Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Smokies 2014

I was lucky enough this year to be able to do a second out of state fall trip (first one being to Michigan's Upper Peninsula). This was specially a treat as the weather in north east Illinois did not cooperate and color disappeared fairly quickly with the wind storms.

I've been to the Smokies twice already in the spring (although the second trip felt more like winter due to the snow storms) and both trips were wonderful. Growing up in an island with mountains makes it easy for me to connect with this beautiful National Park.
As the date of the trip approach I was starting to get nervous about the possibility (or lack) of color. The National Park Facebook page kept posting reports and it seemed that my dates were going to be past peak for the low elevations. The reality was that color was spectacular along the Middle Prong of the Little River.
The weather even cooperated by providing fog in the morning and clouds and rain in the afternoon. Not only did it rain while I was there; it also rain the days preceding my trip so there was plenty of water. The roaring of the rives was hypnotizing. Just looking at the images, I can hear in my mind the water flowing.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Rock Creek Autumn 2014

Autumn color had faded around my home so I was hoping that I could still catch the tail end of it a little further south. My first instinct was to visit the waterfall at DesPlaines River Conservation Area but unfortunately, the park was closed for unknown reasons. Kankakee River State Park is a little further away so I just kept going. It has been a few years since I last visited Kankakee River State Park. Last time it was also in late in fall and color was still hanging on.

As I passed the campground I could see the bare trees; not a good sign. Once at the park I found little color left along the Kankakee River. However Rock Creek still looked great.

There are a few spots along Rock Creek in which is easy to get down and hike the shallow canyon shore. The view from the creek are always pretty with the exposed rock surrounding rapids and deep pools of mirror-like still water.

I wish I could walk the whole creek all the way to the cascade but in several places there is no shoreline and the creek does get deep. From the trail, one can see the cascade from the top of the canyon. I have taken plenty of pictures from this vantage point but as the years pass, the vegetation is starting to obscure the view. This time I wanted something different. After some analysis of the cliffs and a couple of leaps of faith (and ignoring the inner voice that said not to climb down), I made it to the shoreline.
Getting down proved to be much easier than getting back up. I had my legs, arms and body in general in positions that only a contortionist should do. I was sore for a few may be time to do some yoga to gain some flexibility.

No view of Rock Creek would be complete without looking down from the 102 bridge. Every time a semi drove past me at 50 miles per hour, the whole bridge vibrated followed by a strong gust. It certainly made for some interesting moments while photographing.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Munising Musings

Seems that my trips to the UP have one thing in common: rain, and lots of it. I woke up in Munising only to find pouring rain and wind. It was great weather for an early breakfast and to catch a movie in the hotel room (I brought my trusty iPad with plenty to choose from). Around mid day, conditions had improved enough that I decided to go for some short hikes. First up was Wagner Falls.

Parking was tight. The platform overlooking the falls was full of a tangle of tripods and cameras: I had run into a photography tour. While they all spent their time at the main fall, I spent mine in the little side creek. I don't think that this creek gets enough love. This year it was specially beautiful with all the fall leafs on the ground providing color to the narrow gorge.
Next stop was Tannery Fall, the twin of Memorial Falls. Things here got really muddy. This was my first hike into this fall so I wasn't quite sure where to go. I parked the car and tried to follow a group that had walked in just as I was arriving. Boy was the hike messy. Just a few feet into the wood, the whole ground became a muddy deep mess. And this wasn't ordinary mud. This was the type that would get a hold of your shoes and suck them right out from your feet. I'm thankful that I was wearing my tall hiking boots tied very tight.

Out of the muck, the trail went up a steep incline to the side of the canyon. None of this seemed quite right but the waterfall was very close by. I'm not sure what happened to the other folks as I had the falls to myself until an elderly (over 70) couple arrived. I wish I can hike as they did when I'm their age! I found Tannery Falls much more picturesque than its sister fall. Ferns in this canyon were still very vibrant and with the overcast light, the water was very striking against the canyon wall.
I hiked back to the car the same muddy way I came in. Once there, I took a close look at where I came from and noticed that 30 feet to the right there were some stairs. Oh my, that was the "official" trail to the falls and I bet it didn't include boot sucking mud holes.

From Tannery Falls I took the short trip to Munising Falls. This is a very popular waterfall (i.e., crowded) so this was a short stop. With the sky still heavily overcast, I decided to also visit Miners Fall. Just like Munising Falls, Miners had a very strong flow. So much so that the mist was soaking everyone standing in the platforms across the canyon. As much as I tried, I could not keep the water away from the lens long enough to get a "dry" image. I don't think my camera (and lenses) have ever been under such wet conditions.
I was going to call it the day but instead ended at Miners Beach. It was very windy and still heavily cloudy so I left the camera in the car. I was surprised when I stepped into the beach as erosion had eaten away a significant portion of the sand. On the upside, rock formations that had been covered for many years, including the sandstone ridges around Elliot Falls, were now exposed. I was taking a few snapshots with my camera phone when suddenly the sun broke free. I ran to the car to get my gear and capture the light on this formation before the sun vanished again.
The lake was pretty wild and my feet got pretty wet with the constant pounding of the waves but it was fun and pretty spectacular. I just hope that people respect the formation and walk carefully over it. Some areas are pretty fragile and it would be a shame to destroy these ridges.

As the evening progresses the clouds kept coming but the sun never disappeared. I'm sure that if the clouds had broken earlier, several photo tours would have been lining the the little sliver of shore left but given what the weather had been all day, I only shared the beach with one other photographer. If you look closely at the image below, you can see our shadow on middle right of the image below.
With all the clouds, sunset did not disappoint. It is probably the best sunset I've seen so far in the U.P. After two and a half days of gray days, it was great to see the sun.
This was my last evening in the U.P. Saturday morning was pretty bad (more rain and wind) and the forecast for the rest of the day and Sunday did not look any better. It was time to head back home but before that I made one final stop at Alger Falls. I driven by (and stopped) by this falls numerous times and never really found it very appealing but a friend of mine suggested I take a closer look. So I did.
Due to the weather, I didn't get to visit many of the places I had planned which just means that I get to go back at least one more time.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Waterfalling to Munising

What did I do after spending part of the day hiking along the Dead River exploring the waterfalls? Visit more waterfalls on the trip from Marquette to Munising, of course. First stop was Laughing Whitefish Falls. This waterfall (more like a waterfall followed by a cascade) drops 100 feet into the gorge before the river disappears into the forest.
Although the side views of this waterfall are stunning, the view from the top or bottom were breathtaking. The waterfall may not look very tall in the pictures but the 200 steps that have to be climbed up to return to the parking lot will quickly put things into context.

I had to look up why the river was named Laughing Whitefish. Apparently the mouth of the river, when view from Lake Superior, looked like a fish to the Ojibwe.
About half way from Laughing Whitefish Falls to Munising is the Au Train River. This river is used for electricity generation and so it has been dammed. Downstream from the dam are two waterfalls which sometimes get turned off. I have been to this waterfall before when barely any water was flowing. This time I was lucky enough to visit on a day after some rain showers.

Trees must have dropped their leafs shortly before my visit as the leafs still had their bright colors. The green color of this waterfall is due to the algae growing on the rock formation.. 
I had planned two more stops for this day but time was running out. I arrived at Munising, checked in and drove to Memorial Falls. I have passed by this waterfall for many years but was not aware of its existence. The waterfall is in a canyon a short hike from a residential street but once you are in the canyon, it felt as if one got transported a world away. In many ways this place reminded me of Starved Rock State Park in Illinois.

The trail crosses over the creek just above the waterfall before stepping down on the side of the bluff and going behind the waterfall. There was a lot of people constantly hiking in and out (and sometimes just sitting around) but I didn't mind waiting for them to clear from my picture. It was great just seeing folks enjoying, however briefly, this waterfall.
Memorial Falls has a twin nearby but it was getting late and dinner was calling. Tannery Falls will have to wait...

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Dead River Falls

Day two of the UP trip started just like the one last year. I got up early only to find that it was heavily cloudy and rainy. I ended up leaving the hotel and driving to the Marquette downtown area for breakfast and a stroll through the streets. I took the opportunity to start my Christmas shopping in some of the unique stores.

Around 11:00 AM the clouds started breaking so I drove out to the Dead River. I had been to this location last year looking for the waterfalls but ended up in the wrong place. This time I came prepare with better directions. The book indicated that the hike to the waterfalls was extraneous (9 out of 10). I don't know that it was that hard but it certainly had a lot of ups and downs on a narrow trail.

The first waterfall I encountered along the river had a 25 foot drop (tallest of the waterfalls). Seeing it from a distance, it certainly didn't look that tall but standing on top of it and looking down, it felt huge.
There are certainly plenty of waterfalls/cascades concentrated in a short span of the river. It drops 90 feet in about half a mile. The river runs/drops in between these large boulders and rocks which seem extraneous in this forest. Fall color was spotty but whatever was there did make a nice accent.
If you look carefully at the image above you see a fallen tree over the waterfall on the right. In order to capture the image below, I walked across the log. Darwin was watching me.
The waterfalls were beautiful but the rapids were mesmerizing. Don't know why this very short portion of river was so captivating. I ended up sitting down for a while and enjoyed the view while I drank my bottle of water which was already warm but it didn't matter at this point...
Looking upstream from the rapids, I saw no sign of additional waterfalls. It was still early in the day so I decided to hike a little farther along the river. The river eventually narrowed into a 20 foot high gorge. Although I could not see a waterfall ahead I could hear the water flowing. Once you hike to the top of the gorge the waterfall can be seen tucked into a small pocket on the side. I found this waterfall the second most scenic of my hike.
I debated whether to continue hiking but decided to go back. It was getting late and I though this was the last of the waterfalls. I was wrong. Google maps shows at least one more waterfalls further upstream. Next time in town, I will all the way to the lake. Maybe I can convince my wife to come hike with me...

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Day One in the UP 2014

Just returned from a short trip to the UP. Most days were heavily cloudy, rainy, windy or a combination of the above which made it challenging to capture some of the images. On the first day I traveled to Marquette Michigan. On the way there, I stopped at Whitefish Falls.

Whitefish Falls is located outside Trenary right next to a small campground that sits on a dirt road next to the main road. I have driven many times past this road and had no idea that this beautiful waterfall was there. Once I got out of the car, I could hear the roaring water and imagined camping at this site and listening to the calming sound of the falling water at night or early in the morning while sipping a warm cup of tea or coffee.
I walked up and down the creek looking for the shallower spot to cross. With the amount of water flowing on this river, there really wasn't any that was below the heights of my boots so it was a "refreshing" adventure.

I left Whitefish Falls and continue on my way to Marquette. The second stop was the overlook of the old 510 bridge. The view down into the Dead River is fantastic, probably one of the most scenic spots I've seen from a road in the UP. Color was spotty as Marquette had already experience a frost and some trees had already lost the leafs. If you notice, there are ripples in the river. It was very very windy, and this was a cold wind. Having just arrived at the UP, I really wasn't prepared for the chilly temperature.
I still had one more stop I wanted to make prior to sunset. When I did the planning at home, it seemed that Yellow Dog River Falls was not too far up the road from the bridge. However, GPS didn't think so. I spent over 40 minutes driving on a dirt road passing every so often a logging truck. Every so often the GPS tried to send me down a one lane off shoot which I decided was not on my best interest. Once it the GPS said "arriving at destination" I was relieve but unsure if this was the right spot. I parked the car next to a bridge just as described on the book but I couldn't see any signs of a waterfall.

I took the trail right next to the parking lot but the farther I walked, the further it seemed to be moving from the river. After walking a quarter of a mile and not hearing any rushing water, I decided to turn back to the car and review the book description of how to get to the fall. I probably should have done this earlier...
First instruction was to park on the south side of the bridge and take the trail. Was I parked next to the right bridge over the correct river? I hope I was. Which way was south? I remember that the iPhone had a compass and after consulting it, I verified that indeed I was park in the south side of the bridge. Second instruction: take the trail downstream. So I went back on the trail and every so often veered off it looking for the river.

The trail was fairly easy to follow except in some spots where it disappeared under the fallen leafs. Eventually the trail parallel the bank of the river and in the distance I could hear the soft roar of the water. A few more steps and out in the middle of this forest I ran into giant boulders through which the river was cascading.
The afternoon was heavily cloudy and windy but being down between the massive boulders protected me from the wind (only occasional wind gusts blew through). I walked back to the car mostly in the dark (always bring a flashlight!); and drove out on the same dirt road, just not in the same direction I came from. It had been a long day of driving...time for dinner and some rest.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Roads of Peninsula State Park

Weather in Door County wasn't the best during our last trip. The first morning I got up before sunrise, looked out the window and saw pouring rain. Needless to say, I went back to bed. A  couple of hours later I got up and the sky had cleared and no cloud was in sight. I got dressed and took a short drive to Peninsula State Park which was a few minutes from where we were staying. It had been a few years since I last visited so I thought I would just drive around and do a little hiking. To my surprise, there was a light fog lingering in the park around the more wooded areas. For the next hour, I just went up and down all the roads in the park admiring the last vestiges of summer.
Shore Road
Skyline Road
Highland Road
Middle Road

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Buckingham Fountain 2014

Fountain and skyline (2014)
Last time I photograph Buckingham Fountain in Chicago, the skyline was full of cranes.That was over six years ago. I was way past due for another visit and I almost didn't make it. I had left in a frenzy to photograph the supermoon at Navy Pier and attend the concert at Millennium Park. By the time the concert ended, I was tired and was ready for the drive home. But I had second thoughts just before I walked into the parking garage.
Navy Pier fireworks 
I had forgotten how big this fountain is. I walked slowly around it, admiring the details, color changes and the scene behind it for a good hour. Lots of people were enjoying it and many asked for their photo to be taken. At one point in the night, the fireworks at Navy Pier went off and they exploded just over the fountain. Later that night, the heavy clouds started breaking and the moon played peek-a-boo for a few minutes. I got home after midnight, 8 hours after I left. It was a long fun evening.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

In the trail of the Super Moon

The moon is a fascinating subject, specially when it is full. I've always wanted to photograph it rising from Lake Michigan behind the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse. And I tried several times only to find that it was too cloudy, or it rose too far to the north or south. Between the commute and the cost of parking, I eventually gave up on the idea. 

Late Saturday afternoon I was browsing around the web and read about the upcoming super moon.This term refers to the coincidence of a full moon with the moon closest approach to Earth. In theory a super moon looks larger than a regular full moon. I was intrigued.. Super moon was Sunday but the forecast was not promising. Saturday afternoon forecast was clear skies...perfect. In doing some more research I found that if I stood a the end of Navy Pier, I could see the moon rise behind the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse. The stars were aligned. Needless to say I ran out the door.

Nay Pier was a zoo! People were everywhere. I don't blame them; it was a gorgeous warm day perfect to enjoy outside during the last few days before school starts. I walked as quickly as possible to the end of the pier only to find that there was a private event and the closed off the area from where I wanted to photograph. Plan B was to photograph a few hundred feet back in an area near the Beer Garden. I found a place to sit and wait along with some other photographers that had traveled down with similar plans. And we waited....and waited....and waited for the moon. Moon rise time came and went and there was no hint of the moon. Too much haze!

My original intent was too only stay in Navy Pier for about 30 minutes but it took this long before a faint moon could be seen. From my current location, the moon was too far to the right to capture the image I wanted.
First Sign of the Moon
But sometimes other opportunities present themselves. In this case, the Tall Ship Windy left from Navy Pier for a sunset cruise. I was only able to get one image as it passed in front of me.

Tall Ship Windy Sunset
As sunset gave way to night, the clouds moved in and swallowed the moon. I spent some time on a fantastic concert on Millennium Park (along with 15000 other people) and from there walked to Buckingham Fountain. And just as I was getting ready to walk back to the car, the clouds started breaking and the moon shined briefly through.
Buckingham Fountain and Moon
It was a long evening in the city which I enjoyed immensely. I'm thinking that I may try this again for the next super moon which coincidentally is next month. Lets hope that the weather cooperates.