Sunday, August 13, 2017

Old School Cabins have at Home Appeal

Bud's Cabins in Lovells has a homey feeling. 
     Recently, I stumbled on a website for some newly renovated tourist cabins near Mackinaw City, right on the beach with a view of the bridge.  I hope to see more such revivals of old cabins, which for many years fell out of favor with travelers.
     While we've seen a revival of ''buy local'' that hasn't seemed to have spilled over into the world of  lodging in Michigan. I wish it would. Cabins and small mom and pop motels are usually owned by a local family or business person who spends money to move the local economy forward. While writing my Michigan travel guide, Michigan: An Explorer's Guide, I was required to only list locally-owned establishments. It made me a devotee of them. They are listed in the book,
     Small cabins give you an Up North feel, especially if they have wood paneling. They also offer more privacy than a motel or hotel. That little extra space between them makes for better neighbors. They feel like a small, cozy home, where you can leave the beer cooler on the porch and hang your fishing waders or bathing suits up to dry. So much the better, if they have a small kitchen and kitchen ware. A home cooked meal is a joy on the, and a break from the constant dreariness of burgers and pizza.
     When I'm traveling through the state to update my Michigan: An Explorer's Guide book, I check out big hotels, small mom and pop motels, but when I settle down for the night, I try finding a tourist cabin.
     There use to be more of them in the 1960s and 70s when I started travel the state, but got a bad name and became untrendy for many years. My wife was one of those cabin haters. I'd pull up in front of a place and tell her: "Think about it." She didn't spend much time contemplating the subject. The answer was always the same. A simple "no."
     But not everyone was like my wife, so some cabins have survived. I've got many of them listed in my guide. The publisher wisely has a policy of not including chain hotels and motels. We all know what it's like inside a Super 8.
     Here's a list of favorite cabins around the state from the guide, in no particular order. Many resort-style cabins require you stay two days or even longer. Check their websites, which I've included, for more information.

     Penrod's Cabins in Grayling. Stretching along the Au Sable River, the brown log structures have knotty pine interiors and rustic, log furnishings, and have the feeling that were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. Some have kitchens and there are picnic tables and grills. A great place to stay after a day on the Au Sable River. They're close to downtown, and rental canoes are available.

     Pere Marquette Lodge in Baldwin. There are five cabins and one house for rent along the Pere Marquette River. They have knotty pine interiors and some have kitchens. There are also grills. They are fairly old, but clean. A great place to crash after a day on the river either fishing for canoeing. They'd also be a fun place to just crash to get away from the world.

     Sunset Cabins in Grand Marais, Upper Peninsula. These are quintessential U.P. cabins with beach access and a view of Lake Superior. They're tucked away in a secluded area, but call early, many are booked well in advance.

      Bud's Cabins in Lovells. Located  just north of Grayling on the north branch of the Au Sable, the three cabins are a throw back to the 1940s when deer hunters and anglers didn't want to do much more than keep the rain off their heads and get shower. There wasn't a TV set in the one I rented, but there's a lovely deck on the river to kick back on at the end of the day. They're closed in winter.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Reconnecting with maps

Old Friends

I was driving east of Grayling when I looked at my fancy new IPhone and found there was no connection. The GPS was useless. Being an old guy, I carry a set of Michigan county maps, a regular state map and a selection of guide books. Print isn't dead. Any way I like the looks of old coffee and bourbon stained maps. They bring back good memories. --- Jeff Counts, author, Michigan: An Explorers Guide

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Sylvania Lake Solitude

Paddling in the Sylvania Wilderness Area can be family friendly, if you plan your trip well. 
     The term undiscovered is too often used when describing a travel destination. There are few places that fit that description, but the Sylvania Wilderness area near Watersmeet in the western Upper Peninsula comes close. Visitors will find people there, but there's enough lake paddling to spread out the crowds and give paddlers hours of solitude. It's Michigan's version of the famed Boundary Waters and it's less than a day's drive from the Twin Cities, Chicago and Detroit.
     The 18,327-acre area has 12 lakes and attracts families seeking a wilderness experience as well as seasoned paddlers looking for secluded lakes. You could travel for a month in the area and not see the same place twice.
      The chain of lakes is a perfect area for a canoe, which offers families stable boats for children and large carrying capacity for camping gear. Clark and Crooked lakes offer secluded campgrounds and easy access. Boat launches for those lakes are located at parking lots. Portages to a dozen other larger lakes can range from 0.25-0.5 mile and are not the type of trips you'd want to take small children on.

 For more information, go to:

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Testament of a Fisherman

 John D. Voelker, right, was a best selling author from the Upper Peninsula, penning "Anatomy of a Murder" and other fiction, along with essays on trout fishing. His "Testament of a Fisherman" is an often quoted passage. Voelker and his fishing companion, Louie Bonetti, left, paused for a photo in the early 1940s while fishing the Yellow Dog River near Ishpeming. 

Testament of a Fisherman
By John D. Voelker, A.K.A. Robert Traver 1903 -- 1991

Editor's Note: This is something  I read once a year. Voelker used the pen name Traver because in that era being a writer wasn't seen as a dignified trade. Voelker  was an attorney in Ishpeming and later a Michigan Supreme Court judge. 

     I fish because I love to; because I love the environs where trout are found, which are invariably beautiful, and hate the environs where crowds of people are found, which are invariably ugly; because of all the television commercials, cocktail parties, and assorted social posturing I thus escape; because, in a world where most men seem to spend their lives doing things they hate, my fishing is at once an endless source of delight and an act of small rebellion; because trout do not lie or cheat and cannot be bought or bribed or impressed by power, but respond only to quietude and humility and endless patience; because I suspect that men are going along this way for the last time, and I for one don't want to waste the trip; because mercifully there are no telephones on trout waters; because only in the woods can I find solitude without loneliness; because bourbon out of an old tin cup always tastes better out there; because maybe one day I will catch a mermaid; and, finally, not because I regard fishing as being so terribly important but because I suspect that so many of the other concerns of men are equally unimportant -- and not nearly so much fun. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Stump Man

A stump resists the force of the Fox River
     The people you meet in the back country of the Upper Peninsula are worth getting to know because they have good stories, often ones that will help you learn about the landscape.  The central U.P. where I’ve spent many days fishing and hunting is a flat, often brushy area. But it’s the stumps that get my attention. There are vast areas of old pine stumps left by lumberjacks from the 19th and early 20th century.
     For some reason, probably soil conditions, the forest didn’t return to those areas, and the stumps are surrounded by grass lands. The stumps are partly charred black by countless grass fires that have swept across the plains. I think of them as tree cemeteries, each a tombstone bearing testimony to the birth and death of a stately white pine.
         Many of the stumps are tall, some three to five feet, and when my sons were young they’d ask me why they were.  I use to tell them, knowing it wasn’t the truth, that the lumberjacks use to be bigger than people are now, like Paul Bunyan. The truth is that most the trees were cut during the winter and that the tree cutters were standing on the snow pack.
          During the peak of the lumbering era in the 19th century the nearby town of Seney where the mills and railroad were located was a town of about 3,000, but that has dwindled to about 300 these days. It’s hard to imagine that the motley collection of motels, gas stations and a few restaurants and bars that stretched along M-28 was once a thriving community.

The river system
           The Fox River snakes through the town, and eventually feeds into the Manistique River system further downstream just north of Germfask. The Fox has two branches, the east and west, and it offers good brook trout fishing for those willing to do battle with the tag alder and mosquitoes.
           I’ve been fishing the west branch since the mid 1970s, and rarely encounter other anglers, so I return at least once a year to a special spot on the river, and informal camp ground on state land that’s marked by a white pine that escaped the saw and axe. As an angling friend says, “I’ve got a lot of bad habits, but I keep them up because they work.”
                My bad habit is going back to the places where I caught fish, because I know they’re there. The trouble is you don’t find new places. 
                During one trip to the Fox, I decided to fish a new part of the river, upstream from my usual haunt, a spot where two branches met. I figured there’d be a deep hole at the spot. To get there, I had to drive upstream toward the Wagner Dam. I’d driven there before, but never fished it. It’s an eerie place with hundreds of burned pine stumps, and it had kept me at a distance for years.
 But as I drove the two-track toward the river, I found a certain beauty in the stumps. They were survivors and a reminder of when the area abounded with white pine, the knotless kind favored by 19th century carpenters.  They’d never dull your saw.
  There was no-one in sight on the warm summer day, and I had the place to myself. I parked and rigged up for a day in the river.  I tried on a favorite fly for the Fox, a royal coachman. Long ago I’d decided either rightly or wrongly that the red and black fly imitated the leaches in the water.

Where two rivers meet
I waded in and headed downstream toward the juncture where the two rivers met, fishing along the way.  Casting the fly so it floated under the tag alders that cover the river in many places yielded a few brook trout, small ones. 
At one point a large white pine blocked the river, and I sat on it for a while thinking about what would happen if I dropped dead right here. I was alone.  The thought quickly passed because I’d had similar thoughts in the past, and could even envision my carcass floating for a while and eventually getting snagged on a log. It wasn’t a terrifying image.
The day was getting hotter when I finally arrived at my destination, and I worried the heat would put the fish down. I favor flies that can be fished either dry or wet, so I put some goop on the royal coachman so it would sink and cast it into the hole.  Several casts later I landed a fairly large brook trout. I can’t say exactly how large because I no longer even carry a net, and usually don’t take pictures, figuring that injures the trout’s dignity.
I’ve read so many articles about trout fishing, that I’m actually more confused now than I ever was, but I am pretty certain that there are only one or two large predators in each hole, and once you catch one, chances are you won’t get another.
I headed back towards my truck, wading upstream against the current. Unlike many Lower Peninsula trout streams, there are very few fishermen’s paths along the Fox, and it’s nearly impossible to push through the brush.
The Fox is like other rivers in that it snakes around and creates bends just because it wants to, but there are also straight runs, usually alder covered that are deep, and I often go in over my waders.  That happened that day, and when I got to the Jeep, I pulled off my waders and drained the water from them.

The stranger
I stood in my wet socks and pants on the sandy road, looking more like I belonged to the river than the world of fly-fishing as presented in romantic ads or magazines.  It was hot and I sat on one of the stumps.  It was then that I realized I wasn’t alone; another truck was parked nearby.  It was one of those ageless pickups with an old camper cover on the back that you see in most small U.P. towns.
I figured it was another angler. I scanned the horizon in all directions and didn’t see a soul, and was a bit miffed that this interloper had invaded my solitude.  After a few minutes the pickups owner arrived, and looked a bit surprised to see me.
Backwoods encounters between two people are usually a bit awkward, and this one no different. It was as thought we had caught each other in some sort of illicit act.
We nodded, and I looked at his license plate that carried the name of a deal in Escanaba, one of the bigger towns in the U.P., and figured he was a local.
He said hello, and it took me a moment to respond. I often spend whole days and sometimes several days alone, not speaking, and the sound of a human voice jerks me out of my inner world of random, mostly useless thoughts.
“I’m looking for a stump,” he said.
I laughed and said: “Well you’ve come to the right place, plenty of them.”
He didn’t find that amusing, and went on to say that years ago he and his step father would often fish the river, camp here and make a cooking fire in a certain stump.
“They’ve got the charcoal already – you just need to get them lighted.”
I filed the information away for possible future use, and we kept talking. He was a welder from Escanaba and hadn’t been here in nearly ten years. His step father had since died, and he wanted to find that certain stump.
I wandered around with him, looking at the stumps, some of which he rejected as being too low and others, too high.
I’ve never been one to rain on anybody’s parade, and the older I get, I’m even less likely to do so. Who was I to point out the absurdity of finding a certain charred stump among thousands?  I’m a fly fisherman who never brings home any fish. God knows what people think of me. I’m a backwoods wanderer looking for my own version of the welder’s stump.
After looking for a while, my welder friend decided to try another bend in the river and he drove off on the sandy two-track in his rusty truck.  When I think of him on occasion and hope to God he found it.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Try Manchester for a fall color drive

Downtown Manchester
      Manchester is a quintessential small, southern Michigan town that offers fall color tours, an apple cider mill and an old fashioned Sunday drive to get away from the hustle and bustle of the Detroit/Ann Arbor urban core, and all without driving to northern Michigan.
     There are plenty of hardwoods, maple and oak that display their colors during the autumn season. The town offers restaurants and small shops.
     The drive is part of the fun. Manchester is about an hour west of metro Detroit and is on M 52 just south of I-94, so it's a quick trip, but if you want to take your time, take US 12 (Michigan Avenue), starting in Ypsilanti, which takes you through the countryside and through Saline, which is worth a stop, too. US 12 is the old road to Chicago, and runs through southern Michigan and is dotted with small towns.
     One option would be to drive a loop, taking US 12 west from Ypsilanti to M 52, see the town, and then head north on 52 to Chelsea and pick up I-94 for the ride home. Chelsea is another town worth a stop, and is home to the Common Grill, a full menu restaurant
     The River Raisin runs through the village of Manchester, which has about 2,000 resident.  The river attracted the first settlers in the 1830s, who built water powered mills, sparking the growth of the town.
Alber Orchard and Cider Mill 
     In the fall, the big attraction is Alber Orchard
and Cider Mill, 13011 Bethel Church Rd., 734-428-9310. Admission is free for some attraction. There's a corn maze, a you-pick pumpkin patch, and an animal area. There is a small charge for hay rides. The orchard is a bit difficult to find, its about 2.5 miles east off M 52. For a good map, go to their website,

Eating out

     There are several restaurants in Manchester that range from sandwich shops to pizza joints. If you're looking to do an old fashion Sunday drive, try stopping at Habb's Restaurant, 18 W. Michigan Ave., Ypsilanti, The menu of basic American food is refreshing in these days of gimmicks and ethnic foods. The price are moderate. The place traces its roots back to the 1870s, and the decor is a bit time worn, but has a class feel.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Try shooting black and white

      Shooting photos of activities is part of any outdoor experience and there are many dazzling scenes to be captured in Michigan.  The image, above, was taken on the Au Sable River with an iPhone, but instead of snapping it in color, the photographer P.A. Rech used the black and white mode, which gives it a haunting, timeless feeling.  It was taken late in the afternoon when there were long shadows and good contrast.  On the Labor Day weekend, plenty of folks will be out  and about with their phone cameras. Try taking a few pictures in black and white to send out some different images to your friends. They stand out in a world of color.