Early morning on Esch Road Beach

Some photos taken yesterday morning as the sun rose on Esch Road Beach in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Waves on Lake Michigan cut away at the beach, leaving this temporary pool.
Clouds over Lake Michigan.
Incoming waves swamp a stump that has washed ashore.
For a brief few moments, the receding waves created this pattern in the water. A crocodile? Nessie?

Thank heavens for clouds

Landscape photographers generally aren’t excited by cloudless, bluebird skies. In composing the “grand landscape,” an empty sky is negative space that most of the time adds little to the composition. I have seen a lot of bluebird skies this spring and early summer. But on Tuesday, I was treated to some great clouds.

I hiked the Sleeping Bear Point Trail in Glen Haven, Michigan. The main trail travels 1.9 miles up and down over the sand dunes. After the initial climb, you drop down to an area known as the ghost forest.

The ghost forest has the remains of trees that were buried by the dunes and that have now been exposed as the dunes shifted.

After completing the trail I headed off to other parts of the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore. While shooting at the Thoreson Farm, I noticed the clouds building off to the west and headed down to the shore of Sleeping Bear Bay in time to catch a thunderstorm coming ashore. In the distance, a great lakes freighter made its way through the Manitou Passage under a roll cloud.

The roll cloud extend across the sky.

The storm spawned several waterspouts like this one.

I continued taking photographs until I thought better of standing on the shore amidst the lightning.

Grateful for the dramatic skies, I headed back to my car and the safety of lunch at the Good Harbor Grill.

The Platte River and Otter Creek in Winter

I traveled north to the Leelanau Peninsula early Saturday morning. It was a snowy drive and took me about an hour longer than normal. But once I arrived and the sun came up, I was treated to awesome beauty.

My first stop was Point Betsie, shortly before sunrise. I was curious to see whether in the intervening weeks since I last visited (February 2) the ice had built up on the trees and bushes south of the lighthouse. While ice had built up on the breakwaters, the ice that had formed on the trees was not what it was three years ago when I visited in January. Back then the trees were thick with ice and the place was thick with photographers.

I ventured next to the Platte River near the point where it enters Lake Michigan. To get the perspective, I wanted I waded into knee deep snow. The scene was peaceful, interrupted only by a beaver swimming by and two swans that flew overhead making a terrible racket.

The needles of larches, or tamarack trees, typically turn a golden orange and fall to the ground in the fall. They are beautiful trees in their fall colors. This young larch on the river’s edge managed to hang onto its needles as a winter coat.

All along M22 the road and the trees were covered in snow. I seemed to have the place all to myself.

The trees glistened as the sun rose in the east. I pulled to the side of the road on M22 to get this shot of trees in an open field on the edge of the forest.

The scene below is Otter Creek where it crosses Aral Road in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. This is the site of the town of Aral, a booming mill town in the 1880s. Nothing remains of the town today except for a large concrete block that likely served as a base for the sawmill that was about 25 yards east of this spot. An old map shows that this area is where the mill pond formed when Otter Creek was dammed.

Today, Otter Creek flows freely into Lake Michigan except, of course, in winter when shore ice builds and obstructs the the creek’s pathway, as shown in this photo. In the background on the right is Empire Bluff.

The Power of the Lake

“I am a lighthouse, worn by the weather and the waves.
And though I am empty, I still warn the sailors on their way.”

The Lighthouse’s Tale, by Nickel Creek

The Point Betsie lighthouse is located a few short miles north of Frankfort, Michigan, just west of Crystal Lake. It is a favorite location for photographers, especially in winter when the spray from the crashing waves covers the grounds with ice. To date, this winter has been so mild that little ice has formed, but Point Betsie never disappoints. I visited Point Betsie on Ground Hog’s Day, arriving shortly before 7:00 a.m. to scout it out and take some photos.

The lighthouse was completed in 1858 at the southern entrance to the treacherous Manitou Passage. Today, the Manitou Passage Underwater Preserve is a popular location for divers to explore 33 shipwrecks. A keeper’s house adjacent to the lighthouse, a fog horn and oil house were all added later. The lighthouse was automated in 1983, but the lighthouse was staffed by the Coast Guard until 1996. Today the lighthouse is owned by Benzie County and cared for by the Friends of the Point Betsie Lighthouse.

The Point takes a beating from the waves. The lighthouse is protected by a seawall of steel, an apron on concrete that extends from the seawall up to the lighthouse, and a series of steel breakwaters all of which date back 75 years. But the shoreline protection system is in need of repair as Lake Michigan’s historically high waters take their toll. The concrete apron has an widening crack, which gets exacerbated in the winter when ice forms and expands. Efforts are underway to raise $1 million to repair the protection system.

Even when riled up by the wind and waves, Lake Michigan is a beautiful shade of blue.

The fury of the lake is awe inspiring. On Ground Hog’s Day, the wind was out of the north at a steady 20 mph, gusting to close to 30 mph.

Here are a few sequences of waves crashing against the breakwaters.

Before leaving to explore other areas, I took one last shot of the lighthouse standing guard as it has for 163 years. Point Betsie is one of the country’s most photographed lighthouses. There are many photographers who have captured images here. The thrill of photographing at Point Betsie is not so much the chance to get a photo no one else has captured, but the excitement of feeling nature’s power and capturing it in an image.

A Rare Sunny Day in January

Yesterday was a beautiful winter’s day, with plenty of sunshine, something we see little of this time of year. It has been a quiet winter, with with relatively warm temperatures and lots of clouds. On the Leelanau Peninsula, where I headed yesterday, they had received just 26.4 inches of snow as of Wednesday morning, compared to 87.8 inches a year ago. So far in January, the Leelanau has received just 4 inches.

I arrived at Good Harbor Bay an hour before sunrise. It’s a very short walk through the woods to where Shalda Creek flows into the Bay. The clouds were beginning to break up, allowing morning’s first light to illuminate the scene.

There was just a thin layer of ice on the beach.

I hiked back into the woods, following Shalda Creek upstream, but couldn’t find a composition. So, I got back in my car and drove to Esch Road Beach, south of Empire. I have pictures from years past in which the ice pack had mounded along the beach. That’s not the case this year, though the surf is transforming this tree into an ice sculpture.

My final shooting location before grabbing lunch and hiking on the Sleeping Bear Dunes Trail was Inspiration Point above Big Glen Lake.

While at Inspiration Point, I took a moment to photograph the Faust Cabin, which was build in 1929.

I tarried at Inspiration Point for a while, enjoying the view and watch a bald eagle soar over the open water, perhaps keeping an eye out for a meal.

Chasing Fall Colors

On Saturday I headed to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore hoping to find fall colors. I got an early start, as usual, arriving an hour before sunrise. Before the sun came up I shot several photos, experimenting with intentional camera movement. No two photos are the same. And sometimes the result is surprising.

The forecast was for a cloudless sky, which was basically true. But this band of clouds appeared and stretched across the sky.

As the band of clouds moved south, it caught the light of the sun, which was still below the horizon.

Shalda Creek flows into Good Harbor Bay. The salmon were running, heading upstream to spawn.

In the northern part of the park, the trees had not reached their peak color, but I was able to isolate some patches of color reflected in Bass Lake.

Birch trees at Point Oneida. The trees are no longer alive. They have been drowned by an expanding beaver pond and now serve as food for the beavers.

Looking down at North Bar Lake from stop number 10 on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. This view shows just how green it was close to Lake Michigan.

The fall colors became much more vivid as I got a bit more inland from Lake Michigan. So I stopped at the Brown Bridge Quiet Area near Traverse City for some quick shots before coming home.

The meadow in the Brown Bridge Quiet Area used to be under a pond that was created when they dammed the Boardman River. The dam was removed in the summer of 2012.

Abstracts of Sand

If you walk Lake Michigan’s beaches, you may come across black sand that has a hint of red it in.  Oil spill? No. The black sand is actually a mineral called magnetite. Another mineral, hematite, gives the sand its red color.  Magnetite and hematite are naturally occurring.  They were ground into sand by the receding glaciers and occasionally find their way ashore, delivered by waves and wind. Yesterday, I shot these photographs of abstracts of sand. (Click on an image to see them larger.)

 

A Hint of Spring in February

What a weekend. Two days of perfectly clear skies. Temperatures in the 40s. I used the occasion to head north to the Leelanau Peninsula . I had hoped for some dramatic wave action. The forecast of a steady 20 MPH wind gusting to near 40 got me hoping some big waves.

I started my day at Point Betsie, which is known for big waves and incredible ice formations. There were waves, but not the monsters I had hoped for.

Point Betsie Lighthouse 2-22-2020

Instead, Point Betsie was remarkably serene. There were waves hitting the sea wall that has been built to protect the lighthouse. Still, I had to keep wiping my lens to keep it dry, and I too got wet from the spray.

_MG_3117

But, I had Point Betsie to myself for nearly two hours.

_MG_3180

The beach at Point Betsie is littered with trees that have fallen into Lake Michigan. The Lake is at or near its highest level since 1986, chewing away at beaches and toppling not only trees but also houses into the lake. The fact that Lake Michigan did not freeze this winter has only exacerbated the problem.

_MG_3183
After Point Betsie, I stopped at Esch Road Beach, Empire Beach and Lane Beach on Point Oneida in search of big waves, but nothing. So I drove up to Leland.

Historic Fishtown has been in the news for months now because of high water threatening the old fishing shanties. I wanted to see it for myself. The water wasn’t as high as I anticipated. Nonetheless, work continues to save Fishtown. They removed the Cheese Shanty this winter to rebuilt and raise the foundation it stands on.

_MG_3223
Leland is the home port of the Mishe Mokwa (mother bear). which ferries day hikers and campers to South Manitou Island in Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore.
_MG_3204
Pancake ice in the Leland Harbor.
_MG_3226
Leland is also home to Van’s Beach. The water is an amazing shade of aqua.
_MG_3207
Whaleback hill juts out into Lake Michigan at the south end of Van’s Beach.
_MG_3240
Ice on Van’s Beach and on the breakwater that guards the entrance to the Leland harbor.
_MG_3209-Edit_MG_3219
On the way home, I stopped once again at Point Betsie. The wind had picked up during the afternoon and I hoped that meant big waves backlit by the setting sun.
_MG_3485
I wasn’t disappointed. They weren’t the giants I had hoped for, but they were enough for me to declare victory and begin the 3 hour drive home.
_MG_3454-2

A Last Bit of Winter Photography

Pano of Shalda Creek at dawn img 7454

I made one more visit the the Leelanau Peninsula near the end of March to have one more shot at winter photography.  I headed straight to Good Harbor Bay to get some shots of Shalda Creek before sunrise.  I had great light for about 15 minutes and made the most of it.  Then the clouds rolled in.

Shalda Creek at dawn img 7474

After the clouds rolled in I wandered around the park taking random shots.

Fallen tree 7504

Crystal River 7516IMG 7546

A day at the beach. . . in February

These photos were taken on the beach at Muskegon State Park looking out over the frozen shore of Lake Michigan.  I arrived just as the sun was rising above the horizon.  The sun caught illuminated the clouds to the west and the tops of the mounds of ice that have formed on the lake.

_MG_7194-Pano-2

_MG_7198-Edit-2

_MG_7210-Pano-2 (blend)
The sun catches the second ridge , leaving the first in shadow.

_MG_7222
A patch of blue sky opens up for a brief moment.

_MG_7202
Looking north and the moonscape created by the ice.

_MG_7235
Looking to the south, the Muskegon lighthouse is visible on the horizon.

_MG_7229