Categories
Landscape Michigan Nature

Upper Michigan’s Porcupine Mountains – The Porkies

Lake of the Clouds AutumnLake of the Clouds

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in western Upper Michigan is one of my favorite play spots! I used to live in Houghton about 2 hours north, so it was “almost” in my backyard at one time. I can still get there in 5-6 hours from the Twin Cities. At 60,000 acres, it’s the largest state park in Michigan and you can spend a lifetime exploring and still not see everything.

I highly recommend stopping in the Visitor Center on the east side of the park. Check out their bookstore – they have lots of titles covering the history of the area as well as guides about your favorite activities. One of my faves is The Last Porcupine Mountains Companion by Michael Rafferty & Robert Sprague (fifth edition).

So, here are a few highlights:

Hiking the Porkies

If you want to see the best of the Porkies, you’ll want to get out on the trails. You have options ranging from short and easy jaunts to multi-day backpacking adventures on fairly rugged trails that can test your endurance.

Big Carp River Valley - Porkies
Big Carp River Valley and Lake of the Clouds from the Escarpment Trail

The Escarpment Trail is truly awe-inspiring, providing beautiful vistas of the Big Carp River Valley and Lake of the Clouds. The easiest way to enjoy it is to start from the Lake of the Clouds overlook (which is typically very crowded). You can simply turn around and go back the way you came at any point, or have a choice of 2, 4 or 8 mile round trip loop options.

The Union Spring Trail can provide good options for birding in the summer. It is one of the less-traveled hikes and is typically quiet for those seeking more solitude.

Lake Superior Trail is an out and back 4.4 miler if you go all the way to the shoreline. The first half is relatively easy, but you’ll have a long climb back if you go all the way down to the water’s edge.

Waterfalls

The Porkies is loaded with waterfalls! Another nice hike is to Greenstone and Overlooked Falls from the Little Carp River Road. It’s a short easy jaunt to Overlooked Falls, which is probably my favorite spot in the park.

Overlooked Falls Porkies
Overlooked Falls

There are several smaller falls all along the trail if you choose to continue to Greenstone Falls.

The Presque Isle River on the western side of the park has several beautiful waterfalls as well, but the Potholes section just before it empties into Lake Superior is my favorite.

Presque Isle River
The Presque Isle River shortly before it enters Lake Superior. One of my favorite spots in the Porkies!

Fall Colors

Fall colors in the Porkies
Early October in Upper Michigan overlooking Lake Superior.

Just two things you need to know:

  1. First week of October
  2. Fall colors in the UP are like nowhere else on Earth. They glow in the day. Literally. A nice lady visiting from the south asked me at one of the overlooks, “Who turned the lights on?” referring to how brightly colored the leaves were. Word.

I hope you get a chance to see for yourself some of what the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness has to offer. Lots of mining history as well as beautiful scenery. Put it on your bucket list!

In the meantime, head over to the gallery and dress up your walls by bringing some of the North Woods wild inside 🙂

Categories
Landscape Minnesota Nature Wildlife

Favorite Photos of 2017

Favorite Photos of 2017

It’s hard to believe that another year has passed! This year had me sticking closer to home in Minnesota, though I did manage to sneak away to the northeastern part of the state several times. Part of what makes a photo special to me is the experience and adventure I had while making it. Here are just a few of my favorite photos of 2017. You’ll find these and more in the online galleries ready to hand on your wall!

Here are the top five in no particular order:

Gooseberry in Winter

Winter Snowy Sunrise
Snowy Beach Sunrise – Gooseberry Falls

Gooseberry Falls State Park on the North Shore of Lake Superior can be crowded with tourists during the warmer months of the year, but I had the place all to myself on this winter day. There was a light snow falling while the sun rose. No footprints in the fresh snow. The only sound was from the waves of Lake Superior lapping at the beach and water going over the frozen falls. Pure magic.

Black Bears Everywhere

Black Bear Mother and Cub
Black Bear Mother and Cubs

There are wild Black Bears everywhere when you visit the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary near Orr, Minnesota. I could sit and watch them for hours (and I did)!

Gunflint Trail & BWCA

Boundary Waters Bear
Boundary Waters Bear

My visit to the BWCA in late June happened during the beginning of a monsoon. Five inches of rain in a week. I didn’t get to take as many photos as I would have liked, but I managed to get a few keepers.

Dahlia Trial Garden

Painted Lady Butterfly
Painted Lady Butterfly

I discovered the Dahlia Trial Garden at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum this summer and it’s awesome! I was lucky enough to be there on a day when one of the judges was doing his thing, and it turns out that he liked to talk. He explained the whole process of what the trail gardens are for and how they judge the new varieties of flowers that may or may not make it to market one day. Butterflies like the dahlias, too!

Osprey Fishing

Osprey with a fish
Osprey with a fish.

This Osprey caught a fish at Wood Lake Nature Center in Richfield, MN and flew less than 10 feet over my head with it. Wow! I’ve never seen an Osprey that close before!

 

Categories
Black & White Landscape Minnesota Nature

Minnesota’s Gunflint Trail and Superior National Forest

Have you ever traveled any or all of the Gunflint Trail in northeastern Minnesota?

Iron Lake Panorama
Iron Lake Panorama

Here are just a few things you’ll find along the way:

Gunflint Trail

Cook County Hwy 12, aka the Gunflint Trail, starts in the town of Grand Marais right on the north shore of Lake Superior. Most people who make it this far continue further up the shore on Hwy 61 towards Grand Portage and the Canadian border, which is well worth the trip in its own right. But if you hang a left at Hwy 12 and head up the hill, the Gunflint goes inland into Superior National Forest for 57 miles on a two lane paved road until it terminates at Trail’s End campground.

Grand Marais lighthouse
Grand Marais Lighthouse 

You’ll be “off the grid” soon after leaving town, meaning no cell phone service. You’ll have access points to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, which is the largest wilderness in the Lower 48. There are more lakes than you can count; some of which allow motor boats and others within the BWCA that do not. This will probably be one of your best chances of seeing a moose in Minnesota, as well as other birds and wildlife that you won’t see other places in the state.

Minnesota Moose
Moose with Junco Lake double exposure

There are well maintained dirt roads (most are seasonal) that lead to several public boat landings and hiking trails if you choose to venture further off the Gunflint Trail. You can enjoy spectacular scenery without getting too far from your car, such as from this boat landing at Aspen Lake:

Aspen Lake Sunrise
Aspen Lake Sunrise

or this one at Iron Lake:

Iron Lake Panorama
Iron Lake Panorama

If you really want to experience the landscape, you’ll need a canoe or a good pair of hiking shoes. You’ll also want topographical maps, a compass, and the skill to use both. The area has amazing hiking trails, some of which require route finding ability because they are not used frequently and can become overgrown in spots. But most people explore the area by canoe. Either way, you’ll need a permit to enter the BWCA if you’re doing anything longer than a day trip.

Canoeing in the BWCA
Canoeing in the BWCA

Most of the hiking trails in this area have lots of rocks and roots, making them slippery when wet. Even short hikes can be a challenge when they involve steep climbs, which many of them do. But if you’re willing to get out on the trails, the rewards are well worth the effort.

Honeymoon Bluff
View from Honeymoon Bluff

There are several campgrounds in Superior National Forest as well as lodges and outfitters all along the Gunflint Trail. I’ve stayed at several different campgrounds in the forest; and the further up the trail you go, the fewer people you generally encounter. You’ll most likely wake up to the sounds of loons calling no matter where you hang your hat for the night.

Common Loon

Here was a sunrise from my campsite at East Bearskin Lake just a couple weeks ago during a rainy stretch:

East Bearskin Lake at Sunrise
East Bearskin Lake at Sunrise

… and a sunset at Flour Lake the night before:

Flour Lake
Fog rising on Flour Lake

A little further up the trail, you’ll cross the Laurentian Divide, where the rivers now flow north towards Hudson Bay in Canada rather than east to Lake Superior. You’ll see the scarred trees from the Ham Lake wildfire 10 years ago as well as the new forest growing.

Ham Lake Fire
The landscape still shows scars 10 years after the Ham Lake fire along the Gunflint Trail.

If you want to learn more about the history of the Gunflint Trail and the people who settled the area, I highly recommend a visit to the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center near the trail’s end on Saganaga Lake! They’ve got lots of activities for all ages and are continuing to expand the museum itself.

Take it easy with a luxurious week at a nice lodge or cabin with all the amenities, or rough it in the woods (please know about bear safety).

Loon Lake
Loon Lake

Happy trails on the Gunflint! I can’t wait to go back!

 

Categories
Landscape Macro Michigan Minnesota Nature Special Event Wildlife Wisconsin

Nature Photography Day 2017

Nature Photography Day is June 15, 2017! So, what the heck is Nature Photography Day?

Painted Turtle Portrait

Nature Photography Day

“In 2006, NANPA (North American Nature Photography Association) celebrated the first Nature Photography Day and placed it in McGraw-Hill’s reference work, Chases’s Calendar of Events. Many media and websites took notice. Since then, people throughout the North American continent as well as overseas have discovered numerous ways to observe and enjoy the day.” – NANPA

Thursday, June 15 2017 marks 12 years of Nature Photography Day! Not only is this a day for photographers to capture the beauty of our natural world, it’s a day to promote the enjoyment of nature photography and celebrate how images have helped advance conservation efforts to preserve landscapes, plants and animal species around the world.

“Consider that the pursuit of nature photography has helped to save species of animals and plants, plus their habitat. Preservation is a legacy. In fact, the world’s first-ever national park—Yellowstone, in 1872—came about thanks to the images of William Henry Jackson.” – NANPA

Echinacea

The North American Nature Photography Association encourages people everywhere to enjoy the day by using a camera to explore the natural world. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy – your smartphone camera will be just fine. A backyard, park, or local lake close by can work. Walking, hiking, or riding a bike to take photos are activities that don’t lead to a carbon footprint and it’s appropriate for all ages and abilities. There are LOTS of parks and trails right in the Twin Cities where you can unplug, even if it’s just for 30 minutes. And just being out in nature can ease stress and improve mood!

How and where will you celebrate Nature Photography Day?

Categories
Landscape Michigan Minnesota Nature Special Event Special Offer Wildlife Wisconsin

North Woods Photos at St. Paul Art Crawl 2017

North Woods Photos will be participating in the St. Paul Art Crawl 2017 at Dow Art Gallery and Picture Framing again this year!

Minnesota Moose
Minnesota Moose double exposure

St. Paul Art Crawl 2017

When: April 28 – 30, 2017. Friday 6-10 pm, Saturday noon – 8 pm, Sunday noon – 5 pm.

Where: Dow Art Gallery, 2242 University Avenue West, St. Paul, MN 55114

What: There are 30+ artists currently showing in Dow Art Gallery alone, including myself. Painters, sculptures, fiber arts, 3D, and photography. I will have many matted and mounted prints available for purchase that aren’t typically available at the gallery. Special sales too! A perfect opportunity to pick up gifts for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays or holidays for friends and family while supporting a local artist!

Who: You! It’s a family friendly event, so bring the kids too! There will be snacks and entertainment as well as amazing art 🙂

Blue Mounds Bison Double Exposure
Blue Mounds Bison Double Exposure

Metro Transit will also be offering FREE rides to St. Paul Art Crawl 2017 on Saturday & Sunday. Click on the link to download your free pass!

Hope to see you at “the Dow” for St. Paul Art Crawl 2017!

Categories
Creative Tips Landscape Nature Photo Editing Topaz Labs tutorial

How to Photograph Waterfalls

Have you ever wondered how to photograph waterfalls so that you get that silky smooth water effect? It’s not as hard as you think! Here are a few simple tips:

Gooseberry Winter Lower Falls

Gooseberry Falls State Park, North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota

Gear Needed to Photograph Waterfalls

If you want to get that silky smooth water flowing effect, you’re going to need some gear:

  • Sturdy Tripod
  • Neutral Density Filters
  • Possibly a Polarizing Filter depending on your focal length and the scene you’re shooting.
  • Camera that can accept filters and can be set to manual to do long exposures.
  • Backpack or other means of getting your gear to the location.
  • Possibly ice cleats for your boots/shoes if you’re shooting in winter, like this particular shot.

Ideal Conditions to Photograph Waterfalls

The best weather conditions for shooting waterfalls is a calm overcast day. The rocks and surrounding areas are typically much darker than the whitewater that flows through the river channel, so sunny days can really blow out your whites and highlights. You also want calm winds since you’ll be doing long exposures and you don’t want the camera getting buffeted by the breeze. And of course, you want to shoot during a time of year when there is adequate water flowing, otherwise you’ll be left with a trickle (if anything) coming over the drop. Typically spring snow melt or after a rainfall are good times.

Gooseberry Upper Falls

How to Photograph Waterfalls

Once you’ve scouted a location and managed to get there, choose your composition and set up your tripod. Determine what aperture you want and keep it constant. Since you’re on a tripod, make sure your image stabilization is turned off. If you’re going after the silky smooth water look, you’ll want a relatively slow shutter speed, at least a few seconds long. Use a remote control to trip the shutter, or set a self timer so that you don’t move the camera when you press the shutter. I typically bracket my shots 2 stops of light apart until I’ve covered the dynamic range in the scene by keeping the aperture constant and changing ISO or shutter speed. You’ll be underexposing some shots to get details in the whitewater while overexposing others to get details in the surrounding rocks.

Post Processing

This particular shot was actually four different exposures that were then blended together using HDR (High Dynamic Range) software in Adobe Lightroom. There are other HDR programs out there, but Lightroom or Photoshop are the ones that I use. Once you’ve got your HDR, process to taste as usual.

Gooseberry Falls hdr

Four shots blended to create a HDR image.

This is what my image looked like after blending the four exposures together, but I wanted to add some color to give it a little more pizzazz. There are lots of ways to do that, but the fastest and easiest for me is to use Topaz Restyle plug-in. That program has more presets than I’ve counted, and you also have complete control to customize those presets and even change blending modes. It’s also non-destructive, so play around with as many different edits as you like. The options are endless! For this image, I used “Blue Gray Shade” and adjusted opacity as well as a few other tweaks to get my final result:

Gooseberry Winter Lower Falls

Final Result after adjusting color palette in Topaz Restyle

I hope you learned a few helpful tips – now go out and give it a try yourself!

 

Categories
Landscape Michigan Minnesota Nature Wildlife

Favorite Photos of 2016

Just a few of my favorite photos of 2016:

Favorite Photos of 2016

It’s always hard to decide on which images I like best because so much of it depends on the mood I’m in at the time. Same thing goes when someone asks who my favorite musical artists are.

This past year took me to some old and new places;

  • visiting two different wild bison herds in Minnesota (watch for a separate post coming soon!).

Bison Moody Sky

  • seeing petroglyphs that are older than the Egyptian pyramids just a couple hours from home (probably a separate post coming on that one, too).
  • visiting several Minnesota and Michigan state parks that I’d never been to before.
  • the very familiar North Shore of Lake Superior as well as old haunts on the South Shore of Lake Superior.
Miner's Castle
Miner’s Castle
  • crossing the Mackinac Bridge for the first time in decades (I’ve done more crossings than I can count over my lifetime – being both a former Yooper and Troll from Michigan).
Mackinac Bridge
Mackinac Bridge
  • FINALLY getting my carcass over to Isle Royale National Park for the first time (I even lived in Houghton, MI where park headquarters are located back in the early ’80’s)
Rock of Ages Lighthouse
Rock of Ages Lighthouse
  • seeing the finish of several old and new friends at the tail end of their run across Wisconsin to raise awareness about suicide prevention and mental health (they did it in 8 days. Word).
Defeat the Stigma Run Across Wisconsin Finish
Run Across Wisconsin Finish

There were also some lifers for birding, shooting a few more trail races, and learning new digital photo processing techniques like double exposures (some of which are featured in the video).

Which are your favorite photos of 2016?

Categories
Landscape Minnesota Nature

Happy Winter Solstice 2016

Winter Solstice 2016

Winter Solstice 2016
Winter Solstice 2016

It’s the first “official” day of winter (though we’ve been dealing with it for awhile here in the North Woods) and the shortest day of the year!

That means each day adds a minute or two of daylight for the next six months, ’til things reverse and we wind up back here again next year.

Wishing all of you a Happy Winter Solstice!

Categories
Landscape Michigan

Michigan’s Mackinac Bridge

I got to spend a week in my home state of Michigan recently (both peninsulas). Though I’ve been living in Minneapolis for the last thirty plus years, I’ve been a Yooper and I’ve been a Troll. For those who don’t speak Michiganian, that means I’ve lived in the Upper Peninsula (Yooper) as well as the Lower (Troll, who lives below “the bridge”). “The Bridge” is the one and only Mackinac Bridge, and it’s a beauty!

Mackinac Bridge
Mackinac Bridge as seen from St. Ignace

Mackinac Bridge Trivia

The “Mighty Mac” was built more than 50 years ago and was considered an engineering marvel for it’s time. Many thought it couldn’t be done. The bridge connects the Upper and Lower Peninsula’s of Michigan over the Straits of Mackinac where Lake Huron and Lake Michigan meet. It is the largest suspension bridge in the Western hemisphere and fifth largest in the world to this day!

The photo simply doesn’t do it justice. Just a few facts and figures from the Mackinac Bridge Authority:

The height of the road deck at the center span is 200 feet above the surface of the water. The deepest part of the channel that runs under the bridge is almost 300 feet. That’s deep water! No wonder many folks thought that building a five mile long bridge couldn’t be done in this particular spot back in the 1950’s!

As amazing a feat as it was, building this bridge was not without consequence. Five men died during construction and a few others have lost their lives working on the bridge since it opened.

Mackinac Bridge Experiences

Being a Michigan native who’s lived in both peninsulas, I’ve made more Mackinac Bridge crossings than I can count. It’s never boring 😉 Two in particular stick in my mind:

There are two things that will shut the bridge down: high wind and poor visibility. Sometimes you get both, especially in winter when a snow squall blows through. After sitting for an hour in a parked traffic jam during one such squall more than 30 years ago, they finally opened the bridge to passenger cars with a bridge escort. High profile vehicles (trucks, campers) and cars pulling trailers still had to wait for better conditions. Those of us in cars would be allowed to cross only with the Mackinac Bridge Authority “pace car” leading the way. We were instructed by the woman at the toll booth to turn our headlights on, don’t lose sight of the car in front of us, don’t try to pass, don’t change lanes, and don’t stop. We were the last car in line and followed the single file caravan behind the pace car doing a blistering 20 mph. It. Took. Forever. When we finally reached the other side, the Mackinac Bridge Authority car did a U turn to lead the next group going the opposite direction and another woman at that end radioed that we had all made it across. They were literally doing a head count. Wowza!

The second white knuckle ride I had was getting behind someone pulling a trailer who apparently was afraid of heights. As I mentioned before, the road on this bridge rises 200 feet above the water and it’s five miles long. All you can see going up is sky and water. Lots and lots of sky and water. Technically, the roadway is part of I-75 with two lanes running each direction. The inside lanes are on metal grates and the outside lanes are asphalt with no shoulder. There is just a 3 foot wide catwalk for workers to walk on, so you are very close to the edge of the bridge on the outer lanes. The metal grates kind of grab your tires a bit and make a humming noise vs being next to the edge on the asphalt. Some people freak. The guy pulling the trailer in front of us did – he had that thing fish-tailing all over the road. Classic “Big Mac Panic Attack”. It happens often enough that the bridge authority has a Timid Driver Program where they will drive your vehicle across for you (for free).  And in case you’re wondering, yes… some people have plunged off the bridge.

Want to see what’s happening on the bridge right now? Check out the bridge cameras to catch a glimpse of the local weather and road conditions. Better yet, hop in your car and see it for yourself. It’s truly a sight to behold! Nothing says “Pure Michigan” like the Mackinac Bridge 🙂

 

Categories
Landscape Minnesota Nature Wildlife

New June Photos From Minnesota

I finally got around to doing some editing of photos that were taken last month – mostly at Blue Mounds State Park, but also some older ones from the North Shore of Lake Superior as well. That means a whole batch of new June photos from Minnesota have been uploaded to the gallery where they are available for viewing and purchase!

Tallgrass Prairie Sunrise
Tallgrass Prairie Sunrise

June Photos

Here are just a few of the shots I took last month.

The sunrises and sunsets were epic! And with open prairie, you can see for miles! At a high point in Blue Mounds State Park near Luverne, MN, you can see as far as Iowa and South Dakota.

Prairie Sunset
Prairie Sunset

As a slow trail runner I seem to attract a lot of buzzards, but this one actually looked me right in the eye…. lol.  No shortage of turkey vultures circling overhead, especially near the cliff walls. Waiting for the rock climbers, I guess 😉

 

Turkey Vulture in Flight
Turkey Vulture in Flight

Beautiful flowers that change by the month here in the northland summer.

 

Prairie Wildflowers
Hoary Vervain

I’ve still got lots more to go through from Pipestone National Monument, Blue Mounds State Park, and Jeffers Petroglyphs. I highly recommend visiting these spots yourself some time soon!