John King Books Is My Graceland

On Saturday, my sister and I took our first trip to John King Books in Detroit.

It was everything you want in a giant used bookstore housed in an old factory.

Full of charm and mystery.

And beautiful books.

I wanted to take all of these home with me. But I had given myself a budget. In a place like this, you kind of have to.

I brought home this book to read before, during, and after my upcoming trip to the Upper Peninsula.

I built my growing collection of fantastically lovely volumes of poetry printed in the 1800s.

I found Byron last year in a Lansing antique shop, and he is now joined by Burns and Longfellow.

I added yet another green-bound classic to my stacks (green, it seems, was the favorite color of these 1930s printings).

And I found a curiosity or two. This is a copy of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow written in shorthand.

I have a book that teaches you how to write shorthand from my grandmother’s library and this slim volume will go along with it (uh oh…I sense another collection coming into being).

The last book I found — the one that busted my budget and ended my shopping day — is something I’ll tell you about tomorrow…

 

Great Lakes Infographic Love

Who doesn’t love a good infographic? Wonder which of the Great Lakes is the longest or deepest or highest? Or how far you would travel by ship from the westernmost point of Lake Superior down the St. Lawrence Seaway to the Atlantic? Wonder no more:

Click on the graphic to see it bigger. And if you’re looking for Lake Michigan, it’s combined with Lake Huron as they really function as one body of water despite their separation by the Lower Peninsula.

Lake Superior Stones: A Collector’s Lament

I love rocks. I like looking at them, feeling them, collecting them, putting them in jars.

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But here’s the problem with being a rock collector at a National Park–you can’t collect the rocks.

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All these lovely rocks and you have to leave them be.

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And anyway, when you’re backpacking, you can’t really start socking away a bunch of rocks in your pack. Every ounce counts.

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So while I would have liked to bring home a bunch of stone souvenirs, I mostly left them alone and took pictures (though I have to admit, I brought a few little ones home…they were tiny, really…no one will miss them).

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I generally like stones for how they look and I don’t get deep into their composition, rarity, or how they formed (although, that does interest me).

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And there are people far better qualified to identify all of these beauties than I.

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I can tell you that I saw sedimentary rocks, like sandstone and the great conglomerate above.

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And that I saw igneous rocks, like strips of granite, through metamorphic rocks, like gneiss, which you can see in a couple of these photos. And I wonder just how that granite found its way in there.

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And I saw this great little scene of erosion and shaping by the waves and wind on the beach, like Pictured Rocks in miniature.

But I left them all there. For your trip.

Au Sable Point Lighthouse, the Graveyard Coast, and Hurricane River

On Saturday, my sister and I packed up and made the three-ish mile hike to our next campsite, Au Sable Point East. I say three-ish because it really seems to me that some desk jockey at the National Parks Service (NPS) looked at a map of Pictured Rocks, estimated that the width of his thumb was, “Eh, more or less about a mile,” and then did that tongue-out, one-eye-closed sort of “guesstimating” you do when you just want to get something checked off your to-do list. Next time we are there, Alison and I plan to bring one of those fancy runner’s watches that records everything you do and actually measure the real distance.

But I digress.

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After lurching down an endless hill (“Ah, now this feels more like Pictured Rocks!”) we found the campsite and were quite happy that it was a.) very close to Lake Superior for water and scenery needs; b.) situated in an idyllic looking little area populated by pines and the cutest little baby fir trees you’ve ever seen; and c.) not far from both the lighthouse and the mouth of the Hurricane River (as we were both marvelously fond of the Mosquito River on our last trip and were looking forward to hearing and seeing another river).

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We had neighbors at this site, but everyone was pleasantly quiet and industrious and no one seemed to be there to make new friends. (Alison and I come from some painfully solitary German stock on our father’s side and are never really looking to meet anyone. Ever.)

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We happily strolled along the beach and examined rocks until we were chased away by biting black flies (“Ah, now this feels more like the U.P.!”) and then thought we’d check out the lighthouse.

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I have a friend who “collects” lighthouses, but to me they are just one of those things you look at and go, “Hm, that’s cool,” and then move on to more important things, like marking how prevalent wild blueberries are in these parts or how fascinating that rock is over there. (Aside: Did you know that Michigan has at least 116 functional lighthouses–plus more that are no longer in service–more than any other state in the nation?)

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Alison and I took the “steps” down to the beach to search out the remains of shipwrecks that are visible between the Hurricane River and the lighthouse, part of the Graveyard Coast, a very shallow area of the lake that has claimed several vessels over the years and prompted the building of the lighthouse in the first place. Despite the flies and the heat and my growing blisters, it was a beautiful walk and it struck me once again how many hundreds of miles of gorgeous beach there are on Lake Superior and how little it is really used for recreation. I think that’s a good thing, don’t get me wrong. But when you think of crowded beaches downstate, it’s really quite incredible.

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Now, above the beach and in the woods a little bit, between the lighthouse and Hurricane River, there is a bizarrely wide footpath (wide enough for a truck, and there were tire tracks on it). I can only assume that the lighthouse staff uses that path as a road to reach the light station. It also happens to be more welcoming for the people who might use the drive-in campground at Hurricane River rather than the backcountry sites that pepper the North Country Trail that runs through the park. You know, larger families with small children, the elderly, and the less-in-shape-than-even-me. In fact we met a large older gentleman with a cane and his wife coming down a real set of stairs (rather than just posts strung together with cables and flung down a sandy hill) to go see the shipwrecks and I thought to myself how odd it was to see someone like that hiking. Then we came to Hurricane River and it all made sense.

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We first knew something strange was going on when we saw an RV. Just the night before I felt like I was the only person in the park, so devoid of human activity were the tops of the dunes. Then we saw another RV. And another. And coolers. And bottles of ketchup and mustard. Then we smelled meat grilling. I finally looked at the map and saw that this was one of two drive-in campgrounds in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. A small part of me, for a very, very short moment, was incensed. But then I started thinking about bringing my son up here sometime before he’s big enough to hike with a pack on his back. And I understood completely. This would be the way to experience a piece of this place if you could not (or were not inclined to) carry your house and food on your back to and fro.

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Except for the RVs and the grills and the coolers, Hurricane River reminded us a bit of the Mosquito River in that it was refreshingly frigid and the water ran over shelves of sandstone that you could walk across (carefully). We took a seat on a log in the river, cooled our achy feet, and had a snack. Then, being the curmudgeon I am, I started removing evidence of human activity from the river (in the form of little dams of rocks that a sweet little child no doubt made but which I, ardent naturalist and generally ornery person, didn’t think should be there altering the course of the water and messing up my photos).

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I know. I’m a rotten killjoy. I also systematically destroy those “cairns” everyone seems to be so fond of making on Michigan’s shorelines. I don’t understand why people simply must leave their mark on the natural world and I resent them ruining my landscape photographs. There. I said it.

Anyway

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This is a very nice area to visit. If you are doing a U.P. trip by car and want to get a taste of Lake Superior and Pictured Rocks without a ton of footwork, I recommend parking at various parking lots along the park and taking the short hikes to places like Log Slide, Au Sable Point Light Station, the Graveyard Coast, Miner’s Castle, Miner’s Beach, Miner’s Falls, Sable Falls, and anywhere else you can see (especially the Pictured Rocks boat tours). Combine that with stops at Tahquamenon Falls, Point Iroquois, the Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point, the Soo Locks, and Wildwood Pasties, and you’ve got yourself a lovely trip. I recommend the first or second week of October if you also want to take a fall color tour to boot.

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We eventually headed back to camp, ate dinner, then hid from the bugs in our tent. I think we were both asleep before sunset that night (36 hours with no caffeine and a lot of walking in direct sunlight kind of saps one’s energy). I was looking forward to a fairly early start the next morning as I anticipated going home to my boys and a nice soapy shower. Little did I know there would be another good reason to get moving quickly on Sunday…

Sunset on Grand Sable Dunes and Waiting for the Northern Lights

After we visited Log Slide on Friday, Alison and I returned to our campsite, had a bite to eat, and then returned to the other world waiting above us to watch the sunset.

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Apparently, we were not the only ones with this idea. We were joined by about 63 million tiny flying bugs of the gnat variety, which frantically whizzed about in clouds all around us. You can spot some of them in the photo above.

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And yet, it was still quiet and peaceful up there. I set off to photograph the dunes in the waning light while Alison plunked down with a book. You can see her in the above photo, way up near the top of the hill.

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The sun slowly sank lower in the sky and lit up the dune grasses and sand in that perfect evening light that photographers so adore.

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And a landscape that had seemed almost stark in the harsh midday sun took on a quality that made you feel that this earth is really a beautiful place indeed.

How often do we go to bed at night having not noticed this? It should strike us daily and yet we are so busy and so insulated from the earth outside and spend so little time with the real world that we miss it regularly.

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Certainly that feeling is easy to come by in a singular landscape such as Grand Sable Dunes. But even your own yard or neighborhood or that corner of your kitchen where the light hits just so, you can see it. If you’re looking.

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Now, I have never been a fan of August. It has always seemed a wasted month of horrid heat, humidity, and boredom. But I’ve recently begun rethinking my stance.

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This past weekend it started to cast a spell over me. (More on this at a later date.)

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Finally, finally, the sun sank below the horizon. My sister headed down the now dark trail, flashlight in hand, leaving me atop the highest point of the dunes, camera firmly affixed to my tripod, to wait for a very different sort of light. I had read on Tuesday that a massive coronal mass ejection (CME) had occurred. For those of you unfamiliar with this term, essentially the sun had released a tremendous amount of energy that was careening through space toward us, the effects of which might be visible on this Friday night.

Still in the dark? I’m talking about the Northern Lights, which for the past few years of increased CME activity (which goes in 11 year cycles) have been spotted all over Michigan, but mostly on Lake Superior. And here I was at Lake Superior on the perfect night in the perfect spot to see them for the first time in my life and, if I was lucky, capture them in pixels so I could smugly share my good fortune with others.

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As the cold wind whipped around me and my surroundings darkened, I actually prayed for the privilege to witness this incredible display of the power of our star and the kind hand of the One who put our planet in such a position that I could both see it and not be harmed by it.

But it was not to be. There may have been lights later that night while I was snoozing or watching a little mouse scurry overhead between the tent and the rain fly, but I was not permitted to see them. I eventually packed up my camera and flicked on my flashlight for the descent to Masse Homestead (made exponentially more difficult by the darkness and more nerve-wracking by the thought that should I encounter a black bear or wolf in the pitch black night, it would have a significant advantage over me despite my being armed).

I was (and am) profoundly disappointed. And yet, the sun continues to shine and produce storms that will cause the Northern Lights to appear at a later date. Someday I hope to see them. In the meantime, this disappointment reminds me that I am not owed beauty. Beauty happens, but it doesn’t happen for my sake. I am like one of those grains of sand on the dune, one of billions of people in the world. My great comfort is that God knows every speck of sand, every one of us, and that He heard my prayer for light that night…and for whatever reason His answer was “Not just yet.”

The View from Log Slide

Log Slide is a destination spot on the east end of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore with quick and easy access from a parking lot. In a previous era it was used for (you guessed it) sliding logs that were cut from the forests above into Lake Superior below so they could begin their watery journey to sawmills in parts south. Nowadays, the only thing sliding down this patch of sand is tourists (some unwillingly, I imagine).

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There are a couple signs warning that though it can take less than a minute to reach the bottom 500 feet (300 vertical) below, it can take more than an hour to climb back up.

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The day we spent time at Log Slide I wasn’t feeling particularly energetic as we had just traversed a LOT of sand on top of the dunes and the balls of my feet were developing blisters. So instead of making the descent, Alison and I crept around on a few more-or-less-sorta stable areas just to the west of the actual slide.

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You can get a great view of the five miles of sand that make up Grand Sable Dunes from this vantage point.

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And you can see Au Sable Point Light Station from there as well, which is where we were headed the next day.

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But before we get to the lighthouse, there is the little matter of sunset on the dunes and waiting for the Northern Lights. Stay tuned…

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Surprised by Sand

This past weekend, my sister Alison and I took our second hiking trip together. We planned a shorter hike than last year and parked such that we could hike a short distance (under two miles) to our campsites, pitch our tents, then do day hikes unencumbered by packs. I must say it was an excellent strategy.

So on Friday afternoon we quickly found ourselves setting up our tent at Masse Homestead backcountry campsite on the eastern end of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. The hike to the site was eerily silent. We heard no birds or humming insects, encountered no other hikers, and spoke little as we walked a narrow path through a largely open, mostly deciduous woodland.

To Masse Homestead

Masse Homestead is a smaller site, with only three campsites allowed. There was some mold growing in the food box, so we opted for the food pole to keep our rations away from bears. The soil was sandy, making the tent setup smooth and bathroom breaks easy (apart from the mosquitoes). And in just a matter of minutes, we were ready to check out our surroundings.

Masse Homestead

The old bearded ranger (“I’ve lived in Grand Marais all my life but I’m slowly moving west. I’ve gotten about two and a half miles so far.”) told us about a very steep, sandy trail that led up to the dunes. It was easy to spot (harder to climb) so we grabbed cameras and water bottles and headed up.

Trail up to dunes

Near the top, one gets the very queer feeling that you are going through C. S. Lewis’s wardrobe to Narnia.

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And, in fact, I think what awaited us took our collective breath away just like Narnia did for Lucy.

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The last time I could see this much landscape all around me, I was in a plane.

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There we stood, upon the very highest point of the Grand Sable Dunes, and all around us was wilderness.

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The only sound was of the crickets and cicadas.

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At that moment, we felt as though we must be the only two people on earth.

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We hiked over the dunes, up and down, for a long time before we even approached the edge, losing site of the big hill we first stood on and the opening in the trees that would lead us back down to our tent.

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But how could we not be drawn by this landscape to abandon the trail and set off to blaze our own?

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We stopped (quite sensibly) at this line of wet sand that ran across the top of the slope. Had we taken very many more steps forward, we might have found ourselves sliding down 300 or so feet into Lake Superior.

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Instead, we rested our feet a bit and took in the incredibly blue lake and the cool breeze.

Erin on the Dunes

Besides some tracks in the sand (coyote, deer, crow, and one set of bare human feet) and one pile of scat (bear) there was little evidence of life up there beyond dune grasses, scrubby junipers, poplars, and wild roses.

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We would discover later that night that the dunes are a favored spot for huge clouds of gnats (or some related tiny flying insect) but that is a post for another day.

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How to Find the Best Beaches in Michigan’s U.P.

Mosquito Beach
One of my favorite places in the world: Mosquito Beach.

I don’t typically highlight websites on this blog, but in preparing for my upcoming hiking trip to Grand Sable Dunes and other parts of the east side of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (and also in thinking about August’s short story) I happened upon this excellent website: Some Yooper Beach.

For the uninitiated, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is locally referred to as the U.P. (pronounced Yoo Pee, not “up”) and those who live there are called Yoopers. This particular Yooper has done the world a great service by visiting TONS of U.P. beaches and then describing them and sharing photos of them on his website. If you have ever thought of visiting Lake Superior, spend some time on this site first to see which part of the 2,726 miles of shoreline (nearly 1,000 of which are in Michigan) you would most like to visit.

Mosquito Beach
We spent more time at Mosquito Beach than any other place on the trail.

Another handy website is the Lake Superior ShoreViewer. What it lacks in interesting commentary, it makes up for in comprehensive photos of what appears to be the entire Michigan shoreline. Though it would be super nice if you could zoom in on the photos (which you can’t).

I’ve added both of these sites to my page of Michigan Links. If you didn’t know about that part of this site, why don’t you go check it out now? I’m sure you have tons of time to waste, right?

Beach at Coves
The beach near Coves campsite.