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Ashford Lake Pathw.
Walks along the beaches and shorelines of the Great Lakes and inland lakes of the Upper Peninsula may not be long in miles but they are always long in beauty and interest.
January 4, 2022 -- Extending the Days Hiking
But we wanted to walk a bit more so we decided to head on into town to the Boardwalk which would add another nice hour's walk, just enough time before dark for that. On our way we checked out the nearby Big Spring where a friend had said he had snowshoed around. They had roughly plowed the drive in and an area to park. There were three snowmobiles there and from the tracks it is a popular destination. We walked down the very well trod path to the Spring with the temperature heading down as we went. There were a number of signs placed around asking people to stay on the path to protect the fragile banks and roots of trees, so obviously we weren't going to head out walking around the Spring. But we joined the three snowmobilers on the raft to admire the big fish as they pointed them out (this was obviously their first visit here and it was fun to hear their enthusiasm - it IS an amazing spot). The view across the water and up the River was wonderful, made more so by several small groups of ducks moving about (and out of sight as soon as the camera was ready).
Onward to the Boardwalk in town. We parked near the marina at the west end, adding layers since there was a light wind off the cold water, and headed east along the Lake. To our surprise we could hear a very loud noise ahead -- machinery of some sort? heavy equipment? -- hopefully nothing major wrong along the Boardwalk. As we got near and could see the breakwater out to the lighthouse we realized the source -- large, icy waves hitting the ice covered shoreline. The area around the breakwater was heaving broken ice covered and the waves coming in were big, caused by storms farther south down the Lake. The sound made the air seem much colder! We took a photo but one just can't get that big noise into a still photo.
The walkway itself was snow-covered, drifted, trampled with many foot prints, being neither plowed nor groomed which didn't stop many walkers, just slowed us up a bit. There was just one other woman out and she was making her way along the frozen beach. We stopped often to watch the big, curling "surf's up!" waves crashing along the shallows, and marveled at the noise and the process of shoreline ice forming. Away from the breakwater the expanse of ice and snow-covered "beach" continued to grow and expand outward as the cold waves splashed and broke along the edge, water turning to ice in the cold. We wondered how far out that "shoreline" will be by the end of winter; will the ice make a high ridge or continue forming a low shelf out into the water. It was an interesting, always new, walk along the edge. We turned back at the other end as the cloudy sky got darker, enjoying the different and still fascinating view on the way back. It was a very nice hour long addition to our earlier walk.
December 20, 2021 -- Solstice Beach Walk along Lake Michigan
When Steve drove along the Lake on US-2 between Thompson and Manistique after the big gale storm he noticed something very different along the shoreline. We went down late afternoon today to check it out, walking east from the old Thompson boat launch along the 1.5 mile sandy section to and past Rogers Park. The past years of record high water on Lake Michigan (and the other Great Lakes) along with the usual gales and storms had already changed the shorelines in many places, tearing out vegetation, moving sand, removing human built objects, leaving banks and edges along the shoreline, step-downs in the water. This area was no exception and we had become used to the narrow (or no) beach. The Lake levels have dropped some now, a bit more beach returning. But what this recent storm had done looked quite unusual - nothing we'd seen before.
It had scoured the shoreline flat and smooth, a very wide area far out into the water. The waves were breaking far from shore with shallow sheets of long flat water gently moving up the now very wide beach (snow covered in the photos), receding, as another comes in. To get into water above knee level one would have had to go out a long way (we didn't check that out). The distance varied as we went along the curve of the beach but it felt like we were walking on a wide ocean beach (well, except for the temperature, snow and cold breeze!). No ledge just long flat expanse. I reminded me of areas with large tides and wide mudflats.
Almost all of the plants and roots and stems were gone, the sand was peppered with scattered small stones in one area, zebra mussel shells in another. But almost no driftwood, just a few random pieces. We walked to where the shoreline starts getting protection as it curves out into the water at Stoney Point. There was still an area of vegetation here before it transitioned to stone. We turned and walked back, in the sand (except when a more ambitious sheet of water came farther up to meet the snow) and at the edge of the frozen, snow covered beach. It was all bare sand yesterday when Steve saw it. Quite a sight.
It's a guess as to what will happen as winter, waves, wind, ice and more storms arrive, what will change, what will it be like come summer. It was a delightful and interesting hour's walk. Though a bit chilled we warmed up in the car and decided to head into Manistique to see how the Boardwalk had fared. Here we found a similar situation as at the Rogers Park beach. The waves (which were larger here) were breaking farther out, with a wide expanse of flat sand, stone, or shale beach showing. We hadn't seen that much 'beach' since the low water levels about 10 years ago. Since the Boardwalk (combination of pavement and wood) was mostly covered with a mix of sand, snow and older frozen snow/slush our steps were some more deliberate but it was a good walk. The sun went down and the clouds cleared enough to give a beautiful if brief sunset behind the waves breaking against the breakwater out to the lighthouse. We made it back to the car before dark having had another hour's enjoyable walk. We decided to finish off our "Solstice Walks" warming up with dinner at a nearby restaurant.
AuTrain Beach on Lake Superior 2021
This is by far our favorite beach anywhere. Steve grew up with visits to the beach as part of the family's annual trips to the U.P. to spend the month of August in a small cabin at the AuTrain River Power Plant. We stop by the beach on almost every trip to the Marquette area, usually for a walk, sometimes to eat a picnic lunch or dinner, in the car or out depending on the weather. And in the warmer months we often drive up simply to walk in the shallows along the beach, starting at one end or another, the solid rock cliff or the cobbled beach, both ends beautiful with about 3 miles of squeaky, clean Lake Superior sand between. And that fun wade across the River, carefully picking your way along on the ever changing tentative shallow sand bar jutting out into the Lake, to continue on to the other end, then return the same way. Sometimes there are many people, and dogs, out enjoying the beach and water; sometimes we're the only ones. It's fun either way, and is the most relaxing, satisfying walk we take. The high bank of sand between road and beach along with the sound of the water, loud or quiet, makes one feel completely separate from the busy highway nearby.
The wind and waves do amazing things to the beach. You could walk it every day and it would be different each time. The AuTrain River coming in to Lake Superior makes a new route every year through the sand; sometimes a truly significant change from the year previous. And the weather changes are equally as significant, from calm quiet gentle lapping of the water along the beach to crazy wild crashing waves with gale or storm force winds. We don't walk along the beach in the latter, but we've been known to drive up there just to see it.
The first of October 2021 was the last walk of the season in bare feet, though it was cool enough that we walked as much out of the water as in, along the edge of the two, trying to second guess the waves and keep our clothes dry. We relished every step, both directions, soaking up everything, happy in the peacefulness of it all, enjoying sharing the beach with just a handful of others (people and dogs) who were also obviously enjoying the beach as well.
The next trip to the beach the first of November we kept our shoes and socks on and were happy to be well dressed. It was a bit of a windy, cool day but we enjoyed the walk, keeping out of the water and skipping the wade across the River. We may have another walk or two along the bare beach this year, or the next trip may find the beach covered with snow and ice.
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© Susan Robishaw and Stephen Schmeck
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