Sled Dogs & Waterfalls

Not long after our weekend excursion to Pictured Rocks, we found ourselves once again headed north in search of winter (which seems to be absent in the lower peninsula this year).  Our destination this time was Newberry, Michigan, the home of Tahquamenon Falls State Park.  This is the second largest state park in Michigan, and is a consistently popular destination due to the overwhelming beauty of the waterfalls and surrounding forest.  I have been to Tahquamenon in the summer, and it was absolutely beautiful, but I had never been in the winter and I was eager to see the falls covered in deep, fluffy snow.

We drove up to Newberry and checked into our hotel on Friday night, and on Saturday morning, we were well-rested and ready to begin the day.  Our first stop was to visit one of our group members’ cousins at Nature’s Kennel, where we got to spend some time with their sled dogs.  When we arrived, we greeted Tasha, one of the owners and an accomplished musher, and she directed us to the puppy pen.  This was completely unexpected, and we were all smiles as we stepped into a large enclosure full of somewhere around eight puppies.  The second you crouched down to greet a puppy, you would suddenly find yourself with three or more wiggly balls of fluff vying for your attention.  I can’t think of a better way to start a day than a puppy stampede, and these pups were absolutely adorable.

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After we tore ourselves away from the puppies, we got to see a bit of the surrounding forest as Tasha pulled us in a sled attached to a snowmobile.  Then we returned to the house just in time to watch a few teams take off for the day.  As the mushers got the dogs ready to run, they became increasingly excited until they were jumping up and down in anticipation.  When the teams finally left the yard, all of the dogs that were left behind barked and howled in excitement.

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Once the teams were gone, we walked through the rows of dogs, petting them until I predictably got distracted by a bunch of colorful birds in the woods.  I switched to my zoom lens, and snagged a few shots of the bright yellow birds, which turned out to be Evening Grosbeaks.  Then we went into the house to thank Tasha and pick up a few souvenirs in the gift shop.  The entire experience was really remarkable, and we are planning on going back next winter to take an actual sledding trip when we have more time and notice to book it.

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Next we drove to Tahquamenon Falls State Park, and found a spot in the upper falls parking lot.  We hiked the snowy, yet short trail to the falls viewing areas where I got to try my new neutral density filter for the first time, and took some long exposure pictures of the falls.  Upper falls is impressive in size, and it can be rather hypnotic to watch the rich brown waters cascading powerfully over the large ledge.  The brown color of the water is caused by tannins that drain into the Tahquamenon River from nearby cedar swamps.  We ate a late lunch at Tahquamenon Brewery, where I had a very satisfying pasty.  We rounded out the day by visiting Sault Ste. Marie, which, as it turns out, doesn’t have much going on in the winter months.

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Sunday morning we woke up to six inches of fresh snow and sunshine.  We drove to the lower falls parking lot, and bundled up for the longer hike to get down to the river.  The forest was magical, blanketed in fresh snow and we had a lot of fun hiking through the snow drifts on our way to the much smaller lower falls.

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Although smaller in the size, the lower falls have a lot of character.  In the summer months, you can rent a canoe to row across to a little island in the middle of the river.  The water is also usually surprisingly warm, and refreshing for wading.  Funnily enough, my family took a trip to Tahquamenon when I was around five or six years old.  My parents wanted to rent a row boat to check out the island, but I was going through a strange phase where I had an extreme and irrational fear of boats.  They ended up having to bribe me with a doll from the park gift shop to get me on board the boat.  I remember being terrified for the whole experience, and my family (my dad in particular) still won’t let me live the whole thing down.  Now that I’ve been to Tahquamenon as an adult, and realize how shallow the water is at lower falls, I feel even more foolish for making such a fuss.

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We made our way back to the car and started the long drive home, stopping in MackinaCity to take a look at the Mackinac Bridge and the ice on Lake Michigan and Lake Huron along the way.

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