Predator Round-Up, Sea Cave Mayhem, Playing Hookie and an Unwarranted Pity Party

Newsflash: Last week I had an unwarranted pity party. It started during my 5-hour drive home from the UP after a weekend of bonding with women at a 3-day Becoming an Outdoor Woman camp (more on that experience in a different post). I left the camp recharged and excited about life. But then, I had a bout of road rage with an irrational SUV somewhere in God’s country. In the heat of the moment and cursing him out for almost running me off the road, I missed my turn. It was an important turn that resulted in my 5-hour drive being more like 6.5 hours… in a place where there is no coffee. Seriously, look at a map of coffee shops (or any shops for that matter) in the route from Big Bay, Michigan to Iron River, Wisconsin. It is dismal at best. (Although Mount Huron Bakery in Ishpeming and Marquette makes up for it… almost).

About this time, I came upon a small town where trucks lined the highway on both sides for as far as the eye could see. My heart jumped for joy believing that any winter festival that draws this many visitors, must be stocked with some fabulous food and a well-kept porta potty. Imagine my surprise when I learned at the epicenter of this UP traffic jam was dozens of dead animals hanging from a poll. It turns out this winter festival was in fact the Kenton Predator Round-Up in which sportsman harvest as many bobcat, coyote and fox over a 3 day period as possible. Despite my curiosity, I opted to not stop at Hoppy’s Bar in Kenton.

It was about this time, something in me snapped. A full-fledged pity party began. I was irritated. I missed my son. I wanted to be vacationing somewhere warm, drinking something indulgent, and sporting cute summer sandals instead of oversized fishing boots. By the time I got home, my mood had only lightened somewhat. Then I logged onto Facebook and saw friend after friend posting photos from somewhere other than here. I was instantly jealous.

This sour mood continued for a few days. And then this happened. A co-worker was connecting with me on a project and mentioned she was taking the rest of the day off to hit up the Apostle Island Mainland Sea Caves. The sun was out. Temps were above freezing. I had no pressing deadlines. So, after a few logistical phone calls, I crashed her party and checked out of work a half day early. For those of you who know me, this is unprecedented. I’m a planner. I don’t randomly use my precious vacation time for spur of the moment events. This was huge (my life is in fact this boring).

Yes, the Sea Caves were busier than they’ve ever been when I’ve been there. Yes, I was a bit appalled by the number of folks I saw talking on their cell phone or shooting selfies even though I’m totally guilty of doing at least one of these things. But, somewhere along the way my mood lightened. I discovered that my life doesn’t involve cocktails on the beach…. right now. But man I’m blessed. I won’t bore you with the details but suffice it to say, crabby pants was squashed by the blessings in my life.
Looking back, it frustrates me that it took a day on a frozen beach to put things back into perspective. But then again, if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have gotten these great shots. And for those who missed the memo, the caves are now closed for the season. So for all those folks sipping margaritas in the blistering sun, I’ll see that margarita with a locally made mead and Mother Nature’s glory.

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The Ugly Truth: My Real Year-in-Review

stevebethThis fall I contacted the talented Hannah of Stonehouse Photo to do family photos. I envisioned a warm, sunny day along the shores of Lake Superior with vivid red maples and golden oaks gently blowing in the background creating a backdrop Hallmark would envy.

I should have known better. Instead, Lake Superior dealt up an early winter storm complete with 40 mile an hour winds whipping off the Lake pelting tiny icy shards of rain into our skin. A grey sky and thick fog camouflaged any hint of fall color. Our photo shoot lasted all of 10-minutes before we surrendered to Mother Nature and made a pact to try again next year.

If nothing else, we could at least check off laughing in the rain on the shores of Lake Superior off our bucket list. The excursion, while fleeting, pretty much sums up how much of my year went. This was a year of humbling blunders for me where things never really worked out how I anticipated. I think motherhood does that to a person. Every time I thought I had things figured out, Jake reminded me that I in fact have no clue what I’m doing.

This, coupled with balancing an unexpected (and at time unmanageable) freelance boom, job transition, relational surprises and a variety of random setbacks, made for an interesting and somewhat messy year. I won’t lie. At times it was difficult. Downright depressing, frustrating and emotionally exhausting.

This is new for me—definitely a tougher transition than I expected. I like order. I like schedules. I like making to do lists so I can check things off. Instead, I am a planner operating for the first time ever without a 5-year plan. Heck, at this moment I’d settle for a 5-week plan or actually remembering to get our daycare schedule consistently turned in on time.

If I wanted to be dishonest, this would be the part where I say but it was these moments that made the great moments that much sweeter. But, this isn’t the inside foil of a Dove chocolate folks. This is my life and this past year wasn’t that great or pretty.

But, I’m learning. I’m growing. Evolving. Discovering that perhaps for me, imperfection is quite possibly perfection in disguise. I just need to manage it a bit better.

This past year has taught me that sometimes messy is ok. The world does not in fact stop if you leave dirty dishes in the sink and instead stack blocks only to have your son sabotage your creation in an instant. Kind co-workers will in-fact pretend not to notice the handprints of oatmeal on your sleeve, the lingering smell of diaper cream on your hands despite washing them twice, or laugh in your face when you mention your need to go potty. Friends will not question your lack of logic or question your agenda as you navigate this turbulent chapter of adulthood of just figuring things out.

While complex and messy and scary at times, life really can be as simple and amazing as a great cup of coffee and 5-minutes of solitude on your deck rediscovering how lucky and blessed you truly are in life. It helps when this solitude is interrupted with a strong, genuine, unconditional bear hug and a deep belly giggle from your son. While this year was trying at times, it was less trying thanks to the amazing people I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by. They keep me grounded, remind me on the tough days that things will in fact get better, and love me for who I am. It is pretty awesome.

Most importantly, I’ve learned this year the great thing about life is it is always a work in progress and you always get another chance to get it right. So, here’s to getting it more right than wrong in 2015. Granted, I’m not exactly sure what all that will entail for me next year. Similar to last year, I have no real New Year’s Resolutions. I don’t anticipate any major self-improvements or earth shattering achievements other than continuing to do my best. I will also return to running with a goal of the Journeys Half-Marathon in Eagle River in May. I know by including this in the post, I will in fact cross the finish line. The question is can I break that 3-hour goal I set last year. As part of this, it’d be great to shed some weight and improve my overall health. Yes. I know this is a bit cliché on New Year’s but honestly, who doesn’t want to look and feel better?

Beyond that, who knows what the next 12-months or 12-minutes of life will bring. Realizing this is an achievement in itself for me. To everyone who has been a part of this past year of my life, thank you for taking this wild ride with me!

The Wild Waterfalls of Iron County, Wisconsin – Part III

The tough ones.

I’m using tough in a generic sense. The falls I was able to find weren’t necessarily difficult to access or remote in terms of mileage on foot. However, they either involved fleets of steps, vague directions, or a lack of signage making it a bit of a hit or miss in terms of finding. That said, each of these falls is definitely worth visiting. Each ones presents an impressive view and in many cases an opportunity to enjoy the falls in complete solitude. Despite it being fall peak, these falls were not overly packed. In fact, with the exception of Potato River Falls, I was a lone hiker at each of these falls.

Potato River Falls
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This falls barely makes this list. The primary reason is the falls involves at least 150 steps to and from the parking. The waterfall is a 90-feet drop on Potato River near Gurney. The falls is located within a town park that has rustic picnic campsites. I also found the outhouse to be particularly photogenic among the golden leaves. Once in the park, you have two main options. The first is to head to a nearby observation deck where you can see the river valley. This does not provide great views of the falls, though. From there, you can take a footpath to the dramatic descent down. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne thing worth noting on this staircase, the step sizes vary dramatically depending on the steepness of the grade. In some areas I felt I could skip two steps each time while in other areas, a single step was the height of three. This is something to watch if you are use to uniform stair steps. In terms of finding the park, it is relatively easy. Take Highway 169 South from US 2 through Gurney. Turn west on Potato River Falls Road and drive approximately 1.5 miles. The park is clearly labeled.

Peterson Falls
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPeterson Falls was my first stop of the day. At first glance, I thought this waterfall would be simple to find. To be frank, it ended up being way more complicated than it needed to be due to false directions. Both the Iron County website and Travel Wisconsin provide directions that reference an Ero Nasi Construction sign. I’m not sure at what point in time this sign existed and/or if I’m blind but after multiple drives along Highway 2 outside of Hurley and never noticing this large construction sign, I finally veered off highway 2 in frustration at Stoffel’s Country Store. It was here I noticed a dirt road heading the approximate direction of the falls. At the intersection of 2 and this road, a white TODD sign indicating Peterson Falls. Once you find that road, you drive approximately .3 miles. Directions imply a small turnaround. Highlight the word small. I missed what is the turnaround and ended up driving on what I can only describe as an ATV trail. Keep in mind this is literally 1 mile from a major state highway. Regardless, it definitely felt remote. Once parked, the rest is easy.

A spacious footpath through a dense forest leads you directly to the East Branch Montreal River. From there you follow the path and river upstream to Peterson Falls. It is a 35-feet drop and takes about 5-minutes to walk to. From there, you can continue along the footpath for additional views of the river. I followed the path for approximately 25-minutes before turning back due to a mixture of rain sleet. In addition to a couple of waterfall snapshots, I also enjoyed the side pools of water filled with swirling fall leaves.

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Spring Camp Falls
Since several folks have written about this waterfall, I have to believe the falls does in fact exist. However, despite my best intentions to find this remote waterfall I certainly could not find it. It doesn’t help that the Travel Wisconsin website cuts off its directions mid-sentence. My secondary source from the County was more helpful but I was unable to find East Branch Road. Or, if I did, I didn’t know it was East Branch Road and the rustic path signs never came into my view. After more than an hour of driving up and down gravel roads in this approximate area I gave up. Next time, I may have to use a GPS.

Foster Falls
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn the flip side, finding Foster Falls was a walk in the park compared to Spring Camp. The falls is somewhat remote in the sense that you are once again driving on unmarked roads. However, this waterfall has just one dirt road you travel down making it easier to navigate. Also, the road abrubtly ends when it intersects with the Potato River. From there, you just put your car in reverse until you see a dirt road on your right. You travel down this road right into a remote riverside campsite. Once parked, you can hop out and hear the falls. Follow your ears to Foster Falls. The 25-feet falls is the only thing you’ll hear in this country. Not much for traffic, homes, hikers, anglers. I was not only the lone sightseer on this fall Saturday afternoon but the only car on Sullivan Road. To get there, go north from Upson on Highway 122 for 5 miles. Turn left on Sullivan Road (this was not marked when I drove so be sure to use your mile gauge) and proceed 2 miles until the road abruptly runs into a raging river. When you get there, you’ll know you’ve gone far enough.

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Wren Falls
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOf all the waterfalls in Iron County that I visited, this was my favorite. I’m not sure why. Perhaps, it was the drive in. It was particularly picturesque. It was also the most adventuresome portion of my journey. My 10-hour journey took place immediately following a solid 12-hour rainfall. Many of the roads were muddy and at times had standing water that I was never quite sure about. Each time, though, my trusty Subaru plowed through… except this time. During my drive to Wren Falls, I hit a particularly muddy patch of road. Unfortunately, my car halted. I’m confident, with a little acceleration motivation, I would have continued along my journey. However, it was during this time that a lone truck drove around the bend. In it, a man determined to rescue the damsel in distress. As someone who has watched a few too many after school specials, not to mention my remote location, it caused me great angst. Once standing in the muddy waterhole knocking on my car window and gesturing he could help, I decided to accept his help. In addition to being quite nice, he was very effective in getting my Subaru back on dry land. The timing was odd given he was the first and last truck I saw in this portion of my journey, but sometimes that’s how life works. I continued along until I hit the hairpin turn where a center road would take me to the entrance of the trail to the falls.

To my surprise, when I hit this turn, a large sign summoned me to the falls. The only downside – it was a rusted out sheet of metal, filled with bullet holes and spray painted Wren. It didn’t exactly scream pristine waterfall but at least it verified the directions. Once parked, I hopped out my car and made my way to the falls. The falls, which is located on the Forks River, is 12-feet. While this may not sound large, the vantage point from where you can see the falls makes if feel much larger. While there isn’t much in terms of a footpath to walk along the river, the natural rock formations lend themselves to scrambling up and down over ridges providing a number of angles to look at the river. In every case, the view doesn’t disappoint. I ended up spending nearly an hour taking in the sites of this waterfall and wandering through the woods. For those wanting to spend even more time exploring, a primitive campsite positioned just a hop, skip and jump from the falls await. To get there, head 5.5 miles south on US 2 on Highway 169. Take a left turn on Vogues Road. Travel about 3.5 miles until a hairpin turn. From here, take the center road for about 1 mile where the road forks. You can hike up the hill to the primitive campsite and waterfalls from there. (I missed that part of the directions though, and drove which is also a possibility. In all honesty, it is very easy to mix up ATV trails and dirt roads in this country).

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The Wild Waterfalls of Iron County Wisconsin – Part II

The easy ones.

Iron County has no shortage of water. The county boasts 300 crystal clear lakes covering 34,000 acres. To the north, the county line is Lake Superior. This creates the perfect storm of waterfalls—some easier to access than others.

Upson Falls:
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUpson Falls is located within a well-maintained town park. The falls is a mere 18 feet drop along the Potato River but has picturesque river views that you can access via a rugged walking trail. In terms of amenities, there are a couple of shelters, grills, camping spots and a permanent out building with bathroom facilities. To access the park, take Highway 77 into Upson. Turn north at Upson Town Park. This particular waterfall is well signed.

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Gile Falls:
In full disclosure, I did not photograph or see this waterfall due to torrential rain. However, I did find the parking area and view the nearby Gile Flowage. Given its proximity to Upson Falls, I thought this was worth mentioning. This is a beautiful flowage with a modern park, boat launch and amenities. According to the Iron County website, the falls include a 15 foot drop on the West Branch of the Montreal River. To access, take Highway 77 into Montreal. Turn left of Kokogan and then right onto Gile Falls Street.

 

Superior Falls:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASuperior Falls hugs the Wisconsin/Michigan border. It is an impressive waterfall and at least during my viewing, a popular spot for anglers. The waterfall itself is a 90 foot drop of the Montreal River. It is the final drop the river makes before heading into Lake Superior. The falls is located next to an Xcel Energy dam. There is a dirt parking lot. The walk down to the falls is a bit steep and rather than stairs, it is a mix of cement, dirt and gravel along what I imagine service vehicles could drive down. There is a rope you can grab as a hand railing. Once at the bottom, go behind the Xcel dam along a trail and head upstream. Within minutes you’ll be at the falls. If you head the other direction, you can enjoy an expansive and untouched view of Lake Superior and its shoreline. There is not much in terms of picnic benches, rest areas, etc. To access the falls, take Highway 122 north off Highway 2 in the Saxon area. Travel approximately 4.7 miles and then turn left on a gravel road. This falls is marked with an Xcel sign.

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Kimball Falls
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’d be difficult to find an easier waterfall to access. Kimball Falls is located within a town park in Kimball, Wisconsin. The park has paved roads, gorgeous picnics areas, a small playground and restrooms. It is also next to the West Branch Montreal River. The Kimball Falls is small—a mere 10-feet drop. But, the park marks the perfect spot for an afternoon picnic. Little to no hiking is needed to enjoy this waterfall. And, it is just minutes off of Highway 2. To access the falls, turn south on Park Road just 3 miles outside of Hurley. The park is clearly marked. There is a small one land bridge that goes over the river. Those wishing to hike can follow the footpath upstream for additional scenic views of the river. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Read more about my adventure touring Iron County’s northern Waterfalls.

YOLO: The Wild Waterfalls of Northern Iron County, Wisconsin

This isn’t meant to be a political post. Over the course of the past year, news from Iron County has inundated my Facebook feed via a flurry of political, economic and environmental posts. The posts were often triggered by a proposed mine that may or may not ever happen. But buried within the posts were references to countless, unknown waterfalls that I hadn’t seen referenced on a regular basis in travel publications or local news stories.

Waterfalls mesmerize me. I’m naturally drawn to water and there is something cascading waterfalls that calms my soul. When my husband and I completed the Lake Superior Circle Tour, we stopped at every easily accessible waterfall on Lake Superior. We’ve done countless North Shore trips, day hikes and exploring in our neck of the woods to photograph just one more fall. By default, this included at least 2 waterfalls in Iron County. But, after some digging on the Iron County website and reading an article on the Travel Wisconsin website, I learned there were at least a dozen documented falls that were accessible to the public.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn a cool, crisp, and extra wet fall morning I decided to load up my trusty Subaru with my camera, snacks and a worn-out gazetteer to see just how many of these falls I could find. I had 10-hours and a full tank of gas. Given my time constraints and location (I live two counties away), I had to limit myself to northern Iron County. By my initial estimate, I thought I could photograph and explore seven waterfalls. My initial estimate was wrong. I didn’t factor in a torrential downpour, mismarked roads, flooded backroads, incomplete directions (thanks Travel Wisconsin), and at times a lack of common sense on my part.

By day’s end, I managed to discover and enjoy seven of the nine waterfalls and a gorgeous overlook where I enjoyed some serious windburn and a beautiful view of the Penokees. As usual, Mother Nature did not disappoint me. Many of these waterfalls were remote. Fall colors were at their peak with the rain and haze drawing out the vibrant golds and radiant reds against the grey sky. Swirling leaves, rapid waterfalls and solitude provided the perfect backdrop for the photographer in me to pause for a moment and reflect on what an incredible place I live.

The day held one flaw I saw repeated over and over again in the backroads of Iron County. A disconnect between man and nature. As someone who loves hidden gems, I understand the value of locals keeping some things private. I also get many of these backroads aren’t meant to be major thoroughfares for folks to travel. But, would a simple, occasional road name sign be so much to ask? Or better yet, could we limit the bullets to hunting animals (in-season of course) versus signs? As a lone, single women in God’s country, it is not very comforting to find the path to what you hope is a waterfall posted with a graffiti ridden bent metal sign filled with bullet holes. Last time I checked, this isn’t the wild, wild, west in the 1800s. It is disheartening to see remote, pristine campsites posted with a simple request of no cutting trees, next to a series of stumps. But I digress.

I end my day at Superior Waterfalls. Here the Montreal River makes a final 90-foot plummet before finding its way home to Lake Superior. It is an impressive way to end a day full of discoveries and a thunderous reminder that sometimes exploring in your own neck of the woods is as calming and invigorating as any far away place.

Over the course of the next days I’ll share directions and additional photos from this day but in the meantime, here are a few of my favorites:

 

Amnicon Falls: The Unassuming State Park of the North

Amnicon Falls is one of those often overlooked but beloved state parks near my home in northwest Wisconsin. The park is small compared to nearby Jay Cooke State Park. It is often lost in the hype and marketing of the North Shore and the countless parks and waterfalls that dot the shoreline. By some respects, it falls on the wrong side of the bridge. I have a hunch, if it were 15 miles northwest, it’d trump Gooseberry Falls in visitor counts and poised family waterfall photos.

Lucky for me, it isn’t. Instead, this unassuming park provides meaningful moments of reflection and an opportunity to pause in life. This past month was no exception. I awoke early on a Sunday morning to meet a friend for coffee in Duluth. As I pulled out of the driveway, I discovered I was ahead of schedule and had an extra 20-minutes to kill before breakfast.

As a new mom, these moments of unexpected solitude are prized possessions that compare to winning the lottery. I immediately knew I’d find myself at Amnicon State Park. I arrive at the park just before dawn. Despite the park being open for over an hour, the parking lot is empty. This is often the case when I visit these falls. I hop out of the car and take in what the park has to offer. By many definitions, it isn’t much. But for me, it is everything.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe park has no extensive trail system. There isn’t a single set of stairs to an expansive overlook of Lake Superior. The state hasn’t invested in a multi-million dollar interpreter center or deluxe restrooms. Instead, it is a simple park that encompasses an impressive portion of the Amnicon River. Within seconds of getting out of your car, you find yourself staring at a series of small but picturesque waterfalls. A few moments later, a wooden canopy crosses the river framing a set of lower falls that is a photographer’s dream.

amniconbridgeAccording to the Wisconsin DNR, the bridge is a Horton or bowstring bridge, named after Charles M. Horton. Horton patented the bridge structure while working in Duluth. In its prime, it was one of several highway bridges that allowed folks in northwest Wisconsin to connect to the west. Today, only 5 of these Horton bridges remain. The bridge moved the park in 1930. During the height of the Depression, the Brule CCC constructed the wooden roof that covers the bridge.

One can’t argue the park’s beauty. But what I love most about it is its simplicity. To me, parks exist for people to reconnect with nature—a simple time-out in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. In some cases, this means wilderness areas that can take days to explore or hikes that are measured in miles not footsteps.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI snap photos for a few minutes and then pause to take in the silence. Despite being just moments from Highway 2, the only sound is that of thundering water. I wander across the bridge and upstream to another set of falls. Snap, snap, snap. I have photographed these various streams of water countless times. I pause on the riverbank and take in this untouched beauty. I admire the neat line of pines and the golden needles that are starting to fall from their branches. After another few moments of pause, I make my way back to my car. As quickly as I arrived, I leave knowing this park will wait for me until next time.

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Dear Jake

Dear Jake,

I don’t scrapbook. I’ve discovered, despite my love for writing, I’m horrible at keeping up your baby book. But, like any new mom I managed to take lots of photos. I slapped them together in this video just in time for your birthday. I hope someday you can watch this and know you had an amazing first year surrounded by lots of people who love you.

It is crazy to think it has already been one-year. If I’ve learned anything this past year it is that I have no idea how to be a mother and that you have given me a new perspective on life. This past year you have taught me more than I could ever teach you.

A friend on Facebook (a social media tool that will be so old school by the time you can read this) recently posted a poem that came through on my feed this week that really hit home:

“Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is the way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.”

― William Martin, The Parent’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents

By all definitions, your dad and I strive to live an ordinary, grounded life. But, there is no doubt in my mind that we live in an extraordinary place surrounded by extraordinary people. You are one of those people.

I have no idea what the next year will hold for us. What I do know is that the first time you grabbed my finger, I truly understood the sheer force of unconditional love. I look forward to many, many more birthdays with you my little munchkin.

Love,

Mom