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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

The land between three waters

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U.P. Photographic Highlights
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
Miners Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Great Lake coastlines along the Upper Peninsula provide ample opportunity for capturing sunrises and sunsets.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
One of the five national lakeshores in the National Park System, Pictured Rocks was the first to be created in 1972 and, to me, it’s the singular photographic location of the U.P. Many other locations share its exquisite beauty, but only one other, Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, has the diversity of environments.

Pictured Rocks extends for 40 miles along Superior’s southern shore from the town of Munising on its west to the village of Grand Marais to the east. The western shoreline is dominated by magnificent multi-hued sandstone cliffs. The vast waters of “Gitche Gumee,” the Americanized version of the Ojibwa Nation name (meaning “big water”) for the lake can be awesome and menacing at once.

When big waves crash headlong into the cliffs, you can feel the very ground beneath you shake, enough to blur an image made just an instant after the impact. Those waves can be spectacular, so time your exposures for the resulting wave splash crest instead. Pictured Rocks has its share of photogenic waterfalls, especially Chapel Falls and Miners Falls. Miners Beach has a small but very enticing waterfall; while just three or four feet high, it falls on a shoreline fan of delicate sandstone fins or layers that cascade like the water. The water and the sandstone turn from orange to red to a reddish-pink in sunset light. Tread carefully around this formation as the sandstone fins easily crumble beneath your feet.

At the center of Pictured Rocks along the lake you’ll find miles of sand and pebble beaches and streams that empty into Superior. Two of these locations, Twelve Mile Beach and Hurricane River, have car access. East of the Hurricane River is the AuSable Light Station, which has a historic and picturesque lighthouse. Heading further east but only on foot, you’ll come to one of the few areas of sand dunes on Lake Superior and by far the largest at more than 300 feet high. The Grand Sable Dunes extend about eight miles west from their easternmost point, making for a grand, sweeping curve along the lake’s shore. Car access is just west of the town of Grand Marais.

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
The winters are cold, but the photography is worth it. An ice bridge with a sunstar on the shore of Lake Superior
Heading west from Pictured Rocks, there are numerous places to photograph. To the northwest of Marquette are rugged, rocky Lake Superior shorelines and parts of the Escanaba State Forest. Also along this coast is the famed Big Bay Point Lighthouse, which now is also a bed and breakfast and a great, if not a bit more expensive, choice for a night’s lodging. Photograph the lighthouse at sunrise and run inside for a great breakfast.

The Keweenaw Peninsula. Sticking out into Lake Superior like a crooked witch’s nose, this peninsula has numerous lighthouses; a few, including Jacobsville Portage River, Eagle Harbor and Eagle River, are easy to see and most are easy to photograph. Fort Wilkins Historic State Park features the oldest original fort east of the Mississippi, and the park is open year-round, with the buildings accessible in the summer. Copper Harbor Lighthouse also is in the park; it’s visible from the shore, but requires a lengthy hike or a boat ride across a bay to get close. A local operator offers boat rides during the summer when the lighthouse is open for visitors. The Mendota Lighthouse at Bete Grise lies across the Little Gratiot River outlet; the land that’s the obvious viewpoint for the lighthouse is private, but there’s a small public boat landing. Bring your canoe, paddle across the stream and shoot the lighthouse from its own shore.

F.J. McLain and Fort Wilkins State Parks offer Lake Superior shoreline views as do many pull-offs along the peninsula shoreline between them. Sunset can be amazing along this coast.

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
Trees show off a fresh coat of snow, Wagner Falls Sate Scenic Area, Alger County.
Isle Royale National Park. Copper Harbor is the jumping off point for Isle Royale National Park. Although located 45 miles from the Michigan shore, it’s much closer to Minnesota and Canada. While still part of Michigan, the park is a long, long way from Detroit; it’s a destination that requires planning and effort to reach. Ferries run from Grand Portage, Minn., and Copper Harbor from mid-May through September.

The island’s highlights include the Greenstone Ridge Trail, where you’re just as likely to meet a moose as another person, and the stunted trees more than hint at the number of annual lightning strikes. Rock Harbor Lighthouse is a photographer favorite, but two other lights on small offshore islands are much harder to reach. All around the island are numerous rocky inlets and miles of shoreline that shine in early or late light, depending on which side of the island you happen to be. A lodge and cabins are available for rental, but they aren’t priced for those on a budget. Many campsites are available, but everything you need has to come over on your back, which limits the amount of photographic gear you’ll be able to haul with you. No cars are allowed on the island.


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