A Brief Stop in Pigeon River Country

It’s hard to find a hiking trail in the Lower Peninsula that allows for a 3- or 4-day hike with dispersed backcountry campsites. Jordan River Pathway is advertised as a 2-day hike, but with the new detour around the wetlands, that’s going to be uncomfortable for some. Camping is only allowed at the Pinney Bridge site. So in order to make ours a 3-day, 2-night trip, we drove an hour east to Pigeon River Country and Pickerel Lake, which has a drive-in campsite.

Being Labor Day, the place was packed with RVs and unfortunately our site ended up near some rather loud and boisterous kids who had brought everything they owned with them. But my feet had blisters from our elongated hike out of the Jordan River Valley, so I was happy to be wearing flip flops and carrying things a few yards from the car rather than on my back. We had a nice fire, sitting in the stadium chairs my sister happened to have left in her car, and slept well after our nearly 12-mile day. (My FitBit told me that we had climbed the equivalent of 91 stories during all the up and down and up, up, up.)

The next morning we drove out to the elk viewing area to see if perhaps the elk herd was hanging out there.

They were not.

Nonetheless, it was a pretty field.

And we saw wild turkeys.

Seeing the turkeys was rather macabre because we had already determined that on our way home we were going to stop at Gobblers, a place that sells mostly Thanksgiving dinners for lunch.

The meal was fantastic and we had another hiking trip in the books, albeit a short one. Next year we’ll have to try to get back to the U.P.

Mushroom Madness

My sister and I like to look for themes on our hikes. One year it was ferns, another maples, another blueberries, etc. Something that just keeps popping up along the way. On the Jordan River Pathway, it was Indian Pipe and it was mushrooms.

When you hike in late summer and there’s been enough rain, you’ll see a lot of them. Here are just some of the mushrooms and fungus that caught our eyes along the way.

Either Crown Coral or Cockscomb Coral; either way it’s edible, but we didn’t know that at the time. However, there are pink varieties of coral fungi that are poisonous, so don’t mess around with it if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Likely Yellow Patches, but possibly Frost’s Amanita, which is poisonous. I wouldn’t take any chances.
I thought this big mushroom looked like a chocolate chip scone. I had trouble identifying this one. Maybe it’s a Boletus subglabripes. If so, it would be edible. But I bet it doesn’t taste much like a scone.
The next few photos are of Parasol Mushrooms.
You can see how big they can get. Apparently they fruit in grass or open woodland.
This was just a little one.
The thing about these is that there are lookalikes that are poisonous, so again, I wouldn’t take my chances.
I’m fairly sure this one was a Parasol Mushroom as well.
Alison spotted a couple of these deep purple mushrooms, which neither of us had seen before. It’s called a Purple Cort and, though it looks anything but tasty to me, it is edible! With the added benefit that I don’t think you’re going to mistake this for some other variety that will kill you.
Some variety of what are known as bracket fungi. Perhaps Bjerkandera adusta?
These seem to me to be Gem-Studded Puffballs. Edible. Again, lookalikes may not be. Sensing a theme here? Maybe we should all just stick to the grocery store.
Actually, I was taking a photo of the big ball of moss, but the yellow fungi in the background are a bonus. I’ve no idea what they are, though.

Hiking the Jordan River Pathway, Day 2

Day two of hiking the Jordan River Pathway started well. Because we hadn’t been overly ambitious the first day, we were both feeling good the next morning and ready to take on the day.

The weather was nice and cool. The path was rather flat, which is good on the knees and the balls of one’s feet, and on this side of the river there continued to be good scenery and good conversation.

We were even treated to a few overlooks, which we hadn’t really had on the other side of the river.

There was that moment the trail got lost in the overgrown raspberry canes and asters, which were still wet with morning dew, which (the dew) quickly found a new home in the fabric of our pants, which (the pants) became exceedingly cold and heavy until they dried.

But that’s okay. There were signs of fall to admire, like the sumac changing color.

And there were pretty woodland flowers.

And there was more Indian Pipe, this time in a big clump.

We lunched at the riverside, happy to be rid of our packs for a spell and to feel the cool breeze on our sweaty backs. In fact, it soon got so chilly I draped my sweatshirt around my shoulders. It was the last time I would feel cool until we were in the car, blasting the air conditioning.

We did get to walk through my favorite kind of woods — tall deciduous trees with little undergrowth where you can see for some way.

And there was a huge open meadow as well, bouncing with grasshoppers.

Though the afternoon with no shade was rather hot.

We passed and sampled some wild blackberries.

And then things got soggy. We were headed down to the river again and toward some wetlands where there was a nice, flat boardwalk before our final climb out of the valley and into the car.

Or rather there should have been a boardwalk. There used to be a boardwalk. But, as is their wont, rather than fix it when damaged, whoever keeps this trail up thought it would be easier somehow to cut a detour. Which meant more distance and a lot more up and down hills. And, since it was newly cut and not well-trodden, lots of tiny stumps and roots and rocks to trip on at the end of your hike when you are already exhausted.

And so this is the last photo I took. After that, the heavy camera went in the pack and we trudged on. And on. And on. Until what should have been an 8.4 miles hike according to the map became more than 11 miles according to my FitBit.

The last hill was absolutely endless, and we were the only ones taking the trail “backwards” as one person put it, so we continuously passed fresh, clean, bright-eyed people with their intrepid dogs as we slogged our way out of the valley.

There was more to our trip than I’ve shared so far, but that will keep until next time…

Hiking the Jordan River Pathway, Day 1

Once again, this year the Annual Sisters’ Hike was in the Lower Peninsula, largely due to time constraints. And since we went on Labor Day Weekend this year and the Mackinac Bridge was closed for six hours on Labor Day as a new safety measure for the Annual Bridge Walk, hiking in the LP meant fewer traffic snarls.

On Friday, September 1st, I got on the road before 7 am, watched a gorgeous sunrise, and reveled in that end-of-summer light.

There was mist in the low places that morning. Blushing trees and burgundy drifts of Joe Pye weed. Fields of beans and corn tinged with the yellow tips of its drying leaves. Rolling hills of sheep, cows, and horses pulling at grass. Sunrise reflected in wetlands dotted with birds. Thin clouds lit up with the color of morning.

During the drive I saw far more wildlife than I would see hiking, including sandhill cranes, flocks of wheeling blackbirds, and one of the biggest Vs of Canada geese I’ve ever seen. I also had a coyote run across the highway about fifty feet in front of my car. He was large and sleek and completely focused on whatever it was he was chasing on the other side of the road. Totally unconcerned about the car barreling down on him. Thankfully, he timed it right and I had only just had the sense to touch my brakes and then he was gone in the underbrush.

Alison and I met up at the parking area for Deadman’s Hill Overlook (above), left my car there, and drove hers to Landslide Overlook about six miles down the trail. Though we weren’t supposed to park there overnight, I didn’t fancy doing nearly 10 miles of hiking the first day. I wanted an easy 4-5 miles for day one and we figured people probably weren’t ticketed much there. So we left it to chance (and it turned out just fine).

One of the first items of note on our hike of the Jordan Valley was this little white plant, which I’ve only ever seen once or twice.

Indian Pipe is a native wildflower that has no chlorophyll, doesn’t make its own food, and gets its sustenance from decaying plat material through a mutually beneficial relationship with a fungus (so you cannot, repeat cannot grow these in your garden so don’t dig them up). And we saw a ton of them on the slopes near Landslide Creek and Cascade Creek. Interestingly, the flowerhead turns upright after it is pollinated.

We also saw a ton of baby spiders making their perfect little webs all over the place.

The trail was generally well groomed here, though there was the occasional obstacle to be traversed.

These stairs down toward one of the creeks were in very good shape, though of varying heights, which made for some surprisingly shallow or deep steps along the way.

Alas, it wasn’t long before we ran into our first detour (there would be more…several more).

It seems that in so many state parks there is a tendency to put up a sign rather than repair a failing structure, like those helpful “BUMP” signs you occasionally encounter while driving. Okay…why not fix the road so it doesn’t need a sign?

But I digress…

Like many of our other hikes, part of the Jordan River Pathway is also part of the North Country Trail, a network of trails that stretches from New York to North Dakota. The Jordan River Pathway portion is, surprisingly, the only point at which whis trail crosses the 45th Parallel, the halfway point between the equator and the north pole.

Inside this little sign/house thing is information about the NCT and information about a Facebook page on which you can post your selfies with the sign above. It was obviously created before everyone carried smart phones because it suggests to the hiker that he or she can rest their camera on the part that pulls down and makes a horizontal surface.

Here’s ours.

And because two signs is not marker enough for some people, there of course was a rather substantial cairn a few feet away. It wasn’t interfering with photos or natural water flow, so I let it be.

We stopped for a while at the 45th Parallel to eat lunch. Last year during our trip to the Manistee River, my sister inexplicably brought a can of Spaghetti-Os to eat–cold–because she “saw them in the store and they sounded good” to her. I made fun of her pretty mercilessly and asked her if she needed a stick and a red bandana to carry her things while she hopped a train. So this year she brought them to spite me, which was a strong move.

After lunch we encountered this interracial tree couple that had grown together in several spots. I’d never seen anything like that before.

One nice feature of the Jordan River Pathway is the varied landscape. It’s not just all trees and forest. There are a number of open meadows, including this one that was absolutely alive with buzzing bees.

And there are openings in the trees that are largely populated with tall ferns…and the occasional tiny butterfly.

When we got to Pinney Bridge, I was surprised to see how small the Jordan River actually was. I know I’ve done this hike before with my husband, but it’s probably been at least fifteen years, so there wasn’t much I remembered.


After the bridge, it’s a short walk up to the campsite. Along the way we spotted the changing leaves of some wild columbine…

…some touch-me-nots with the exploding seed pods…

…and lots and lots of wild asters of some variety.

Now, earlier on during our hike, we came across a young, spry couple who told us that the night before they had stayed in site 3 at the campground and that it was a nice one and they’d left some unburned firewood there. So we decided that’s where we would stay. One of the first things I saw was one of these:

I don’t know why, but these little flossing tools seem to seek me out. They are in every parking lot, along every sidewalk. And now, at our campsite. I’ve considered starting a Tumblr that is nothing but photos of these things because I encounter them so often. And they always leave me with the same unanswered questions.

1.) Why do people feel the need to floss their teeth on the run?

2.) Why isn’t regular floss, which is just waxed string that will biodegrade, unlike this molded plastic, not good enough for them?

3.) Why is it acceptable in their minds to throw these things on the ground?

I would imagine this one was just an oversight. Surely hiking people wouldn’t litter on purpose, so hey, I’ll cut them a break. They did tell us about the firewood situation after all. What they did not tell us, because I’m sure they were not aware, was that they had left a live fire behind.


This was what I saw upon arriving, probably six hours after they had left in the morning. Again, an oversight. But a potentially dangerous one. Luckily, the northern Lower Peninsula has gotten far more rain this summer than the area where I live in the southern half, where an unattended fire could have some serious consequences.

Pro tip: Covering a fire with the ashes does not necessarily put the fire out. In fact, in Ye Olde Days, people who heated their homes or cooked with wood or coal fires would “bank them” at night, piling up the ashes, so that they wouldn’t go out and would be easier to start again the next morning. The way to get your fire to go out is to spread the embers as far from one another as you can, not pile them together. And if you’re in a forest you have a responsibility to get that fire out before you leave your campsite. Use water if necessary.

Anyway…

The Pinney Bridge campsite is quite nice. It’s a collection of 15 scattered sites arranged around a common green, a water pump (no filtering!), and two pit toilets, a.k.a. “The Gateway to Hell.”

Alison made one attempt but came back out almost immediately saying, “It’s like a horror film in there.”

“In what way?” I inquired.

All she said was, “Flies.”

This may be too much information, but my sister and I always prefer using the facilities in the woods when we go hiking for precisely this sort of reason. But enough about that. On to the flowers!

This big Queen Anne’s Lace flowerhead was going to seed, while the ones below were perfectly catching the evening light.

It certainly was no horror film most places you looked. More like the setting of a fairytale.

September is truly a lovely time of year and evening is a lovely time of day. One of the reasons I didn’t want to hike 10 miles the first day. I wanted to be able to enjoy the time with the packs off our backs for a while.

We pitched the tent, gathered more firewood, had dinner, read books, took pictures, and chatted about life as the sun sank lower in the sky.

It was a beautiful, marvelous, magical evening…

3 Waterfalls, 2 States, 1 Big Spring…and the End of the Road

As I mentioned in the last post, no matter the time zone, we woke up early after camping in the Porcupine Mountains. Superior was calm and blue and the day ahead was largely going to be spent in the car.

But first, I had a couple nearby waterfalls to check off my list.

We drove not far from our campsite, parked, and headed down a short trail in the woods.

The sun filtered through the thick canopy of green. The temperature was crisp. It felt good to be walking off the stiffness of a cold night in the tent. And then we ran into a little trouble…

Early June being so very early in the season in the Upper Peninsula, it appeared that not all the repairs that might be needed in the very large Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park had been made yet. Or maybe that tree had only just fallen that week. Or perhaps park personnel were following in the footsteps of many a state park I’ve hiked through, many of which have seemed to fall into disrepair (I’ll talk a bit more about that when I get to this year’s Annual Sisters’ Hiking Trip in a later post…)

Intrepid explorers that were were, the boy and I simply made our way around the bridge, down into the ravine, over the stream, and up the other side. Our reward was two waterfalls (and actually very well-kept trails and stairs alongside them).

Manabezho Falls was quite a nice little drop, like a miniature Upper Tahquamenon. But up river a ways we reached Manido Falls, which was my favorite of the two.

I love the pattern and angles in the rock riverbed there. I think I have a thing for falls like this, that don’t simply drop but instead wind their way down various levels.

Manido Falls from another vantage point even reveals little baby waterfalls (on the right, closest to the camera) which I quite liked.

About an hour down the road in the heart of Ottawa National Forest is Bond Falls. I was surprised by Bond Falls. I’d see plenty of pictures of it, but I never appreciated the size of the falls. And in early June, Bond Falls was rushing.

Bond Falls is on the middle branch of the Ontonagon River, a river system that sprawls over a huge chunk of the Western U.P.

This image is public domain.

One cool thing about Bond Falls is that you can go quite a ways up river along lots of rapids, which we did. And along the way you can find lots of large rocks to climb, which the boy did.

After spending the morning at waterfalls, we had a long drive ahead of us, which included trying to find a city with decent cell service so we could connect with Zach via Skype. I believe at that point his 10-day trip to Israel was getting rather long, at least when it came to being away from his family. We tried in one town (Crystal Falls) and when the connection was bad I could tell from Zach’s voice that this wasn’t going to cut it for his only communication with his family that day. I told him I’d reroute and head for Iron Mountain, which was the only “big” city around. This detour took us, ever so briefly, into Wisconsin (about six or seven miles of US Route 2 runs through it). It was my first time in that state.

We were able to connect with Daddy in Iron Mountain (which looked like a really cool town I’d like to visit on purpose someday) and we all felt a lot better. Still, all three of us were getting to the point where we were ready for our traveling days to be over for a bit.

The boy and I drove on, listening to our U.P. Road Trip playlist, toward the city of Manistique on Lake Michigan. But before collapsing at the hotel, I had one more U.P. attraction I wanted to see. Kitch-iti-kipi.

Kitch-iti-kipi, often called The Big Spring, is the largest natural freshwater spring in Michigan. The spring is equipped with a self-serve raft that travels along a cable by means of cranking a large metal wheel. This raft takes you out over the spring and has a hole in the center of it so you can look straight down into the crystal clear water, which is full of trout and other fish. Can you see in the photo below where the sand is disturbed? That’s where the water is flowing in. (BTW, that is really the color of the water. No filter.)

This sign on the raft explains how the spring works.

And this sign answers all your questions about it.

For the past five days, we had experienced freighters going through locks, eight beautiful (and loud) waterfalls, a guided boat tour of incredible cliffs, seeing black bears, going into a mine, climbing over rocks on top of windy mountains, and camping outdoors (the boy’s first time). During most of the (at that point) 24+ hours in the car, we’d been listening to music. After all that, Kitch-iti-kipi was a very quiet end to an epic trip. We had the raft all to ourselves, though there were about a dozen people waiting to get on when we brought it back to shore. I’m glad we did. I don’t generally care for being around a lot of GP (General Public) when I’m exploring outside.

It was just me and my boy and a serenely beautiful place. I felt lucky to be there. Lucky to have made this trip and these memories. Lucky to live not so far away from such beauty.

That night we had the dinner buffet at Big Boy. The TVs (why are there TVs in every restaurant now?) were playing the news on mute, catching me up with all that had occurred while I was mostly offline, including the terror attack on London Bridge. Back to reality, which seems more unreal every month.

After dinner we walked along Lake Michigan, enjoying the perfect weather and the thought of sleeping in our own beds the next night.

And when we saw the bridge the next day, it was a welcome yet bittersweet sight. Truly, once we crossed that five-mile span and touched the Lower Peninsula, the adventure was over. There would be no more surprises.

We knew this road well.

Camping in the Porcupine Mountains

Ack! Where has summer gone? And how am I still blogging through photos I took during the very first week of summer vacation?!

It doesn’t seem possible that school has started and temps have dropped to a pleasant 70 degrees and trees are already showing signs of autumn, but there it is. A busy summer of travel and writing pushes out time for photo editing and blogging.

One nice side effect (for me and only me) of taking this long to get through my U.P. photos is that I’m slowly remembering and reliving the trip, which I assume can only aid my long-term memory of it. 🙂

But you, poor reader, have been deprived, left hanging and wondering, “Well, then what?”

Finally, I give you the answer. The Porkies.

The Porcupine Mountains are not impressively high for someone with a view of the Rockies, but for a Michigander who has lived most of her life in the flat, farmland-heavy lower half of the Lower Peninsula (and her son who has lived all of his life there) the Porkies were a treat.

You’ll find them way over on the western end of the Upper Peninsula, the furthest west we got on our trip.

Go much further and you’re in Wisconsin. Much further than that and you’re in Minnesota. In fact, on a clear day like the one we had, you can actually see both Wisconsin and Minnesota from the observation tower at the top of Summit Peak — which was, for some time, thought to be the highest point in the state of Michigan. It is not. Unless you count the 40-foot tower they built on top of it.

Our first stop was the ranger station to check in to our campsite. Then a second ranger station to check our firewood. And then to the Lake of the Clouds.

This large lake fed by the Carp River is 1,076 feet above sea level and, eventually, the water here makes its way down into Lake Superior, the largest body of fresh water on earth. Around the same time we were visiting the Lake of the Clouds, my husband was visiting the Dead Sea 1,412 feet below sea level, which is one of the saltiest bodies of water on earth, and which does not feed into anything.

The boy reveled in leaping around the large rock outcropping.

Though I did get him to stand still for a moment to take a selfie with me.

It was très windy up there, but warm in the sun. I think both of us could have stayed up there most of the rest of the day.

Here’s a shot of the Carp River winding away (or toward, I don’t know) the lake.

I simply MUST get back up here some autumn for the fall color.

We ventured down the trail a little way to get another angle before heading to Summit Peak. Here’s where we had just been standing.

Believe me when I say that this is truly impressive for Midwestern Standards. 🙂

The Porcupine Mountains are part of a very old mountain range (some say 2 billion years old…but I don’t know enough about that to comment) formed in part by midcontinental rift and volcanic activity, and later by the action of glaciers during various ice ages (more about the geology of the range here). With around 90 miles of hiking trails and covering an area of more than 47,000 acres, it is, according to the DNR, “one of the largest relatively undisturbed northern hemlock-hardwood forests west of the Adirondacks.”

What’s nice about the Porkies is that you can visit nearly all of the big attractions by car and short hikes. Which is good when you have a nine-year-old boy in tow.

And since it takes so long to drive there, you’re more than ready to get out and do a bit of walking and climbing of steps once you get there!

This is atop the tower on Summit Peak (1,958 feet + 40 for the tower). That’s nothing compared to Mount Mitchell in North Carolina at 6,684 feet (the highest point in the Appalachians) and falls even further behind when you consider Mount Elbert in Colorado at 14,440 feet (the highest point in the Rockies) or Aconcagua in Argentina at 22,837 feet (the highest mountain in the western hemisphere). But hey, it’s what we’ve got.

And the boy and I thought it was beautiful. From up there we could see Lake Superior, the Apostle Islands of Wisconsin, and a thin line in the far distance that I have to believe may have been Minnesota. At least, that makes sense thinking of the map.

Eventually, we came down from the mountain and drove to our campsite on the far western end of the park at Presque Isle State Campground near the Presque Isle River. We set up the tent, brought out the hot dogs and s’mores ingredients we’d been keeping cool in the cooler for days, and built a fire.

This became the boy’s favorite part of the trip, bumping the Pictured Rocks Cruise out of the top spot.

It was going to be in the 40s that night (around 7 degrees Celsius for my international readers) so I let the boy use my new sleeping bag, which is rated for 5 degrees Fahrenheit. I used one of the old sleeping bags and added a heavy quilt, something you can’t do when backpacking!

We finished reading our book (we’d been reading Prince Caspian in the Chronicles of Narnia series every night — we’re currently on The Last Battle) and then broke out some of the Michigan-specific picture books I’d brought along, including Mackinac Bridge by Gloria Whelan and The Legend of Michigan by Trinka Hakes Noble, both of which are fantastic and both of which had been given to the boy by friends of ours when he was very small.

And we watched the sun sink into Lake Superior just a dozen or so yards from our tent.

The next morning I checked my phone for the time and groaned to see that we were both up at 5:30 am. But hey, an early start when you have 5 to 6 hours of driving is good, right? We had a quick breakfast of granola bars and fruit and packed up the car. When we were driving away from the campsite, the clock in my car and the clock on my phone were an hour off of one another. It was only then it hit me that we were in a different time zone!

Image result for time zone map michigan

Turns out, the counties bordering Wisconsin are on Central Time. In fact, I was so far west that if I went far enough south from that spot, I would nearly hit Iowa and would go through St. Louis, Missouri; Arkansas; Memphis, Tennessee; Jackson, Mississippi; and end up in New Orleans, Louisiana. Which seems crazy to me. I’d cross the Mississippi River at least twice.

Much of the rest of the day, I would be in the Central Time Zone. And though later I would drive past signs telling me I’d now entered the Eastern Time Zone, it seemed like some towns disregarded that and kept Central Time.

But before our big drive, I wanted to see a few more waterfalls. And that’s what I’ll be posting about next time. In fact, the whole next day was all about water…