Thursday, October 28, 2010

Pumpkin time

Our South American friends were impressed by Michigan's pumpkins. While Halloween is a growing holiday in Uruguay, the tradition of the jack-o-lantern hasn't made it to Montevideo. On our drive from Kalamazoo to Saugatuck we saw some impressive pumpkin displays and we picked up a nice pumpkin at a farm market.

We also made pumpkin pie for our guests & bought a sweet pumpkin bread, which we all enjoyed. I couldn't bring myself to offer them pumpkin beer. (Although I admit that this pumpkin soup recipe sounds pretty good.)

We didn't have time for any of the corn mazes or haunted forests and they had to leave before any of this weekend's Halloween events. I didn't realize, until today, that Halloween camping had become such a big thing in Michigan; that might have made an interesting outing.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Star of Saugatuck

We have visitors from Uruguay this weekend and we wanted to show them some of the natural beauty of Fall in West Michigan. A drive in the country seemed okay but a boat ride sounded like something special.

It turned out that yesterday was the last day of the season for the Star of Saugatuck. We took the 3 pm cruise, a 90 minute round-trip on the Kalamazoo River from Saugatuck to Lake Michigan. The wind from the Lake was brisk, so some took shelter in the enclosed cabin. Others of us bought more chocolate from the boat's snack bar. We all enjoyed seeing the autumn colors from the water. Altogether it made a very pleasant afternoon.

Star of Saugatuck Boat Cruises
716 Water Street
P.O. Box 654
Saugatuck, MI 49453
Phone: 269-857-4261

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Canoeing & Kayaking in Southern Michigan

Adventure Guide to Michigan
by Kevin & Laurie Hillstrom

I've written about this guidebook's regional destinations and bike trails earlier. Here are some recommendations for canoeing & kayaking in southern Michigan from their section On Water:

South Michigan Rivers

1. Dowagiac River

M-62 bridge to Kinzie Road Bridge (off M-51) above Niles Dam: mellow, less than 50 feet wide, good for beginners.
Below Niles Dam to US-31 bridge or to St Jospeph River : quicker current, more challenging.

2. Flat River
from Greenville Dam: a peaceful afternoon float. Camping in Langston, Flat River, & Lowell state game areas (with permit)

3. Grand River

"Michigan's longest river is an ideal testing ground for beginners."
dozens of access points.

4. Huron River
Numerous campgrounds, busy in places.
Good paddling starts at Proud Lake St. Recreation Area & passes through several lakes. Delhi rapids are popular with kayakers (but can be portaged).

5. Raisin River
An endless series of twists and turns earns it "The world's most crooked river"
Several access points, starting at Swain Park in Brooklyn.

6. Rogue River
Good paddling starts at Sparta. Top-notch from Rockford to the Grand River.

7. Shiawassee River
Near Michigan's thumb, "the Shiawassee is ideal for familiy outings or showing the ropes to novice paddlers."
Numerous access points from Bryon down. Prime take-outs at West Gary Bridge & Fergus Road.

8. St. Jospeph River
Wide and deep. Many dams & impoundments.
Good canoeing starts below Tekonsha.

9. Thornapple River

Midsection "offers undemanding floats through attractive woodlands."
Access near Thornapple Lake: Nashville Dam, Thornapple Rd., Barger Rd., Charlton County Park.
Take-out at Irving Dam.

See it at Google books, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


When I was younger, graffiti carved into trees enraged me. I couldn't understand why people would deface nature like that, particularly in parks and nature preserves. Years later, I was surprised to find an explanation in a book on design. Donald Norman, a psychologist and design expert, wrote:

'In one case, the reinforced glass used to panel shelters (for railroad passengers) erected by the British Rail was smashed by vandals as fast as it was renewed. When the reinforced glass was replaced by plywood boarding, however, little further damage occurred, although no extra force would have been required to produce it. Thus British Rail mangaged to elevate the desire for defacement to those who could write, albeit in somewhat limited terms. Nobody has, as yet, considered whether there is some kind of psychology of materials. But on the evidence, there could well be!'

"There already exists the start of a psychology of materials and of things, the study of affordances of objects. When used in this sense, affordance refers to the perceived and actual properties of the thing, primarily those fundamental properties that determine just how the thing could possibly be used. A chair affords ('is for') support and, therefore, affords sitting. A chair can also be carried. Glass is for seeing through, and for breaking. Wood is normally used for solidity, opacity, support, or carving. Flat, porous, smooth surfaces are for writing on. So wood is also for writing on. Hence the problem for British Rail: when the shelters had glass, vandals smashed it; when they had plywood, vandals wrote on and carved it. The planners were trapped by the affordances of their materials."

Similarly the beech tree is trapped by the affordances of its smooth, pale bark.
While initials carved into century-old beeches still make me unhappy, at least I understand it somewhat.

quote from Design of Everyday Things (page 9) by Donald Norman.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Kalamazoo River opens

Parts of the Kalamazoo River affected by this summer's oil spill have been re-opened. I've seen several groups of canoes and kayaks enjoying the fall colors on the river between Mozel Avenue in Parchment and D Avenue.

The river remains closed, however, between Battle Creek and the Morrow Dam. When I visited River Oaks County Park last weekend, booms were still in use and the boat ramp area was fenced for the clean-up crews. Apparently the clean-up is now focused on dredging for oil that sank into the riverbed.

River Country Journal reports the opening of the section of the river near Plainwell that had been closed for PCB clean-up.

update: Most of the river re-opened in June 2012

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Kalamazoo Bike Trail Progress

Another section of the Kalamazoo Valley River Trail opened this week.

A few days ago, the paved trail stopped at the Kalamazoo Nature Center. This afternoon, I was surprised to find new asphalt continuing north. The trail from the nature center to the D Avenue bridge winds downhill through a mature beech forest, making a spectacular ride.

Several groups were already taking advantage of the new trail section. It's a little over a mile, nearly all downhill, to the Kalamazoo River (and then back uphill on the return.) Trail construction continues on the east side of the bridge.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

St Joseph River (Three Rivers)

Fall can be a great time to paddle Michigan's rivers. Last weekend, we tried the Saint Joseph River at Three Rivers, MI. The river is wide and the current barely perceptible, making it easy for beginners. Leaving town, there are a few small factories and an old railroad bridge. Then the river passes through tree-lined banks, with the occasional set of cabins punctuating the woods. After passing Constantine Rd (second bridge) the river opens up even more, weaving around large marshy islands-- a very pretty section. We saw plenty of turtles basking on logs, a few Great Blue Herons, and a group of Mute Swans.

The 5 mile trip from the Conservation Park boat ramp to Withers Road (third bridge) takes about 2 hours. If you want a longer time on the river, there's a take-out at the Constantine dam 2 hours further downstream.

We rented equipment from Liquid Therapy
221 S. Main Street
Three Rivers, MI 49093

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Giant puffball

I only trust my identification skills enough to eat two kinds of wild mushrooms: morels and giant puffballs (Calvatia gigante). While morels blend readily into the woodland floor, giant puffballs can be spotted at a distance thanks to their size and color. It's hard to miss a mushroom as big as your head.

When they're young, they are solid white inside and out. At that stage, slice them into steak-sized slabs and fry them. As they mature the inside turns yellow and loses texture and taste. Eventually the inside turns dark and releases its spores. These two were growing at the Kalamazoo Nature Center, so I left them untouched.

There are smaller puffballs, but I'm afraid I'd confuse them with some poisonous look-a-likes, so I stick with the giant ones.

If you'd like to learn more, the Michigan Mushroom Hunters Club leads public mushroom hunts throughout the state.