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…

A 90-Degree Walk in the Marshlands

Not far from downtown Bay City, Michigan, is the body of water from which it derives its name: the Saginaw Bay of Lake Huron.

A low, marshy area, it has a strip of sandy beach that in many places is only reachable by boardwalk.

On the horizon lies the power plant that supplies the area with electricity.

There’s something about this sight that feels quintessentially Bay City, but I’m not sure I can articulate why.

Perhaps it’s because so much of the natural environment was so fundamentally changed when white people finally settled here. When the area was first surveyed it was determined unfit for human habitation. Nothing but swamps and unbearable swarms of mosquitoes.

The story goes that much of lower Michigan was settled only after East Coasters were essentially tricked by unscrupulous land agents into buying land they hadn’t seen in person when what they were actually buying was swamp.

You can’t build or farm on a swamp, of course. So you drain it. And you start a mosquito control program.

And the land becomes something it was never meant to be. It becomes farms and shipyards and sawmills and factories.

But it still wants to be a swamp.

It wants to be a place where water is slowly filtered through a network of soils and plants and microscopic creatures.

It wants to feels the wriggling tadpoles in the warm shallows and the sliding fish in the deep places.

It wants to feed the roots of poplars and birches and the cottonwoods that were sending their confetti down all around me as I strolled along the margins of the marsh.

It wants frogs and toads, red-eared sliders and snapping turtles.

It wants to sustain little forests of lily pads that, as the mother of an eight-year-old son, I can’t help but see as a colony of green Pac-Mans.

Even during this incredibly hot day, the breeze from the bay tickled the leaves on the trees and bid them send their shade upon Earth’s weary creatures.

Between horizons on either side, I could believe that I was in a very wild place.

But a glance to the left revealed dozens of waterfront houses. And a glance to the right…

That power plant that I never knew I’d depended on when I lived in the Essexville/Bay City area as a child.

Still, if I looked in the right place…

I could see something beautiful and quiet and wild.

And that’s what I’m always looking for.

Unintentional Water Features at Tahquamenon Falls

Remember way back when wetlands were just called swamps? Someone in the 1970s or 1980s apparently endeavored to put a more positive spin on these soggy topographical features. Wetland sounds so much more pleasant than swamp, after all.

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Well, if you hike north from the Upper Falls at Tahquamenon along the Giant Pines Trail Loop and the Wilderness Trail Loop, you will find yourself in a landscape that tends strongly toward swamp. Remember the soggy areas Alison and I encountered on the trail between the Lower and Upper Falls? Multiply that by, oh, let’s say 500–or 50, I don’t know. But whatever the correct number, if you plan to hike this section prepare to get your feet wet. Also, unless the DNR or whoever gets out there with a chainsaw soon, prepare to duck under and crawl over many, many trees.

Despite some sludgy trail conditions, there were some nice surprises early on, like this enormous, 185-year-old white pine tree, which was approximately 120 feet tall, 5 feet in diameter, and has a circumference of nearly 16 feet.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy sister looked pretty small next to it.

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Not far from this mammoth lifeform we found this fat little caterpillar, which I think will be a Luna Moth when it’s all grown up.

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But not too far into our second hike of the first day, the surprises turned simultaneously more unpleasant and more impressive.

Alison and I first noticed a tree across our path that had obviously been cut down by a beaver–its distinctive teeth marks cluing us in. A moment later we realized that we were walking alongside a lake. And that the water level was a foot or so higher than the soggy ground upon which we were treading.

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Yes, we were at the edge of a beaver’s carefully constructed dam.

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And, as I said, we were alternately amazed and irritated. The amazement is obvious. Beavers are incredible creatures with incredible talents. The beaver here had created his own perfect environment. That first photo in this post was of the beautiful wetland home he had made possible by building this:

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He built it not across a rushing river but along the outskirts of the slowly moving water of some sluggish swamp, and we were on the very edge of it. It’s an enchanting position to be in.

The irritation may not be so obvious from these photos. But this next one may give you a hint:

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You see that slim tree with the blue painted blaze? That, my friend, is the indicator of the North Country Trail. And, as I’m sure you noticed, it’s been incorporated into this beaver’s swimming pool. In fact, the beaver had obliterated much of the trail. I don’t know if he just made this dam this summer or if it really has been a long time since anyone at Tahquamenon Falls State Park has bothered to groom their backcountry trails (I kind of suspect the latter, frankly). Either way, it was slow, wet going here. It was swamp here.

At one point we realized that the only semi-dry option to move forward was to walk along the top of the dam itself as we tried to get back on the trail. We stepped gingerly, grasping at branches the beaver had as yet left untouched, leaned away from the water, and prayed that he was a good builder who didn’t cut corners.

We did make it past the wetland eventually, but with very wet shoes and socks and more than a few near-misses. As evening approached and the gray skies above rumbled a warning of the storms we knew were supposed to come that night, we tried to make up time as we rushed toward the Wilderness Campsite. We got the tent up before dark, ate a late supper, and used the surprisingly unsmelly and amusingly exhibitionist toilet.

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It made me think of this iconic moment from Scrubs:

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Yes, that’s Michael J. Fox’s Dr. Kevin Casey finally overcoming his OCD in order to sit on the roof toilet.

We bedded down for some much needed sleep as the forest darkened swiftly around us and flashes of lightning occasionally lit up the tent. As we fell asleep that night, or else as we woke the next morning, it’s hard to recall, we heard the strangest bird call, like a cartoon siren that ended with a honk. Or like a loon on steroids. It sounded like it had to come from a very large bird. After listening to some calls, I think it is quite possible it was a sandhill crane. Go to about the 1:50 mark on this video and you’ll hear just about what I think we heard:

In the morning I remembered to get a photo of our campsite before we packed back up to face yet more trail challenges and more rain on the way to our next campsite.

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We were surrounded by utter silence, complete solitude, and zillions of wild blueberries (the presence of which during our entire hike had me ultra aware of the possibility of encountering black bears fattening up for winter).

It was beautiful.

Wildflower Wednesday: Spotted Touch-Me-Not

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Common Name: Spotted Touch-Me-Not

Scientific Name: Impatiens capensis

Habitat & Range: wet shade and woodlands, by streams, and in wetlands statewide

Bloom Time: summer

About: You’ll see Touch-Me-Nots in yellow as well, but the orange ones are my favorite. These shade-loving plants not only have beautiful, exotic looking flowers, they are a favorite of children for their exploding seed pods. An annual, the Touch-Me-Not (also known as Jewelweed) disperses its seeds dramatically by flinging them here and there at a gentle touch. In the wild this is accomplished largely by deer walking by. But on walking trails it is a fun activity for children and adults alike. Its flowers are favored by hummingbirds and the sap from its stems can be used to soothe poison ivy or stings from nettles. An all around lovely, fun, and useful forest flower.

Reference: Wildflowers of Michigan by Stan Tekiela; Adventure Publications, 2000