Having worked out Lyft, my next objective was Matthaei Botanical Gardens. I’d been there before without noticing it’s down the road that runs north of Parker Mill. Gallup Park is on the way to both. After how many years of visiting Ann Arbor, I’m finally figuring out the geography.
I also spotted several places from which the Huron River looks accessible. After visiting Minnesota’s North Shore a couple of times, reading The Journals of Lewis and Clark, and digging into a textbook on earth science, I’ve developed a new appreciation and love for rivers and all their variations (streams, brooks, creeks — or “cricks,” as my dad would say). They shape the land and weather, offer passage to humans and wildlife, provide food, contribute to the economy, join and separate nations, and hold countless secrets from throughout the ages. Just ask the Tiber.
At Matthaei, I found one of the things I’d been seeking — a bowl of plants surrounded by kaleidoscopes. I wanted to we if I could improve on my previous efforts to record it. It’s not easy to aim the phone camera precisely at a kaleidoscope eyepiece, hold the clunky phone sideways steadily, and spin the bowl. I didn’t succeed at spinning the bowl either slowly or at an even speed. I swear my anxious exertions and the pain of standing for a few minutes made me pant..
I headed through the rest of the greenhouse, but didn’t look or linger — it was too hot, for one thing. I went outside, hoping to find flowers laden with butterflies and bees. Instead I found neither much in the way flowers nor butterflies. Perhaps earlier in spring or later in summer.
Next, I wanted to a better video of the wind-spinner sculpture I’d seen on a previous visit. If I had a yard, I’d want something like this in it. My dad, I think, would have loved it (but not the price tag, I’m sure, for anything similar).
I turned toward the Gaffield Children’s Garden, where there’s a “rustic” trail through a wooded area, with benches along the way. It would have been perfect but where there’s shade, there are mosquitoes. Many mosquitoes. At one point the one bothering me turned into a dozen swarming me.
I left the rustic trail for an Adirondack-style chair in a dappled area — slightly cooler than full sunshine, but not as infested as full shade.
A tiny bird, species unknown to me, landed on a birdhouse and called back and forth with another bird, with long breaks for preening. A few people came along, but most of the time there was no one about. I liked the feeling, a little like being retired, although I’d have expected more summer visitors.
Gaffield has pretty features, even if they are artificial. I can imagine I’m enjoying a bubbling mountain stream. (I can’t, however, imagine the mosquitoes away.)
After more wandering and sitting, a peek at carnivorous plants, and a better video of the spinning plant bowl, I stopped at the gift shop and bought souvenirs, including an embossed Green Man tote bag as a gift. If there’d been one more left, I’d have been even poorer.
While looking at stalled traffic from the window at work, I’d noticed that most cars are black, white, or gray. That’s why, when I got into my return Lyft, I praised the car’s light metallic green color. The driver told me the only way she could afford a new car was to drive it for Lyft. On the flip side, it had accumulated 12,000 miles to date. That’s a lot of rides.
And so ended my last afternoon in Ann Arbor this trip. Until we meet again
Lyft is my new favorite thing — as long as I can afford to use it once in a while. I love creeks (even more than Lyft) and while in Ann Arbor had a hankering to visit Parker Mill on Fleming Creek. My left leg has been protesting lately, and I don’t have to walk far there to see the creek and a little bit of the woods. I discovered it’s only a little more than four miles from the bed & breakfast, which in Chicago would get me only halfway to downtown. I fired up the Lyft app.
The driver mentioned he takes his dogs to Parker Mill Park. “You feel like you’re in the country but you’re not at all.” I asked him if I’d have a problem getting back. “No, this is a main road between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. I live in Ypsilanti.” I asked him what kind of dogs he has. “Shiba Inus,” he answered. One of the few breeds I know a little about. He told me about his, a dominant female and a rescue male.
As he left me in the parking lot, he pointed out what looked like typical exurb apartment blocks going up next to the park. Look in that direction and you won’t feel like you’re in the country anymore.
There have been a few changes at the mill. There’s a new Bison pump (for filling water bottles?). Two slides descend from it, and before I left someone pumped water for their dog. He looked like he wondered why he couldn’t get his usual dish, but made a half-hearted attempt at a few slurps.
Some rocks may have been rearranged, with new concrete forms (seats?) added. A new set of steps with a red handrail to match the pump has been added. These steps and handrail made it easier for me to get down to the creek, although they aren’t exactly rustic.
I headed under the overpass, where the water seemed deeper than I remember. When I turned my head to the right, the water sounded faster, more urgent. When I turned my head to the left, it sounded deeper, like the flow had decreased. I did this a few times with the same results. Since the creek’s flow didn’t change every time I turned my head, it must have been me. My hearing loss is mild to moderate in the left ear, moderate to severe in the right. I heard more, higher frequencies when my left ear is turned toward the creek. It’s a disturbing feeling, especially since the first ENT I saw (almost 15 years ago) said the loss will progress. It doesn’t help that usually fluid sloshes about in my right ear, partially blocking it.
I continued along the creek under the road until I reached the footbridge over the creek into the woods. Two women, not middle aged but not young, ran toward me, screaming. I briefly looked for the ax murderer who must have been pursuing them. I didn’t see one, and the women slowed down, laughing breathlessly. “A HUGE bumblebee! HUGE!!!” If I could arch my eyebrows like Spock, I would have. Just then, an average-sized bee buzzed by. They fled in terror, half screaming, half laughing. The bee, unimpressed and uninterested, wandered off.
After that, I didn’t see anyone as I wandered through the woods along the creek. I went mainly in the direction that reaches a dead end at a wire fence. I didn’t have steam to go the other way, especially since in late June the weather had finally turned hot, which drains me of any little energy I have. My Osprey ultralight stuff pack, water resistant and not letting any air through, either, was glued to the sweat soaking my back.
I spotted one flitty red admiral that wouldn’t stay still for a photo, and a tree with picturesque mushrooms that weren’t going anywhere.
At last the creek drew me back, although no matter how hard I looked I couldn’t find crawdads. I wondered if the water flow had changed and disturbed them, or if I couldn’t spot them in the deeper water.
This side was more populated, especially as the afternoon progressed. Cyclists, hikers, dog walkers, even a man on a bike accompanying a woman who was trying to manage the downslope behind the mill on old-school roller skates. She was young (20s) and fit, and it cheered me to see her grasping the wooden fence, stiffly and awkwardly taking baby rolls forward, finally crashing in slow motion into the grass where there was a break in the fence. This wasn’t her first rodeo; she was wearing thick knee pads.
A sloppily dressed man, smoking and yelling (presumably into a headset, although I didn’t see it), came along, unclear on the concept of a relaxing walk in the park. Maybe his doctor told him he should walk more.
A very old man came along, slowly and gingerly making his way down the steep paved walkway the roller skater hadn’t mastered. He was moving faster than I had.
As on my previous visits, ebony jewelwings flew around, sometimes landing to rest and sun on the rocks near the water. An eastern comma glowed with color when its wings opened, then disappeared when its wings closed.
Near the mill, a big, much-injured tree shelters a picnic table. I half expected a druid to emerge from its trunk and wondered if some of its wounds had been lightning strikes.
Once or twice a year I travel by Amtrak from Chicago’s Union Station — not cross country, just to Altoona, Pennsylvania, and Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Capitol Limited, Pennsylvanian, and Wolverine routes pass through cities, small towns, farmlands, and rusted sections of the Rust Belt. I ride the Wolverine during the day. The journey east on the Capitol Limited is all after dark, but on the return west we are in Indiana when morning dawns.
Steel and power
Amtrak passes through northwest Indiana, where in the late 1800s and early 1900s much of one of the nation’s most diverse ecosystems, the Indiana Dunes, was bulldozed over or carted off (see Hoosier Slide). Shifting Sands: On the Path to Sustainability shows the making of places such as Gary, Indiana, and the long-term costs of short-term gains.
I’m not sure Amtrak goes through Gary, but it stops at Hammond-Whiting, where the view from the train overlooks like an industrial post-apocalypse. That’s the nature of trains — industry and train tracks go together like chips and salsa.
If you were to travel through only northwest Indiana by Amtrak, you’d think the world is made up of industry, utility poles, and casinos. By car, you’d also see billboards for fireworks and adult stores, and countless personal injury and illness attorneys.
On the train, I sleep sporadically. One early morning I woke up to find the train stopped near this structure and garish lighting in Cleveland, Ohio. What could be more representative of industrial eastern America?
Weeds flourish, trees struggle, oily water lies in pools, buildings and train cars rust aggressively, and stuff is strewn everywhere. Human beings seldom appear, although parked cars indicate their presence. In black and white, in color, in summer, in winter, the view is bleak.
A bit of nature
I’m fascinated by where cemeteries appear — sometimes unexpectedly in the woods or at state parks like the Smith cemetery at Kankakee River State Park, Illinois or the Porter Rea Cemetery at Potato Creek State Park, Indiana. This one is on Mineral Springs Road in Indiana, where I94 passes over the train tracks. I couldn’t tell at the time, but it belongs to Augsburg Church, a Lutheran church in Porter. It’s about two miles from Bailly Homestead and Chellberg Farm, which are part of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, past most of the worst of the industrial areas.
When I see puffy clouds, an eggshell sky, and verdant trees on a June day in Michigan, I can’t wait to get to my destination to soak it all in.
Whether you call it Cellular Field, Guaranteed Rate Field, or Comiskey Park, the home of the White Sox is sometimes a surprise highlight for Amtrak passengers. If you look at the satellite view of the ballpark, though, you won’t believe the number of train tracks to its west. On the starboard side of the train, eastbound Amtrak passengers can enjoy the view of Universal Granite and Marble.
Apparently a scrapyard in Michigan City, Indiana, has mastered Monty Python’s art of “putting things on top of other things.”
I couldn’t figure out the purpose of this attractive building with cupola, but was surprised to realize later it’s in Michigan City, Indiana, not far from the Old Lighthouse Museum. The Hoosier Slide mentioned above was across from the lighthouse on Trail Creek where it empties into Lake Michigan, near this building. That would have been something to see from an Amtrak train. Now the Hoosier slide site is covered by a NIPSCO coal-fired plant. Progress. Rest in peace, Hoosier Slide. May we not forgot what we have lost and never known.
This wavy fence in Michigan City, Indiana, baffled me. I’ve seen them elsewhere, I think, but I don’t know the purpose other than aesthetic.
There may be millions of nondescript, decaying buildings across the U.S., but I haven’t spotted many more nondescript than this one.
The appearance of this building belies its message that Dowagiac, Michigan, is the “Grand Old City.”
I noticed this long red building on the edge of a small stand of trees in Parma, Michigan, east of Battle Creek. In the satellite view, a dirt road from another building, likely a house, is the only access to it. I’m intrigued by the tall chimney.
With no immediate neighbors, this house, likely part of a tree farm, looks lonelier than it is.
Farm buildings dot the back roads, and rails, of middle America.
Some houses in Pennsylvania towns like Johnstown are spaced closely together, with nearly touching side walls or an alley almost too narrow to squeeze through.
These houses on a hill are farther apart. I wonder if they would have been high enough to escape the Great Flood of 1889—or any since. The area’s geography makes it prone to flooding even without breaking dams.
Johnstown, too, has nondescript commercial buildings.
Some Amtrak stations, like the modern monstrosity in Ann Arbor, are cold and utilitarian. Next door, Ann Arbor’s former station has been converted into an upscale restaurant, Gandy Dancer.
Old school stations remain in use in Michigan and Indiana.
Often there’s not much to see in the dark, but I spotted the same rotting cars from the EB Capitol Limited. Nearby I found a National New York Central Railroad Museum. If they’re intended to be exhibits, they may use a little work.
Coming and Going
The morning Dan Ryan Expressway from Amtrak.
This is what you, and New Buffalo, Michigan, look like to an Amtrak passenger.
As children, we liked to watch for the caboose at the end of long freight trains. When the news pronounced the demise of the caboose, I was distraught. When I can, I watch the scenery recede from the last car of the Pennsylvanian, unimpeded by a caboose, remembering the miles of track and the cities, towns, stations, farms, taverns, fields, rivers, creeks, houses, plants, and stores behind me — and ahead of me on the return.
Finally, all journeys must have an end. Mine passes over the Calumet River through Chicago’s steel history.
We arrived bright and early for the boat trip to Isle Royale National Park and to our delight were called very early in the boarding process — we could get our choice of seats. The weather was warmer and sunnier than last year, so we didn’t notice the cold in the stern area. Being by now seasoned veterans of one previous trip, we knew where to look for the “witch tree,” the wreck of the America, and the Rock of Ages light (best photographed on the return trip, when the pilot navigates around the light slowly). The trip seemed shorter, maybe because we knew how long it would take and we weren’t shivering the whole way.
At Windigo, once again we spent time at the store and visitor center, but this time the flocks of butterflies around the shrubs near the dock were gone. I had been hoping to get some better photos of them this year. We met a guy who’d walked from the other end of the island, but it sounded like he hadn’t run into a moose on his week-long journey.
We headed for the campground, where we wandered around and checked out the primitive campsites (three-sided shelters with an opening of netting — very cozy). On the way, we passed some odd structures on slight hillside. According to the sign, they’re part of the park’s minimally invasive sewage system. I thought about the guy we’d just met and wondered if he was going to try out the short, expensive showers at Windigo’s nearby bathroom (several dollars for a few minutes).
J. found where a previous camper had left his mark, “Moose is a myth.” We didn’t see much wildlife, maybe because it was a few weeks later in the summer. I found only the remains of what may have been a rabbit, strangely unconsumed. On the way back, we passed mergansers sunning themselves on a rock.
At the dock, again we were called early in the boarding, so this time J. didn’t have to stand on the starboard side getting drenched with cold spray. We were in a good spot to get photos of the Rock of Ages light, which was perfectly illuminated in the afternoon sun.
After returning we had some time, so we went to the Grand Portage National Monument visitor center. The general area was mobbed as there was some kind of reenactment going on. The Monument overlooks Grand Portage Bay and Grand Portage Island, formerly known as Isle au Mouton and Pete’s Island. It’s a beautiful view in the late afternoon sun.
Our next stop was at Grand Marais and Shoreline Inn. Every herring gull along the North Shore seems to lurk among the buildings in Grand Marais, maybe because that’s where the tourists, and the tidbits that come with them, are. Perched along most of roof lines in sight, they cried and cried and cried during the evening, most likely settling down later so they could start up again in the morning.
Back near the Gunflint Trail, J. told me a co-worker had recommended the Gunflint Tavern, which was very busy. Halfway through dinner, though, I felt sick and woozy (unrelated to dinner), so left J. and walked back to Shoreline Inn, still guarded by gulls on the roof. The evening air helped, and the night view of the shore and the lake was lovely, a peaceful end to a full and filling day.
July 19, 2013: Grand Portage to Isle Royale to Grand Portage to Bayfield
After a couple of small lake adventures, we were back to the shores of Lake Superior, this time on a boat that goes to Windigo at Isle Royale National Park. Although Windigo is reached by boat from Grand Portage, Minnesota, Isle Royale is part of Michigan. The island, Lake Superior’s largest, is known for long-term study of its isolated eastern timber wolf-moose populations and their predator-prey relationship. J. had seen a moose on his previous visit, but we weren’t going to have that kind of luck this day.
The boat was more crowded than I expected, with both day trippers like ourselves and overnight campers. Even in the sun, the air was much cooler than on our previous boat adventures, and I was glad I’d brought an extra layer along. J. was stuck with a single layer and short sleeves in the strong, chilly breeze.
This is more of a ferry than a cruise, with the primary business of shuttling visitors back and forth between mainland and island park. The main intermediate stop on the outbound trip was to look at the wreck of the SS America, parts of which are visible in the shallow waters near Isle Royale. There’s nothing like the feeling you get when you’re looking at a sunken passenger ship from the deck of a passenger ship that you hope won’t end up next door. On the positive side, everyone aboard the America on June 7, 1928, made it to lifeboats.
At Windigo, we were greeted by National Park Service Interns, who helped give us the rundown on the rules. Once recent college graduate from lower Michigan told us how it’s a long adventure just to get home.
Once on Isle Royale, the first things I saw were a tiny northern red-bellied snake, one of the island’s three reptile species, and hundreds of butterflies swarming the bushes near the dock — both very easy to photograph. Given the limited amount of time we had, I spent too much time with the butterflies, at the visitor center, and in the convenience store.
Next, we took the nearby Nature Trail, which is close to the visitor center and passes through a few habitats before turning into a wide dirt road next to the water. We thought we saw a moose in the water across the way, but it was a combination of wishful thinking and a snag.
At the dock, we talked with an intern about the wolves. There are only an inbred handful left, a few adults and a few pups. They’re rarely seen, even by the rangers and interns. The island is home to other wildlife, including thieving foxes, which are featured on “Wanted” posters.
Recently I read that (inbreeding aside) one reason for the Isle Royale wolf population crash was parvovirus. Someone, ignorant of the rules or simply flouting them, brought their dog onto the island. I’m sure they thought, “Stupid rules. What harm can my Fluffy do?” As it turned out, Fluffy introduced a deadly disease to a vulnerable population. Bad dog (well, bad humans)! I’d like to think the culprit was caught, prosecuted, and punished, and also learned a lesson — but there are always those who believe rules (and laws) are for other people.
We talked to the intern so long that, before we knew it, the boat was full and about to set off. For much of the return trip, J. had to stand along the rail with a few others, with cold spray soaking all of them. The boat made only one stop that I can remember, at the magnificent Rock of Ages Light — another of my favorite trip photos.
Back on the mainland, we stopped at the Grand Portage National Monument, then continued to Grand Portage State Park, where an easy walk takes you to where the Pigeon River drops over High Falls, with Canada across the way. As with Cross River, the Pigeon seemed engorged compared to videos I’ve seen of it. We were covered with mist even before we reached the viewing platform, and I wondered how water resistant my new Nikon D7100 would prove to be.
With the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore cruise the next morning, we had a long drive to Bayfield ahead of us. We tried to get to Beaver Bay before Lemon Wolf Café closed for the night, but just missed it and ate at a nearby bar, then drove off into another long evening. We arrived at the Silvernail Guest House in the early morning hours, having left Minnesota behind reluctantly.
July 14, 2013: From Pictured Rocks to Lake of the Clouds to Bayfield
Before heading to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, we took a few moments to admire the view from Sunset Motel on the Bay. Forget Southern California and Los Angeles — this is where a TV series should be taped — in spring, summer, or fall, of course.
Finally we tore ourselves away for the morning cruise on another lovely day. With the sun over the shore, the lighting wasn’t as dramatic or as good for photography, which allowed me to relax and focus more on what we’d seen and what we’d missed the night before.
Back in Munising, we went to Falling Rock Café and Bookstore, a comfortable place with the key ingredients — good coffee, edibles, and WiFi, plus the added bonus of used books for sale! I could have stayed there all day or even all week, but Munising’s waterfalls were calling. What a great thing it must be to live in a town with so many picturesque waterfalls. There’s also Johnny Dogs, where hot dogs are named for cities — not unlike the Chicago hot dog, which is probably what I had. Hyde Park could use a Johnny Dogs, complete with outdoor seating.
I’m not sure which of Munising’s waterfalls we saw, except for Alger Falls at the intersection of M-28 with M-94. Others include Wagner Falls and Munising Falls.
By now it was getting late in the day, and Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park was not getting any closer, so we had to say goodbye to Munising reluctantly after finding out the lighthouse wasn’t open.
The road to Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park runs in part along Lake Superior, where the muted light held mystery, and on the clean beach you can feel like the only person on earth.
By the time we got to the park, dusk was starting to descend, and the mosquitoes were out for my blood. J. said it was all he could to put the park admission money in the envelope, surrounded as he was by a cloud of vampirelets.
Despite the persistent nips and dimming light, we made it to Lake of the Clouds, where the forest was a rich green and the river and lake a deep blue under a pastel sky subtly tinged with pink. I wish we could have spent more time there, but Bayfield awaited.
July 12, 2013: From Chicago to Port Washington, Wisconsin
J. and I set out very late for the northern adventure, leaving a little before 11 p.m. The first port of call was Port Washington, north of Milwaukee, where the only place that seemed to be open was Holiday Inn Harborview — nothing like the Hamburg Thruway Holiday Inn circa 1970.
July 13, 2013: After a stop at Smith Brothers, breakfast at Tellos Grill and Café, and a thwarted attempt to get into the lighthouse, we were on the road again. We had to be in Munising, Michigan (Upper Peninsula), before the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore sunset cruise left harbor at 7 p.m. It’s a more daunting drive than it appears to be on a map, especially with only one sleep-deprived driver.
After passing through Green Bay, the next notable stop was Escanaba, Michigan, for old-style fast food at Hudson’s Classic Grill, where we squeezed onto a bench outside to save time.
By now I’d noticed the mix of trees along the way had been changing, and by the time we entered Hiawatha National Forest I’d figured out that this is what a boreal forest looks like — magical, because it’s not the beautiful but familiar deciduous mix of Western New York and northern Illinois. I couldn’t help but think of Hiawatha (the poem) and “From the land of sky-blue waters” (the Hamm’s beer jingle). I haven’t heard the Hamm’s commercial for years, but it’s part of the detritus the human brain collects.
While the drive from Port Washington to Green Bay seemed long, at least after Escanaba we knew we were closing in our target, although at a slower pace through the forest.
Munising, Michigan, and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
At last we arrived in Munising and headed straight for Sunset Motel on the Bay. We checked in, dropped off some stuff, drove the short distance to the dock, and found a place to park. By this time, a long line had formed, and a few minutes after we’d joined it at 6:40 it began to move as people boarded one of the two boats. At least we didn’t have to run to catch the boat, so the timing was as perfect as could be — considering the hundreds of miles we’d covered and the limitations that come with having the one overtired driver.
As for the cruise, the photos tell the story, I hope, of perfect weather and nearly ideal lighting from the setting sun glowing on Pictured Rocks. People jumped up and down or stood at the rail, holding up their phones to try to capture the wonder (and probably missing much of it as the boat sped along). When the captain reversed the boat into a tiny bay where we were surrounded by ancient color, I knew the rush had been worth it. What a glorious end to a long day.