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...