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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
“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.
After months of working at home, we spent a week physical distancing in Leelanau County. I rose early each morning to shoot as the sun rose.
Sunrise in Glen Haven
One of my goals for the week was to practice panoramic photographs. It involves taking several overlapping photographs and stitching them together using Photoshop. I had some pretty dramatic sunrises looking across Sleeping Bear Bay toward Pyramid Point.
Glen Haven was once a bustling port. One of the remaining buildings in the village the Glen Haven Canning Company, owned by D.H. Day.
Dew on the beach grass creates specular highlights in this photo.
Even without dramatic clouds, the sunrise on Sleeping Bear Bay is breathtaking.
Finding My Roots
Lately, I have been intrigued by the roots of trees. So another goal for our trip was to try to take some interesting photos of them. I visited Bass Lake, where the shore is lined by cedar trees.
I also visited the Teichner Preserve on Lime Lake where cedars again line the shore.
These cedar roots are the last thing keeping these three trees from falling into the lake.
I took this shot along the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail in Glen Arbor.
Port Oneida Rural Historic District
I return frequently to the Port Oneida Rural Historic District, where the farms were established in the late 1800s and early 1900s. For a time, the National Park Service was letting the farms decay, with the intention of turning Sleeping Bear Dunes into a wilderness area. That plan has changed, and with the help of Preserve Historic Sleeping Bear, a not-for-profit, the farms buildings are being restored and preserved.
This is a panoramic photo of the outbuildings of the Thoreson Farm. The red building is the granary.
I have taken so many photos of this granary, one of the few remaining buildings on the Peter and Jenny Burfiend Farm.
Omena, Michigan, is a tiny town on the Leelanau Peninsula, between Sutton’s Bay and Northport. It has a few charming buildings, including the local post office . . .
and the Omena Bay Country Store, which has unfortunately closed.
The Omena Presbyterian Church was dedicated in 1858. It holds services only in the summer, with visiting ministers.
But, services were suspended this year because of the Covid-19 virus.
Photographing the church, I noticed the cemetery behind it. The cemetery was unlike any I have visited before. Most of the graves were marked by blank, roughcut headstones.
A marker explained.
Sunset over Lake Michigan and South Manitou Island
One of our traditions when vacationing in Glen Arbor is watching the sun set each evening. The show was dramatic on our second evening, as the sun set amidst a clearing storm.
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.
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.
But, I had Point Betsie to myself for nearly two hours.
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.
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.
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.
Pancake ice in the Leland Harbor.
Leland is also home to Van’s Beach. The water is an amazing shade of aqua.
Whaleback hill juts out into Lake Michigan at the south end of Van’s Beach.
Ice on Van’s Beach and on the breakwater that guards the entrance to the Leland harbor.
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.
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.
As the year comes to a close, it is a good time to look back at the year’s batch of photos and assess how I did. Ansel Adams said, “Twelve significant photos in any one year is a good crop.” I can’t claim significance for these twelve photos but they are my favorites of 2019.
Each time I look at the photos, I see imperfections, which to me is a good sign since it tells me I am learning my craft, both the field work and the post processing. I have edited most of these photos several times with the goal of attaining what I envisioned when I was on location. Hopefully, they do not look over-processed to you.