Portland: The City of Bridges

The city of Portland, Michigan is known as the City of Two Rivers. The Grand River runs through the city while the Looking Glass River intersects it. Portland is located about 15 miles east of Lansing. Within the city there are a few parks that link together through a riverwalk system that extends to both sides of the river, and has four different steel bridges crossing over the Grand River at some point. One of those bridges can be seen from the freeway of Interstate 96 heading toward Grand Rapids. I have seen it many times while driving on the freeway and always wanted to get a closer look. I drove out to Portland on a rather snowy day and was glad I got to experience the charm of this small city of Michigan.

I came in from Grand River Avenue and parked my car near Fabiano’s River House Bar and Grill and walked over a small bridge heading to Two Rivers Park. This small bridge stood over the Looking Glass River near the intersection of the Grand River. The park had a rather nice Veterans Memorial section. From this park you could walk along the Grand River to a bridge that crossed the Grand River to Water Street. Along the way were a couple of people getting in a winter jog. The bridge is one of four historical bridges within the city. This bridge is an old railroad bridge converted to a pedestrian bridge with steel beams rising over the concrete. I had the unique experience of seeing this bridge during the winter. The Grand River was flowing under slabs of ice that had been pushed together. It looked like there was an ice blockage within the river.

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I got into my car and then drove toward the freeway. I headed onto Market Street taking it to the freeway overpass. There I saw the historic steel bridge that I had seen so many times on the freeway. I walked across the bridge. The other side of the bridge led to private property along the Grand River. The best photo opportunity came from the side along Market Street. The view from the bridge opposite of the freeway was pretty spectacular. The ice frozen on the Grand River was cut in certain places. The pattern that the ice created was rather interesting. You could see a small island further down the Grand River. During the summer and fall seasons, this would be a great scenic viewpoint.

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I continued along Canal Street heading back toward Downtown Portland. The last bridge I stopped at was the historical Bridge Street Bridge (also known as Veteran’s Memorial Bridge). This bridge is a one way bridge leading right into Downtown Portland. Cars driving over this truss bridge drive on the metal grate deck of the bridge crossing over the Grand River. Within 100 feet from the exit of the bridge is Kent Street in the middle of Downtown Portland. I took a couple photos from the banks of the river, but the Grand River had frozen over a little bit onto the sidewalks near the bank areas. I did not want to fall through any ice, so I stayed at a safe distance. I ended up driving over the bridge which was not as scary as I thought it might be for a bridge with a grate deck.

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The city of Portland does have one more bridge further down near the high school. I did not get a chance to go out and see it. All the bridges are connected together through the Riverwalk and it would be a great way to see the city. My visit came during the winter and it was beautiful out there. However, I would recommend taking a walk along this trail system during the spring, summer or fall seasons. It was quite cold out when I went and the snow at times made it hard to see the views from the bridges. In spite of the winter weather, I was glad that I spent some time in Portland.

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An Attraction Left Behind

During the spring season the city of Holland, Michigan comes alive with vibrant tulips of different shapes and colors. The city hosts its annual Tuliptime Festival each year during the first two weeks of May. During this festival there are massive crowds of people that travel from within the state. There are also many that come from out of state to see all that Holland has to offer. Many businesses within the city thrive during this festival. One of the main attractions to see during the festival is Windmill Island. This park has a variety of tulips on their grounds but also has an actual working Holland Windmill that was brought over from the Netherlands. This attraction brings in several visitors during the month of May. It is a place that is worth going to when in the city of Holland.

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Once the Tulip season passes it remains open as there are still many things to see within the park. The Windmill serves as the main attraction of the park. There are gift shops and a replica Netherlands village where you can find wooden shoes and demonstrations on how to make those shoes. During the winter is when the park closes up for the season. It remains open for people to walk in and view the windmill, but nothing is opened up. There are no tours and the shops are closed up. This is the time of year where you see the Holland Windmill in a different light.

I went there to see the windmill during the winter season. As I entered the large parking lot on a Saturday afternoon I found that I was the only one there. During Tulip time the parking lot would often be full and the park would be packed. It was evident that Windmill Island was like a ghost town during the winter season. I got out and walked through the freshly fallen snow. The only person I passed was a person from some nearby apartments on a winter jog. I made my way through the park and through the snowy grounds. It appears that even during the off season the grounds crew does not do much plowing with exception of the main lot. I crossed the Dutch Bridge and made my way to the Windmill to get a few photos. It was one of the most eerie feelings I have had. When you are so used to seeing a place alive with activity, it was strange to see a desolate scene. At the same time everything seemed so peaceful. Winter brought about a new way of seeing the park. It was beautiful.

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I would highly recommend going to Windmill Island during the Tuliptime Festival to get the experience of the celebration of the city’s heritage. You will gain an understanding of the Dutch culture and the history of these hard working people. You will see the Tulips in all their vibrancy. If you were to visit the attraction this would be the time to do so. However, if you are not far away and have the chance, I also recommend seeing this attraction during the winter season. You won’t be disappointed.

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Perilous Adventures: Lake Michigan Ice

The winter season is always a fun one in Michigan. There are many great places to see and things to do. I have been fortunate enough to live close enough to Lake Michigan to visit many of the lighthouses frozen over during the winter. The freeze begins in December and on those particularly cold winters the ice ramps up along the piers of the lighthouses. There have been a couple years where the Great Lakes froze quite a bit along the shorelines creating a lot of shelf ice. When this happens it is like a totally different world that what you are used to during the spring, summer and fall seasons. It is a frozen oasis with many hills and cliffs to explore. There is a particular danger to this ice though. The water of the lake and its currents are in constant motion under the ice. In some cases the ice can break away and weaken. Shelf ice out on Lake Michigan has become increasingly dangerous and not many people are aware of the potential danger that lies out on the ice.

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In 2014 Lake Michigan had froze quite a bit. The shelf ice extended all the way past the lighthouse and pier. It brought many people out to the state park that year. Kids would sled down some of the ice hills near the base of the lakeshore. The ice was pretty solid there and they were pretty safe that close to the shoreline. Many photographers like myself were attracted to the lighthouses as that year was the most frozen I had seen the lake in a long time. Ottawa County Sheriff and and Coast Guard personnel were out there on a regular basis. They had knowledge that the currents below were moving some of the ice. They were advising everyone to stay off the ice beyond the end of the pier at outer lighthouse. They did not have to warn me twice, but I did see others ignore the warning. One person that ignored that warning not only put the himself in danger, but also put me in a dangerous spot as well.

In Case of Emergency

I was taking some photos of the outer lighthouse encased in ice along the edge of the pier. I was just on the very edge of what was described as the “safe zone”. While I was taking shots, another photographer from Wisconsin decided to ignore the warnings and go further out. His buddy stayed back. I watched him navigate out on the ice about 20 feet beyond the pier and lighthouse into Lake Michigan. He yelled to his buddy that the ice was pretty solid. I also heard him state that the police officer had no clue what he was talking about. I continued to take some photographs. Suddenly I heard a yell from out where that gentleman was. He had slipped down into some loose ice. His foot was down in about six inches of water. He stated that there was some ice still under his foot, but he heard cracking sounds. I set my camera down. His buddy and myself started making our way toward him. He was able to grab onto some solid ice and pull himself away. We stood where we were as he slowly made his way back to us. Both of us were ready to go out and try to get him if he ran into more trouble. He finally made his way back to us without any issues. We all slowly made our way back to the pier and onto solid ice.

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The ice out on the Great Lakes can be fun to explore, but can be extremely dangerous. I have heard many close calls from photographers taking the appearance of solid ice for granted. When going out on the ice, stay safe out there. If the police and Coast Guard are giving warnings of the dangers out there, heed their advice. Winter photography is challenging and very rewarding. There are many things that you can do ahead of time to make sure you stay safe out there. In some cases it is a matter of listening to those who know the terrain and the area well.  There is no shame in seeking the advice of others. In other cases, it comes down to knowing information ahead of time so you can be prepared and make the most of your winter photography experience. There are things that I wished I knew ahead of my trips. Had I known what I was up against, I could have saved myself a lot of time and heartache dealing with dangerous winter situations. Winter in Michigan is beautiful. Stay safe and take a lot of great photos.

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Perilous Adventures: Presque Isle

Winter in Northern Michigan is a sight to behold. The best is traveling right after a snowstorm has cleared out and fresh snow is hanging on every branch of every tree. I had that opportunity a couple years ago when the day after a snowstorm, it was a beautiful day with blue skies and lots of sun. It was still quite cold out, but the driving conditions were pretty good. There were still a few dangerous issues out on the road though that I had not really thought about until it was too late. Earlier in the day I was at Iargo Springs near Oscoda. I made my way up to Alpena toward the middle of the afternoon only to face another setback. I was surprised to find out that lots of people get stuck in the same location I did.

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I traveled into Presque Isle just north of Alpena. The old and new lighthouses sit on each end of the isle. In my opinion the old one is the more interesting of the two. It is also a lot smaller, but the history and aesthetic appeal makes the old lighthouse a must see on any visit to the Alpena area. I stopped at the New Presque Isle Lighthouse first. It is at the northernmost end of the isle. The parking lot was cleared out and the lighthouse was opened for visitors. They were not doing tours up to the top of the lighthouse. I was there in the autumn season before and it can get quite windy. My guess is it is just too dangerous to make the climb up to the top due to the winter weather. You can still get an appreciation for the history of the lighthouse with the section that was opened. It is a nice lighthouse and definitely worth a stop to visit. Of the two lighthouses, the new lighthouse is also the most difficult to photograph in terms of lighting. The position of the lighthouse in relation to the sun makes it hard to get some different angles on the lighthouse.

 

My real adventure came when I visited the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse. As I mentioned before, this is what I feel is the more interesting lighthouse of the two. This lighthouse was closed up and a gate closed off the parking lot near the main road. I parked my car on the side area of the road where it looked like there was a bit of a turn off. That was my mistake. The whole area of the road is a soft shoulder. I ended up getting stuck for the second time that day. Countless efforts to dig myself out failed. Luckily, there was enough traffic that someone was able to pull me out with a chain. The guy that pulled me out lived down the street. He informed me that there is a marina parking lot about a quarter mile away that is plowed and a great place to park to view the lighthouse. I also found out that I was not the only one to park on the shoulders and get stuck. It turned out that this was quite common by many who were never aware of that marina parking lot.

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I walked to the lighthouse. The snow was pretty deep in the area and no one had been there in the last 24 hours it looked like. At that time the water levels of Lake Huron were pretty low so there were quite a few rocks on the beach area outside of the lighthouse. The deep snow covered a lot of those rocks. It is very easy to misstep and trip over some of those rocks. A fresh blanket of snow with no previous trails made by anyone else in the last 24 hours left me to navigate my own way. I tripped up on some of those rocks and fell down hard. It is so easy to bang up your knee or twist your ankle in these conditions. It may not seem like a dangerous situation, but if you are not aware of what your surroundings are or the terrain that may be hidden, you could find yourself in a situation that could get you hurt.

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The two lighthouses are beautiful during the winter season. The most important lessons learned is to know your surroundings and avoid parking along roadways. Too many people find themselves on a soft shoulder that they cannot get out of. Northern Michigan gets a lot more snow than what we do in Southern Michigan. Often we have a mindset of doing things that we are used to from where we live. I never adjusted my frame of mind when I made the trip from Grand Rapids to Alpena. I made that same mistake when I went to Sleeping Bear Dunes a couple years before that. At one point I thought I was going need an emergency rescue on a hike. I will tell you exactly how I got out of that situation in a couple days.

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Perilous Adventures: Iargo Springs

Northern Michigan is filled with spectacular scenery that spans all seasons. One of my favorite places to visit is Iargo Springs located along the Au Sable River Scenic Roadway. The spring is in the heart of the Huron-Manistee National Forest, but not too far from Oscoda, Michigan. My first experience there was during the fall color season. To gain access to the springs you have to be willing to take a stairway of at least 300 stairs down to the springs. From above you can see a nice overlook of the Au Sable River. The springs below flow out to the Au Sable River. It is worth the hike down and back up the stairway. These natural springs were a source of drinking water for some time. During the logging era, dams were built to route the water to the logging camps. Iargo Springs is a great place to visit for most of the year. The springs during the winter season are spectacular. It is really inspiring to see the winter snow surrounded by these springs and their running waters. The water is warm enough that during the winter the water will not freeze over allowing the springs and their runoff to flow with ease.

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While it is quite beautiful to see, there are a few major things to keep in mind when stopping by. The National Forest leaves the main parking lot unplowed. That was my first mistake when visiting a few years ago. I was able to get into the parking lot pushing through with my SUV. I struggled getting into the parking lot, and was in trouble attempting to get out of the parking lot. The snow drifts and piles were so high that not even the best of cars can get out of the lot. I was fortunate on my trip to be able to flag someone with a plow, but even the person with the plow, snow tires and chains got stuck. We spent time shoveling out around his truck to allow for some traction. He was then able to get some clearance to make a path to plow. I was lucky to get my car out of that lot. There are no nearby parking areas that are clear enough to park your vehicle and it is extremely dangerous to park the car along the side of the street. The risk of having the car hit by another car and soft shoulders make the street just as dangerous as the actual parking lot. I have found that the best way to get access to the parking lot without risk of being stuck is to use a snowmobile as the mode of transportation to the springs.

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The secondary danger is the actual stairway to the springs. Like the parking lot, the snow is not cleared on the stairway. There were many times on my way down that I almost took a dive due to missteps. The stairway near the top contains many drift areas. In some places the snow is fairly shallow and you can feel the stairway under you. The next step could be much deeper. This was really evident on the landing areas between steps. A couple times I rolled my ankle. I was lucky, but the odds of damaging your ankle is much greater with these winter conditions. The last thing anyone wants to do is have a sprained ankle or worse on a snow covered stairway in an area with little traffic. I found the trip downward dangerous, but much easier than the trip back up. This is something that must be considered when taking this trip. Those who have heart conditions and health issues are warned during peak tourism season when the conditions are much better. The hike back up is far more difficult under the winter conditions.

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The scenic views are great and the trip is an adventure that you won’t forget. However, you always have to be prepared. I came away with some great shots from this trip to Iargo Springs. I also wish I had known some of the dangers ahead of time so I could have planned accordingly. Always keep this in mind; if the risk is too great, then wait until the right season or the right weather conditions to see the springs. It is just as beautiful in the spring, summer and fall seasons. Believe it or not, on this same day I ran into similar trouble near Alpena. I ended up in a ditch and found out that it was more common than I thought. More details to come in a couple days.

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On the Road to New Adventures

When getting ready to head out for a photo excursion I am usually excited thinking on what type of shot I want to come away with. I start thinking about the various angles I can shoot a particular subject, especially one that I have seen before. As a photographer you are always looking for new ways to challenge yourself. The four seasons hold various opportunities for the photographer. Each season brings about something new to be discovered or some unique challenge. I have found that winter photography brings about the biggest challenges due to the inclement weather that goes hand in hand with the season.

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Aman Park, Grand Rapids

 

What is it about winter photography that creates some challenges that are hard to deal with. First of all, there are dangerous conditions. Ice out on the lakes, snowstorms and deep snow in some areas, and roadways that are difficult to drive all make winter photography a challenge to overcome. In some cases these challenges present dangerous and perilous situations. I have been in a few of those situation as have other photographers. I love the sense of adventure, but experiencing these situations have given me an additional appreciation for a safe return home. In the excitement of a new photography adventure, I pray for a safe return home to my loved ones.

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Along the way I have experienced some dangerous situations in winter photography excursions. Next week I will be writing a four part series on the dangers of winter photography in Michigan. These are situations that I have dealt with over the last several years in the field. I have seen plenty of beautiful winter scenes, but had I known what lied in front of me prior to heading out, I may have approached it differently. Michigan is a wonderful place during winter, but sometimes we don’t have all the information when we start. With a little bit of information from someone who has experienced some of the dangers and pitfalls, some dangers can be avoided. I want your journey to be as safe as possible.

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A Walk Down Candy Cane Lane

It sounds like a place from the board game Candy Land. Candy Cane Lane is one of Kalamazoo’s Christmas highlights. It is located in Bronson Park in Downtown Kalamazoo and the city puts on a Christmas light display worth checking out. I ventured out a few years back on a the start of a snowy evening for Southwestern Michigan. I had always heard stories from my mom and Grandparents who were natives of Kalamazoo about Bronson Park, but never had a visual account of what they were talking about until I saw it for myself. I returned there once again with my wife and brother and it was still amazing.

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The park is a rectangular park surrounded by churches, museums and government buildings in the heart of Downtown Kalamazoo. On each corner you enter the park through a tunnel of candy canes. It is an amazing walk as you go through this tunnel as candy canes lean up against each other from each side of the sidewalk to make this little tunnel. Light fixtures and trees all around are strung with lights and garland. As you walk into the park through this tunnel you get the feeling that you are walking into something magical. Once you pass through the tunnels of candy canes you are treated with a lighting display that is probably one of the best I have seen in any city park throughout the state. Lighted snowflakes stretch between the trees and there are a few lit up reindeer decorations placed strategically throughout the park.  In one of the parks monument areas there are several large candles lit similar to that of a menorah. I was really impressed with this display because it provides something for everyone as we celebrate the holidays.

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Further down the park near the concert pavilion is a nativity scene. The area is lit up with lights on the nativity scene. The figurines from the nativity scene have been put through the elements over time, but are still in pretty good shape. I have seen others that are much more battered and torn. In some ways the nativity scene seems a little out of its element; not due to the subject matter, but rather on account of the upkeep of all the other decorations and lights within the park. It is not a bad thing at all. In fact the nativity scene gives you a little bit of a throwback feel to decorations of old. I pictured my mom and grandparents having viewed this nativity scene several years before me. Viewing the nativity scene also gave me an added appreciation of the Christmas story.

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If you are looking for a great way to spend the Christmas season, I would highly recommend Bronson Park in Kalamazoo as a stop. The park is near the shopping district within Downtown Kalamazoo. Traffic around the park can get a little difficult at times, but there are plenty of parking spots around the park. It is near the public library, civic theater, and institute of the arts, making the park a good location for visitors. I was really impressed by the Christmas lights and decorations through the whole park. It is rare to see a tree that was not lit with Christmas lights. Again, I would say this park is one of the most festive parks I have seen throughout the state. A walk down Candy Cane Lane will be a Christmas walk to remember.

Of Christmas Past

A few years ago, I read about a historical park just outside of Hastings, Michigan. The article described a small park with buildings replicating life in the late 1800’s. I had never heard of this park before, so on an warm August day my wife and I decided to take a look for ourselves. That day, we spent a few hours at this park going in and out of the buildings. It was as if we were witnessing the life and times that my Great Grandmother had always talked about; a life that seemed simple and carefree. After the initial visit I noticed on their website that they were having an event that showcased Christmas back in he late 1800’s called “Of Christmas Past”, and I knew this was something worth going to.

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My wife and I took a tour around the historical village for this event. We walked into the Upjohn House/Administrative Office building and encountered Santa Claus sitting on a rocking chair awaiting for kids to come and visit. Nearby a man was cutting apple slices with an old apple slicer from the 1800’s and they were giving away cinnamon apple slices. We continued on making our way around the park. All the buildings were open, and you could wander through the buildings viewing what life was like in the 1800’s. Along the way we came across a few people dressed up in appropriate attire for the 1800’s giving out roasted chestnuts. We continued to the school building where someone was dressed up as an old school teacher and showing the kids various craft activities.

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The general store area was open and we noticed a long line out the door. To our surprise they were giving out free bags of popcorn. It was nice to step inside this building because throughout the year this building can be locked up and the only way to view it is from the outside. The general store had replica items and goods that were often used and consumed in the late 1800’s. They also had authentic items that you would normally see in a historical museum, thus the reason why I believe they lock this building up often. We had to stand in line for the popcorn for a while, but it was worth the wait as we got an up close and personal view of some of these historical artifacts. Our last stop was the church. The church is what you would expect from the late 1800’s. This small church had two isles of wooden pews. Inside the church a brass band was performing Christmas songs. We sat inside the church for a while and enjoyed a small Christmas concert. The church was refurbished back in 2010, so it came as no surprise that the acoustics inside were better than I thought. It was really nice to sit back and relax to some Christmas music after walking around the park for a while.

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Charlton Park is normally free to visit during most times of the year. However, during special events there is an admission charge. The “Of Christmas Past” event at Charlton Park costs $6.00 dollars for adults, and $3.00 dollars for children. When we went there, we spent a little over three hours there. The first time visiting you might find yourself there a little longer simply because there is a lot to see on top of the Christmas activities. When we went we had a great time. Christmas is always one of those times where you like to be swept back in time a little bit to enjoy the simpleness of life. Charlton Park’s “Of Christmas Past” not only takes you back in time, but provides a nice way to relax and enjoy the holiday season.

When Time Stands Still

The latest trend right now is the mannequin challenge. The process behind this is that a group of people stand as still as possible in various poses as if they were frozen in time. Several people are posting their mannequin challenge video on social media and some are going viral. In some cases, many pull it off really well and have very creative frozen in time moments. On the other hand, there have been a few that could not live up to the challenge and one or more people in the group of people started laughing, or moving around to break the challenge. It has been really entertaining to see all of these challenges. The frozen in time concept got me thinking. I have not participated in a mannequin challenge, but have had my own frozen in time moment in life dealing with recovering from knee surgery. Life has continued and I have felt that I have been caught in this moment of time where I have been forced to remain off the grid of my normal daily schedule. However, I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing.

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Photo credit: You Tube, Cleveland Cavaliers

As a landscape photographer you live for the changing seasons. The season that excites me the most if the fall color season here in Michigan. It is one of the busiest seasons that we have as there are only a few weeks until the leaves have fallen off the trees. I have found myself in past years driving all over the state trying to make as much of the three weeks that I have to get valuable fall color photographs. This year, due to the injury I had to sit this one out. It killed me and there were days where I looked outside the window seeing a perfect fall day knowing I had to be inside off my feet. I am not the first photographer that has sustained injuries, and I won’t be the last. If they are like me, it was a tough to be inside when you knew other photographers were out there capturing the beauty of the season. Time for me stood still, but life was continuing all around me.

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I found this to be a blessing in disguise. It is so easy to become complacent out on the field. The photography industry is constantly evolving and all to often we do not evolve with those changes. I have found myself taking the same type of photograph year after year. I may have hit gold in a previous year that I took the shot, but if I attempt to repeat it, I am not giving the viewer anything new. It is an easy trap to fall into. I began thinking about where I would go if I was totally healthy and came to the conclusion that I probably would have gone to the same spots that I had gone to in previous years. That made me think about what I have been missing in previous years and what I don’t want to miss in the years to come. There are a lot of places that I have not been to in the State of Michigan during the fall season. I started listing some of those places realizing that I may not come away with a popular photograph of a particular place that is recognizable, but I may come away with a new photograph that captures the essence of the fall color season.

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Time has stood still for me in the last couple months. I have been forced to research different photography techniques. I believe you never stop learning even if you are on the top of your game. There is always someone out in the field that puts out a photograph that you can learn from. I believe the minute we stop attempting to learn our craft because we believe we are bigger than it, we lose our edge. This is true in every career field and not just photography. In the last couple months I have been forced to re think how I want to photograph various subjects within the State of Michigan. In the last couple months I have had to look at the things that worked for me as a photographer and what I need to do to change direction. Time has stood still in my life for the past couple months, and that has not been a bad thing. In many ways, I needed time to stand still. I needed to refocus and come to a realization of what I wanted out of my own photography. In the season of Thanksgiving, I can be plenty thankful that I missed out on the fall color season and that time stood still.

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