It’s tough keeping up with the travel posts when you’re traveling, so this is about a week old, but before the experiences drift too far from my recent recollection, I thought I would capture a few of them now. We spent last week in and around the Hiawatha National Forest near [singlepic=694,250,250] Driving east to the HiawathaMunising, MI and along the Pictured Rock National Lakeshore. We all really dug this area, which felt quite a bit different from our time on the Keweenaw peninsula to the west. In our first vacation home, we were sitting right on Lake Superior and had a clear view of the whitecaps cresting on the water. In the Hiawatha, we had trees and lots of them. It’s a national forest after all. Our view from the cabin we stayed in was green and lush as far as one could fathom–deep, deep one could wander into the “backyard” unobstructed by anything that resembles pavement, brick and mortar, or even private property; it was all forest land and it was wonderful. The cabin is located about 15 miles south of Wetmore, MI on Forest Highway 13. When at the house, we spent much of our time reading on the deck, watching for interesting bird species and snapping a picture or two when possible. In the evenings, we sat around the fire ring, roasting veggie dogs and talking.

trekking bruno’s run

One particularly rainy afternoon, we decided to explore a nearby hiking trail by the name of Bruno’s Run. It’s a nine mile loop through the forest and around a couple inland lakes. Chris and I didn’t really want to venture out just after the rain for fear it would be muddy and buggy, but Aidan persuaded us, and to our surprise it was really pleasant. The path was relatively dry–protected by the tall trees and a covering of pine needles. We didn’t see a soul on the trail. It felt as if we had the entire forest to ourselves. And believe it or not, there were no troubling bugs. We didn’t hike the whole nine miles, but we were out for a couple hours, stopping by Moccasin lake to skip stones and watch for birds. It turned out to be a great little hike and a relaxing way to spend an afternoon.

chillaxin’ at the falling rock cafe

Twenty minutes down the road–in Munising–we discovered what I’m willing to bet is the coolest little coffee shop and bookstore in the entire UP. It’s called The Falling Rock Café. It’s a great friendly place with 30,000 new and used books, locally roasted fair trade organic coffee, homemade food, live entertainment, and delicious ice cream. I think it’s the only place in town that offers free WIFI too. The locals seem to love this place, and from what I read in our guidebook, they are willing to do everything they can to keep such a place thriving. Sometime back, under threat of seasonal closure due to tough economic times, community members organized a fund raising campaign to keep it going. People turned out and ponied up. Now it continues to run with the assistance of ongoing fund-raising events. If you’re ever in Munising, it’s a place you must visit. If you plan to stay a while, for $25 you can get your own dedicated ceramic mug that will hang on the wall with more than a hundred others. When you come in, just grab the mug with your name on it (literally) and enjoy your bottomless cup of coffee, tea, or cocoa. Oh, and Aidan recommends the mint chocolate chip ice cream; he tried it twice just to make sure it was the best he ever tasted.

exploring grand marais

We took a day to drive about 50 miles to the east to visit the little town of Grand Marais at the recommendation of a good friend who has family ties to this little tiny bay town on the Lake Superior shore. We are so glad that we did. Our friend’s cousin owns the Gitche Gumee Museum and rock shop. Considering Aidan’s budding interest in rock hounding, we had to pay her a visit. She was very welcoming to us. Her museum houses all kinds of artifacts from local history along with an amazing collection of rocks and minerals–and agates in particular. Because we were “friends of the family,” Karen (Gitche Gumee owner) gave us an impromptu showing of some of her prized rocks in her private collection (apparently stowed in a paper bag under the register). She is very knowledgeable and willing to share her enthusiasm for rock hounding and local history. Because we had the special “in,” she even drew us a map to a little known secluded beach great for agate hunting and made us promise not to reveal it. The truth of the matter is, though, we couldn’t reveal the secret if we tried, as we drove around for nearly two hours up and down these little less-than-two-track roads deep in the woods east of Grand Marais. While the adventure was a blast, we never did find that beach–even after abandoning our Jeep to hoof it deeper into the woods. We did, however, spot a couple amazing log cabins barely visible through the trees, some perched high above the Lake Superior shoreline and hardly accessible via anything resembling a road. (I want to live there. Chris is not so sure.)

After our agate-hunting bust, we headed back into town to grab some lunch at the Lake Superior Brewing Company (affectionately known as the “Dunes Saloon”). This place is a gem. It had real charm, good beer, and great food. The women who waited on us, took great care of us and made us feel truly welcomed at both the LSBC and in Grand Marais. This was a great place to just chill for a while–a necessary bit of resting and refueling as we still wanted to visit the Grand Sable Dunes before we headed back toward Munising. And so off to the the dunes we went.

The Grand Sable Dunes are just west of Grand Marais on the eastern edge of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. First we took in the Sable Falls–quite beautiful–and then we hit the short trail of about a half mile that led us through the woods to the dunes. It was late in the day by this time, and we were all feeling it, but Aidan had his heart set on playing on these dunes, so we pushed on. It was beautiful with the sun low in the sky, the sand swept grasses, the dunes, and the deep blue of Lake Superior on the horizon. Aidan had a blast climbing the first set of sand dunes and basins we saw once we emerged from the trees. He would climb up and then attempt to slide down on his stomach–“polar-bear style”–with limited success, a mouth full of sand, and uncontrollable laughter. But this was nothing. Once we convinced him to hike a bit further toward the lake, we discovered what everyone came there for–the Grand Sable Dune itself–towering more than 300 feet above the lake and descending steeply to the rocky beach below. Of course, Aidan thew himself down the dune with reckless abandon before we could even talk about it. And then, of course, with heart pounding, I thew myself after him. We made it down unscathed, but what goes down must go up (if you want get home anyway). The climb back up was tough, but filled with laughter just the same. As we struggled with each hand and foot hold–inch-by-inch, Chris stood far above us snapping photos and taking in the sunset. After the grueling climb back up, of course, Aidan shouts “let’s do it again!” It was all we could do to convince him otherwise. We won’t soon forget our visit to this amazing site.

breathless at the pictured rocks

The day before we left Munising, we took a boat tour along the Pictured Rock National Lakeshore. This may attract the tourists, but for good reason. The rocks are beautiful and–it’s true what they say–the best place to see them is from the water. It’s about a thirty mile stretch of shoreline, but the formations are breathtaking. For a three hour tour, it was anything but boring. Some say kids will get bored, but this was not the case for Aidan. He was riveted the whole time. The next time we return to the area, though, I would love to see them from Kayak. Aidan says, he’s in!

Ok, next on the adventure is St. Ignace and Mackinak Island for July 4th. Turning south makes us all a bit sad; there’s something about the far northern regions of Michigan and the North in general that calls me. I’m sure I’ll turn that way again soon.

swimming at pete’s lake

For our final day in the Hiawatha, we decided on a relaxing day of swimming and reading on the beach at Pete’s lake just down the road from our cabin on Forest Highway 13. Pete’s is a medium-sized inland lake with a nice little roped swimming area and a modest beach. We all had fun wading and splashing in [singlepic=695,275,275] Aidan swims farther than ever!the water. Then we took a good hour or more to just read and look over the lake a while. Aidan was unusually calm and quiet, as he just watched the lake. It was interesting to watch him. He looked really comfortable there. Before leaving Pete’s Lake, Aidan wanted to give swimming another try, and so with “noodle” tucked under his arms, he worked very hard to paddle out to a floating raft that was in water over his head. He worked on this–paddling back and forth several times, working up his courage–for nearly 40 minutes, but then finally he did it. He swam out over his head to the raft. He was so proud of himself.

So far, this trip is shaping up to be a real growing experience for Aidan–swimming, skipping rocks, spotting Bald Eagles, peeing in the woods–all kinds of firsts–and all kinds of joy.