Posted by: kerryl29 | January 12, 2021

The UP: Pictured Rocks

If you have any interest in photographing fall foliage anywhere in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, I’m about to let you in on a little secret, so listen up:  color peaks later, often by more than a week, in relatively narrow bands along the Great Lakes than it does just a mile or so inland.  I learned this through experience–and common sense, given the natural warming effect of large bodies of water–a long time ago and this knowledge has stood me in very good stead on subsequent trips to the UP.  It has never been more emphatically demonstrated than during the week or so that Jason and I spent in the Upper Peninsula last October.

In the weeks preceding the trip, when we were corresponding–mostly by email–about a loose itinerary, I repeated the “color turns later along the lakeshore” mantra more times than I could count.  It was our ace in the hole, I told Jason:  our hope was to mainly photograph along the small lakes in the northern part of the Hiawatha National Forest but, if we missed peak in the Hiawatha we were almost certainly going to be able to count on experiencing excellent color in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore because…Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore runs in a relatively narrow strip along the Lake Superior shore for more than 50 miles between Munising and Grand Marais.  (Those paying close attention will realize that this is the reason why basing a fall color trip to the UP in Munising is such a good idea; if you visit Munising some time in the first 10-odd days of October you are almost certain to have close proximity to peak color somewhere, whether the color is early (as it was in 2006 and 2020) or late (as it was when I was in the UP in 2008) or on schedule (2002, 2003, 2013).  But I digress…)

In truth, we kind of straddled the marker on this trip.  We were late for color in parts of the Hiawatha, but caught peak in others.  And our early explorations of Pictured Rocks showed that the area was rapidly approaching peak during the first half of the week.  We had then seen, on a quick visit near the end of the third full day in the UP, that the notoriously late-changing White Birch Forest, was nearing peak, courtesy of a couple of nights cold enough to bring frosty mornings to the Hiawatha.  After seeing the White Birch Forest at the end of that third full day I could confidently conclude that peak color would be available throughout Pictured Rocks during the rest of our time in the area.

With all of this in mind, the decision was made to maximize remaining time in and near the Lakeshore, so, with a cloudy early morning forecast in place for the next day, we decided to start things out at Sable Falls, located at the far east end of the Lakeshore, roughly an hour’s drive away from our base.   On the road along the way we spotted a compelling cluster of trees that begged further investigation.

Fall Color Intimate, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Sable Falls is reached via a relatively short trail that includes a decent via a series of well-maintained wooden staircases.  When you reach sight of the falls you realize, pretty early on, that truly compelling compositions require descending from the wooden platform; there simply aren’t any great viewpoints without doing so.  Having visited the location several times previously, I already knew this and told Jason to be prepared with the proper footwear.

Water flow at Sable Falls that day was quite good; color was as good as it ever is near the falls.  (The area immediately around the falls isn’t what I would call a fall foliage garden spot.)  The only real problem was a persistent, and extremely annoying, wind.  I had hoped that being in a sunken location might help limit the effect of the breeze and it did, but only to a degree, primarily because the wind was out of the north on this day, meaning it was blowing upriver from lake level.

We took turns photographing the falls, mostly from inside the creek bed, to avoid being in one another’s shots.

Sable Falls, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Sable Falls, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Sable Falls, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Sable Falls, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

When not photographing the falls upstream, I focused my attention on intimate creekside compositions, which were plentiful.

Sable Creek Intimate Black & White, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Sable Creek Intimate, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Sable Creek Intimate, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

At one point, after we’d been at the location for some time, the sun began to break through the clouds–the forecast had indeed called for partial clearing by mid-morning–which created some colorful reflections in small pools in the creek, well downstream of the falls.

Sable Creek Reflections, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

After we’d had our fill of the falls and creek, we wandered the short remaining distance (no more than 1/2 mile) down the trail to its terminus at Sable Beach.  Along the way, I made note of several possible intimate creek compositions, utterly obtainable at this time given the light and wind, for possible future reference.  When we reached the north-facing beach we were met with a stiff blast of wind, which was creating a significant surf.  Sable Creek itself took a sharp right turn on the beach and drained directly into Superior.  The channel connecting the creek and the lake was just deep enough to dissuade an attempt to wade through it.  Astride the channel was a plethora of colorful beach stones, frequently found on beaches along the southern shore of Superior.

I decided that I’d make some images of the stones, but was also curious as to whether the wider beach scene held a compelling composition and hastened to find out.  I decided fairly quickly that it probably didn’t but, for some reason, decided to produce a quasi-grab shot anyway.  I ultimately converted that image to black and white.

Sable Beach Black & White, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

I had to do some creative work with my body to ensure that the entire area including the stones I chose to photograph was in open shade, but eventually managed to make it work for a couple of compositions.

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

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

After we finished in the Sable Falls/Creek/Beach area, we explored other spots in the eastern part of the Lakeshore, including the area around Grand Sable Lake.  Gradually we made a move a few miles west to look over the Log Slide area.  The Log Slide is a spot along the Grand Sable Dunes where, a century or more ago, logged tree trunks were rolled down the steep sand dunes to barges waiting in the Lake Superior shallows, in preparation for shipment to other Great Lakes destinations.  Today it serves as an excellent viewpoint to the west (Au Sable Point) and the east (Grand Sable Banks).  The official viewpoint here is overgrown and effectively worthless, as I discovered when I was at this location in 2013.  We followed some of the unofficial paths along the high cliff to the west of the viewpoint and found several better views of Au Sable Point.  I photographed the scene with both a wide-normal lens and a telephoto.  (Note the lighthouse at Au Sable Point in the telephoto image.)

Au Sable Point from the Log Slide, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Au Sable Point from the Log Slide, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

At a cliffside spot further east, I found what I felt was a better location to photograph the Grand Sable Banks to the east.

Grand Sable Banks from the Log Slide, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Grand Sable Banks from the Log Slide Black & White, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

As we were leaving the Log Slide area, I noticed that the tire pressure indicator on the car’s dashboard was alight.  This, is never a good sign, trust me.  We were fairly close to Grand Marais, so I detoured us to the west and checked the tire pressure at a gas station (which, fortunately, had a working air hose).  Sure enough, the driver’s side front tire was low.  I refilled it, which caused the light to turn off, but fully expected that this was no more than a temporary fix.  I kept my eyes on the dashboard whenever possible the rest of the day, in expectation of seeing the light go back on.

In the meantime, we made our way back to the east, in the direction of Munising.  At various points along the way we stopped to take advantage of compelling intimate scenes, as banks of clouds temporarily blotted out the sun and lulls in the wind provided opportunities.

Shocking Red, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Fall Color Intimate, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Fall Color Intimate, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

By mid-afternoon, we made our way to Hurricane River, which is the jumping off point for the easy 1.5 mile walk out to Au Sable Point and its beach and lighthouse grounds.  My first image was of the lighthouse and its out buildings.

Au Sable Light, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

From there, I descended  to the rock strewn beach and dodged the incoming waves to photograph the lighthouse and beach stones, in something of a rerun of the session at Sable Beach that morning.

Au Sable Light from Au Sable Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

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

Au Sable Light from Au Sable Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

I climbed back up to promontory level and spent some time amid the trees not far from the lighthouse grounds, in a spot sheltered enough from the wind to allow me to produce a stack of images of an intimate scene that appealed to me.

Fall Color Intimate, Au Sable Point, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

After hiking the mile and a half back to the trailhead, with perhaps 90 minutes of daylight left, we made the relatively short drive to Twelvemile Beach, in the hope of catching just a bit more time at the White Birch Forest, after the previous day’s experience.  This turned out to be a pretty good call, though the wind was still enough of a factor to be an annoyance.  Still, I was able to photograph a few scenes that I liked.

White Birch Forest, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

White Birch Forest, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Maple Intimate, White Birch Forest, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

One spot that I’d been able to look over quickly in the rain the previous evening, but had been unable to photograph, beckoned.  The wind was a constant problem but I waited and waited and finally was able to produce a stack of three images necessary to obtain the desired depth of field.

White Birch Forest, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

I was feeling pretty good after completing this series.  It was only about 15 minutes until sunset at this point.  Jason was still working a forest scene and I called to him to let him know that I was going to head down to the beach, just in case the sunset amounted to something nice.  It turned out to be a good call, I think.  I found a nice piece of driftwood and watched the sky light up around me.

Sunset, Twelvemile Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Sunset, Twelvemile Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Sunset, Twelvemile Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

After I made the above image, I had just enough to sense to look around me.  I saw what the limited remaining sunlight was doing to the birch trees and beach grasses to my left, up on the sand dunes, and quickly moved to make something of the opportunity.

Golden Light, Twelvemile Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Golden Light, Twelvemile Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

I then returned to the driftwood for a parting shot.

Sunset, Twelvemile Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

There was still more to photograph after the sun dipped below the horizon, as scenes that were reminiscent of seascapes, less the absence of the saltwater scent, beckoned.

Sunset, Twelvemile Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Lake Superior Sunset Surf, Twelvemile Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Lake Superior Sunset Surf, Twelvemile Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Lake Superior Sunset Surf, Twelvemile Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

It was a very satisfying end of the day, photographically speaking.  Why the conditionalizing?  Because a return to the car reawakened my concerns:  the telltale tire pressure warning light reared its ugly head again.  We made it back to Munising and I immediately stopped at a gas station and filled the tire again, but I knew it was a futile effort.  It would get me back to the motel but there was nothing I could do about the problem that night and I fully expected to awake to a pancake flat tire in the morning…


Responses

  1. Una serie di scatti veramente belli, mi piacciono tantissimo quelli dove scorre l’acqua. Complimenti.
    Saluti, Patrizia

    • Grazie mille!

  2. That was definitely a productive day of shooting. It’s great that there is a variety of subject matter in such a relatively close distance. Two questions: are you using a polarizer when shooting the beach rocks to cut down the glare? and when shooting images for a stack, what is the time elapsed from first to last (I assume this has to be done quite quickly)?

    • Thanks, Ellen.

      Yes, I did have a polarizer on when I photographed the beach stones.

      When shooting a stack of images, unless the subject matter is entirely inert, you want to complete the sequence as quickly as possible. Exactly how long it takes will depend on the number of frames in the stack and the shutter speed.

  3. I am attracted to the colours in the water as well as the sunsets but there is more to it than that, such as leading lines and points of view. Really enjoyed looking at this series, thank-you.

    • Thanks, Jane!

  4. Beautiful! I love the sunset beach photos.

    • Thanks very much!

  5. […] photo trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan concluded with a bit of a cliffhanger:  a probable flat tire.  And sure enough, when I poked my nose outside in the still dark predawn of the following […]

  6. […] the eastern end of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, to the Sable Falls trail.  Jason and I had visited and photographed extensively in this area several days earlier.  During that time, I had taken note of several spots along Sable Creek, […]


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