Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A Return Visit to Bombay Hook

I have yet to find a bad month to visit Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, but I'm setting a new goal to go more often this year, maybe even every month, and share the photos and notes with the blog. There are always interesting things to notice -- the birds and different species.

Bombay Hook NWR protects one of the largest remaining expanses of tidal salt marsh in the mid-Atlantic region. The refuge, located along the coast of Delaware, is mostly marsh, but also includes freshwater impoundments and upland habitats that are managed for other wildlife.
I first wrote about Bombay Hook October 2013, based on a visit I'd made the year before, also in late October.

Just two weeks ago, we saw a number of birds, including a juvenile bald eagle, great herons, swans innumerable, shoveler ducks, pin-tail ducks, and a variety of other birds I don't know the names of. Although the scenery was the bleak winter-scape (although no snow). I experienced some serious zoom-lens envy -- my camera is a nice one, but my zoom lens is nothing like what some of the other bird-enthusiasts there have. Size does matter!

The refuge offers visitors a 12-mile wildlife drive, five walking trails (2 handicapped accessible), three observation towers, wildlife photography, a variety of nature and educational programs, and interpretative displays. The visitors center is closed on weekends during the winter months, although the bathrooms are available (good news to the morning visitor who's just enjoyed 2 large mugs of coffee).

According to the refuge's website, there are quite a few birds you can expect to see in the winter months:

In January, there are several varieties of hawks: red tailed, marsh and rough-legged are commonly observed. Bald eagles begin working on their nests. And of course, there are several herds of whitetail deer, which often are seen on the fields at dusk.

During February, the Bald eagles are busy laying and incubating their eggs. Large flocks of Pintail ducks arrive with the first mild weather of the month -- we saw quite a few, but not "large flocks" but perhaps the warm weather trigger hadn't really occurred yet. It was still pretty cold while we were there.

In March, the spring waterfowl migration peaks, so yeah, I plan to head back, probably around mid-month! (Maybe I'll take my bike and bike around the 12-mile road.) Ducks, snow geese and Canada geese are abundant. Looking down into the water and the ground, woodchucks and turtles emerge from hibernation. And woodcock courtship flights occur.
Ironically, it was on our way back home that we noticed a large flock of swans hanging out in the middle of a field of winter wheat, well outside of the wildlife refuge. So of course, I pulled off the road, dug out my camera, and snapped some photos! They are beautiful (the swans, not the photos as much).

Know before you go: It's a good time to visit, just about any time of the year. But there are some months that you need to plan ahead. Check the website or call to find out about refuge road closures during bad weather and hunting season. During summer months, visitors should bring insect repellent and wear long-sleeve shirts and long pants.

Getting there: 2591 Whitehall Neck Road, Smyrna, DE 19977

Dogs: Yes, but leashed.

Hours: The wildlife drive is open from 1/2 hour before sunrise to 1/2 hour after sunset daily. The visitor center is open weekdays from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. year round. During spring and fall weekends, the visitor center is open Saturday and Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.


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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Romance on the Rails

My husband suggested a romantic evening on Saturday, 13 February. He started describing the evening.

He had me at "train ride." But it kept getting better and better. A four-course, romantic meal in one of Western Maryland Scenic Railroad's restored dining cars, a complimentary bottle of wine, and a kidless evening out...

We arrived in Cumberland in plenty of time for the 7 pm train, boarding about 15 minutes before 7. A fully set table greeted all the first-class service guests, with a cheese tray, bread, and a bottle of wine waiting for us.

As the train rumbled to a start, the servers began serving our salads -- a traditional lettuce salad. Soon, those plates were cleared, and they began serving the main entrees -- a choice of chicken, salmon, or prime rib (which we pre-ordered). Because it was dark already, we didn't get to enjoy the scenery outside, but that didn't detract from the ride. The dinner and the company was the point of the train ride.

The train ride began at the historic Western Maryland Railway Station in Cumberland. We traveled west from downtown Cumberland, through a natural cut in the mountains, around a horseshoe curve, over bridges, and through a tunnel. We rode past scenic ridges, valleys, and small towns, ascending 1,300 feet in elevation to Frostburg. Of course, you can't see much of the scenery if you go in the evening ride during winter.

After 90 minutes or so, we pulled into Frostburg, for our layover (in which the engine is brought around to the other end of the train for the ride back). During the layover in Frostburg, they gathered in the Frostburg station, and played a WMSR version of the Newlywed Game. But true confession: I preferred to stay in the relative warmth of the dining car (it was one of the coldest days of the winter so far), so I stayed on board. We enjoyed having the dining car almost to ourselves!

On the way back, we enjoyed dessert -- a simple slice of cheese cake topped with strawberries.

Getting there: 13 Canal Street, Cumberland, MD 21502, most easily reached via Interstate 68. Cumberland is centrally located from nearby metro areas, about 2 and a half hours from Baltimore, Washington and Pittsburgh.

Hours: Check the website for excursions and times.

Updated August 2021

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Great Lakes Lighthouses and Why Michigan Is So Great About Its Lighthouses

This is the last of five posts about our late summer trip to Mackinaw City and Michigan's upper peninsula; we visited the area after bringing my son up to college in Michigan.

Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse was built in 1892 in the same northern park that was originally allotted for its construction. This lighthouse would eventually replace McGulpin Point Light, which was built in the 1870s in the far western end of the village limits. When the Mackinac Bridge was completed in 1957, the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse was decommissioned immediately thereafter.

The sitting room of the Mackinac Point Lighthouse.

McGulpin Point Light was constructed as a navigational aid through the Straits of Mackinac. The light began operation in 1869, making it one of the oldest surviving lighthouses in the Straits. The light is located on McGulpin Point, approximately 3 miles west of Fort Michilimackinac.

McGulpin Point Light House

The McGulpin Point Light, a true lighthouse with a light tower and attached lighthouse keeper's living quarters, was completed by the U.S. Lighthouse Board in 1869. The living quarters were built as a vernacular 11⁄2-story brick structure. The lighthouse operated during the Great Lakes navigation seasons from 1869 until 1906.

The design was so successful that the Lighthouse Board chose to use the Norman Gothic design in for several other lighthouses, including the Eagle Harbor Light, the White River Light, and the Sand Island Light.

On our way back to Maryland, we decided to take U.S. 23 and drive south down the coast of Lake Huron, visiting some of the lighthouses as we went; we figured it would take us an extra day or two, counting in the time it would take to go to the various lighthouses.

We went to Cheboygan Crib Light (pictured above) and drove by the Cheboygan River Front Range lighthouse, which was closed at the time.

The Cheboygan Crib Light was originally located offshore on a concrete platform and marked the water intake pipe for the city of Cheboygan. It is a quaint little light, however, and picturesque.

Cheboygan River Front Range lighthouse

But it was at the Cheboygan River Front Range lighthouse, which was closed the day we were there, that I learned that Michigan seems to take care of its lighthouses, which explains the restoration and period-furnished lighthouses I'd been seeing. Hooray for Michigan! The Michigan Lighthouse Assistance Program provides matching grants for the preservation and restoration of lighthouses and is funded through the purchase of Michigan lighthouse license plates.

One of my favorite lighthouses is Forty Mile Point Lighthouse. It was established in 1896. The house part of the lighthouse is being restored -- at least, half of it. The other half will house the park staff.

Originally, the lighhouse was divided into a duplex, with the head lightkeeper and his family in one, and his deputy and his family in the other. This, of all the lighthouses, really captured my imagine. I loved how the furniture reflected the early 1900s and the decade after 1910 (one of my favorite eras thanks to a school report I wrote in 6th grade). A lady's beautiful black dress was laid out on the bed and I noticed a photo on the wall above the bed showed one of the lightkeeper's daughters dressed in that outfit. It was a cool moment. How fun she must have been!

Like most of the other lighthouses, we were able to go to the top. I ooohed and awwed appropriately, but -- and I hope the various lighthouse societies all forgive me -- a lens is a lens to me. The really exciting aspect of this lighthouse is the shipwreck just down the beach from it. This is the wreck of the S.S. Joseph S. Fay, a wooden steamer built in 1871. The Fay was among the first of the Great Lakes freighters built for the iron ore trade. A 130-foot section of her starboard is still visible on the beach, although it's "just" some rotting planks and metal spikes and rods left (so step carefully so you don't impale your foot OR damage the remains further). The Joseph S. Fay ran aground in October 1905, in heavy seas. We walked along it silently, thinking of this ship and those who served on it.

The last two Lake Huron lighthouses we visited on our drive down the coast were the Old and New Presque Isle Lighthouses. I enjoy lighthouses but I'm not endlessly fascinated by them... in other words, I got a bit lighthoused out. And with the fog and rain, at that point I really wanted to head to our hotel for the night and just watch a movie on tv and relax. Yes, right now I'm kicking myself, but that seemed the right decision at the time.

The Old Presque Isle light is interesting, because the bottom half is conical in shape, while the top half is round. It sits away from the lightkeeper's house. Both look primitive compared with the more recently built lighthouses, but that's because it was constructed in 1840. However, the shore of Lake Huron was splendid there -- the fall colors and the mist and fog on the water combined to create a lovely, mysterious effect.

The new Presque Isle Lighthouse was built in 1870 to replace the old lighthouse, which wasn't tall enough to reach far enough out to help the ships who needed it. This was where I chose not to climb to the top, mostly because to me, most of the tops look the same -- I really don't know the differences in the lenses and the machinery. I was polite in declining to pay for the fee to climb to the top, but the gal at the desk visibly sneered. I felt somehow, ridiculously, inadequate! Funny in retrospect, but at the time, it briefly bothered me.

The next day was as sunny as the previous day gloomy and rainy, so we decided to fit in one last lighthouse: the Old Marblehead Lighthouse on Lake Eerie. This lighthouse, like Old Presque Isle, was also built in the early 1800s, of stone, in 1821. Maybe because it was a sunny day, but it seemed so much prettier. It is perched on the stone shore, near Sandusky, OH. It is worth noting that this light is still active and is the oldest operating light on the Great Lakes! It was the perfect lighthouse to end our trip with.

Check out the blog's FB page for updates on places we've visited and blogged about:!

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Sunday, February 14, 2016

Mackinac Island

This is the fourth of five posts about our late summer trip to Mackinaw City and Michigan's upper peninsula; we visited the area after bringing my son up to college in Michigan.

The Victorian Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.

After exploring Mackinaw City, we wanted to go over to St Ignace to explore it too. We headed over for an early lunch at one of the cafes in view of the docks, then we bought tickets to head over to Mackinac Island.

If you're into lighthouses, then at St. Ignace, you can take the opportunity to see the Wawatam Light while you're waiting for a ferry to take you over to Mackinac Island. Great scenic setting at end of pier, with landscaped park, and there are many informational signs around the park giving interesting (to me) information. Although you can't go inside, it is still worth walking out to the end of the pier to see it. On your way out to Mackinac Island, you'll get to see two other lighthouses.

Dogs are welcomed on Mackinac Island, and most of the ferries allow dogs, so off we went. Our beagle, Meeko, wasn't a huge fan of the ferry. There were other dogs onboard as well. On the way you'll notice two lighthouses.

Round Island Passage Light, built by the United States Coast Guard of concrete and steel in the period immediately following World War II, was one of the last lights to be constructed on the Great Lakes. The light was built at the same time that Round Island Light, an 1898 historically manned lighthouse at the other end of the channel, was deactivated.

The Round Island Light, also known as the "Old Round Island Point Lighthouse" is a lighthouse located on the west shore of Round Island in the shipping lanes of the Straits of Mackinac, which connect Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. We passed this lighthouse on our way to Mackinac Island.

Mackinac Island is an island and resort area; it also served as a strategic central location for the Great Lakes fur trade. It was important enough that when the British abandoned their fort at Mackinaw City, they rebuilt it as Fort Mackinac on the island during the American Revolutionary War. Mackinac Island also was the site of two battles during the War of 1812. Eventually it passed into American hands and served as an American post as well.

In the late 19th century, Mackinac Island became a popular tourist attraction and summer colony. Much of the island has undergone extensive historical preservation and restoration; as a result, the entire island is listed as a National Historic Landmark. It is well known for its numerous cultural events; its wide variety of architectural styles, including the famous Victorian Grand Hotel; its fudge; and its ban on almost all motor vehicles. In many ways, Mackinac Island reminded me of Cape May, NJ, because of the historical homes and buildings -- and is just as lovely as Niagara-in-the-Lake, Ont., Canada. Having primarily horse-drawn vehicles only adds to the quaintness. More than 80 percent of the island is preserved as Mackinac Island State Park.

When you arrive and make your way off the dock, you'll notice a horrible smell -- horse urine I believe. You quickly get over it. Then you notice the streets lined with bicycles, and the sounds of the rumbling carriages.

Where does the distinctive name, "Mackinac" come from? Like many historic places in the Great Lakes region, Mackinac Island's name derives from a Native American language. Native Americans in the Straits of Mackinac region likened the shape of the island to that of a turtle. Therefore, they named it "Mitchimakinak" (Ojibwe mishi-mikinaak) meaning "big turtle."

Following the Civil War, the island became a popular tourist destination for residents of cities on the Great Lakes. Much of the federal land on Mackinac Island was designated as the second national park, Mackinac National Park, in 1875. To accommodate an influx of tourists in the 1880s, the boat and railroad companies built hotels, including the Grand Hotel. Souvenir shops began to spring up as a way for island residents to profit from the tourists. Many wealthy industrialists built summer "cottages" along the island's bluffs for extended stays. When the federal government left the island in 1895, all of the federal land, including Fort Mackinac, was given to the state of Michigan and became Michigan's first state park.

Mackinac Island was formed as the glaciers of the last ice age began to melt around 13,000 BC. The melting glaciers formed the Great Lakes, and the receding lakewaters eroded the limestone bedrock, forming the island's steep cliffs and rock formations. The limestone formations are still part of the island's appeal. One of the most popular geologic formations is Arch Rock, a natural limestone arch.

The prettiest garbage truck I've ever seen!

Getting there: Several ferries run to Mackinac Island from St Ignace, on the UP just north of Mackinac Bridge, or from Mackinaw City.


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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Two Lakes, a Bridge, a Fort, and a Park

Focusing on Mackinaw City, MI, this is the third of five posts about our late summer trip to Mackinaw City and Michigan's upper peninsula; we visited the area after bringing my son up to college in Michigan.

If you drive to the top of Michigan's lower peninsula, you will arrive at Mackinaw City, which lies along the southern shore of the Straits of Mackinac. Across the straits and connected by the Mackinac Bridge lies the state's Upper Peninsula.

Mackinaw Bridge reflects the setting sun in the Machinaw Straits, which connect Lake Michigan with Lake Huron.

The first European to pass the site of Mackinaw City was Jean Nicolet, sent out from Quebec City by Samuel Champlain in 1633 to explore and map the western Great Lakes, and to establish new contacts and trading partnerships with the Indian tribes of the region. The area was inhabited by three Algonquian peoples, known collectively as the Council of Three Fires: Chippewa (Ojibwe in Canada), Ottawa (Odawa), and Potawatomi. These tribes had long frequented the area of the Straits to fish, hunt, trade, and worship.

A reconstructed trading tent replicates what it might have looked like during the time Fort
Michilimackinac was under French or British control.
Europeans first settled the area in 1715 when the French built Fort Michilimackinac. During the French and Indian War they lost it to the British, who themselves subsequently abandoned the fort in 1783, retreating to Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island after the American Revolutionary War resulted in the independence of the United States of America. The reconstructed fort in present-day Mackinaw City is a National Historic Landmark and is now preserved as an open-air historical museum.

Even after the British took possession of the fort, French civilians were allowed to live within the walls, as they had good relations with the Odawa and Ojibwe for the fur trade. As a part of Pontiac's Rebellion, Chippewa and Fox warriors captured the fort on June 2, 1763 in a surprise attack during a game of baggatiway or lacrosse; the British at the fort were taken prisoner and mostly killed.

It was months before Europeans returned to the fort. When they did, the traders promised to trade more fairly with the Native Americans. When the British later abandoned the vulnerable site on the mainland, they burned what they could not take with them to prevent the Americans from using Michilimackinac as a base.

Machinaw City really got its start in 1857, when two men planned what would become Mackinaw City. The plan preserved the northern portion as a park, to preserve the area that was once Fort Michilimackinac and to accommodate a much-needed and future lighthouse. Now the town caters to tourists visiting the area, with a variety of gift shops and restaurants. In addition, there are two lighthouses to see in town, but more on those in the next post about this trip!

Check out the blog's FB page for updates on places we've visited and blogged about:!

Have you daytripped somewhere interesting? I'd love to hear what you're doing! Email [email protected] if you're interested in being a guest-blogger!