Below are our pictures from our recent excursion to the Pine River valley in northern Michigan...where we got abducted by aliens. Just joking, I have never been abducted by aliens. I mean, sure, I have seen them, and even chatted with them on occasion, but never abducted. However, in a previous life, when I was an Aegean cat in mid-century England, they abducted us and fed us fruitcake for a week and it was wonderful. Joking again, I am not crazy, the fruitcake was horrible. But really, I probably had you believing the whole alien thing and then I said the fruitcake was enjoyable and you were like "ok, this guy is full of it". And I am full, just not satisfied. That fruitcake always leaves you wanting more (of something else). But did you ever think that maybe it could be some kind of alien fruitcake that does taste good? you've got to think about these things.

Truth be told, I have never even eaten fruitcake to my recollection and I don't really have anything as exciting as an alien abduction to tell you about, just something maybe slightly more exciting than a curling match (assuming you aren't Canadian), so lower your expectations right now. Now raise them a little bit. Little bit more. Okay, that's good.

Now, I had this "crazy" idea of going camping somewhere north of lower Michigan, in the winter. Initially I was thinking Lake Superior Provincial Park in Ontario, but then a family friend who has a cabin in northern lower Michigan graciously offered to let us use their place as a destination so that we would have a backup shelter should things go horribly wrong (this was our first time winter camping).

First, I had to convince Megan, the Californian, that she would not freeze to death in her sleep or be killed by some backwoods hunter. I hired Johnny Cochran to help with my defense and he give me some lines like "if you don't go camp, you'll get a cramp" and "camping in the cold makes you less old" which were some pretty good rhymes but they just didn't make any sense. Still, they resonated with Megan and the rest of the jurors and she agreed.

The cabin was about 2 miles deep into the woods so we had to strap all of our gear to our backs and hike it in. Not a big deal, the only problem was that it gets dark early in the winter and we ran out of daylight before we got to the cabins. In the darkness, we had some trouble determining when we were on the correct path, and not just following some wandering snowmobile tracks. We almost gave up on finding the cabins in the dark and set up camp in some random location but we eventually got back on the right track and noticed a snow covered driveway that led to the described cabins. Even though we never went in the cabins, and we weren't worried about freezing to death (Megan may disagree) because the weather was mild for winter (20F-30F), it felt comforting to be camping in a known place.

Once we arrived we pretty much just setup camp, cooked some soup, and then went to bed since it was dark and I forgot to bring any form of entertainment (book, cards, etc.). This was not a good thing because sleeping in the cold really is not all that comfortable and is even more gruelling when you aren't even tired. Much of my discomfort could probably be attributed to laziness. For instance, my face was cold and I had a face mask that I could have tried putting on, but I didn't. During the night my body got a bit cold and I had a fleece shirt that I could have put on, but I didn't. I kept thinking that one of those red clown noses would have been ideal because it was really just the tip of my nose that was uncomfortably cold. Yet in all the literature I read about winter camping, no one ever mentioned that I should pack my clown outfit. Again, though, if I was more tired I probably wouldn't have been so conscious of my discomfort. Megan had cold feet, probably due to her sleeping bag being too long for her, but she toughed it out like a champ (would some big red clown shoes have warmed her feet right up? we will never know).

I woke up several times during the night and kept hoping to see daylight so I could get out of the tent but night seemed to go on and on. when we finally did wake up and see daylight it was actually late morning, we had probably been in the tent for over 12 hours and everything inside was covered in moisture from our breathing. If it were really cold outside this might have been a bad thing, but it was a mild 20F outside so keeping warm when we were up and about was no problem.

In the morning we decided to go for a ski but the terrain above the valley was kind of flat and the valley itself was a bit steep for cross country skiing so we decided we should give up skiing and do some snow-shoeing. So, we packed up camp, hiked back to the edge of the valley, ditched our packs, and snow-shoed down the valley. As we were hiking along the top of the valley we saw 2 dog-like creatures (which I assume were coyotes) running around in the valley below. Megan hopefully inquired that "they are more scared of us than we are of them, right?". For most people, yes; in her case, probably not. she's from southern California where the most scary thing you ever see is someone who is not driving a BMW. Excluding the earthquakes, fires, mudslides, and sharks of course.

The river valley was very steep but we found a less steep ridge to hike down. It was a great place to snowshoe with all sorts of little ups and downs and places to explore. We saw a deer that was definitely more scared of both of us than we were of it and it went scurrying off. It's interesting how freaked out deer are in Michigan because I've seen deer in Colorado and Washington that basically ignore your presence, whereas in Michigan, if they hear you whisper they tear off like there is a blue light special in aisle 12 (laundry detergent and paper goods). These generalizations are based on the 3 deer I have seen in my life and now that I think about it, I think one of them was just a plastic decoy. But seriously, I think when you shoot at animals for 3 months out of the year, they start to be scared of you. This is the kind of advanced thinking that got me where I am today. No one cooks fries like me.

Anyway, we had fun hiking along the river and we eventually hiked back out, picked up our packs and hiked out the rest of the way along the top of the valley. It was very pretty and I can only imagine how beautiful it would be with fresh snow clinging to all of the trees. We made it back to the seasonal road and then it was just another mile hike back to the highway and then another few hundred feet back to the ranger station where we had parked. We still had an hour or so of daylight so we tried driving to the coast to get a view of Lake Michigan which we never really succeeded in but we did make it up and around Crystal Lake which was pretty with all of it's ice.

Regarding winter camping, I would describe it as a "fun" experience (now that it is a distant memory) but it's not like "eating a doughnut" fun, it's more like "I hate myself and I want to commit suicide but I'm too much of a coward to do it so I'll just torture myself" fun. No, it wasn't that bad, and it gets you out into the woods so you can just wake up and already be in the wilderness (plus it saves you money that you can then use to buy doughnuts). I'd definitely do it again but I may have to hire back Johnny Cochran to get Megan on board again. She kept saying things like "this would be a really nice place to visit in the summer or fall". Come on now, don't be a winter hater.

Laying out the gear and making sure the Sherpa can carry everything.

This is the final destination, for the car.

Megan has second thoughts.

Then I showed her how good she looked with the gaiters on. yeah, the guys from "queer eye" could have a field day with her.

By the time we got on the trail, twilight was setting in. in the darkness, we accidentally followed some wandering snowmobile tracks but we eventually stumbled upon a snow covered driveway which, when we explored, revealed two cabins as they had been described.

Since the snow wasn't that deep, we (I use this term loosely) dug out an area for the tent. once the tent was set up and the sleeping bags were decompressing, we (?) melted snow for water, for soup, for dinner. it was about 30F at this point.

Just trying to see which is more intense, the headlamp or my stare.

I had to hand feed Megan and make an airplane noise with each spoonful (Megan would like to state that eating soup in the dark is hard).

Bedtime occurred much earlier than it should have since I forgot to bring a book, cards or any form of entertainment. This was unfortunate because sleeping in the cold is not comfortable and is even harder when you aren't even tired.

In the morning, we could see where we were. It was now 20F; colder but still comfortable. Despite the tent having copious amounts of mesh for ventilation, everything inside the tent was still covered in moisture.

On the left is the gate out front that we barely saw the night before. On the right is the log cabin (which we never entered, but could have, should the need have arose...if I hadn't left the instructions for where to find the keys back at the car).

A closer look.

In the morning we decided to go for a ski.


A table that was useful for keeping things out of the snow, and the stove.

Us and the horses we rode in on.

Tearing down and packing up.

Loaded up and heading out.

I decided to try skiing with the pack. Not sure if it offered much of a speed advantage and it was more unstable.

We hiked to the edge of the river valley, ditched our packs, and snow-shoed down the valley to the river.

Megan can't wait to hike down the valley.

Evergreen trees poking out from the valley below.

The valley walls were really steep so we found a less steep ridge to hike down.

Our tracks.

Here is the pine river. If your eyes are good enough you can see a deer crouching down in the distant grass after it heard me yell to Megan. We also saw a couple of coyotes(?) running around the valley but I wasn't fast enough with the camera.

The river.

River bend.

Pine forest.

Snow-shoeing. There wasn't really enough snow to necessitate snowshoes but they offered great traction and were not at all cumbersome.

Above the bank.

Down by the river.

Resting on the bank and attempting to make a snowball to roll into the river. It seemed like packing snow but this snowball went nowhere.

Icy river bank.

By the river.


Hiking out of the valley.

Snow-shoeing along the top of the valley

Trail along the top of the valley, leading back to the cabins.

Making our own trail.

Looking down on the river.

On the edge.

Looking down.

Into the distance.

Gleaming river below.

Nice and sunny.

The final stretch.

Where the woods meet the pavement (highway 55). On the right is the seasonal (closed in winter) road we hiked down to the trail. The fence is an attempt to keep snowmobiles out (futile).

Back at the ranger station and packing up.

We still had some daylight left so we drove up to Crystal Lake.

The icy shores of Crystal Lake.

Ice on Crystal Lake.


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» all photo reports from lower michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Fall 2012 - Summer 2013
Photos from around town in different seasons.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Fall 2011 - Summer 2012
Photos from around town in different seasons.
Fall in Ann Arbor, Michigan
October 2011
Fall photos, mostly from around the University of Michigan campus.
Lake Michigan
September 3, 2010
A windy, wavey day on Lake Michigan brings the surfers out.
Nordhouse Dunes, Michigan
February 27 - 28, 2010
Winter camping in the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness along Lake Michigan.
Lake Erie, Michigan
February 6, 2010
Checking out the ice on Lake Erie at Sterling State Park.
The Thumb, Michigan
September 6, 2009
Kayaking along the rocky shores of Lake Huron near Port Austin.
Spring in Ann Arbor, Michigan
April - May 2009
Photos of bright colors returning to campus and town.
St. Joseph, Michigan
February 8, 2009
Checking out the ice around St. Joseph before it melted away.
Fall in Ann Arbor, Michigan
October - November 2008
A few attempts at capturing the beautiful fall colors.
Frozen Coast, Michigan
February 16, 2008
Exploring the frozen shores of Lake Michigan, from Warren Dunes to South Haven.
Northern Michigan
October 19 - 21, 2007
Enjoying the fall colors in northern Michigan.
West Coast, Michigan
July 21, 2007
Checking out a couple of the beaches and towns of Michigan's west coast.
Northern Michigan
June 21 - 22, 2007
Canoeing the Pere Marquette River and checking out the Sleeping Bear Dunes area.
Northern Michigan
July 1 - 4, 2006
Checking out Grand Haven, Silver Lake, Sleeping Bear Dunes, and Traverse City.
Michigan Spring
April 2006
Spring pictures from around the Ann Arbor area.
Michigan Winter
December 2005
Winter pictures from around the Ann Arbor area.
Northern Michigan
July 2 - 3, 2005
Hiking the Manistee River Trail, canoeing the Jordan River, and making a brief stop at Wilderness State Park.
The Arb, Ann Arbor
January 2005
Pictures from the first big snowfall in Ann Arbor in 2005 when I skied from home to the Arb and fell into the river.
Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan
May 2003
A visit to Sleeping Bear Dunes.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
My favorite photos from Ann Arbor.
Michigan Law Quad
My favorite photos of the University of Michigan Law Quad.
Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan
October 12 - 14, 2012
Unrelenting rain drenches our fall weekend trip.
Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan
February 24 - 27, 2012
Winter photos from the Leelanau area, including Pyramid Point, Empire Bluffs, and Crystal Lake.
Spring in Ann Arbor, Michigan
April - May 2011
Flowers erupt and warm weather returns to open arms.
Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan
February 28, 2010
Exploring Sleeping Bear Dunes in the winter.
Frozen Coast, Michigan
February 20, 2010
Checking out the frozen lakeshore of Lake Michigan at Warren Dunes, St. Joseph, and Holland.
Fall in Ann Arbor, Michigan
October 2009
Fall color viewed mostly from a few tall buildings around town.
Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan
May 16 - 17, 2009
Enjoying springtime in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
Detroit, Michigan
March 7, 2009
Making a quick and rare trip to Detroit, checking out the haunting Michigan Central Station and a few other places.
The Thumb, Michigan
January 31, 2009
Hiking along Lake Huron to see the rock formations and lighthouse near Port Austin.
Nordhouse Dunes, Michigan
July 26 - 27, 2008
A quick overnight backpacking trip into the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area.
Winter, Ann Arbor, Michigan
January 2008
Winter photos from campus, town, and city parks.
North Manitou Island, Michigan
August 11 - 12, 2007
Backpacking on North Manitou Island, enjoying the sunset, and watching storms roll off from Lake Michigan.
Botanical Gardens, Ann Arbor
July 14, 2007
Checking out the flowers and interesting plants of the Univeristy of Michigan Botanical Gardens.
Ice Storm, Ann Arbor
January 17, 2007
Pictures from around town after an ice storm coated all the trees in ice.
South Manitou Island, Michigan
July 2, 2006
Hiking to the sand dune bluffs on the west side of South Manitou Island.
Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan
February 27, 2006
Hiking and skiing around the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
Michigan Fall
October 2005
Pictures from around the Ann Arbor area.
Sleeping Bear Dunes Area, Michigan
May 27 - 29, 2005
Kayaking on Lake Michigan near Sleeping Bear Dunes.
Winter Camping, Northern Michigan
December 2004
Winter camping near the Pine River.
My favorite photos from Michigan.
Turnip Rock, Michigan
My favorite photos of Turnip Rock, from both summer and winter.
Ross School of Business
My favorite photos of the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.