Category Archives: Weekend Getaways

Playing Catch Up: U.P. Camping Near Fiborn Quarry

Okay, before this season ends and the timing of this recap becomes wholly inappropriate, it’s high time I play catch up on our camping trip in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula earlier this Fall.

Camping was something I immensely enjoyed doing down in Georgia. My primitive North Georgia camping inclinations transitioned into more comfort-oriented outings once we had Jackson, but we still made it a point to go at least once a year. I cannot tell you how much I miss camping on Jekyll Island.

We had every intention of getting back on track with our camping excursions after moving to Michigan, but instead we found ourselves busy moving, settling in, adjusting to our new climate, then moving and settling in again.

Life finally regained it’s rhythm after we closed on our house this past Summer (did I forget to mention that here?) and we were stoked when our friends, Marty and Terri, invited us to join them for some camping in the UP the last weekend in September. Finally back on track!

Camping the UP
Our journey carried us to a remote spot near Trout Lake, just north of Epoufette Bay. It was there that we (us Cliftons, our hosts – the Rytkonens, and about 10 of their extended family members and friends) settled in for a few lazy days alone with nature (us) and some hunting (them). ๐Ÿ˜‰

This was my first time over-nighting it in a pop-up camper rather than a little ole’ tent, and I have to say – after seeing the bear that some fellow woods-goers passed by with (shot, as I’m sure you can imagine) – I was happy to have the extra elevation. I know, I know. Those bears could care less about me, and I realize I was in 10-man-deep-and-well-ammuntioned good company, but still – a girl’s imagination can get a little carried away in the woods.

(I don’t have a photo of said bear, but Jax was awe-struck by it. Okay, I was, too.)

Most of our camping time was spent relaxing, taking in the scenery, and spending time with our elated little ones (Jackson and Parker, who towers over Jackson despite his being a year younger. It’s good to have friends, right?) ๐Ÿ™‚

While the big guys enjoyed quad rides exploring the land, our little guys enjoyed cruising toy trucks down two-tracks, playing with the pups, blowing bubbles and catching falling leaves (Terri’s inventive distraction for kids who swear they couldn’t possibly finish a walk).

Fiborn Quarry
On day two of our three-day weekend, we trekked over to the near-by Fiborn Quarry ruins. The former limestone quarry, which supplied Algoma Steel in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, from 1905 to 1936, is now part of the Fiborn Karst Preserve. Remnants of the railroad house and ore-care loader still linger on the expansive, dug-out landscape.

The Preserve also houses a series of caves, most notably the Hendrie River Water Cave, Michiganโ€™s longest known cave (about 1,500 feet). We didn’t venture into any of these, on account of 1) having kids in tow, 2) my serious claustrophobia, and 3) the bats that reside within.

The quarry was genuinely unlike anything I’ve seen before and being there felt like stepping back in time. Terri’s mom and I (the resident photography-lovers) reveled in our photo opp and the streams that disappeared underground around it. I honestly can’t wait to go back for more photos.

(You can check out some great additional shots of the ruins that I found online here.)

The Little Things
The weekend’s weather was quintessential for camping. Our days were bright and sunny, and the nights were chilly, already living up to the new Autumn season in a way that Georgia ‘seasons’ never synced up.

We otherwise spent our evenings around a well-maintained campfire (thanks, guys!) sipping beers and swapping stories. While the UP may well be the South of the North in many ways, beer proclivities vary greatly between the regions. Some gentle ribbing from our cohorts for my campsite beer selection of PBR quickly reminded me that, even in the UP, Michigan is still the Midwestern craft beer mecca. Next time, I’ll bring the good stuff …along with my PBR. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Scenic detours on the way home: the Mackinac Bridge & Deadmans Hill overlooks…

We can’t thank the Rytkonens and their people enough for helping us finally scratch our camping itch. We’ll definitely be back, provided they’ll have us. We also have our sights set on a few new campgrounds for 2014, including Twelvemile Beach along the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and Bay View near Lake Superior’s Whitefish Bay.

Do you have any other must-see Michigan campground recommendations? I’d love to hear them!

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Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Over Labor Day weekend, when camping plans were thwarted, we found ourselves with a free three-day weekend on our hands. On a whim, we set our sites on Wilderness State Park and headed for the northwestern tip of the Lower Peninsula. From there, on an even bigger whim, we decided to keep pressing northward and finaly fulfill the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore excursion we’d been itching to take. No bags packed, no room booked – we were winging it.

We hopped over to Mackinac City along the way to stock up on bare essentials (a change of clothes, toiletries, and a few groceries), pinpointed a destination point for the night, and then we crossed the Mighty Mac and were on our way. We made it to Grand Marais, a city on the eastern-most edge of Pictured Rocks, by about 11pm.

The next morning, we awoke to serene views of Lake Superior and immediately booked a sunset cruise to explore Pictured Rocks from the water later that day, thanks to a brilliant call by my better half. I can’t recommend this enough – particularly for others out there traveling with young ones not yet ready for long hikes touring the shoreline from above. I’d also suggest aiming a little ahead of the final sunset cruise. The alternating convex and concave cliffs looked stellar in the evening sun, but it sank quickly (assisted by some cloud cover) and it was dark for much of the ride back (roughly two hours round-trip).

Here are a few of my favorite shots from the cruise and the stops we made at the various waterfalls and overviews that dot the shoreline along the way.

I tried to pare my photo volume down a bit here, but if you’re interested in seeing them all, you can find the full arsenal of our trip’s photos in my Flickr feed here.

Early AM rain the following morning kept the Pictured Rocks portion of our adventure to one day, but all told we saw some truly stunning natural beauty, spotted at least three bald eagles, witnessed a deer rescue, and managed to squeeze in some beach time on the way back down to Traverse City.

We’ll definitely be back to experience more of the Upper Peninsula in it’s varing seasonal attire, and to eventually soak in the Pictured Rocks views from the shoreline cliffs. In the meantime, we can both borrow/enjoy my friend’s perspective of that here. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Manistee (Mis)Adventures pt. II

As we entered the Manistee National Forest bound for the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness area, a sign warning us of the obvious – that is, that the road was not plowed in the Winter – prefaced a narrow thoroughfare buried in snow, save for two tracks denoting the presence of others. Trusting the might of the Subaru, we pushed on. The asphalt ended a mile or two in, replaced by gravel, and heralded by a rougher ride with an even thinner passage. As our cell signal began to falter, so too did our Google Maps accuracy, which led to our missing a turn. This led to a test of Jess’s backing up capabilities in thick snow. Two heart-pounding minutes later I was back behind the wheel, thinking calming mantras, as we finally neared the Nordhouse Dunes parking lot.

Taking a brief glimpse at the park map, we set off on foot. Jackson immediately made his feelings known about hiking in in the snow, but with quick thinking Jess distracted him by finding the largest acorns I’ve ever seen, telling him to hold on to them should we encounter a squirrel. The thought of finding a squirrel proved more than sufficient in aiding Jackson’s ability to walk the trail without complaint. Though steep in spots, the path was a joy to walk, with defiant plant life, and others less so, reaching up through the blanket of white. Jackson took the hilly parts in stride, determined to find the mysterious black squirrel (if you live in MI/have visited MI/follow this blog, you’ve seen these darker-hued brethren of the more common gray variety), inspiring smiles for both parents.

Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness

Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness

One particularly sharp incline convinced us our destination had been reached; surely a climb of this height would reveal our quarry at the summit! Alas, our joy was unfounded. Reaching the top, we saw only more woods. A check of Google Maps told the truth: we were only a third of the way, and also that we are old and tire easily. There was naught to do but continue.

Nordhouse Dunes Trail

Looking back on our trail.

Hiking Nordhouse Dunes

Jim & Jackson trudge along.

After encountering another trail intersecting with our own, more trodden by the looks of footprints, we engaged in muted disagreement about what to do next. Deciding to continue our course due West at the same moment Jackson’s interest in the unseen rodent had dissolved completely, I carried him what would turn out to be the last hundred yards or so, finally coming within view of Lake Michigan as the woods gave way to sandy dunes, spotted with wild and delicate grasses. As is often the case with the Big Lake, the waters hue mirrored that of far warmer climates, belying the chill of the wind, and remained altogether as beautiful a sight as it was a relief.

Lake Michigan Nordhouse Dunes

Lake Michigan beyond Nordhouse Dunes

Jess headed off on her own to grab some well-earned Nikon shots, while I carried the fully ‘over it’ child of mine further down the path.ย  After a few minutes of serene water-staring (a frequent hobby of mine), Jess beckoned us over to a dune with what appeared to be an easy descent to the beach. Comparing it to my previous vantage point, I had my doubts, but as Jackson’s irritation had infected me, I kept these to myself, I think subconsciously hoping for a humorous outcome. I was not disappointed.

Jess Jackson Nordouse

Jess, Jackson & the Nordhouse winds.

Sand Snow Ice

That tricky dune!

Jess’ path turned out to be a clandestine snow drift clinging to the precipitous, icy side of the dune, with a cloaking thin layer of sand disguising it. As my laughter erupted, I felt my Jackson-induced edginess flow right out of me and into my beloved snow- and now sand-covered wife. Calling a truce, we made our way to the water, enjoying the sights of the sun and surf before heading back, choosing a different trail for our return.

Nordhouse Dunes Beach

On the shores of Nordhouse Dunes.

As we neared the parking lot, we realized that the path I had directed us toward at the beginning of our quest was much more difficult than the one, that, well, everyone else we encountered had taken. I could at least be proud of inadvertently setting up my family for far more exercise than anticipated. But now, as one would expect, hunger pangs had set in, so we steered the Subaru southward to Ludington, arching eyebrows at Google Maps’ suggestion that we drive into and across Hamlin Lake to get back to the highway. (I should also mention that the new road we found out of the park โ€“ without GPS – was wide, plowed and straight.)

Midwestern Field

Ludington field sunset.

Heading toward Ludington, we drove through landscapes that were far less “in-season” than we’d anticipated, the unexpected rain having brought the temp up to just-melted. As the sunset drew near, we resolved to head straight through downtown for Ludington’s shoreline upon entering town. We chose a spot by the breakwater adjacent to the Ludington North Breakwater Lighthouse, and let the serenity of the Sun’s drop below the horizon envelope us. The ice, spray, and striking rays of orange light above the blue conspired together to recreate that same joy that inspired us to move here two years ago. This sky, truly, answered the question of ‘Why Michigan’.

Stay tuned for the final entry of Manistee (Mis)Adventures, in which we encounter an ancient hotel that would have made Kubrick proud, a representation of pure family-style Italian fare made even more memorable with to-go booze, a dangerous white-out drive back, and a telling of the great service and even better grub of the longest-lasting and best-loved restaurant in the unassuming yet inviting beach town that ended up being our destination. Also: Rambo.

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