02 August 2006

Lower Tahquamenon Falls

Remember my grandiose idea of taking the kids on a big hike at least once a week this summer? Well, my nicely laid plans got foiled by Joe's broken tibia. At the end of April he had a wipeout on his bike which landed us at Chelsea Hospital for several hours and resulted in my boy lying immobile on the couch for eight straight days. Not exactly conducive to hiking. Once his leg was in a cast, over the next seven weeks he progressed from the couch to a walker, and then to crutches. It was nearly the end of June before his cast came off and he was able to amble around without restrictions — gingerly at first, but quickly ramping up to his usual whirling-dervish pace. And let me tell you, he was good and ready to make up for seven weeks of lost time.

It was the perfect time to head north.

We had planned this trip earlier in the year and were thankful that it coincided nicely with Joe's leg healing. Two days after the cast came off, we drove up to Mackinaw City and set up our home base there at a little beachside cabin, from which we could see both the Mackinac Bridge and Mackinac Island. After spending a day and a half swimming and frolicking, we slipped into our Tevas and headed even further north for a day trip to Tahquamenon Falls.

After we crossed the Big Mac (which, incidentally, is the world's longest suspension bridge), the drive was peaceful and remote in that Upper-Peninsula kind of way. We spent a good hour traveling down a two-laner lined with righteous-looking forests on either side, seeing only a handful of other motorists going to or fro. Except for the forests, the two biggest attractions during the drive were (1) a dead porcupine on the side of the road (yes, we did stop to gawk; you will thank me that there are no pictures), and (2) a town called Paradise (quite paradoxically named, by the way) which boasts an ice cream shop called, cleverly, the Troll Trap. Don't worry if you don't get the joke — it's kind of a Michigan thing.

When we got to the park, the four of us plus the hound got in a boat and rowed across the Tahquamenon River to a little island in the middle of the lower falls. There we found a winding path to the falls and set about the serious business of exploring.

It was a lot like what we experienced when we hiked the Virgin River in Utah — the best part being that you can get right in the water and wade for miles! Once you pass the first and biggest cascade (shown below — click on the picture to get some perspective of its size) at a large observation deck, the remaining drops in the lower falls are very small, gentle, and inviting. In fact it's not too crazy of a thought to actually hike all the way up the river and get a good view of the much larger and grandiose upper falls. For a fleeting and ambitious moment we thought we might do just that. After all, most spots in the river between upper and lower are only about six or eight inches deep — plenty manageable for even the shortest-legged member of our party (Buster). But the distance to the upper falls is eight miles, and considering we covered only about two miles in a little over an hour, we decided to head back.

This is a great hike for kids, because what's not to like about getting into a rowboat, rowing to an island, and splashing around a bit in some waterfalls? We would go back again in a heartbeat. Even if we didn't get to see a dead porcupine.

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