Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Holding on to Autumn

Although it is quite cold outside, the trees are completely bare and the Christmas season is upon us, technically we are still in autumn. I know a lot of people that just can't wait for snow to be on the ground. But me, I still like to hold on a little longer to early Fall. Here is a little slide show from the images of my 2012 trip to Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Be patient as it may take a little time to load it.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Fabyan Lighthouse

Driving down Route 25 by Geneva one can’t avoid noticing a Dutch windmill by the road. This windmill sits at the entrance of the Fabyan Forest Preserve, a property that once was owned by Colonel George and Nelle Fabyan (property was acquired by the Kane County F.P. in 1932).
The Fabyans bought the initial 10 acres in 1905. The estate, which they named Riverbank, at its largest, encompassed 350 acress and included a zoo, a Dutch windmill, a Japanese garden, formal gardens, a house, a boathouse and an island (Isle of View) with a Roman-style swimming pool (no longer in existence) and a lighthouse.
The Riverbank state stretched over the east and west bank of the Fox River. Initially, the Fabyans crossed the river by boat (Jack Wilhelmson was captain of the Riverbank fleet) but they eventually decided that the whole property should be accessible by foot. They proposed the installation of bridges but since the river was considered a navigable waterway, the effort was thwarted. Fabyan fought back by requesting an Act of Congress to construct his bridges. Public records show that the Act was presented to the House Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee by John A. Sterling (R - IL) on March 28, 1916 and to the Senate Commerce Committee by Morris Sheppard (D - TX) on May 31, 1916. The Act was approved on June 12, 1916 (Public 87, 64th Congress).
The lighthouse was built on Isle of View sometime between 1912 and 1917. It originally conveyed the message “23 skidoo”, a way of telling any boats that venture down the river to get lost. Although the lighthouse is no longer in operation it still is a very photogenic landmark that hopefully someday will be restored and shine again.
Fabyan Lighthouse in Autumn

Isle of View as seen from one of the banks of the Fox River

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Miners Falls

Miners Falls as seen from the observation platform
I was unsure on whether to visit Miners Falls. Most of the sites describing this waterfall have images, that at best I found not very interesting, taken from a platform that is across the canyon; didn't look like there was much room here to get creative. Since I was doing well on time and this was an easy hike (1.2 miles roundtrip) I decided to make a look.

The trail leading down to the waterfall is easy to hike. You can pick up a brochure at the head of the trail that contains information for different spots along the hike. The trail ends on two platforms overlooking the falls, one of which requires climbing down 77 steps.

Fisherman standing next to Miners Falls

The Miners River drop about 50 feet on this waterfall. From the images I've seen it was hard to get a sense of how much big and how much water flowed through this waterfall. As I was standing on the platform across the way I could see right next to the waterfall a fisherman. My mind started inmediatedly looking for a  way down. The dirt leading down from the platform looked loose and given my unfortunate accident in 2011 (twisted my ankle hiking by a creek in the mountains), I was weary. Still, the river was calling me so I strapped my camera bag to my waist and started slowly (and very carefully) the descent.

There was no incident on the trip down and the view from the river was spectacular. Standing by the large canyon wall one can feel the power of the water.  Just watching and hearing the water flowing in between the rocks made the hike worth it.

A second waterfall can be found downstream but there is no clear trail and I didn't have the time to bushwhack my way to it. The hike back up to the platform proved to be a little trickier but fortunately I made it up safely.

Miners River flowing away from Miners Falls

Friday, November 9, 2012

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Miners Beach

Miners Beach formations
Miners Beach on Picture Rocks National Lakeshore is well know for the sandstone formations on the shore. In late afternoon, when the sun is low and shines its golden light, the ridges on these formations glow like gold. If the timing is right (and mine has never been), a small waterfall will trickle over the ridges adding more interest to this beautiful area.

A not well defined trail leads from this beach to an area that overlooks the cliffs along Picture Rocks. The trail can be treacherous and slippery as you have to cross a stream, many very muddy spots (make sure your shoes fit tight or you may loose it on the mud!), and jump over or crawl under several fallen trees. The trail is not well defined which adds a little more challenge to the adventure. If you manage to persist on the endeaver you will have a spectacular view of this National Lakeshore.

Picture Rocks Cliffs
Miners Beach is a favorite sunset location for many, specially photographers. After the hike to the cliffs, I though that I was going to find the beach overrun with people but that wasn't the case; only a handful of photographers (and their companions) were there. I was able to setup my camera and while I waited for sunset, I spent some socializing. As sunset approach, a caravan of people started arriving, all with tripods on their hand. Pretty soon I was surrounded by a tangle of tripods and cameras which made it virtually impossible to move left or right without getting into someone else's image.

After ducking out of my 3x3 space, I went on a hike along the beach. A few hundred feet away from the sandstone formations is a small dune covered with grasses that were glowing with golden light. The tree line behind it had some hints of fall color sprinkled in between the evergreens.

Dune Grasses and Fall Color
As sunset approach more and more photographers lined up the beach. Rather than joining them, I decided to stay on the small dune and photograph low removing all the clutter in the beach. There was no wind so all the grasses were standing very still. It was a great end to a long day.

Miners Beach Sunset

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

HMS Bounty

2010 Chicago Parade of Ships
The last time Chicago held a Tall Ship festival was the summer of 2010. 18+ tall ships, many from countries around the world, visited the "city by the lake". The ships moored by Navy Pier and most (if not all) where open for tours or sailings during the day. I have fond memories of growing up in Puerto Rico and sailing with my friends many weekends so seeing all these large vessels with their sails spread out was quite a treat.

What I remember the most from the 2010 Tall Ship festival was the parade. All the boats sailed the lakefront from the Adler Planetarium to Navy Pier. Two of the ships stood out during the parade: the Flagship Niagara firing its cannon toward shore and the regal HMS Bounty.

The HMS Bounty, a 180' full-rigged ship was built for the 1962 movie, Mutiny on the Bounty. Throughout the years the ship appeared on several other movies including Treasure Island and Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean Dead Man's Chest. This ship, with its crew of volunteers, sailed the world for many years. Unfortunately, on October 29, 2012, while traveling from Connecticut to Florida, the Bounty encountered the wrath of Hurricane Sandy. The ship had to be abandoned and sank. One crewmember died and Captain Robin Walbridge is still lost at sea. My prayers go out to the families of the captain and the crewman that lost its live on this tragic accident.
HMS Bounty on Chicago

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Copper Harbor Lighthouse

Copper Harbor Lighthouse at Dusk
The main focus of my trip to the Keweenaw Peninsula was the fall color and waterfalls on the area. But given that I'm a lighthouse lover I couldn't resist visiting several of the lighthouses that dot the peninsula shoreline, the further north one being the Copper Harbor Lighthouse. I drove from Silver City to Copper Harbor, arriving less than two hours from sunset. This was my first trip to this area and I was disappointed to learn that, although there is a road, the lighthouse is landlocked; the only way to reach it is by boat. Given my late arrival time, I had missed the last tour of the day. My only option was to photograph this historical light from across the harbor.

The beach by the Fanny Hoe Creek is right across the lighthouse and contains some interesting rock formations. The evening I was there the sun hid behind heavy clouds and from where I stood it was impossible to see if there were any breaks in the clouds. All I could do was setup and wait. And wait I did. After about 30 minutes, the sky was cloudier and the light flatter than when I arrived. Given that I was about forty five minutes from my hotel and that at dusk the UP can become a deer obstacle course, I decided to pack up and head back.

The drive on RT 41 out of Copper Harbor winds its way through the woods. All the trees along the way had already turned so this was a great sight.  As I was approaching Lake Medora, the tree canopy lit up. The sun had broken through the clouds! I quickly turned the car around and headed back to the beach in Copper Harbor. The clouds were still lingering and it was very close to sunset so I knew that the window to photograph the lighthouse could be very brief.

As I was pulling into the beach parking lot I could see the light fading. I don't think I have ever run this fast out of the car and setup my camera. Unfortunately, it wasn't fast enough and the light faded. Was this it for the light??? Sunset was only a few minutes away and once again I couldn't tell from where I was standing if there was another break in the clouds. I decided to stick around and a couple of minutes later it happened. The sun came out and golden light bathed the Copper Harbor lighthouse. The event lasted less than one minutes but I was ready for it.

Copper Harbor Lighthouse at sunset
As expected, I encountered deer along the way back to the hotel. All of them had the common sense not to jump in front of my car. However, I cannot say the same for the chipmunk that decided to cross RT 41 when I was desperately driving back to photograph the lighthouse...

Friday, October 19, 2012

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Mosquito Falls

According to a web site, the trail to Mosquito Falls is less than one mile (it listed .9 miles). The sign at the trail head indicated 1.1 miles. I'm not sure if it was because I didn't know where I was going or because I was tired or hungry, but the hike felt much longer than the 1.1 miles printed on the sign.

I started down the trail (literally it goes down) with another couple. We were striking a conversation when we ran into one of the wondering park rangers. She was walking at a pretty fast paced with the pepper spray on her side and a gun in front (bears do roam this park). This is the first time I have seen a ranger outside the visitor center and according to my hiking companions Picture Rocks has four rangers that roam the trails at any given time.

As the trails winds along, you start hearing the rushing water in the distance and in several spots you walk by the Mosquito River. Also along the way you pass by a large beaver damn. I did not see any beavers but supposedly they are frequently spotted (along with otters) along this trail.

At one point the trails leaves the creek and climbs up a steep mound. This obstacle slowed down my companions but they were relieved once they saw it stepping down again. This relieve was short lived as there was a second steeper and taller hill to be conquered. However, after reaching the top and going around the bend, the waterfall could be heard. After a few more steps, you stand over the waterfall watching as it drops about 10 feet to the river.

Mosquito Falls lower waterfall
I couldn't find an easy (and safe) way to get down to the river to photograph this waterfall. From the ledge I could see where people have gone done and built a stack or rocks to climb back up. From the top of the rock pile to the ledge was still over 4 feet so I decided that the ledge view was good enough for me. The couple that hiked along with me was not very impressed by what they saw, took one picture with their camera phone and started the trek back to the parking lot; all of this in less than five minutes after arriving.

From this waterfall I could see a trail leading up the river. Just a short hike from the first waterfall are some rapids and a second waterfall, this one more accessible. This second waterfall only dropped about 5 feet but the location was more picturesque. If my trail friends had hiked a few more minutes, they would have been pleasantly surprised. The pool at the bottom of the waterfall was deep (i.e., my boots would have filled with water if I tried to cross) all around except in one spot where some slippery rocks served as stepping stones. Once you crossed you get a clear view of the falls.

Mosquito Fall upper waterfall

After spending an hour by the two Mosquito Falls drops, it was time to hike uphill (yes, it was uphill both ways) back to the car. Oh joy! And as I walked alone back, I kept running into young couples all of which had the same questions: how much further to the falls???

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Silent Saturday - Autumn in Starved Rock

Autumn color around the Lasalle canyon bridge
Ottawa Canyon Waterfall in Autumn

Armstrong Creek in Fall


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Roadside Scenes

Farm scene along M-26 in Michigan's Upper Peninsula
 Before I travel to photograph a new location I do as much research as possible about what is on the area. Books, travel pamphlets and many internet sites have pictures, descriptions and other information that I find useful to plan my time at the given location. But when you are traveling by car, numerous opportunities may present themselves along the way, most of which may not be documented.
I have found myself many times driving down a country road or highway and noticing something on the corner of my eye. By the time it registers, I may be one or two miles down the road. In many cases I can’t stop because there is nowhere to park or turn around the car. In other cases I go back and just can’t find a composition that I like or the subject simply isn’t appealing when I look at it closely. However, there are times that the scene is really picturesque and merits the detour or stop. So if something catches your eye as you are driving along and you have the time, go back and take a closer look. You may find an unexpected treasure.
Creek scene along M-26 in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Going UP

Lake of the Clouds
I visited Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for the first time in the fall of 2008 and was hooked on it. Although it is less than a ten hour drive from home, it feels just like Alaska, very remote and isolated. Since 2008, I have been to the UP multiple times both in summer and once in the fall. During last year's fall trip there wasn't really much color so I was yearning for another autumn trip.

I started thinking about a possible trip in late spring but due to work and family commitments they never firmed up. As mid September, the trip was once again a possibility so I dug up my notes and put together a rough schedule for a five day trip starting on September 26. I still had some work commitments so I made no hotel reservations. By September 21 the trip was a go only to be cancelled a day later due to illness. Cue the antibiotics. September 26 came and I had been home all week recovering. I was feeling much better so my decision was to leave early on the 27th if I felt in good health.

The morning of the 27th I got up, verified that there was hotel availability near the locations I wanted to visit, quickly packed up and left for Michigan. On the back of my mind I could feel something was missing but I wasn’t sure what. After a 40 mile drive on the interstate I still couldn’t shake the feeling so I pulled over and checked the car. Indeed something was missing: my hiking boots. I twisted my ankle last summer by hiking with tennis shoes and I wasn’t about to do the same mistake 400 miles away so I returned back home to find the missing boots…I packed two sets of boots just to be sure.

Bonanza Falls
I arrived at Silver City close to 4 PM and went straight to the hotel to get a room. Only three rooms were left and people where queued up on the phone trying to grab them. If I had arrived a few minutes later I would have ended up sleeping on the van (I had a blanket and a pillow just in car just in case this happened). Needless to say, I spent a few hours that night looking for hotel rooms for the next couple of nights. Choices were very limited but I did manage to find a warm place to sleep for the rest of the trip.

Although fall color wasn’t at its peak and the waterfalls were low on water (compared to other years), the Porcupine Mountains were very picturesque. There was much more color along the road on the drive from Silver City to Houghton. The bright yellows and reds could be seen along the road and covering all the hills. It was quite a sight. Once you drive pass Houghton, color mostly faded away.

I drove all the way to Copper Harbor (1990 from Miami, Florida) and on the way toured the Eagle Harbor Lighthouse. Copper Harbor can also be toured but I arrived too late for the boat ride (lighthouse is landlocked). For those traveling this area, I recommend also touring Calumet and the mine near Houghton. The National Park Services has information on both of these locations.

Eagle Harbor Lighthouse
From Copper Harbor, I drove to Munising via Marquette. During sunrise, the sky was clear but as the day progressed, clouds starting rolling in from the lake. By sunset that day, once again the sky had cleared.

Last day was spent hiking the trails at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and Hiawatha National Forest. By 9:30 AM I had already hiked over 5 miles and I was ready for second breakfast (I had a waffle at the hotel at 6 AM). But instead of breakfast, I continued the hikes to several waterfalls, some with unplanned off trail detours. All in all it was a great day in Munising.

After 4 days of running around with the tripod and camera bag. I was ready to go back home. Although these trips are very enjoyable, the days are long and the nights are too short. In the end I had driven 1598 miles and hiked quite a few miles. Although I traveled by myself I was never alone. Many thanks to Dennis, Phillip, Joe, Nick and Larry for their friendly company and conversations. I also have to thank John McCormick for his advice and inspirational images that provide a baseline for the trip.

Wagner Falls