Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Canyon Falls, fall color, and a shocking scene-stealer

The sun, the morning dew, a spider's handiwork and ... a ... WHAT???

It's a reliable old proverb: "Expect the unexpected, because you're going to get it, and most likely when you *least* expect it."

Why do I never fully learn this lesson?  Today I started my hike in an ugly, recently-logged area.  I was more worried about keeping my socks dry as I picked my way through the dew-soaked foliage.  I didn't expect much of interest until I reached Canyon Falls well down the trail.  It's a popular destination because it's a ten minute hike from the highway, but I was approaching it from the back side, and would reach it after 14 miles of trail through Copper Country State Forest.  I've seen previous evidence that Michigan State Forests are heavily and frequently logged.  The Upper Peninsula is an area with few jobs.  The timber industry is a major employer.  So when I parked beside the trail at this logged-out area on Plains Road, I knew what to expect.

Or thought I did.

Every day I look for a chance to feature my hat of the day--try to get that item ticked off the to-do list early.  So when I saw a dead, decapitated tree with a blue blaze amid this trashed former-forest, I thought: "Well, there's some fall color here, so lets fashion a shot with Hat 78 and it might make a half-decent photo."

It was with that attitude that I began taking photos of some of the little things, such as the way the sunlight made the bowl-and-doily spider webs sparkle.

I thought it would be a good opportunity to try to document the complex structure of these little masterpieces, and it was while doing that (shooting the headline photo) that I suddenly got gob-smacked by what I saw hanging on a branch right behind my subject.

Surprise!  The little guy was out early, catching the morning sun, trying to warm up.

Suddenly my mood shifted 180 degrees.  I looked for more 'good' in this logged out landscape.  I watched a flock of ducks circle this wetland three full times before concluding that there were no predators (and, perhaps, that I was not a threat) before they all made a clean landing on the open water out of view to the right.

Another boggy area was lined with some spectacular red maples displaying this species amazing variety of fall color.

A lone red maple, not worthy of the chainsaw, stood proud amidst the destruction, gilded in its fall finery.

And the moist fall weather was still fostering new mushrooms.

Babies are always the cutest.

Finally I reached the advertised attraction for the day - Canyon Falls on the Sturgeon River.  This is the falls.

This is the canyon.

And here is a wide shot of the falls with the canyon it has carved.

So a day that I thought was going to be a "one trick pony" turned out to be a full three-ring circus show, worthy of any big top. 

Love them 'old proverbs.'

Here's the GPS track for today's long hike in interactive form.  Zoom in on any particular area for a closer look.  Note the appearance of the 'forest' in the western two-thirds of the hike, all in the State Forest.

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Monday, September 18, 2017

This trail is full of ...

... Moose marbles.  They apparently make great food for 'shrooms. 

This was trail that clearly gets no respect.  It lies between the territory of the North Country Trail Hikers local chapter and the Peter Wolfe Chapter.  Neither club seems to claim it or take responsibility.  It's mostly road walking.  Okay - I can handle a day or two of road walking, right?A bit boring - no surprises, just agitating the gravel hour after hour.  At least that's what I told myself as I set out.

Was I ever "full of it".  More precisely I was wading knee deep in the sh*t.

Water, that is.  Old US 41 has a sturdy old concrete bridge over the Sturgeon River,

but since they built the new highway, this old road is very seldom used.  And the reason is this knee-deep mud pit.  It's engine-drowning deep with no way around it. 

Fortunately my engines don't drown that easily.

It took two days of hiking to get through this Pile-o-Shite trail segment.  With a day off tacked on, that meant three hats.  Right at the start the crap hit the fan when Hat 75 and I met these signs as we turned off US 41 (the paved and mud-pit free current version).

The only way to get to Craig Lake State Park is via one of two 'high clearance' roads.  It's billed as the most remote of Michigan's State Parks, and that's no bullsh ... no pile of moose marbles.  My high-clearance legs handled the road just fine.

The footbridges on the Craig Lake circuit trail are better built than the roads.

The bridge shown is not for the North Country Trail.  We got much less elaborate crossings, such as this one over the frisky Lake Elinor Outlet stream.

Hat 76 just sat on a rock, admiring how the color of the rock matched the fall wardrobe of the nearby ferns

Hat 77 was impressed that one could purchase this vast peat bog.

It really was a pretty bog.

But what do you do with a square mile of bog?  Well, the moose probably love it.  Great fodder for making more marbles.

Here are the GPS Tracks for my two days in limbo.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

McCormic Wilderness to Mulligan West - eighteen gnarly miles

It was a long, tough day.  I had come to the first of the Michigan Mountains, and the country was so remote that I had eighteen miles to traverse between access points.  These were no milquetoast miles.  The terrain was a match for the Appalachians.  It rose to more than 1000 feet above Lake Superior, then kept plunging back down to cross boggy wetlands with no bridges or boardwalks, and then back up to the crests and escarpments.  The boggy areas were full of roots.  Some had serious streams that needed careful fording or risky rock hopping.

The slopes and ridges were rocky under foot.  To add to the challenge, for 6.6 miles in McCormick Wilderness there were no paint blazes, so good old fashioned tracking skills came in handy.  Fortunately there was a visible trampled track in most places and no side trails or forks.  Some simple cairns helped - just a stone or two on top of another.  There were occasional flat-cut sawn logs where maintainers had cleared away deadfalls.  But with all that, it was a relief to get through without getting lost.

The morning started out with frost.

The advantage of the rugged terrain became apparent early, as I climbed up to the first vista, where Hat 74 got to pose.

In the middle of the day there was one well-built foot bridge near a road that provided access to this roaring chute of angry water.

Mountain stream to be sure.

Besides the morning frost on the strawberry leaves shown above I caught a couple other of the small sights.  Here's a first (for me) from the fungus domain--sea-green mushroom caps with beige stems.

And the bottle gentians were blooming.  As the latest blooming flower of the year, they are a sure sign of fall.

Here's the long winding GPS Track for the day, presented in interactive mode so you can zoom in for more detail.

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Early Fall in the North Woods

This two days of hiking had a lot of roads. And bulldozed grades that used to be roads.  And wannabe roads that were ATV tracks.  And old logging skid trails.  There were roads full of water-filled mud-pits.  There was a washed out culvert where someone had thrown down an old wood palate to get across.  There was a place where locals had blacked out the few blazes and didn't want the local chapter to publicize the route.

Not the best of the North Country Trail.  Not the best weather, either.  Fog and some rain, attested to by Hat 72 from a misty vista.

It was a section to endure, to get through, and on to the good stuff.

Yet there were benefits.  A young bear was a recent passer-by on one of the sandy, less-traveled roads.

Fortunately there was some good stuff.  Unique in my hiking since eastern Ohio, there was a 2½ mile section of trail that followed the Little Garlic River, a noisy, bubbling, tumbling mountain stream in verdant undisturbed woods -- property donated to the state of Michigan by Elliott Donnelley (1903-1975).  I love being accompanied by that constant peaceful sound of water.  It's why I love to walk the beach.

Where the river got steeper the noise became a roar.

But elsewhere I passed some serene quiet waters too.  The headline photo shows such a place.  Here the beauty is in the perfect silence.

There were signs of the change of seasons everywhere.  I especially appreciated the color in the ground cover - the ferns and little blueberry bushes.

You can see hints of it where Hat 73 posed at the 'lone pine' in a logged out area at the end of the road walk.

This was the beginning of a truly mountain-like and challenging stretch of trail through the McCormick Wilderness.  That's tomorrow's story.  Today's tracks look remote enough from above.

So I can't complain.  Road walking in the woods sure beats walking busy highways.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Farewell to Lake Superior

Although I will get a few glimpses of it again in Porcupine Mountain Wilderness and on a road walk in far western Michigan, after today I'm headed inland for an extended period of rugged and remote hiking.

These last looks at the greatest of the Great Lakes came on either side of Little Presque Isle, shown in a beach view from the west above and from the closest mainland approach at the point below.

And since I'm already missing walking along the water, here's a shot or two from east of the island

The east had some picturesque rocky shoreline.

And then came one last beach, with one last look back at Little Presque Isle.

The rest of the day was away from the lake.  We'll have to get used to it.  For entertainment there were strong splashes of fall color,

Hat number 71 pointed out a half decent vista from the suddenly rugged and rocky landscape.  These glacier-smoothed exposed granite 'mounds' are all too familiar to hikers of the Appalachian Trail in New England.

And there were a couple more nice micro-landscapes featuring members of the fungus family.

Finally, back near Marquette the trail followed the Dead River and offered this nice view of what I'm calling the Dead Marshes.  Can you tell?  I'm a Tolkien fan. 

Okay, *really* finally, here's the GPS track for today's hike in interactive mode.  Zoom in for more detail on the meandering route.

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