Thursday, August 5, 2010
Eek! Sorry I have not been keeping up on my blog. I went on a few afternoon trips and spent a long weekend camping with my family, but I have not had time to write about it all.
The good news is abundant! First, I have many pictures to upload and stories to tell (I scared a heron by accident)! Second, I am leaving for Alaska soon! I do not usually use so many exclamation points, but I am quite excited today. My bags are packed, batteries are charged, and my books and crosswords are ready!
Coast Guard Festival is this week which means that work is exceptionally busy. Plus, old friends always come in from out of town for the festival, so I have people to see before I leave for Fairbanks. This means I will not be able to get my Hackert Lake pictures up for a while, but there will be much more time when I get back.
Thank you for the best wishes on my trip!
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Anyone who knows me or has seen this blog knows what I am doing here. I am using my very first summer as a college graduate to reconnect with my natural surroundings and to make new connections with people who share my interests. I am hoping to inspire others through humorous stories, enlightening narratives, and majestic photos. Today nature inspired me and I feel like I saw familiar places through a new perspective. It happened as I made my way up and down the hills and dunes of Muskegon State Park.
Muskegon State Park is a large park that spans quite a few miles of Memorial Drive, leading to Scenic Drive and along Lake Michigan. The park includes beaches on Muskegon Lake and Lake Michigan as well as multiple hiking trails on diverse terrain, a campground, picnic area, boat launch, and fish cleaning area.
I have been to Muskegon State Park many times. I have family in Muskegon and we regularly visit the bay area (what the local people have called Snug Harbor and the Devil’s Kitchen for as long as we can remember). The relatively flat section of the main hiking trail is an area where I have walked since I was small enough to be carried and I remember ice skating on Lost Lake the year that I got skates for Christmas. This is all true, but I have not actually hiked the trails. I have seen a section or two here or there, but these trails go over the dunes, cross from one side of the street to the other, and snake between the lakes, even wrapping around the small and untouched Lost Lake, so I decided to explore them today.
One of the best things about the hiking trails is that it is almost impossible to get lost. The area is between a few roads, the lakes, and park buildings. You may wander around for a few miles before you hit one of those, but you are not going to end up lost in the forest, eating ants and wintergreen berries, rubbing sticks together. I set off with this in mind and it made it easy for me to enter the forest ready to explore with no worries. I was prepared with the map that I got from the DNR website and was pleased to see that the trails are clearly marked. The map is available here.
The trailhead is at the end of the parking area in the state park. I did not find maps anywhere at the park, but they are available online and I suggest printing one off, unless you just plan to do all of the trails (which would take a long time). I walked for a few minutes and decided to head toward the Blockhouse (a very cool Muskegon landmark). I had only been on the B trail for about ten minutes when I entered a darker area between some dense trees. I looked through the shrubs ahead and stopped dead in my tracks. There was a large deer about twenty feet away from me. It just stood there, looking at me. I just stood there, too. I had no idea that I could get so close to a deer! I was especially surprised because I had my whole pack on, which included a few tinkling karabiners and two water bottles with clicking ice; this certainly was not a stealthy set-up. I did not want to move because I knew that I would scare the deer away, but I only had a few brief seconds to stand there before it bounded away.
That set the tone for the whole rest of the hike. I came upon four deer total and they all looked happy and healthy. One of them was drinking water and playing in the reeds on the opposite side of Lost Lake. I came down a ridge and looked across the lake to see the deer standing there, completely unaware of my presence. I stood there for about ten minutes before rounding the bay and getting in a little closer for a picture. It eventually noticed that something was near, but it seemed unthreatened and walked away, unhurried.
The last deer was in the small strip of trees between Memorial Drive and the state park parking area. I was walking down the street to the park entrance and I just happened to look between the trees toward Muskegon Lake when I noticed that something was looking back. I had my camera ready that time and got a few pictures before the deer bounded off.
I will have to finish my expedition and see all of the trails because this was the best hiking experience that I have had since I have become more serious about hiking. It was absolutely wonderful to see deer, the lakes, ridges, valleys, and forest. I did probably five miles in all, which was an invigorating mix of flat forest and somewhat steep hills, but there are miles and miles more that lead from the Blockhouse to Lake Michigan and back to Muskegon Lake.
If you are looking for a shorter hike, do the Lost Lake loop. It is under a mile and leads from a trail near the park headquarters to the lake and back. There are deer, frogs, herons, other birds, and wetland flowers all along the lake (well, in the summer at least). Be careful on the trail out! The Y trail area is pretty wet and can get really muddy, though the park has added some nice footbridges and boards to make the path easier.
I don’t know what else to say about this expedition, so I will let the photos do it for me. They will be uploaded to the Photobucket soon (there is a link on the main page). Have fun and be careful out there!
Monday, June 7, 2010
Benton Lake is a 33 acre lake located near Brohman, Michigan, in Newaygo County. The lake’s public access is about four miles west of M-37 on West Pierce Drive. The public access includes a Manistee National Forest campground as well as a covered picnic area, small beach, fishing dock, and boat launch.
I have been to Benton Lake a few times lately and it is always clean and calm. I did find out that there is a fee for using the park, which is $4 per day and can be paid for at a self-registration station when entering.
We went out to Benton Lake on Memorial Day weekend because it is not a popular area. The beach is not big enough to draw a large crowd and the surrounding towns are small (by the way, do not count on getting supplies near here—Brohman and Bitely both have only one very small grocery market each and not much else). We were happy with our choice and had the lake to ourselves for the whole, hot, cloudless day.
Outside of the picnic area are a few barbecue grills, which we used for lunch. There are multiple garbage receptacles available to make sure that the area is free of litter and there is plenty of room to accommodate multiple families. The only thing to consider is that there are not picnic tables by the grills, so you have to transport your food from the grills to the picnic pavilion. We would have done that, but feeling improvisational we decided to pull our chairs up around a large stump and created our own picnic table. You could do just fine with a sturdy plate and someone who watches where they walk!
The water in Benton Lake is not as clear as some other lakes that I have seen, like Lake Ann, but you do not notice the turbidity until you reach the deeper water (which is actually not very deep). In the shallow areas of the lake you can clearly see down four to five feet with no problems. This is how we spotted a few turtles and fish while we paddled. By far the best bit of wildlife that we noticed was a large bald eagle that swooped down to the far end of the lake and attempted to snatch something from the water.
All of these things make Benton Lake an enjoyable place to camp*, paddle, or picnic. The best parts are the mix of wildlife and the fact that the lake has no residences and is completely surrounded by national forest. Visit Benton Lake when you want the amenities and do not want too much company.
*Sorry I do not know anything about the campground. It is separate from the park area and I have not used their camp sites. If you have used it, tell me what you think!
Thursday, June 3, 2010
P.J. Hoffmaster State Park is a beautiful park with much to offer. It has picnicking areas, a nicely kept campground, beach, and a diverse set of hiking and skiing trails.
It is a state park, so you either need a sticker or need to purchase a day pass, but it is certainly worth it.
I have carried my kayak from the parking area down to the beach many times and it will make you pretty tired, but the staff told me that it is fine to launch from the beach outside of the swim areas. The whole shoreline in front of Hoffmaster is undeveloped, so the paddle is really nice on a calm day. There are three miles of beach available and the excess space makes this a more comfortable and roomier option when Grand Haven's beach is packed. Plus, if you want to do some walking, there are a few scenic overlooks that give you a great view of Lake Michigan.
My friends from Grand Rapids love to come out here to hike at P.J. Hoffmaster because of how extensive the trails are. If you drive into the park, you need to go all the way to the end of the main drive. This is not clearly expressed in the signage, but you will pass the Visitor's Center sign, picnic areas, and a sign for the park office. At the end of the drive is a loop and there are large, colorful signs for the ski trails and the hiking trails. The trails themselves feature meadowland, hills, old-style Michigan forests, beach areas, and hind-dune forests. Some of the trails are flat and easy while others are hilly and more difficult. The sign at the beginning of the trails has a key to tell which ones are which. I think there are more trails that begin when you first enter the park; check with park staff for more information.
The trails are kept clear, which made me feel like I was not really "in the wild," but sometimes it is pleasant to take a hike and not have to find your own path. The cedar forests are not like anything I have hiked before and the experience is definitely worth the trip if you do not live in the area.
Plus, I found this guy! I was hiking alone in the rain and did not see other hikers, so I left him to finish his path undisturbed, but I had to take a picture. My mascot: a creature that comes with its own backpack.
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
My poster from my friend Sam is done. I love it! It looks like those kind of retro ads for state parks and stuff. Very cool.
I will have some made and start giving them to my favorite shops pretty soon. We need some more people in this operation. Come on! The message board only has one post and it is mine. Haha. Oh well; you have to start somewhere.
I did some hiking today out at Hoffmaster State Park. It is not far from where I live yet I have never walked their trails. Weird. They were really beautiful and green today. It rained a little, but I didn't mind. I think it helped keep the bugs away.
I'll write about that for my next entry. See ya!
Monday, May 31, 2010
Happy Memorial Day, everyone! We aren't having very nice weather currently, but hopefully some of you are getting out.
My husband and I spent all day Saturday out on Benton Lake with our friends and it was a great day trip. We saw a Bald Eagle! How often do you get to see one of those in the wild, right? Anyway, I will write a piece about it and put it up soon.
Also, I am heading up to the Sleeping Bear Dunes area on Tuesday with some friends that have never been there. We should have some awesome pictures after that trip.
Have a good week and email me if you have any suggestions. Thanks!
Saturday, May 29, 2010
This story was kind of long so it is a continuation of the last blog, but it gets its own post.
This is another one that I am usually very good about, but there was one time recently when a series of events almost ended in me calling for a tow-truck in the middle of the forest. What happened was that I was driving my husband’s car and the gas gauge in it is a little goofy, so the last quarter of the tank goes really fast. I went up to Pine Lake with my friend Sam and we did not think to stop and get gas when we were in Scottville (which has a nice Wesco, by the way, and is usually one of the last towns I see before heading into the Manistee National Forest). We went up US-31 and turned a few times, driving for nearly forty minutes through forest and farm land, seeing no gas stations, and spent the afternoon at Elbow Lake and Pine Lake. Well, the gas gauge went all the way to E and the even lower than that in just a few minutes. We used the GPS to look up a few gas stations and called each of them. Every one within ten miles was closing. See, it was 8:59 PM on a Sunday. Yep. The nearest one that we could find that would be open later was a BP that the GPS had listed on something like 10 ½ Mile Rd, so we decided to make the twelve mile drive or so. Mistake. That gas station does not exist. In fact, the GPS had us go for about twenty-five minutes into the forest and our finish line was in the middle of a two-track with not a gas station in sight! I had to laugh out of frustration, but the worst part was that we had been talking about our own GPSs and how reliable they have been. Yep. Not so much. But the adventure does not end there. We turned around, in the dark, and started back toward Free Soil, knowing that it was our only hope for gas. The gas light came on after a few miles and we had twenty minutes to go, but we had no choice but to keep driving. Finally we were just a few miles outside of Free Soil and we called the gas station to make sure they were open. Nope. The lady said she was just closing. It was 10:59. What kind of luck is this?? We rolled up to the gas station about thirty seconds later and the attendant turned the lights off. I sighed and sat in defeat while Sam went to the window and asked if we could still pump gas really quickly. The lady agreed, we thanked her profusely, and that is why you should have a full tank of gas when you head into the middle of nowhere!
4.) Being Safe
I haven't had any accidents in my hiking, paddling, and camping excursions for many years, but I am prepared for an accident and we try to prevent them. I will admit that we are a little lax about life-jackets sometimes when we are in very still, shallow water, but we always have them handy and wear them on larger lakes, rivers, etc. I have a first aid kit that is always in my gear. We always tell a few people where we are going and keep in touch with them when we can until we head home. Plus, this spring we had a lot of wildfire warnings in Michigan forests because the conditions were hotter than usual, very dry, and windy. Make sure that you follow the park guidelines by putting out your fire completely, using water and stirring it to make sure all of the coals are extinguished.
If you have any other ideas about being prepared, please share!