Thursday, May 26, 2016

Negwegon State Park: A jewel on Michigan's Sunrise Coast

A look north along the trail toward South Point at Negwegon State Park. A sign for the Pewabic campsite is passed by our group hiking.
So much is talked about when it comes to west Michigan.

The Lake Michigan lakeshore is a beautiful part of the state, complete with wonderful places stretching from New Buffalo to Traverse City. But in all of that talk, the east coast of the state, dubbed the Sunrise Coast, tends to get lost in the mix.

I've always had a soft spot in my heart for the east coast of Michigan's Mitten. I've gone there for many summers as a child, spending a week a summer in Presque Isle, north of Alpena. That's why I was thrilled to return to northeast Michigan this past weekend while backpacking Negwegon State Park.

Originally named Alpena State Park, the park was later renamed Negwegon State Park after an Ojibwe chief from the 1700s. It's a park that's clearly not visited often: the front sign is very clean and the road to the park looked pristine. We pulled into the lot to find just a few cars there, a sure sign of a quiet weekend. Sure enough, just one other group was camping in the park more than a half-mile away.

Trillium flowers along the trail.
There are four campsites at the park, each at least one mile from the parking lot. Each is located on the shores of Lake Huron, giving wonderful views of the beach. The main trail that leads to the
campsites saw a peppering of wildflowers, including trillium. Saw but one Jack-in-the-Pulpit flower along the trail, though I suspect more will come in the coming weeks. It was a bit swampy along the trail, with some boardwalks constructed along areas of standing water. Trees still remained bare over the weekend, the one preceding Memorial Day.
The Twin Pines campsite.

The campsite I stayed at with part of our group was Twin Pines, which came equipped with a picnic table, fire ring and a rudimentary pit toilet. Over
a small berm of sand was Lake Huron, about 100 feet from the campsite. The lake provided a light breeze, which tried to keep the rash of mosquitoes and gnats that were present this trip.

After some time on the beach where some of the younger members of our group went for a swim (and they picked me up and threw me into the cold, calm water), a hike to South Point capped the day
before cooking dinner. South Point is roughly 2.2 miles from the parking lot, and it also features a campsite nearby, one that looks out into the bay. There are several islands visible from this point, including one that contained, what looked like, hundreds of seagulls. We could hear their cries across the bay as we looked out. The water tower in Alpena was also visible.
The view looking south from South Point.
We had heard from another camper at the park we were at the night before South Point was worth the view. I agree completely, and is well worth even just a day hike to it if not camping locally.

Negwegon clearly doesn't get a lot of visitors. That's a shame. It's a park full of natural, untouched beauty, with breathtaking views of one of the world's largest lakes and first-class camping sites. It's worth it's own visit driving along US-23. If in the area, be sure to stop in and make a reservation at a campsite.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

A view of the wolves in southeast Michigan

One of the wolves at the Detroit Zoo.

It appears Royal Oak has as many wolves as Isle Royale does now.

My wife and I stopped in at the Detroit Zoo this afternoon, a place we've grown to love in recent years. We stopped in at feeding time near the gray wolves and wanted to share one of the few animals there at the zoo that are found natively here in Michigan.

Wolves have captured my emotions for many years, starting with my 2005 trip to Isle Royale. I still remember hearing the wolves howling in the distance during the night we spent at McCargoe Cove. I've watched with close eyes on developments surrounding Michigan's wolves, including the studies down on Isle Royale in relationship to the wolf/moose population, as well as the short-lived hunting season the state enacted several years ago.

These wolves were brought to the zoo almost 11 months ago and can be found in the very back near the kangaroos. It appears the white wolf is a eight-year-old female, and the darker-colored wolf is six-year-old male. They both share a larger, two-acre space in the zoo designed specifically for them and were brought in from a zoo in Minnesota. They are both native to Canada.

Nothing pales in seeing wildlife in its natural habitat, something I haven't completely experienced when it comes to wolves. But to just get a glimpse of their majestic walk is enough to keep my imagination moving, as was the case this afternoon. 

A collection of wolf photos taken April 17, 2016 from the Detroit Zoo.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Flashback Friday: Backpacking Nordhouse Dunes on Lake Michigan

The sunset over Nordhouse Dunes last May.
A map found on trail.

The weather is (supposedly) warming up in Michigan, though I swear it's snowed more so far in April than it did in January here in my Oakland County home.

But warmer temps are coming, and that means it's time to start thinking about warm-weather trips. While any of these trips can be done most of the year, it can be slightly more enjoyable when the sun agrees with you.

That's why I've recently reminisced about one most recent trip, a May 2015 backpacking excursion to Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area, part of the Huron-Manistee National Forest. This property encompasses more than 3,400 acres of forest, abutting the Lake Michigan coastline north of Ludington.

It's a spot I've backpacked several times, first as a teenager, again in college and most recently in May. It's a reoccurring trip for the group I work with at my church because it's such a unique place with great views of Lake Michigan from many campsites. It's a lengthy drive to the starting point from the state highways, further preparing you for being more alone than usual.

It's a sandy trail to begin with, with thick forest scattered throughout. To get to any views of Lake
Hiking along the sandy dunes.
Michigan from where we started, we had a few miles hike through the woods. Bushwhacking through the underbrush was a challenge, trying to head toward the lake to find our campsite. To access Lake Michigan, hiking over a large hill was all but necessary. Steep with little to hold onto at certain parts, I've always remember the ascent to the top was a challenging one with a pack.

But it's worth it for the view, looking down at the dunes with grasses and other vegetation. And it's uplifting to see the waters of Lake Michigan in the distance.

Hiking in the woods near Nordhouse Dunes. Just like most
trails in western Michigan.
A popular place to camp is along the water, but inland enough where you can set up a tent with the shield of a dune protecting you from the wind. Head up and other the dune, and the water is right there within a few hundred feet.

May is a great time to head to this park. It's typically very quiet with few other people around, though this past trip saw many more crowds along the lakeshore, possibly because of an article written about Nordhouse Dunes in an online article on The trees are green, the water is still cold (though many of the youngsters we took on this trip braved the water) and the sights aren't dotted with other humans.

It's a place I'd recommend highly. Just not the weekend's I'm there. I prefer my national forests quiet.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Time to come back: photos from our new home near Walled Lake

The sun sets over Walled Lake March 25, 2016.
A long, long time.

That's roughly when I last updated this page. That can't happen anymore.

Life gets in the way. Moving, family, work. It all gets in the way of spending time doing side work, like updating this blog. It's high time to get back to it. So here we go.

I'll be sure to share trips from months past on it soon, but thought I'd start off with some simple sunset photos near our new home. My wife and I recently moved to Novi, not far from Walled Lake, one of the largest lakes in Oakland County. Living off a lake is new territory for each of us: the closest I've lived to a body of water was the Saginaw River in Bay City, and that was a long time ago. Here, the first thing we noticed was the noticeable increase in wind speed on certain days. It cuts through the trees and is typically faster than our former home in southeast Oakland County. It's like living up north.

I decided to head out and enjoy the sunset last night, taking along my camera and trying to find a way to capture it best.

It's time to spend some more time outdoors. Here's to a happy spring and summer outside. More to come.

A swan swims in Walled Lake on March 26, 2016.
The City of Walled Lake in the distance.

Monday, July 14, 2014

A trip long overdue: a weekend to the Saginaw Bay region

The beach along the Saginaw Bay, complete with logs, shells and sand. 
It's been a long six months since the last post on here, and many things have come up that have prevented updates. I was unable to attend my planned trip to Tahquamenon Falls State Park as I originally planned, and I've been unable to get out at any other time. That changed this past weekend.

My wife and I were able to travel north to the Saginaw Bay region for a weekend getaway this past weekend, just to recharge and enjoy getting away. We traveled to several spots in Saginaw, Bay City, Midland and Mount Pleasant, all areas we were familiar with since we are Central Michigan University alumni, and I spent several months working in the area several years ago.

We made it a point to visit Bay City State Recreation Area, a park we've visited before, but in the fall.
The pathway along the simple, one-mile loop trail around
a lagoon and the Saginaw Bay.
They've made some changes to the park since our last visit in 2010, including a new splash park that had dozens of visitors enjoying themselves. We ventured away from the splash park and walked along the lagoon trail, a short hike around the lagoon and leading to the sandy beach on the Saginaw Bay.

The trail isn't difficult and can be done by anyone, as it is cleared with some paving. But it provides a nice insight into the nature of the area, complete with swans swimming in the lagoon, and the chirp of the bullfrogs in the cattails. 

Starting at the visitor center (a nice insight into some history and ecology of the Saginaw Bay region), the trail has various inlets to get a closer look at the lagoon and its wildlife. Seagulls, red-winged blackbirds and blue jays were just some of the birds that could be seen and heard walking along the trail, along with seagulls flying around the waterfront of Lake Huron.

The lagoon, complete with algae, swans and bullfrogs.
Venturing off the trail near the bay is an option on the trail, one that several families took that morning to swim in the bay. The beach was lined with discarded shells and a smooth tree trunk that rested on the edge of the water, one that had its bark removed by the water and polished. The sights from the beach included some industrial smokestacks in the distance, something I've always found that kind of view a bit off-putting, but it speaks to the area we were in, so it adds to the experience, I suppose.

I forgot how nice Bay City State Recreation Area is for a day adventure. The parking lot was practically empty, and there are several pavilions to host events at. The trail system offers several options, with the lagoon trail being just one. It's worth a day trip if nearby.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Yet another outdoor adventure at Island Lake State Recreation Area, although this time with a plethora of snow

The snowy, snowy scene at Island Lake State Rec Area near Brighton this past weekend. The perfect weather for sledding.

Since my trip to Island Lake State Recreation Area is becoming an annual thing, typing out a recap begins to get old after three years.

Instead, some photos from the snow-filled weekend will suffice. We had more snow for the weekend than I can remember in previous years, including last year's drought with no snow, which made the winter activities of sledding and cross-country skiing all the better. It seems Heikki Lunta was looking down upon us this past weekend.

Out on the trail. Some hiked, others skied. 

Running down the small hills throughout the trails. 

A light snowfall happened throughout our trip, making for a pristine time

Very little falling took place on this ski trip.

Sledding at Kensington Metropark returned this year. Lots of snow made the
slopes nice and slick.

Never a plastic sled. Always use a metal runner sled.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Looking ahead to 2014, several local trips on the radar

Reviewing my post from earlier this year on where I'd like to go in 2013, I realized only one of those trips actually happened. It happens, but with less vacation time this year because of a trip with my new wife to Hawaii, I suppose it was bound to happen. And no, I don't regret going to Hawaii. Fantastic place to visit.

Going forward, with less planned on my calendar in 2014, here's hoping I can find a way to visit a few other sites that I haven't seen or it's been a while since I was last there. I've got some places I plan to see, what I'd like to see and what I probably won't see.

What I plan on seeing

Island Lake State Recreation Area

This is an annual trip, but it's one I enjoy so much that I've practically gone every year for the last 15
Here's hoping there's snow this year.
years. Usually in the third weekend in January, the weekend consists of sledding, cross-country skiing and tobogganing, as long as the weather holds up its end of the bargain with providing snow.

Combine the winter activities with a group of great people and some tasty eats, and it's a trip. The backwoods cabins tucked in the back of the park make for that up-north feel when you're only in Livingston County. No electricity inside means lanterns light your way. The sounds of snowmobiles and mountain bikes come through the brush along the trail. It's a great place in the winter.

Tahquamenon Falls State Park

It's been almost 10 years since I last visited this park with the same group, but they are planning on returning for a weekend trip in May. The falls are a spectacular view and visiting Lake Superior is something I always long for, with it being my favorite Great Lake.

For a weekend trip, Tahquamenon Falls is a lengthy drive, but will hopefully be worth it. Seeing the shipwreck museum near Whitefish Point is something I enjoy seeing, and hiking in the spring will be a new experience for me up there.

What I'd like to see

Sunset near Oscoda.
Michigan's Sunrise Coast
I was able to make it to Oscoda this past summer for a long weekend, but there's no guarantee that I'll
make it up there again this year. I've spent many summers driving the stretch of US-23 along the eastern coast of Michigan's Lower Peninsula and find it more fulfilling than visiting the west coast of the state. It's less crowded and there are more hidden gems to find.

Bay City State Park

It's been several years since I went to Bay City State Park when I lived in Bay City, but going back to view the Saginaw Bay is up there on my list. While it might not be the cleanest water, the view is great and it's located nearby Bay City, a town I really enjoyed living in, albeit for four months.

Grand Haven State Park
The pier at Grand Haven.

I've been here several times, the last being in 2012. The pier is beautiful and the walk along it to the lighthouse is well worth it to see the view of Lake Michigan. Watching the boats come into the harbor on the Grand River is beautiful. One of my favorite places in the entire state.

Places I probably won't see

Mackinac Island

It's been several years since visiting Mackinac Island, and this year will probably be no exception. While I've wanted to take my wife north of the Mackinac Bridge, with costs and other life events getting in the way, I don't see a trip to Mackinac Island in the future. But it would be nice.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Another wonderful place to visit, especially off-season. I don't envision a trip here this year, but it's always great to dream. I've been to the dunes several times, and always enjoy exploring the park and the surrounding area near Traverse City. But probably not this year.

Port Crescent/Sleeper State Park

It's been many, many years since my last trip up here, but it's a place I've talked about going for three years now with a good friend of mine. There's not much at the tip of the Thumb, but the view of Lake Huron is great and I've heard Port Austin is a quaint town.

Is there another area I should explore this year? I'd love to hear some suggestions, I'm always looking for new places to explore.