Posted by: kerryl29 | November 26, 2013

The UP: Day 4

As was foreshadowed in the previous post in this series, the morning of Day 4 brought rain, and plenty of it.  Sunrise was a rumor, so we didn’t bother venturing out in the dark.  The forecast called for a chance of significant rain all day long, so we wondered if there would be any photography at all.  Mid-morning, with a steady rain still falling, we decided to brave the elements and take the opportunity to see for ourselves the degree to which the federal government shutdown was impacting access to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Pictured Rocks is administered by the National Park Service and, as was discussed in the first installment of this series, and again in the second segment, we were privy to second- and third-hand rumors about what was going on.  But it was raining steadily and we had nothing better to do, so we decided to see for ourselves.

Our first stop was the Pictured Rocks access point closest to our base–Munising Falls, less than five miles from our motel.  The falls area is on the southeast outskirts of the town of Munising and includes a good-sized parking lot and a visitors center (the latter of which we knew would be shuttered).  When we arrived, we saw, for the first time, the “soft barriers” that had been erected–in this case, a series of orange traffic cones blocking the entrance to the lot.  Munising Falls is a short–maybe 1000 feet–walk into a lush canyon, past the visitors center.  The parking lot was empty.  I had Terry drive down the road a bit further.  Access to the Sand Point area of Pictured Rocks is only a mile or two farther down the road.  When we reached the park boundary, we saw that several large barrels had been placed in the road to prevent entry.  So we turned around and headed back toward the falls parking lot and pulled onto the shoulder of the road to observe for a moment.  We saw a couple of people emerging from the trail to the waterfall.  They had parked their vehicle in a commercial lot across the road.  Shortly after they cleared the falls parking lot and reached the public road, a ranger’s vehicle arrived at the entrance to the park service lot.  The ranger got out of the vehicle, moved the cones, and drove in.  We left the area.  Things weren’t looking too promising.

I suggested to Terry that we check the Miners Castle/Miners Falls/Miners Beach access point to Pictured Rocks, which is about five miles to the east of Munising Falls.  This area is accessed via a lonely county road.  About four miles down this road lies the park boundary.  Based on what we’d seen at Sand Point, I anticipated another barrier.  Sure enough, that’s what we found–barrels in the road.  Another vehicle was turning around at this point when we got there, and drove off in the direction we had come.  A third vehicle was coming in behind us as we were turning around.  We recognized it as the vehicle that had been parked across the street from the Munising Falls lot.  Terry lowered his window and we engaged these people in a brief discussion, amidst the raindrops.

Were they going to breach the barrier?

They were thinking about it.  They’d made the walk to Munising Falls, they told us.  (Of course, we already knew this.)

As we headed back to the main road, I looked in the side view mirror and saw that they were driving around the barrels.

We decided to head east on H-58, the paved county road that went all the way from Munising to Grand Marais, at the far eastern edge of Pictured Rocks–a distance of about 50 miles.  This had been an unpaved road until 2010–two years after my last visit to the Upper Peninsula.  Paving the road dramatically improved access to the park and I had been looking forward to visiting areas I’d rarely (or never) been to in the past.  We knew that H-58 would be open–this was a public thoroughfare.  But based on what we’d seen, we strongly suspected that the many spurs into Pictured Rocks off of H-58 would be blocked off.  Still, we wanted to see for ourselves.

Sure enough, as we moved east, we saw soft barriers each time we approached a park spur.  Exactly what we saw varied–sometimes it was a few cones, sometimes it was barrels, on one or two occasions it was barrels with yellow “police tape.”  Since it was still raining, it didn’t really inhibit us from engaging in photography–since that wasn’t going to happen anyway, given the weather–but it certainly was discouraging.

One location I was particularly interested in seeing was the White Birch Forest, which is located within the Twelvemile Beach Campground area.  I had photographed there once before, in 2006, and was anxious to see it again.  (One shot from the area, taken in 2006, is immediately below.)  Twelvemile Beach is nearly 40 miles east of Munising, and when we got there we found barrels and tape blocking the road.  The entire area appeared deserted.  In fact, we’d seen very little traffic on H-58 over the course of the entire drive that morning.

White Birch Forest, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

White Birch Forest, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Terry and I kind of looked at one another.  Should we breach the barrier?  We both shrugged.  There was no “no trespassing” sign or “violators will be prosecuted” notice or anything like that.  We talked about it a bit and concluded that, worst case, we’d probably be told to get out and that would be that.  So we decided to risk it.  I got out of the car and lifted the tape; Terry drove right under it.  We were determined not to damage or permanently disturb any of the barricade material.  I got back in the car and we drove down the short road to the campground area.

I had strongly suspected that this area–which tends to reach peak color much, much later than nearby inland areas–would still be green, and so it was.  There was almost literally no color change at all as we drove back and forth on the access road of the deserted campground.  Our reconnaissance could be done entirely from the car and I doubt we were in the area for 10 full minutes.  Based on what I was seeing there was probably no point in planning to photograph this area during the rest of our stay in the region, though it might make sense to check it one more time near the very end of that period, especially if it got cold.

We drove back out to H-58.  Once again I got out to lift the tape so the car could get through without doing any damage to the barrier.  We never saw a soul and, presently, we were back on H-58, heading east.  Having gotten in and out of park territory without incident emboldened us, to an extent.  Before the morning was over, we stopped at the Log Slide overlook area–a spot I’d never visited previously–dodging some cones on the way in.  This time there were several other cars in the parking lot.  We scouted the area–it was still raining, but much more lightly–to obtain a lay of the land.  We were probably on site for 20 minutes or so and, once again, we departed without incident.  When we left, we noticed that someone had tossed the cones aside.  We stopped and I got out and put them back in the positions we’d seen them in upon arrival.  Regardless, this was two times, in and out, without anything bad happening; now we were feeling pretty cheeky about the whole thing.

We stopped at an overlook at Grand Sable Lake–the overlook wasn’t blocked off at all.  We still hadn’t taken our camera gear out–there was still some light rain–and the sky conditions weren’t very good.  It was also a bit on the breezy side.  We ultimately made our way into the small village of Grand Marais, made a pit stop at a gas station, wandered around a bit to check the nearly deserted marina, and then discussed what to do next.  We’d traversed all of Pictured Rocks, from west to east (though we certainly hadn’t poked our noses into all of the access points).  The rain had actually stopped completely at this stage.  I suggested we head back west on H-58 and stop and check on Sable Falls, just a mile or so back up the road.  The conditions were optimal for waterfall shooting.

I hadn’t been to Sable Falls since 2002, and I didn’t recall having been impressed by it.  But we were here and the conditions were decent.  Why not give it a look?

We got to the parking area–it was blocked by three small cones, which we simply drove around.  There were three other vehicles in the lot.  We got out and decided to head down to the waterfall–the trail is mostly a long series of staircases–sans gear, just to check it out.  After I got down and had a look, I couldn’t understand why I had been so down on Sable Falls.  This waterfall was definitely worth shooting.  Terry concurred, and we headed back up to get our things.  It was early afternoon and it appeared that we would finally engage in a bit of photography.

Just as I was pulling my gear out of the trunk, I looked up and saw a park ranger’s vehicle pulling into the lot and making a beeline towards us.  I just groaned.  What bad timing!  I put my equipment back in the trunk and prepared to get back in the car myself.  I figured we were, best case, going to get thrown out anyway.  Terry told me “I’m going to talk to this guy.”  I just nodded.

When the ranger drove over and lowered his driver’s side window, I thought we were going to get an earful.  But we didn’t get any immediate attitude–he just said “You know, the park is closed.”  Terry–very calmly–made our case.  We were photographers, he said, him from Pittsburgh, me from Chicago.  We’d come hundreds of miles on a trip that had been planned for some time, and we were putting money into the local economy and now, through no fault of our own, we couldn’t do what we’d spent all this time and money planning to do.

The ranger nodded all through this.  “You’re preaching to the choir,” he said.  “But we’ve got our marching orders.  And all this destruction of the barriers we’ve put up…”  Terry assured him that not only hadn’t we destroyed any barriers, but that we were actually fixing anything that we’d seen had been tampered with.  This seemed to have an impact on the ranger, and we began to get an impression that would stick with us throughout the duration of our time in and around Pictured Rocks:  the rangers seemed to be more disturbed by people messing with the erected barricades than actually breaching them.

Sensing an opening, Terry said, “There’s a shot of the waterfall that I’d really like to get.  What’s going to happen if I go down there to get it?”

“Well, the park’s closed,” the ranger said.  “You can’t go down there…right now.”

Our ears perked up.  Right now?

“There are only two of us patrolling the entire park,” the ranger went on.  Pictured Rocks encompasses more than 100 square miles of land.  “If you come back in an hour…”  He shrugged.

We nodded, and thanked him, got back in the car and drove out of the lot.  (The ranger stayed, to deal with the other cars in the lot, whose occupants were nowhere to be seen at the moment.)

We’d interpreted our encounter to signify that, if we bided our time, we could go back and shoot Sable Falls.  So, we made our way to the eastern side of Grand Sable Lake, just a few miles away.  This was a location we hadn’t visited on the way in–it’s south of H-58 a bit–and explored a picnic area.  Vehicle access to the picnic area was restricted by some rocks that had been put in the entry way to block it off so we simply parked on the deserted unpaved road and wandered in on foot.  We had some time to kill and I finally found a subject that allowed me to use my camera for the first time that day.

Birch Tree Intimate, Near Grand Sable Lake, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Birch Tree Intimate, Near Grand Sable Lake, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

The above image is a series of seven shots, focus stacked for depth of field purposes.

Before leaving the area I stumbled across the maple in the below image.

Ancient Maple, Near Grand Sable Lake, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Ancient Maple, Near Grand Sable Lake, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

At this point, roughly an hour had gone by since we left Sable Falls, so we returned.  It was still entirely overcast–as it would be all day–but at least the rain continued to hold off.  We decided to park on the shoulder of the road outside the Sable Falls parking area; that way, we wouldn’t have to disturb the barrier at all.  We pulled our gear together and walked in, then descended the 169 steps to the base of the waterfall.  The perspectives from the boardwalk are extremely limited, so I made my off the platform and splashed to a spot where I could shoot the falls with a wide angle lens, incorporating a foreground and omitting the superstructure of the staircase entirely.  It’s impossible to do this from the platform itself.

Sable Falls, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Sable Falls, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

While Terry stayed to shoot the falls, I continued on the trail for another half mile or so, all the way down to the deserted Lake Superior beach.  Given the conditions, I couldn’t find a pleasing wide composition, but some marvelous beach stones caught my attention.

Beach Stones, Sable Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Beach Stones, Sable Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

It was mid-afternoon by the time we finished in the Sable Falls area.  We headed west on H-58, back in the direction of Munising, and decided to stop and check out the Hurricane River area, about 15 miles back down the road.  Another soft barrier had to be breached, but we were old hands at that now.

From the parking area at Hurricane River, it’s a very short walk to the beach, and the river estuary, and we found plenty to shoot.  My first subject was from a small footbridge above the river, a few hundred feet upstream from the estuary.  Looking almost straight down from the bridge, I was taken by this intimate scene of a conifer branch hanging over the rapids.

Conifer Branch, Hurricane River, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Conifer Branch, Hurricane River, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

From here I wandered down to the beach and spent some time playing with both the estuary itself and the shoreline.  The estuary shot below required a three-stop neutral density filter and a polarizer to obtain the slow shutter speed necessary to bring out the swirls in the water.

Hurricane River Estuary, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Hurricane River Estuary, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

I fiddled with a couple of shoreline shots–the one below is facing ostensibly northeast–and ended up converting to black and white, to better pull out the sky and water tones and textures.   There was a pretty stiff wind blowing out of the northwest which produced some nice wave action on this day.

Lake Superior Shoreline black & white, Hurricane River Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Lake Superior Shoreline black & white, Hurricane River Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

As I mentioned in the last UP entry, during the discussion of the Lower Tahquemenon Falls shots, it’s historically been very rare that I’ve thought about black and white conversions in the field when on what is essentially a fall color trip, but this is another occasion when the notion popped into my head as I was working with a composition.

It was getting dark as we were wrapping up at Hurricane River.  Just as there was no sunrise on this day, there would be no sunset, so we made our way back to Munising.  While we hadn’t done a lot of shooting–this was the single most fallow full day of the entire trip–it had still been productive.  We now had a pretty good feel for what to expect at Pictured Rocks.  Or so we thought…

Next in this Series:  Day 5:  Water, Water Everywhere…


  1. Incredible post and photos!! The colours are so great. My prefers ones the fith and the last B&W. Very interesting information.

    Visit my blog: Many thanks.

  2. I’m glad you went in, and then had a pleasant exchange with a ranger. We had heard good things (well, it was still closed, but we’d heard good things about the rangers), and so we parked outside and crossed under the barriers.
    Also, I’m glad you decided Sable Falls wasn’t so bad after all. I have a shot from a similar perspective, but by that point we were in kind of a hurry, and I didn’t bring the tripod.
    Because I am so enamored with the color of the lakes, I have a tough time converting to B&W, but I quite like the last one you posted 🙂

    • What we found, based on conversations with two park rangers (I’ll relate the conversation with the second in a future installment), that these folks were really between a rock and a hard place. They didn’t want to essentially become law enforcement specialists, but that’s what the situation called for. I felt bad for them.

      I can’t remember what it was about my first Sable Falls encounter that left me so down on the place, but that disappeared upon my first view of it this time around.

  3. It’s a shame that the government chose to keep people out of the parks that they pay for, but at least you were able to get some truly beautiful photos of the area anyway.

    • Thanks.

      I understood–and understand–the motivation for closing the park, once the government was shutdown and virtually everyone involved in administering the place was furloughed. There was no way that they could monitor what was going on and, really, there was no way that they could maintain safety or respond to anything like an emergency. (We discussed these issues at length with the rangers we spoke to.)

      I suppose a theoretical alternative would be to have everyone who wanted to enter the property sign a waiver, but, with the furlough, there wouldn’t have been anyone to administer them.

  4. Gerat post Kerry…the adventure continues. I’ve never been to Michigan (Minnesota yes)….but it’s on my list now! I’m looking forward to the next installment!

    • Thanks, David.

  5. Quite interesting what attitude can accomplish at times…. for better or worse!

    • Are you referring to our encounter with the ranger?

      • Very much so. I’m also thinking how easily it could have gone the other way.

        • I guess that’s true–I certainly expected to be told that we had to leave and stay out. But…my experience with park rangers over the years has been virtually entirely positive. Almost without exception, they haven’t come across as “rent-a-cop” types at all. Our second experience with a park ranger at Pictured Rocks–which I will relate in detail in a later installment–simply reinforced that impression.

  6. Beautiful photos-i have found that when you are a friend of nature, often parks people will open up and help you out in many ways such as where to get a shot of particular wildlife or a particularly pretty spot. It sure paid off.

    • Thanks very much, Jane. Yeah, my experience with park rangers has been essentially entirely positive. I’ve heard stories from others to the contrary, but they don’t comport with my experience.

  7. Great post Kerry! Let me start by saying how much I am enjoying the shots. The Hurricane River Estuary shot is one that I really am enjoying and it shows that your vision seen something special that I did not. I shot that estuary from the other angle and was most concentrating on long exposures to capture the swirl but I didn’t even get close to what you got with yours. Great work!

    Now for the park closure. I was personally suffering great anxiety over the idea that I just drove over 700 miles to a national park area that I was not going to be able to see. I struggled with the idea over and over in my own head before we engaged in our own discussion as I am sure you did as well. I just kept telling myself that there is no way they would treat us like criminals but then I could see the flip side and the idea that for safety etc. they needed to keep people out. I am so happy that we got to talk to the rangers when we did as I always feel much better getting a good feel for what is in store for us. Those guys had a job to do and I do respect that but I REALLY respect the honest way that they spoke to us. I don’t know the name of the first one but I know the second one that was from my neck of the woods and if I ever get a chance to do something nice for him I sure would.

    As for us…I am very happy we choose to be rebels and breech the barriers. many great shots behind those cones as well as a great visit to a national park. We debated things and I think we were the right kind of cautious as well as respectful to the barriers and in the end that worked in our favor. I can tell you that I heard stories from other photographers that claimed very much the opposite in treatment from some of the parks out west. Down in the Smokies they had the gates closed on a lot of the spurs but they were letting people hike in. That was nice but that would not work real well for photography as things are so spread out down there. Anyway, we did end up doing well and I am very thankful of that. Always talk and ask permissions. I think a lot of people will be surprised at how often people are agreeable.

    Now for my last comment for this entry I will tell you that I have finally gotten to developing some shots. I am trying to work in a better, more organized way and going day by day in the order that we shot the UP. I am first sorting out the obvious shots that I do not want to work up then I am going right in order and chipping away. I still can’t spend a lot of time in front of the monitor because of the concussion but I am up to day four. 🙂

    Keep up the blog work as I am really enjoying it all.


    • Hi Terry. Thanks for weighing in; I hope you’ll continue to do so since you’re adding a lot of helpful perspective to the events I’m trying to relate.

      Thanks for the comments re the Hurricane River Estuary shot. I know I spent a lot of time looking at shooting from the other side of the estuary myself, but I couldn’t find anything I liked. It wasn’t until I got to the eastern side of that collecting pool that I started to get really interested, and part of the appeal for me was being able to use the swirls as foreground interest.

      Totally agree with your point about the rangers and the way they treated us. I think they really appreciated your being straight with them; I believe that was a big difference maker and is largely responsible for our amicable contact with them. It was terrific that, when it was all said and done, we ended up going to all the places within Pictured Rocks that we wanted to visit, despite the official closure.

      I’m really looking forward to seeing your images from the trip. No hurry of course; just let me know when they’re viewable.

  8. Great shots and great writing, interesting re the closed parks and good to read Terry’s comments too. Enjoying the trip and we are only up to day 4!

    • Thanks very much. I’m glad you appreciated Terry’s comments as well, because I’m really pleased that he’s taking the time to share his perspective on our experiences. I’m also very happy to hear that you’re enjoying the write-ups. I’ll likely get Day 5 posted some time next week.

  9. your photos are great!! I love the waterfall one and the Hurricane River estuary.

    • Thanks very much!

  10. Beautiful images here. This area is on my photo trip bucket list.

    • Thanks very much.

      I definitely encourage you to visit the UP, if you get the chance. It’s a remote region, but it has a great deal to offer.

  11. […] Day 4 […]

  12. […] Day 4 […]

  13. What an adventure, Kerry! Like others have mentioned, I really enjoyed hearing from Terry as well. I had planned a trip to Allegheny National Forest and cancelled when I realized that it would be closed. Good to know that you were able to lemonade of the day. And I LOVE the ancient maple image – absolutely glorious!

    • Thanks very much, Lynn. I’m really pleased to see that so many folks are enjoying reading Terry’s thoughts on our experiences; I really appreciate his weighing in and adding another perspective to the narrative.

      FWIW, I doubt that you’d have run into any issues accessing the national forest. Campgrounds (if any) would have been closed, but access is essentially impossible to restrict, and no attempt was made to do so (at least in the Hiawatha).

      • I’m only about 2 hours drive away and have relatives in the area, so I can get there in the spring without a problem. I’m staying very local during the winter storms; still lots to film around here 🙂

        • Understood. I stay extremely local during the winter too–I rarely photograph more than 30 minutes from base (and usually quite a bit less).

  14. hello! And apologies for reading this post so late – things have been busy in the weeks leading up to holiday break.

    I very much enjoyed this post, particularly because of the rather amusing interactions you had with the soft barriers and the park ranger. I am glad that despite the government shutdown and near-catastrophe, you were able to use the national park as intended and capture some gorgeous shots!

    My favorites are of the beach stones–primarily because of the color scheme–and the conifer branch hanging over the waterfall. The latter is like an impressionistic painting overlaid with hyperrealism.

    • Thanks very much!

  15. […] worked our way around to the south side of Grand Sable Lake, an area we’d briefly explored on Day 4.  The light was still a problem, but we found a small creek that had some areas that were in open […]

  16. […] sunrise, we decided to return to Munising Falls.  We had scouted this area–sort of–on Day 4.  The government shutdown was still in place, so access to the area remained (officially) cut off, […]

  17. Super!

  18. […] discussed an unexpected hiccup to these plans–a federal government shutdown–in a blog entry chronicling the trip, but suffice to say for now that the shudown was gotten […]

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