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    October 2012
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Fall Color in the “UP” – 2012 – Part 2

Pete’s Lake a.m. Twilight
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula “UP,” (for the uninitiated: pronounced “you – pee“), has one of the most diverse ecosystems on our planet. Surrounded on three sides (obviously – it’s a peninsula – 🙂 ) by 3 of the 4 largest inland lakes in the world, it contains climax hardwood forest, new growth conifer forest, swamps, fens, mountainous ground, layered sandstone formations, iron and copper deposits, and sandy beaches. Really freshwater oceans, the Great Lakes are among the world’s largest continental inland lakes, with Superior, which borders the entire Northern border of the UP, being the largest in the world, and Huron and Michigan being 3rd and 4th largest, respectively. This creates interesting and unique climatic, geographical and geological conditions.

To the west, the land becomes semi-mountainous, with The Porcupine Mountains, and Brockway Mountain up in the Keweenaw Peninsula. To the east, the UP’s only true natural Fen runs along the northern shore of Lake Huron. At the northeast extreme, The Upper Tahquamenon Falls is the largest drop, other than Niagara, west of the Mississippi. There are great lakeshore destinations which feature sandstone formations, and open, hilly farmland to the south, especially on the Garden Peninsula, which sweeps down into Lake Michigan.

But perhaps the most diverse and interesting mix of opportunities for the photographer, particularly in peak foliage season, is the area between Marquette and Grand Marais. About half-way in between, is the small, UP community of Munising. Other than a Kimberly Clarke paper mill and some lumbering, Munising’s primary “industry” is recreation and tourism. It is a “gateway” to The Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore which extends roughly from Munising east to Grand Marais, and The Hiawatha National Forest, to its immediate South. The Western Unit Headquarters for the Hiawatha NF are in the heart of Munising. My week this year was spent headquartered in Munising. We arrived on Saturday, September 29. The drive up from Saginaw through Northern Lower Michigan was eye-opening, showing the most spectacular range and brightness of color I have seen in that part of the state in 20 years. It was a harbinger of things to come.

There is much “magic” that stems from NF Highway 13!

National Forest Road H-13, one of the main, paved forest highways in the Hiawatha National Forest, runs some 40 miles from U.S. 2 at the south side of the UP from the shores of Lake Michigan, up into Munising, on the north side, on the shores of Lake Superior. When I have time, I always travel this road to Munising. There is much “magic” that stems from NF Highway 13! We arrived in Munising, and I drove Jim Moore, our workshop leader, around to some of the shooting spots. We were pleased with what we saw and agreed that some of the foliage, while very nice, was not quite “at peak.” We were hopeful for the week. We got great weather from Sunday – Thursday morning and then things deteriorated some (but not enough to keep me from staying on until Saturday morning). During the week we watched it peak about Wednesday – and then begin to dim just a bit. This was a fun phenomena for me, and one which I had not experienced since living on the farm in Vermont over 35 years ago. I am usually moving so much, trying to find foliage and shots that I don’t get to watch the progression all in one place.

Red Jack Lake; Hiawatha NF
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

October photographers are usually seeking fall foliage to shoot. The diverse and unique ecosystem in the UP makes it, in my view, one of the best venues for foliage. This is especially true within the Hiawatha National Forest. There are an abundance of hardwood species in the forest, and it is littered with small ponds (“lakes), which are uninhabited and surrounded by the hardwoods. In the early hours of the morning, and the waning hours of the afternoon, on those windless days, wonderful reflections are possible. And often during those same periods (especially in the morning), the climatic conditions at this time of year creates ethereal fog rising from these lakes, adding interest to the images.

The workshop officially began on Sunday afternoon, so Jim and I left the hotel about 4:30 Sunday morning and headed down into the forest for Pete’s Lake. Pete’s Lake is a large, NF campground, but it closes on October 1, and is essentially deserted this time of year, except for a few foolish souls out in the freezing twilight with tripods and cameras :-). There is a nice fishing pier (handicap accessible) which juts well out into the lake, allowing views to the east, west and south. This make’s Pete’s Lake a pretty good location for shooting at both “magic hours.” It is one of the bigger NF lakes and conditions must be still to get the desired reflections though. This morning, nature not only cooperated, but it was the morning following the full moon. I had an opportunity to make the a.m. twilight image above, with the near full moon in the composition (and others with the moon in the sky and reflection in the water), a first for me.

The diverse and unique ecosystem in the UP makes it one of the best venues for Fall foliage

Sunrise; Mocassin Lake
Hiawatha NF
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

On Monday morning, the first “official” shoot for the group, we arrived at Mocassin Lake, just across H-13 from Pete’s Lake in the freezing pre-dawn. When the sun finally lit the horizon, a beautiful bank of steam/fog rising about the lake surface shrouded the colorful foliage on the distant bank. As you can see, we were already fighting the breeze for mirror reflections. Nonetheless, I like this image as well as any I have ever made of Mocassin.

Sunset on Red Jack Lake; Hiawatha NF
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

Mocassin and Pete’s are the proverbial “low-hanging fruit.” Both are well-marked, easily accessed from your car off H-13, and thus, relatively popular spots (though it is pretty unusual to find any but the most hardy, dedicated soul there before sunrise). A little local knowledge gets you some really prime opportunities, however. If you are willing to venture off the pavement, this part of the NF is riddled with NF Roads, most of which can only be described as “two-track.” However, most of them are easily drivable with a normal-clearance passenger vehicle, at reasonable speeds. I have been on a couple that I questioned whether I would re-emerge (and kept humming the theme from “Deliverance” in my head), but have yet to be on one I could not drive with my Ford Taurus sedan. A higher-clearance 4WD or AWD would certainly be fine and maybe give some peace of mind. But in order to get some great foliage reflection shots and just foliage in general, you will have to be adventurous.

About a mile back in on one of these hard packed sand, “two-track” roads are Red Jack Lake and Council Lake. What I have learned about both is that they both (as do many of the NF lakes) have a general east/west orientation. Many of them are approached (usually by boat launch access) from the south. This means there are definitely both early a.m., and late afternoon photo ops on most of them. We shot at Red Jack both in the morning and the evening, with wonderful results both times. While we were only at Council during the later morning hours, it was clear to me that there were afternoon/evening shots there, too.

In order to get some great foliage shots, you will have to be adventurous

Another “lesser known” and very small NF Lake, near the same area is Irwin Lake. I made this shot there early on Friday morning (after the group had left). Further back on a road that is one of those “Deliverance-conjuring” roads is Fish Lake. Although I have driven back there 2 times, I have yet to get there in appropriate lighting conditions. But it is a lake with a small island out in the middle and some interesting compositional opportunities (probably with a long lens).

Irwin Lake; Hiawatha NF
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

On Friday afternoon, in overcast conditions, I struck out for Grand Marais, and took a road about 3 miles back in to the Beaver Basin Overlook. The sign at the beginning warns that it is a “primitive” road. It has been dry this summer and fall, and I didn’t have any problem negotiating road, but it was very rough, stony, and had several low wet spots that could be problematic in less dry conditions. I wouldn’t recommend it without a 4×4 or other high-ground clearance vehicle. But back in, there is a wonderful “long-view” of the basin and the distant Lake Superior. There is also a nice access-road (official access only) that serves as a hiking trail down to Little Beaver and Beaver Lakes, and eventually to the Lake Superior Shore. It is a long hike down into the basin, so keep in mind that if you hike it, you will have to hike back upand out. The soft, filtered, overcast light made nice conditions for this forest-color image.

Forest Color; Beaver Basin Wilderness
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

(next week: National Forest Roads)


7 Responses

  1. These pictures in the you-pee are great. I really like the one of the red jack lake. Your pictures are super, Andy!

  2. Andy, looks like you’ve got a good start on “The Photographer’s Guide to Michigan Upper Peninsula”. Nothing like adding another book to your resume!

    Should we try to photograph the UP together next year?


  3. Andy, your evaluation of the U.P. as a “…diverse and unique ecosystem…one of the best venues for foliage…” is the same impression I observed as you introduced me and the photo group to the area. I did not expect such diversity. It is a primary reason that I will return again next year to the U.P. for autumn color. I know that I just barely scratched the surface of what the area offers!


  4. Thanks, Jim. Looks like I, too, will return to the U.P. in 2013, as my friend, Al and I will plan to shoot together, hopefully with Rich joining us. We will probably go to the Western side, since I haven’t covered it as thoroughly as I would like and it is just a bit closer for him. But perhaps we can find a way to rendezvous for at least part of the time.

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