The University of Michigan is, for inexplicable reasons, very proud that it has four month summers (and as a result, very little time off around the holidays). Since “summer” starts at the end of April here, “spring break” is pushed back to the end of February. Given that I have no plans or obligations until Martine comes to visit tomorrow, this Saturday I decided to get in my car and take off with my camera. I wasn’t really sure where I was going to go, so I just went north. I didn’t have to get far out of Ann Arbor before I saw the billboard for the windshield repair center offering the “Deer Hit Special — Free loaner while we fix your car.”
Looking at the map, I decided to get off the freeway just north of Saginaw* and onto Highway 23, which hugs the coast of Lake Huron. I stopped to take my first set of pictures and use the facilities at the Au Sable River Park. After snapping some shots of driftwood on the snowy shores, I headed over to the little outhouse to relieve myself. And instead, I walked in on a hunter in full camouflage, popping a squat to take a dump. I apologized, walked to my car as fast as I could, and drove another twenty miles to a gas station to fill up my tank and empty my bladder.
At that point I kept driving until I saw a sign for the Sturgeon Point lighthouse and museum. I drove off the plowed highway onto a snowy road, only to discover that the lighthouse and museum was closed for the winter. (In hindsight, this should have been obvious.) On the plus side, I took my favorite picture of the trip and saw a number of deer. Unfortunately, I didn’t get my camera out fast enough to digitally capture the deer. And so I got back on the highway and drove to my final destination for the day — Cheboygan, MI, where I ate some delicious parmesan encrusted whitefish and stayed at a Best Western on the Black River.
For day 2 of my trip, I learned from my experience with the lighthouse and used the free hotel internet connection to look for something that would be both interesting and open in the winter. And that’s when I found out about the second largest waterfalls on the eastern side of the Mississippi, Tahquamenon. I got in the car, stopped for some gas and some fudge in Mackinaw City, drove over the Mackinaw Bridge into the upper peninsula, and headed to the falls.
The upper peninsula really is a different world — in the winter, snowmobiles far outnumber cars and trucks. The closer I got to the falls, the less plowed the roads got and the farther apart the gas stations were separated. The vehicle permit for the park was obtained on the honor system — put your money in the drop box and grab a permit for your car. And then there were the falls themselves… absolutely gorgeous. My one complaint was the brown water, but the information plaque informed me that it was neither rust nor mud, but tannins from the trees that grew in the swamps at the head of the river.
I was feeling ambitious, and sick of sitting, so after looking at the falls for a while, I started out on the unplowed four mile trail to the lower falls. Other than the wind blowing through the trees and the sound of the rushing falls, which got softer and softer the farther I walked, it was serenely quiet. I haven’t gone hiking in the snow since sixth grade during my elementary school class trip to Wolf Ridge, so I had forgotten how tiring wading through knee high snow really is. About halfway through the hike I opted to rest against a tree before turning around. I never did get to the lower falls.
Worn out from the hike, I drove to the nearest city, Sault Ste Marie, and spent a second night in a motel where I watched the Olympic closing ceremonies on Canadian television. The next day I headed back on the freeway, slowed down slightly by some food poisoning obtained at a Big Boy in West Branch, before returning back to my life in the civilization known as Ann Arbor. (I spent some quality time in the bathroom of three different rest areas, but I’ll save that story for another time…)
* – Yes, I listened to Simon and Garfunkel’s America as I drove through, just for the line “It took me four days to hitchhike from Saginaw.”