The holidays have come and gone. Seems it was just yesterday that the leaves were turning and here we are in the New Year! Winter started early in our northern region of Michigan and I suspect
that it will be sticking around for awhile. Global warming has not been a topic of conversation here lately with cold temps and an abundance of snow arriving weekly. And the snow has been spectacular, providing outdoor enthusiasts to get out and enjoy winter at it's best.
Looking for events and things to do in Northern Michigan's Winter Wonderland? Check out these activities. It's a great time to be up north and to enjoy the outdoors!
Ever since I was a kid, I've been near the water. The ocean, big lakes, small lakes, rivers, ponds, swimming pools. Heck, even a flooded street was an invitation to float a paper boat made from my parent's newspaper!
Depending on the activity, getting wet can be fun, calming, refreshing, exhilarating, and exciting. But unlike a duck, water does not roll off the backs of humans. Our bodies and anything associated with our person are subject to the consequences of contact with water. While I'm generally very cautious in my water surroundings, my brain occasionally does a disconnect...
Recently, one morning down by one of my favorite lake destinations, I decided to do a little exploring. I grabbed my camera and proceeded through the woods to a spot where large trees had fallen over the lake's surface. The early morning light was casting shadows and reflections on the water. I soon found myself climbing and walking out on the hovering tree trunks.
Moving steadily, I braced myself here and there and sometimes squatted down to get closer to the water. Getting wet was not a concern but my camera was. I made sure that the strap was around my neck. The water was shallow but dropping the camera would be a disaster. After awhile, I was satisfied that I had the shots I wanted and returned to dry land and my car. After storing my camera, I went to check my iphone for messages. But, at the end of the charging cord there was no phone. Oh yeah, I had put it in my pocket. Wait...not
there either. Back tracked my trail. Sure enough, deep-six in about a
foot of water! Water doesn't roll off of iphones either. I don't generally take my phone near water but maybe a watertight phone case is an addition to my collection of waterproof paraphernalia.
My "out there!" travels often take me over to the sandy beaches of Lake Michigan. A favorite destination is Empire, a quaint village nestled in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Empire was founded in 1851. The village was named after the schooner "Empire" which was icebound in the village during a storm in 1865. Although the name may imply something vast and enormous, Empire has remained small in size for more than 150 years. What is quite grand though, is the hamlet's personality. Front St. is dotted with delightful seasonal cottages, galleries, shops and an eatery appropriately named "Joe's Friendly Tavern".
A very special attraction in Empire is it's Lake Michigan Beach Park. The public beach is a favorite destination for Lake Michigan sunsets throughout the year. The views of surrounding dunes and bluffs are spectacular and the beach stretches forever along the "unsalted" seaside.
At the north end of the park, stands a proud little lighthouse. The Manning Lighthouse
35 foot lighthouse at the beach in Empire, is a memorial to
Robert Manning. Manning was a life long resident of Empire. It is said
that he always expressed a desire for a lighthouse in Empire to guide
him home from fishing the blue waters of
Lake Michigan. After passing away in 1989, friends and family made that
wish come true. Although smaller than most lighthouses, the Coast Guard
has included it in it's navigational charts. It is one of only three
memorial lighthouses in Michigan.
Attractions & Events
Michigan Shore to Shore Riding & Hiking Trail runs from Empire passes through Grayling and on to Oscoda, and points north and south. It is a 500-mile (800 km) interconnected system of trails
Empire Bluff Trail
Philip A. Hart Visitor Center for Sleep Bear Dune National Park
Empire historical center and museum
The Empire Winterfest, held each year in mid-February has been
celebrated for the past twenty-five years. Events include ice skating,
curling and the polar bear dip into South Bar Lake. There is also a pool
tournament held in the Empire Village Inn (known to locals simply as
"The V.I.") and a pancake breakfast put on by the Empire Lion's Club in
the Empire town hall.
Empire is the former home of the Dunegrass Festival. A three day
music festival featuring folk and bluegrass groups, as well as a
multitude of stands from local artisans and business owners. It is now
held a short distance away outside of the village.
Empire Heritage Days (2nd weekend in October).
Empire Asparagus Festival (3rd weekend in May—weekend before Memorial Day weekend).
The morning light peers over the trees and bounces off the smooth pools of the river creating a splendid reflection. Summer is waning. The nights are cooler now and the days are growing shorter. Soon, the tamaracks will turn golden and colored leaves will fall in the river's currents. The brook trout too, will color up as they prepare for the spawning ritual. The woods are quiet, the ever flowing stream passes by continuing the cycle of life...the reflections of yet another season gone by.
It was a hot day for September 10 in northern Michigan, 92 degrees to be exact. It was around 1:30 in the afternoon and I had just finished up visiting some river properties. It was time for some lunch and and something cool to drink while I caught up on the day's emails. I headed over to the Riverside Tavern in Lovells to take advantage of the WiFi. Upon entering I was welcomed by the hum of air conditioners and cooler air! I slid up to the bar, ordered a cold one and immediately started dealing with messages. As I was wrapping up my tasks I noticed the patron a couple of seats away was listening to a news report on his mobile device. Turns out it was a story about the Detroit Tigers game the night before. He appeared to be a visiting fisherman and we struck up a conversation. He introduced himself as "Chuck" and told me he was killing some time until it cooled down a bit. He had come to fish the North Branch Au Sable River. We chatted about this and that and I found him to be quite amiable with a pleasant smile and a twinkle in his eye. That may have been partially due to the Jameson Whiskey he was enjoying.
Jingle Bell Fly Fisher
Eventually, I got around to asking him where he planned to fish that day. His response was "upstream at the Sheep Ranch". I suggested that given the heat and bright skies, he might think about venturing downstream to the Dam Four access where there would be cooler water and more of a canopy to shield the sun. He asked if it was wade-able and I assured him it was and offered some advice on the appropriate fly patterns to use and directions to get there. As I got back to my lunch, our conversation paused, but as I was taking my last bite, Chuck posed another question. "So tell me, can I expect running into any bears at this Dam Fourarea?" I chuckled, thinking he was having some fun, but soon realized his concern was real. "Because if they're around," he said, "I want to make sure I'm wearing my bells". Again, I thought he was messing with me but assured him that while there are bears in our parts it was unlikely that he would be accosted by the normally elusive creature.
Much later in the day, I found myself driving by Dam Four and was curious to see if Chuck had decided to fish there. Sure enough, he was there but still sitting in his car. I asked him how the fishing had been but he explained that he had not yet geared up but was now ready to fish. I left him to his task and went down to the river to take some photos and check out the scenery. Chuck soon showed up, ready to go fishing. As I turned to acknowledge him I instantly became aware of a cluster of round shiny gold objects hanging from his wading belt. They jingled as he waded and they looked like they should be strung around the neck of a reindeer. "Geez, you weren't kidding about wearing bells to scare off the bear" I said. I looked at that twinkle in his eye and the short grey beard he was sporting and said, "Have I met Santa on a fly-fishing holiday?"
He pointed across the river and asked, "Do you see any bear over there?" I said, "No" His reply was, "Then my bells must be working!"
Back in the 30's the price for a gallon of gasoline was under 20 cents. In 1967 I graduated from high school. Gas averaged 33 cents a gallon. That went a long way in my used '56 VW Bug! I could cruise the McDonalds all night after the Friday football game and still do a lot of driving all weekend long on a couple of gallons. Coincidentally, the cost of a McDonalds burger and fries was also 33 cents in 1967. By comparison to today's prices, it seems that a burger and fries are still worth a gallon of gas...or more!
Image: Red Crown Gasoline Pump in historic Glen Haven, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Mark Bear Photography