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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.
May 4, 2022 -- Getting Used to Bare Ground
Our hikes are usually shorter now as our attention is drawn more toward working/playing on the homestead. But we fit in walks whenever we're out and about. And we are very much enjoying walking on bare (as in no snow or ice) ground. The photos may not be as spectacular, actually down right common, but the change is a welcome treat to our feet (and us, too). Rogers Park and Thompson Beach are (and have been for awhile now) snow and ice free. The gates to the Park are open now and people are coming along to begin the season. What a surprise it will be for those who have visited previous years and been used to a much narrower beach-footprint.
The white patch below is not snow or ice but zebra muscle shells washed ashore. There are scattered shells in various areas but this was one of the more dense patches. Hard to say if they will get washed back out to sea.
April 1-5, 2022 -- Ever Changing Landscape
This past week has been one of changes in spite of the ongoing "wintery-spring mix" weather. April 1 arrived with freshly snow covered ground but wonderful (rare) clear blue sky and sunshine. A two hour walk on Thompson Beach refreshed us with snow covered sand on the west end transitioning to mostly bare sand on the east. But the Bay was the highlight. The frozen shoreline had flattened out with only a few mounds left, and chunks of small icebergs were floating out into the rich blue wet water (and no camera with us). Two days later we headed down to walk on bare sand the whole way - wonderful, though a bit strange feeling to have that wide expanse of sand here. But the the previous clear Bay was chock full of ice! The wind had shifted and blown all those bergs back into shore (and again no camera...).
Two days again (April 5), cool and cloudy but no precipitation, we headed out, first to Days River but then to Thompson. The beach was happily still bare of snow with very little left along the woods. But now there is a significant band of water running between the beach and the narrowing band of ice and melting mounds. We decided one could almost kayak along that edge. The sand is wet and firm and easy and a delight to walk on. But the Bay was still full of ice, though one can now see clear water beyond. The brisk wind coming off that expanse of ice chunks was quite chilly in spite of some sun cheering the late afternoon so we cut our usual walk in half, happy to turn back with the wind at our backs.
March 20, 2022 -- What a Difference a Day Makes
Or in this case, two days. The official first day of Spring was an incredible day - clear, calm, sunny, warm (mid-upper 40's) - our first warm day of the year. After a real nice walk in the morning on bare roads around our country block at home, we later decided to head on down to Thompson Beach in the evening, just to see how it fared with two days of warmth and sun.
Quite a change! (see March 18 below). There was a little snow/wet ice up around the curve (this is looking east from the west end) and there is still a good amount of snow along the tree edge, but one could walk on sand the entire beach. So we changed from boots to shoes and had a wonderful walk on bare ground - the first of the year. The sand patterns were incredible artwork made by the melt making its way toward the Lake.
March 18, 2022 -- Full Moon Cheers!
And what better way to celebrate than a nice walk. We've had a stretch of warm above freezing days and the snow is disappearing fast. The bare spots around the house are expanding and LilliB is enjoying every additional inch. Though it is still very white here and snowshoes required to get to the car we just had to head down to Thompson Beach to check it out.
Bare sand! Frozen and only coming in patches amongst the snow and ice but still, walking on bare ground was such a treat. And the snow, mostly, wasn't very deep so we alternated between the two, avoiding the icy patches and occasionally walking along the clumpy frozen edge (good ankle exercise). The sun popped out now and then and with temperatures in the upper 30's the moderate wind didn't bother. It is so interesting how the shoreline changes along the long curve of the beach, with wind and tree line and direction of the waves making different landscapes as we walk along. It won't be long before Rogers Park will be ready for visitors!
We decided to walk on past the Park and the old dock area to Thompson Creek. The snow-melt has swelled the Creek already and it was running full into the Bay, with Lake waves noisily breaking near land at the small harbor beside the mouth of the Creek. The sound and sight of lively free-running water was wonderful.
Depending on how much snow we get (it IS still only mid-March) it is possible it won't be long before there will be a snow-free stretch all along the beach. There is still significant ice/snow and ice-mounds out into the Lake but even that is starting to break down. The transition from winter to spring is such an interesting time, even before the first signs of green appear.
February 25, 2022 -- Flat Snow Beach
As we drove south from our snowshoe at Pine Marten Pathway towards home the sky cleared and the sun shone brightly. Since it had been a fairly short walk at Pine Marten it was still early so we decided to go on down to Thompson and go for a walk on the beach in the sun. We again don our snowshoes for easier walking but this time in snow maybe only 3-4" deep. As has been the case, the scene here was again different. The latest snow had made a beautiful flat fresh landscape of the beach. It was a treat to just walk along without breaking trail through the deep snow at Pine Marten. What a contrast between the two! Feathery clouds were making their way in across the blue sky, and off to the east it was dark. Somewhere out there it was snowing. But here was bright, warm in the sun and cool in the breeze (with an occasional strong gust to make us stop and pull our coats tighter). We hadn't been the first to enjoy the beach though.
There was only one set of human boot prints but there was an amazing array of dog prints! These dogs had had a great time! Crossing in a much straighter line was also the smaller prints of (we're guessing) a resident fox. He/she was on a different mission, and we've almost always seen these tracks along the beach, criss-crossing from tree-line to shoreline, maybe hoping to come across a mouse under the snow.
The old boat launch "park" (which is occasionally plowed and has an outhouse) is a favorite take-your-dog destination so while it was heavy with tracks at that west end they stopped before we got to Rogers Park. It was clear and smooth there and we rather hated to disturb it with our own tracks. The wind had picked up and our legs were saying that really this was enough for the day so we turned back just beyond the Park, returning with the sun on our face and the wind at our back. A wonderful ending to a fun day. One doesn't have to go long or far for delightful mini-adventures.
January 28, 2022 -- Ice Mounds on the Beach
Though a bit chilly (low teens) and cloudy it was calm, and after a long stretch of cold and windy weather we wanted to get out for a walk. Since we also were wondering how the beach ice at Thompson-Rogers Park was doing we went on down and walked the beach. The recent high winds had scoured the frozen beach so there were patches of bare (very hard!) sand and only maybe 4" snow most other places.
How nice to have a nice place to walk without needing snowshoes! The sun came out as we walked to brighten the day and warm the hikers. Both the sky and the shoreline were fascinating and beautiful each in their own ways.
Mostly the ice mounds blocked the view of the small stretch of wet water along the edge, so what we saw looking out was the farther snow covered ice. The beach is still a large expanse of flat land then a ridge of clumpy ice along what we think is (was) the water line. Then a somewhat flat area leading to the moderately tall ice mounds. You don't have to walk out very far out into the this area to realize this isn't a place to walk, with significant unseen caverns and very slippery footing. We were quite content to stick to the flat easier walking of the beach. The cold snow was rather like walking in beach sand.
When we got near to the east end of the beach we could (barely) see the ice-extended "land" of Stoney Point now far out into the water. Steve climbed the bank for a better view.
When we turned back a light wind came along to kept us cool as the sporadic sun kept us warm! Occasional openings in the ice mounds allowed a small view to water on the other side, now shiny in the sun. It was hard to tell if it was all frozen, except near Thompson Creek where we could then see a small cove of open water. It was a really nice 2 hour walk on the beach.
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 2 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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