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.

Enjoying winter shooting

Wintry weather returned to West Michigan this week. I love to do photography in the winter and, since I had some extra time, I took some long drives scouting shooting opportunities. On Tuesday, I drove all around the farming country east of our town. I had hopes of finding a snowy scene of interest. I found a couple, but in each instance determined it wasn’t safe to stand by the side of the slippery road with my tripod. Eventually, having lost hope, I headed home when I passed a woodlot that caught my eye. I did a u-turn and parked by car on a side road and hiked back to the woodlot.

Two things struck me about the scene. First, the trees were all planted in a straight rows as we typically see with plantation pines, but these were deciduous trees. Second, the trees were covered with snow on the north side, unusual since our storms typically come from the west or southwest.

On Thursday, I drove to Duck Lake State Park on Lake Michigan, about an hour from our home. I had a specific photo in mind. There’s a tree that hangs out over the water on a point of land. I hoped that the the rocks along the shore line would be covered with snow and ice. We haven’t seen much in the way of shore ice during this mild winter, but I was pleased to find the snowy scene I hoped for.

I came away with two photographs, the one above in color and the one below, a more dramatic shot, in black and white.

I drove home feeling rewarded and grateful for the luxury of time that allowed me the opportunity to explore.

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.

Once in a Blue Moon

On Saturday, we had a full moon for the second time in October. The moon set at 8:10 a.m., so I thought it would be good time to capture a photo of the moon close to the horizon. Things didn’t quite go as I had planned, but it was a wonderful morning for photography.

Prior to my trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, I used a couple of apps to find the right spot to shoot the setting moon. I needed something of interest in the foreground. What I hadn’t considered was that it would be dark and cold. I hadn’t given enough thought about how to balance a dark foreground against the brilliant light of a full moon. Still, I got this shot, which I like very much.

I chose to shoot the setting moon at a familiar spot, the Peter and Jenny Burfiend farm at Point Oneida in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Sunrise would follow the moonset by about 15 minutes, so as I stood in a field, the sky became brighter, allowing enough light that the granary was no longer silhouetted.

According to a map I have of Point Oneida, this is the old pig house on the Burfiend farm.

As the sun came up, I was surprised to see the beautiful fall colors still on the trees. This is the house on the Burfiend farm.

After the sun came up, I stopped by Bass Lake. I had stopped there three weeks earlier when the colors were just coming on

The colors were stunning.

After stopping at Bass Lake, I drove to nearby Narada Lake. The corner of the lake near the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail had a thin layer of ice that would disappear later in the day.

The view across Narada Lake was every bit as stunning as that on Bass Lake.

In the shadows of Narada Lake I saw this reflection of the leaves and a single dead tree that was bleached white.

Lily pads were frozen in ice.

This is the barn on the Lawr farm, which adjoins the Burfiend farm.

George and Louisa Lawr established the farm in the 1890s and and continued to farm there until 1945.

My last site for shooting was along Westman Road, in the wetlands north of Tucker Lake. These berries caught my eye.

The bright yellow tree is a tamarack, also known as an Eastern Larch. Tamaracks are conifers that grow in the wet soils around swamps and bogs and near lakes. Unlike other conifers, each fall their needles turn bright yellow and fall to the ground.

These maples leaves had fallen onto the ice in the wetlands near Tucker Lake.

The weather forecast called for snow on the Leelanau Peninsula last evening. I am sure the next time I venture north, the area will present starkly different things to photograph.

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.

Esch Road Beach

“Morning is when I’m awake, and there is dawn in me.”

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

I spent the last two Saturday mornings on a Lake Michigan beach at the end of Esch Road in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Why go back twice in such a short period of time? As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, ““No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” The same is true for visiting Lake Michigan.

The morning of my first visit was moody and gray. A strong wind maintained a steady barrage of waves, which created the abstracts of sand that I posted last week.

The lake is at its highest point in at least 35 years. Strong winds and high waves have eroded the dunes causing many trees (and some homes) to lose their footing, falling into the lake.

Just south of the end of Esch Road, Otter Creek enters the big lake.

Returning to the beach a week later, I found a more uplifting sky. As the sun approached the horizon, it ignited the passing clouds.

A week of strong winds and waves had moved this tree, which only a week before commanded the view at the mouth of Otter Creek, and begun to bury it in sand.

Unlike a week before when a view of the mouth of Otter Creek only hinted at the warmth of the rising sun, the rising sun lit up the passing clouds.

When photographing the morning light, it pays to turn around. Watching the sky light up over Otter Creek was wonderful, but if I hadn’t turned around I would have missed a most amazing light show in the sky over Platte Bay to the southwest, complete with the base of a rainbow in the distance.

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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.
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Pancake ice in the Leland Harbor.
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Leland is also home to Van’s Beach. The water is an amazing shade of aqua.
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Whaleback hill juts out into Lake Michigan at the south end of Van’s Beach.
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Ice on Van’s Beach and on the breakwater that guards the entrance to the Leland harbor.
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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.
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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.
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Angry Lake Michigan

The “Big Lake” has been angry the past few days, with red flags warning swimmers not to go into the water. The lake has, sadly, claimed 19 people so far this year.  These photos taken yesterday at the Point Betsie lighthouse show the power and the beauty of the lake.

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The Point Betsie lighthouse before dawn.

Waves crashing against the bulwark that protects the lighthouse.

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Waves crashing over the breakwater at Point Betsie.

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