The Divorced Parenting God’s have smiled on me this winter.
Not only have a good portion of the school snow days fallen on my parenting time, but I also got the kids’ midwinter break and the Friday they’ve got off school for parent-teacher conferences. In preparation for this boon of potential winter fun time with the kids I spent weeks running around, meeting various strangers from Facebook to collect enough snow shoes for a mini “up north” vacation.
Local City Park (without kids)
Two weekends ago we finally got a good solid dumping of snow here in lower Michigan. Okay, there’s already been some snow this winter but I was happy to have another heavy snowfall. (I think we got twelve to fourteen inches over a couple days.) While everyone else was complaining about it I was plotting and executing some snow related adventures.
Okay, maybe adventure is too strong of a word. Really we just went for a winter hike around the city park to try out our snow shoes in some deeper snow.
We trekked across the very frozen lake to a couple tiny islands and then around the oldest corner of the adjacent cemetery.
The verbosity of some of these old tombstones is truly magnificent. One of them simply said “MOTHER”. To be fair, almost all the lettering had eroded so maybe it had said more at some point. And people definitely did not live as long at the turn of that century so maybe they just didn’t have time to waste putting more words on their tombstones. YOLO and all that.
After about an hour of leisurely strolling around on the snow my guy & I sledded down the hill a couple times and grabbed some hot chocolate and dinner before I had to get to work for the night. I was a little tired later but it was worth it to get out and play in the snow.
The little guy tried out his new snow shoes in the yard.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
I had never seen or even heard of the “ice caves” that form in the Munising area of the upper peninsula of Michigan but my boyfriend visited them years ago & told me about them. As soon as I knew they existed I wanted to go.
There happened to be a snow shoe race at Taquamenon falls (also in the Upper Peninsula) the weekend of the kids’ midwinter break. It was perfect! We’d go up Friday, stay near the falls & do the run then go up to Munising, see the ice caves & spend Saturday night there. Drive home Sunday evening. The kids still had Monday off school to …I don’t know, be lame teenagers.
Needless to say it did not go down that way.
First, that happen to be one of the busiest winter weekends in the U.P.; we couldn’t find a hotel near Taquamenon OR Munising for either, let alone both, nights. (Instead we stayed in Manistique.) Second, we left later than anticipated. AND third, my kids decided to be lame teenagers ahead of schedule and started balking at everything and complaining when we were trying to leave on Friday.
After dramatic pouting from the daughter we finally hit the road around 7pm and arrived Up North around one in the morning. We had to summon the hotel owner from their near by home (and bed) to check in; it was close to two in the morning by the time we were getting ourselves to sleep. In the morning a combination of getting to bed super late, being over an hour from the snow shoe race, & the crabby state of the teenagers (who we had planned to leave at the hotel while we did said race) dissuaded us from doing the race. Instead we decided to head to breakfast and then Munising for the day to explore some ice formations.
They just exude enthusiasm don’t they?
Before we went Up North exploring I had done some online exploring and learned that there were two popular sites for ice “caves”. One was on a small island roughly a mile out into Lake Superior. The article I found cautioned against hiking over the frozen lake unprepared, it warned of hidden thin spots in the ice and crazy shifting waters stealthily weakening it from underneath. That was enough to scare me off; I was more interested in the safe inland formations of the Eben Ice caves that required a hike across firm (but also snow covered and frozen ground) to get to them.
I hinted to my boyfriend about my desire to avoid plummeting through the ice to our cold, watery deaths by keeping all our feet solidly on the earth and he did what any good boyfriend would do: Tricked me into facing my fears.
Just kidding. I did mention that I was wary of hiking over the frozen lake but when we left the hotel in Manistique Saturday morning I told him we should probably hit the coolest spots first. That way if the teenagers suddenly got crabby again we would have at least seen that.
We drove along a surprisingly crowded little road until it ended at a couple parking lots and got out to see this:
(Actually this was taken after we started hiking; we were almost a third of the way out at this point.)
I questioned whether or not it was safe to hike across what I thought was a bay until my boyfriend pointed out the groups of other people coming and going and the well worn path through the deep snow that covered the ice. Obviously we went for it.
The snow on the lake was pretty deep and while there was a trodden path, the snow shoes still helped make the 0.70 mile trek out there easier.
He didn’t think it was easier with snow shoes but, trust me, it really was.
The frozen lake was impressive in and of itself. Before we knew it those sort of cool giant icicles were amazing shelves of ice, water that looked like it had been hit by Elsa from the movie Frozen and halted mid fall, suddenly finding itself a solid.
Frozen waves. How cool is that?!?
We abandoned our snow shoes and climbed around behind the ice shelves.
This was one of the coolest things I have ever seen!
The kids were duly impressed, even the two teenagers. And remember the ice climbing festival that prevented us from staying closer to Munising? Well, it also gave us the opportunity to watch these random folks climb the ledges of hanging icicles.
I’m pretty sure my youngest wants a set of ice hooks & cleats now. And it turns out this was the “dangerous” “mile” hike across frozen Lake Superior that that website had warned me about. I think they oversold the danger aspect a bit. And maybe the mile part too; Garmin GPS told me we hiked 2.13 miles in the two hours we spent exploring.
After we left the main attraction of the ice cliffs we found another national parks site. This one boasted a waterfall and only an 800 foot hike.
The different textures in the ice were beautiful and amazing. Who knew water could find so many configurations to freeze in?
Frozen Lake Michigan
Our second and last morning of the trip started with a healthy serving of requests to leave asap. One teenager wanted to get home to hang out with friends and the other just wanted to be in her room. (Seriously, kids?) We did not acquiesce and instead went to the Lake Michigan shoreline in Manistique where we were staying.
Just breaking the ice a little.
Those hills are not sand mounds, they’re frozen waves complete with ingrained sand.
Lake Michigan was not as solidly frozen as Lake Superior. The inlet had almost a gradient of textures leading out to the active water.
Everything from frozen foam…
To slushy clouds…
And piles of frozen glass…
A few of us attempted a walk along the pier to the lighthouse.
Which ended up being an ice climbing alongside the pier.
This is as close as we got.
After an hour of playing on the beach it was time to head home.
Despite the teenage grumbling and complaining everyone had a good time and we were all blown away by the natural phenomenon of the Great Lakes in the winter. I will definitely try to make a winter up north trip a reoccurring event!