Sunday, June 10, 2012

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

A new summer is up on us and the semester just ended a couple of weeks ago. Me and couple of friends decided to take a weekend trip. Pictured Rocks is on the shores of Lake Superior, about 6.5 h North of Ann Arbor. We departed from Ann Arbor on Saturday at 4 AM and our first destination was Tahquamenon Falls in the Upper Peninsula. The Tahquamenon Falls comprises of two falls the upper and the lower falls. Due to time constraints we decided to visit only the upper falls. The sheer force and enormity of the falls was amazing. Several viewing platforms at short hiking distances provide excellent vantage point to view the falls.

Tahquamenon Falls
After spending an hour near the falls, we drove to Munising, MI and checked into our hotel. With a few hours of day light left, we decided to visit Miners Castle and explore the surrouring area. It is one of the icons of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Short paved trails provide excellent view points of the rock formations and lake Superior.

Miners Castle
A short hike takes you to the Miners beach. A long sandy shore and a serene atmosphere makes this a beach goers delight. We were there right around the sunset time. Unfortunately though, the skies were a bit cloudy. Nevertheless, it created a fantastic ambience and has left an ever lasting impression, making Pictured Rocks a place I must revisit.

Miners Beach
It was starting to get dark. We made a quick stop at the Miners Falls before heading back to our hotel for the night.

Day-2 of our trip started with a quick visit to Wagner Falls. The paved trail starts right by the side of the road. A short hike leads to this beautiful water falls cascading over sandstone terraces.

Wagner Falls
We next headed to explore the Chapel Basin. There are plenty of hiking options here. We picked the 6.2 mile (round-trip) North-East trail to hike to Chapel Beach via Chapel Falls. The weather was slightly cool and perfect for this long hike through the woods. Lots of mushrooms and wildflowers were in bloom this spring, making this a beautiful hike.

Different vantage points provide spectacular views of the 60 ft high Chapel Falls.

Chapel Falls
Hiking 1.8 miles further we went on to see the Chapel Rock formation, another one of icons at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. We wanted to spend some time near the Chapel beach. Unfortunately, it started raining right around the time we reached the beach. Due to shortage of time, after the quick downpour subsided, we hiked back to our car and drove towards the Grand Sable dunes.

Chapel Rock
There are two overlook points for the Grand Sable dunes. We went to the Log Slide overlook. It provides a fantastic birds-eye view of the dunes. We also went to the access point a quarter mile east of the log slide overlook to hike the dunes. It was incredibly scary as every step felt like I would tumble down into the looming vast lake superior. The last stretch was too steep and we gave up on reaching the lake superior here. The hike back was a daunting task and we took our time enjoying the panorama. Au Sable light house, visible from the log slide overlook was our next destination.

Grand Sable Dunes from Log Slide Overlook
We drove to the Hurricane river point along H58. Here the Hurricane river empties into the lake superior. A portion of the hike towards the Au Sable Light House is along the Twelve mile beach. The tranquil beach on one side and woods on the other side and the cool spring breeze made this a perfect hike. This place and the hike was my favorite in this entire trip. There is also campground near the parking lot (note to self, must camp here some time!, the ambience is fantastic).

Hike through the woods to Au Sable Light House 
View of the Grand Sable Dunes from Twelve mile Beach
Lake Superior as viewed from Twelve mile beach
Au Sable Light House
Sunset over the Lake Superior at the Hurricane River mouth
After the sunset, we started back to Ann Arbor and reached around 5 AM Monday morning. For a short 2-Day trip we had managed to see a lot. It was a memorable weekend and great start to the summer.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Warren Dunes, Lake Michigan

End of April brings with it the joy of summer holidays. Although 'summer-holidays' does not mean much to a graduate student pursuing a Ph.D, it does provide more time to balance research with non-academic fun. It also marks the beginning of pleasant weather, at least for a few months, and lots of hiking options for amateurs such as myself.

Warren Dunes State Park is just off of Interstate 94W close to the exit 16. About 160 miles from Ann Arbor, approximately 3 hours drive, it is a perfect place for a weekend hiking trip. The trails here, along the lake Michigan's beach and the sand dunes are reasonably tough to hike (when done backwards) and takes roughly 6-8 hours. This time of the year, there is hardly any crowd there, making it very peaceful. On the downside, be sure to pack lunch and snacks and carry plenty of water! none of the eating options are open. One would have to travel for several miles to find an eatery. Also, if you are thinking of hiking the sand trails barefoot, its a terrible idea! There are shards of broken glass on the trails probably from people partying.
Dune Hike - Warren Dunes State Park 
Lake Michigan Beach view from Dunes trail
If you follow google-maps, you will end up at the parking lot close to Mile marker 1. We spent about 6 hrs exploring the trail along 1-14-13-8-4-3 path. The Beach trail starts at marker 1 and ends close to marker 14. There are no visible boards to make a right turn, just a faint bootleg trail. A right turn there leads to a broken 'beach trail' board and eventually to marker 14 stump.
Beach Trail - Warren Dunes State Park
Lake Michigan Beach - Warren Dunes State Park 
Random clicks along the beach trail
Trail 8-4-3 leads through a nice, cool, Warren Dunes nature area. Early spring offers plenty of greenery, a few flowers and meandering streams, making this a very relaxing hike.
Random Clicks along the Warren Dunes Nature Trail
If you choose to make a right at marker 8, which we did, leads to a very hard climb of the Mt. Randall, eventually leading to spectacular views of the beach. The cool breeze and the mild sun (it is almost 5 PM) and soft sand is now the perfect place to relax after a tough day of hiking.
Relaxing on the dunes after a strenuous hike
St. Joseph North Pier lighthouse is located at the mouth of St. Joseph river as it pours into Lake Michigan. Located 20 miles from Warren Dunes beach, it is very nice, peaceful place to watch the sun set over the lake Michigan. Unfortunately it was cloudy and started to rain when we got there!
St. Joseph North Pier Lighthouse
Nonetheless, the ambience near the lighthouse beach is soothing. This was our last stop before driving back to Ann Arbor. Overall, it was a very pleasant trip, and I am definitely revisiting these places perhaps during another season.