Posted by: kerryl29 | January 25, 2021

The UP:  Making the Best of It

My last post detailing last October’s 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 morning, the driver’s side front tire on the car was as flat as a pancake.  I spoke to Jason by phone, told him what was going on and that I was going to begin the process of removing the tire and putting the donut spare on, but that I’d need to get the car to a garage or tire store to see if the impacted tire could be plugged or if a new one was necessary.  We found a listing for a garage in Munising, just a few miles away, and Jason said he’d call to confirm that they could handle tire repair (and if so, when), while I worked on the car itself.

That all seemed just fine except for one problem; after pulling out the jack and the lug wrench, I couldn’t get the lugs off the rim.  I literally climbed on top of the wrench, to put the full weight of my body at my disposal, and none of the lugs even budged.  It was going to take an electric device to loosen the lugs, and I didn’t have one at my disposal.  The folks down at the garage undoubtedly would, but now I couldn’t drive the car down there.  So, I called AAA.  I was told a tow truck would be there within an hour.  There would be no sunrise photo shoot that day.  (It was too cloudy to really matter, fortunately…or unfortunately, depending on your perspective.)  Jason arrived and confirmed that he’d spoken with someone at the garage; yes, they could deal with the tire.  Fortunately, the tow truck arrived something like 20 minutes after I put the call in to AAA; the driver had the car on the flatbed in a couple of minutes and knew right where to go.  Jason and I followed, in Jason’s car.

At the garage, I was told that the “tire guy” was out at the moment but would be back soon and would pull the tire off, find the source of the leak (which Jason had already spotted–as expected, there was a nail that, fortunately, appeared to be confined to the tread), would plug it if possible and if not, we’d figure out what to do about replacing the tire.

It was unclear exactly how long this would take, so we decided to stay relatively nearby so that I could take a call from the garage when the problem had been assessed and, if necessary, return in short order.  What we wanted to avoid was this problem wrecking the rest of the day’s plans.  The garage closed at 6 PM, which was before sunset.  We wanted to wrap up our involvement there long before then, if at all possible.

I suggested that we take a ride about 10 minutes to the west to Scott Falls, right along highway M-28, a short distance to the east of the town of Au Train.  I hadn’t been to Scott Falls since my very first trip to the UP, in 2002, but remembered it as a nice little waterfall, very easily accessible.  The falls are visible from the road, in a small alcove on the south side of the highway.  There’s no real parking area there, but there is a public parking lot about 500 feet to the west, on the north side of the highway, which provides access to a sandy beach along Au Train Bay, an arm of Lake Superior.

After navigating through a road work area at the west end of Munising, we made the drive and were in the parking area in short order.  The sun was up by now, but was peeking in and out of the cloud cover; it was, yet again, quite breezy.  After Jason parked the car, I made the very short walk to a staircase that provided access to the beach and peered out; the beach itself appeared to be a promising photo location and I mentioned to Jason that I thought it would be worth a look once we were finished at Scott Falls.

We grabbed our things, crossed the highway and made the short walk back to the falls, meandering down a very short embankment.  I made a fairly quick reconnaissance of the area and determined quickly that there were a number of compositions worth examining more closely.  I began by wading through the shallow stream and getting relatively close to the waterfall.

Scott Falls, Alger County, Michigan

As the scene itself is north-facing (i.e. you’re largely looking south when photographing Scott Falls), the wooded area above the falls, atop the shallow cliff, was lit up by the sun (when it was out) and the breeze was an annoyance, as it had been most of the week.  The area in the bowl created by the waterfall was in open shade throughout our time in the immediate area.

Scott Falls Black & White, Alger County, Michigan

I examined a few other possible images from ground level, but ultimately deemed them undesirable, for a variety of reasons.  Before long, I had retreated back across the stream and, from partway or all the way above the embankment, was closely examining these wider options.

Scott Falls, Alger County, Michigan

Once again, some patience was required to wait out the breeze and take advantage of stretches when passing cloud banks cast the entire scene in even light.

Scott Falls, Alger County, Michigan

Scott Falls, Alger County, Michigan

Scott Falls, Alger County, Michigan

I finished at Scott Falls before Jason did and told him that I was going to recross the highway and check out the beach along Au Train Bay.  I retraced my steps to the parking area and made my way toward the short wooden staircase that leads to the sand.  The wind was out of the north again on this day, which was kicking up a pretty significant surf on Lake Superior.  The same stream that produces Scott Falls drains under the highway through a culvert and empties directly into Superior across the narrow strip of sand, just a few hundred yards to the east of the staircase beach access.

From the wooden platform at the top of the stairs, with a field of tall grass beneath me, I framed the composition you see below.  Note the line of footprints in the strip of sand.

Au Train Bay, Alger County, Michigan

I descended the staircase and I wandered up the sand in the direction of the confluence and scoped out a composition.  The sun, to my right, penetrated through the trees that lined the parking lot and the area to the west, making for a mixed lighting situation when the clouds made way.

Au Train Bay, Alger County, Michigan

Eventually I reached the confluence itself.

Au Train Bay, Alger County, Michigan

Jason came along as I was putting the final touches on these images, and he set up to frame a shot or two before we retreated to the car.

If you’re wondering if I’d heard from the garage at this point, the answer is no.  Since it was approaching mid-day, and the garage closed for an hour at lunchtime, I wanted to know what the story was with the tire.  I wanted to pick up the car before they closed, so we wouldn’t be unnecessarily tied to the immediate area unnecessarily for another hour or more.  Fortunately, when I called, I learned that the tire had been patched and the car was ready to be picked up.  We arrived at the garage about 10 minutes before noon, so I was able to complete the transaction and avoid any further inconvenience.

We dropped my car off back at the motel and then, with Jason driving us in his car, we made our way to the Chapel area of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

I made mention of the Chapel area in an earlier post, when I described the thought process behind photographing Grand Portal Point.  This was the day of that excursion.  In fairness to both of us, what else were we going to do with the remainder of that day?  Half the daylight (or nearly so) was already gone; the skies were partly cloudy (and would, by mid-afternoon, become basically entirely cloudless, making for some less than terrific light for a lot of potential scenes.  Add in the 15-20 MPH winds and you have some pretty awful conditions.  We might as well make the 3 1/2 mile (one-way) trip down to Chapel Beach, right?

We drove to the Chapel area, which was several miles off the main highway on a badly maintained unpaved road.  I’d warned Jason that the road was, as best I could recall (I hadn’t been to the area in 12 years), pretty bad, but it was even worse than I remembered.  Still, we made it…and found approximately a million vehicles already in the parking area and lining the road approaching the lot.  Still, we found a spot and, before long, hit the trail.  There were many people coming and going, but none were queuing up anywhere, so social distancing really wasn’t a problem.

A bit more than a mile down the trail we reached Chapel Falls.  When I’d been in the area previously (i.e. in the fall of 2008), there were no good views of the falls and all the foliage in the area was still green.  Well, this time, we found a terrific vantage point (a platform, near which a clear view of the falls could be obtained) and, because of how much farther along the color was this year, a truly excellent scene.  The only problem was the sun…and the wind.  Okay, so there were two problems.  But a nice big bank of clouds rolled in shortly after we reached this spot and, with patience, lulls in the breeze arrived as well.  I needed to stack images, so I had to wait longer than would have been necessary otherwise, to produce both a vertical and a horizontal of this scene.

Chapel Falls, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Chapel Falls, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Not long after we finished at this spot and returned to the main trail in the direction of Chapel Beach, the sun came out full throttle…and didn’t recede again for the rest of the day until it set.

Roughly 2 1/2 miles later, we found ourselves at Chapel Rock, which is a huge edifice with a massive tree growing right on top of it, that overlooks the eastern end of Chapel Beach.  Looking from the rock toward the beach, Grand Portal Point, jutting out into Lake Superior, is visible in the background.

I remember sizing up Chapel Rock when I was first at this location in 2008, and could never find a compelling composition.  But was bound and determined to try again.  Jason, making his first visit to this area, drew the same conclusion that I’d made on my first time and, in his defense, between the natural difficulty of the scene and the light and the wind, I can’t say I blame him.  Still, I thought I’d found something that might work this time; I told him to go on ahead, that I’d catch up.  I knew he was most interested in Grand Portal Point.  Regardless, this turned out to be a big mistake, as I’ll recount presently, but neither of us knew it at the time.

Given the wind, I knew that there was no way I could create more than one frame at this location, and that a fast shutter speed was going to be needed to freeze the foliage, which was whipping around.  I had to hope that I had enough dynamic range at my disposal to make this work and I knew that, even if dynamic range was sufficient, it would require some special attention in the digital darkroom to make the image worth anything in the end.

Chapel Rock and Grand Portal Point, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

From Chapel Rock, the trail runs down the side of the bluff for about 1/4 mile to a point where Chapel Beach can be accessed.  On the way down, I had a clear view of the beach and saw Jason–at least I think it was him–out on the sand, amidst a few other people.  I stopped at a point at the east end of Chapel Beach where Chapel Creek–the same waterway that’s the source of Chapel Falls–empties into the lake.  It’s a nice shot–even nicer than I remembered, and despite the fact that the light was bad and the wind was worse, I decided to try to make something of it.   You can see Chapel Rock, with its telltale tree, in the background.

I created this image with black & white in mind, but I’m presenting the color version first, just you can get a sense of what the scene looked like to the naked eye.

Chapel Creek at Chapel Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

This scene was a real challenge, for many reasons.  Given the wind, there was no real way to effectively combine multiple images.  But a shutter speed fast enough to keep the foliage sharp made for an extremely unappealing rendering of the creek’s flowing water.  In fact, this scene was sufficiently unique from an in-field rendering and postprocessing standpoint, that I’m going to make the execution and digital darkroom work the subject of a separate technical post (probably next week).  In the meantime, I’ll simply display the final product, in monochrome, and move on.

Chapel Creek at Chapel Beach Black & White, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

When I finished at the Chapel Creek estuary, I wandered up the beach.  Jason was nowhere to be seen.  I figured that he’d followed the trail in the direction of the point.  I decided to produce one image and then move on.  I figured I’d find him photographing along the trail, or on the way back.

Grand Portal Point from Chapel Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

I moved down the trail.  I saw a few other hikers, but not Jason.  I also found a couple of spots with interesting views, but nothing compelling enough for me to produce any more images.  The trail kind of deteriorated as I moved to the west, in the direction of the point and eventually I found myself out at the Point itself.  Still no sign of Jason.  I didn’t see how I could have missed him.  And I wondered if he’d decided to go all the way on to Mosquito Beach (something that had been a topic of conversation at one point during trip planning, weeks earlier, but had not been part of any discussion that day).  I wasn’t sure what to do.  I decided to backtrack toward Chapel Beach, to see if I’d somehow missed him.  On the way, I found myself on a short spur trail the Chapel Beach Campground, and quickly worked my way back to what appeared to be the main path.  Eventually I was back at Chapel Beach and then at Chapel Rock.  Still no sign of Jason anywhere.

At this point, I was at the head of the trail back in the direction of Chapel Falls and the Chapel area parking lot.  I didn’t want to go all the way to Mosquito Beach.  It was close to three miles to the east and though the trail is really one big loop, to get back to the parking area by way of Mosquito Falls was, from this point, roughly six miles, as opposed to about 3 1/2 from where I was.  Besides, there was a spot in the forest along Chapel Creek, above the falls, that I’d taken note of on the way down; if it was in full shade by the time I got there (it was now late afternoon, probably no more than two hours until sunset) I thought I might photograph at the spot.  At this point, I figured that the best way to be sure to find Jason again was to go back where we both eventually had to go–the vehicle we’d brought in.

So, I returned the way I came.  In about 2 1/2 miles, I reached the area of the creek that had interested me, and descended down the bank to check it out closely,  The area was indeed in full shade, so I spent a bit of time photographing this interesting little spot.

Chapel Creek Intimate, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Chapel Creek Intimate, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

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

Chapel Creek Intimate, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Chapel Creek Intimate, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

The last shot I made at this spot involved my finding a natural eddy–you can see it in the middle of the image two above this text–and greatly embellishing it by throwing a mess of fallen leaves in the water.  Then, with the assistance of a neutral density filter, a narrow aperture and an extremely low ISO, I used a long shutter speed (about 20 seconds) to produce the abstract you see below.

Chapel Creek Abstract Black & White, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

I hiked the final mile of the trail back to the car.  The parking area that had been so stuffed with cars when we came in was more than half empty at this point–not a shock given the time of day (it was now, at most, an hour until sunset).  I half expected to see Jason back at the car but he wasn’t there.  I didn’t have the keys so I put my pack and tripod on the ground and munched on some trail mix and drank some water while I waited.  Lots of people came to their cars in small groups, but I still didn’t see Jason.

The wind had dropped significantly at this point and the woods to the side of the road was enveloped in soft light.  I noticed for the first time just how nice the color–albeit entirely yellow–was in this area, so I walked about 50 feet, found a composition I liked, and made a few images.

Autumn Woods Intimate, Chapel Area, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Autumn Woods Intimate, Chapel Area, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Autumn Woods Intimate, Chapel Area, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

I kept looking for Jason and, finally, I saw him coming up the trail, through the parking area in the direction of the car.  After a few moments of discussion, where we told one another how much time we’d spent down near Chapel Beach looking for one another, we figured out what must have happened.  There are apparently two trails that course between Chapel Beach and Grand Portal Point, and they parallel one another, one that runs right along the bluff (which is the one that I was on for most of the time) and another that runs a bit inland (which Jason had been on most of the time).  I told him that I’d gone all the way out to the Point in search of him.  He said he never went that far.  We were clearly on separate stretches of trail, out of eyesight, at the same time.

It was moments before sunset.  We definitely weren’t going to make it to any photo-worthy spot by then, given where we were, the time, the condition of the road we still had to traverse and the distance we’d have to travel.  As I pointed out at the time, it wasn’t much of a loss, in all likelihood; the sky was now entirely clear.  On the way out, just before we lost the light entirely, we saw what appeared to be an interesting spot in the forest, along the roadside, and stopped for about five minutes to make a parting image or two to close the day.

Autumn Woods Intimate, Chapel Area, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Sun-Kissed Treetops, Chapel Area, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan


Responses

  1. Glad the tire was able to be repaired. Some of you photos reminded how much I love misshapen old wood of trees, dead or alive. I recognized some of the locations from past posts.

    • Thanks, Jane.

  2. Kerry, I love your shots of Chapel Falls. The foliage had hardly begun to turn when we visited last year. For some reason, Scott Falls wasn’t on my list of waterfalls to visit, so I’ll have to see how it looks next time. Nice treatment of those falls, too.

    Your experience with crossed signals with your companion reminded me of a trip some years ago where one member of our party took a different trail to the destination and was so late arriving that our car was locked overnight in the parking garage and we were unable to return to our lodging for the night. Quite a mess. I’m glad your experience wasn’t as problematic.

    Keep your posts coming, I really enjoy them.

    • Thanks, Steve.

      Later in the trip we ran into a photographer who had been artist-in-residence at Pictured Rocks a few years earlier and knows the region about as well as anyone. He said that the color around Chapel Falls at that time was “about as good as it gets.” It’s another indication about the vagaries of timing; peak color near the Superior shoreline was much, much earlier last year than usual (as I’ve mentioned a few times in this series of posts). My previous visit to the Chapel area, back in 2008, was similar to yours; there was almost no color change at all, late in the first week of October; that’s typical. My guess is that, in the average year, the foliage around Chapel Falls doesn’t peak until close to the middle of October.

      Your story about being unable to get out of a parking garage due to signals being crossed…I won’t say that’s the worst case scenario (I can definitely imagine even worse things happening), but it’s got to be at the wrong end of the continuum.

  3. Lovely place. Lovely weather/light. Lovely images. 😍

    • Thanks very much!

  4. Looks like I’ll have to settle for visiting the UP through your lens. Even before the pandemic, the perimeter of our travels was narrowing down to west of the Rockies. Can’t really complain since that still gives us gorgeous seascapes and mountains and vast deserts. It’s good to pop in to see what you’ve been up to.

    I drove from El Paso to San Antonio back in my carefree younger days, but not to be countenanced these days. 😏
    Hope you’re keeping well! 😷

    • Hi Gunta, good to hear from you.

      Yeah, the toll of the pandemic knows no bounds; that certainly includes my traveling, for anything (including, but by no means limited to, photo trips: a return to Alaska last year was postponed and may very well have to be quashed again this year, just for starters). Obviously that pales in comparison to the impact its had on many others, but it does demonstrate just how far reaching the effects have been.

      Be careful out there!

  5. […] by the issues with the car and the far less than optimal weather conditions, as related in the most recent chronicle.  The weather, in fact, had been sub-optimal throughout virtually the entire trip, excepting the […]

  6. […] but never did.  This was Au Train Beach, about a mile west of the Scott Falls location we had visited two days earlier.  The forecast was not encouraging…again.  It was cold, extremely windy (25-30 MPH, with […]


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