Thursday, December 29, 2011

Michigan Off the Beaten Path

Off the Beaten Path Michigan:
A Guide to Unique Places

by Jim DuFresne

In this book, the author of many outdoor guides turns to other attractions-- museums, restaurants, & festivals-- throughout the state. The book includes plenty of local history and fun facts, along with the descriptions and directions. Like his other books, this travel guide is organized by region. Kalamazoo is in the "Heartland" region and close to the "Lake Michigan" region. Here are some of the author's top picks near Kalamazoo.

Heartland Top Ten
1. Antiquing in Allen

2. Capitol Tours

3. Gerald R Ford Museum
Grand Rapids

4. Gilmore Car Museum
Hickory Corners

5. Hidden Lake Gardens

6. Rosie's Diner [closed]

7. Kalamazoo Aviation History Museum [Air Zoo]

8. Kellogg's Cereal City USA [closed]
Battle Creek

9. Michigan Library and Historical Center

10. Van Andel Museum Center
Grand Rapids

Other Heartland Attractions

1. Grand Rapids Art Museum
Grand Rapids

2. Grand Rapids Children's Museum
Grand Rapids

3. Honolulu House

4. John Ball Zoological Gardens
Grand Rapids

5. Kalamazoo Valley Museum

6. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary

7. Kingman Museum of Natural History
Battle Creek

8. Kresge Art Museum
E. Lansing

9. Leila Arboretum
Battle Creek

10. MSU Museum
E. Lansing

11. Michigan Women's Historical Center & Hall of Fame

12. Potter Park Zoo

Lake Michigan Top Ten
1. Gillette Nature Center
Hoffmaster State Park

2. Hackley and Hume Historic Site

3. Loda Lake Wildflower Sanctuary
White Cloud

4. Ludington State Park

5. Mac Wood's Dune Rides
Silver Lake State Park

6. Picking apples at Tree-Mendus Fruit
Eau Claire

7. Saugatuck Chain Ferry and Mount Baldhead Park

8. Shrine of the Pines

9. Three Oaks Spokes Bicycle Museum [museum closed, Three Oaks Bicycle Club contines.]
Three Oaks

10. Windmill Island

Other Lake Michigan Attractions
1. Curious Kids Museum
St Joseph
2. Fernwood Botanic Gardens

3. Pear's Mill Museum

4. Manistee Fire Hall

5. Southwestern Michigan College Museum

6. SS Keewatin Museum

7. Trillium Ravine

My library has the 8th edition; Amazon and other booksellers have the current edition. Jim DuFresne's other books include 50 Hikes in Michigan (reviewed here and here.) Michigan Sand Dunes, Michigan's Best Campgrounds, and Outdoor Adventures with Children.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Marram Grass

Marram Grass (Ammophila breviligulata), also called American Beachgrass, is a characteristic plant of Michigan's sand dunes. This pioneer species survives on Lake Michigan beaches by outgrowing the blowing sand. Its roots stabilize the sand, forming dunes. Prairie grasses, like Little Bluestem and Switchgrass, can grow on the stabilized sand behind the Marram Grass. Eventually, woody plants and trees grow on the stable dunes, ultimately forming a maple-beech climax community. Observations of these plant communities along Lake Michigan were important for the development of the theory of plant succession.

When the protective beach grasses are disturbed, wind erosion can cause a blow-out where whole dunes move rapidly, burying forests, and creating parabolic dunes.

Marram grass also grows on beaches along the Atlantic coast.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A 1000-Mile Walk on the Beach

A 1000-Mile Walk on the Beach:
One Woman's Trek of the Perimeter of Lake Michigan

Loreen Niewenhuis

This book tells the story of the author's walk around all of Lake Michigan. She started on Chicago's Navy Pier and walked through Indiana (Gary sounds like the worst part of the journey), Michigan (the most beaches), Wisconsin (not much beach), and Illinois back to Navy Pier. It took 64 days (spread across eight months), 3 pairs of boots, and 1,019 miles. She stayed in bed-and-breakfasts or motels (with a few nights of camping) and had help from relatives and friends for transportation and logistics.

The book is an engaging mix of descriptions of the lake, of her experiences walking, of the people she meets, and of the lake's environmental problems.

Some quotes from her west Michigan segments:
"A little more than an hour's hike north of Grand haven, I entered the P.J. Hoffmaster State Park. This park preserves several miles of shoreline and over 1200 acres of dunes and forest. This park came about through the efforts of P.J. Hoffmaster and E. Genevieve Gillette, who were friends. He was the superintendent of state parks in Michigan in the 1920s and 1930s, and then headed up the DNR for the next two decades. Gillette was the first woman to graduate from Michigan State University's landscape architecture class. Hoffmaster charged Gillette with scouting out areas that would make good parks."

"North of Portage Lake, it soon gets rather remote and the shoreline becomes rugged with high, wooded dunes flanking me to my right, with the expanse of calm lake to my left. There are miles without any signs of civilization, and I pass curious tracks along a small stream that look like a bobcat made them."

"The slim St. Joseph River separates the cities of St. Joseph and Benton Harbor, but they might as well be on different planets. St. Joseph on the south side of the river is a primarily white community, a lovely tourist town with shops and restaurants and kid-friendly Silver Beach. Benton Harbor on the north side is a primarily black community, with a gutted economic base, and a huge crime and drug problem."

While I don't plan to walk around Lake Michigan anytime soon, the day I finished the book, I was inspired to drive to the lakeshore and walk for several hours along the beach.

You can read more on her Lake Trek blog (which includes photos, while the book is straight text) or in this Kalamazoo Gazette article.

Available from Amazon, other booksellers and libraries.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Rosy Mound Natural Area

Rosy Mound Natural Area is on Lake Michigan a few miles south of Grand Haven. (It's a little over an hour's drive from Kalamazoo.) It would make a nice stop on the Lakeshore Connector bike trail.

Rosy Mound has more of a back-to-nature feel than nearby Kirk Park since it doesn't offer a playground or large picnic areas. It does offer a well-constructed trail through a mature forest on a backdune, a steep climb up a sturdy sets of stairs, spectacular views from the top of the dune, and a boardwalk through the open dunes to a sandy beach.

The trails are constructed to preserve the dune environment from erosion and blowouts caused by casual trails. This helps protect the endangered Pitchers Thistle.

In mid-December, there were only a few other visitors to the park but the walk was very enjoyable. The forest was a mix of oak, maples, beech, and conifers, with ferns still contributing a splash of green. Nothing was in bloom, of course, but I saw some nice patches of Hepatica suggesting this might be a good spot for Spring wildflowers.

At first, I thought this might be a good cross-country ski destination since the trail starts with a wide, level loop through the woods. The 300+ steps over the hill convinced me to reconsider.

Rosy Mound Natural Area
13819 Lakeshore Drive North
Grand Haven, MI

Parking fee in the summer.
No dogs. No bikes on trail.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Lansing River Walk

The Lansing River Trail isn't going to be mistaken for wilderness. It passes through downtown Lansing, close to the Capitol, on the banks of the Grand River that are lined with office buildings and industrial sites. It does make a popular urban walk and even on a cold weekday I shared the trail with a number of joggers and walkers. The trail connects several parks, museums, and the Lansing City Market.

The trail runs for several miles, with a branch on the Red Cedar river that connects to MSU, which would make a nice bike in warmer weather. Tire tracks in the snow showed some riders were still active in December.

The City of Lansing provides a trail map pdf

Or see this Interactive Trail map, with photos of trail landmarks.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Horned Grebe

Horned Grebes (Podiceps auritus) summer in western Canada and winter in the southeastern United States, passing through Michigan during Spring and Fall migration. This one was diving for food on Lake Michigan near the mouth of the St Joseph River, last week.

Grebes were once called Helldivers since they tended to disappear under the water at signs of danger, rather than fly away. While they look like ducks, the two families are not closely related. Grebes have narrow bills and their feet are lobed, rather than webbed.

The grebe pictured here is in its black-and-white winter plumage. The Horned Grebe's breeding colors are strikingly different, chestnut and black with a distinctive yellow tuft behind the eye that makes the "horn".

The Eared Grebe has a similar winter look, although I think they are less common in Michigan.

Horned Grebes are also found in Europe, where they are sometimes known as Slavonian Grebes.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Standing wave

This was just about the strangest water I'd ever seen. These waves developed on a small creek just as it entered Lake Michigan on the beach at Warren Dunes State Park. The water was flowing clear and smoothly until it reached the lake, when these bumps would appear. They didn't flow forward like a regular wave; they just stayed in the same place. It looked like the water was flowing over an invisible log about six or eight inches high. The water would stay that way for a half minute or so, and then either subside back to a smooth flowing stream or collapse backwards with a little whitewater crest.It was fascinating. I couldn't figure it out completely, but it was obvious that the moving stream hitting the lake waves caused some kind of interference that created the phenomenon. Later, I vaguely remembered the term "standing wave" from a physics class. A little internet searching suggests that these are a form of "hydraulic jump" that occurs when a shallow, fast-moving stream moves into deeper, slower water.

I'd been to this creek numerous times in the past & never saw this happen. On Friday, I guess the speed and depth of the creek crossing the beach were just right. I'll certainly look for it in the future.

Here's a short video of the standing waves.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Kellogg Bird Sanctuary

The Kellogg Bird Sanctuary is a great place to interact with ducks, geese, and swans. At the entrance, buy an inexpensive bucket of corn and the birds will come to you. Some, like the Trumpeter Swans, are permanent residents and others are passing through. The sanctuary is about 15 miles east of Kalamazoo, just past Gull Lake.

Established in 1927 by cereal magnate W. K. Kellogg to protect waterfowl, the sanctuary is run by Michigan State University's Kellogg Biological Station. The main attraction for birds is the 40 acre Wintergreen Lake, which is an important migration stop for some and a nesting area for others. While Mallards, Canada Geese, and Trumpeter Swans dominated the areas where visitors threw corn, other species were more abundant offshore. We saw Canvasbacks, Redheads, Buffleheads, and Ruddy ducks on our visit last weekend.

The sanctuary also displays some exotic waterfowl including Mute Swans and Black Swans. A small series of cages contain rescued birds of prey: a Barn Owl, Great Horned Owl, Red Tailed Hawks, a Bald Eagle, and others. A relatively new exhibit shows gamebirds, both native (quail, grouse) and imported (various pheasants.) Overall it makes a nice family outing.

Kellogg Bird Sanctuary
12685 East C Ave.
Augusta, MI 49012