Peace In A Tin Can

Peace In A Tin Can

Thursday, January 16, 2014

More Amazing Things About Indian Lake State Park

There are several things that fit my goals by camping at Indian Lake State Park.  I prefer camping in Michigan's U.P., but many places require a very long drive for me on two-lane roads, which Yoopers call highways.  But Indian Lake is located just outside of Manistique, MI which is only an hour from the Mackinac Bridge, the gateway to the U.P.

Not only is it not so far away, the drive down U.S. 2 parallels the Lake Michigan shore, and every moment offers beautiful scenery.  If you have to pull a tin can on a narrow road to get to your destination, a view of a Great Lake takes away much of the stress.  Once you arrive in Manistique, there are actually gas stations and places to stop for coffee before the 5 minute drive out to the State Park.  Indian Lake is easy to find, and any camping next to a body of water is good camping.

After spending a day exploring Kitch-iti-kipi and an evening hunkering down during a storm, I awoke to a flooded campground and 40mph winds.  I don't think the flooding is typical, it was just a massive storm that dumped a lot of rain.  The temperature had dropped 30 degrees, so instead of a calm sunny day in August with temps in the 70's, I was greeted with a cloudy windy day in the 40's.  Big difference.  I had to put my awning in, which meant I had no protection from the rain that was coming, and a campfire was out of the question.  The wind would have carried the embers and potentially started an unwanted fire.  So, what to do with my day?  I visited the DNR ranger station, and was given some ideas.

Heading back to Manistique, I pulled into the parking area for the public beach on Lake Michigan.  Only a couple other cars were parked, and upon climbing over a small dune, I was greeted with a site more akin to Lake Huron than Michigan.  The beach looked awful, with debris piled up in small mounds.  It wasn't until I started down the boardwalk and came to an informational sign that I understood the truly unique source of the debris, not to be found anywhere else.

During the lumbering era of the late 1800's and early 1900's, lumber mills in the Manistique area deposited wood chips and sawdust in the Manistique River, which flows into Lake Michigan.  It is estimated that 5.1 million tons of sawdust (that's a lot of sawdust) washed into Lake Michigan, where it settled on the bottom.  Storms, water currents, and large vessels churn up this sawdust, and over 100 years later, the sawdust is still washing up on the shore at Manistique.

I was fascinated by this.  Taking my shoes off, I walked down the sandy dunes to the sawdust debris piled at the water's edge.  At first I was apprehensive about walking barefoot, imagining millions of tiny splinters embedding in my feet, but the moment I stepped onto the first mound, I was immediately transported to a natural spa.  The sawdust, soaked in water for over a century, felt like warm rum custard (or any kind of custard, I just prefer rum).  I sunk in about 4-5 inches, and it was so soft, creamy and warm!  Unlike mud, it didn't suck my feet under, and I was easily able to pull my feet out and walk some more.  I felt like a child discovering the beach for the first time, with a sun-warmed carpet on which to walk while the chilly wind whipped my hair.  I was completely enamored of the sawdust beach.

I found a piece of driftwood and sat down to take some pictures.  There was a storm brewing over the water, but it had not yet clouded the sun and I knew I had plenty of time before the tumultuous clouds reached the shore.  I watched a big ship loading it's passengers, stared up at the lighthouse, and marveled at the diamond-like quality of the surface of the water, with the sun shining on my back and a distant storm making its way toward Manistique from the south.

Even with the wind roaring around my head, I found a peacefulness, a serenity to the scene before me.  I was seeing Mother Nature in all her forms and experiencing the pleasant side effect of an unpleasant contamination of the lake.  My thoughts drifted, my body relaxed, when CRACK!  BOOM! startled me   in every single cell of my body.  Turning around, I saw a doozy of a storm had snuck up behind me, from the north.  It made the storm out over the water look pale in comparison.  My first thought was I should prepare to head back to the campground.  My second thought was "What's going to happen when these two storms meet each other?"  That got me moving.

I made it to the car just as the first rain drops started to fall, and by the time I pulled out to the road the rain was coming down in sheets.  Trees were bending over with the wind and lightning was flashing in every direction.  I couldn't see to drive, but wanted so much to get back to the tin can and make sure she was holding up.

It took me 30 minutes to drive 7 miles, and the two storms met as I pulled up next to the camper.  I didn't think it could get much worse, but I was wrong.  In the four steps it took me to reach the camper door, I was drenched, and when I opened the door the wind threatened to rip it off the hinges.  Safely inside, I changed into dry clothes and grabbed a book to wait it out.

It was only early afternoon, and the storm raged for three more hours.  By the time it was over, the campers at Indian Lake had torn awnings, blown away furniture, and a general mess to clean up.  As people slowly emerged from RV's and tents, we all greeted each other and helped put things right.  I had fared well, having put everything that was outside my camper in the back of my Yukon that morning.  It was still too windy to put anything back out, so I helped others while forlornly looking at my bare campsite.  Camping for me involves sitting by a fire, being outside, and enjoying nature.  The only thing left for me at that point was to stay outside.

I walked the entire campground to see the damage and take pictures.  I found a general day-use lodge, empty, and took some pictures while dreaming of what it would be like to live there, sans all the other campers.  A stone lodge on a lake had me planning where the living area would be, the kitchen, and mostly my bedroom, which would occupy the space of the current men's room with an incredible view of the lake.  It wasn't just that I love dreaming about my cabin in the woods on a bluff overlooking a lake, it also gave me a break from the relentless wind.  I found myself wishing I could start a fire in the massive stone fireplace and spend my evening there.

Leaving the lodge, I discovered the trail system at Indian Lake State Park.  What an amazing system of trails, well-marked, surrounded by tall pines and following the shoreline.  The wind was marginally less abusive in the trees, allowing me to walk for a couple of miles before looping back to the campground.  My camera never stopped clicking away as I had the trails to myself.  Apparently, I was the only camper crazy enough to go hiking in this weather.

Another stormy night ensued, but the next morning broke sunny, cold, and still windy.  I planned to hike the Hiawatha National Forest (which I'll write about later) before leaving the next day.  Locking up the tin can, I headed out for yet another adventure surrounding Indian Lake State Park, eager to embrace the sun and confident it was far too cold for the snakes to stalk me in the forest.

There is just so much to do when camping at Indian Lake!