it's on to some different scenery.  Lake Superior.  Stay tuned.

Here are the GPS Tracks of the three days covered in this report.

And for more detail, just zoom in on this interactive overview map of my ongoing trek across our great country.

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Sunday, August 13, 2017

Deep woods trekking

With no big scenery today, the micro-scenes came front and center.  Here the typical north woods ground cover features mosses, lichens and two kinds of fungus, with a hungry slug feeding on the new-to-me 'black earth tongue' - Trichoglossum hirsutum.

Today's hike was about rich, thick, remote woods.  I was christening my new shirt - yes, numbered, to go with the hats.

When you're walking the 'green tunnel,' the footpath itself becomes the story; and the story was manifold and varied.  For the first time since somewhere in Ohio, bedrock replaced the ubiquitous sandy soil.  Here's hat 43 amid some ankle-twisting footing that required close attention.

That didn't last long, though.  The other extreme is trail that requires wading.  This was also a first for Michigan.

Most of the rest of today's wetland walking was well covered.  I crossed probably a mile or more of boardwalk in three or four long sections.

And there were a number of major footbridges over big streams/rivers.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed the day, this is not a popular section of trail.  Parts have so little traffic that the footpath is well and truly overgrown.  Here the blue blaze (circled) is practically smothered in chest-high bloom.

No, don't take the weed whacker to this!  It's too pretty!  Nor here:

Maybe here.  Where the wetlands weren't so extreme as to require boardwalk, the trail had long sections of this built-up trail bed - somebody at some point in the past has put in a huge amount of work to get trail through here.

Interestingly, this next view is not of trail, though I wish it was.  It would have been cool to stroll off to infinity here.  But this was just a passing side view where the natural mature woodland gave way to a large plantation.

Finally, one last scene bringing the fungus world back to the center of attention.

Perhaps a week of this would start to get old.  But today, for me, it was pure pleasure.  Here's a screen shot of the GPS Track.

And here's the same track in interactive form, via Wikiloc.  This gives people a chance to zoom in and delve deeper into detail if they wish.

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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Brevoort Lake and the fossilized sand dunes

Day 2 of my quest to cross the UP via the North Country Trail found me walking the shores of Brevoort (or Brevort depending on which sign you believe) Lake, the river that drains it, and the crest of ten-thousand-year-old sand dunes frozen in time by the growth of forest. 

To the sand dunes first.  It was unusually strenuous hiking after weeks of 'flat'.

In other places it felt like ridge walking.  Hat 42 declared it 'real trail'.

Here's a screen shot of the portion of today's GPS track that followed a sinuous route along this line of dunes, 100 feet high in places.

According to the great trail guide information that the Hiawatha Shore-to-Shore Chapter has posted at many trailheads, these dunes were a former shore line of Lake Michigan.  There still are dunes along the current shore of Lake Michigan here.  The trail skips those - probably because US 2 runs right through there - but I stopped by to experience the sweeping views of the lake.

The trail information also said that you could see the lake from the trail at the tops of the dunes, but I never did.  The closest I got was this vista.

I think the forest has grown up over the years to block the lake views.

Farther west the trail runs beside the shores of big Brevoort Lake, crossing its outlet on this footbridge

and then following the earthwork dam before plunging back into the woods for some severe up-and-down sand dune walking.  The dunes run perpendicular to the shore here.

I did a bushwhack a hundred yards to the top of a particularly high lakeside sand dune to get the best view of the lake.  I'm amazed that there is no side trail to this fine viewpoint.

Leaving the lake the trail follows the Brevoort River valley,

crossing the river at an access road to a campground and again on the big expensive foot bridge shown in the headline photo.

I was in mature undisturbed forest all day on well maintained trail, trampled enough to show that it was pretty popular. 

Real trail.  Love it.  Here's the GPS track screen-shot of the entire day's adventure.

I'm very much enjoying being up here in the sparsely populated Hiawatha National Forest.  First class hiking!  Looking forward to much more.

Friday, August 11, 2017

North Country Trail across the UP, end-to-end

Bold words, sealed in virtual ink.  My plan - my resolution - is to hike the entire Upper Peninsula of Michigan via the North Country National Scenic Trail.  Wisconsin or Bust.

So here goes.  It starts at the Mackinac Bridge toll gate.

View from the catwalk above the toll gate.  Wait, am I allowed up here?

Hikers are not required to walk across the bridge to get recognized for completing the trail, but it can be walked -- southbound only, once per year, on Labor Day.  I'll be back for that.  The official starting line for the annual bridge walk is the flagpole on the lawn at left in the photo above.

From there the trail crosses the welcome center rest area parking lot and plunges into the woods in Straits State Park.  The small park packs a big punch, featuring views of the bridge, a lakefront beach, and a nice network of trails in deep woods.

Next is a street walk through the south side of the town of St. Ignace.  You come out on the Lake Huron shoreline with Mackinac Island front and center.  Here's the island view with Hat number 41 (Florida Power and Light) trying to photo-bomb the shot.

Turning to look toward the north, the heart of St. Ignace is on display

with its little lighthouse at Chief Wawatam Park, and about a mile of scenic lakefront boardwalk.

From the north end of the boardwalk there are a few blocks of streets to walk.  You pass the Ojibwa Culture Museum

then Little Bear Arena and then you're out into the country heading northwest via the St. Ignace to Trout Lake Trail.

This is a rail trail, an ATV trail, a snowmobile trail, and a who-knows-what-other-kind-of-conveyance trail.  A thunderstorm had just rolled through, dropping a real deluge of rain, so on this day it was close to being a kayak trail too.  And wow, believe me, it was a mosquito trail.

This rain-shortened day ended at the Castle Rock Road trailhead where the North Country Trail leaves the rail trail and dives into Hiawatha National Forest, where it stays until it reaches the shores of Lake Superior.

The section of over 100 miles of trail is capably overseen by the 'Hiawatha Shore-to-Shore' Chapter of the North Country Trail Association.  As you'll see in succeeding reports, their section of trail is remote, varied, and well worth hiking.  Stay tuned.

Here is a screenshot of the GPS track from today's hike.

For context here's the Wikiloc interactive map of my overall 'Personal Continuous Footpath' trek, which can give you a more detailed look at any section by zooming in.

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(By the way, yes, the public is allowed on the catwalk above the toll facility, though they don't encourage its use, and all it leads to on the other side is a fenced-in area around a Bridge Authority Building.)