If you missed any earlier entries in this series, you can catch up via the links below:
The forecast for Day 6 implied that a sunset might be in the offing for the first time since Day 1. But sunrise? Not so much. The early morning was expected to be–stop me if you’ve already heard this–cloudy with a chance of rain. As thin as the sunset opportunities had been, we hadn’t seen a true sunrise yet, in four previous mornings. The odds of the fifth morning breaking the trend were slim, but we thought we’d give it the old college try one more time. So, we headed back to Otter Lake–where we’d shot sunset on the very first day –to see if anything materialized.
As the light came up on arrival, it didn’t appear promising. The conditions were very much like those we’d experienced at Miners Beach the previous evening (minus the fog): a lot of fast moving, low-hanging clouds. Our hope was that a window of sky would open to the east, and on a few occasions it appeared as though it might happen, but it never did. Foiled in the attempt to shoot sunset, I decided to try something different.
Given the fast-moving clouds, I decided to mess around with some long exposures, to see if I got some interesting effects with the sky. The first few attempts–1-2 seconds–were promising, but I felt that I needed to go longer, so I added a neutral density filter and dialed in an exposure compatible with a 10-second shutter speed. I felt that a monochrome treatment was most effective, and the result is immediately below.
Otter Lake black & white, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan
It appeared that we were in for a windy, cloudy day–at least through the morning. So after wrapping up our brief time at Otter Lake, we decided to head back into Pictured Rocks and visit some of the places we’d been unable to shoot during our previous trip to the Lakeshore, due to the rain and our uncertainty about how to handle the official closure (a function of the federal government shutdown).
During the drive east through Pictured Rocks on Day 4, I’d noticed a stand of birch trees that I thought would make great subjects, but I’d neglected to mark them on the GPS and so, as we headed east this time, I kept my eyes peeled, in the hopes of spotting them again. Sure enough, as we rounded a bend, not far from Kingston Lake, there they were. We stopped and examined the grove of trees and I decided that my first instinct had been a good one, in this case.
The light–relatively bright overcast at this point–was perfect, but the wind was an annoyance. Still, it became clear fairly quickly that the gusts would ebb, and with a bit of patience, the shot was obtainable.
Birch Trees in Autumn Dress, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
Further east on H-58, as the road skirts right along the edge of the Lake Superior shore, there’s a good-sized pullout with a large parking lot. There were a couple of cones blocking the entrance (another soft barrier) but it was easy to get around them. This location contains a small platform, that serves as an overlook (which we’d viewed on Day 4, while it was raining), as well as direct access to the shore. We decided to check the access and found a very nice beach, with some photogenic tall grasses to use as foreground interest. It was bright enough to get a fast shutter speed–making the copious wind a relative non-factor–so we pulled out our gear and nabbed some shots.
Lake Superior Shore, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
Terry had an important phone call that he needed to make, so we moved along to the small town of Grand Marais, where he could obtain a signal. We’d spent a brief time in Grand Marais on Day 4, but hadn’t done any shooting. This time, we stopped in the parking lot near the town’s marina–which was nearly empty–and I shot the image you see below.
Grand Marais Marina, Alger County, Michigan
When I got around to processing the above image, I realized that it could have a dramatically different feel–perhaps more reflective of the emotion that the day’s weather provided–if converted to black and white.
Grand Marais Marina black & white, Alger County, Michigan
It was late morning by the time we wrapped up at the marina, so we headed back into Pictured Rocks, in the direction of the Log Slide Overlook. This spot provides excellent panoramic views of the Au Sable Point Lighthouse to the west and the Grand Sable Banks to the east. We’d scouted the location in the rain on Day 4, so we knew right where to go.
There’s an official overlook platform at the Log Slide, but the surrounding foliage has become so overgrown that it’s essentially useless as a shooting spot. Instead, I climbed up the dune that leads to the Log Slide itself–a 500-foot embankment of sand, at a 30-degree pitch, that drops almost straight into Lake Superior–and wandered out on one of the small paths there. It’s not for the acrophobic, given the height, the proximity to the edge (less than a foot) and the lack of any fencing, but it’s really not at all dangerous as long as you take care.
The light was far from ideal, given the subject matter–the sun was occasionally peeking through the bevy of clouds to the south–but I did take this shot of the lighthouse and the Au Sable peninsula (note the breakers, a function of a stiff northwest wind). Au Sable Light is about three miles as the crow flies from the Log Slide. Take note of how little color change there is in this shot. This is another indication of just how much impact Lake Superior has on the microclimates in the region.
Au Sable Point Light from the Log Slide, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
Looking the other way, toward Grand Sable Banks, made for a much better shot (I thought) under the circumstances. I converted to black and white to emphasize the tones and textures.
Grand Sable Banks from the Log Slide, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
When we were done at the Log Slide, we move along to Hurricane River. We’d shot the estuary there on Day 4, but this time we decided to make the hike along the lakeshore to Au Sable Point–about a mile and-a-half back to the east. There, we’d be able to photograph the lighthouse from nearby.
The trail from the Hurricane River area to the lighthouse is actually a service road that the Park Service uses to supply the lighthouse, so it’s an easy 1.5 miles each way. There’s a museum at Au Sable Point, and the lighthouse itself is open for touring during the summer months. By October, the complex is closed for the season (though visitors are still allowed on the property–the buildings themselves are simply closed), and of course, with the government shutdown in place, it wouldn’t have been open anyway. Because of the technical closure, there was almost no one around when we pulled around the Hurricane River barricades. We parked in the deserted campground area and made the hike to the lighthouse. It was still quite windy–and completely cloudy again–but we spent some time shooting the lighthouse from up on the bluff, above the lake.
Au Sable Point Light, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
Eventually, we wandered down to the extremely windy beach. The waves were really rolling in, making the beach itself extremely narrow. Still, there were undoubtedly things to shoot. By moving around, it was definitely possible to shoot the lighthouse from the beach on the west side of the point, through a gap in the trees.
Au Sable Point Light, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
Again, I thought a black and white conversion, in some ways, better captured the mood of the day.
Au Sable Point Light black & white, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
Before we departed for good, I shot a close-up of nicely moistened beach stones, though a rogue wave very nearly made me pay a steep price for doing so. Luckily I saw it coming just in time and managed to get myself–and the gear I was using–out of the way. This was nearly a very costly image.
Beach Stones, Au Sable Point, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
Terry wrapped up before I did and started the hike back while I was still on the beach. On the way back to the parking area, this intimate scene below caught my eye, and I stopped to shoot it.
Au Sable Point Trail, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
When I got back to the car, Terry was waiting with some news: we’d been “discovered.” A park service ticket had been under the windshield wiper when he’d arrived at the car.
He pulled it out. “Take a look at it,” he said. “Be sure to check both sides.”
Here’s the front:
Note that this is a “courtesy ticket,” meaning that there are “no fines or penalties” attached. This is the functional equivalent of a warning.
Here’s the reverse:
Terry and I agreed that this was a very courteous note, but we now wondered what might happen if we were “caught” again. There was no indication that we’d be facing a penalty if we were nabbed a second time. But were they tracking different vehicles by license number or something else identifying? We didn’t know. In any event, we left the Hurricane River area, a bit chagrined.
As we headed back east on H-58, in the direction of Munising, we saw a couple of vehicles pulled off on an unpaved road ahead well in front of us. We could see warning lights on top of at least one of them, and figured that it must be a park service vehicle. Perhaps it was the ranger who had written the ticket? We decided to stop and speak with him, much as we’d done a couple of days earlier at Sable Falls. Terry had handled that encounter so well, I thought it best to let him do so again with no interference from me.
As we approached the two vehicles, we could see that one was, indeed, a park ranger. The other contained the seal of the Alger County Sheriff’s office. They were just ending their conversation when we pulled in near them. The county sheriff’s vehicle pulled away a few moments later. I waved at the police officer as he drove by me and he gave me a smile and waved back on his way out.
Terry told the ranger about the ticket–he had indeed been the one who had written it–and thanked him for his courtesy, and then more or less gave a reprise of what he’d told the other ranger two days previous. Once again, the response was, in essence, “I understand perfectly.” There wasn’t a hint of attitude from the park ranger. And, again, the thing that seemed to bother him the most was the destruction of the barriers. Terry repeated what he’d told the other ranger: we not only weren’t pulling the barricades down; when we found them disturbed, we fixed them. Finally Terry asked–outright–what would happen if we were caught again. The ranger–his guard completely down by now–said, “Honestly, as long you don’t take a swing at me or something, the very worst thing that will happen is you’ll get another courtesy ticket.” No fines, no penalties, no ejections.
Terry thanked the ranger and we headed off, now fully confident that we could continue our modus operandi at Pictured Rocks.
It was mid-afternoon by now and it was still cloudy, so I suggested that we head back to Au Train Falls–which we had scouted the previous day, but hadn’t photographed due to the heavy rain at the time. It was only about 15 minutes west of Munising and when we got there it was deserted. The water flow was almost exactly what we’d seen the first time we were in the area.
We spent some time working the main area of lower Au Train Falls. The water level was such that, with our boots on, we could splash around almost literally anywhere we wanted without any real fear of getting wet–it was that shallow in most spots. We worked the main area of the lower falls–which is just upriver from a bridge that is off limits to vehicles, but is wide enough to accommodate them (I’m certain that the power company does in fact bring vehicles across the bridge when it services the substation that lies just a few steps down river from it).
Lower Au Train Falls, Alger County, Michigan
We found that, with wide shots, we were constantly getting in one another’s way, so I left the lower falls area to Terry, climbed out of the river, and moved below the bridge to an area of rapids I’d scouted when we’d been to this location two days previously.
Au Train River Rapids, Alger County, Michigan
I played around with a number of different compositions at this spot.
Au Train River Rapids, Alger County, Michigan
I spent a lot of time looking through the viewfinder, sometimes getting very close to the rapids, and sometimes backing off a bit.
Au Train River Rapids, Alger County, Michigan
When I thought that I’d essentially played the scene out, I returned to the bridge. Terry was just climbing out of the river and another photographer, along with his wife, was standing nearby on the shore, kind of looking the spot over. I told Terry I was essentially done.
He said, “Have you taken a close look at that corner up there?” He gestured to a spot on the main part of the lower falls.
“No,” I said. “Not a close look.”
“You might want to take a peek,” he said. “I really wasn’t feeling this place until I got up there. Then it all kind of came together.”
“Are you done?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “But take all the time you want.”
So, I walked up to the area in question, with just my camera–no tripod–unsure if I’d want to shoot the spot or not. After moving around there for about 15 seconds, I saw what he meant. I came splashing back for my tripod. And, I noticed that the other photographer now had his equipment out and was scoping out a shot.
“Just yell at me if I get in your way,” I told him. “I don’t want to mess up your shot.”
“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’ll just clone you out.”
“Really?’ I asked, and looked at the scene again. Cloning me out of a shot like this would be a nightmare job, I thought to myself.
“Yup,” he said. “I’m a wizard with the clone brush.”
Okay, I thought. That makes things easier for me. I took several shots, including the one you see below.
Au Train Falls, Alger County, Michigan
Terry had headed back to the car shortly after I moved up to shoot the waterfall. When I finished up, the other photographer, the one I’d briefly conversed with, was nowhere to be seen. I assumed he’d done what he’d wanted to do and moved on.
When I got back to the car and unloaded my gear, Terry asked me if I’d talked to the other photographer.
“Just for a minute,” I said. “I just told him to yell at me if I got in his way. He said not to worry about it, that he’d clone me out of the shot if necessary.”
“You should have heard what he said to me,” Terry said.
“When?” I asked.
“After you went up to shoot the falls.”
“What did he say?”
“Well, I said something about how nice a scene it was, something like that,” Terry said. “And you know what that guy said to me in response? He said, ‘I don’t waste my time with these little bull**** waterfalls. I’ve shot major waterfalls.’”
“You’ve got to be kidding,” I said.
“Nope, I’m dead serious.”
And then we both just cracked up. It really does take all kinds.
It was finally clearing up as we left Au Train Falls., but it was very late afternoon, less than an hour before sunset. And it appeared as though we’d finally actually have a sunset. By my estimation, we wouldn’t have time to get down to Miners Beach, so I suggested that we zip over to one of the west facing lakes in the Hiawatha–either Thornton Lake or Moccasin Lake. We could get there in about 30 minutes. It would be tight, but it was our best option.
We got to Thornton Lake about 15 minutes before the sun went down. The wind had died down a great deal by this time, which was nice, but the clouds to the west had thinned dramatically by the time we got there. This part of Thornton Lake is quite shallow, so light winds don’t destroy reflections. There would be a sunset this evening, but it wouldn’t be anything epic, unfortunately.
I pulled my boots back on and slogged my way along the shore of the lake, around a fallen tree trunk, and set up in a spot where I could use a partially submerged log as foreground interest.
Thornton Lake at Sunset, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan
It had been another very long, but fairly productive, day. We were getting used to it and the next day would be no different.
Next in this Series: Day 7: Now That’s a Sunset