A Different Kind of Northern Exposure



Seriously.  Of course work had something to do with it, but it’s the opening day of bird season already!

Since I’m short on time sitting in a hotel room in the Florida Keys and avoiding much more important web related activities; here is a short photo summary of the 3.5 weeks I had of a U.P. summer.  Short as it was, I enjoyed every last breath of fresh air and each opportunity to sleep in a tent, play my guitar and spend priceless time with friends.

Returning back to the U.P. in August, I was hard pressed to think I could swing in UPO2011, let alone find time to camp with friends.  I got lucky and was able to stay home for a couple extra weeks.  Didn’t waste a tick of time either- getting outside and on the water, fishing on the mind and good weather to boot.

Upper Peninsula Photography

Dana Lake Morning

We spent a good weekend at one of my favorite spots, and the weather couldn’t have been better.  Catching craw-dads (err.. crayfish…) for the sole purpose of frightening 3 little girls was the call of the day.  They weren’t, however, too darn scared.   Mornings here must be what perfect was planned after.  Fog rolling around, up and across the water, sunshine and it’s warm early.   TJ had a bright idea to treat us to a night cap with some Jim in it.  Still, without fail and striking a new term to define being a badass (I’ll explain that some other time), George visited my screen door too damned early, eager to fish. George was having a moment, and in short order was making waves..  or was he??

Kayak Fishing

George debating whether to fish or return to the tent!

Of course what sharing of photos would be complete without a sunset?  While trying not to cause a ruckus during one of Alyssa Summers’ Yoga classes (hey, I was there to take pics), I snagged this shot looking west just as the class was ending.

Lake Superior Sunset

Sunset during a Munising Yoga Session

I think the month I was home set the record for ‘random invites’.  TJ was called up for a maintenance trip out to the North Light on Grand Island, and while there I didn’t mind taking photos of the 1974 FJ40 they use.  Bought new in Marquette (in 1974 for anyone who missed the obvious), the 40K miles on the rig are 99% island made.  The story of the family and their time on the island isn’t even blog material, it’s full-on book material.  Maybe one day I’ll get to talk with them more.  I was a bit overwhelmed by the background and history, and was only there for 2 hours.

Grand Island Munising MI

Grand Island North Light FJ40

Adding to random invites, my crazy ass cousin invited me along to fish for salmon that were (oh, how did he put it).. “leaping from the lake, eating everything in sight, practically jumping in boats!!!”…  Ok, not quite the quote, but that’s how he sold me on the trip. Had nothing to do with the idea of an epic sunrise, flat Lake Michigan waters and being on a boat with good friends 😉   I’ll admit to having the closest fish pole next to me receive the only bite of the day, but it was too damn early to catch fish and it simply got away.  (end of story, Brad).  The sunrise and the lighthouse made for the perfect summer morning photo (in my opinion, or course)

Manistique Lighthouse

Manistique Lighthouse @ Sunrise

I’m tellin’ ya.. there’s something about watching the sun come up and watching the sun set in the same day that invites optimism into your day and allows it to run on 93 octane. (even if you’re a mouth-breather).  I’m not a morning guy but each and every time I am up early I enjoy the hell out of it.  Reckon I’ll do that a bit more & more.

High Rock Bay Lake Superior Sunrise

High Rock Bay Sunrise during UPO2011

The UPO2011 trip was fantastic (oh come on, you know you liked it too…) and went by way too fast. I know we have some changes coming down the line, red tape has found us and our resolve will likely need some support for 2012.  I hope the good times of the last 4 years can continue to be shared with old and new friends.   I met some new friends this year, talented friends, and am looking forward to.. well, whatever we end up doing together.  Time will tell.

Gay Beach Michigan Jeep CJ5

Joe in the CJ on Gay Beach during UPO2011

Often, one image will remind me of so many things.  This is that image.  My good friend Steve and his son Kevin were gracious enough to invite me to tag along with life-long friends for a pontoon waddle along the PRNL.  This picture captured that day for me, and makes me appreciate meeting a mentor and photographic optimist, the type of friend that you don’t get to meet but few in a lifetime.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

A Cliff & A Cove

I can’t think of any other way to put it other than the best time I’ve had on Lake Superior since the days fishing with my Grandfather. Making memories and bringing good ones back… something about that that words can’t cover.

Doesn’t seem like much of a summer to look at but a half a dozen images.  I tell you what, it was good.  I appreciate my friends.  There was thought about including many of the good times with friends in this blog, but I’m not going to do that.  We had a lot of good fun, and you know who you are.  I think of the time spent on Facebook or idle on my butt and imagine that even more good fun could be had if I got back to the basics.  There’s a plan.

Not even 4 weeks of summer… but it was freaking awesome.   I gotta get back to work.

Take a picture,



U.P. Campgrounds Stay Open

By now most have heard that the 23 campgrounds in the U.P. that were marked for closure will remain open. Director Stokes is withdrawing the closure order.

Having camped at Cusino as a kid, I was a bit torn on the thought of the campgrounds closing. In early April I started circulating emails to see what could be done. It wasn’t long before I spoke with John Madigan who serves on the DNR Commission and realized that the local municipalities had several options to take over the campgrounds. Within days I was exchanging emails all the way up the chain of the DNR.

A brief run-down on how this works:

The DNR can more rapidly execute a partnership with a Local Unit of Government (LUG) when it comes to campgrounds. Schoolcraft county and several other LUG’s already have this relationship with the State. They are successful relationships, with positive cash flow. If a LUG isn’t found, the next step is essentially for the DNR to seek alternatives, such as putting properties out to bid, etc.

This is really what I see happening now. It seems to me that the DNR did everything it could to work with LUGs on the campgrounds, but got very little response. I spoke directly to multiple townships and counties that simply did not respond to the states request for action on the campgrounds. Instead, they found themselves in a political fire-storm with the general public simply expecting these campgrounds to just ‘remain open’. My worry is that there will be no support or movement to volunteer locally and the state will eventually decide to just close the campgrounds. Frankly, I can’t blame them. I’ve followed all of the complaining and postured expectations since the first mention of campground closures and am surprised at the result. I expected the DNR to close them if they didn’t establish local relationships.

My “DNR Campgrounds” email folder has several dozen emails in it. Every single email is positive in nature and helpful. I was pleasantly surprised at how responsive they all were. Unfortunately, it seems like the lack of local response and support will lead to the inevitable. These campgrounds aren’t going to stay open forever just because we want them to, or because our politicians make a few phone calls and hold a few meetings.

We need to accept that if we really do care about keeping the campgrounds open, then we need to volunteer at some level to assist. If we aren’t willing to do that, then we’re accepting the closure as the next step.

There are several campgrounds in the U.P. that aren’t closing. In my personal opinion, more than enough to sustain aggressive growth in camping numbers for several years. If we don’t find LUG support for the under-performing campgrounds, they will close.

I’ve spent over 2 months and several hours exchanging emails, putting campgrounds on commission agendas, and as a commissioner myself, moving to support a LUG agreement. As it turns out, the support we may think exists is actually not enough to keep the campgrounds open long term.

Am I hopeful that something changes, yes. Do I expect that change at the LUG level? No.

I expect that many of the 23 campgrounds will close next year.

I’ve started a Facebook Group and a discussion thread on our forum in support of the three campgrounds I worked on.  Anything I come across will be updated there.  Feel free to share your thoughts and ideas on what else can be done.

HDR Photo Processing

If you’ve spent even a small amount of time online looking at photos, you’ve likely stumbled across vibrant, almost 3d looking photos and figured out that you were looking at HDR Photography.

I’m not really interested in writing about HDR, whether I like it, hate it, etc, etc. I just wanted to give a quick blog that talks about how I process most of my HDR photos.

My process is actually quite simple, and I wish I had looked at doing HDR a few years ago.

Here’s how I do it:

Start by shooting RAW files in your DSLR.
Download the image to your computer. (I use a Mac, FYI).
Open the RAW file in Aperture. In Aperture, adjust the exposure to 1.00 and export the file to your desktop. Next, adjust another version to -1.00 and export that file to your desktop.

From here, I use Photomatix Pro and load the 3 bracketed image files. Select the +1, -1 and original exposures into Photomatix Pro. When you start messing around with this software you’ll find that you can do images that are way over the top, or quite subtle in processing. It’s your art, so I say do what you like. When you’re done messing with the pre-set options, as well as the manual adjustments, you simply process the HDR and save it to your desktop. It’s that easy.

File Examples:

HDR Processing Example

Original Exposure

-1.00 File Exposure

+1.00 File Exposure

And a lightly processed HDR file of the 3 above files run through Photomatix Pro:

HDR Processing

By no means am I a pro at HDR, or even photography. I do enjoy the seemingly limitless possibilities to mess around with Digital Photography. If you have a process that is different, or some constructive criticisms, I’d be happy to hear them.  Worth noting here is that in order to create an HDR of this image, I had to use the above process vs. bracketing in AEB on my Canon.  Moving objects don’t stay put too well for 3 identical exposures 😉

You can see some other HDR shots I’ve done in my HDR Album on Smugmug. If you’d rather view them in Facebook, here you go.

Oh, by the way, there’s an APP for this. (as if you didn’t know that already!)

Pure Michigan, Pure Adventure: Grand Island

A few weeks ago I was contacted by Northern Initiatives to help with a Pure Michigan visit. Travel writers from across the U.S. were coming to the Upper Peninsula to experience winter. Real winter.

The interest and their requested destination peaked my interest immediately. They wanted to visit Grand Island.
If you’ve been to or through Munising in the summer months you’ve likely looked out over Grand Island possibly unaware that a 13,000 acre adventure playground is at your fingertips.

Winter presents a handful of challenges. Challenge #1: Let’s make sure that ice is stable, eh!?! Challenge #2: Let’s not run into issues on our sleds out on Grand Island. Challenge #3: Let’s not run into issues on our sleds trying to figure out if the ice is stable… eh!?!?

You get the idea.
Two weeks prior to their visit I shot over to the Island with Kristian, Co-Founder of U.P. Overland. We made a counter-clockwise loop of the island, scouting the best ice and snow drift formations for the Travel Writers to see. The Grand Island cliffs offer ridiculous Ice Curtain experiences. 100+ feet of ice, often more with shelf ice. The Michigan Ice Fest was in town the first weekend of February and I was happy that some of the more adventurous climbers were able to bury their axes in Grand Island ice.

The island was phenomenal on our first scouting run. Kristian, whether he’ll admit it or not, loves to snowmobile.

Grand Island Snowmobiling

Kristian at Trout Bay

Last week, my brother came into town and I twisted his arm convincing him to play a support role for me to scout the island again. Running the outer rim of the island is actually a pretty quick task, I can knock it out in about an hour. My mileage the first scout was right at 26 miles, but that including some dinking around. When we set out last week my goal was to survey the drifts along the West Rim Trail, as well as figure out if we could get close to the shelf ice in Trout Bay.

The crossing from Grand Island Landing has been perfect for a few weeks. The trails were lightly traveled and powder filled two tracks from long forgotten logging jobs are all over the island. We made quick work of getting to the West Rim of Trout Bay.

Trout Bay Grand Island Munising MI

Joe looking out over Trout Bay

I knew if we had a great day of weather, the Pure Michigan guys would love the overlook over Trout Bay. Leaving it up to Mother Nature, we shot north, toward the North Light.

The North Light on Grand Island is an interesting conundrum. It’s posted private. I respect the property, but it’s ridiculously awesome and impossible to avoid. To that end, I can only hope that the owner understands this. Truthfully, I check the North Light each time to see if it’s been messed with. I wouldn’t hesitate to report anything fishy to the USFS. Unfortunately, year after year, more people head out to the North Light on their sleds. I’m concerned that eventually access will be physically blocked.

The North Shore is rugged. Battered, sand blown drifts, bare ground shy of snow due to unrelenting wind. The landscape never fails to remind me that I don’t ever want to be out there unprepared.

Grand Island Munising MI

A battered North Shore cove

At the furthest Northern shoreline, ice curtains often go the season untouched. I can imagine that many an ice climber would love the opportunity to rope in and climb back up this ice. I’d shuttle service out, just for the chance to photograph the fun.

Michigan Ice Festival Ice Climbing

Ice Climbing Dreams

From the North Shore, we make our way to the West Rim Trail. The North and West shore trails are awesome fun on sleds. The winds delivers impressive snow drifts, not to be taken lightly considering the proximity to an average 200 foot drop to Lake Superior!

West Rim Trail Grand Island Munising MI

West Rim View West

There are no words to describe the West Rim Trail. You just have to get out there and see it for yourself.

Grand Island Munising Michigan

Joe enjoying the view

The trip winds down the further south on the West Rim Trail you go. There are so many other areas of Grand Island to explore it is impossible to mention everything in this blog post. Echo Lake, in the center of Grand Island, is missing from many early maps of the island. Echo Lake offers some of the most remote and amazing fishing in the U.P. Touted as the ‘largest beaver created lake’, it is a must see.

Echo Lake on Grand Island Munising MI

Echo Lake iPhone Pano February 2011

Let’s not forget about the Pure Michigan guys. Dave Lorenz and Steve Cook met up with Kevin Cotey and myself at the Grand Island Landing at 9am on the 10th of February. Bill Ramsey, owner of Munising Snowmobile Rentals, had donated two sleds for the day for Dave and Steve to use. Kevin and I used our own personal sleds.

Steve hadn’t snowmobiled much. I offered simple advice; the sleds are engineered for this terrain, you’re just there for throttle control.

The Pure Michigan tour was awesome. We had a cold morning, but amazing weather, clear skies, bright sun and smooth trails. We stopped at Mather Beach to let Dave and Steve truly experience the rugged winter shoreline of Grand Island.

Mather Beach Grand Island Lake Superior

Pure Michigan on Mather Beach

At Trout Bay, we stopped to enjoy the silence, the sun rising and the glass flat waters of Lake Superior. Typically, the bay freezes thick enough for a couple weeks worth of ice fishing. That isn’t likely this year.

Trout Bay Grand Island Lake Superior

Trout Bay on Grand Island

I really enjoyed meeting Dave and Steve and showing them Grand Island by snowmobile. After our ride we met some of the other travel writers at the Falling Rock Cafe and Bookstore, where a great lunch was sponsored by the owners Jeff and Nancy Dwyer. We had good discussion with Dick Anderson of the USFS and Gregg Bruff of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

The feedback from the Pure Michigan experience in the U.P. was remarkable and we feel lucky to have been a part of it.
We’ll be sure to share links to articles and blogs as they become available.

Be sure to check out Interactive Discussion Forums to learn more about other adventure opportunities in the U.P.
You can learn more about Pure Michigan on the Pure Michigan Website, and Pure Michigan Blog.

If you live here, you’re lucky. Now Get Out!!

Fall Reflections in the UP

Maybe it is the vibrant colors of the changing leaves, or perhaps that smell of the forest in the fall.  No its the light with the sun getting lower to the horizon, signalling the steady approach of the long winter in the north country, that’s it.  Whatever triggers the feeling, there definately is a certain energy in the air in the fall in Michigan’s UP. 

There is a certain clarity in the air this time of year yeilding a view to the crisp horizon that is lacking in the spring and summer.  It gives a visual assault to the eyes combined with bright colors of the forest transitioning to it’s winter hibernation.  There is this sense of urgency to get outside and scoop up the last bits of nice weather and sunshine, soak in as much scenery as possible.

Folks are out and about in the woods, trampling back to their bow hunting stands, walking the two tracks in the early dawn with heavy dew dripping from the leaves searching for grouse. Lake Superior taunts with it’s manic mood swings, glass calm one minute, boiling, blowing, and crushing in the next.  Mountain bikers are stirring up a contrail of leaves as they glide over a carpet of gold and red.  Paddlers are getting in the last outings of the season while witnessing the water fould migrating and serenading.  Fall also is one of the best times to snap photos thanks to the great light and contrasts of colors and textures.  Nature is putting up some of it’s best artwork for us to enjoy.  We just need to get out and see it.  It makes us all look like great photographers!

As a resident of a comunity on the banks of the big lake (Superior is the big lake to us), the lake determines the mood on any given day.  It can make for an ominous, dark feel, threatening perhaps, or when it is feeling more generous a sense of calm serenity.  It adds depth to the experience of living or visiting the upper peninsula.  You never know what you are going to get.  It is one of the things that makes this area so unique in the world.

I hope you are squeezing in as much adventure this fall as possible, see you out in the woods!

We’re raising funds for cycling!

U.P. Overland has teamed up with U.P. AutoTech and the Alger County Chamber of Commerce executive director Char Carberry to help the $30K in 30 days fund raising effort.  This effort is needed to raise the match funds toward a grant that Munising was awarded for the initial phase of a comprehensive bike path in the community.

As silent sports enthusiasts we are delighted that Munising is pushing cycling throughout their community. This is a major step toward improving the trail network and perception of cycling’s impact on local economies in the Central Upper Peninsula.

You can help us!  Please consider any donation amount to paypal@upoverland.org

We will be building out a Wall of Fame listing supporters of this fund raising effort.
Thanks for considering 🙂

U.P. Overland & Tread Lightly. And Why…

Most within the overland community are familiar with Tread Lightly.   Now that Upper Peninsula Overland has joined Tread Lightly, it will become a stronger focus to improve communication between regions within the U.P. and work hard to improve our trail network.  A lot of good things can come from this, and we are hopeful that the team at Tread Lightly is ready to embrace a solid midwest partnership.  Look for U.P. Overland, as a newly formed non-profit, to collaborate with local governments and push Tread Lightly principles to improve public perception of Adventure Tourism!

We’re working on some monumental efforts for adventure travel in the U.P.  Nothing happens overnight, but UPO2010 is a good start! 😉